Ecommerce has come a long way over the past decade or so. With a net worth of a measly $132 Million spent in 1995, it has become a monster in 2008 with different niches alone boasting sales in billions from Internet only. The explosion of mobile commerce and phenomenon of millionaire bloggers has added to the ever present opportunities available online; I believe it is absolutely a must that one needs an online presence just to be taken seriously.
I have always been surprised at the lack of (serious) online businesses in Pakistan. And I wouldnâ€™t count having a website online as serious until itâ€™s geared to compliment the Organizations business processes or if it is an online business than it should be geared to extract the maximum out of the growing number of opportunities available online.
I see the next couple of years to be full of opportunities for Pakistani entrepreneurs willing to experiment online. This is purely based on the fact that the gloom of recession following American economy resulting in a weaker dollar and a worldwide economic gloom. And I am betting on our even weaker Rupee (1 USD= Rs.64 last I heard) in doing reasonably well against stronger economies in providing products/services to the online consumer.
Having been associated with design, development and management of ecommerce and internet products based on open source technologies. I believe they provide a low cost alternative which is huge in features and usability. Compare osCommerce an open source ecommerce website software, which is free and boasts of thousands of man hour work in research, development and design, to the customized ecommerce website made in months by a couple of developers. I would be going on all night on open source philosophy, so Iâ€™ll cut short my argument by providing a checklist for setting up an ecommerce store. I am assuming that the person reading this article is an idea person not a techie and hoping this checklist would provide building blocks to the idea!
Setting up an Ecommerce Website: Check List
Identify your niche/s, find out which key phrases bring higher traffic on search engines. Google has a great keywords and phrases research tool and its free.
Identify your online identity. Itâ€™s a plus when the domain name includes high ranked search key phrases. Please register your .pk or .com.pk domain from www.pknic.net.pk . I donâ€™t subscribe to the myth of .coms having more weight over .pk domains in search engine ranking. All the good combinations are taken in .coms and .pk domains just became available 2 years ago!
Identify your products based on the idea, remember the online user needs to be impressed. So put extra attention in writing the product descriptions, photographs.
Finding a Webhost:
Usually the selection of the webhost is based on the technology the website will be using and since my check list is based on open source technologies. following companies fit the bill
Websouls.com ( A Pakistani Host)
Cyber.net.pk (Pakistanâ€™s leader in ecommerce payment services and I have been hearing good rumors about a new product being introduced for SMEâ€™s interested in selling online)
Shopping Cart/Website Solution(ranked in terms of online implementations)
Creloaded.com, zen-cart.com (osCommerce variations packed with useful features)
X-cart.com ( one time licence cost from $200-$800)
Magentocommerce.com ( my personal favorite but lower in order as customization would be bit expensive then the above)
All these product except for x-cart are free and there are thousands of predesigned themes available. If your into having a unique look for a website you will have to get unique theme design for you. I am also assuming that anyone who can operate a hotmail email account can manage the ecommerce website as these products comes with excellent community supports in the form of forums, documentations, useful contributions all by the open source community. When deciding between the above products, please take time out to visit the sites and check their online demos. I do have a very technology biased opinion on these ecommerce solutions.
Write your own content. Decide how to describe your company, your products. Managing content pages on the website is easily manage-able through the ecommerce solutions mentioned above.
Follow up on that keyword research and learn about search engine optimization at Wikipedia
All the ecommerce solutions mentioned above come with nifty newsletter management systems. Use them, introduce your products, and keep in touch with your customers through discounts, news, and products launches with a monthly newsletter.
Analyze your traffic, monitor what they do on your website, identify opportunities, strategies
Google.com/analytics an excellent tool for tracking the web traffic
Order Fulfillment and Customer Care:
Sourceforge.net: use this website to find excellent ticket based free help desk systems to provide efficient support for customers
Utilize the notification emails of the system wisely and make proper account creation, order confirmation and fulfillment email templates.
Use open source live chat applications and chat with you prospective customers. I would recommend HelpCenterLive.com and it integrates easily with your website.
My argument for open source products seems to be winning here, as this whole exercise would cost you around $500-$5000 considering your requirements, design and the expertise of your Web vendor, compare this to the closed source software and the licensing costs associated with it,Â itâ€™s not even a contentst! Let me know what you guys think.
I would love to hear any queries, feedback, comments on this piece.