The Who and Why of E-commerce?

You’ve seen it everywhere on the Internet.  No, I don’t mean ads for another credit card or pictures of what we can all look like if we were on the latest diet, I mean e-commerce.  But if you have been unsure of what exactly e-commerce is, who should be using it, and why you should have it on your website, we hope to answer some of your questions, and put your mind at ease.

As a part of E-commerce Month at OurChurch.Com, I thought I would throw my hat into the blogging ring and share my thoughts on the subject of e-commerce.  In addition to OurChurch.Com, I have some basic experience working with e-commerce.  In my past professional life, I managed store locations for a large office supply retailer and worked in sales for a world wide IT distributor (don’t those two industries sound exciting;)  When I worked for the office supplier, the internet was still in the infant stage.  Most of our customers were still getting acclimated with the web, and e-commerce did not play a significant role in the day to day operations.  However, at the turn of the century, when I went to work for the IT distributor, e-commerce had grown to the point that nearly 50% of my customer’s sales were processed online.

E-commerce (electronic commerce or EC) has been defined as the buying and selling of goods and services on the Internet. Some people refer to it as e-business or e-tailing (for electronic retailing).  Whatever it is called, it has changed the world we live in.  No longer do you need to go to Sears to by that drill press, or Bed Bath & Beyond to get your new kitchenware.  By surfing the web you can purchase everything from pencils to Porches, from boats to Bibles, and everything in between.  Just today, I saw the ever-so-popular CD/DVD rewinder now available online.

The Internet has given us the ability to access people, information, and products from around the world in a matter of minutes.  Today, I wanted to talk about why someone would want to have e-Commerce on their website and who should have e-commerce on their website. 

Let’s start with the why and more specifically the benefits of e-commerce.  The primary benefits of e-commerce include:

  1. Your products or services have an expanded audience:  If you have a traditional brick and mortar business selling physical products, e-commerce lets you sell to people around the country or world if you desire.  If you have a service oriented business, (like a carpet cleaning) you may not want to travel 1200 miles for your next job, but you can grow your market further than you had in the past.
  2. You can service your customers 24 hours a day:  No longer is it necessary to have someone “on the clock” to sell your products or service.  I have purchased many birthday and Christmas gifts online, and most of the time it is at 10 or 11 PM, after the kids are in bed.  Due to the hectic lives we live, many people would are not able to shop during normal business hours and prefer to do it when it is convenient to them.
  3. Saves time:  The one resource that you can never make more of is time.  So if you cannot make more of it, the second best option is to save it.  If you are a small company or one man operation this is probably the most valuable aspect of having e-commerce on your website.  As mentioned above, with e-commerce, you do not need to have someone working for you at the time of the sale.  This saves time for both the business owner as well as the customer.  If you have well documented, pricing, shipping, and return policies on your website, you can save time for you and the customer on phone calls or store visits explaining these topics.  In addition, if you ship your items via UPS, FedEx, or other well known carriers, you can contact them for permission to put a link on your site to their, so customers can tract their packages online, instead of calling you for shipping information. 
  4. Saves money:  If your customers are able to process orders online without assistance, you are able to reduce the cost of an associate that would normally be needed to speak with the customer in a store or on the phone.  Or if you are the one who is normally speaking with the customer, it will free up your own time to be more productive in other areas of your business.  This could lead to lower employee costs and could give you the opportunity to offer lower costs to your customers, which, in turn, could lead to additional sales.

Now, that you are flying high and ready to put all of your products on your website, I wanted to bring you back to earth and let you know of some of the things you need to be aware of before you get started.  I think the benefits of e-commerce are invaluable but you should be informed of all aspects of e-commerce before you begin taking pictures of the pink flamingos you plan on selling on your website.

  1. Set up:  Although it is minimal, there are some steps that need to be taken before you can sell items on line.  You will need to install some kind of shopping cart on your website.  You can use something as simple as a PayPal shopping cart or go with something more traditional and full featured.  For example, OurChurch.Com offers a full shopping cart with any Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze hosting package.  You will also need to set up a merchant account to process the credit cards.  If you use a PayPal shopping cart, you will use PayPal to process your orders.  If you are using a full featured shopping cart, you will need to set up a merchant account.  There are many different companies that can process your orders for you.  I recommend you use a reputable bank or online processing company.  There are not many things worse for a business than your customers having issues when trying to buy something from you.  Remember, this processing company is an extension of your company.  Customers want a flawless checkout experience and do not care if the problems are caused by your website or your merchant account.
  2. Comments/Suggestions:  Most of the time, customers who purchase something from a website do not want anything special or different than what is shown on the site.  However, it is important to include a place within the order that gives them the opportunity to include notes or comments for their order.  If you are a restaurant, a customer may want to get a side salad with their burger, instead of the normal French fries.  Or someone may want place an order today, but not have it shipped until the beginning of December (for those keeping track, my birthday is on Christmas).  
  3. Impersonal:  When you have something that is automated, like e-commerce is intended to be, you lose the “human” aspect of consumer interaction.  Some customers couldn’t care less if they see or speak with a person when making a purchase, however, others would rather talk with an actual person.  The best way to address this is to offer both.  Make sure that you offer a phone number on your website, so if someone wants or needs to speak with a person during business hours, they have that option.  For example, when purchasing services from OurChurch.Com you can order everything online, or if you prefer, you can call our customer service department through the phone number that is given online.

This information is all good and well, but how do you know if you or your organization should have e-commerce on your website.  Let’s look at few different organizations that should be using e-commerce on their website.

  1. If you are selling anything that can be picked up off the shelf in a store, you can be selling it on your website.  This can include church supplies, books, music, hardware, electronics, arts & crafts, clothing, home furnishings and much more.
  2. If you provide a service or subscription where customers pay a reoccurring fee (monthly, quarterly, annually) you can offer to your customers the ability to make payment on your website.  For example, if you have a lawn service, you can let customers pay online.  In addition, if they prefer to pay on-line, you could email them their invoices, which could save you the cost of printing and postage.
  3. Most restaurants offer some kind of pick up or delivery service.  If you have a menu on line, you should give customers the ability to place their order while on your website.
  4. If you are a church, school, or camp that host concerts, Christmas or Easter programs, fund raising dinners, or other events that require the purchase of a ticket for entry, you should be selling the tickets online.  In addition to the tickets, if the event is concert, you can sell CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, posters, and other items for the musical group.
  5. Churches, schools, and camps that have registration fees for retreats, lock-ins, tuition, field trips or other events can have parents make payment on your website.  This reduces the number of hands a check or cash is passed between (parent-student-teacher-school administrator) and thus eliminates the possibility of money getting lost, misplaced, or growing legs.

If after reading this, you are ready to begin the exciting journey of e-commerce, OurChurch.Com would love to be there along the way.  If you host with OCC and already have one of our Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze hosting packages, you have already started.  You can find your e-commerce options in the “Fantastico” section of your cpanel.  If you need to upgrade to one of these hosting packages, we are running specials for the month of November offering huge savings for two years of hosting.  See http://www.ourchurch.com/hosting/e-commerce-month.php#1 for more information on these specials.  If time is tight and you want us to build a professional custom website for you, now is the perfect time to start.  We have just launched our new Business CMS websites.  For more on our Business CMS websites, go to http://forums.ourchurch.com/viewtopic.php?t=1722.

Did you find this information helpful?  Do you have anything you would like to add? Post you comments below.

Mark Steinbrueck is President and Co-founder of OurChurch.Com. He is a member of Generations Christian Church, a husband and father of 3. He is a huge Cardinals baseball fan and bleeds Garnet and Gold. Find on Google+.

5 Responses to “The Who and Why of E-commerce?”

  1. Thank you for some good pointers.

  2. I found this article very helpfull; but
    We have to have the knowledge to do this,
    and how to promote our sales, otherwise they
    get staginant like mine.
    Helen

  3. Helen,

    I agree that you do need to have knowledge to both set up e-commerce on your site and promote your site properly. Hopefully, the information above will help with the e-commerce part. In regards to the promotion part, OurChurch.Com has many advertising and marketing options. For more information on these services you can go to http://www.ourchurch.com/advertising/ and http://marketing.ourchurch.com/. If you would like more information or have questions please contact our support desk @ http://www.ourchurch.com/support/.

    Mark

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    [...] Today, I’m continuing our E-commerce Month series of articles. By the way, didn’t Mark do a great job with his first ever blog article last week “The Who and Why of E-commerce?“ Why not show him some love by posting a nice comment to that article? [...]

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    [...] Today, I’m continuing our E-commerce Month series of articles.  By the way, didn’t Mark do a great job with his first ever blog article last week “The Who and Why of E-commerce?“  Why not show him some love by posting a nice comment to that article? [...]