By: Mike Bradbury

Article provides information and questionnaire regarding how to select an ecommerce solution.

Online commerce is the way of the future, expand your market place, increase sales, work less, increase your revenue, etc. Really? but at what cost and what do you need to know to get started? Many businesses are weighing the costs of moving into the online space now that barriers to entry are lower than ever, but to determine the specific solution that meets your business needs is not as easy as comparing prices. In order to differentiate the common strategies that you may apply to sell your widget online, lets take a look at three main ecommerce solutions on the market, and then ask some key questions that will better facilitate your decision. 1.) Amazon.com/E-Bay/MSN Shopping as an eCommerce SolutionWith this means of e-commerce there is really no true e-commerce or shopping cart development that goes on. To bring your widget online you would simply create an account on one of the various web sites that are out there and begin selling products. Pros

Easy to implement
May have products on the web within an hour
Very low cost, great for out-of-home business

Cons

Minimal flexibility
Usually transaction based, or require a percentage of sales
No automated integration into any back end systems
No options for product configuration

2.) Templated eCommerce SolutionsTemplated ecommerce platforms are generally packaged sites that are very quickly setup and launched. To summarize the process:

1. A business will purchase, or lease via a monthly contract the e-commerce solution.
2. Customize their web site by selecting from several templates modifying it with a color scheme
3. Add content to their new web site by way of a technology called content management.

Content Management allows non-coders, the ability to update and modify the content of a web site. These solutions meet the typical needs of a business, but tend to fall short when customization is necessary. Pros

Easy to implement with little required development.
Getting a site up and running is not as fast as a pre-built solution, but much more rapid than a custom developed solution
Is comparatively inexpensive.
Provides branding not available in pre-built solution
Great for small businesses entering the online space for the 1st time.

Cons

Minimal flexibility
Cost may, or may not include graphic development of the site
Integration with business processes is lacking
No options for product configuration
Sometimes transaction based, or require a percentage of sales
Difficult to optimize for search engines


3.) Custom Developed SolutionsCustom developed solutions are exactly what their name implies. The user interface of the web site, product catalog and check out process are all custom-developed to meet specific needs. The look and feel of the web site is typically original, utilizing graphics that are targeted to a specific market or customer. The key reasons for looking at a custom developed e-commerce solution are to support a business process that your company may have which cannot be completed with a templated design. (i.e. integrating back office systems such as accounting, ERP, or fulfillment applications), or to support some level of service during the check out process like a custom product configuration. Pros

The site is developed to your specific business requirements
Custom features or applications may be added to the site at any point in the future, providing growth
Integration capabilities are limited only by the ability of your developer
Site may be optimized for Search Engines, (SEO)
All forms of shipping, handling and fulfillment are options to integrate
Virtually unlimited number of products and categories may be supported
Your site will have a unique look and feel tailored to your business
Great for established ecommerce providers, and large businesses looking to go online

Cons

Typically more expensive
Longer development times
Require more active involvement from you.

Questions that will help you target the right ecommerce solution for your business:

1. Will my business survive if the web site is unsuccessful?
2. Do I have back office applications that need to be integrated into the web site? For instance, accounting systems, inventory management or ERP systems, Point of Sales Systems, etc.
3. Do I need custom shipping integration?
4. How important is search engine optimization?
5. How will I administer the e-commerce application? For instance, how easy is it to add, edit, or delete products and how do I view the business that the web site is doing?
6. How will I differentiate my site from my competitors?
7. Does my business currently have the expertise to manage the e-commerce solution, do I need to hire someone, or will I totally outsource the management of the web site?
8. If I chose to manage the e-commerce solution by myself, where and how will I host the application?
9. What is the ongoing maintenance going to cost?
10. How reliable is my developer/web host?
11. Does my business sell to consumers, other businesses, both?
12. Does the look and feel of my web site meet my customers needs? A quick example of this is if you are selling to consumers you typically need a more attractive and easy to use site, if to businesses a utilitarian interface may be more critical, as they typically want to complete their order as quickly as possible.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help you understand what is involved in bringing your business on line. The purpose of these articles is to take the complexity of the e-commerce marketplace and break it down into easy to understand articles.


About the author :

Mike is the Director of Enterprise Business at Objectware, Inc, an ecommerce solution company and Web Design Company in Atlanta. He has spent the last 18 years working for companies like Novell, Cisco, Dell and Microsoft, and currently serves as a liaison between the customer and software development teams to ensure customer needs are met. Questions or comments on this article may be sent to Mike at mpowell@objectwareinc.com


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