e-commerce & shopping carts

There are few types of business that would not benefit from an e-commerce website. Many will test the market with an off-the-shelf package, available for little or no cost, hooked up to Paypal for payment processing.

Off-the-shelf shopping carts are fine if your product range is fairly simple and follows a conventional structure, and if you don't mind your online store looking like thousands of others. However, what if you would prefer a more individual design and layout, or if your product line cannot be shoehorned into the structure being made available ?

In my experience, customising a ready-made e-commerce system to give it an individual look and feel can often take as much time as, sometimes more than, building a shopping basket that is tailored to fit into a particular site's design and structure, and so I tend to stear clear of this type of commission.

Development of bespoke e-commerce websites that have an individual identity, or that need to handle unconventional ordering processes, requires good planning, but the results are immediately apparent, as anyone who spends a reasonable time browsing the web will testify. This 'feel' is one of the reasons that visitors will return.

The requirements of a useful online store are the same as any piece of software, namely simplicity, clarity of navigation, a fuss-free experience, and that is what I endeavour to provide.

I have experience of working with a number of payment gateway providers, and am able to advise on the variety of different routes open to you.

Case Study : Greenshoes e-commerce website and workflow management facility

Greenshoes have been making hand made shoes for over 30 years. In 2007 they decided to concentrate on mailorder and the web, moving from their shop in Totnes, Devon, to a workshop unit just outside Buckfastleigh.

With no shop, and no passing trade, they would be entirely reliant on repeat custom, and new business generated by an effective website. They therefore needed a website that could be found easily, and that made the process of ordering as simple as possible.

The old website had been in place for some time, and had some presence within search engines, so effective tweaking was all that was required, at first, to get it onto the first page of google.

The most difficult exercise was designing an efficient ordering system. Operating from a shop, greenshoes could afford to give almost unlimited choice of colour, size and material combinations, because they were on hand to discuss the options, present the leather swatches, and take detailed measurements.

A website does not afford this luxury. Most people shopping online, even people searching for hand made shoes, want to be presented with a concise series of choices, presented in a limited number of steps, and they want to conclude the sale there and then, even if some of the specifics need addressing at a later date.

It was decided that the truely bespoke sizing service could not be part of the online ordering process, because there are so many factors to take into consideration that pricing would become too complicated to automate.

Instead, we concentrated on offering a streamlined, rationalised set of products, using a conventional sizing structure. Requirements that fall outside of this range are dealt with separately, and priced individually as bespoke orders.

The range of products can be modified and added to by greenshoes, using a bespoke management system. This system has been extended over the years to automate the creation of weekly work sheets, customer job cards, and posting schedules.

It enables special offers to be created and applied at checkout, discounted products to be sold independantly, and email campaigns to be managed. It also gives control over most of the general information pages throughout the site.

"We are delighted with the way Anthony has created an e-commerce system we can work with - easy for our customers to use and us to manage. Our web content management system has given us the flexibility we need to keep our website fresh and up to date, and is a really cost effective way for us to do so. Excellent service all round - a clear, friendly approach and plenty of support."