<It is worth going back to the basics of traditional commerce to better understand e-commerce and be confident in having all the elements necessary to a winning strategy. Here are 10 key points to consider

1. What products or services are you going to sell?

Have you decided what sort of products or services you plan to sell? You need to think carefully about this. You may want to sell products that you manufacture yourself or products that you buy in and sell on. Whatever you sell, the client must understand (and appreciate) what you have on offer…. Your product catalogue is at the heart of both your business and e-commerce: carefully define your USP and ensure clients know what it is.

2. Where are you going to sell your products or services?

You may want to sell in a shop, warehouse or online. You may even want to sell through a catalogue. If clients are going to be ordering by phone or email, you will have to physically process the order. Wherever you sell, the location must be welcoming, secure and make the client want to buy from you.

3. How are you going to attract clients and potential customers to your shop?

A sufficient number of your clients and potential customers need to come to your shop. What sort of communications strategy are you going to use to attract them to your shop or website? This strategy usually comes under the umbrella term “marketing” which includes a client acquisition strategy and customer loyalty strategy.

4. What sort of sales pitch are you going to use?

Once in your shop, either physically or online, your clients and potential customers need to be convinced to buy from you. Once they’re in your shop, you want them to shop ‘til they drop! The quality of the service and the shopping experience on the whole all play a part. You can focus your pitch on any number of topics: unique products, your wide range of products, detailed information, value for money (which equals a loyal client base) etc.

5. How are you going to receive and process orders?

Your clients should be able to make their purchases as easily and efficiently as possible, whether at the checkout (with as short a wait as possible), easy-to-use and time-saving self-service checkouts, by telephone, by email or online. This is an essential part of finalising the sale.

6. How are you going to collect payment?

Which payment methods are you going to accept? You need to accept different payment methods as the client should be able to choose how to pay e.g. by cash, credit card, cheque etc. It’s up to you to offer the most popular, practical and secure payment methods.

7. How will you process and deliver the products that you have sold?

You need to consider the whole delivery process from purchase to manufacture, stock, presentation in-store and shipment. This complicated process should be quick, efficient and cost-effective. Customers like to receive their order quickly and they like to choose how they receive their delivery (suited to their lifestyle).

8. What sort of returns policy are you going to offer?

Managing returns is getting more and more important. It is a legal obligation to accept returns and the policy should be as efficient as possible. A returns policy can also be used as a means to encourage customers to make impulse buys as it frees them, psychologically at least, from being tied to a purchase that they shouldn’t have made.

9. How are you going to manage your after-sales service?

Because some products may stop working or break, an after-sales service is essential to your customers. You should have an after-sales service to organise returns, repairs and offer advice to customers at each stage of their order.

10. Is your shop going to need customer service?

Many products are complicated to use and require telephone assistance. You should offer your clients the possibility of getting assistance by telephone and using the product they have bought. Of course, this service depends on the type of product you are selling. There are two extremes. For example it is essential for IT products as the user is often at a loss as to what to do but it’s useless for the food industry. With technological changes coming thick and fast, customer service should be seen as an essential part of sales.

What are the answers to these 10 key questions?

  1. 1. Look at each question and analyse the current market and compare your aims and performance with those of your competitors. You can only succeed if you have the edge on your competitors.
  2. 2 . Identify key factors to success in your sector. Ensure that you are not only different to but also better than anything else on the market whether due to the product itself, competitive pricing, quality marketing, quality services or customer loyalty policy.
  3. 3. Formalise your strategy in terms of quality and the targets you think you can reach. If there are areas which you are unsure about, make hypotheses to help you decide how to proceed. Describe the resources you are going to need for each point whether you currently have them at your disposal or not.
  4. 4. Develop a plan of action over time. You need to make progress as each area of activity has its own time schema. It is sometimes better to make progress and test things out rather than wait too long and risk lagging behind your competitors.

These key elements are the same for e-commerce:

  • Products and services
  • Where you sell your products, the quality of your website
  • Client acquisition strategy
  • Order taking, order process and shopping cart management
  • Accepted payment methods (usually credit cards)
  • Delivery process (in software and physical terms)
  • Returns acceptance
  • Warranty guarantee
  • Essential customer service resources
  • A system to update customers about the status of their order

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