Do you hear the siren song of the company store? If you don’t, your clients most certainly do. Over the past few years, interest in selling eCommerce solutions has exploded. As a distributor, the appeal of selling an online company store is alluring but, if not properly researched, executed, and monitored, can lead to a very unpleasant outcome for all – lost revenue, non-moving merchandise, and a soured business relationship.
To avoid the potential negative outcomes of an online store solution, there are three steps every distributor needs to take:
1. Ask the right questions – As with so many things in our industry, success boils down to effective and honest communication. There are several dozen questions (at least) you should ask before investing the resources necessary to develop a company store. Some examples are:
Does the client have a current online solution? If so, what does it look like (who owns the merchandise, how many products, stocking vs. non-stocking, reporting needs, how is it promoted internally, and how are merchandise substitutions handled – to name a few)
What functionalities do they need from the web solution? Is it secured or open-ended? Is there a shopping cart feature? Do they need real-time inventory updates? How is the shipping calculated?
What security parameters do they have for the solution? Will it need to be fully PCI compliant for credit card processing? What type of encryption is necessary?
What does the communication process look like for the end user?
How is customer care handled?
How are returns handled?
2. Formulate the solution – Once you have a full understanding of the needs of the client , you need to develop the solution. There are many companies within the industry that can assist with this. As you look for a partner to help you, it’s important to ensure the solution you jointly create provides the following:
Replicate the look and feel of the client’s site
Preserve the user’s shopping experience as they transition from the client’s site to the merchandise store
Limited choice – too many products can be more paralyzing than too few
Many solutions allow you to get as creative as your client requires: standalone domain name, credit card processing, and even the ability to upload custom client images to products which I wrote about here. The key is to build a solution that will achieve the goals of the client.
3. Monitor, Report, and Adapt – Once the site is built, many distributors assume the orders will just roll in without any further effort. The hard reality is that after the site launches, the real work begins. It’s critical to understand that a company eCommerce site is a living, breathing entity and must be continually monitored, updated, and refreshed. Having quarterly stewardship reviews with your client to honestly discuss the below is essential to long term success:
What merchandise is selling – and what is not?
What product substitutions need to be made?
Are there any customer service issues – and what is being done to solve them?
How is the client supporting/promoting the website?
How are you planning for seasonality of the merchandise?
Partnering with a client to create an eCommerce site for their internal associates can be scary. However, if you ask the right questions, partner with a company that understands the promotional products industry, and continually communicate with your client, you can avoid the rocky coast and sail your ship to success.