Can your business keep up with the speed of customer demands in the 21st Century?
Today’s customers expect everything from their internet connection to their product delivery to be faster than yesterday. And nowhere more so than in London.
Customer expectations have always evolved over time, and part of maintaining a successful business has always been to understand and meet these expectations better than the competition. However, the sheer rate at which those expectations are changing in the new millennium is an entirely new phenomenon.
Most of these new, or increased, expectations come as a result of technological advances in society.
Thirty years ago, shopping from home involved leafing through a 500-page catalogue, filling out a form, writing a cheque and walking to the letter box to post the whole lot off in an envelope. Then there was a wait of several weeks while the order was processed, picked and finally dispatched.
Compare that with today’s click and pay systems, where even the act of placing an item in a virtual shopping cart then going to a payment screen is seen as cumbersome and old-fashioned, and customers expect to choose, pay for and arrange the delivery of their item at a single click.
How can you make sure your business is up to speed when it comes to meeting customer expectations?
Quick, Clean Website
However good your product or service might be, if visitors are faced with a slow download speed, they will not stay around long enough to find out enough about it. The following simple tips will make sure your website does not frighten customers away:
- Not too flash – while use of flash is great if used sparingly and in the right places, it will increase your site’s download time. Many visitors will find they do not have the right flash player installed and will not wait around to install it.
- Use thumbnails – images can take a long time to download, but thumbnails are an extremely useful tool in website design. Provide customers with a small, fast-loading picture of your product and they can then decide whether they want to look at a larger version of the image.
- Clever coding – The golden rule when it comes to HTML coding is that less is more when it comes to speed. Eliminate all extraneous HTML coding such as spaces and unnecessary tags
- Keep it internal – Anything that loads from a different server elicits an HTTP request that takes time. By limiting the amount of external content (things like ads, audio clips, etc) you will reduce loading time.
- Watch the page size – You can follow all these tips and more, but ultimately if your page size is too big, it will still cause a slow response. Once again, remember that less is more and think about what content is absolutely necessary.
So your page is loading fast and the customer can click on pictures and learn all about your products and services. That is great, but you are still a long way from securing a sale and nurturing a customer who will come back for more.
A recent article in the Daily Telegraph identified the UK as the biggest online shopping nation in the developed world. With more online shoppers in London than any other UK city, it would clearly be professional suicide for any business to neglect its e-commerce.
Hosted and Custom Built
For those just starting out on the e-commerce road, the first question to consider is which type of e-commerce platform is right for your business, in terms of hosted or custom built.
Hosted solutions, like Shopify and Volusion are run and maintained by a third party host on their server. The platforms provide users with a management portal in which they can edit existing templates and control some basic built-in features. An advantage of using hosted solutions is that the backend of the platform is maintained by the provider, which means you do not have to think about managing or updating code to build your website. This eliminates the need for a developer. The downside is that when using these platforms you are constrained to the tools and applications that the host has available to you.
The preferred option for most businesses is the custom built solution, on which a bespoke software development is installed and managed by an IT service provider. In this case, you are in full control of managing and maintaining the front and backend of your website and applications.
A custom built solution gives you limitless possibilities in terms of the features and applications you can implement. For instance, you can use the platform to gather data, which can be used to gain better marketing intelligence, which will ultimately put you one step ahead of the competition.
The choice you make depends entirely on your business needs and your medium-long term strategy, as the solution should fit your business model for years to come. Essentially, though, if your business is based around online services and you need complex features such as customer or vendor portals, then a custom built platform is the only real solution. Even if this means employing a developer to get things exactly as you want them, it might ultimately be more worthwhile than paying for numerous add-ons that are only a “make-do”.
Supply Chain Management
Whichever way you go, you need to be confident that your e-commerce enterprise is getting optimum support from the backend systems in place. Perhaps this, more than any other, aspect of purchasing has seen the most change since the turn of the millennium. In what is sometimes termed “The Amazon Effect” the concept of supply chain management has been turned on its head.
Twenty years ago, products arrived in warehouses in bulk, were moved around in pallets and selected by the case, and were then shipped out to retail stores in bulk. Today, while inventory still arrives in bulk, items then have to be inventoried and processed as individual products per order. Thus, e-commerce retailers must standardise and synchronise their business processes to have real-time access and insight to inventory movement.
With multiple suppliers, warehouses and sales channels, the whole process is more complex. Coupled with increased pressure to dispatch orders ever faster, this means the potential for things to go wrong is increased. Every business is different, which is why a bespoke solution is always the most beneficial in the long-term.
The importance of order fulfilment technologies that integrate the frontend and backend of online retail cannot be overstated.
The backend process is now a collaborative effort brought about by automated software and real-time order fulfilment information. Ensuring that key points in the supply chain are aligned reduces inefficiencies and ensures you stay one step ahead in the race to retain business. This may sound complex, but it is what the London market has grown to expect from a website!