From DM News’ Special Report on E-Commerce Platforms & Software: Growing E-Commerce Business Needs Integrated System

E-commerce has revolutionized the way in which companies attract and sell to customers. The popularity of search engines such as Google has made keyword marketing one of the best marketing channels for any business, while the bar for the ideal e-commerce experience has been set by the likes of

Leveraging the effectiveness of keyword marketing and building an e-commerce experience similar to Amazon’s that speaks directly to the needs of Internet-savvy consumers requires a holistic, integrated approach between a company’s internal systems and operations.

To stay competitive, small and growing businesses must be able to measure the true success or failure of their marketing efforts and offer a personalized online shopping experience while gaining insight into their customers’ buying habits to keep them coming back.

Many e-commerce operations are built with piecemeal parts that seem to be a good idea at the time – a hosted store here, a keyword analyzer there – with no integration into the inventory, shipping or order systems. This leads to a poor customer experience overall and lack of visibility within company operations, particularly in measuring marketing efforts such as search engine keyword marketing.

With no integrated system that ties the marketing costs incurred to revenue generated and leads converted, return on investment measurement becomes nearly impossible, making it difficult to manage customer acquisition strategies for success.

Once an integrated solution reveals the true ROI of your specific acquisition efforts, such as personalized e-mails and individual keyword buys, you can build a powerful profile of ideal customer outreach programs right down to the specific message, call to action, paid keyword or natural search engine ranking needed to increase your e-commerce business.

By putting all business data in one repository, an integrated system also facilitates invaluable insight into the overall health of your business via real-time dashboards. This lets you react to changes and trends in e-commerce instantly rather than after you have lost the customer to your competitor.

One company that closely tracks campaign ROI and uses dashboards to manage its business is Oriel Wines, a maker of premium wines. Thanks to its integrated e-commerce system, Oriel accurately monitored consumer preferences and distributed precisely targeted e-mail offers that generated strong sales. Holiday Web store sales climbed 1,100 percent in 2005 versus 2004.

Customer loyalty is bred via a combination of selection, price and shopping experience. And you have more control over the online experience than any other factor. Customers shopping online have learned in the past decade to expect accurate access to stock on hand, recommendations for complementary products they might be interested in and 24/7 customer service access to track order progress and shipping status. For a growing company with limited IT resources, it is difficult to achieve this sort of e-commerce experience with a piecemeal approach to its internal systems.

An integrated system approach lets small and midsize companies do business like the e-commerce titans. You could pay for many hours of custom programming to reinvent the wheel enjoyed by the Fortune 500, or turn to an integrated e-commerce suite designed to manage everything from the Web site presentation to shopping cart, order processing, fulfillment, shipping, customer service and marketing.

No e-commerce competitor will concede an inch of business if it doesn’t have to. Rather than using disconnected solutions and fighting blind, start building your e-commerce operation around a seamless customer experience, the most effective marketing channels and real-time business intelligence via dashboards and watch your business grow to unprecedented heights.

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