The long and winding road of e-commerce
For most of us buying stuff online, be it groceries, galoshes or gadgets, is easy peasy. We are veterans of browsing catalogues, clicking buy buttons and typing in credit card numbers.
But the same is not true of many of the companies running the sites we use. For them e-commerce is not a settled science.
Food supply firm 3663 is just starting to dip its digital digits into cyber selling.
The company delivers ingredients, finished meals and snacks to pubs, hospitals, schools, bars and restaurants across the UK.
3663 had its catalogue online for years, said Nicholas Weber, the company’s head of technology, but had not felt the need to go beyond that.
“Customers meet with sales people face-to-face and place their order with the same telesales agent they’ve had for many years,” said Mr Weber. “There has not really been a need or desire from many customers to move online and start ordering there.”
But Mr Weber recognises that the situation has changed because his customers are now handling many other parts of their lives online.
So, 3663 has embarked on a “massive” technology project to turn its static web brochure into a fully-fledged shop.
“This is the first time we have gone into this in a big way,” he said.
Trials with a few select customers will take place in the run-up to Christmas. 3663 wants to play it safe at one of its busiest times of the year.
But the move still involves big changes behind the scenes. The firm has overhauled its stock management system using open source Magento technology, to ensure that customers only order what it can deliver.
The company also plans to offer detailed information about its products’ nutritional values, recipe suggestions and seasonal favourites.
“That puts power in our customers’ hands that they have never had before,” said Mr Weber. “For customers, like schools and hospitals or care homes, they can now make a considered choice between products based on the level of fat or sugar or carbohydrate.”
There are good business reasons for all the extras.