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iCommerce



iCommerce

The web is a new environment that acts as a communications medium, an entertainment arena, and a global business centre. The whole concept of Internet business can be encapsulated by the term icommerce.

This relatively new business environment will become the largest and most important economic force in the world. It can be used by local, national and global players; and because of its structure, even a small business can achieve global visibility. Enterprises can function purely through the Net, or as an addition to an offline presence. New ways of doing business have been found, and more will come. New ideas can be made to work on the web when they would fail in the brick and mortar world. All these reasons mean that icommerce will become vital both on a large and small scale, to national economies and to local businesses.

Technology and marketing have combined to produce a new and vibrant business world that can and should be utilised to the full by all enterprises. As more business moves online and leaves the high street, and more enterprises start up purely to trade on the Net, the traditional business markets will lose power and influence. The way the business and communications worlds are changing because of the Net needs to be taken account of. Just as newspapers, with their 12 to 24 hour old news lost ground to the Net-based media with their faster, 6 to 12 hour old news, now even they are losing ground to social news media which are instant. The Net is a place for instant news and very fast change.

Success must be measured in terms of annual revenue, though in some business models it can be difficult to align this precisely with web performance. Where traffic and sales can be defined, performance is more easily measured. In general, ROI in icommerce, ie web-related projects, is superior to offline projects for most enterprises because the investment is lower, overheads are lower, returns are faster, and revenues can grow exponentially if the correct methodology is applied.

It has been noted that where an enterprise only grudgingly admits to this new world, or simply tacks Net use on to the existing business operation, success is not usually achieved in full. In contrast, where an enterprise fully embraces the concept by exploring all avenues and allocating the proper resources, full success is much more likely to be achieved. iCommerce demands an immersive approach otherwise benefits are less attainable.

iCommerce managers

We act as icommerce consultants during our normal business practice of engaging on enterprise plans, specifying CMS and ecommerce solutions, managing the implementation, carrying out web marketing campaigns, and managing the website. Although it is possible to fix a website and get better results, via a site rebuild and SEO, we always used to go deeper and examine the whole business situation. From experience we knew this was more successful, and as we were not simply keyword promoters or link builders it tended to work out more successfully. You can contract to build links for someone but it will never work as well as doing the job properly - though of course they must have the budget to invest in online business expansion.

It only takes one further step to complete the task of full icommerce management: to take over as business managers for the site, and make all and any decisions about the commercial future of the site. To do this we sign an Agreement with the business owner, and agree on a payment structure. As we have an MBA business manager, a web technology manager, a corporate accountant and corporate counsel, full business management is a practical and successful solution.

The aims of such an arrangement are normally to manage the online business in such a way that brand strength and image are reinforced, and web revenues increased year on year. Business owners who enter into these agreements with us are generally from these three groups:
  • Business owners with little time to devote to an online business and who trust specialists to do a better job
  • Companies who recognise that specialists do a better job
  • Companies who do not wish to assign staff to this area of the business

New business

What factors does a start-up need to consider for maximum web performance? Some of these will be the same as offline factors, some are totally new in business terms:
  • The business idea
  • The business model
  • The web interface
  • Embrace web business and explore all avenues for success
 - these are the crucial points. Normally a web-based start-up has far lower costs than any other form of business, so it is attractive for new enterprise.

Established web business

What factors are important for established web businesses? The previous points are valid - but one aspect is of more importance to an established business.

Looking purely at the web interface, the requirements have changed dramatically in the last few years. Radical changes have occurred both in the web technology used to publish a website, and in numerous factors concerned with the material.

It used to be the case that website appearance was paramount, but this is no longer true - there are other important factors now. Standards compliance for example has become vital, as it is a catch-all term for legal and code compliance factors that can make or break a site in a competitive market. Also, usability and marketing factors are now much more important, as intense competition in the English-speaking Internet markets mean that consumers are spoiled for choice.

A website therefore:
  • Must be of provable high quality when analysed in depth
  • Be very easy to use
  • Sell effectively

Traditional business v icommerce

In what way is icommerce different from high street business? Here are some areas where there are differences:
  • for the average business, start-up costs in icommerce are much lower
  • new ideas may work when they could not succeed offline
  • results are faster if you prioritise for this
  • your reach is wider and therefore your customers are spread much further away
  • you can trade globally almost as easily as locally
  • partnerships are more important
  • partners may frequently be overseas
  • brand and image tend to count for more
  • image can be created online much easier than offline
  • new technologies are more important
  • marketing campaigns are far easier to measure and quantify
  • many areas of online business and technology have no direct offline equivalent
  • success is achieved with less pain if the medium is embraced fully

Ecommerce

This is a term for a section of the market where websites sell products or services directly through the site. This has been made possible by database-driven functionality, and these sites (like all database-driven ones) actually have no pages on the server. The web pages that you see are generated dynamically by the ecommerce application, from a database and image folders. Smaller ecommerce applications, and especially add-ons for other software such as a CMS, are known as shopping carts.

CMS use in icommerce

Content Management Systems are the modern, database-driven website machinery that 90% of businesses are likely to use eventually. Web pages on sites that use these applications can be edited online by the owners, and the websites can have new features added quickly by means of plugins, so that development costs are not a major factor when the functionality required has been utilised before. Part of the attraction of a CMS is that many users will have been down the road you are on, and their experience transfers to you since you have the benefit of using plugins others have already developed. Many ways of using the enterprise's media are easily available, and new designs or layouts for a page or the entire site can be implemented rapidly at low cost. In this way, CMS is a major facilitator for icommerce.

Only tiny sites or those based entirely on custom functionality will remain as hand-coded websites. Enterprises should be looking now at how to upgrade, if they have not already done so. Remember to appoint a project manager to oversee quality control, and have this area fully mapped in the deliverables, since quality is the most common fail point in current implementations.

Community-based sites

Another successful business model on the Net is the community or membership-based website. More than any other, these depend on new ideas and new ways of doing business, and often develop from localised services that just keep growing.

Where these develop into mega-sites, they are undoubtedly among the most successful of all, because of the vast numbers of potential customers. However, start-ups that specifically address this concept are among the most hit-or-miss of all.

The new database-driven technology provides a basis for many of these sites: forums, wikis, blogs and so on could not have existed or worked properly before. These new community facilities can also be added on to regular sites, to create additional interest and involvement.

Online success

Success in icommerce is achieved by skill, planning, motivation or luck - or a combination of all - just as in offline business. But there is one way in which online business has a major advantage: there is a clear path for success. It goes like this:
  • Set up a viable business in the first place
  • Ensure that the web interface - the website and all that surrounds it - are of the highest possible quality
  • Engage an icommerce consultant to ensure targets are achieved
Your business needs to be viable, and especially so in certain areas: it is very easy indeed to compare your offerings to those of others. You need to be better, or handling some aspects much better.

Your website is obviously critical to the success of the venture. Most people assume that a good-looking site will do the trick, but there is a lot more to it than this now. Your watchword needs to be quality, as this is one area where so many enterprise websites fall down. A full audit must show that the website is of standards-compliant code, is accessible, legally compliant, scores well for usability, and markets your offering successfully.

If you don't have Internet business experts on your staff, hire one to tell you if you are covering all the bases. It is the cost of a consultancy fee measured against the cost of lost business or legal fees.

Remember that success in icommerce demands that you embrace the medium and explore avenues that are perhaps not applicable in offline business.

 
Web Business Managers