Business acumen, not programming power, is constraining e-commerce, says The Pantry Shop's Sandra Tanner.
The Pantry Shop launched an e-commerce site four years ago at the urging of a local Tauranga business acquaintance. The site offered a range of food-based gift products available from its Tauranga shop and existing mail-order service.
"It was a simple two-form site, but it worked well," says Tanner.
The advent of new technology and problems with site downtime meant The Pantry Shop jumped service providers in September 2000 to develop a stable shopping-cart e-commerce site.
"We were planning to develop the site as a shopping-cart service, and in the end were forced into the move with the release of a new calendar for our existing business. NewMedia said it would cost you a little more, but it'll be easier to maintain. NewMedia was the only Tauranga company able to take us on," says Tanner.
The shift to a shopping-cart service was a big step on the path of continual improvement, one that has seen The Pantry Shop rise above the plethora of online gift services. "I regularly look at the competition, and 99% are done on the cheap," she says. "However we've still got a long way to go, we want to make the site more interactive, where users can enter comments on how they use the products."
More importantly, the site needs to work on back-end issues, integrating e-commerce with existing business systems. The Pantry Shop uses a web-based back end system to update product lines and prices, but it still relies on its developer to upload product images. The main problem comes when processing the information collected from their site. All orders have to be replicated on their point-of-sale system and mail order database. Full data linking is still some way off.
"The problem is finding someone with not just programming skills, but also marketing expertise able to offer search engine optimisation," she says. "There are not enough people at the coalface able to offer a complete service." Tanner's advice for businesses entering e-commerce is: "To do your homework, know what you want to do and make sure you get it. [They’ve] got to find a developer [who] understands their customers, and there aren't a lot who will take the time to get to know your business and will outline the options.
"With all the big boys getting onboard and buying up all the expertise, the little guys don't get so much as a look-in," she says.
While the site was developed to tap into an overseas customer base – foreigners wanting to send gifts to family and friends in New Zealand – going fully global is a different proposition. Sending their products worldwide is not viable as their existing product line contains heavy items that would attract high international postal charges. The alternative is forming a business presence in key countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom. This would allow The Pantry Shop to offer an overseas gift service to its existing New Zealand customer base, while also providing new channels to market its New Zealand gift service.
The Pantry Shop's e-commerce site was developed using BBEdit and is hosted by NewMedia on an IBM Netfinity Server running Redhat Linux 6.2.