The latecomer's guide to getting your business online

The United Kingdom has the biggest e-commerce market in the world measured by the amount spent per capita. The business done online in the UK was judged likely to grow by 10 per cent between 2010 to 2015. Which seems like a very low estimate to me.

A report by IMRWorld published in March 2011 claimed that total B2C ecommerce sales in 2010 grew to €591bn, an increase of close to 25 per cent. IMRWorld estimates that growth would pass the trillion-euro mark in 2013.

So there is plenty of indication that as a trend ecommerce will be set to continue. But while some enterprises only exist online, not all businesses yet have an ecommerce offering. And it's nothing to do with scale, either. Morrisons supermarkets, for instance, will not be announcing any ecommerce plans in the UK for another year

It said "Morrisons does not yet offer an online service, as we do not believe any retailer in the UK has achieved the right balance of service to customers and profitable returns for shareholders."

Not that it is a digital-denier either: the Morrisons group owns online baby-product retailer Kiddicare and last year appointed former Apple executive Simon Thompson to work on their online food retailing project, where they are learning from US online grocer FreshDirect in which Morrisons has a shareholding.

Morrisons are not alone in having a concern that profitability is not guaranteed by moving online if an entire business model has to change.

Not every business transitions easily to the web, and for many, the problems of change can outweigh any potential for gain.

In the world of media, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for excellence in journalism, in a study of 38 US newspapers, for every $7 lost in print product sales, only $1 is gained in digital revenue.


So if your organisation is a latecomer to developing online business, where do you start?

First off, find some allies inside your business. You surely must have discussed this with your sales, product and marketing colleagues? You'll have got some ideas together, but you need to crystallise them into a project:

Step 1: Build the business case

Like any project, activities will cover many bases, but you'll need to start by fleshing out a business case, even if this is just some initial guidance for a brainstorm or a secret 'skunkworks' research project.

Review your entire web presence:
Look at your existing web site, social media usage and email marketing. Work out what it is you need to develop a digital business.

Ask your peers. Network with your fellow IT professionals. You'll get a good feel for what they are doing and how.

Do some sector-specific research:
Look at what the competition is doing and make some intelligent guesses on revenues and likely costs.

If you share any common suppliers, what can you glean from them? Find out how that relationship works. Find out how their web presence drives custom to them.