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Will Your Shopping Cart Roll to Where Your Customers Are?

Will Your Shopping Cart Roll to Where Your Customers Are?

It is a social, mobile and multidevice world, so businesses have to be ready with storefronts for each of those e-commerce opportunities. A website, a Facebook page and a mobile app all need to offer the same products at the same price. Managing all of that centrally will actually help with inventory management. Better yet, it will show the customer that no matter where they are -- at home, in the office or on the go -- your business can satisfy their shopping needs.

Can I be everywhere my customers want to shop? The good news is that this rhetorical question is not all that far-fetched any longer.

In its day, the Sears catalog revolutionized the consumer shopping experience and ruled the market. Decades later, it has been rendered obsolete by the ultimate, innovative consumer shopping medium -- the Internet -- and its current lead innovator, Amazon.

Of course, the story doesn't end here. As changes in technology and buying behavior continue to evolve rapidly, the latest challenge for small business owners is to keep pace with how and where their customers shop for their products. Today, consumers use multiple devices and visit numerous online sites when shopping, so successful retailers need to embrace the innovation around them in order to be everywhere their customers look for products like theirs.

The good news is that you can sell everywhere today, and it may be easier than you think. E-commerce technology is evolving rapidly to enable small businesses to be everywhere.

For instance, customers are increasingly visiting more destinations than your single e-commerce website while shopping online. They also are hanging out on Facebook, Pinterest and on mobile websites, and industry research shows that they indeed are willing to buy directly on those sites.

A potential customer might read a comment about your product in their Facebook news stream, and click through to your fan page. However, the sales opportunity could be lost if you don't have a Facebook storefront that is available immediately, as users often do not want to leave Facebook right then and there. To affordably and efficiently be everywhere your customers want to shop, you also need to support multiple storefronts from a single integrated backend.

Traditional E-Commerce Storefronts

Let's look at traditional, embeddable e-commerce storefronts. Ideally, you want an online store that is easy to set up, requires no changes to your existing design and can be pasted easily into your website or WordPress blog.

This store should be highly functional and offer expected features like credit card integrations, multiple images and real-time shipping rates, while also remaining lightweight and fast -- critical for maintaining speedy download times and quick conversions.

Your shopping cart also should be a hub for your marketing efforts, offering integrations with social networks so your customers can Like or share their purchases. The cart should make your products easy to find on major search engines, create discount coupons for promotions, and get your products listed in major comparison shopping feeds.

In this sense, the shopping cart can be invaluable in helping to spread the word on your business.

Mobile Storefronts

Almost everyone now has a mobile web strategy. We think businesses should consider a "multiple devices strategy" as well.

As the number of devices used to access the Internet grows -- smart phones, tablets, smart TV's, video game consoles, etc. -- your storefront should be readily accessible on each of them. Specifically, the storefront should make the display of storefront content convenient and visually appealing given the capabilities and limitations of the device at hand.

The approach many companies are forced to take is to build a unique version of their website for different sizes and types of mobile devices -- for example, a site optimized for touch, with links spaced sufficiently to enable easy finger-browsing on tablets.

While this can be an expensive proposition for smaller businesses, the cost of not offering an exceptional mobile customer experience is significant. The increasing volume of mobile site traffic is too important to ignore.

A better approach for small businesses is a new feature called mobile adaptive design that ensures entire sites -- not just home pages -- can be designed and built once, then used anywhere and on any device. Essentially, the site detects the nature of inbound traffic (i.e. smart phone, tablet or desktop PC) and delivers a version of various pages according to specific device parameters.

The beauty of this approach is that there is only one code base to develop and manage. Shopping carts are following suit by dynamically adjusting storefront layouts according to a device's features. For example, the shopping cart may detect that a page view is narrow and adapt the display of product views accordingly.

Your shopping cart should do all this for you, while maintaining most of the features of the desktop version.

Social Storefronts

Finally, your shopping cart should enable you to quickly and easily set up social commerce storefronts that are embedded directly into Facebook pages or even Pinterest. A recent 8thBridge report showed that 44 percent of U.S. consumers said they are most likely to discover new products on Facebook, with more than half saying they get advice from their Facebook friends before making a purchase decision.

We have seen our best merchants take advantage of this trend and add an average of 10 percent to their revenue by selling socially. Some merchants who really have learned to work the system see as much as 30-50 percent of sales hailing from social network storefronts.

Conclusion: Go Multi

To take full advantage of today's social, mobile and multidevice opportunities, you need to operate multiple, synchronized storefronts simultaneously and manage them all centrally. Not only will this enable easier administration, but it also can facilitate effective back-office operations like cross-channel inventory management. You cannot afford to be touting a product on Facebook, only to discover that the unit actually is out of stock.

The e-commerce landscape is changing. To maximize productivity, it is critical that you sell wherever your customers want to shop online, and on the device(s) they wish to use.

Selecting a multiplatform online storefront can be the key to cost-effectively optimizing your online presence, and helping you truly be in many places at once.


Jim O'Hara is the president of Ecwid Inc.


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