Content Management Drives E-Commerce

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At its simplest, e-commerce can be defined as transactions that occur over the Internet. This transactional focus is, in fact, how e-commerce is typically measured. When looking at it this way, e-commerce is simply the Internet replacement for the terminal-based data entry clerks that entered orders that were submitted over the telephone or via snail-mail. This is far too simplistic a view.


Web sites that only offer order entry capabilities fail. Customers use the Web to research and compare products, understand options and make purchases. This broad-informational data is handled by e-commerce's key companion, content management.


Forrester Research defines content management as: A combination of well-defined roles, formal processes and supporting systems architecture that helps firms contribute, collaborate on and control page elements such as text, graphics, multimedia and applets. Put simply, content management software should provide a Web environment that helps companies make sure the right business action occurs. It must ensure that the right people:


* Create content.


* Update content.


* Review and approve content.


* View content.


Content management is as much about people as it is about information. Focusing on the people involved in your Web activities is central to the evolution of successful Web sites. Content management recognizes all of these participants and designs site operation and management activities around them.


As mentioned earlier, electronic commerce without content management would resemble the old-fashioned terminal-based data entry. Content management is the key to e-commerce success - presenting the right information to the right people to get them to order your products. Without effective management, you could easily be presenting people with out-of-date, erroneous information. In addition, if you don't assess your audience's needs, you can easily overload your visitors with irrelevant information that potentially leads them to click away without doing anything.


As e-commerce becomes more ingrained with other business operations, content management provides the key capabilities for linking the two. This is critical for long-term success. While the growth of electronic commerce continues to exceed the lofty expectations that have been set for it, that growth has not come without pain - the pain of managing frustrated customers, confused prospects and worried business partners. Many companies, like Levi-Strauss for example, are re-evaluating their e-commerce efforts to address the impact that it has on their overall business. They are finding that the transaction is not the key measure of e-commerce success. The key measure is a profitable, long-term customer relationship.


How does content management help you build these long-term relationships? The answer is easy:


It puts the focus on the customer, not the transaction. By focusing on your customers, you can identify the types of information and services that will help them have a positive relationship with your company. Your Web site content should play the same role of a superior customer service representative - there when the customer needs it and not pushy.


It is a part of every Web initiative, not just e-commerce. If you are like most businesses, customers can interact with you in a number of ways, including using multiple Web sites. It is the key to linking these sites, or sections, together with consistent, relevant information that shows the customer that you care. As with the e-commerce section, the focus of these sites should be on the customer needs.


It integrates the Web with your existing business. Effective content management occurs when the owners of business information and customer relationships can manage those assets easily. By putting the responsibility and capability for managing this information in the hands of the information owners, your business' Web and traditional operations will be linked. Customers will receive consistent service, whether interacting with you through traditional channels or through your e-commerce site.


With the role of e-commerce still evolving, businesses must provide their customers with a high level of service to keep them happy. Content management is the technology that helps businesses manage the informational aspects of their Web sites. This helps customers research products, get support and make purchases.


Effective integration of content management and e-commerce will result in stronger customer relationships and increased profitability, which means long-term success for your business.


Hank Barnes is vice president of marketing at Eprise Corp., Framington, MA. His w-mail address is hbarnes@eprise.com.
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