Until recently, e-commerce was an exercise in trial and error, a hit-or-miss playing field in which all newcomers were welcome, but where few stuck around for long.
By now, those of us who have watched the industry blossom have seen what does not work — over-spending, poor or non-existent business plans, inexperienced management. As for what does work, we’re still learning. But at least four fundamentals have been set in concrete.
Here are four areas or cornerstones on which e-commerce should rely in 2002, in order to take Internet buying and selling to the next level.
1. Focus on Fulfillment
While it is true that most e-tailers have vastly improved their performance on fulfillment, delivery and returns, there is still one major step to be taken.
A number of consumers have voiced their desire to be able to pick up their merchandise and/or return it at a brick-and-mortar location.
That’s a smooth proposition if you happen to be an OfficeDepot.com, but independent e-tailers must figure out a way to emulate their big retail and e-tail brothers when it comes to bridging the brick-and-click gap.
Whether that comes in the form of fulfillment centers or alliances with brick-and-mortar retailers that will make such activity possible for smaller players, it needs to happen.
2. Place Compelling Ads
Internet advertising has become more compelling and motivational than ever — for those e-businesses that understand the reasons behind running an ad.
Good advertising is about building awareness, persuasion and a call to action.
Future online ads will probably owe more to widespread adoption of broadband by the masses, which will enable advertisers to get more aggressive in their production. So why not give the users what they’re used to? Pictures that move in the form of streaming media, and aggressive, memorable spots that are heavy on humor and light on the cerebral.
Internet ads do not have to be intrusive to be effective, like the pop-ups that are increasingly interrupting us online. But it is clear that a solid advertising plan and memorable campaigns are required.
3. Keep Making Deals
Even if all of the above is successful, many e-tailers would do well to learn the power of collaboration. Last year was arguably the year of the alliance as companies entered deal after deal.
Online partnerships are working well for some of the most successful online merchants. Think Toysrus.com, Target.com and their deals with Amazon.com. Think Travelocity and AOL.
There is no shame in co-operating with a site that is a proven entity in the world of online selling. Many early online merchants who had marketable ideas lost the race simply because they were unable to make it independently. Think Egghead which closed its virtual doors only to later resurface as an Amazon property.
In contrast, many of those who checked their egos at the door and teamed up with bigger players are still in the e-biz race.
4. Go Mainstream
The mistaken notion of the pioneer days of e-commerce was that online selling had to be something completely original.
Time and the dot-com graveyard have proven that instead of “different,” successful e-tailers are those that provide yet another channel for consumerism.
With half of American households now online, it makes sense to incorporate e-commerce into the mainstream lifestyle, rather than trying to create an entirely new landscape. It can be distinctive, but it does not have to be original or unique.
Easy Does It
That means enabling travelers to book their tickets and reservations quickly and easily online, without intrusive graphics or an over-abundance of application options on the homepage.
It means dependable online bill paying that never fails to apply the payment by the due date. It means online banking that does not attempt to gouge the consumer with inexplicable charges for the “privilege” of banking on the Internet.
It means retailers with e-commerce divisions that operate together rather than independently, and which promote themselves as multichannel brands.
Most of all it means honoring the consumers’ collective desire for the familiar, and for doing business quickly and efficiently. That includes smart personalization of services that does not occur at the expense of a consumer’s privacy.
What do you think?
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.