A truly effective e-commerce site is more than just a catalog and shopping cart that allow customers to choose products and purchase them using a credit card. Among other features, e-commerce sites should have the ability to seamlessly integrate with an inventory or warehouse system to perform fulfillment functions. These systems allow products to be shipped automatically to customers without a lot of hassle--or even the use of paper.
The best systems also have automated shipping and tracking capabilities so you can let customers know when a product will be delivered to them. Some systems are even capable of automatically sending customers e-mail messages regarding delivery schedules.
According to Access Media International USA, a New York City technology consulting company that tracks technology-adoption trends in small and midsized businesses, an order-fulfillment or distribution system is the key to leveraging technology for a small business. It's important for companies to do marketing over the Web, but the true value of e-commerce lies in the efficiency and automation of the entire process.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at Melisscamp@aol.com