Not every business needs an e-commerce website; those that do should make full use of the multi-layered features available to maximise the customer experience and the company’s profitability. An easy to use interface can increase online trading and boost aftersales.

An e-commerce (electronic commerce) site allows organisations to complete sales over the Internet. Each click sees data transferred across the World Wide Web – usually product details, pictures and, ultimately, the sales transactions. Crucially, the digital exchange can take place at any time and over any distance.

Although selling products is the key focus, complete e-commerce solutions involve much more than sales. Gathering and using demographic data for marketing purposes, facilitating payments, offering users access to product information and documentation, relaying customer reviews to other platforms, and giving dealers and representatives the ability to process warranty claims all add up to a valuable system.

Increasingly, allowing customers to get maximum benefit from available data via intuitive features is a primary objective for organisations implementing e-commerce sites. As such, data management in the background is integral to keeping the front-end user experience performing efficiently.

Which kind of companies use e-commerce?

Epitomy Solutions advises manufacturing clients, distributors and dealers who want to explore the options that an e-commerce site can offer users who visit their product pages. That could be business to business (B2B), business to customers (B2C) or a combination of both. The functionality and website experience might change for the different audiences, but core product data can be managed to deliver an efficient and consistent service to all.

Most will think of high-volume sellers like Amazon and iTunes as e-commerce organisations. They’d be right (examples of B2C), but many other companies selling very different product lines also benefit. Manufacturers of complex parts need to give clients access to the latest electronic catalogues, and a convenient route to placing new and replenishment orders.

Distributors who coordinate vast product lines from multiple suppliers need to merge many data streams and keep supply chains flowing. They will also handle large B2B payments for goods exchanged. Such e-commerce clients will utilise the core data to manage dispatch, billing and customers’ delivery expectations.

Epitomy ipad parts demonstration

Dealers who stock components or completed assemblies will reap considerable rewards by linking direct to manufacturer information, pricing changes and delivery schedules. Their customers can be presented with online configuration tools to create the finished product of choice, amending colour and performance variables to satisfy their situation and budget. With 3D modelling or virtual reality experiences integrated, the customer buying journey could take place entirely online.

Hedges & Company, who provide digital marketing and research for the automotive industry, predicted that e-commerce sales of car parts and accessories in the United States will hit $8.9 in 2017. In the UK, the Small Business website warns that SME British firms are in danger of missing out if they do not exploit online trading opportunities. According to Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, deploying effective e-commerce solutions helps smaller firms to compete with larger organisations, as the Internet offers a much leveller playing field than traditional routes to market.

Changing behaviour to make efficiencies

A well designed e-commerce site should help any business make considerable cost savings and efficiencies. The most obvious benefit will be reducing the need for staff members to meet and greet the public. Some existing and potential customers will always demand the personal touch, often wanting to deal with the sales team face to face. However, giving an online option that informs, excites and encourages the sale could convert even the most traditional customer if the process is made easy and enjoyable.

While interaction with the target audience will always be part of the marketing and sales mix (in showrooms or at exhibitions), minor queries, requests for information, confirmation that a part is correct and other time-consuming tasks should be handled automatically. Key personnel are then free to add further value to the core business activities.

Beyond front-of-house activities, a range of other e-commerce options will save time and money. Reporting tools will seamlessly update the relevant business departments based on website traffic, supplier data and customer sales. Advertising budgets can be calculated and directed to channels that generate best returns.

Organisations should also be able to reduce data input tasks and eradicate costly errors.

Making it easy for online customers

Ultimately, an e-commerce website should be an positive experience for visitors – both internal users (from the company) and external users (partner businesses, dealers and the public). If customers have used the website before to buy parts and products, the objective must be to encourage regular return visits.

Creating interest and driving traffic to e-commerce sites is essential. Customers have considerable choice these days, but the aim should be to create a go-to website. The e-commerce experience developed in partnership with a software specialist like Epitomy Solutions should be intuitive and offer users the functionality they need to complete hassle-free transactions. It should be a one-stop experience that gives the customer what they want without having to do additional research or make follow-up phone calls.

Graphics and images should complement typography. All elements contained within the pages should be appealing and optimised for readability and ease of use. Pop-up “help” and “chat” boxes can keep visitors engaged, whether that involves an advisor or, potentially, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to respond to queries.

Good design should be simple, and untrained users should be able to successfully navigate all areas of the e-commerce site. It goes without saying that websites should be optimised for all devices, not just office-based PCs. Achieve that and customers will be guided to the right parts and products every time, and quickly!