eCommerce website is part of the business success
For businesses that have not yet done so and who are thinking about setting up their e-commerce website in the not-so-distant-future, the process is no longer one of the pioneering, innovative, full-of-unknown transformations that it used to be... as long as you forget nothing!
With 6 years’ experience in e-commerce projects within SQLI Switzerland - for Brick and Mortar, Pure Player, mono-country or multi-market businesses - I have noticed the scale of the scope impacted for businesses and the many critical details required for implementation.
The purpose of this post is to illustrate these two aspects and highlight a few key points (non-exhaustive) resulting from my experience.
Firstly, the fundamentals, which I will quickly scan through. An e-commerce site must necessarily have the following key points:
- an immersive homepage
- data sheets and their “facets” lists, with some sort of a search, wish-list and comparative feature
- a reassuring shopping-cart
- a checkout to transform a sale
- a customer space
- cross-selling, promotions, customisation
- CMS to communication on the brand, products and services
- FAQs, a contact us, a site map, the newsletter opt-in
The following points also need to be considered:
- check with accounting department the setting up of the contract with the Payment Service provider for on-line payment
- find an SEO and Web Analytics consultant
- bear mobile devices in mind
- find a solution
- connect e-commerce with ERP, CRM, BI
- schedule the safety audit and performance tests
- delegate logistical aspects of the Pick& Pack implementation
- remember to handle product returns
- think about mobile devices again
- find writers and translators
- schedule user tests and the UX audits
- schedule holidays.
Now that I have finished with the “basics”, there are some subjects that tend to block the well-oiled mechanics of the implementation of an e-commerce website. I will mention a few, which will illustrate these sometimes insufficiently defined or even totally ignored themes if the project sponsor has forgotten to specify the aspects of its strategy.
During my experience, I have observed that the involvement of the legal department is always well noted at the start-up of a project... but that this point is also often neglected later on. Legal is however something that can cause a few unpleasant surprises, often during the final phase when the solution is being reviewed by the relevant department.
Some of these potential surprises are:
- The constraints of German law regarding the protection of privacy
- VAT calculations, mainly understood but certain subtleties of which, depending on products, can require a little more time for inquiry.
- Still on the same theme, the management of VAT rates, which vary according to the region and country, with a special mention for the US where this requires specialised services.
- Constraints of the location of personal data, in some countries.
Here, there is no miracle, most of the time the legal department will be the most qualified to troubleshoot potentially thorny issues. To do so, your team needs to present it with the functions set up at the launch and inform it of sensitive subjects in an e-commerce project.
Besides the case of very small businesses, most companies need to connect the e-commerce solution to the rest of their IT system:
- Starting with their ERP for accounting and stock management,
- Including connection to the Pick&Pack system for packaging and delivery preparation, itself often connected with Delivery Partners (Postal service, DHL, etc.) to follow up deliveries,
- And by synchronising customer data with the CRM, Call Centre, and the e-marketing solution to send newsletters for instance.
To this you can add a dash of Business Intelligence for advanced segmenting and you obtain a very complex data ecosystem that demands good synchronisation. Pay attention to detail!
My favourite illustration is the case of the newsletter’s opt-in.
This small switch linked to your customers’ email address is usually duplicated in several systems and its update should be available to the customer via the e-commerce website, e-mail and newsletter footers and the call centre.
Its small size can neglect the underlying need for synchronisation and it is only after a few weeks of production that the first complaints at the Call Centre, for non-compliance with the right to unsubscribe, will attract the attention of the legal department.
This data duplication is normal and necessary. You cannot submit your ERP to the same response time and availability constraints as your e-commerce solution. At the start of the project it will “just” require a mapping of impacted systems and the discipline not to neglect small details too quickly.
Digital transformation is not restricted to engineers: the implementation of an e-commerce platform has a cross-cutting effect on various corporate departments: Logistics, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service and of course IS.
This set-up will trigger reactions ranging from mild scepticism to confident enthusiasm in your teams, not forgetting anxiety.
Let’s focus on this last point:
Retail companies setting up their e-commerce website will be confronted with the need to reassure their distributors as to the impact of their turnover, whether internal, franchised or independent. The conventional mechanism observed will consist in setting up a total or partial breakdown of e-commerce sales into their profit and loss accounts.
Three aspects of change management are implemented in this approach: tools (e-commerce, accounting software, etc.), HR (identification of impacted stakeholders, adjustment of performance measuring KPIs) and finally operations that allow the implementation of these tools and modifications.
And now, what is the solution? There is no single solution and each company must define the position of the new e-commerce system in its organisation, i.e. what sort of governance should be adopted? What performance goals? What change should be brought for which players? And how to federate the different corporate functions so that everyone wins?, etc.
On this level, it is a good idea to complete the operational implementation of the project with organisational and change management advice.
Here we are talking about one of the key factors for success of an e-commerce project: the quality of the product catalogue.
The point of input of Product data in the e-commerce solution is specified at the product launch, as well as the strategy to be set up according to the following criteria:
- Product catalogue volume
- Product catalogue rotation
- Product data complexity
- Product data sources
At this stage, the strategy is chosen without precisely knowing which Product data are really necessary (the e-commerce solution, screens in particular, being not yet specified). Sometimes it is chosen without precisely knowing the Product data actually available (for various reasons, not necessarily valid).
To summarise, it is only with the first “successful” loading of products that reality will catch up with you.
The potential incongruous effects can be illustrated by the simple example of product pricing, fed back from the ERP to the e-commerce platform:
- ERP obviously inputs prices excluding taxes
- E-Commerce (B2C) obviously needs to display prices including taxes
The absence of exchanges or experience on these two obvious facts will lead to the late discovery of their reality and require the implementation of a transformation logic, not initially scheduled.
(To conclude this illustration, those who have already faced this issue know how difficult it is to add tax to a price while obtaining a “commercially-acceptable” result, i.e. for example, the price of CHF 9.95 inc. taxes rather than CHF 10.00).
There are three remedies for this: tests, tests and more tests. On the result of the integration of Product data in the e-commerce solution. As soon as possible. It is the point on which it is vital to invest in a Proof of Concept that will rapidly detect any adjustments required and potential quality problems of Product data.
This list of points can still be extended, with, for instance:
- Rounding-off management: do not forget to warn the accounting department that owing to differences of management (inc. taxes vs. ex. taxes) between the site and the accounting software, there will necessary be a rounding-off difference between the purchase detail and the total.
- Content production: do not forget to warn the communications department that this activity can take time as existing content does not always easily fit into the page templates.
- The site’s look and feel: do not forget to tell Visual Designers from the start that their design must potentially be integrated into a packaged e-commerce solution, whose philosophy must be followed. (On this subject, prefer one single provider to set up your e-commerce solution who is capable of implementing and organising the different skills required for this type of project: Ergonomics, Visual Design, SEO, Web Marketing, Web Analytics, Social Media, Solutions integration, Middleware, etc.).
- Multi-browser tests: do not forget to test the site’s compatibility with OSs and browsers required on the different hardware (laptop, tablet, mobile phone, etc.). A list of terminals should be drawn up at the start of the project.
The points raised (legal, data synchronisation, change management, product catalogue quality, etc.) and others, not mentioned, can cause turbulence during the project but are all surmountable should they occur.
However, knowing how to anticipate them from the start of the project in order to schedule their implementation will keep your focus on the targets to be achieved rather than concentrating on difficulties along the way.
As for most projects, this one will be more successful if the right questions are addressed early on in the planning; This identification of issues and the quality of your support will be the markers of a successful start.