eCommerce, eBusiness, Marketing & Design Overview:
This guide is intended to introduce new eCommerce professionals or business owners to the three most important phases of starting, promoting and maintaining an eCommerce business or website. In it we will cover brief introductions to eCommerce, including what it is, how far it has come and features specific to eCommerce. We will also be introducing, defining and explaining eCommerce marketing and eCommerce web design. In addition, the three main sections of this guide will list and explain many of the biggest benefits to conducting business Online, marketing Online and designing the site correctly.
What is eCommerce & eBusiness?
E commerce Defined:
eCommerce, which is short for electronic commerce, is the process used to distribute, buy, sell or market goods and services, and the transfer of funds online, through electronic communications or networks. Electronic commerce is commonly referred to as Online commerce, Web commerce, eBusiness, eRetail, eTailing, e-tailing, ecommerce, eCommerce, e-commerce, ecom or EC.
Beginning & Future of eCommerce:
eCommerce basically began (although debated) in 1994 when Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com out of his own garage. Well known eCommerce stores include sites like eBay, Dell, Walmart and many more. Since 1994, businesses of all shapes and sizes have began launching or expanding their Online presence. At any given time, there are approximately 8 million consumers worldwide that actively shop and buy through Web based stores or retailers (nearly one tenth of our world population). Online studies have claimed that online retail revenues will surpass the quarter-trillion-dollar mark by 2011.
eCommerce Site Features:
Typical business web sites do not usually have the same features as eCommerce enabled web stores do. In order to effectively distribute, market and sell goods or services Online you will need certain features only found on eCommerce sites. Features may include a shopping cart, ability to process credit cards, online product catalog, automated inventory system, databases, bulk email program, statistics tracking and other non-computer technologies such as product warehousing and shipping transportation.
What are the Benefits of eCommerce & eBusiness?
The processes involved with conducting business on the Internet and opening an eCommerce shop to sell from have several benefits to both merchants and the customers who buy from them. The biggest benefits of conducting business Online include a cheaper upfront cost to the merchant, it’s easier to set up and open the store and it’s faster to get an Online business up, running and making sales.
Helps Create New Relationship Opportunities:
Expanding or opening an eBusiness can create a world of opportunity and helps to establish new relationships with potential customers, potential business associates and new product manufacturers. Just by being in an easy to find location that is accessible to users all over the world, you will be available for others to find and approach you about new opportunities. Customers who don’t know you exist will know about you, product suppliers will request you add their items and other businesses will approach you about partnership opportunities. Many of these opportunities would not present themselves without an Online presence or site for them to discover you on their own.
Open for Business 24×7:
An eCommerce site basically gives you the ability to have unlimited store hours, giving your customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week access to shop and buy items from you. Some merchants choose to limit their hours to 5 days a week, but orders can still be made over the weekend and customers can still make contact 24/7 via email, phone or fax. In addition, the costs associated with having your store open 24/7 are much less than maintaining a physical storefront or phone operator with 247 operation capability. You can literally take orders and let customers shop while you sleep, take vacations or from remote locations.
Increases Brand or Product Awareness:
Having an Online business means that you can literally reach out to millions of consumers looking for what you sell anywhere in the world. By reaching out to new markets and displaying your site prominently in front of them, you will be able to help increase your company/domain brand name and also increase awareness about your product line. By giving users 24/7 access in an easy to find location, you will help to create more word of mouth buzz for your eBusiness, in turn helping to promote your brand name and products. Users who haven’t heard of you will discover you exist and help spread the word about you.
Helps Establish Customer Loyalty:
An eCommerce storefront will help create an easier means for your customers to purchase the items you sell and offers a unique way to display and describe your products in a informative, visual and interactive way. The customers you have will become more loyal shoppers each time they visit, making eCommerce great for improved customer satisfaction and visitor loyalty. Now that you offer your products for sale Online, consumers will be able to shop from your catalog more easily, get updates on new items or product discounts and can shop or buy anytime they wish.
Potential to Increase Overall Business Sales:
An eCommerce store that is an extension of a physical storefront is a great way to boost overall business sales and potentially increase company profits across the board. Companies who already do business from a physical location are typically unaware of how much more they could be making if only they were to expand into their Online marketplaces. Selling Online opens up many opportunities for businesses both new and old. It’s a great way to increase sales, especially if you already have a physical store.
Potential to Increase Company Profits:
As mentioned above, opening an Online extension of your store or moving your business solely Online are great ways to boost sales and potentially profits. Remember, just because SALES increase it does not necessarily mean that company PROFITS will increase also. Online businesses do have a greater chance of increasing sales and profits by opening up an eCommerce store to sell the items they offer. Sales and profits are the lifeblood of any company, so it makes sense to increase them where ever possible and whenever possible throughout the existence of your company. More sales, more profits, bigger budgets, etc.
Potential to Decrease Some Costs:
In addition to potentially increasing sales and profits, eBusiness owners can also typically reduce the costs of running their business by moving it or expanding it into the Online world. eCommerce stores can run with less employees including sales staff, customer service reps, order fulfillment staff and others. eBusinesses also do not need a physical location in order to stay operational, which can reduce costs related to building leases, phone bills, utility costs and other costs associated with running a brick-and-mortar storefront.
Expands Geographical or Customer Reach:
As mentioned, owning an eCommerce business typically means no limits as to who and where you can sell your products. Some countries outside the United States have additional regulations, licensing requirements or currency differences, but generally you will not be limited on the customers you can reach out to. Physical storefronts are limited to the city in which they are located, Online businesses aren’t limited unless you put geographical limits in place. At the very least, you should consider targeting U.S. buyers, but also consider, Canada, UK, Australia and others. Sell to anyone, anywhere, anytime!
Allows for Smaller Market or Niche Targeting:
Although your customer reach may expand beyond your local area, you may only wish to target smaller consumer markets and buyer niches for your eCommerce products. Owning an Online store gives the merchant much control over who they target and reach out to notify about the items for sale in their store. Currently, you can target women, men, a generation of users, a particular race and many more smaller niche markets. This is typically done by placing keywords that those niche markets use on a regular basis when shopping for the items you offer.
Allows for Easier Delivery of Information:
An Online store and Web brochure are great ways to deliver and display information about your company and the products you sell. With an Online presence your customers will have direct access to product information, company information, specials, promotions, real time data and much more information that they can easily find just by visiting your site day or night. Not only does it benefit your customers, but it’s also generally easier for merchants to update their site rather than break down an in store display and put up another for the next event. It saves both your customers and you precious time and can help you to plan more updates or better sales as it will be much easier for you to update and take down.
What is eCommerce Marketing?
eCommerce Marketing Defined:
eCommerce marketing can be defined in many different ways and can include both Online or Offline campaign strategies. Most often, it’s considered to be the marketing of goods and services over the Internet or any other electronic network (like a mobile phone or pda). eCommerce marketing is commonly referred to as ecommerce optimization, online marketing, search engine marketing, sem, search engine optimization, seo, catalog optimization, catalog seo, product seo, merchant marketing and many more variations of those terms.
Beginning & Future of eCommerce Marketing:
eCommerce marketing began when the first shopping cart enabled sites started popping up all over the Net. As competition in major markets such as consumer electronics, gifts, clothing or apparel and outdoor goods started to grow so did the need for eCommerce marketing. Online retailers who first began to market through the Internet saw huge potential for success Online and many of them saw enormous profits all the way up until the dot com boom. Since the dot com boom, eCommerce marketing has evolved into a whole new mix of strategies and techniques designed to increase exposure from a multitude of channels to the eCommerce seller. Marketing professionals have spent countless hours testing, experimenting and reporting on which strategies work and which seem to have no positive affects. Now there are many different ways to market an eCommerce enabled site.
Marketing Strategies & Techniques:
eCommerce marketing today is typically made up of several creative or unique mixes of traditional and new-age marketing strategies that can include techniques related to direct mail, email marketing, search engine optimization, CPC or sponsored listings, building related links, establishing brand recognition and social media marketing. There are many other ways to market an eCommerce store and new ways of reaching out to potential customers are always being discovered and tested.
What are the Benefits of eCommerce Marketing?
The processes involved with marketing products on the Internet and increasing company or brand recognition among consumer markets have several benefits to both Online shoppers and merchant store owners. The biggest benefits of eCommerce marketing include less costs than print advertising, helps build customer relationships, brand credibility and it costs less to get an eCommerce marketing campaign running and operational.
Tax Breaks for Conducting Business Online:
It is common knowledge that conducting business Online has certain tax advantages compared to brick-and-mortar selling. Many eCommerce merchants who qualify for such tax deductions may find that they can save more in taxes than if they sold using traditional retail or a physical storefront. Home-based eBusiness can deduct many of the same things traditional businesses can. Traditional businesses can write-off utility, rent or mortgage bills as costs of doing business and Online merchants can also write-off certain portions of utilities. Vehicles are another common deduction along with office equipment and other time spent on setting up or running the business. Consider the tax benefits you could reap by conducting business through eCommerce.
Cheaper than Print Advertising:
Many traditional businesses are used to more traditional marketing campaigns such as print and yellow page advertising. Many traditional business owners are not aware that a majority of eCommerce marketing strategies are far cheaper than any of the best Offline, print advertising methods that have been used for years. Traditional advertising is still a quality form of marketing, however it is not always cost effective, especially for small businesses. Print advertising can get expensive as there may be a need to update regularly, which requires new work be planned and generated. It is much quicker and more cost effective to update and maintain eCommerce marketing campaigns, especially as technology continues to improve. By conducting business Online and using the proven form of eCommerce marketing, merchants have the potential to generate far more in ROI with less spend than they could ever hope to expect from costly print advertising campaigns.
Interactive Ads or Marketing Campaigns:
Using advertising that engages potential customers is key in todays fast paced, little time consumer shopping space. One benefit to eCommerce marketing is the merchants ability to develop and improve a number of interactive advertising or marketing campaigns designed to reach out and engage shoppers. Videos, flash, presentations, graphics, moving animations. They can all be used as interactive devices to help entice shoppers to drop in and shop around for the products or services offered. Interactive ads and applications on the Web are predicted to reach new heights as technology improves.
Flexible Ad or Marketing Campaigns:
Many traditional marketing strategies are limited in what they can offer and what kind of flexibility each initiative has. For instance, with print advertising there’s only so much you can do, but with eCommerce marketing there’s literally no cap and no end to the flexibility of nearly any campaign. Merchants can develop more creative marketing ideas and launch them using the power and assistance of the Web (for both delivery and functionality). eCommerce marketing initiatives can be automated and are much more flexible than many of the traditional marketing or advertising methods.
Builds Lasting Customer Relationships:
The relationships you form with shoppers and existing customers can very well determine the overall success of any business, Online or off, however eBusinesses have a lot more tools, methods and means of building long standing customer relationships than traditional businesses do. Technology and the reach of the Web has made it easier for eCommerce merchants to form long lasting relationships. That, combined with tools that make customer management and servicing more efficient, using up less time, has also sparked more creative ways to market to customers Online. eCommerce marketing and conducting business Online can have a direct influence on how customers view the overall brand or product. If done correctly, it will help build lasting customer relationships, which in itself has benefits.
Helps Build Brand Credibility:
In many of the same ways eCommerce marketing helps to engage and get to know customers, it also has benefits which may increase brand awareness and credibility among shoppers looking for what you sell. With the ever expanding list of Online marketing channels, it’s getting easier for eCommerce merchants to spread the word and saturate certain areas of the Web with their products and brand. As shoppers scour the Web for information about a product that interests them they notice the companies and brands that they see, many take note and store them away for next time. By utilizing the proper marketing channels in your niche, you may very well find yourself building long standing credibility and brand awareness among shoppers and existing customers. Better brand awareness and credibility also helps to increase word of mouth buzz.
Gather Feedback from Customers:
Having a website that displays and offers products for sale is a great way to attract customers, make money and grow a business, however many eCommerce merchants fail to see all the additional benefits of running an eCommerce business like their ability to gather feedback about the site, brand or products directly from customers or shoppers. eCommerce marketing initiatives aren’t always about a promotion or selling the product, some are meant to gather information or feedback from customers about how the business can improve. Conducting business Online and offering polls, questionnaires and feedback forms is a great way to get direct input from existing customers and even shoppers who haven’t yet purchased.
Conduct Cheap Market Research:
Many eCommerce merchants use their site, customers and competitors as a way to conduct market research surrounding a particular product or one in which they hope to introduce in the future. It’s much easier to catch a glimpse into a particular selling market using the resources and data from Online businesses, including your own. Trying to conduct market research for a brick and mortar store can be difficult and may take much time to plan and execute. With the availability of data on the Web and through the use of new technologies offered on the Web, eCommerce merchants are able to conduct market or product research quickly, efficiently and without hassle.
Lower Startup Costs Increase Efficiency:
Many times it is much cheaper and takes less startup capital to open up an eCommerce business compared to a retail store location or chain. Online business does not require as many of the ingredients needed in business as a traditional business does. There’s typically no permits, fewer licenses, no lease to pay on, smaller utility bill, less or no employees to hire and no inventory to stock or manage on shelves. By starting out the business with less investment capital or startup funds, it can help to increase efficiency and leaves more funds available for actually marketing the brand or products.
Lower Startup Costs Increase Profitability:
As mentioned, it cost far less to startup an eCommerce business than a traditional retail business. For many of the same reason that lower startup costs help to increase efficiency, they also help eCommerce merchants to potentially increase profitability. Obviously, if it takes less of the bottom line to get things up and running it will take less in return to generate a profit off of the eCommerce marketing tactics you choose to use. As mentioned, eCommerce marketing is cheaper than traditional advertising, so if it costs less to conduct business Online and costs less to market Online, than it will take less in return to actually turn a profit, helping anyones chances for increased profitability.
Increases Growth or Opportunity Potential:
Marketing Online has the potential to increase store growth at a much quicker rate than traditional marketing or retail business. eCommerce marketing can also generate more opportunities for any business no matter the products you sell and potentially at a much quicker rate. Major media networks may pick up on you via Online channels and report your business to consumers, while you may not have ended up on their radar had you only sold offline. That’s just one example, there are many more opportunities and a much higher chance of early growth through conducting and marketing an eCommerce business. The Online market offers a much fairer playing field and opens up doors that otherwise might be closed off to a retailer. It allows nearly any business, no matter their size to grow and have the same potential opportunities as larger sellers do.
Global Market Reach:
The World Wide Web spans across and reaches exactly that, the world. With the reach and technology offered through eCommerce, merchants have the ability to target consumers anywhere in the world, even smaller sections or local regions. eCommerce marketing initiatives can be deployed in a variety of ways, but the reach may span globally, rather than only within a certain city or region. having this type of reach opens up the possibility that customers can find the business from anywhere they reside and buy from them without having to travel to another location. having global market reach means potentially having customers world wide, without the limitations of traditional media or geographic boundaries.
Potential to Market Any Product:
The internet constantly has millions of users searching for a vast number of different products or services. If it exists, chances are there’s at least a few people searching for it Online. eCommerce marketing and selling Online allows merchants to target and reach these audiences, even on a limited budget. This creates the potential for anyone to sell anything Online (assuming it’s legal to sell). Merchants can now offer niche items and market those items to the right individuals using creative and innovative eCommerce marketing ideas.
Flexible Schedule or More Personal Time:
Running an Online business can be as time demanding and require just as much attention as a traditional business, however it does give merchants the ability to maintain a flexible schedule and can possibly even allow them more time away from the business to spend doing other things they love. Having a schedule we control and personal time is something everyone desires. Conducting business Online and marketing through the different channels the Internet provides finally gives more of us the freedom we desire. As mentioned, it typically takes far less time to startup and launch an Online business, however that doesn’t necessarily mean it will take less time to manage. The time you save can be used however you please.
Ability for Multiple Revenue Streams:
Once you have successfully launched and marketed one Online business you may wish to do it again with another eCommerce business, or maybe you already have a full-time job and you run a successful eBusiness on the side. Either way, by conducting business Online you open up all kinda of potential for multiple revenue streams. May merchants have been able to successfully maintain their Online stores while still working their 9 to 5 job. Others have opened a chain or multiple Online stores in order to generate multiple streams of revenue. eCommerce marketing makes it easier to own and operate more than one business or entity Online.
Streamlines Sales Process & Ad Copy:
eCommerce marketing and offering products for sale over the Internet can help businesses streamline sales processes and advertising copy used within marketing campaigns. With more customers and a greater reach it is easier for merchants to gain insights and feedback as to how marketing initiatives are performing and whether or not each one is generating the desired ROI. Testing, experimenting and rotating campaigns or ad copy can help businesses to improve and streamline many processes within the store, from processes related to customers, sales or marketing.
Helps Promote Brick-and-Mortar Businesses:
So, what if you own a brick-and-mortar business already and you are thinking of expanding into eCommerce? Don’t think long, it’s a great idea and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Many traditional business owners are finding that by expanding their business model and marketing plans into the Online space that they in turn get more exposure to their physical stores. eCommerce marketing initiatives work great for promoting an offline business, however you still need an Online location for customers to reference on the Web. In a perfect world all brick-and-mortars would also have a presence Online, but it’s simply not the case as of yet. Jumping into eCommerce and using the power of Online marketing is a great way to promote and help grow a retail brick-and-mortar location.
What is eCommerce Web Design?
eCommerce Web Design Defined:
eCommerce web design is generally defined as the planning, creation and arrangement of files, text, graphics and processes used within an eCommerce enabled website. The files make up different sections of the site which typically include pages, categories, subcategories and products. eCommerce web design is commonly referred to as web design, web development, site design, site development, shop design/development, store design/development, web store design/development, eCommerce design/development or shopping cart design/development (including variations of these terms).
Beginning & Future of eCommerce Web Design:
eCommerce designs have evolved over the years from plain looking designs with few graphics and little appeal to fully interactive eCommerce sites using the latest in graphic design and programming technologies. The days of simple layouts and designs are pretty much done with as competition increases and more merchants are attempting to improve the look, feel and usability of their eCommerce designs. Now it is more common to see gradient graphics, more options for shoppers, features surrounding customers, better layouts, faster load times, videos, more payment options and much much more. New age eCommerce design is about being creative and original, pretty much anything that can be though of can be accomplished using current eCommerce design technology for an eCommerce business.
eCommerce Design Methods & Features:
What are the Benefits of eCommerce Web Design?
Allows for Faster, Easier, Efficient Discovery:
An Online business’ ability to be discovered by shoppers, current customers and search engines is extremely important for merchants who hope to grow their eCommerce venture into a success. Quality eCommerce design allows for quicker, easier, more efficient discovery by consumers or search engine bots. By using eCommerce design best practices and following certain usability guidelines, you’ll find that the discovery process will nearly take care of itself, meaning the merchant will have little to no maintenance down the road. The faster, easier and more efficient you can make your processes of discovery the faster your business will grow to the next stage. For best results, keep improving, keep testing and always refine your designs.
Potential to Improve Accessibility:
Having an eCommerce business that is easy to discover is only part of the formula within eCommerce design. In addition, merchants will need a store that is accessible to their shoppers, existing customers and even search engines. Accessibility is a major factor when designing and implementing a site, if users and search engines cannot access ALL your important pages you will find that it may dwindle your chances of success or at the very least slows down chances you would have had if the store was originally built with accessibility best practices in mind. Use hyper links rather than image links, utilize a sitemap, keep track of indexed pages and link your site together in an organized, easy to understand, easy to use way. Make sure that pages that lie deeper within the site can be accessed from pages higher up in the site and vice versa. Making your business site more accessible in the beginning will save the merchant much time, hassle and re-designing in the end.
Potential to Improve Usability:
Using quality eCommerce design methods will not only make your site easier to discover and access, it can also potentially improve how shoppers, current customers and search engine use the site. The way in which a site is built can interfere with how users interact and use the site. If you put up features that turn into roadblocks, the site will become less usable. If you put up features that are designed with usability best practices in mind you’ll find that shoppers will be happy with their experience, customers will return and search engines will give you the placement you deserve within their listings. Many merchants have no idea that the way in which a site is designed can actually make or break the sites usability in the end. Study what users in your niche want, give it to them and make it easy to understand, within a visible location that is easy for anyone to use.
Easier to Maintain Over Time:
If an eCommerce design is done correctly from the very beginning, it will make the task of design maintenance much easier over time. Typically, merchants will have to update their site regularly anyway, but using design best practices from the start will make you updates less frequent and easier to implement. not only that, but whenever new eCommerce design guidelines are discovered, you’ll find that it takes you less time and less steps to catch up with the pack, giving you more time to actually run the business, manage customers, products and things like marketing strategies or promotions. In short, make your site easy to discover, make it accessible to users and make it usable to anyone who may eventually land on your page. In the end, you’ll spend less time updating and maintaining your site than others who were not aware, ignored or didn’t pay close attention during the design and implementation phase of the business.