E-commerce is the broad term used for merchandising goods and services -- whether wholesale or retail -- over the Internet. It can mean either order-taking or transaction processing, but some people use it only when they mean both.
It is likely to be the explosive growth area, and those who have promotional Websites established will be well placed to take advantage of it when the boom starts.
At the present time, the main growth in e-commerce has been in the USA, partly because they are the world leaders, and partly because they have a better secure payment system over the Internet than we have in the UK. Development here is advancing, with MasterCard and Visa leading the way, but in our view, payment processing arrangements from the major players have not yet caught up with the speed at which the web moves, and security remains an issue of concern for most users. Therfore we believe that the benefits of online commerce and realtime transaction processing are not yet easily available for smaller businesses.
For this reason, although we are happy to work through the options with you if you want to commit to real-time online transactions, we currently advise clients to restrict online sales to order processing, with transactions and payments being made by traditional methods.
Although this is a dynamic area, we presently think that the best approach is to take and confirm orders by form/email, then ring or fax the customer to discuss credit card payment arrangements and delivery, or have the customer contact you by fax, phone or letter with their credit card details.
We have found from experience that a successful website follows an organic growth cycle with defined stages.
- It often begins as a promotional site, providing information about the organisation
- Then it becomes a focus for visitors and brings enquiries about products and services.
- The site develops to provide some more detailed information about products and services
- It develops a section that advertises products and services
- This leads to email enquiries and orders, with goods and services paid for by traditional methods.
- The pressure slowly builds for online ordering.
The most advanced of the UK sites have crossed his barrier and have introduced online real-time sales, and more are partway along the path.
The following links will take you through most of the things you should consider when evaluating E-commerce for your business.