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TechnologyMar 20, 2010

Are You Meeting Your eCommerce Needs?

Matt Allen

How can you ensure success in your eCommerce initiative? Why do you even want eCommerce in the first place? Once you figure that out, you will need a plan, a strategy, to achieve your goal.

First, decide on your end goal. Do you want this merely to provide information about your company to anyone who clicks on your website? Do you want a retail site to collect sales orders for your product or service? Is your goal loftier, like a site without which your customers cannot live? Will this eCommerce solution augment your sales platform, or will it become your sales platform?

With your goal identified, you now need to decide what your eCommerce solution needs to achieve that goal. If it is a purely informational website, you only need a web presence. If you want a truly invasive solution, you need a lot more.

eCommerce Needs Model

One helpful way to look at it is through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Needs Hierarchy

Each level of need corresponds to a set of technologies that are required for your website. As you move from the base of the pyramid to the apex, the eCommerce solution requires technology that is more sophisticated. The technology involved in the implementation is not self-contained in a website (internal), but interacts with systems within the company’s firewall and outside with the customer. The level of involvement with the customer moves from a basic introduction to a deep involvement in the customer’s life. In that deep involvement, your company and your customers exchange data in a mutually beneficial relationship.

So, what do you need at each step?

Basic Web Presence

You need a website, plain and simple. It does not have to be flashy. It needs to communicate to any visitor what you want that visitor to know about you. You might have some animation or some visually appealing graphics. However, you have a relatively static website. Your goal is not to interact with the customers. You want your name out there, but only for those looking for you.

Secure Order Collection

Now you have moved from a static website to an online store. You want your customer to interact with you some. You should provide your catalog and implement a secure shopping cart solution to get basic customer data. You want them to order and pay for that order. Your site has minimal integration with your accounting system, and it has no integration with any CRM system. This is a purely transactional presence.

System Integration

This next level in the hierarchy allows you to collect customer data. Now your web presence interacts with your customer data solution. It could be CRM, CDI, or some MDM solution. You are now trying to get to know your customer a little more. What are his or her buying habits? What kind of product does he or she prefer? You also can offer special deals to returning customers, rewarding their loyalty to you. You are beginning to exchange information, now, not just data.

Feedback Loop

Information exchange begins to move to a new depth at this stage. Customers can interact with your web presence and provide feedback about products, the site, or your company itself. The site is very dynamic, responding to the customer feedback quickly. Perhaps you will implement a chat feature, allowing real-time data exchange. Maybe you will implement other social networking tools as parts of your solution. Now, you are beginning to know your customer intimately, where you both exchange more than quantitative data.

Invasive Presence

In this highest level of interaction, your eCommerce solution has become a part of your customer’s life. You might have developed a mobile component, allowing your customers to take you wherever they go. Your site might even have become a part of colloquial vocabulary, where customers refer to you for certain types of actions or transactions. Your customers need your product or service, and they enjoy interacting with your company through your eCommerce implementation. Web 2.0 is definitely part of your solution, and you are pushing the boundaries as to how it is used. Your solution is dynamic, quickly evolving to meet your customers’ needs and to bring in new customers. Your product or service has become a part of your customers’ lives.

So, are you meeting your eCommerce needs?