One of the common stories we hear is about people who've spent thousands of dollars on an ecommerce site, only to spend years struggling to make a profit. Before you even think about setting a website, payments, marketing and shipping, there are six critical questions you should ask yourself, according to technology company Industrie IT. Below is their checklist of essential questions you should ask:
1. Why ecommerce? Why does your business need it?
Before you do anything, consider your motivation for entering into the world of e-commerce. Embarking on this journey can bring great rewards but it is also time-consuming, can require significant investment and is potentially distracting to the core business activities that got you to where you are now.
Are you looking to increase sales? Deliver a better customer experience? Compete with other brands? Increase your brand awareness? Reduce the cost of service and improve your operational capability? Too often we have seen the underlying premise behind an e-commerce investment is not clear or understood across the various stakeholders in the business. This makes it difficult to measure success, secure sufficient funding and ultimately deliver at the pace required for a successful outcome.
Having a clear understanding of why you see e-commerce as a worthwhile investment is key. It gives you a solid term of reference against which to baseline all subsequent activities and allows you to continually ask yourself ‘by doing this activity or spending this money, am I addressing one or more of my original objectives?’.
2. How will you measure the success of your ecommerce project?
Once you have a clear understanding of why you want to invest in e-commerce, next you must decide on how you will measure the success of your efforts.
There are various dimensions you could use to measure the performance of your e-commerce platform and hence determine how successful it is. Sales revenue, transaction count, new customers, average transaction value (ATV) and website visitors are some of the more typical measurements that you may want to track.
Converting your original objectives into a set of clearly measurable targets will give you the ability to track your e-commerce efforts and make adjustments along the way as required.
Note: A key tip here is to ensure ‘metrics’ capabilities are built into your e-commerce platform from the off. These will enable you to capture important data around customer behaviours and the performance of your online sales channel, thereby empowering you to make informed decisions on what is working and what could be improved.
3. What is a sustainable level of spend on your e-commerce-related activities?
Our experience has shown us that the most successful e-commerce operations are those that embrace the concept of continued learning and on-going refinement. These operations are always seeking to meet the changing needs of their customers and the general marketplace, embrace technology opportunities and better align the e-commerce offering with their own evolving capability.
Beyond the initial investment to get your e-commerce website up and running, are you willing to subscribe to an on-going investment stream? If so, consider carefully what is a sustainable pace of expenditure on this component of your business. This should include development of the e-commerce capability from a technical perspective as well as the additional overheads incurred by extended operations and support staff.
Ideally, look to have the e-commerce channel fund itself after the initial setup. On-going spend and enhancements should be supported by a valid business case that delivers on one or more of your key e-commerce objectives.
4. Have you considered how the e-commerce capability will integrate with the rest of your business?
Your e-commerce capability is a direct extension of your business and constitutes more than just a website. For it to be successful, your complete supply chain must be integrated to ensure you are able to deliver your product or service end-to-end.
What current systems do you have in place that will need to be integrated with the e-commerce solution? Stock control, accounting and point-of-sale (POS) are some of the systems we have typically integrated with in order to provide an effective end-to-end sales channel.
Consider also how you will deliver product and marketing content to this new channel. Will in-store promotions also need to be published online? Will you be selling the same product catalogue through your e-commerce website? If you have a loyalty scheme, will this be available online? Understand where the crossovers are and define how far you want go with integrating these components.
5. What reach will your e-commerce capability support?
By default, your e-commerce capability makes you open for business in every country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Consider whether your business is set up to service this market and if not, ensure that you localise your offering accordingly. For example, you may decide to accept orders from customers anywhere in the world but limit free delivery to Australian-only addresses.
Consider also the devices that your customers may want to use to purchase your products or service. E-commerce websites that work well on desktop computers do not necessarily translate to deliver a good customer experience on tablet or mobile devices. Decide on which devices you consider to be important and ensure the appropriate capability is designed in early on in the process.
What about support for your e-commerce website? Do you want to limit the hours your online store is open for business? What happens if a customer has an issue or query outside of normal business hours? All of your good work in building a high-quality e-commerce platform can easily be undone if you stretch yourself too far and are unable to deliver the level of service expected throughout the supply chain.
6. Are you in the business of technology?
How involved do you want to be in the development of your e-commerce capability? Are there elements that you want to keep in-house, others that you would rather outsource?
When considering an e-commerce website, bear in mind the various disciplines that comprise the complete solution. Website development and integration, targeted marketing, mobile payments, loyalty, user experience design, hosting and service management, customer analytics and segmentation are some of the typical skills and activities that we experience as part of an e-commerce operation.
Your own expert knowledge around products and customers is invaluable and should be closely involved in the e-commerce platform development. To supplement this, consider carefully where external technology partners may be able to better assist you with some of the more specialist disciplines.
Neil Temple is a Partner at Industrie IT, a technology company that help all types of companies from big business through to small start-ups build and operate digital platforms. The Industrie IT team is driven by a belief that technology can positively change the way the people around us consume, interact, learn, communicate and live. They can build it for you, build it with you, or give you advice on how to build it yourself.
Services provided by Industrie IT include Experience Design, Software Development, Information Management and Integration and Service Management in the Cloud.