How to make your site really deliver

Websites may be an order winner, but their success depends on systems being in place to process customer requests

Back-office systems are crucial to the success of trading via a website. An eye-catching website that pulls in lots of orders is not enough – the resources and systems must be in place to process those orders, manage the accounts, deliver the goods or services and ideally, follow up from time to time with news or advice that encourages customers to remain loyal.

An online catalogue forms a large part of a selling campaign, just as it would in the off-line world. It should include all the information about products or services that a customer will need to make a decision.

Drawings or photographs are essential in most cases. The opportunity to ask questions or obtain additional information, via a simple click to e-mail button, should also be included.

Shopping cart software is a common feature of e-commerce sites. This allows customers to select items, keep a running total of the cost, calculate delivery charges and any taxes, and amend their order as they move through the site. Its less obvious, though equally important, purpose is to make buying as quick and simple as possible.

Companies trading over the internet will need to enter into a merchant agreement with a bank or credit card company to be able to accept payment via a credit card. The authorisation process protects the credit card holder and credit card company but it does not guarantee payment for the merchant.

Should an application for merchant status be refused by a bank (as sometimes happens when a business does not have a proved financial track record), larger ISPs may be able to do this on a company’s behalf.

Mechanisms should also be in place for the delivery of products or services to the buyer. Most customers will want to know how and when to expect delivery and it is important for the integrity of the company that this is honoured.

The softer side of a business, such as customer care principles, should also be emphasised. Building in a mechanism for feedback, or for queries, can go some way to building customer loyalty.

For further information, contact the ISI Infoline on: 0845 715 200, or visit the ISI website at: www.isi.gov.uk

Legal briefs

* The government is preparing e-commerce legislation to build trust in confidentiality and security of online transactions

* European Union member states are implementing a directive which ensures the validity of electronic signatures.

* The EU e-commerce directive should be implemented by the end of 2001, clarifying advertising rules and liability of intermediary service providers.

* Other directives in development cover copyright and the information society, and e-money and distance selling of consumer financial services.