Guide to online shopping #2

Author -  Allan Kent [Guest]

Setting up the infrastructure for online shopping

One of the first things to consider - is the existing stock control system able to handle online sales? Depending on the model being used, stock may be centrally held and dispatched as orders come in, or it could be distributed amongst the various outlets in which case accurate record keeping is vital to ensure orders are fulfilled and customer satisfaction is kept high.

Before going online and setting up an e commerce system, it is important to test your internal processes as a whole, making sure that defined procedures are in place for:

  • Order acknowledgement
  • Picking and packing
  • Despatch
  • Customer returns
  • Warranties

Generally some additional warehouse training will be required.

Consistency is another key infrastructure area to get right. The branding and value concept must be consistent  across all points of sale, i.e. the website, the shop(s) and within the channel. A lack of consistency sends mixed messages and has the potential to destroy all the work that has gone into creating a positive brand image.

As well as the consistency in look and feel other considerations are:

  • If you have sales or promotions, the run dates are the same across all channels.
  • Pricing is consistent – unless the purpose of the site is specifically to offer items at a different price. If that is so, this policy should be explained up front. This can work if the website is used as a clearance centre to sell over stocked items.
  • There is consistency in the returns policy, for example all returns are exchanged for credit, or returns with receipt/invoice within 14 days for full credit etc.
  • You have a centralised customer data base system with a single record for each client.

Staff motivation. As mentioned earlier, if you already have physical points of sale setting up facilities for online shopping can have an impact on staff or agents in these areas, so consider how you can keep them motivated.

Suggestions include:

  • Attribute on line sales of a customer to the home store or closest store to a customer.
  • Encourage store pick ups rather than delivery. This encourages add on sales opportunities.
  • Encourage store demos for the same reason.
  • Have some items specifically store only purchases.
  • Incentivise staff to sign up customers for membership (data collection) for email marketing. Take the message to the customer rather than passively waiting for them to come to the outlet.
  • Don’t take into account returns accepted by the outlets in the profitability figures.

The final main consideration regarding infrastructure is the online shopping mechanism itself – the website. To be effective the website needs to:

  • Be easily found. Good search engine optimisation and links from popular directories (together with off line marketing) will help get potential shoppers to the site
  • Once there, it needs to grab their attention and let them know that they are in the right place to meet their needs. Remember, unlike a physical shop, your competitor is just a click away!
  • The customer needs to be able to find what they are looking for easily, or, be led to where they need to be.
  • The products need to be well displayed and given detailed information (remember, there is no salesman on hand to help, and the ability to touch and feel is not there)
  • The shopping procedure needs to be as simple as possible with returns and warranty policies clearly explained.
    • Orders need to be acknowledged immediately.

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