Being able to compete on the Internet is tough and increasingly costly. In the history of the internet and ecommerce it used to be that having a reasonable price, a good looking site (not always the rule!), and being found on the search engines was enough to generate considerable success. Businesses who had deep pockets but were failing at search engine optimisation were able to get around the ‘getting found’ issue by using pay per click services like Google Adwords (at considerable extra cost I might add).
But the internet never stands still, and one of the key features of its effects on our world is that it eventually puts all the competitors for a product in one easy place for consumers to look at, effectively creating an online high street where prices and product specifications can be easily checked. Probably around 3-4 years ago experienced ecommerce practitioners like Freetimers starting noticing a clear change in consumer behaviour that put this process into sharp relief. Instead of just searching for a general product description using a ‘generic’ search phrase, and then buying the product from the first couple of sites they went to, people were now starting to use the generic searches for finding out information about the product, and then only buying after a very specific product search.
This meant for example, that instead of buying a ‘cooker’ or ‘dishwasher’ from websites that could be found on a search engine under the terms ‘cookers’ or ‘dishwashers’, they were using the information they gathered from these sites about the products to determine precisely what they wanted to buy, eg a ‘Hotpoint 360ZR Inspire DishWasher’, and then doing a new search using that detailed longtail product name to very quickly compare prices, and then buying on best price. This hugely increased competition, and, started to speed up consolidation in just about every field, because those businesses who could not compete on price were basically being squeezed out.
This process is continuing at break-neck speeds, and resulting in increasing costs to enter into a market successfully, and much greater barriers to entry overall. The consolidation is now quite apparent in search engine results for those who are monitoring it closely. Instead of possibly the first 30 websites found for a product having a chance of online sales, now in many fields it is the top 5. Below that are the also-rans who in the long term probably don’t have a hope of survival.
What happens however to those lucky few still left at the top? The answer in some cases is ‘super-competition’. Each of the competitors closely monitors each other’s prices so the range of price variation inevitably shrinks until they are all pretty similar. That means competition between them to maximise profit, as well as the ability to continue to reduce prices without loss of profitability, starts to progressively take place more in the efficiency of the organisations involved. To stay in the game, there is constant pressure to reduce costs, whilst still trying to deliver to customers a good, seamless and reliable service.
The obvious places where these cost reductions take place are by reducing the costs of materials, labour, overheads and the supply chain, putting increasing pressure on all aspects of the supply chain, and super-charging in the process the speed and necessity of globalisation. More than just trying to obtain lower prices for product and business components however, pressure also increases on reducing costs by reason of organisational and business process efficiency. Businesses who can make their business processes, systems, procedures, etc., more efficient than the next guys, will be able to compete better, and more profitably, than those who don’t.
This is where web programming, as well as website programming, comes into the picture. Businesses who automate business processes, and integrate the use of the internet into these processes have an advantage, over those which do not. Automating and integrating business processes into a seamless environment using web accessibility can leverage off those to reduce costs, whilst at the same time maintaining or improving both the customer service it provides to customers, and its self awareness of its own business.
The major banks saw this coming years ago, and were probably directly responsible for some of the wage bubbles that have come and gone repeatedly in the programming sector over the last 20 years. Expand that situation now into every business, and this is where we are heading, if we’re not fully there already.
To top it off, it will probably not be ‘applications’ or individual software programmes that will ultimately produce the most benefits to organisations seeking to reduce costs and streamline their operations. This is because ‘applications’, by their nature, are highly integrated and efficient (well, at least some of the time), and because of this are generally not very adaptable or customisable. The user gets what is available, often forcing them into the straightjacket of operating the way the applications says it should, instead of the way that is best for the business. I’m sure everyone who has ever used a program for business purposes will have experienced this to some extent. Applications of this form are difficult to amend, grow and customise because of their level of integration and efficiency, and because of this programming changes or customisations can be difficult, expensive and slow, if available at all. Worse still, if an application is available on the market, well then eventually all the competitors can have it or the equivalent, putting them back into the same position they were in previously vis a vis their competition.
Web programming on the other hand, can be much more open and produce solutions which are easier to grow, enhance, modify and customise. At Freetimers Internet for example, our software is dynamic and based on an open ended architecture which facilitates amendment, customisation and expansion. Our experience is that programming costs tend to be half those of amending ‘applications’ such as off the shelf ecommerce and cms systems like Joomla, OsCommerce, Drupal, WordPress and Magento, etc. Now some of these are good programs, and they can appear cheap, to begin with. Ultimately though, they put you at a disadvantage, because many, many competitors have them too, and you have to operate the way they say you have to, and not the way you need to to achieve efficiency savings and improve continuously your ability to stay competitive. Because of the slowness, higher costs and limits to how you can use, customise and expand these system, ultimately you will end up less efficient, less able to differentiate yourselves, and less competitive than your competitors.
For many of our more active clients, our web programmers undertake website programming and backend automation and business process re-engineering targeted programming, every month, without fail. Several of these companies we have taken from being local suppliers or start-ups, right to the very top of their field on the internet and in the UK, and it is specifically because of their proactive commitment to continuously improve their businesses, partly through ongoing website programming, that this has happened.