In the part I, I had discussed briefly about how most of the small businesses go about selecting a product, whereas a successful small businessmen would be careful and would evaluate the product based on various aspects listed below before making a choice. I will relist all the important factors, which one should consider before buying an ecommerce product (www.ritecart.co.uk) or software for their company. 1. Ease of configuration 2. Ability to Scale 3. Useful latest features 4. Available marketing tools with the product 5. Ability to analyze data (analytics, not only google analytics!!) 6. Reports 7. Integration (with other modules, Like epos with near realtime online/offline synchronization of data and other packaged application ) 8. Customer Service 9. Technical Support 10. Technical Implementation Aspects 11. Build vs Buy Ease of Configuration- It is very important that the product is configurable and suited for one’s current needs and future needs, Like some of the things one may want to determine that how easy it is to • Add products, categories and catalogs. Can this be dynamically created using administrative tool and dynamically displayed on the user side? Can it support multiple images with different resolution to be displayed on the user side? • Look and manage all the orders placed by the administrator? Before placing the order, does it check for inventories? Does it notify the administrators, if the inventories go below a threshold value? Can the administrator mix and match the shipment to the customer? • Create new sales store and new warehouses for inventories? Can the store’s inventory be picked up from different warehouses? • Define several types of prices for the same product like list price, default price, component price, sale price etc? Can the price be dynamically setup using a rules engine? • Associate a product with host of features like size, color, height, width, UOM, density, length etc? Can the product be setup and shown on the user side on any of the feature mentioned above or any of your new custom features? • Return an order, look at shopping list/wish list, browse through the items last visited, go to most popular products in store, discounted product or special product in store, look at promotional products, place a review on the product, recommend a product or provide a valuable feedback and look at the products which are most sought by the people who had brought the same product as the customer in past? • Can I select or add a new payment processor easily? I may want to use PayPAL today but I may need GoogleCheck out tomorrow. How many Payment engines does the product support? • Customize my shipment company or add a new shipping company? Can I integrate directly with ups, RoyalMail, USPS, Fedex etc? Ability to Scale As the company grows, eCommerce infrastructure should be able to grow with you, supporting more customers, products, and traffic as needed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur, which is why scalability is such an important element in any ecommerce product (www.ritecart.co.uk) . It is very important to know on what technology is the product built upon. Does the vendor have enough support or knowledge on the product? This may sound like a mute point but all these factors do really matter. It may be easy for a vendor to use an opensource product and provide the required solution but most of the opensource solutions fail in the kind of support you get and to the kind of ownership you/vendor have on the product. It has been my experience that even with the best of the open source products, when you look deep into the code, you realize that the pieces of code have been written by people who really don’t know what the other coders have been writing introducing lot of overheads in the code and a code which is in no way modular or object oriented, making it all the more difficult for any vendor company to provide support. Important point is look for a company that treats your online store as an important long-term investment, and has a product with that track record. These priorities will keep you and your site up and running—whether your order volume is five a day or five thousand—without skipping a beat. Remember, an eCommerce company or product should support the total growth of your business, not limit it. Useful latest features Although this may not sound important or required but this does remain one of the most important criteria while selecting an online ecommerce solution or product. The latest features provide means and ways to improve your marketability and thereby the sale of your product. To name a few, • Products Last visited by the user • Ability to provide reviews by the user • Ability to list down the product rated higher by user community • Create Composite product and offer discount for composite products • Dynamic pricing of composite products. To price dynamically user created composite products More current features product has, easier it is, for the merchant to rollout new marketing initiatives. Also it is very important that the product is designed and built in such a way that it is easier to add/remove features. Available marketing tools with the product Sooner or later you will want to provide returning customers with a special discount, or use a coupon as a promotional device. Does your ecommerce product (www.ritecart.co.uk) or solution allow for that contingency in your checkout? Can you easily generate creative marketing content and integrate it into the site’s infrastructure? Can you easily identify your targeted customers based on the data you have by analyzing the data in hand? and or does the system seem limiting? Coupons and other promotions can be key conversion tools, so make sure your ecommerce product (www.ritecart.co.uk) allows for this kind of marketing flexibility. Remember, promotions and marketing tools can make a difference in the crowded online marketplace, and can help set you apart from others who have their online presence in the market. Ability to analyze data Once you have your ecommerce solution deployed, you will want to find ways and means to increase the sales of your product. You may want to look at your current customer base, understand their trends, their demographics, their preference, and the overall customer behavior. All these helps you to prepare your business better, find effective marketing tools and eventually get more sales done. To effectively achieve this, you would need means to analyze your data. As a product selection criteria, it is very important that you specifically know that what are the different analytics, which are provided by the tool Reports Reports are important for the management as it helps them to see the overall picture of the order and sales in the organization. It is important to know what are the different reports supported by the ecommerce solution. I would recommend that one should list all of the reports required for the organization and try to ensure that those reports are covered or are generated by the ecommerce solution. It is also necessary to know how easily more reports can be added or generated by the system. Other important aspect of reporting is the support of different formats. The most common formats are CVS (Microsoft Excel), PDF (Adobe) and Quickbooks. Integration Integration is one of the key non functional requirements; one should look at, before choosing ecommerce software (www.ritecart.co.uk). Some of the key questions would be how easy is it to integrate with third party software? Does the ecommerce provider have the pluggable modules provided like Epos (Online electronic Point Of Sale) and Accounting package? Palindrome Software Labs (www.palindromesoftware.com) has been very successful in marketing and selling its RiteCart enterprise product, which has ecommerce, epos, accounting and other pluggable modules. Major sales in the RiteCart enterprise have been the epos and ecommerce combination. RiteCart (www.ritecart.co.uk) has n tier architecture for its epos module. Epos module has online/offline synchronization with the order management, warehouse management and ecommerce module As I said earlier, ecommerce solution should be the tool for business to enhance its marketability, sales and in no way should limit it. Customer Service Any online retailer will understand how important customer service is to maintaining the success of a business. In choosing an eCommerce package, as a consumer, customer support is all the more important. Make sure that eCommerce software provider does provide with the elements you need to keep an online business operating at its peak level at all times. Does the vendor offer notifications regarding product updates or enhancements, personalized service, and technical support? Is there an option for an online help with live chat and IP2IP calling (www.supportnow.biz)? Keep in mind that the eCommerce solution provider should offer the same individualized service that one would want to give to his customers. Technical Support In the same vein, one shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get someone to aid you if there is a problem with your online store—so make sure the service providers have experienced, reliable technical support and are committed to fixing a coding error or bug quickly. Quality counts; be assured that your ecommerce service provider (www.palindromesoftware.com) has people behind and are equally committed to quality and the customer experience as you are. Technical Implementation Aspects This is one of the most neglected factors by the ecommerce customer community. Remember, Ignorance is not always bliss. it is important to understand that the product development technology plays a vital role in defining product features, customization, support and ease of product usage. It is fairly common these days to use a scripting language to build products because that is the easiest way to build a product for the product supplier!! I encourage customers to ask some specific questions, to name a few • How can I customize the product behavior? Does it use XML or Property files? • How can I change my query? Can I change without looking into the code? • How can I change the content? • Can my Home page flash dynamically pick up product images, price and other details from my database • What language is used for development for product? Scripting language like PHP and others are a huge no, no. Make sure that your product is built using a software language like Java or .NET (most preferred ones) • Can I add more modules to my product? How simple is it? Is the development Object Oriented Our product RiteCart (www.ritecart.co.uk) is built using robust MVC/Struts framework, which is modular, extensible and configurable. Technologies used in this product are Java, XML, BSH. Build vs. Buy Over the period of time, this has become one of my favorite customer questions. Build or Buy? I usually answer this by asking a question- how much ROI do you expect out of your ecommerce investment and product? Building is an expensive option (not from cost point of view but from ROI Point of view). You can build your solution using one of these options 1. Build with a good reliable vendor onsite (with or without an open source solution) 2. Build with a good vendor offshore 3. Build with a small vendor onsite/offshore 4. Go for your own development with some open source tools Point 1, 2 &3 are feasible but one should ask himself the following questions, is the cost feasible? Will the vendor understand all the functional needs of the ecommerce solution? How long has the vendor been in the ecommerce solution market? Will the solution be ever built? Will it work as per expectations? Can the software vendor be relied upon? How much time will it take? What impact does it have on my business if it is not delivered to my satisfaction? Finally for option 4, if you decide to pursue an open-source application to manage your store, make sure to thoroughly research and examine your options. Is the project continuously updated, or has it been stagnant for a long time, with very few updates on the project and very little news as to where it is headed? Several open-source solutions are released every year. However, very few have the longevity that you will need to be used as a foundation for your online store. Examine the programmers behind it, and others who use the program. Buying option is a much easier option. One can feel and see the solution. One can make sure that he has got everything in the product he needs. Also, he can be rest assured that the company has the required functional, technical and support expertise to support all of his needs. Finally, look at the company that’s behind your eCommerce solution (www.ritecart.co.uk). What have they done in the past? Are they a growing enterprise, likely to continually make improvements to their firm, and pass on those benefits to you? When considering a package, make sure that the company you are dealing with is credible, with a solid reputation to back up any claims. See where your customer and technical support will come from. Is it in-house or out-sourced? Do they have a solid, supportive community in the form of a forum, blog, or network of satisfied eCommerce businesses (www.ritecart.co.uk)? Examine the philosophy behind the company. Ask for references or email others, who’ve used their services in the past, and see what they have to say about the different aspects of the company you may be working with. These are the people who are going to help you build your business and make it a success; so choose wisely. Ritecart product (www.ritecart.co.uk) is sold in two flavors (Lite & enterprise). If you are looking for ecommerce software, Please request for a quotation from our Sales team. We have got the right product for you tagged with the right price!!! Author is working as a Senior Retail Analyst with Palindrome Software Labs (www.palindromesoftware.com).