Description and Market Potential
Introduction: Describe what an e-commerce opportunity is. Cite sources.
The current system was developed as part of an internal intranet define terms clearly with sources. This allows staff to set up alerts based on requests by existing clients or through new clients brought in by sales. This process could be automated into a website that allowed clients to review, purchase and setup their own alerts for their company without the need for manual processes by internal employees. This model favours a higher volume of sales at a lower cost with the potential to access new B2B what is this? sales outside of the current high value business clients.
The single unit of sales for the site is an alert. A single alert covers:
- A number of twitter users to follow, these can be defined and grouped by the user for management convenience. A key area of the product will be pre-defined groups maintained by social360 that identify the influential journalists, bloggers and social media commentators from specific business sectors and geographical areas. Limitations are imposed on the user for numbers of “influencers”not yet defined per alert or group depending on the package selected and price
- The keywords the customer wants to follow. This requires an easy to understand process that defines the words to match or exclude and the logic that joins them together, either AND or OR.
- The people that the user sets up to alert, these can be managed as groups that can be shared across alerts or as individuals. Process requiring that the intended recipient is invited and accepts the receipt of alerts and can manage their subscription to alerts is required to avoid the sending of unsolicited email.
SWOT Analysis (what are you analysing – Social 360? You have not yet identified your product or service for your proposed e-commerce activity – state your service idea clearly at the beginning – paragraph 2)
- Already tested as a concept.
- Good feedback from clients using the existing service.
- Few competitors offering similar services.
- Low running costs.
- No stock or inventory, a digital product.
- Reliant on suppliers of data services, rapidly changing marketplace.
- Requires proprietary software which could increase development time.
- Potentially large market unlimited by import/export taxes.
- Possibility of licensing to agencies in the future.
- Good expansion possibilities, creation of new products/services.
- Application can be localised for international sales.
- Competitors offer limited services for free, need to focus on our differences.
- Services require high-availability service interruption must be avoided.
- Time to market is key in fast moving sector.
- Cost reduction devalues product for high value clients.
- Changes in State and European law could affect service providers and their ability to provide the basic services required for the product.
- Scalability of costs what is this? from suppliers needs to be assessed.
- Internal limits on staffing requirements and costs.
- Modern social landscape online provides potential customers interested in marketing, brand analysis and monitoring.
- Trends towards greater public sharing of data and opinions.
- New Public Relations in corporations moving from print media towards social media.
- Fast moving changes in licensing of data from social media platforms could disrupt data suppliers
- Reliability of product is key, technology must be selected to provide continuity in services as missed content is unlikely to be tolerated.
- Use of freely available APIs provided by social media platforms should be exploited to improve informational content behind core services.
- Low general environmental impact.
- Data centres are the most significant use of energy, possibility of researching most efficient providers.
- Must adhere to the data protection act concerning customer information
- Must be aware of requirements outlined in the e-commerce regulations act of 2002
- Must be aware Suppliers terms and conditions
The primary e-commerce strategy is to exploit new markets that are not currently reachable through traditional sales methods. Designing a system that is configurable through a public facing website removes the need for company employees to configure and administer alerts. When combined with a package selection process and payment system this creates a product with a sales process that removes a significant portion of the cost. Reducing the cost and improving the scalability of a virtual package selling allows for smaller businesses in a larger marketplace to to become targets for the product.
Another significant factor is being able to pay minimal costs to translate and localise the interface into regional versions that can reach markets that would traditionally need sales staff who potentially need to speak the language and reside within the timezone.
- Create a product of value to anyone marketing a brand or product or requiring social media tracking of a subject relating to their organisation.
- Provide a satisfying and intuitive user experience throughout all aspects of the site.
- Achieve levels of reliability befitting of a service for use in times of organisational crisis and for sending critical information.
- Produce alerts of social media content matching the client’s needs delivered in a timely and reliable way to the organisational members that need it.
- Maintain the privacy and security of users of the site.
Primary initial objective is to produce a working and testable “beta” version of the site within 4 months this entails:
- Research market potential of the product, assess competitors offerings. 1 week.
- Analysis of the current system used internally to identify it’s strengths and weaknesses, proposing areas for improvement specifically in usability. 1 week
- Research and planning; research available technology that can be used, specifically frameworks to assist with development and APIs relating to suppliers of data, email and payment services. 2 weeks
- Development of site to alpha version, unit, integration and component interface testing. 2 months
- System testing and deployment, acceptance testing. 1 month
Applicable primary market research is based around feedback from existing clients using a similar product that fulfils the same function. Formulated questions and their responses can become part of account manager’s normal communication with client’s communications departments. This allows for the gathering of data from questionnaire style responses conducted in a telephone interview style without the need to mail drop the client with what could possibly be off-putting marketing material.
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For existing clients the specifications for current alert configurations contain valuable data about the market. Client’s can be separated into sectors showing their usage of the system based on the keywords, trends and influential people that they choose to follow. The marketing usage for these clients will allow for more targeted advertising to different business types. Possible selling points include:
- Brand management. Tracking social media conversation surrounding a brand or product.
- Product Launch. Analysing conversation on social media follow a product launch.
- Consumer Dissent. Providing data to help formulate response to criticism or protest.
- Political/Legislative. Tracking a core political issue or legislation change that affects the market place.
Secondary research includes the use of publicly sourced data to understand the use of social media in the marketing and public relations departments of potential clients. This is a rapidly changing environment in marketing as companies realise the potential for using social media for marketing purposes and the need to monitor outlets that have influence.
- Social media marketing budgets will double over the next 5 years (Pam Dyer, 2013)
- From 2010 to 2012 the percentage of Americans following any brand on a social network increased from 16% to 33%. An increase of 106%. (Van Den Beld, B, 2012)
The closest competitor providing service of this nature is Yatterbox. Yatterbox provide a real time alert service limited by numbers of keywords and following fixed lists of influential accounts.
SWOT analysis of yatterbox from the point of view of our product:
- Well maintained lists of influential social media commenters.
- Existing user base, current market leader.
- Good coverage of social media platforms.
- Graphical analysis of data history
- No provision for self maintained lists of influential sources.
- Limited number of search terms allowed on basic accounts.
- No real time alerts on basic accounts.
- Provide greater control over lists of sources
- Allow user maintained lists
- Provide unlimited keyword search terms.
- Compete on price, offer limited free subscription to build user base.
- Offer real time and scheduled alerts
- Not the first to market
- Comparison is inevitable, must compete on their strengths and highlight our own unique selling points.
- Competing on price doesn’t allow us to set our own pricing.
Real Time Alerts
Real Time Alerts
£29 per month
£99 per month
£399 per month
(Yatterbox, accessed 16 May 2014)
3.2 Systems Evaluation
A significant part of the product relies on services provided by third parties as a reliable platform for key functionality. The e-commerce part of the site also requires payment services to complete transactions.
There are 2 main players in providing data streams from social media platforms who have licenses to provide social media data from a number of online platforms. Initially the main platform of concern is Twitter as this has been identified as the man driver of news within social media.
Datasift and Gnip both provide APIs to allow for connection to streams of content based on rules to filter data. For our purposes we only require data from users accounts that are requested by users of our product. Streams can also be filtered by keywords but we intend to provide the setup for this within our own users accounts allowing them to decide what subjects are important to them.
Main concerns affecting the choice are the ease of integration of the product, quality of documentation, reliability of the stream and cost. It may not be possible to completely asses these factors without trialling the services of both providers.
The reliable delivery of email alerts is a critical factor in provision of the service. Usage of standard SMTP services within standard email accounts is unlikely to meet the requirements of sending large volumes of email due to concerns over spamming and unsolicited email.
There are a number of services that are designed to provide a high volume email delivery platform. These also generally give better logging and information about delivery statuses and failures which we can transfer to the user to allow them to manage the recipients of their alerts.
- Amazon SES
The relative advantages and disadvantages of each would have to be assessed using demo services and investigating the APIs in applicability to our own needs. At a first look Sengrid appears to be a good fit with clear documentation with examples of integration in a number of platforms, favourable independent reviews and a competitive pricing plan.
The main reason for the registrar is the registration of the required domain name for the website, but other concerns include the ability to manage DNS Explain meaning . This requires that the registrar used provides good online services for the administration of DNS records.
For this type of project shared hosting (where servers are shared by a number of customers) is unlikely to provide the level of control and reliability required. Some of the processes we intend to setup on the server, such as the stream connections and management of email queues and processing, require a level of access that is generally limited or non-existent on shared servers.
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This leaves Cloud Computing service or Dedicated Servers as possible platforms for the services. For this project there are a number of unknowns that mean the usage of cloud computing is undesirable. Bandwidth, disk and memory usage and SQL storage costs are difficult to predict and can be expensive on cloud platforms. These are easier to assess as a known cost quantity on a dedicated system where it is possible to buy services with unlimited bandwidth and hardware more than capable of hosting the site for a reasonable length of time into it’s launch. The downside is reliability of a single point of failure in the hardware but this can be addresses by mirroring important services across colocated servers and using load balancing to route requests.
Most Service Providers who sell Secure Socket Layer certificates have a number of options ranging from basic encryption certificates that just offer the encryption required to secure data in transit to those offering users greater confidence through vetting processes to ensure the organisation using the certificate is who they say they are. The certificates offered are usually 1 one of four of 4 types:
- Simple SSL security, offering encryption services identified by the use of https protocol prefix in the browser address bar and the browser “padlock” symbol.
- Domain Validation SSL, same as the simple with added checks for the validity of the domain. Users can click on “Site Seal” icons to check the validity of the domain with the certificate issuer.
- Organisational Validation SSL, same checks as the domain with extra vetting process for more information on the organisation when clicking the “site seal” icon.
- Extended Validation SSL, the most stringent checks are carried out by the certificate issuing authority to validate legal, physical and operational existence of the organisation and that this information matches official records. This results in the browser displaying a highlighted green validation bar in the the address area with details of the verified company.
(GlabalSign Ltd, accessed 19 May 2014)
Whilst not all forms of payment integration described below strictly require the use of an SSL certificate any transfer of user information is best encrypted in this way and is essential if when hosting localised checkout pages. The use of encryption coupled with verification checks that can be performed by the user increases their confidence in the site, however I am unable to find any study or clear statistical evidence that there is an increase in user confidence or sales conversion rate through using Extended Valuation SSL over the simpler forms.
Considerations for payment gateways include:
- Charges imposed and how they scale with volume
- Applicability of the integration. Quality of the API and documentation
Some payment gateways are linked to a merchant bank account and provide the possibility for a more seamless checkout experience with a greater level of customisation and control over the checkout experience. Sagepay, a popular UK payment provider has 4 possible levels of integration a serves as a good example of possible solutions:
No customer data is stored on site, entire checkout process handled by Sagepay.
- Simple and quick to integrate, shortest development time.
- No on-site security issues from storing customer data.
- Limited customisation, no control over checkout steps
- Limited opportunity for customer data recording.
Customer transaction details can be stored locally, card details and payment pages handled by Sagepay.
- Card transactions simplified by sagepay.
- Advantages in storing customer transaction information, improve user experience on site.
- Limited customisation, no control over checkout steps.
- Increased security issues by handling customer data.
Server inframe integration.
Similar to the server integration but allows greater control through embedding the sagepay card payment step into and iframe in the checkout process.
- Card details handled by sagepay.
- Store customer transaction information locally.
- Full checkout customisation, only the card details step handled by sagepay.
- Greater opportunities for customer interaction during checkout. (help, chat, feedback etc)
- Increased development time, checkout steps need to be created and tested.
- Increased security issues through handling customer data.
All aspects of the payment process are handled on site including customer card information, greatest level of control over the checkout and completely seamless as it only communicates with sagepay at the point of transaction processing from the local server.
- Greater control over customer checkout, data handling and checkout flow.
- No front-end considerations for integration, user experience entirely customisable.
- Longest development time, requires greatest consideration of implications.
- Greatest security risk.
- Requires PCI DSS certification (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
(Sagepay, accessed 15 May 2014)
Other payment solutions do not require merchant accounts and can not be seamlessly integrated into the checkout flow. Systems such as PayPal offer solutions for easy integration that will always require that the user leaves the payment issuing site to go through the payment process (although PayPal does offer merchant account solutions as well), transaction reporting can be provided through call back systems such as PayPal Instant Payment Notification. There are advantages in using PayPal as it has a very large user base. This user base has become accustomed to the convenience of faster checkouts as there billing data and preferences are already stored and do not require re-entry during the checkout procedure helping to increase sales conversions for new customers.
(PayPal, accessed 15 May 2014)
Project Management/Version Control
As with any software development version control is essential to manage the codebase. There are currently 2 main considerations for version control that are both open sourced and have online services to provide remote repositories for code.
- Git is a widely used Version Control System and can be hosted on github.com
- Mecurial provides similar functionality and can be hosted by bitbucket.org
Other services go further than just version control by providing project management tools that fit in with software design methodologies such as Agile. These include:
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