Your profession affects, in some way, how you perceive the world around you. There is a saying that for a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I design Ecommerce systems for a living, so it should not come as a surprise that everywhere I look, I see products.
That leads to interesting discussions when omnichannel and online commerce are introduced to industries that were not exposed to them before.
In the insurance industry, people talk about quotes and applications. In the travel industry, professionals discuss travel packages, hotel rooms, and airplane tickets.
Rental companies rent apartments and cars using rental contracts. The public sector charges citizens for parking tickets, business permits, and taxes and provides social assistance.
Maybe it is just me, who likes to abstract things and sees products everywhere.
Businesses offer and sell products and services online. In the end, a product can be simple or complex, ready for purchase, or require a configuration before customers can buy it. A product can be paid right on the check-out or through recurring payments, or a product can be a service that is charged based on consumption. A product can be a physical one that you ship to customers or a digital one that a customer can download or stream. From the E-commerce perspective, they all are products.
As you are engaging in the digital transformation of your business, there are many benefits in adopting such a generic approach to what you offer to your customers.
Make them Discoverable
At the core of every omnichannel Commerce System is a catalog. In essence, a catalog is a collection of products that can be browsed through, searched for, and compared. They have descriptions, pictures, and specifications displayed on the Product Details pages. Products can be commented on, priced, promoted, liked, and shared.
You will get all this functionality by just modeling whatever your business provides as a product.
Let’s see how this can be applied to the Public Sector, for example. All levels of government, from federal to cities, provide a variety of services to their constituency. Usually, their websites are far from being a gold standard of usability. You know it is there, but do struggle to find it. Some of the services provided cost money (like business licenses) or access to a community center’s swimming pool. Others are free as school registrations. Some social assistance services can even pay money to people vs. charging a fee. By modeling all of them as products, you can take advantage of a standard way of presenting information about them and categorizing them for easier navigation and discovery.
You can also use product attributes for advanced search and faced navigation, as well as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help Google to navigate your customers/users straight to the product or service they are looking for.
Let’s take a rental company as another example. It has an inventory of apartments to rent. Each apartment can be modeled as a separate product in the catalog with pictures, a location map, and dates when it becomes available. Search, discover, compare, and apply.
Bundle them Up
If everything is a product, it is much easier to sell multiple services and/or products in one transaction. There are plenty of examples across different industries when businesses need to do it. Let’s continue with our Public Sector example. You can register your kids for several activities at the same time, add them all to the cart, and pay.
Telcos are selling bundles with a land telephone line, a mobile plan, a cell phone and accessories, Internet access, a Cable TV subscription, and different modems that you can either buy or lease. Customers expect a smooth and consistent experience. The only way to achieve it with such a wide variety of products and services bundled together is to have all of them in a flexible generic catalog.
Airlines are selling flight tickets, vacation packages, and travel insurance. Add travel guides to it, and you have bundled together several digital configurable products of very different types with a book that needs to be shipped.
IoT is changing how we sell manufacturing products. A device only becomes smart when it is bundled together with a cloud service and additional client s/w. You can easily add services to your catalog of physical devices if they are both modeled as products.
Prepare for Future Growth and Change
You don’t know what you will sell in the future, what other companies your business will buy, what partnerships you will forge, or how your offerings will evolve. Business is agile, and changes are fast-paced.
For example, innovative insurance companies are redefining their business models from selling insurance policies to reducing risks. Such a shift immediately widens the types of products and services they sell. If you are in the reducing-risk business, in addition to selling home insurance, you will sell fire alarms and smart locks bundled with a police monitoring service. IoT converts hardware manufacturers into software companies with both physical and digital products to sell.
All these internal changes in business models and underlying IT systems should not be visible to your customers and should not affect their experience when engaging with your brand online.
Taking a generic approach to model services and goods in a catalog allows a business to take full advantage of existing investments in Ecommerce systems and infrastructure. It also makes all Ecommerce best practices available regardless of what you sell now or in the future.