To avoid getting lost in today's constantly evolving online marketplace, you should be looking to upgrade your e-commerce system within the next six to 12 months.
According to industry analysts, finding a proven vendor that can provide an open Web-services-based architecture is crucial to getting you on the right track. With the economy continuing in its downward spiral, more businesses are turning to the Web as an inexpensive way to retain and grow their customer base. But from the consumer's point-of-view, just having the ability to accept a payment is not enough in today's post-Amazon.com world.
"Your Web site is one click away from being compared to sites like eBay and Amazon -- even if you are selling industrial goods," Gene Alvarez, senior analyst at Gartner and author of the firm's recently released Magic Quadrant for e-commerce report, said. "This is forcing business-to-consumer (B2C) and even business-to-business (B2B) Web sites to continually raise the bar on new capabilities."
Alvarez said that means adding AJAX or Flash-based user experience improvements, community blogs, wikis, product reviews, and social shopping capabilities to your site. "Organizations need to re-look at e-commerce," he added. "The nuclear winter of e-commerce is over."
IBM's Mark Stankevicius, manager of WebSphere Commerce development at the software giant's development lab, said that because shoppers have become more empowered in recent years, companies will need to keep finding ways to integrate user-generated content into their e-commerce experience. He added that vendors will also need to stay on top of the latest social shopping trends.
"Even though the big dot-com bust happened back in 2000, there has still been a lot of invention and innovation going on in the e-commerce space," he said. "With Web 2.0 capabilities and personalization at the forefront of the e-commerce space, we'll see it continue to grow business channels for a lot of our customers."
Alvarez agreed that today's e-commerce market is vastly different compared to several years ago. Users now have a wide range of ownership and operating choices, including the increasingly popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, as well as a wide range of new Web 2.0-like feature offerings.
"The trend today is that you better have the core stuff around the store right," he said. "And after that, you need to focus on improving the user experience with things like rich Internet applications (RIA), Web 2.0 and multi-sites." Historically, enterprises have used products like Oracle Corp.'s BEA WebLogic platform as a toolkit for assembling an e-commerce site. But now, according to Alvarez, organizations are trading in full control over their e-commerce services in favor of pre-packaged solutions.
"Organizations are starting to realize that they can't have their large IT departments continue to get bigger and support everything," he said. "They'd rather have a core set of e-commerce capabilities that is managed, maintained and moved forward by a vendor, and then add features to it to create a differentiating experience."