An Overview of Electronic Commerce
By Delilah Obie, Contributing Author

To ensure that your site benefits your business and its users, clearly define your site goals from the beginning. Focus on a primary function and build your site around delivering that to your visitors. Clearly defined goals will help keep your priorities in perspective as you manage the process of building your online presence. You’ll need to balance your business goals, the needs of your audience, and your resources to create an effective Web site. You’ll also want to keep in mind your longer-term goals, so that you design your site with some room to grow. Some common goals for Web sites are:

Online sales. If your primary business is selling physical goods, focus on creating an online store that gives visitors a sense of place (so they can easily find what they are looking for) and makes purchasing simple and easy.

Marketing. If your primary business is delivering an offline service, you may want an online brochure. This sort of Web site can deliver useful, practical information about your service and enable you to develop your image and build trust and customer loyalty.

Online service. If you deliver an online service, you’ll need to build an infrastructure for the delivery of your service. This type of site is more complex than the first two. You will need to anticipate what you’ll feature in your product catalog, and how you’ll handle online payments and process online orders.

Information delivery. If your primary business is publishing information, then your site will be some form of online publication. You’ll need to determine how to charge a fee for your content. You can do this either through subscriptions (which you could bill monthly or annually) or on a per-use basis (which may require that you use sophisticated applications to handle billing through your Web site).

Customer support. While every business with a Web site may want to provide some level of customer support, a higher level of support will require a much more sophisticated design. Whether you’re selling directly from the Web or from a physical storefront, providing up-to-date product information, tips and tricks for using your product, and a page for frequently asked questions (FAQ) makes it easy for customers to get the information they need. You may want to plan to automate these functions.

Regardless of the primary purpose of your Web site, a number of design fundamentals apply broadly to all good Web site design. One of the biggest shortcomings of many Web site designs is a failure to put the needs of the customer at the forefront.

Give people what they want. It seems obvious, but sometimes we forget and give people what we want instead of what they want. (For more on how to determine customer habits and preferences, see Identify the Primary Audience for Your Site.)

The book “Secrets of Successful Web Sites: Project Management on the World Wide Web,” by David Siegel (Hayden Books), provides a good resource for Web site planning.

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