eCommerce is the ultimate market-leveling tool for SMBs. Through eCommerce, the location and size of a business no longer matters.

In essence, the Internet has created a jumbo-sized virtual shopping mall in which any and every conceivable retailer can be a tenant.

Yet, cyber mall occupancy alone does not guarantee long-term commercial success. Rather, nextgeneration site functionality and ultra-reliable, highly responsive site performance are essential ingredients for increasing eCommerce revenues. Retailers with the deepest pockets gain a decided market advantage since they have the money both to develop next-generation site functionality, and to build and maintain an B2B ehandel platform capable of delivering the full impact of this functionality to each and every site visitor.

In reality, options today offer small business more choices that help in leveling the competitive playing field. With today’s web hosting environments — optimized for next-generation eCommerce — platform investments are reduced to a fraction of the cost of individually owning and operating an eCommerce site. With this approach, small retailers gain a significant market equalizer that enables them to compete effectively against their larger rivals.

In this article, we will describe the direction of next-generation eCommerce sites and also highlight how web hosting can dramatically reduce the IT costs necessary to effectively support next-generation eCommerce. As a result, SMBs can increase eCommerce sites and simultaneously decrease their IT costs.

1. Functionality that replicates the in-store shopping experience, and

2. Functionality that creates a distinctive online shopping experience.

o 360° product views – One of the eCommerce drawbacks is the physical separation between shoppers and products. Products such as books and DVDs – for which physical touch is not a decision variable — are two products that have sold well through an eCommerce channel. Other products, such as apparel, do benefit by physical touch. And even though apparel is sold online, the lack of physical touch contributes to instances of shopping online but buying instore.

Next-generation eCommerce sites will do more to transform the online shopping experience into online buying by presenting the product in user-controlled 360° views. In this manner, the shopper gains a richer perspective on the product’s appearance, similar to the instore buyer behavior of holding up and turning the product for closer examination.

o Layered informational mini-screens – In current-generation eCommerce sites, shoppers commonly click through several full screens to gain a deeper knowledge of the product being considered. This site design dictates back and forth navigation by the shopper to re-visit information. Consequently, the full breadth of information sought for a purchase decision seldom resides on a single screen. Next-generation eCommerce sites will offer mini-screens overlaid on the initial product screen, which allows shoppers to zoom in and out of relevant product details and, in the process, never lose connection with the product being evaluated.

o Upfront alerts on product availability – A strong benefit of eCommerce is the capability to present the full range of products and product features. Inventory costs and space limitations of brick and mortar stores are challenged to equal this capability. At the same time, product presentation in an eCommerce site without availability status is frustrating for shoppers, particularly those who have expended time loading their shopping carts only to be informed that availability of one or more products or a specially designed product will be delayed. This scenario is far less common with in-store shopping since the range of inventory is directly visible to the shopper. In next-generation eCommerce sites, product availability status can be offered to the shopper throughout the shopping and selection process. By presenting product alternatives when there are availability delays – which can be built as an option into the site design — allows shoppers to balance their desire for product immediacy and selection range.