The first step to taking the plunge into the world of eCommerce is to ask one simple question; what is eCommerce?
eCommerce is the act of buying and selling over the Internet. If you are making commercial transactions online, you are already engaging in some form of eCommerce.
That said, we can now take a further leap into the deep end and learn all about what the eCommerce industry entails, how it all started, what types of eCommerce there are, as well as what eCommerce can do for you.
eCommerce has come a long way since its humble beginnings back in the 90s when the Internet officially opened to commercial use. These days, eCommerce transactions account for billions of pounds of sales each year and this amount is only on the increase.
However it all kicked off from a single transaction in 1994 when a Sting CD was sold from one friend to another, something we would now call a C2C eCommerce transaction (we will come to that shortly).
Prior to this, the original concept of eCommerce was created by Michael Aldrich in 1979. He marketed his eCommerce system as Business-to-Business (B2B) solution within the UK and parts of Europe in 1980, which originally consisted of a modified television set, combined with a telephone line and a real-time transaction processing computer.
It wasn’t until 1992 that a dial-up bulletin board system was used as an online bookstore known as Book Stacks Unlimited, by Charles M. Stack who went on to own Books.com on the Internet two years later, only to attract thousands of visitors and make massive sales. Afterwards, the company was bought by Barnes & Noble.
During the mid 90s, online marketplaces began to emerge and in 1995, Amazon.com was launched as an online bookstore that didn’t face the same physical limitations as its bricks and mortar bookshop competitors. This lead to Amazon increasing its product range beyond books and it is now the world’s largest online retailer of electronics, toys, food, clothing, furniture, as well as digital products such as eBooks, music and video downloads.
Not only did Amazon provide a platform for B2B, B2C as well as C2C eCommerce transactions, but eBay also debuted in 1995, followed by Etsy in 2005. Now the web is home to many online selling platforms which are well suited to both businesses and individual sellers alike, allowing them to trade new, used and niche items in a secure environment, with a good flow of traffic and fair mediation in the event that a dispute arises, which gives buyers the confidence to part with their hard-earned money over the Internet.
Along with the evolution of eCommerce, came the expansion of online payment solutions and mCommerce (mobile commerce).
PayPal began handling payments on behalf of eCommerce businesses in 1998 and they now allow their customers to send, receive and store funds globally across 200 countries in 26 different currencies.
Although Amazon launched its first mobile commerce website in 2001, it is the recent innovations in smart phone technology and the thriving social media culture that has massively boosted online sales through the use of mobile phones. People are now buying and selling online through hand-held devices such as mobiles and tablets, rather than just desktop and laptop computers.
There are three main types of eCommerce to engage in:
Physical Items – Typically online merchants sell a range of products which can be delivered to their customer’s doors or arranged for collection. In this generation it is now the norm to purchase clothes, electronics, gifts and even daily essential items online. Shoppers simply add items to their online shopping carts or baskets, go through to a secure checkout environment and their order is placed.
Services – Everyone from website design companies to freelancers are now providing their services over the Internet. People pay for services such as online tuition, subscription memberships, domain registration and web hosting.
The website Fiverr.com is a famous platform for freelancers selling their services which include everything from article writing to graphics design.
Digital Products – Intangible goods are the easiest things to sell over the Internet and can make for highly profitable business ideas.
Digital Products that online merchants sell include eBooks, downloadable music and videos, stock photography and computer software.
These three types can be broken down into six further categories:
Business-to-Business (B2B) – When one business provides its goods or services to another. This sort of eCommerce usually involves bulk quantities, wholesale pricing and industrial standard equipment, which would be overwhelming to an individual buyer.
Good examples of this would be the online purchase of office supplies, medical equipment and wholesale products such as sportswear direct from the manufacturers.
AliBaba.com is an Internet based marketplace which uses an eCommerce platform for manufacturers and wholesale suppliers in China to sell in bulk quantities to their customers around the world.
Business-to-Consumer (B2C) – The most well-known type of eCommerce where sales take place as they would on a traditional bricks and mortar shop floor between a business and a customer, except for the fact that everything is done via the Internet.
There is a vast range of products and services available online for the general consumer, some of the most popular being electronics, clothing and giftware, while some of the most popular services people tend to pay for are flights, online tutoring and subscriptions.
Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) – Lots of people seek to sell online however not everyone needs their own bespoke eCommerce website.
Online selling platforms such as eBay allow consumers to sell on a smaller scale to other consumers in a secure environment, which is ideal for the sale of used goods and one-off items.
Consumer-to-Business (C2B) – Contrary to typical B2C transactions, consumer-to-business transactions occur when a consumer gives value to a business by offering a service.
A good example of this is when a company pays a blogger to promote their product or service to increase brand awareness.
Business-to-Administration (B2A) or Business-to-Government (B2G) – eCommerce has revolutionised the world in such a way that even governments and public administrations have turned to the Internet for many of their business solutions too.
An example of this would be when an administration or government uses a third party business for digitalising its application submissions to enable the public to submit them online, rather than the conventional, slower paper methods.
Consumer-to-Administration (C2A) – Consumers can now make payments to public administrative bodies and governments online, thanks to the eCommerce solutions that are available to the world.
An example of a C2A eCommerce transaction would be a consumer paying taxes directly to the government using an online payment system.
The innovation of eCommerce has increased the benefits and business opportunities for all those who take part in it, and for businesses that have not taken that step forward into the world of eCommerce yet, there are clear disadvantages. So what are the benefits of eCommerce?
An eCommerce website doesn’t have the same physical limitations as a bricks and mortar shop. With an eCommerce website, you can increase your brand awareness in order to expand your customer base across the country or even around the world, as anyone who has access to the Internet can potentially make a purchase. This is particularly advantageous to mail order businesses and those who sell digital products and services.
Sellers can enjoy an increase in turnover due to the fact that their online shop can be left open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days per year. Sellers can literally generate sales while they sleep! Likewise, buyers have the advantage of shopping online from the comfort of their own homes at any time of day or night. This is extremely practical for people who are at work during peak hours, or for those who face difficulty in going out for shopping, which can be for a number of personal reasons.
Online shops require minimum attention compared to bricks and mortar shops. Less staff would be needed to run it and the overheads are significantly lower compared to having to rent and maintain a physical establishment.
If you have access to the Internet and a computer or device such as a tablet or even smart phone, you can control your eCommerce website from anywhere in the world due to it being run on a web-based control panel. A successful eCommerce business can mean that you don’t have to sit in an office all day or have the hassle of the 9 to 5 rush hours back and to either.
An eCommerce control panel helps you to carry out and maintain a full stock check of your products so you can be aware of when stock levels are too low, so that you can reorder in time so as to not miss out on sales.
When customers place an order online, they leave their names and contact details, which will enable sellers to offer them a more personalised shopping experience. Adding a friendly touch to correspondence by including the customer’s first name goes a long way and if they subscribe to newsletters, over time sellers will gain a list of customers with whom they can potentially generate more sales.
There are three types of selling platforms that you can choose from; an online marketplace, a readymade eCommerce platform or your own bespoke (tailor-made) eCommerce website.
So what is the difference?
Online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon give you the ability to sell alongside other sellers. While it seems like a promising idea considering you can get your products online somewhat instantaneously, on an already established website that has a high flow of traffic, the downside is that you will lose out on brand awareness, there is high competition and most importantly, heavy fees. If you add up the cost of these fees alone over a period of time, according the volume of your sales, you could have acquired your own bespoke online shop for a similar amount of money and still have something to show for it.
Readymade open source eCommerce platforms such as Shopify or Magento allow you to trade over the Internet using the tools to set up an online shop by yourself fairly quickly. However, open source eCommerce web development platforms tend to lack in personalisation compared to bespoke websites. Furthermore, the monthly costs of running them will build up over time to eventually cost even more than paying for your own website to be professionally developed, just like trading in an online marketplace as we have previously mentioned.
Bespoke eCommerce websites are unbeatable when it comes to flexibility as they are custom made to suit your needs.
The sky is the limit when you have your own custom-made online shop as features and functions that may be impossible on the two previously mentioned platforms, become possible.
A bespoke online shop website will give your brand more recognition and individuality as they have a unique layout with is designed according to your preferences, instead of being designed according to a prebuilt framework.
Once you have made the initial investment of acquiring a fully functional, bespoke eCommerce website, your online shop will practically run itself. With minimum maintenance required, the upfront cost of an eCommerce shop is well worth the benefits of having no geographical limitations, the reduction of overhead costs, the reduction of employment costs and most importantly, the increased number of customers to your business.
Having a bespoke eCommerce website will also save you money on advertising costs in the long term as they are built to load faster and are more search engine friendly when professionally designed.
A bespoke eCommerce website can help you to sell your products or services online, while at the same time giving you the administrative tools to manage your customer base, run a blog alongside your shop as well as maintain a healthy relationship with other relevant websites, all in one easy to use control panel.
A good, web-based control panel that has a user-friendly interface is highly beneficial for your eCommerce business and will streamline handling orders, inventory and website content anywhere you go. It's the one stop solution for running your business, blog and marketing all in one interface.
The admin control panel dashboard gives an insight on every aspect of your business at a glance; also the responsive design means that no matter whichever device you use to view it, the organised layout won't be compromised. This is perfect for keeping up to date with your business while you are on the go.
See how many orders that need to be processed, how many of them are awaiting dispatch and how many have already been completed, along with a bar chart which clearly displays your business turnover in daily, weekly, monthly, triannually and yearly increments.
Keep track of how many records have been created, including inventory records and their categories, blog posts, pages, directory listings, links to other websites and all their relevant categories, as well as customer signups and subscriptions.
View notifications of unapproved user comments to speed up the moderation process.
There is also a useful section for compiling lists of important notes; this section is in yellow so that it is noticeable every time you check the dashboard.
View new order records with all the information required to fulfill the order, access order records with important notes added, while at the same time having easy access to orders that are awaiting payment or shipment and orders that have already been processed.
You can also keep an eye on cancelled orders and reach out to customers in order to decrease checkout abandonment
With the capability to add unlimited products, the control panel makes it easy to keep a stock check and manage pricing, product images, weights and descriptions with options for sizes, colours and other product variations.
Upload and edit blog posts and dynamic pages, including home and contact page text.
Easily create directory listings for your website, each listing has an integrated map which shows the location of a venue when you add the postcode, as well as the option to upload multiple images per listing.
Add links to other websites in order to share resources or gain relevant links to your own website.
View confirmed and unconfirmed user accounts as well as user comments in this section.
View reports on searched keywords in order to increase awareness on what the visitors to your website are looking for and gain the insights and knowledge you need to help your business flourish, along with a yearly sales comparison chart and an easy to decipher graph of your sales progress.
The control panel gives you the ability to change system settings and configurations by yourself as well as the options to add and update shipping prices and carriers, supplier lists, manage payment gateways, edit administration logins and view saved user baskets.
You can also manage email templates and view subscribed emails from here along with many other technical options.
With our affordable web design packages, we can provide you with bespoke eCommerce solutions in order to get you accepting payments online as well as growing your business at the same time.
We have looked into how the world of eCommerce came about, its different forms and the added benefits of taking your business to the web, plus the even further benefits of having your own bespoke eCommerce website.
Whether you are just starting out or already taking part in the eCommerce industry and want to take your business venture to the next level, we can help you. Contact us for more information on how to get your business up and running online or how we can work with you to improve your existing eCommerce presence.