No one can deny the strong effect that e-commerce has had on our daily lives. E-commerce is an USA $5.2 billion market. Many companies use e-commerce to order products for sale, service or general operational needs. Consumers use e-commerce for many reasons. From ordering the favorite blouse they can’t find in the local store to researching the vacation of their dreams. The difficulty of the business to consumer relationship is providing ease of ordering as well as exciting options. This is the same for the business to business relationship. Companies strive for the best and the easiest possible way to promote their product. Ease of ordering can make it a fluid transaction for both parties involved. It can be a technology manager’s best moment when he is able to orchestrate that perfect marriage between point of sale and the actual exchange of funds. The introduction of new technology as well as the ever changing needs of the consumer make it difficult to predict the future of e-commerce. By analyzing some of the technologies which are currently successful, it may be possible to road map future e-commerce possibilities.
The following ideas about Road mapping have come from the article Road mapping Integrates Business and Technology. Some The Road mapping Concept – which by definition is “a process that contributes to the integration of business and technology and to the definition of technology strategy by displaying the interaction between products and technologies over time, taking into account both short- and long -term product and technology aspects” has many key points that make the process work. The long term view of Road mapping helps to serve markets with the right products at the right time, improve new product creation, and stimulates learning in organizations through openness and desire to perform better. Road mapping can take up to ten years to fully execute. This includes two-three years in the planning phase (looking at available resources for development) and three -six years in the vision phase(highly important in the road mapping process). Some requirements of road mapping must show alternative product of technology developments and use standardized formats which describes the product characteristics and technologies. The process of Road mapping is supported by other tools. An example of one of the tools includes Quality Function Deployment (QFD). These tools help structure the relationship between the parameters of product, technology and time. Customer oriented approach that links customer requirements (whats) with product characteristics (hows). This might alternatively be considered linking future product with future technology, which is the essence of Road mapping.
The benefits of Road mapping include: The creation of a shared product-technology strategy, the creation of long-range product and technology planning, facilitates learning which ensures that functions communicate and collaborate, and road mapping improves a competitive edge.
Two important factors to consider when considering good e-commerce practices are functional requirements and non functional requirements. Each of these affects the daily operation of the online procurement system. The consumer interacts with each item and their sub compartments during each purchase. Functional requirements are the expected services provided by procurement systems. Non functional requirements deal with how well the systems work. The difference between the two is important, but they cannot operate fluidly without each other.
Functional requirements of the procurement system can support the identification, selection and execution phases of the procurement process. In the identification phase the vendor must provide descriptive information and attempt to entice the consumer to seek more guidance about products offered. It is the front line of the system and the first opportunity a consumer gets to see the product. In the selection phase the vendor needs to provide pricing and other relevant information that lets the consumer compare different product offerings. This can be comparison within your business and comparisons with other items offered online from competitors. The execution phase facilitates the exchange of information needed to complete the transaction. Ease of purchase, online tracking and post sale follow-up are all factors of the execution phase of procurement. This is the final exposure a purchaser has with the company. At this point many simple things should be established to solidify a repeat customer.
Non functional requirements focus on the usability, security, reliability, and the performance of the procurement system. The usability function refers to the ease a particular system is to understand and use. Security of the procurement system touches on the hazards that someone may encounter while using the system. Over the past few years this has become one of the most important issues in online purchasing. Consumers are targeted often by criminals who fleece them of their money as well as their information. Reliability refers to the proper functioning that will allow the system to perform effectively every time. The overall performance of the procurement system must incorporate all these factors to maintain all the non functional requirements.
A comprehensive study reported in the article assessing critical functional and non functional requirements for web-based procurement systems shows the importance of the relationship between functioning and non functioning web based procurement systems. The findings below were accessed by using a questionnaire. The findings show no significant difference between early and late participants, the base group reflects a large population of corporate buyers.
The graph can help technology managers developing a business to business procurement system. This graph shows web systems rate high on usability and on the identification function. Users also see a reduction in search costs. The down side of the study shows that consumers rate web systems low on reliability, security and post sale follow-up. A technology manager can use this information to create a better procurement system to improve what is perceived as lacking by the consumer.
Incorporating new technologies like 3D modeling and 3D video into a business’s procurement system has improved the identification and selection processes. Companies including Land’s End, Lane Bryant, and Glamor all use virtual model technology. The My Virtual Model helps shoppers input their personal information into a database and they receive a 3D model image which they can use throughout the website. They can try on clothes and accessories and compare them from the comforts of their own home. Currently there are more than 5 million registered models. This technology is used in business to business e-commerce activities. A business can develop their item/product and compare how that product interacts with the other products vendors are offering. Seeing a 3d model of a product can make it easy to compare the product to what they are currently using and this can aid in the decision process. One important tool in the 3D model is the zoom tool this is a key effect that shows first hand, close-up detail of the product. This is a very costly system that many companies simply cannot initially afford. Faster download times and improved navigation are making this easier to market. Many companies are interested in the basic tools and steer away from the “extra features”.
3D video tours are another important topic to be considered. Most hotel sites, cruise lines and many university campuses use this application to aid the consumer in visualizing their environment. This is becoming a standard in the selection phase of hotel comparisons. By offering a 3D video tour hotels can show of their best features while the consumer sits back and watches in the comfort of their own home. This can also work for businesses trying to offer new products into the procurement process. The business can use video streaming to show quality control, as well as, the overall operation of the company. This is a good way to get a foot in the door while consumers compare products offered on the internet.
A technology manager’s job will always change while he absorbs new technologies available. One of the biggest obstacles is trying to entice your target consumer to use your site. An example of this can be found in an article from Design Tips magazine in May 2008. The article focuses on teenagers and online shopping. Even though they don’t have their own credit cards they still shop online. Teenagers are more plugged in to the net than we realize. As a technology manager you must try to keep the interest of the teen consumers to your website. Teenagers are attracted to sites that are hip looking and offer cutting edge graphics, but in the end they want things done.
They want to explore the product site and the feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. This also is important for business to business procurement. The consumers’ equipment and speed of information exchange must also be considered. The customer may not have the newest equipment and best connection while surfing your site. This is referenced from a quote within the article which states “Teens often use outdated equipment, including donated equipment at schools and libraries. Even if their parents have the latest gear, teens are often working with hand-me-down equipment.” Not having adequate equipment is not often a problem in businesses, but is there equipment better or less operational than yours? By not having a good grasp on your consumers’ abilities and needs then you may lose their interest even before you can show them a product.
Many of the buyers for corporate organizations are young and have a vast exposure to computers. This consumer will want to explore websites that are interesting as well as informative. Some of the key rules listed include: show prices upfront, allow sort preference, offer wish lists, don’t require registrations and a speedy checkout. With any procurement system the easier the product is to understand the better the consumer can make their decision. If the information in the description will not answer the consumer’s inquiry then the product will be over looked. Many products sold business to business must be specific in their description. There is a fine line between fulfilling the basic information and flourishing the description with too much technical information.
Starting your own e-business has its own challenges. Developing a basic business structure is the easy part. The most difficult aspect of any e-business venture includes a business plan. There is a difference between the two. In a business structure you choose your software, develop a marketing plan, open a credit card account, and don’t forget all the cash outlay needs. The business plan is essentially what it means to do business online. “The biggest favor you do yourself in the beginning is to take time to really think about what you are doing-make deliberate decisions,” says Jeff Binder, CEO of Saffron Rough and an expert in starting online businesses. What makes your site different than the other sites selling the same widgets you may produce is a key factor in the success of your e-business. Your site may simply be easier to use and more efficient that the other sites and this will ease the customer towards the checkout process. The ultimate goal of an e-business is to make that sale. Scope out the competition and gather information to add to your business plan. Find out who are your customers and end users.
Evaluate their needs. Try to find your niche. Before you start your online business realize that other competitors have established some of their own ways to entice consumers. One example is Overstock.com, they will ship any product for $2.99. You can purchase a 70lb bed frame for $300 and have it shipped to your door for less than $3. This is basically free shipping to the customer. An important part of the technology manager’s job is finding that hook will set your e-business apart from all the others.
E-commerce has proven itself to be a growing force to be reckoned with on the internet. Trying to forecast the success of your business to business e-commerce venture has many different paths to consider. Each day technologies become better, faster and cheaper to operate. This affects how successful the business operates online. Businesses seek information through online research. They make purchases and evaluate whether they will make additional future purchases each time they compare your company’s product with others online. Having a strong front line of technology managers who can take into consideration all the aspects of a successful procurement process can secure your site a place in the successful world of e-commerce.