Buyer's Guide: Why Ecommerce is a Strategic Imperative
This article is from the Book Business Buyer's Guide which is a publisher's reference on emerging technology in the book industry. You can find other Buyer's Guide Sections here:
The tide of retail is turning digital, and the book publishing industry, like most others, is being swept along. Research shows that consumers are increasingly turning to online sources to purchase books. In 2012, online book retail accounted for 44% of consumer books sales in the U.S., up from 39% in 2011, according to Bowker Market Research.
Meanwhile, ebooks have transitioned from a growing trend to a business imperative. Aided by the explosion of tablet computers and ereaders like Amazon's Kindle, ebook sales have surged in recent years, now accounting for nearly 30% of U.S. book sales in 2013.
The bottom line is this: The introduction of mobile technologies like smart phones and tablets is fueling vast shifts in consumer behavior and consumer expectations. To keep pace, book publishers must get to where their customers already are-connected, digital, and on the move. Consumers can, and now expect to, purchase and/or consume books whenever and wherever they want. Book publishers should be aligning their web presence, their digital tools, and their IT to enable customer engagement in the online sphere, with ecommerce firmly at the center of it all.
The Ecommerce Advantage
Ecommerce offers some compelling benefits that could redefine book publishers' relationship to their end consumers. Enabling ecommerce allows consumers to interact with and buy directly from book publishers, which has several upshots: Book publishers bypass distributors and retailers to retain more revenue from book sales, have the opportunity to develop ongoing relationships directly with their readers, as well as gather valuable data that would otherwise be tightly held by intermediaries.
The digital transformation has introduced completely new business models that present both challenge and opportunity for book publishers. Services like Goodreads.com show that reading can indeed be social online, while the rapid adoption of Oyster demonstrates that a subscription-based model is inevitable and hopefully viable, all thanks to the immediate accessibility of digitized books.
These examples provide a glimpse of what's possible. For many book publishers, simply enabling their sites for ecommerce is a good, and logical, first step. They must then create opportunities to engage more deeply with consumers. In other words, give them more reasons to interact, and presumably buy, directly from the publishers themselves. Adopting marketing best practices that encompass multiple channels and content types is an important step in reaching consumers where they already are-on the go across the world. (See the section on marketing automation tools on page 26 for information on staying in front of today's audiences.)
A New, Bumpy Road
Developing a sophisticated ecommerce platform introduces some new challenges for publishers. Providing a web presence with functioning ecommerce now comes with the extra burden of being usable on a variety of mobile devices, browsers, and operating systems. Providing online payment capabilities introduces security issues and regulatory requirements around use and protection of customer information, not to mention digital rights management for ebook sellers.
Ecommerce has existed for long enough that a full range of tools and services exist to address these challenges, while new book industry-specific vendors are carving out a service niche tailored to publisher needs. These solutions can help manage and automate ecommerce within an organization, while providing the agility and immediacy required to compete in today's digital retail marketplace.
Arriving at Ecommerce
Ecommerce tools can be adopted individually or in combinations. Ecommerce platforms typically encompass the full, end-to-end digital process, from order submission to payment to fulfillment. Additional capabilities may be folded in, such as sending automated emails during specific milestones in the fulfillment process.
The tools you select will depend on the size of your organization and your level of ecommerce adoption. Licensing a full, end-to-end solution from an ecommerce platform provider means you don't have to invest in internal IT, maintenance and updates are included, and costs are fixed. These solutions often offer white label ecommerce tools that enable a publisher to go to market more quickly than in-house development. However, many full-service ecommerce providers work on a revenue share-basis. Additionally, publishers should be mindful of whether they will have full-access and/or ownership of customer data for such arrangements.
Organizations that have some ecommerce functionality already in place may be more interested in adding on-point solutions. Some tools are even available as simple plug-ins for individual websites.
Most ecommerce technologies will include a combination of functionalities, sometimes overlapping with one another. The first step to selecting your suite of ecommerce tools is to assess your existing capabilities to understand which functions you need and which you don't or already have.
Shopping cart: The foundation of any ecommerce website is the capability to enable online financial transactions quickly and securely. Shopping cart solutions can range in scale but serve the essential function of allowing consumers to collect and sort potential purchases, then complete a financial transaction, often followed by a logistics and shipping component. Most shopping cart solutions include complementary tools such as inventory control, tax, and shipping calculators, and customer management as well as web design. More sophisticated versions integrate marketing tools such as affiliate program management and social networking.
Digital delivery: Whether providing downloadable samples of publications or an electronic version of the entire publication, you'll need a digital content delivery system. Publishing-focused ecommerce solutions will likely include digital delivery capabilities, though digital delivery plugins are also available.
Fraud management: Secure, efficient transactions are an essential part of supporting ecommerce. But fraud does happen, and becomes a larger concern as publishers scale globally. Any quality fraud management solution should address the primary targets of fraud-theft of customer information and preventing the use of unauthorized customer information in fraudulent transactions.
Digital rights management: You can lock down digital content to various levels. Most DRM tools are intended to prevent unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material, though more robust versions allow capabilities such as permission expirations.
Tracking and analytics: One great boon of ecommerce is the ability to collect data across your business, from sales to user behaviors to system performance. Most ecommerce tools include some reporting capabilities. More advanced tools will allow you to review and analyze data from multiple sources within one dashboard.
Selena Welz lives, works, and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, focusing on technology and content marketing.
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