Ecommerce solutions are evolving. Customer’s expectations are changing as new technology emerges to meet their needs. In this rapidly changing environment, the challenge to find the best solution for a business has never been more difficult. Choose the wrong technology, and a company may be faced with the same decisions a year from now, after spending anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000.
Hosted solutions are the next generation delivery model for eCommerce software. The vendor invests in building and maintaining the infrastructure, and the business owner subscribes to the solution. With the software-as-a-service model or “cloud computing” model, software is delivered on demand; companies pay only for the features required for their business on a monthly subscription basis. The setup cost is greatly reduced, and the monthly maintenance fee (including tech support) is a fraction of the cost of hiring a part time staff and maintaining an eCommerce site in-house.
Every type of company, regardless of its application hosting needs, is a candidate for cloud computing. Smaller companies obtain a low upfront cost into hosting with the ability to scale up as needed. A medium-sized company would benefit from immediate access to computing resources that would typically require significant upfront capital and staff to support. For large companies, cloud computing provides important redundancy and solution scalability.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing reduces the cost of computing resources, while increasing system flexibility and scaling. Since all data and applications are collected and stored “in the cloud,” access to this information may be obtained from any computer with Internet access. Thus, cloud computing can make services more accessible, such as sending emails or invoices, reviewing documents and invoices or setting up appointments from home, the office or on the road. There are several factors that should be considered when deciding on any effective eCommerce solution.
Customization and Flexibility
An eCommerce solution should be customizable and flexible. Do not pick a solution that bends the business rules to fit the solution.
One of the most important tasks is finding a scalable solution that can accommodate business growth for the long term. Cloud computing allows a company to scale up or down, on demand. For companies that only require minimal resources, there are entry-level solutions that bill only for actual usage with no minimum fees. Then, as business increases, it is possible to increase capacity accordingly, without making any technical changes.
In a fast-paced, technology-driven world, instantaneous reporting across all aspects of a business is vital. CEOs and decision makers require a 360˚ view of customers and sales to make decisions that will increase sales. Key data includes purchases and sales figures by item, customer or region, order status and pending orders. An efficient reporting mechanism is essential.
Transparent Software Updates
Software updates, which will be necessary with any eCommerce system, should be transparent and require minimum downtime. With a cloud delivery model, the vendor develops the application and instead of installing it on premises, the business will subscribe to the modules they need. The software vendor leverages the high cost of software development and maintenance by amortizing the cost among many customers, a win-win approach. Customers obtain access to a high-end solution at a fraction of the cost of custom development.
Rich and Functional Features
Essential eCommerce features (real time shipping calculation, ease of use, data import/export capability, sales and promotion tools, reporting, tracking, up-selling and cross-selling), should be supplemented by personalization features. These enable the platform to recognize every customer, know their product order history, allow them to easily reorder and even reward them according to their previous buying patterns. Next generation eCommerce solutions should also provide the tools to extract valuable intelligence about different aspects of the business. A typical solution may have hundreds of features and modules that in combination offer endless possibilities to the business owner.
Integrated Marketing Tools
The wealth of information accumulated by an eCommerce system is useless if the data cannot be used to generate more sales. Analytics data should improve customer communication. Simple capabilities such as generating a report on customers who purchased a certain product, and then sending them an email about the availability of excess inventory on that product at a special price, can boost sales.
Design and Layout Elements
Great features mean nothing if they are not adequately presented. The site should behave like a virtual sales representative and accommodate the demands of customers. Maintain control over design, so the company is not locked in to the vendor for every change.
Search Engine Friendly
Incorporate Search Engine Optimization features, such as the ability to add head tags per layout, category and product (head tags are meta tags, or keywords, used to draw search engines). Should one of the head tags be empty the system should be smart enough to automatically use the “parent” head tags.
Future trends are moving toward the cloud model. An eCommerce solution based on this model preserves the business owner’s investment and saves the cost of hiring in-house staff. When exploring cloud-computing options, choose a vendor that offers a scalable and flexible solution that will automate the business practices a company needs to service its customers and increase sales.