With 2013 nearly over, it's a good time to start thinking of those New Year's resolutions and business technology priorities for the next 12 months. While numerous areas are set for growth in 2014, the e-commerce arena is a valuable sector to look at because it's a growing industry that is experiencing a convergence of challenges and new technologies.
In particular, there are several trends affecting B2B e-commerce as we know it. Internet Retailer Editor in Chief Dan Davis recently profiled a few key points from Forrester, including:
- 69 percent of organizations plan to stop publishing print catalogs in the next five years
- 62 percent of buyers conduct research on tablets and 52 percent buy on these devices
- Almost half of e-commerce executives do not believe their sites are as user friendly as Amazon
- Average order value and conversion rates are increasing
Fortunately, the majority of organizations expect their e-commerce budgets to increase in the next year. The difficult part will be in determining what investments to make for the most significant impact. Particularly in an industry with an exploding number of rising stars as well as firmly established competition, it is critical to focus on the customers' experiences from the time they visit site all the way through order completion.
E-commerce in 2014: Technology priorities
While there are numerous factors that contribute to the success of an e-commerce website, many of the important factors are hidden from the customer. The backend infrastructure ultimately determines how quickly pages load, what the site looks like and whether businesses have the inventory to match demand. For this reason, it helps to consider making priorities along the lines of business technology. Below is a list of our top three considerations!
1. The e-commerce platform
If customers complain about site usability, navigation or the way that information is displayed, it's a good sign that organizations may need to invest in a more robust e-commerce platform. According to Davis, this investment is a top priority for online stores, cited by 64 percent of respondents. It is important to remember that not all platforms are created equal. In a customer-centric world, customization and support for mobile devices are key assets. For example, a platform that supports integration with an order management system can provide product updates and information in real time. This ensures that customers always know the status of their orders and when they can expect products to be delivered.
2. The order management system
Practical Ecommerce contributor Dale Traxler portrayed one of the biggest problems with insufficient inventory control in a 2012 article. He explored the challenges he experienced with his own e-commerce business, which included using unintegrated programs for accounting and order management - this meant any information had to be manually updated across both solutions.
"In short, our customer data was spread out in three systems; our product information was in two systems," Traxler wrote. "We spent most of our time finding, managing and reentering data."
A fully integrated system eliminates unnecessary manual data entry, improves accuracy and ultimately makes it easier to deliver information to customers. As Traxler noted, minimizing these issues improves data management across customer, product and financial data.
It may be tempting to think it is too late to start building a mobile site. The explosion of smart devices and tablets has already taken the world by storm. However, Internet Retailer's Mobile 500 report suggested that the mobile commerce market has not yet matured. In other words, 2014 will be a great time to consider mobile solutions. This places emphasis on Web design strategies such as adaptive and responsive to ensure that a large variety of screen sizes and operating systems are taken into account. Furthermore, with many users conducting research on the go, it is more important than ever to keep product and site information as up to date as possible.
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