Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Online store, online market space – part 5 and going live and online – 2

Posted in startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 8, 2010

This is my fifth posting on developing an effective online store and it continues and completes a basic checklist of issues to cover as you do your due diligence in selecting a web site and ecommerce solution provider. I began this discussion with Part 4 and Going Live and Online – 1 (see Startups and Early Stage Businesses, postings 20 through23 for the complete series up to now.)

Customer service for your customers:

• The last bullet point in Part 1 on going live and online brought up customer service. What options would your proposed ecommerce solutions offer for customers and potential customers to reach back to you with questions and comments? This frequently includes phone number listings, email options, online forms, online chat and other standard features, and it can also include more Web 2.0 options such as online groups and discussion boards.
• If you want to offer a feature that is not part of the basic design (e.g. a particular online chat based customer support service you like) does this ecommerce site provider support third party apps and putting third party content into a site?

Customer service for you and your business:

• What customer support is going to be available to you from your web site and ecommerce solution provider?
• When will it be available, and according to the schedules of what time zone?
• How much support can you expect with a basic contract and without paying extra fees?
• What higher or premium service levels will be available?
• How much would further assistance of this type cost you and for what?

Branding and making the web site your own:

• What options will you have for adding your business’ logos and other branding?
• How much text can you add and edit on the site and where on it, and without having to ask for technical assistance?
• How much graphical content can you add and edit on the site and where on it, and without having to ask for technical assistance?
• Would your web and ecommerce site support other media and content types, and if so could you manage this yourself or would you be required to ask for technical assistance?
• Does this web and ecommerce site solution support web apps and of so what restrictions and limitations would you face in choosing what to add? It is important to note that some restrictions on what to add make a lot of sense in terms of security and confidentiality issues so restrictions per se are not always a problem.
• This may sound like a strange question, but in automotive I have seen web site service providers state in their contracts that any content added to one of their sites belongs to them and that the site is leased from them and not owned by the business – there the dealership. Who owns the site and the content you add into it?

Scalability and what costs more:

• If your business really grows, how scalable will your new site be?
• How much server space do you get for your site and does this include backup and recovery if your main server presence goes down for any reason?
• How much do you pay for bandwidth – for transaction volumes and page hit volumes? What levels are covered in any given service contract you sign and what happens if you exceed this in a given month?

Will you have to pay more for …?

• How easy would it be to make seasonal or holiday-focused updates to your site, or to highlight special sales?
• If your changes involved adding special branding to your template how difficult would that be? Consider as a real world example here, that a business may want to have a holiday motif variation on its logo for at least certain holidays for sales oriented marketing that targets audiences who would purchase with that holiday in mind and as a motivator.
• What would adjustments like this cost, and both in money and in time delays and lead times?

Back-end issues and records keeping:

• How easy would it be to maintain the site for basic content updates and editing?
• What tools would be needed and what training and experience would be required beyond basic computer skills and experience with basic office productivity tools? (See web content management system for a basic orientation on this topic.)
• What would be kept as audit file records for online transactions and who would have access to that? How readily could you access that?
• What types of web analytics would be available for tracking site visits and both to the site as a whole, and to specific pages and resources in it? How readily could you access that?
• Would you be able to identify and track abandoned shopping carts so you could identify and correct your site if shoppers are encountering problem areas that turn them away?
• How easy would it be to add in a third party auditing or web analytics service?
• Will you own the server(s) you site is housed on? Will you rent space on a hosting service? If you own the server(s) will you maintain them on your own site or will they be locating off-site at a hosting service (see collocation)?

Search engine optimization and marketing:

I am going to discuss marketing separately and in the next posting in this series, but I raise it here to highlight that some technologies are invisible to standard search engines as they search and list web sites (e.g. Flash images and text labels on links that are added in as graphics). Some technologies are quite visible and easy for the search engines to spider and list.

• Does this web site and ecommerce solutions provider use search-friendly technologies?
• Do they keep up with this ever changing field to make sure the sites they develop can compete effectively in organic search placement?

Basically, you want to understand as much as you can about the web site options you will have available to you, and at what costs – and before you sign any contracts.

Financial issues and questions – what will it cost and for what?

• What are the basic terms and costs of your contract?
• What types of set-up fees would you face?
• What would cost extra and by how much?
• If you decide to move to a different ecommerce and web site solution, what would that entail, in terms of obtaining standard format files holding your site and database content?

Security issues:

• What types of personally identifiable and sensitive information will you be gathering from your customers? Here, I am not referring to information that might be shared through your site but that only goes to a third party payment processing site such as PayPal. I am referring to data that would end up on your servers.
• Who would have access to this data?
• Would it be encrypted on the server and if so with what control over the decryption keys.
• What type and level of encryption would be used and what tools for thi can you select from?
• If your site offers customer logins to their personal accounts, how is this handled for password requirements and other features?
• Does this service provider support secure HTTP – HTTPS and/or other secure protocols and technologies? Which ones? Have they ever had a security breach on any of the sites they develop and if so what happened and what have they done to prevent a recurrence?

And as a final question for now, what due diligence are you doing to verify the quality and reliability of this service? I would recommend requesting references from businesses that employ their services in their web site and ecommerce solutions.

The next posting in this series will look at marketing – the other major area of this general topic that businesses tend to try doing first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: