The e-commerce administrative console

An e-commerce website or on-line store actually consists of two separate websites — the storefront through which customers make purchases, and the administrative console which is used by the merchant to add or update product information and process orders. The administrative console is the on-line equivalent of the employee-only areas within a physical store.

The exact functions supported by the administrative console will vary with the e-commerce software that is used to implement your website.

Accessing the administrative console

Authorized employees of the merchant gain access to console using a secure log-in (user name and password). Most e-commerce storefronts allow you to create multiple users, each with different privileges appropriate to the functions they are required to perform.

Order processing

The most frequent use of the console for an established storefront is to process orders. After a successful log-in, the user is usually presented with a dashboard showing current order activity, and he/she can usually access unprocessed orders directly from there, including all necessary customer, payment and product information.

Depending on the system, there may be reports for order processing/picking, as well as management reports to support both accounting and marketing. Order and customer data may also be exported from most systems to allow transfer to other applications.

Merchandising and the product catalog

The second major function of the administrative console is to maintain the product catalog. This includes adding products, deleting or inactivating discontinued or out-of-stock products, and updating descriptions and pricing. Most product maintenance functions can be accomplished interactively through the console, or through bulk uploads of data (when numerous products are being added or changed).

The console is also used to manage the category tree and assign products to categories, and to manage advanced merchandising functions such as cross selling, up selling and promotions.

Managing customer accounts

The administrative console usually includes functions for establishing, deleting and managing customer accounts.

On most consumer sites, all customers are treated the same. However, many business-to-business sites provide more advanced functions such as discounted pricing for groups of customers (for example, dealers or large accounts), negotiated contract based pricing for specific accounts, or a product access list for selected business customers. For manufacturers selling to wholesalers or dealers, even basic site access may require a log-in, which is only available to pre-approved, qualified users.