By: Keith Neubert – Bayshore Solutions Vice President

At Bayshore Solutions we deal with a wide variety of interactive projects, all of which have their own unique requirements, challenges and solutions.  But with global online sales exceeding 1 trillion dollars (census.gov), the appeal of implementing, or expanding an ecommerce solution makes this project type especially common. So with that in mind I thought I’d offer up a quick list of discussion points and questions that will help you get your project started.  Contrary to what the title of my blog may imply, this is certainly not an all-encompassing list, just a few to get you started.

1.  Platform – Choose Wisely.  If it’s not obvious already, the platform you choose is very important.  You’re about to get engaged and you need to make sure this is someone you can spend a lot of time with.  Sure you can always switch, but just like in marriage, its costly and causes a lot of headaches.  The key here is working with your solution provider to evaluate your specific requirements, compare to the feature set of the various ecommerce platforms and identify the gaps.  Think about what you need now versus what you may need a year from now.  Your solution provider should be able to help you understand the pros and cons of each platform based on your requirements, how that platform will grow with you and how it will be maintained along the way.

 

2.  Products – What are you selling?  Depending on the type of product you’re offering and its attributes there are several ways your ecommerce platform could be setup.  Take the basic example of a t-shirt.  You have sizes and colors, maybe even fabrics and collar types.  How many attribute combinations do you have?  At what point does product selection become product configuration? Perhaps some of these attributes, or some combination of these attributes together create changes in pricing?  Will you sell gift cards?  What about virtual products that are electronically deliverable such as software?  These are important questions to start with as you map out how customers will navigate through your store and what they will see, not to mention how you will setup and manage.

 

3.  Payment & Taxes – There are several subtopics that fall under this in which I could spend more space than this blog offers discussing, so I’ll touch on a few key items you need to be thinking about.

  •  Who is your payment gateway?  There are a ton of them out there, chances are you’ve heard of the big ones: PayPal, CyberSource and Authorize.net.  Why is this important?  Well if it’s your first venture into the world of online payments then there is a whole other set of considerations, perhaps the topic of another blog, but for the business that already has a payment gateway chances are you’re not going to just switch without a good business case, so you need an ecommerce solution that can integrate with your payment gateway.  Most platforms provide ‘out of the box’ support for the popular gateways, some require customizations.  Make sure you’re communicating which gateway you have and what specific service from that gateway you’re using.
  •  Payments –  At this point you have the means to process payments, now you need to define exactly how you want to charge your customers.  Are you charging them at the time of sale (known as auth/capture) or do you need to authorize (auth) their card and charge them at the time of fulfillment?  Do you need recurring payments?  On what schedule? What about foreign transactions and currencies?  Lots of questions can start emerging here, but it’s important to think through all of them because they can affect how your ecommerce solution is built or which platform is selected.
  • Taxes – What you need to do and who you need to charge what and when is a question best answered by your accountant or counsel familiar with your business and Internet Taxation, however from a technology perspective it usually falls into a one of two buckets, fixed or dynamic.  Meaning you can manage them manually through the backend (fixed) or you can use a third party provided like StrikeIron (dynamic) to automate tax based on the most up to date rules specific to the addresses of your customers.

4.  Discounts and Promotions – Speaking of big topics….  Most popular ecommerce platforms these days provide a wide variety of built-in discounts and promotions enabling your marketing team to rapidly deploy, manage and report on campaigns.  The list of possibilities would probably span pages, but just for the sake of giving some common examples: percent off, dollar off, discount off order total, discount off shipping, free shipping, number of times used per customer, use by role type, number of times used overall and many more.  This is an area in which it’s easy to want every combination, so make sure you have a good list of your wants vs. needs.  Give your solution provider examples and have them document what is built-in vs. custom.

5. Shipping – Similar to taxes, shipping requirements generally fall into one of two categories, fixed and dynamic.  Perhaps your business deals with very niche shipping providers or limited products, then all you may need is a fixed amount for shipping, meaning you specify a flat shipping fee ($) applied to all orders.  More commonly, the likes of UPS, USPS and FedEx are enlisted to give customers real-time quotes and options to their address.  These services are generally free and provide a shipping estimate which is then applied to the customer’s order.  The next step up would be integrating something like UPS’ WorldShip product which while giving the customer the shipping charges, also creates the actual shipment and allows you to provide a tracking number and print shipping labels on the backend.  Again, this is a topic in which there are many options and the possibility for a lot of customization.  Fortunately though, many ecommerce solutions have these services built in and it’s just a matter of configuring it through the administration area.

Thinking through all of the above and asking your solution provider how their solution will meet those requirements will  certainly get you off on the right foot.  This quick list only scratches the surface, there are other BIG topics such as PCI Compliance, search engine marketing considerations, inventory management, fulfillment (topics in a future blog) and reporting to name a few.  All necessary areas of discussion in your project and perhaps the topic of a future blog.
At Bayshore Solutions, we’ll work with your team to go through all of your ecommerce requirements and ask the right questions.  Our goal is to thoroughly understand your business and how you want to run it online.  As your internet experts we understand the wide variety of ecommerce options, technologies and platforms out there to give your online business the best chance for success.  Remember with technology the answer to a question that starts with “can you make it do…” is almost always going to be “yes” but the real value your solution provider should be bringing, the value that Bayshore Solutions brings, is having the expertise, experience and foresight to do it efficiently and cost effectively to grow your business online.

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