Planning for E-Commerce...

Identifying E-Commerce Opportunities
There are several different ways you might use e-commerce in your business.

Direct Sales
Many businesses use e-commerce for the direct selling of goods or services online. For some businesses such as those selling software or music, the actual sale and delivery of goods can be made online. However, for most the supply of goods will continue to require a physical delivery.

If you plan to sell online, you may need to rethink many of your business activities. This is because you will fundamentally change the way in which you interact with your customers - for example, if customers place orders online instead of talking to a salesperson. You will also need to work out how every aspect of a transaction is handled - including order confirmation, invoicing and payment, and deliveries and returns.

You can use your website for pre-sales activities - exploiting the widespread use of the Internet to generate sales leads. At its most basic this can be through the use of "brochureware" - having an online version of your promotional materials on your site. Other options include email campaigns or online advertising to attract visitors to your own website where you can promote your products.

Post-Sales Support
You can also use the Internet to automate aspects of your customer support to reduce the number of routine customer service calls. This can be achieved by using your site to answer the most frequently asked questions, or by putting technical information online.

However you decide to use e-commerce, it is important to define your expectations from the outset. What level of sales are you hoping to make? How many sales leads are you looking to generate? What percentage reduction in customer telephone calls are you expecting to achieve? Ensure that targets are put in place so that you can measure the success, or otherwise, of your e-commerce facility.