Changing Landscape for Online Commerce

Those of you who are more aware may have noticed the shameless plug on this blog for Angel Gift Company. Its now about time I wrote a little more about this. But now it is not a shameless plug but my observations on how running an online business has changed in the past 5/6 years.

The business started as my wife’s idea about 7 years ago. To begin with it was a simple concept, the genesis of which was born at the same time as the first of our children, and at the same time friends of ours had children. At the time my wife found she struggled to buy gifts for friends, and set about selling baby gift boxes online. Once she had the various products sourced the next challenge was to get a website. This is where I came in and in my spare time I taught myself ASP .Net and built a site which gave her some ability to add products, customise content and for customers to purchase products. I used Netcetera for the hosting and Protx, now SagePay, for financial transactions. All hunkydory, I taught myself some technical stuff and Mrs Smith had an online store.

Its fair to say business was slow to middling for a few years, nothing near a monthly wage but enough for a bit of pocket money. As time progressed online channels changed, we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter emerge since then. Also I became much busier at work and at home, going from 0 kids to 3 in 9 years has seen that spare time disappear!

With a creaking website and no-one to make changes Mrs Smith looked at options to change the business. Firstly she found an online product which she could easily configure to deploy a new site, and its much better than the one we had originally! Secondly she diversified to sell more than just baby gifts, selling gifts for Weddings and Engagements and more recently selling Frame Prints. Finally, and this is the most interesting bit for me, she started to use some of the new channels to promote and sell her products. She set up a Facebook page and got people to like it, and also used it to sell products, using Paypal to take payments. She exploited eBay much more as well as a channel to sell products. The result has been a big increase in sales as she has found a much wider community to more readily engage. Feedback has, on the whole, been much more positive. The website itself produces a similar number sales but the online presence is still important. Mrs Smith now spends a lot more time on Facebook, but not to post what she had for Breakfast, she’s using it as a commercial tool and is now making money from it.

Now everyone, and their dog, and their cat and their goldfish, is talking about Digital in one way or another. Is this Digital? Probably. Its using new technologies which were not available. On a recent journey to see friends she spent an hour on her phone raising invoices and answering queries, not something which would have happened 5 years ago. Either way its interesting how Social tools can evolve to help people make money on a smaller scale as well as a large corporate scale. Lets hope it carries on and maybe I can become a professional Facebook user, is Facebook Channel Manager a title anyone has ever heard of?


Digital Schmigital

Reading the paper on the plane last week and there was a little nugget in amongst a rather cutting article about the relationship between Civil Servants and Politicians in the UK. In it there was criticism from a former politician of the “paper-based” nature of government in the Digital Age. He quoted two examples:

– printed documents which are given to ministers purposefully have a space of 1cm for them to  record comments;

– he had asked for documents to be given electronically to him so he could just carry them round on his iPad but was told no due to security reasons;

To those of us who work in the Content Management space our minds will be whirring with the thoughts of opportunity here. Clearly there can be huge benefits from putting in place tools and processes which make the sharing of information easier. Regarding the point on Security it really frustrates me when people use this to block progress instead of thinking more logically about the needs and potential solution. Paper is not, by default, any more secure than digital content, it’s just a different set of issues which need to be addressed.

There is lots of talk of Digital in the IT world right now and sometimes it feels as though its just another buzzword but for changes to be made to the degree above organisations do need to undergo a true Transformation and to embrace the possibilities which are available to them instead of the safe approach which people cling to.