Managing your e-commerce site
When choosing an ecommerce website solution, consider how easy it is to manage your store. No matter how well designed your catalog is, it's not worth much if it's frustrating to manage.
Stock keeping unit (SKU) management is a critical area to evaluate because you'll use it frequently. Get the vendor to provide a demo and see how easy it is to add, update, and delete items from your catalog. Some potential questions to ask:
- Does each item need to be listed individually or can you upload them in batches?
- What is the maximum number of SKUs you can carry?
- Can you easily sort your products into multiple categories and subcategories?
- How many images can you display per item? Can you link to larger images?
- What are the limits for accompanying descriptions?
- How easy is it to update text or images?
- Can you easily mark items as out-of-stock without removing them from the system? Can you remove items from the site without deleting their pictures and images from the database?
If your staff is not familiar with HTML, the basic programming language of the Web, you'll want a back-end system that lets you point and click your way through creating a catalog. However, if you have someone proficient in HTML to manage the store, you'll get a lot more flexibility in formatting without the frustrations that a point-and-click interface can create.
You may want more sophisticated price management options. Instead of just changing prices one at a time, some ecommerce solutions and software lets you pre-load many price changes at once, then turn them all on at the same time. Others allow scheduled changes, so if a sale ends at midnight, you don't have to be waiting with your finger on the button to change prices back.
One of the great benefits of ecommerce web solutions is the detailed information you can use to analyze and improve your business. Most ecommerce software will provide basic sales reporting, but many can also report on visitors per product page, shopping cart usage, time spent looking at descriptions, and where your shoppers are coming from.
Be sure to get sample reports for the ecommerce systems you're considering. If you typically use a spreadsheet or other software for tracking your business, ask for samples of exported reports so you can compare formats and compatibility with your systems.
Once a customer places an order, the transaction details need to be delivered to you. Your preferences here will depend on your existing processes: if you already have a system in place to track telephone orders, you'll need your ecommerce solution to connect to it. If you don't, choose an ecommerce system that has order handling and tracking built in.
Also, look into customer notification: can you customize the emails that are sent out? Are the emails in HTML or plain text, and how do they look?
Consider the size of your orders: will you want to set minimums or maximums on prices or quantities? Do you need to increase shipping charges for very small orders?
These may cost a bit more, but if they're important to your store, then they're worth the extra expense.
- Backend connections. If you have a computerized inventory tracking system or customer information database, you'll probably want your ecommerce web site solution to connect directly to them. Depending on the systems you use, this can be a simple configuration or some expensive custom programming. Make sure you know specifically which systems need to work together.
- Fraud prevention. Precautions can be built into the system to help detect and prevent fraudulent transactions, such as address verification service (AVS).
- Cross-sell. Sophisticated ecommerce software can be set up to recommend additional products based on the contents of a customers' shopping cart. For example, if they're buying golf clubs, it might suggest tees or balls. Imported cheese might go with fancy crackers.
- Recurring billing. Some businesses may find it useful to create recurring billing and subscriptions to bill and ship to repeat customers without the need for reordering.
- Affiliate tracking. If your products are being sold by affiliate websites, accurately tracking and reporting affiliate sales and commissions is paramount. Some advanced e-commerce packages can track which purchases should pay commissions, customize affiliates' commission rates, and automatically e-mail reports and updates to affiliate partners.