Commerce in the 21st Century
Today almost every company has a website and most have an ecommerce section selling some product or service. Let’s face it; the impersonal world of marketing has taken over the web just as predicted by my stone faced professor at UMass.
When I studied web mastering, at least that is what we called it then, there was no criteria set and the World Wide Web was unsettling with images just making their first appearance. If you are old enough, you might remember those graphics with fire coming out of them and midi files that started playing music sounding like it came out of a rusted tin can, off-key. A lot has changed over the years and Netscape Navigator (now Fire Fox) isn’t so powerful and Yahoo doesn’t call the shots any longer either. But there are other things that have not changed, like the desire to make money.
While taking classes I remember thinking, back in 1994, that someday the computer, television, and phone would become one device and that has happened. The smart phone has changed everything, which brings me to my point on Ecommerce. The smart phone is where these three technologies work together for our entertainment and shopping pleasures. Ecommerce online has developed to become three things as well, an unholy trinity of entertainment, greed, and content management software (CMS). The entertainment is by first impression (and functionality – credibility), the greed comes from the shopper who makes endless comparisons of information (specifications and price), and the CMS comes from some place in hell I assure you.
So what is it like to develop an eCommerce site? First it has to function and that is where the CMS comes into play. Today there are some real players in the market, Shopify, WooCommerce, Virtuemart to keep it down to the biggest three and of course continuing the trinity metaphor. These programs, generally called shopping carts, are hosted inside another system such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, which are the most popular open source software on the market. You could also choose something along the line of a site hosted by Yahoo Stores or Google Shopping for your shopping site and some people do because they believe, mistakenly, that this will assure success. Yet there is still more to it than the CMS or where you choose to put your store because there is another unholy trinity of SEO, Usability testing, and subscription services that modify your output to the screen.
Don’t Run Off Quite Yet
Before you run off and start to use one of the above services, know this, your company web guru must understand not only how the shopping cart works but also the hosting program that keeps the shopping cart software in tact, if he or she doesn’t understand everything concerning the entire system you are totally screwed. When you select someone to manage your eCommerce solution make sure that person and their team, yes it takes a village, knows their stuff. If your eCommerce team doesn’t know Jack, then guess what, you’re screwed and this is especially true when including SEO on your webpages.
It gets worse because none of those shopping carts is any good without a professionally developed template to display the data to the customers. And even if you get everything right you will need to have several people look at the site when it is completed to tell you everything you did right and wrong. This “Usability Testing” or “ux” as abbreviated, is the key to your success. This “ux” team should not be employed by your web developer entirely. Get your friends involved, their friends, friends of friends and a bunch of total strangers. Host a luncheon with a big friggin’ TV to use as a monitor and show off your site and ask people their opinions. If you can afford it get another company to do the ux after you did all of the above. Usability is what matters once everything else is in place and those people specializing in usability testing should be paid with shovelfuls of gold because they are going to make you richer than you are now and they are going to keep the money coming in.
How do people pay? Oh, a credit card right! Once you start to ask for money the problems of developing an eCommerce site are just beginning. Any company bringing an online catalog to the public, especially if it has a buy here/now section where people can check out online, must follow certain procedures. You need to have an SSL certificate to display in the address bar so the people who use your site feel safe and encryption to protect the data being transferred from interception and decoding, then another service to process credit cards, and at least one other alternative way to pay.
Believe me, I know, because on a recently developed site I installed PayPal as the processing system at the clients request and later had to add “Stripe,” (link) a different processing service, because PayPal held all the money greater than $2,500 for a month, just in case there was a problem with the purchase. Not many companies are going to survive on $2,500 a month right. So the site now offers two ways to pay because some people insist on PayPal and soon they will insist on ApplePay, ThisPay, or ThatPay as well and you should be thankful they are not demanding BitCoin.
The Constant Changes
Online commerce has become a world of other factors as well. What worked just six months ago won’t work now because Google decided it needed a better way to qualify web pages for first page results. Google was right of course because the SEO guys got good at their jobs and everyone was vying for first position or at least first page position. So Google and Bing insisted that we web developers install schema information on all our data. Nothing wrong with that really, it needed to be done, but what if you just paid some joker thousands of dollars a month prior to that change and then the orders stopped coming in. It would make it hard for you to recoup your investment right and yes, it happened, it will happen again, and again, and again as things on the web improve for end users who are searching for instant gratification.
So let me give you some advice if you are developing an eCommerce site for the web. Get a web guy or gal that understands things change and will work with you to keep your system up to date. Keep that person on retainer and treat them well. I tell my small clients that they need to use WordPress and WooCommerce more than any other system. I have developed in Joomla and Virtuemart as well but the updates from the WordPress people and the templates from WooCommerce are done better and kept up to date without breaking a clients back to pay for them. Please note you web people, before you contact me, the reason I say WordPress is better is because of “Child Themes” which help keep things humming along and the support through WooCommerce is fantastic.
Commerce in the 21st century will be ever evolving. You better be prepared to evolve with it too. Know that what works today will not necessarily work tomorrow and every company must have a plan to keep up with it. Hire someone that understands these things, knows how important it is to back up your data, and has a plan to update your software weekly. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the issue with this brief article and have not touched on new HTTP protocols, PHP, SQL or any of the functions that are taken into consideration when serving up the shopping cart. Security is a whole science in itself and so is branding and usability testing.
My advice is to hire a professional with experience and be prepared for the greater profits realized by those who do it right. Do it yourselfers’, yes you, you will make more money than you ever pay out to have it done right the first time. Do it wrong and your information may just get lost in the search results. Then you will end up paying for SEO and PPC for the rest of your business life and if you don’t think that is expensive I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.
Good luck! If you need help feel free to call 443-252-6170.
The Absolute Minimums
- Secure your site with SSL
- Two or three ways to pay
- Local pick-up option
- Daily, Weekly and Monthly Updates (Security, software, templates)
- Change the User Interface Welcome Page often (for SEO)
- Contact Information
- Policies right out front
- Telephone Support
- Quarterly Testing by outside agencies
- Back end reporting