These days, many manufacturers and distributors are looking to the Internet to increase their sales. An Internet storefront can be a great way to provide your customers, sales teams and business partners with access to your products. There are some unique challenges for manufacturers and distributors when it comes to selling products online. How are current distribution channels maintained? Who will manage the website content? How will orders flow into the back-office systems?
I have seen businesses struggle with Internet sales projects because of these challenges. Here are some of the more common challenges that need to be addressed.
The Internet storefront will change your sales channel(s). It will impact someone’s profits. To open an Internet storefront, the sales channels will need to be addressed. If you have sales representatives, will they receive the same commission on sales generated by their customers that order via the website? Do you have merchants that will see the web store as a direct competitor? Different pricing structures will be necessary. Will the shopping-cart software support your pricing methods?
Maintaining product information is difficult and time-consuming. When considering the overall project for opening an online store, do not underestimate the scope of work to set up and maintain the product information. Most businesses have very basic product descriptions that mean something only to the internal staff. Adding meaningful product descriptions that promote the value of the product and providing quality images is a lot of work. With new and changing products, the work is never done. The person or team that produces this content is adding value to the company that goes beyond the website. It takes skilled staff with excellent product knowledge to build a successful Internet store.
The store will need to integrate with your back-office system. If you are serious about using the Internet as a sales channel, you will need to integrate the store to your back-office systems. Will you need to maintain inventory levels on the storefront? Can the inventory be refreshed daily or will you need real-time inventory levels? How about product prices? All good shopping carts support multiple price levels, but do they support your pricing methods?
What about special discounts, promotions and surcharges? Should customers be able to see orders not placed on the website? There are many additional integration needs that could come into play. If the store is set up as an island that doesn’t talk to the back-office systems, it will become burdensome and a customer-support nightmare as sales grow.
Who will have access to the store? Depending on your line of business, sales to the public could be excluded. Should they be? The public might need a different pricing model, or the website may need to be configured to require a sign-in to view the store. Give this considerable thought. Some of our clients do not sell to the public, but will allow the public to see the products they offer without any prices. If the person wants to purchase online they need to contact a customer service representative to open an account.
While on the subject of customer accounts, consider business customers that have more than one buyer. Will your store need to support multiple user accounts per business account?
The bottom line. Although the move to Internet sales has a lot of roadblocks, an increasing number of businesses are using the Internet as a successful tool to increase their sales. There is a significant shift taking place. Online sales can reduce your sales overhead and allow you to reach customers you wouldn’t normally have access to. It is a great tool to drive national and international sales.