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What is your e-commerce strategy?
The implications of the recent advances in e-commerce are clear for all businesses, large and small - develop and implement an e-commerce strategy soon, or risk being left behind in the 'new industrial revolution'.
The online marketplace is developing so rapidly that an internet presence is increasingly becoming the norm in the UK, and businesses that are not online could be facing a serious competitive disadvantage.
E-commerce can be divided into two types: business-to-business and business-to-customer/client. The first is already reasonably well developed in the UK, and the second is fast catching up.
Perhaps the most important part of your e-commerce strategy will be your website, which can be designed to achieve a number of objectives:
- Enhance the reputation of your business
- Improve brand/firm awareness
- Stay abreast/ahead of the competition
- Extend your marketing programme to take advantage of the new marketplace
- Provide key customer services online
- Provide up-to-the-minute news and information on your products/services
- Enable customers/clients to make pre-purchase decisions
- Sell your products/services online
- Provide post-sales support online
- Prospect for new customers/clients
Many of these objectives can bring substantial savings in staff and administration costs, and better quality and more personalised services to customers and clients.
For SMEs, there are particular benefits from being online:
- An opportunity to reach a wider geographical area
- Being 'open for business' 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- The use of personalised services for focused marketing
- The ability to reach a large target market at relatively low cost
However, it is important to remember that, as with any other marketing activity, the quantity and quality of your returns depends upon the quantity and quality of your investment.
It is often said that the internet is a level playing field that enables smaller businesses to take on the big players on equal terms, but this statement needs qualifying. While it is true that large and small enterprises alike share the same media and have access to the same technologies, sophisticated and large-scale internet marketing calls for substantial resources that may be beyond the scope of SMEs. For example, in areas such as internet advertising, smaller enterprises will not have the resources to match the sophistication and scale of campaigns launched by larger businesses.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to think small enterprises can conduct large-scale internet marketing 'on the cheap'. The idea that a small business can 'disguise' itself as a large enterprise through clever website design is frankly a fallacy. Internet users are becoming increasingly discerning, and are more and more able to 'see through the pages' and recognise what lies behind them.
As far as the end user is concerned, it is not the size of the enterprise that matters but the quality of service they deliver. A small business is just as capable of delivering good quality service as a large business is of delivering poor quality service. The point is to be honest in your presentation, and not to try to use new technology to hoodwink the end user. Integrity matters on the internet, and 'cowboy' operations can be treated with ruthless disdain.
There is a veritable wealth of material online to help businesses develop e-commerce strategies. Just type 'e-commerce' into a search engine and see what comes up.