E-commerce is about more than a 'buy now' button

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Don't put the shopping cart before the horse
Don't put the shopping cart before the horse

W.H Auden advised readers in 1940 to “leap before you look,” and while that's a beautiful and poignant sentiment when applied to living life as fearlessly as possible in an often conventional world—it's not a strategy brands should employ if they're considering launching an e-commerce site.

Enter “pre-commerce.” People want a seamless, quick, branded experience when they visit a website. And whatever's being sold—be it a $70,000 steel crane or a $20 T-shirt—B2B and B2C businesses alike need to have a deep think about the ‘whys' behind their desire to launch an e-commerce site.

“Pre-commerce is about building an e-commerce solution without the transactional capability in place,” says Mike Gadsby, partner and creative director at O3 World. “It's taking a step in that direction without going in headfirst so the company can analyze where it's at.”

Brands that rush pell-mell into e-commerce without considering the immense amount of manpower that goes into infrastructure, fulfillment, and support—“People think they just need to put their products online and add an ‘add to cart' button,'” says Gadsby—will most likely, despite the best of intentions, simultaneously falter and piss off their customers. If you're not going to do it right, he says, it's probably better not to do it at all.

Take Gadsby's wife, for example. “She's forsaken some sites and will not go back because of one bad experience,” he says. “Some brands don't realize they only get to make one impression online.”

I can relate. The feeling engendered in a consumer by an e-commerce #epicfail is a kind of inchoate rage that consumes an unfulfilled consumer. It's the kind of feeling that makes you unreasonably angry at inanimate objects, causing you to yell, spittle flying at your computer screen: “WHY WON'T YOU TAKE MY MONEY?!”

“One bad shopping experience might turn someone off forever,” Gadsby says.

Gadsby counsels brands considering dipping a proverbial toe in the old e-commerce waters to embrace customer experience in a serious way. Merchandize online and use the data generated by the site to gauge consumer reactions, he says. It's an important initial step on the road to a full-blown transactional experience.

Brands also need to set reasonable customer expectations.

“If you promise something and you don't deliver on it, you're going to leave people with a bad taste in their mouth,” Gadsby says. “You can lose customers pretty fast if you're not careful.”

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Founded in September 2009, Stirista is an integrated marketing agency that specializes in ...