Graham Bowden's ThoughtWorld

Make eBusiness MeBusiness

Everyone knows that the biggest thing is eBusiness. But the hype still outstrips the actual business occurring. This article examines what obstacles need to be overcome in order to develop the Business rather than the e. I have bundled together objections for buying many different things over the web, so not all of the objections may apply to your eBusiness, but I bet many will. Also, much of the research has focused on the technology, not on the people that drive it. For mainstream adoption, business over the wire needs to appeal to people, in the same way that shopping does. Both rational and irrational obstacles need to be overcome. The following are in no particular order...

"Anyone in the firm could order - it will be out of control"

Businesses quite often form accounts with their suppliers and "authorised" employees are then able to order (by phone or fax). The email order was just one step from that. Ordering over the Web could be just another logical progression - using authorisation codes etc. that exist in other formss of ordering. In addition, a manager could be charged with checking online orders prior to dispatch to ensure that the orders are fully authorised.

The adoption of the authorisation process within the ordering system builds added value in the web ordering process.

"Orders could be intercepted, altered, copied or increased." "I don't want to put my credit card details on the web"

This objection is based on fears about the privacy and security of the internet. It is fed by irrational fears and I do not think assurances that the security cannot be cracked are likely to work. The stories of hackers breaking into military establishments that were supposedly uncracked will always loom. A trust has to be built with the supplier, this is easier if you already have a reputation, but one can be built by developing a known brand.

The approval process above would aid the feeling of security. In addition, promises to cover losses if shown to be due to internet fraud will help. Development of champions - people who buy from you and do not mind being quoted (or pictured) on the web can help. The customer product review can be a surrupticious way of enhancing this subconcious trust. A customer help line can also increase this trust - you could also take the order this way - or set up an account so that credit card details do not have to be typed in over the web.

"It is too complicated."

We have a long way to go in terms of useability. The start - using terms like shopping basket - will aid the use of the selling medium. Offering a customer support desk that will step you through your first purchase may help too.

"It takes too long"

Paradoxically, we think of computers as being fast. However, try this test - give someone who has used your (paper) catalogue for years a product to find and order (phone or fax) against someone who has not seen your web site before. Check out how long each spends getting to order. Why the disparity in experience? If your site is to be successful, it needs to be used by new and old customers alike - the established customers will then act as champions for your site.

In addition, if a person is asked how long it will take to find something in a paper catalogue, they will most probably underestimate the time. So if the electronic search takes longer than this projected time, they may well give and return to your (or your competitor's) paper catalogue.

"None of your people are enthusiastic about the web, why should I be?"

If there is an existing telephone ordering channel, employees in this channel may not be terribly enthusiastic about a new way of ordering. If the board can see the salary saving aspects of web ordering, you can bet that the staff have seen it too.

Motivating the telephone sales personnel to sell the web site will probably mean getting them involved. Where their skills will be useful is in the customer support of their online activity, talking customers through their first time, handling customer issues and generally placing a friendly voice to your site.

"It seems so impersonal"

The direct mail and "direct" telephone services have built up many conventions to move towards "a more personal touch". These techniques include:

  • Using the person's name
  • Giving a name (possibly with a picture/cartoon representation) at the supplier side that is "dealing" with them
  • Using slightly more familiar and possibly colloquial language (remember that the web is worldwide and that certain quirks do not cross national boundaries)
"Cannot see the goods before I buy"

There are two key ways around this:

  • The money back if no completely satisfied or 30 day free home trial.
  • Better online viewing (3D, being able show all the options - colours etc., showing all measurements).
"So if I don't like it / it doesn't work..."

Returning is typically a nightmare for the customer, but it is the best way to earn repeat business. Study after study has shown that customer loyalty can be swayed on handling a potential disaster. Here are some ideas on how to make the return process smoother:

  • Make your packaging resealable - although for security purposes it should be obvious that it has been resealed. Include a return address label.
  • Returns should be organised by the supplier and (particularly damaged goods) at the supplier's expense. Note that if a courier service is used, the notes about courier services below apply here too.
"Delivery takes how long?"

In the Financial Services, information serices and consulting areas, the web can act as the delivery medium as the ordering medium.

For all the hype about how the web is going to revoutionise the high street, delivering goods ordered via the web is just the same as it is if ordered by telephone. This is another area where innovative thinking can create competitive advantage.

Of course, this is normally outsourced to a courier or postal service of some kind. Delivery times could be reduced by:

  • Using the specialist courier services
  • Usng a second pick up delivery cycle in a day
  • Distributing to local warehouses for quick dispatch
"I'm never at home when the delivery would arrive"

Offering flexibility for delivery options will too enable you to capture a larger customer base:

  • Secondary delivery address (probably a work address) - personally I would prefer this to be coordinated with credit card companies to elminate the security risk.
  • Accurate delivery times and coordination - I have often thought that many couriers could improve their service and their first time delivery hit rate by letting customers know which order the deliveries for the day will be done in. Even though they would not be able to state this until the day, it would help ensure people remembered they had a delivery and to let them know roughly when it was going to occur.
  • Local collection points - this may be as local as a post offce or public house.
  • Weekend/evening deliveries.

Expanding delivery options may seem unrealistic, but if the web is to have a customer base exceding that of direct telephone and mail services, it nees to grow more sophisticated in these areas.

"I can get it cheaper elsewhere"

The reduced cost base of the web needs to be passed on (in part) to the customer. Shopping around is easier n the web but not entirely without effort. So a "refund the difference" campaign (along with perhaps a price check across te web) could create a certain level of customer loyalty (perhaps not to the extent that is claimed for retail refund the difference campaigns.


I hope you find my ramblings useful. I have developed them as result of asking many people - why don't you order it on line? I have pushed to find the real reasons, not just the arbitary ones that are trotted out in surveys. The disadvantage of my technique is that t is qualititive and so cannot give a cost benefit analysis of the solutions given. Also, such an analysis would need to be specific or a particular type of goods - cannot see the goods before purchase may be more relevant to clothing than to books, for example.

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