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Why E-Commerce Still Isn’t Easy To Do Wed 10 Nov 10

Recognizing the difference of the Internet is key to online sales success

Shopping Cart Misshap Wiedmaier Doing business over the Internet, whether B2C or B2B, is not the same as the traditional pre-Internet methods.   I’m sure the typical response to this is “well, duh!”  That simple statement is taken as a given by most people.

Amazingly there are still people and businesses that haven’t grasped this seemingly simple concept.  The most recent example was when I ordered a meal to be delivered to my workplace for a late meeting.  I dutifully collected everyone’s selection, went to the website and entered my account information along with the credit card details.

When placing the order online I saw a notation that the restaurant would call after the order was placed to get the credit card information.  I thought that rather strange as I had already provided it.  The meal arrived at the appointed time and I was surprised yet again when the driver indicated that he needed to take an impression of the card on the receipt – the third time I had to provide my credit card for the same order!  In addition I had to re-enter the tip amount I specified when placing the order.

Conversely, other restaurants I’ve used allow people to add to the order without requiring me to collect it for them, use the credit card information that I’ve added to my account, and allow me to add the tip at the time of ordering and include it in the total.  In other words they’ve made an effort to make it easy for me to do business with them.

My second example is a candy company favored by a relative of mine.  Every year I like to send him candy for the holidays. Unfortunately, I’m a kind of “wait till the last minute” guy.  I’m usually forced to send candy from another retailer because when I go to the website I’m greeted with bad news.  Right up front in bold letters the retailer states, “PLEASE ALLOW 4-5 DAYS PROCESSING TIME ON ORDERS BEFORE WE SHIP!!”

This isn’t 4-5 days until it is delivered, it is 4-5 days to get boxes of candy ready to ship.  Conversely the company’s competitors typically ship the same day or next day at the latest and that’s why I usually end up going with its competitors.  Rather than treating the Internet as another sales channel, the candy store has chosen to treat it as a low priority extension of its brick and mortar operations.

I’m sure both of these companies thought it would be a good idea to go to the Internet as a way to increase business.  I’m equally sure that they are both disappointed with the results.  No doubt they did get some more business, but I doubt if it is near what they expected or could get.

So if you find yourself in the same situation, please bear with me and let me repeat some of the basic rules of Internet marking.

First, the Internet really is a different way of doing business.  The way people browse, find products, pay for them (e.g. one-click purchase) are all different.  How you compete is also different, your competitor isn’t  just next door, they can be anywhere in the world.  Information is freely available which means I can easily compare prices, get product and service information, and get consumer review easily before deciding who to buy from.

Because it is different, treat the Internet as a separate sales channel. Internet commerce isn’t just an extension of the traditional processes.  Marketing, communication, order placing and fulfillment–and sometimes even pricing–are all different. Therefore you should address them differently, including treating it as a separate business unit when possible.  Compromising between Internet and traditional channels serves neither one well.

Finally, make it easy to place an order and make it easy for repeat customers. Clicks matter. Navigation, interaction with customer sales reps, search and support are often as important than price in the Internet world.  One of the first things I learned about the way to be successful in business was to make it easy for customers to do business with you.  This is true for both the Internet and traditional business models.  It’s just that easy means different things for each.

Hopefully, someone will take all of this to heart and I won’t have to order candy 4-5 days early this year. I’m confident a competitor is more that willing to get my business – again.

Article_end_divider"Shopping Cart Misshap"[sic] photo by Wiedmaier / CC BY NC 2.0 

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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