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Building eCommerce Websites That Work - Part 1
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|eCommerce - A Plan
Planning an ecommerce website is like building a house -
architecture and budget need to be agreed before the decoration.
AN AGREED REQUIREMENTS SPECIFICATION MUST BE DRAWN UP AS THE
FIRST STAGE BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE IS DONE - ANY OTHER APPROACH
WILL ONLY LEAD TO CONFUSION AND WORSE.
Once an AGREED REQUIREMENTS SPECIFICATION has been agreed then
solutions need to be evaluated and costed against that
- Project management - Hardware - Web design and software - Site
marketing - Project management:
All aspects of the project need to be managed. Decide who is
going to do it and properly plan the requirements, activities,
outcomes, milestones and timings.
Your choices here are a managed service or your own server. The
security and disaster recovery aspect that is achieved by
hosting with a major provider is very important. Only go with
your own server if you have the experience and facilities.
Design and Software:
Develop site templates and test them with real people. They have
to be easy to use and navigate. Don't let "design" drive the
site; let ease of use and sales drive the "design". Think how
the customer thinks.
At least 5 solutions need to be considered.
- Updating - Shopping cart - Forum - Email - Statistics
There are 2 realistic routes here. Either an online or an
offline, PC based content management system (CMS). The online
CMS can be either an Open Source CMS (Open Source means any
application that has been made available, generally free, to
developers to view and modify freely. Examples of Open Source
applications are MySQL and PHP) or commercial.
There are pros and cons to both routes. An online system is
available to anyone with relevant security clearance anywhere
any time. A PC based system is, obviously, limited to the PCs
running the licenses. An example of a PC based system is
Macromedia Contribute which integrates with Dreamweaver. There
are a whole range of online Commercial and Open Source options
such as SuiteWise�, Drupal, Joomla, and Website Baker etc.
However, even this is complicated by the fact that some of the
shopping cart solutions also contain CMS that may be sufficient
for many companies' requirements.
Shopping cart and CRM
There are also 2 realistic routes for the shopping cart - Open
Source or commercial.
There are excellent Open Source shopping carts such as
OSCommerce and Zen, but also excellent commercial solutions such
as Actinic and Customer Focus Quick Order Portal (which comes
with a complete CMS).
There are other factors to consider with the shopping cart:
- Does it have its own or does it easily integrate with your
exiting stock control systems?
- Does it integrate easily with
accounting systems (e.g. Sage,
- Does it have or integrate easily with Customer Relationship
Management (CRM) systems that may be proposed in future?
Many CMS have good integrated forums but if they do not our
recommendation would be to use a good Open Source package such
as PunBB or phpBB. They are free, robust and easy to integrate
and customise into any site.
Most CMS, shopping carts and forums have email solutions.
However, some solutions are very basic. If the chosen shopping
cart solution that best meets the ecommerce and other
requirements does not have an effective integrated email
solution and if the same be true of the CMS and forum solutions
then stand alone Open Source applications such as PHPlist are
one alternative solution and the other is an online solution
such as Constant Contact or many others.
This is arguably the most important part of the package. If you
do not know how visitors to your website and in the shop are
behaving, what turns them on and what turns them off then it is
far, far harder to improve sales and site profitability.
Commercial applications such as WebTrends and ClickTracks need
to be evaluated for best fit.
There are 4 major areas to consider here.
- Offline marketing - e.g. in-store. What works most cost
effectively to drive traffic and orders via the web from non-web
- Site optimisation - how to make sure technical structure,
copy, content, back-links and a range of other factors are
initially and remain optimised so that as many high search
engine placements on relevant searches are obtained.
- Pay per click and other online marketing - how to get traffic
from advertising against key words and phrases used in search
engines and from adverts on other sites.
- Email - how to grow the email list and use it to grow
- Manage the project - Think how the customer thinks - Get
excellent software to make finding product and price easy - Make
terms clear and payment simple - Ensure you are in stock and and
have achievable delivery timescales - Make sure you have a good
CRM system and clear communications - mail, phone, emai - Market
the site appropriately - Know what's going on - use your stats
to test, track and try
Cost ............ well how long is a pice of string, but you
could be up and running for far less than the cost of new
About the author:
Richard Hill is a director of E-CRM Solutions and has spent many
years in senior direct and interactive marketing roles. E-CRM -
http://www.e-crm.co.uk - helps you to grow by getting you more
customers that stay with you longer. We provide practical
solutions that pay for themselves. We help you to make sure that
your marketing works.