The Business of Doing Business on the Net

October 15, 2003 by admin

What do a laser printer, Death Head Jam Boys, Taslan mittens, and a church supper have in common? Think Internet. Think commerce. Think community.
They all have a presence on the Internet – whether it’s making sure that local bands have a marketplace and fans have a forum, expanding their customer base to sell more printers and accessories, or reaching out to souls.
What about your business or organization? Are you depending on word-of-mouth and walk-in traffic? Is bold print in the phone book your idea of an investment in advertising? Or are you like many owners of small and midsize businesses? You know that you should be offering multiple sales channels and attracting new customers across the country, but you just don’t have the time or the resources to invest right now. You’re concerned that you may have to hire an IT staff, with Web designers and online retail specialists. And you’re worried about getting a solution that sized right for your business.
These are real concerns, and it’s a big decision. But we think that we can help you make the right one.

Start small, think big

At the very least, you need to have a presence on the Internet. Today, most people use the Internet just like they used to use a phone book. Think about the phone calls you get from local customers. What percentage of time are your employees giving out information about your opening hours or location or driving directions?
Have your sales stagnated lately? Are you having trouble attracting new customers and gaining repeat business? Or do you even know who your customers are? Start thinking globally. Could you be selling your kayaks to customers in Cairo (Illinois that is) or California? What about suggesting additional items to that online customer, just like you do when a customer’s in your store? And to keep them coming back to your Web site, you can provide tips, tide tables, and trip reports.
What minute, you’re thinking. That’s something that the big online stores are doing. Is it really something that I can do? Read on.

Take it to the next level

Now your phone’s ringing off the hook with people asking about your products, placing orders, making appointments, or contracting your services. Increased business means more work for everyone, from the person taking the order over the phone to the one who ships it out. And what about your customer service staff? With more of your products in customers’ hands, there may be a greater need for customer support. Is it too much of a good thing?
Let’s get a bit more structured. Put your product catalog online, with pictures and complete descriptions. Add a search function, so customers can search for products without having to know your name for them. Maybe add a link to frequently asked questions about your products or services. And then give customers several ways to contact you – like phone, fax, and e-mail – in addition to regular mail and in-person visits to your store.

You’ve come this far…

Now you’re swamped with orders and requests for information. And you may have to add staff – or take the next step to real e-business. You’re ready to sell your products and services online. In addition to looking at your catalog, customers can now place orders on your Web site. And this is where it can get a bit complicated. Let’s see what’s involved.
In the simplest case, as a customer chooses an item from your catalog, it goes into a shopping cart, which is the universal metaphor for business-to-consumer Web sites. If some of your customers are other businesses, you may want to have a “quick buy” feature, which functions more like a purchase order and assists purchasing agents by letting them enter multiple products or article numbers. At the end of the shopping experience, whether by cart or purchase order, your customers need to pay.
Here’s where the big “I” comes in – integration.

Why not go all the way

Now you have an online catalog and an online shopping cart. That’s still way ahead of where you were a few months ago. The customer’s order could go to your back office where your staff checks inventory, calculates tax and shipping charges, creates an invoice, bills the customer, and ships the product.
Or you could have an integrated payment process that verifies credit card validity and credit limits, accepts it, and processes your customer’s payment. You could have an e-business site that communicates with your back-office systems, such as accounting, ordering, and managing your inventory – and with your point-of-sales system in your store. And because all your sales and communications channels (online and offline) are integrated, your customers can contact you no matter where they live, work, and play.

Do I have to do it myself?

You could – but should you? Is software development your core business? Wouldn’t it be a better business decision to find an off-the-shelf product that meets your needs, so you can get back to minding the store?

SAP and PRAXIS have the solution

SAP Business One is such a product. A simple but powerful solution designed for emerging and dynamic businesses, SAP Business One (.www.sap.com/smb) provides an immediate and complete view of your critical business operations and customer activities. And SAP Business One has some of the best partners in the small and midsize marketplace. Take a look at the product line from PRAXIS Software Solutions (www.praxissoft.net), specifically NetPoint Commerce. This online selling solution will grow with you, whether you’re starting with a 10-product catalog of handmade bird feeders or carry 100,000 accessories for owners of motorcycles and snowmobiles.
It’s understood that NetPoint Commerce is tightly integrated with SAP Business One. So you can be sure that you’ll have a complete solution for billing, customer service, inventory management, and business intelligence

At the online store

Here’s how NetPoint Commerce can help you on the front end. Its scalable Web catalog can launch product demos from product descriptions and provide cross-sell functions that are the hallmark of more expensive products. When a customer buys a printer, you can ask her if she needs a cable, power strip, toner, or paper. Cabella, a retailer of hunting clothes and accessories, noted a 7 percent increase in individual sales through this feature.
The catalog is also accessible from hand-held devices, such as cell phones and PDAs. What do Harley owners do on Sunday morning? Go for a ride. And what do they see? The latest in chrome handlebars and leather halter tops on other Harley owners. And what do they do on Sunday evening? Access your online catalog and place an order.
Or they would if you were Dennis Kirk (www.DennisKirk.com), a dealer in power sports products, who supplemented his store and mail order catalog business with an online sales channel. Since installing NetPoint Commerce in 2000, Kirk has seen its online business increase 400 times. Today, about 30 percent of their orders come from their Web site.
All customers, whether business-to-consumer or business-to-business, expect a shopping cart and easy payment methods. NetPoint Commerce offers your business customers a quick-buy feature for frequent purchases using purchase orders and credit terms. Consumers can use the wish list function as a reminder during shopping, and they can send the list to family and friends. Businesses could use a wish list as a standing order.

And in the back office

Increased sales without increasing sales staff sounds good, but what about operations and maintenance? Tammy Stoffel, eCommerce Director at Dennis Kirk, reports: “We had a very specific set of issues to deal with in developing our e-commerce plan. Speed, easy maintenance, and a simple catalog conversion were the essential elements. We had actually begun initial implementation of another package, only to find that it couldn’t deliver on its promises of hassle-free product and pricing updates. After just a week of operation on our new system, we were enjoying profitable sales.”
You’ve seen abandoned shopping carts at Wal-Mart. The same thing happens online. At some point during the purchase, a customer just logs off. Wonder why? With the “abandoned cart” report, you can find out where carts are abandoned – does it happen at a product or at a specific step in the purchasing process. Is there a pattern? You suspect it may be tied to the shipping charges, but it could be something else. Maybe the online customer had a question about the product, but couldn’t get an answer. Is the user interface cluttered with too much information or is the purchasing process just too complicated? Some online sites report a 70 percent abandon ratio. Imagine if you could prevent even 10 percent of that. What would that do for your online business – and your bottom line?
Do your customers remove items from carts? How often? Which products? Do you have a wish list function? How many items were converted to purchases? These are examples of the reports that you can get from NetPoint Commerce. And because it’s integrated with SAP Business One, you have all the rich reporting functions for your back-office operations.

2B or not 2B? There’s no debate

You’re convinced that you’re losing ground without an Internet presence. You’re convinced that SAP Business One and NetPoint Commerce deliver the power you need to get back in the game. They have the knowledge, experience, resources, and products that will take your business to the next level. You’ll gain:

  • Increased awareness of your company and its products and services without increasing call center personnel.
  • Multichannel purchasing options without increasing store personnel. Your store may be open from 9:00 to 5:00, and your call center from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM, but your Web site is open for business 24 X 7.
  • Increased sales without increasing sales staff. Kirk reports a 400 times increase in online sales in the three years since implementing NetPoint Commerce.
  • Improved profit margins. When sales increase, you can negotiate lower pricing with your suppliers, which impacts your profit margins.
  • Superior ease of use that enhances your customers’ experience and simplifies operations and maintenance tasks for your employees.
  • Reduced sales transaction times from hours to minutes. With automatic workflow, there are no missed steps or forgotten information in the sales process. And no misunderstood item numbers or quantities.

We haven’t used the “P” word, but by now, that’s what you’re thinking. What an impact on productivity! I can free up my time from routine, mundane tasks to make sure that my products or my services meet my customers’ needs. I know that my customers have a fast, secure, and reliable way to purchase my goods and services, so that my customer reps can focus on service rather than giving directions. And because I have reports that tell me what I need to know, I don’t have to spend hours figuring out how to get the data out of my system and into a spreadsheet.
All this translates into more – more purchasing options, more sales, more satisfaction, and more customers.

Further information:

SAP Business One and NetPoint Commerce
www.sap.com/smb
www.praxissoft.net

Brenda Mackay

Brenda Mackay

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