Back-end Web developments

With the Internet now picking up steam as a viable sales channel for catalogers, electronic commerce systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated on the back end. More Websites are now fully transactional, compared to a few years ago, when many marketers used their sites primarily to provide information and generate leads. n But different types of marketers require different levels of transactional sophistication. For instance, several recent Web-based order processing system developments have been specifically designed to meet the complex needs of business-to-business marketers.

Unlike the consumer world, in which catalogers can easily establish a one-on-one dialogue with customers, business marketers must deal with such factors as multidepartmental ordering and various levels of purchasing authority. Not all employees in most companies, for example, are authorized to order products such as office supplies. Without a hard copy purchase order to route to authorized managers, the approval process for Web orders could be cumbersome and time-consuming.

In selling a product line such as office supplies, which several departments within a company need to order, it’s also much easier and more efficient for both the buyer and the seller to place one master order rather than several individual orders. But most online order processing systems have been set up for consumer-based individual orders and do not allow for combining individual orders.

Happily, recent improvements in e-commerce systems now enable the corporate buyer to fill out the purchase order, send it to the appropriate person for approval, and then combine that order with other departments’ orders before transmitting the online order to the Web cataloger.

Online ordering sophistication like this does not come cheap, however. An electronic commerce system with such routing and retrieval features will cost you from $500,000 to $1.6 million, depending on the size of your company, the number of users, and other technical requirements.

For certain, this sort of system will cost considerably more than a basic online purchase order system, which can cost as little as $50 to put on the Web. But the level of order processing becomes increasingly complex when you get into saving, routing, and retrieving purchase orders online-and involving more than one computer within a company in the buying process. B-to-b marketers with complex product lines and applications, such as computer network configuration supplies and industrial science and engineering products, are the most likely candidates to require-and be willing to invest in-this type of order system.

Integration and customization Before electronic ordering really started to take off, most marketers didn’t bother integrating their Web orders with their internal catalog management systems. Instead, employees had to enter Web orders into the catalog management system manually. Moreover, if an item was backordered or the price had changed, an employee had to phone or e-mail the customer to let him or her know.

But more companies are now implementing truly integrated internal systems, including real-time inventory, which provides faster and better service to their customers. They can also use Internet integration to easily customize orders. The Websites of numerous computer catalogers, for instance, enable shoppers to pick and choose from product options, in effect designing their own computers.

Compared to just a year ago, more e-commerce marketers are taking advantage of customization tools and systems integration capabilities to better target customers, sell products, and process orders faster and easier. If you customize offers to your online customers’ needs and integrate your systems for seamless and efficient service, you’ll be well positioned for electronic commerce success.