What is E-Commerce?

E-Commerce simply put, is selling goods and services on the internet. An e-commerce website has three components

  • The Catalog
  • The Shopping Cart
  • The Content Management System

The Catalog

A Catalog should present your products in a logical fashion that is easy for the user to navigate. Typically product lines are broken down into 3 or 4 categories and subcategories. For instance, a clothing retailer might categorize their product line as Mens-Shirts-Dress Shirts-Long Sleeve-Product. Each product should be capable of being described by material, color and size. A good catalog should be capable of showing both an original price and a sale price for those items that are on sale. Special or Promotional items should be listed in a separate catalog showing their original price and their promotional price.

For seasonal, promotional, and close out items, it is important that your catalog be capable of inventory control. This prevents you from selling goods on the internet that you don't have and avoids the hassle of reversing credit card transactions and disappointing customers.

The Shopping Cart

A shopping cart should provide the following functionality

  • List the products and quantities purchased
  • Provide a logon for returning customers
  • Capture the shipping information
  • Capture the billing information
  • Validate coupons
  • Validate the credit card information
  • Customer review
  • Navigate to any screen to change information
  • Charge the credit card
  • Send email receipt

The customer should be able to modify their list of purchased products at any time even during the checkout process. If you have returning customers, they shouldn't have to rekey their billing information. They will appreciate this feature provided you have provided assurances of the confidentiality of their information. Your shopping cart should have enough error checking logic in it to make sure that the customer has keyed a valid zip code for the state or province that the goods are shipped to. Having your shipments lost or delayed in the mail because of zip code errors is not good for customer relations.

Credit card authorizations are two part transactions. The first is an address verification using the billing street address and zip code. This verification will cost you $0.12 each time for Visa and MasterCard. Each credit card company has a unique format for their credit card numbers. Your shopping cart should check the validity of the credit card number before sending the verification transaction. You don't want to pay $0.12 every time your customers make keying errors in their credit card numbers or zip codes.

Coupons are an excellent way to build traffic to your web site and increase sales. If the customers are satisfied with their experience they will be back. If your shopping cart doesn't have coupon functionality, then you are missing an opportunity to increase your sales. Coupon numbers should be randomly generated using letters and numbers so that customers can't guess. The shopping cart should be able to handle coupons of just about any type of discount you can think of, from buy one get one, buy two get 10% off the third, buy one of these get $5 off one of these, etc.

A final customer review of all of the information that the customer has entered into the shopping cart serves two purposes. First, it gives the customer confidence that your web site has captured all of their information correctly. Second, it gives them the opportunity to correct any errors that they have made, saving you headaches later on when the products are returned with invalid addresses.

Navigation is extremely important to your customers. Don't trap them on a screen that doesn't allow them to go back to a previous screen to review or change information. They will become frustrated and just bail out without completing the purchase.

After the customer has verified their information, the shopping cart should charge the purchase to their credit card. When a card is denied, the shopping cart should graciously inform the customer of the denial reason, and ask them if they would like to change their order or change their credit card information, then take them to the appropriate screen.

The email receipt should contain a transaction trace number. This number will be used to handle customer inquiries about the status of their order. If the customer return some or all of the goods purchased, this number will allow you to correctly credit their credit cards for the amount of the returned goods.

The Content Management System

A Content Managment System provides the functionality that you need to manage your e-commerce web site yourself. Entrance to the Content Management System should be logon and password protected and should provide the following:

The Company Setup part of the Content Management System lets you set your company name, address, phone, etc. Your shipping carriers and shipping rates are set here as well as the sales tax rates for the various states.

The Catalog Setup lets you define your product categories, subcategories, groups, types, styles, etc. Once you have setup the organization of your catalog, you can load your products into the appropriate categories, adding materials, colors, and sizes for each product. The catalog setup should give you the ability to load thumbnail and full size pictures for each product and pictures of the various colors and pattern that each product has. Your normal, sale, and promotional prices are set up here as well. For rules and guidelines governing sale and promotional pricing we recommend that you visit the Federal Trade Commission web site.

The Coupon Management function should be able to generate random coupon numbers and allow you to define the parameters of the coupon. You should have the flexibility to define a coupon that meets your marketing needs. This can range from x% or $x off all products purchased, to x% or $x of a specific product or group of products, to buy one get one, or buy one of these and get x% or $x off one of those, or just about any wrinkle you can think of.

Order Processing tracks open orders, partially filled orders, and completed orders. When you tell the system that you are filling an order, the system should print out a packing slip and a shipping label. This saves you the time and expense of doing this manually and reduces the risk of shipping the wrong goods to the wrong address. The Order Processing system should provide you with the means of handling returned items and crediting the credit card that was used to purchase the item.

When your customers order goods from you, they give you a lot of information that you can use for marketing purposes. The Customer Management function allows you to send announcements of sales or specials and mailings of coupons. A good Customer Management system allows you to filter your customer list by selected criteria so you can target your mailings. Your system should be capable of generating mailing labels from your customer list or sending bulk email to your customers.

The Reporting Function should give you the reports you need to effectively manage your e-commerce web site. These should include:

DDGraphics WebMedia has developed our own e-commerce system that can be tailored to meet your e-commerce needs that includes all of the above functionality and more. We can also work with any e-commerce software of your choosing. Please contact us and let us help you grow your business.