A successful direct e-commerce program has the power to transform your business. E-commerce opens the door to a stronger brand, solid MAP pricing for your products, an energized bricks-and-mortar retail effort and, of course, a better understanding of and closer relationship with your customers.
But how do you harness that power? Where do you begin?
If you’ve gone through this process, you know the drill. If you’re considering this process, STOP! Do yourself a favor and follow the 9 Steps to E-commerce Success (below).
In the beginning, IT was charged with the task of solving e-commerce. It was seen as a software problem. Today, smart CEOs realize e-commerce is a cross-functional business opportunity and their involvement is critical for success. Successful e-commerce programs work through the following nine steps in sequence. (Note that software selection doesn’t happen until step 5.)
Whether you’re just starting out or trying to jumpstart your e-commerce business, begin with an analysis of the current potential. That means a review of your current brand strength, web traffic, conversion rates, online pricing issues, competitor success, search engine opportunities and technology implications. Only after you create a realistic vision for the scope and scale of the opportunity, can you start to develop the right strategic approach. If you haven’t reviewed these issues recently, you may be missing some critical changes and competitive challenges. Click here to conduct your own online E-commerce Readiness Check-up.
To succeed in e-commerce, you must deliver a best-in-class customer experience. That means the creation of not only an elegant online shopping experience, but also a responsive customer call center, impeccable and timely fulfillment, and an ongoing digital communication strategy that builds loyalty. After assessing the company’s capabilities in each of these areas, it’s time to determine which if any aspects you should attempt to manage in-house vs. outsource. There are outsourced solutions for customer service, fulfillment, technology implementation, site design, online promotions management, traffic building and content strategy development in any combination you want. It’s also important to explore whether you want to engage outside partners to work on a fee basis or share the risk and be paid based upon revenue growth.
There are a range of investment models for the required software. Do you want to own the software (software alone can be a $50,000 to $500,000 initial investment)? Do you want to host the software? Do you want to capitalize the costs or expense as you go monthly? There are a wide variety of solutions under each of these models across a broad breadth of technology platforms.
What existing ERP systems and in-house tools and technologies will you need to integrate with? Are there critical reasons to consider .Net vs. Java vs. open source technologies? The trend today is to find software approaches that reduce the number of internal platforms to be managed. IT departments are overrun with disparate tools and technologies that don’t talk to each other. Marketing departments are increasingly frustrated with not being able to manage content and product information seamlessly between corporate sites and e-commerce shopping systems without extensive programming. The best-in-class software tools available today integrate CMS, shopping cart, personalization, marketing tools and analytics all under a single platform.
If you’ve done the above work, there will only be a few options that line up with your technology needs and business model. Groups like Gartner and Forrester can offer additional insights on the key players.
The software product companies often can point you to some potential partners. But remember, their motivation is to sell their product. They are not likely to recommend an implementation partner who might objectively question the choice of their software. And they won’t offer much help if your consulting needs go much beyond the software programming efforts. E-commerce implementations often can uncover branding and content issues along with CRM and marketing issues that need to be resolved. In addition, the software provider should provide a corporate reference list of companies of your size and with your needs who could introduce you to potential partners.
Together with your consulting partner, it’s time to prioritize the site’s overall requirements, frame your outsourcing strategy, determine the build approach and develop time frames. At this stage you should also determine the budget allocations to branding, web development, content creation and traffic building efforts over a three-year period to finalize an approach to overall growth and funding.
More companies are embracing at least a partial, if not completely, agile approach to building their sites. Scrum, a form of agile methodology offers two distinct advantages. First, it allows for rapid development of usable software so that the client can see the site evolve and develop it as a working tool along the way, rather than waiting until the end of the project development process. Second, it allows clients to change their minds along the way. In the typical 6-12 month implementation period for projects like these, the business situation can change. By consistently reassessing top priorities and building the most important pieces first, you reduce the risk of having to change course mid-stream or waste precious time and dollars on throw-away work.
Break out the champagne, your first sale is on the books. But also realize that, not unlike a new child, this program will require an ever increasing amount of your team’s time and your company’s financial resources. Don’t worry; the financial metrics will make it easy to justify the increased investment and effort. That means you will need to develop an ongoing process for measuring, managing and enhancing all aspects of the process FOREVER!
But that’s a subject for a future blog post.
Download the 9 Steps to E-commerce Success infographic below.