In an era where approximately eight out of ten U.S consumers shop on-line, no company can afford to ignore e-commerce. On-line shopping provides consumers with price and convenience benefits, while at the same time enabling retailers to increase their outreach and revenues. The latter are some of the reasons why retailers are increasingly providing access to their products through on-line channels which enable shoppers to purchase their products using computers and smart phones. Beyond business to consumer (B2C) interactions, businesses should also enable their partners to access their goods on-line as part of Business to business (B2B) e-commerce interactions.
Giant marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon provide an easy way for retailers to put their products on-line. These marketplaces provide global outreach to millions of customers, on the basis of the most robust and scalable e-commerce infrastructures worldwide. However, there are also cases where companies opt to develop their own on-line presence, through the establishment of an e-shop / e-commerce infrastructure.
Signs that you need your own e-commerce platform
Here are some signs that should lead a retailer to consider building and operating its own e-shop. In particular:
- Branding: Despite establishing a presence in other marketplaces, retailers, in several cases, need to provide purchase capabilities through their own web site to create a recognizable brand. Access to a branded web site, in addition to an Amazon or eBay marketplace, enables retailers to protect and boost their brand.
- Customer demand: It’s always good to hear the voice of your customers. In case they are asking for an on-line presence, retailers should consider providing it based on an appropriate e-shop infrastructure.
- Alleviate lost revenues: Presence in large marketplaces is associated with fees. Retailers that perceive these fees as being high should consider establishing their own e-commerce platform.
- Alternative channels and diversification: An e-shop provides an alternative sales channel, including opportunities for new revenue streams. This is the case both for traditional brick and mortar retailers and for retailers that are already on-line through some other marketplace. An e-shop provides opportunities for diversified revenues, which reduces business risks.
- Localization: In several cases retailers address local markets, which can be better served by a localized e-shop rather than by a giant marketplace. Localization does not only refer to linguistic issues, but actually to the way products are presented in-line with the needs of the target (local) market.
- Special products and needs: Some retailers might have special needs that can only be served by a branded e-shop tailored to the requirements of the target audience or niche product. This can be, for example, the case for very specialized products, which require shopping carts and processes beyond the standard ones that conventional marketplaces provide.
Business benefits of your own e-Shop
No matter the exact drivers, the establishment of an e-commerce infrastructure delivers distinct benefits including:
- A means of being present during consumers’ market research: Nowadays, most market research is performed on-line. An e-shop enables a retailer to be present in market research conducted by consumers. It provides a channel for communicating the benefits of your products and services.
- Convenience, speed and availability: A retailer’s on-line presence is key to delivering convenience to costumers, along with speed of purchase as the latter can be done 24×7 based on a few clicks.
- Improved personalized customer experience: Through their e-shop, retailers have many innovative ways of delivering personalized shopping experiences. This can serve as a strong foundation for reduced churn rates and increased customer loyalty.
- Reduced marketing and customer acquisition costs: A branded on-line presence facilitates reduction in marketing and customer acquisition cost, which can lead to maximum customer lifetime value.
- Integration in the internet ecosystem and social media: Customer interactions are increasingly taking place through social media channels. An on-line shop is one of the easiest and most effective ways to advertise and attract a retailer on social media.
In order to leverage the benefits, retailers need to setup e-shop project. Much as this is an IT project, it also a new business case that should be successfully managed based on business rather than technical criteria. The creation and justification of this business case (including a relevant business plan) is therefore the first and most important step to the e-shop development. As part of the business case elaboration, a strategy regarding the e-shop should be formulated, including the concrete business targets and a viable route to accomplish them. Furthermore, the business case should be accompanied with a financial analysis including the costs for developing and operating the e-shop and the anticipated benefits stemming from increased sales, new revenue streams, reduction of fees to other marketplaces and more. The business case should reflect a positive ROI (Return-On-Investment), as a prerequisite for engaging in the actual development of the e-shop based on the following steps:
- Selection of an e-shop platform, which will provide a basis for developing the technical infrastructure of the e-shop. There is a variety of different platforms in the market, including several open source platforms that are gaining momentum. The latter could be customized and integrated in a way that maximizes the value of your investments on technical implementation. Popular open source platforms include Magento, WooCommerce, OpenCart, Prestashop and Shopware.
- Technical development of the e-shop infrastructure, including use and customization of the proper e-shop software, as well as the development of the required features in terms of supporting shopping carts and processes. Two of the most important aspects of the technical development process are the establishment of a proper information architecture and the creation of a web site that features exceptional ergonomics and user-friendliness.
- Population of the e-shop with product descriptions, including relevant data entry and data migration processes. This step should ensure the proper presentation of products and services, based on both textual and multimedia descriptions.
- Marketing and Raising Awareness, in order to ensure that the e-shop is discoverable and known to consumers. Marketing can be based on both on-line and traditional channels. Special emphasis should be paid in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), on-line ads and linking to social media.
- Operation of the e-shop, towards ensuring continuity of its operations, as well as continuous improvement. The latter involves tracking and analysis of consumer’s on-line behavior in order to identify possible flaws in the design and operations of the e-shop.
Five Best Practices
We end up this use case description with five best practices that retailers should follow for optimal results:
- Ensure that the e-shop is mobile and social: Mobile commerce and social commerce are two of the main trends in e-commerce. Therefore, retailers should plan to get the most out of the them. Mobile commerce will allow consumers to purchase from their smart phone, while at the same time exploiting location-aware features (e.g., time and location based offers). Moreover, social commerce can exploit the wave of social media interactions in order to target proper consumers, optimize conversion rates and drive more traffic to the e-shop.
- Data-Driven operations: Empirical evidence can be a good guide to e-commerce operations, but factual data are always better. In the Big Data era retailers can leverage large volumes of data about visitors and customers of the e-shop in order to identify pale points and successful practices and accordingly to take the right decisions.
- Usability and aesthetics: The design of an e-shop should be driven by human factors in order to provide exceptional ergonomics and ease of use. Flaws in the design of interfaces and user experience have an adverse impact on visitor’s stickiness in the site and ultimately on sales and revenues.
- Business driven: Both the design and the implementation of an e-commerce infrastructure should be business driven. To this end, relevant KPIs (Key performance indicators) should be established and tracked throughout the process of developing, deploying and operating the site.
- Outsourcing opportunities: Nowadays companies are offered with unprecedented opportunities to benefit from talent and expertise that is globally available. Retailers are not likely to be on the e-commerce business, while traditional retailing is radically different from on-line retailing. In this context, they could consider opportunities for transferring the development, the management, as well as the day-to-day execution of their e-commerce functions to a third-party service provider with the proper expertise.
In coming years the vast majority of retail and wholesale transactions will be performed on-line. It’s therefore time that retailers embrace e-commerce as a central element of their on-line strategies. This use case post has provided some important tips that can help you in shaping a successful strategy for starting your e-commerce project on the right foot.