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shoppingOther than Amazon and the host of other infrastructure companies like Rackspace, the early beneficiaries of cloud computing are CRM, e-mail and document sharing.  I have written separately about some of  these  (CRM, Cloud Computing, e-mail, document sharing).   One of the main growth areas for cloud computing that is still far from mature is the adoption of e-commerce from small companies.   A majority of small companies do not have websites.  And some small companies are literally making a killing online at the expense of the larger brick and mortar outlets. Simply defined, e-commerce is a shopping cart and CMS (Content Management System) based website.

As Broadband speeds and data improves, e-commerce will reach new heights.       While IBM (WebShere), Oracle, SAP, Hybris and Demandware all have strong e-commerce solutions, they are mainly positioned for large end of market and do not have mature subscription (SaaS) based solutions.   A Hybris solution, for example, costs more than $500,000.     So making e-commerce easy for small companies is a very large opportunity.     Three companies who are using a Software and a Service (SaaS) subscription model and making it inexpensive to set up a website and take orders are Bigcommerce, Volusion and Shopify.     For those that like to buy Australian, Bigcommerce is Australia based and gets most of its’ customers from USA.   The subscription model for these costs from $15/month for basic package to $300/month for advanced functions.    Big Commerce does not charge bandwidth or transaction fees.   Most include a free trial period of 2 weeks.

Let’s look at why it is a good time for small businesses to establish or improve their webpresence with an e-commerce site.

1) The greater bandwidth of Australia’s NBN is going to unleash a enormous amount of on-line shopping.    Listening to Gerry Harvey (from Harvey Norman), you know that there is already a huge change afoot to online shopping.    Some very small business owners are carving out on-line niches by focusing on quality and service.

2) Other than e-commerce and faster broadband, other technology changes are making it easier to offer a fantastic online experience.   The modern look of a contact centre now makes it possible to combine phone calls, chat and e-mail (unified communications) into one service centre.    This is not only an ecomomy of scale, but also helps build two of the most important aspects in sales and marketing:

  • Consistency – Branding, Service, Actions, Promises
  • Loyalty- Loyalty programs and tracking
  • e.g. how you treat a customer when there is a problem
  • e.g. honest and integrity in business dealings

Consistency

Consistency is critical in marketing.   Not just consistent messages and branding, but consistency in service.   If people prefer to talk by phone or chat or e-mail, give them that choice.    Ensure that the service and information on the website and on the phone/chat/email is consistent.  Consistency in service and actions is now possible with analytics used to measure but also social marketing tools to monitor customer feedback.

Not only is it easy to set up and brand your website, taking orders in multiple currencies, giving options on shipping and tracking shipments is being ‘democratized’.   That is, pricepoints are within reach for the small companies to offer similar consistency of service as the big guys.    The SEO and social marketing tools also allow you to take action when your product or service is not reaching your goal of keeping people happy.     All of these elements improve service at point of sale.   Service is perhaps the most important element here as loyalty and word-of-mouth maketing is built on it.

Loyalty

Once you get beyond the sale, the most important element becomes loyalty.   Not just loyalty programs and tracking how they spend, but how you treat people when there is a problem.     It is proven that if you “do the right thing” when there is a problem, this action not only builds loyalty with your brand but get the word of mouth turning positive on forums and social media.

Real Example of building loyalty: An early example of how one e-commerce giant builds loyalty is Amazon’s book sales.    Not only do they keep track of preferences and have flexible information and service offerings to improve sales, Amazon responds well when there is a problem, even when it is out of their control.     When the postal service delivers a book that had obviously been ruined with moisture/rain, Amazon is quick to send out a new book without asking you to return it.      The overall experience builds trust and you do not hesitate to order another online product from Amazon.

e-Commerce and the Cloud

Cloud Computing and specifically SaaS solutions are now available for you to build a cost effective pathway to your clients.     The flexibility of today’s offering allow you to deliver a full strategic offering that builds on a solid technology foundation to deliver consistency and loyalty which is used to maximise the growth of your business.

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