Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

E-business: ecommerce

'ecommerce' means using your website (or another online channel like eBay or Amazon) as an online shop to sell products and services to customers - who may be members of the public or other businesses. (This also includes 'm-commerce' - people using mobile devices like smartphones to shop online.)

Visitors to your site usually browse through images of your product lines or select products from a list or catalogue. Your prices, returns policy and your terms and conditions should be clearly visible.

Ecommerce websites typically provide a 'shopping cart' into which goods are automatically placed once the customer has clicked on the 'Add to cart' (or similar) button. When they've finished browsing, their order is summarised and the cost of the goods in the shopping trolley is totalled. The vast majority of sites allow customers to pay online using a credit or debit card or another payment option like PayPal. Very good online security systems are required for this. Customers are sometimes given the option of phoning a customer services number to give their card number over the phone during office hours.

If you are going into ecommerce, there are a number of things to consider:

  • will you use an online marketplace like eBay as well as - or instead of - your own ecommerce enabled website?
  • how will would-be customers find your website? You'll need to think about things like search engine optimisation, and possibly paid for click-through advertising and affiliate schemes
  • will you use social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to promote your business?
  • will you make sure that your website renders perfectly on small screen devices like smartphones and tablets as well as on large screens? With more and more people using these devices for general web browsing, social media and online shopping it makes a lot of sense to ensure that your site is optimised for all screen sizes right from the start. You may even decide to have your own 'app' written
  • how will you deliver the goods to your customers? There are now lots of different options to choose from including the Post Office, dealing direct with a courier firm or by using one of the growing number of parcel consolidators. It's a good idea to monitor your couriers' performance and consider switching if there's a lot of negative feedback from customers
  • how will you set your delivery charges? Free or subsidised delivery can be very attractive to customers but you need to make sure you can afford to offer it
  • where will you store the goods?
  • will you offer customers an online tracking facility so that they can check how their order is progressing?
  • will you be able to meet demand if this proves to be unexpectedly high
  • how reliable are your suppliers? Are there any alternatives?
  • will your stock control systems link into your order-taking software so that customers know whether or not items are in stock when they place an order?
  • will you offer extras such as gift wrapping or personalisation?
  • what will your returns policy be?
  • have you set up efficient back-office systems so that you will be able to process orders within your advertised delivery times?

To make sure that you build up a good reputation and get repeat business, it is very important that your order-taking and processing goes smoothly and efficiently and that people are impressed with the service they receive. The quality of your goods must also live up to your customers' expectations.