The advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) has created a dynamic shift in the way businesses compete in the marketplace. The WWW allows companies, small and large, to vie for customers on an international level playing field. Establishing a web presence is essential to continued growth and development; however, there are several considerations to take into account. Some challenges facing companies transitioning into the world of e-commerce include: website design, development, hardware, software and strategic planning.
The first step in creating an e-commerce business is to create an internet marketing plan. This is the strategic plan that a company follows to capitalize off of its existing resources while taking advantage of the additional opportunities offered by the WWW. A business should examine its mission/vision and re-purpose it for the web. A comparative analysis should be made of competing businesses’ websites and internet marketing strategies. A successful e-commerce business will integrate new and emergent strategies with best practices of classical strategic planning traditionally used for brick-and-mortar companies. An e-commerce business must be flexible enough to adjust the constant innovations in technology that may affect its online operations and customer relationship management tools.
Secondly, with a solid internet marketing plan in hand, an e-commerce business needs to design and develop a functional website. Website design and development has many elements. Of course the site itself should function within the identified mission/vision of the organization it represents. This means that all of its content should be clear, understandable and logical information relevant only to the products and/or services the company desires to promote. Any industry-specific jargon and technicalese should be limited and defined for the target audience. The individual website pages should be titled and indexed appropriately so that they are easily navigatable by site visitors. There should be as few distracting graphical images and special effects (i.e. flash, animations) as possible to maintain quick and easy access to the information being sought. Sites should stick to basic design conventions. All of these elements add to a website’s functionality and usability to site visitors.
Additionally, the website needs to be found. An easily identifiable but simple domain name (URL address) should be chosen. A major keyword phrase and/or the business name should be used within the site address. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and other traffic generators should be carefully chosen to drive the targeted audience to the site. This may also include the use of Web 2.0 tools such as social media, integrated site search capabilities, interactive chat features, video, shopping carts and other multimedia avenues that help to create the overall site atmosphere and streamlined experience for the end user.
Throughout the entire process, software and hardware needs must also be considered. An e-commerce business has the choice to host their website internally on their own servers or use an external hosting service. If using one’s own servers, as in the case of an intranet site, networking hardware comes into play. The applications used to design the site can be internal like MS FrontPage or external such as templates included with most hosting packages. Choices for security features to maintain customer privacy and the types of virtual merchant accounts or shopping cart applications are also vast.
Finally, since the online world is constantly changing, e-commerce businesses must develop emergent strategies to consistently monitor and adapt to online innovations and maintain site usability. Tools that offer analytics and regular site maintenance are essential to maintaining a competitive advantage.
There are many concerns when breaking into the online marketplace; however, with a solid internet marketing strategy and well thought out considerations for creating a usable site and streamlined experience for the target audience, almost any business can establish a successful web presence. The primary element to remember is to continuously be ready to address the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the World Wide Web.