E-Commerce Strategy: Building the Plan Before Building the Business
If you’re in the digital industry, or even if you only make an online transaction every so often, you probably know e-commerce has placed itself solidly at the crux of today’s economy. In fact, by 2020, sales completed through online transactions are expected to hit over 523 Billion dollars in the U.S. with mobile expected to be the key driver. That’s an incredible 56 percent lift over 2015.
As digital commerce solutions evolve at breakneck speed, brands and marketers are clamoring to stay ahead of the transactional curve and at the forefront of the consumer purchase decision. Often, that fast pace comes with the sacrifice of too little time for planning.
A conversation around the conference room table may go something like this:
Boss: “We need an e-commerce site and we need it up by the end of the year.”
You: “I’m excited to help, but it’s already December 1st.”
Boss: “We know that’s fast, but end of year sounds right. We don’t want to let another year pass us by.”
Sound familiar? It’s a hard position to be in for everyone involved. From a revenue-driving perspective it’s important to move forward, and the motivation to enact change quickly is well justified.
Let’s take a moment to focus on why it’s important to take a breath and have a series of thorough strategy conversations prior to running full speed for the lush and lucrative e-commerce pastures.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m running right alongside you. But let’s prepare a bit.
Strategy & the Power of Why
“Why” is a powerful question and potentially a defiant one if not used with intent. I’d argue it may be the most important question you ask as a company. In fact, this year I have it boldly stated on my office bulletin board. It’s important, acts as a constant reminder and causes pause.
Before everyone dives off the deep end into the logistics pool, stop and ask, “Why are we doing this?” Firms like ours are engaged specifically to assist in answering these questions with our clients, and for good reason.
While you’re asking the why, these questions should be on your list as well:
What are our short- and long-term goals?
Who are our consumers?
How do they purchase today?
How will we drive them to our site?
How will we convert them? Keep them returning?
What’s our revenue growth plan?
Who are the key project stakeholders?
What’s our realistic timing?
How do we plan to test along the way?
What are our potential roadblocks?
Do we have a fall back?
In a true discovery and planning process there are many more. Plan your roadmap, set realistic timelines, resources, budgets and boundaries. These questions and conversations will help to paint a more realistic and robust picture.
Planning Your Roadmap
Perhaps it seems like a pipe dream that you should have the luxury to sit down and properly plan out a roadmap for e-commerce, but I cannot stress the importance of this enough. I’ve seen many a project sail far off course because it hadn’t been properly planned with buy-off from all stakeholders. E-commerce is certainly not a fly-by-night endeavor. It’s an investment that takes some level of time, money and effort no matter the chosen solution. When planned correctly, it should provide a significant impact to the bottom line.
Similar to any portion of a business, one should always be planning for the next iteration. Review goals and refine them; modify the site as needed. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Ask that all important “Why” question again. Innovate, change, and grow. Once your initiative launches, it is certainly not a finished one.
There Is No I In Team
E-commerce teams are made up of a myriad of stakeholders and, depending on the scale of the solution, potentially hundreds of stakeholders. Though often well intended, everyone brings a slightly different agenda to the table. It is often a sea of opinions, demands and expectations. At times, the stakeholder waters can be rough. It’s important to know how stakeholders may influence the life and goals of the project at the very beginning. It will allow you to prepare for that workflow.
Projects that are organized and led efficiently can immediately mitigate the rough waters of too many captains. Establish your leadership team and final decision makers. Appoint a lead project manager and clearly define the goals and expectations of the team roles. Attempt to mitigate potential roadblocks from the start and push forward collectively towards the milestones.
When an e-commerce project is running parallel to the business it’s relatively easy to categorize it as a stand-alone island. Remember that e-commerce is a supplement to your overall business solution. Speaking specifically towards retailers, Internet Retailer had the following to say:
“Online shopping and the in-store experience often feels like night and day. Online shopping is all about efficiency and convenience. In-store shopping is characterized by browsing, serendipity and face-to-face contact. But the increased focus on omni-channel experience is making this distinction increasing irrelevant.”
The strength of a well-strategized omni-channel experience is that the user stays front and center. At every touchpoint, the omni-channel experience is highly personalized, highly customized and highly competitive. Don’t lose sight of the consumer in the weeds of launching e-commerce. Know them well and tailor your plans toward their needs and behaviors.
The Strategic Race
While companies globally are racing to the finish line to implement e-commerce, the best way to compete is to be strategic. There are experts, options, platforms, etc. that will provide seemingly quick e-commerce solutions, but putting a solution in front of the consumer should be calculated and constantly questioned.
Do you have to be slow in implementing? Absolutely not. Rather, be thoughtful, strategic and mindful.