E-commerce: Are you Ready?


The following guest post comes from Kobayashi Online, a Toronto-based agency that offers a comprehensive, one-stop-shop solution for small and medium-sized businesses in web designweb hostingemail campaigns, plus logo and print design. They have been an active participant in Toronto’s WordPress community for several years.

In Canada, eight percent of overall retail will be accounted for by online spending. Forrester Research, an independent technology and market research company, predicts that online retail spending in Canada will increase from $20.6 billion to $33.8 billion in 2018. As such, e-commerce or the purchase of goods and services over the internet, is becoming an increasing vital aspect of any business.

E-commerce offers many advantages for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) such as: access to more potential customers, reduction in transaction costs, the reduced need for physical facilities (i.e. brick and mortar stores), and it eliminates the barrier of entry in most industries.

SMEs should theoretically benefit from the recent trends in e-commerce; however many Canadian SMEs are not equipped to conduct business online. A 2011 survey indicated that just seventy percent of SMEs in Canada have an established website, and only eighteen percent make online sales. It remains clear that many Canadian SMEs are not taking full advantage of the opportunities created by e-commerce. What’s more is that Canadian SMEs are facing increased competition from high profile U.S. department stores. Bloomingdales, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney have started shipping their products to Canada.

One advantage of a SME is the ability to recognize business trends and adapt quickly. For the sales and payment cycle this is most notably the shift towards online platforms.

To determine want is happening in your industry and with your customers, try conducting a simple customer survey will do to help determine whether you would benefit from establishing an online eCommerce presence.

Many SMEs do not possess the internal capability to create and manage online sales. This is where a platforms such as WordPress and outsourcing to companies such as our own (Kobayashi Online) can help.

The information presented in this article may already be familiar to you. Perhaps you’ve already recognised the need and importance of ecommerce. The logical question to ask is: what’s next? At this point, it’s important to come up with a strategy to optimize your ecommerce solution. Every business will need to customize their solution in order to meet the needs of the business. Below you’ll find an ecommerce questionnaire which we use with our clients to determine the requirements of an ecommerce platform. The answers to these questions can help you approach a vendor and get a clear idea of what your budget will be to successfully get you selling online.

We’ve also included our experience and observations of WordPress eCommerce plugins at the end. Please share your comments and your own experiences!

Ecommerce Questionnaire/Checklist

    1. Is the purpose of the website only ecommerce, or will there be pages supporting other aspects of the business? If so, roughly what pages?
    2. What will you be selling online? Will you be selling products that ship, electronic products, and/or services?
    3. Roughly how many different products/services will you be selling online?
    4. Will these products/services be separated into different categories or subcategories?

If so, roughly how many?

    • Women’s clothing
    • Men’s clothing
    • Children’s clothing
  1. Will you be shipping products?  If so,
    • Will you need to charge shipping separately from the product?
    • Which shipping methods seem to be the best fit (you can choose more than one)?
      • Exact shipping costs through a real-time direct link with a shipper such as Canada Post or UPS
      • Flat rate depending on location
      • Free shipping over a certain dollar amount (or number of items ordered)
      • Do you need to provide shipping details (i.e. the tracking number) to the client automatically?
  2. Will you need to charge taxes separately for the items? If so, please describe the tax rules.
  3. Will these products have “attributes”? (i.e.  A single “T-shirt” product in red, blue or green and small, medium, or large)
    If so, do you need to keep separate track of stock based on these attributes?
  4. Do you have an existing merchant account and/or online payment gateway?
  5. Do you sell services or products that require regular recurring billing?
    • Other than the initial order, does this recurring billing need to be self-managed by the client through the website?
  6. How important is it for customers to stay on your site when checking out versus switching to a third party site such as www.paypal.com to finalize the transaction?
  7. Do you need to provide discounts to specific customers such as retailers, or distributors?
  8. Do you need to restrict viewing of products and/or prices to specific customers? (such as offering some products ONLY to wholesalers or ONLY to end-users).
  9. Do you have existing photography for your products?
    • Will your product manufacturers/distributors provide professional photography?
  10. Are any of the products customized for the client?   (i.e. a T-shirt or pen with the company name)
  11. Do you need to track limits on items being sold (i.e. inventory or spaces available in a class)
    • Do you need your website to indicate items are out of stock, class full, etc.?
    • Do you want to allow backordering or waiting lists?
  12. Do you need your ecommerce store to integrate with any other existing systems?  And if so, in what manner? Some examples are:
    • Accounting systems
    • Inventory systems
    • Client management systems
    • Marketing communications systems
  13. Will you want to implement an affiliate / referral program?

WordPress eCommerce plugins – Our experience (share yours!):

Jigoshop: This is the WordPress plugin we’ve used the most and are most familiar with. We like the plugin, but have been looking at the “fork” of this project by WooThemes.

WooCommerce: A “fork” of the Jigoshop plugin (meaning WooThemes took the open source code of Jigoshop, and started it’s own version). Our impression is that WooCommerce has a more active development community.

Shopp: Love the attention to developer requirements with this product. A strong contender

WP e-Commerce: Perhaps the longest running eCommerce plugin with a huge user base. We tried it out over a year ago and found its apparent reputation of being frustrating to use a legitimate complaint.. Perhaps this is no longer the case – anyone know different?