A modern ‘integrated e-commerce’ website can provide significant opportunities. Citrus-Lime MD Neil McQuillan explains how well-managed online sales can add value to a business...

CHAIN REACTION: Do you compute?

It isn’t so many years since there was a great rush for small businesses to ‘get online’ and for retailers to ‘sell online’. Most bike shops at least got some sort of web presence up during this time, even if it was little more than a photo of the shop, the address, opening times and perhaps a map.

Retailers naturally had a fear of being left behind and there was an element of keeping up with ‘Jones’ Cycle shop’ in the next town. And of course there was a significant amount of Government cash swilling around, from Business Links, rural subsidies, and a plethora of EU related schemes.

Some, the brave, even went the whole hog and started to sell online. But not all had positive experiences. The ones I speak to tend to tell one of three stories.

There are those who tried e-commerce, but stopped: Many of these retailers were left to grapple with a time-consuming and complex set of additional business processes that they felt simply didn’t contribute enough to warrant continuing with, or even worse led to a negative impact on the existing ‘bricks and mortar’ business. Some hadn’t considered the changes that would have to be made to the business to accommodate e-commerce and the ongoing work to update and promote it.

There are also plenty of retailers who’ve tried e-commerce, but are struggling with it. At a trade show I met a bike retailer using a non-integrated e-commerce site who was determined that he didn’t want his online sales to grow. The reason? He simply couldn’t cope with any increase in the volume of orders to process and felt that he was neglecting his existing customers. With non-integrated sites the amount of time dealing with customers who have ordered out-of-stock items is a particular problem – added to the phone calls ‘to check where my parcel is?’

Then there are those who have been successful with e-commerce. These retailers have largely moved onto more modern platforms, they now have fully integrated sites linked with their main epos stockfile. They don’t have to re-key details between three different applications and then write out the courier labels by hand. They have software that allows them to streamline the processes inside their businesses that are requirements of running a successful e-commerce site, and most importantly they have the drive and energy to succeed.

Given that there are many retailers out there who have either dismissed e-commerce or who have had bad experiences with it in the past, it can be difficult for me to persuade them to at least think about the benefits that online sales could bring to the business. What’s so different about ‘integrated e-commerce’? is a question often asked.

An integrated e-commerce platform – such as that offered by Citrus-Lime – will use one stockfile for both e-commerce and epos, and will be able to keep the stock levels on your website accurate, preventing oversells. Some providers can transfer your supplier’s stockfile into your epos system, speeding up product entry no end – Citrus-Lime even has a way of getting the exact amount of stock held by your distributor displayed next to products in your epos system, and these can be displayed online too.

Order processing and dispatch is much more streamlined and simple to perform. It is often possible to directly print out courier labels pre-filled with customer details. A fully integrated approach allows automated system payment processing – you can still view all the transactions prior to acceptance – without keying in data.

Many integrated systems offer a workshop module too. There has been a renewed focus recently on the issue of workshops underselling themselves – and lively discussions too. But it’s worth remembering that with an integrated system you would have accurate reporting that would tell you exactly how much revenue your workshop generated.

Customer expectations are greater now too. A modern integrated e-commerce platform needs to provide retailers with the potential to update and expand their sites to incorporate new features that customers are coming to expect. Some online bike retailers – particularly those in niche markets – are building an online community around their businesses with services such as Twitter and YouTube.

Of course, it’s for IBDs to make up their own minds about e-commerce in relation to their businesses, but for those who do decide to go ‘clicks and mortar’ there remains real opportunity to add a new income stream in a channel experiencing significant and consistent growth.

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