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The Strategic Way to Ecommerce Success: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Brad Gustavesen (guest contributor)

The closer we get to 2022, the more crucial it becomes to digitize your commerce. As the UN Conference on Trade and Development explained, ecommerce boomed during the pandemic, and the trend “is likely to continue throughout the recovery from COVID-19.”

Gartner agrees, reporting that “some customer behavioral changes, such as shopping online[…] will be long term” in both B2C and B2B. “As younger generations enter the workforce and take buying positions, they expect compelling customer experiences like what they get from B2C shopping,” Gartner adds.

But how do you start quickly - and successfully - so you don’t fall behind competitors?

Planning Your Launch

Start by identifying your goals for an ecommerce channel.

  • What are the problems you need to solve or goals for the business?
  • Can you refine and create goals with a narrow focus that are specific to ecommerce?

Consider that staying relevant is a valid goal. The goals you set may actually deliver results for additional departments at the company (for example, reducing payment turnaround time and improving customer satisfaction). To verify you’re on the right track throughout the process, develop KPIs you can measure.

The most important aspect is to stay focused and streamlined with a measurable result to determine success.

Then, research what other companies are doing:

  • What’s the gold standard in your industry?
  • What are competitors not doing?
  • How can you fill that gap?

Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to determine a game plan and a budget for a minimum viable launch. This will help you move quickly, prepare for inevitable adjustments, and build evidence for this project that you can sell in-house. If you’re going to be working with various teams (for example, technology and marketing), each team is able to refer back to the measurable KPIs for decision making and project progression. 

Next, explore what features are most essential for your ecommerce launch.

Essential Features for a Success

The first step is always the hardest. With so many competing priorities for investment, where should you start looking to make initial investments that will return positive results and ROI?

Mobile First

In 2020, “over 74% of Americans used their phone to order and pay for food and merchandise at least once a week, with nearly 48% using their phones for purchases several times a week or more,” reported Fast Casual.

And sure, that was the year of the lockdown, but as we previously shared, habits have formed, and there’s no going back. Another study found that the global m-commerce market will grow “at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 19.8% over the period of 2020-2027.”

Meaning, mobile-first is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity for any ecommerce channel. 

Determining where to make your mobile investment is as simple as pulling out your phone and shopping, browsing, and checking your existing site. Ask yourself:

  • What’s preventing a seamless experience?
  • What’s broken?
  • Where could there be some improvements made?

How to measure results?

Check conversion and average order value using your analytics suite. Before making any changes, you should have already benchmarked:

  • Mobile traffic
  • Conversion
  • Customer profile

As you begin to make changes, you should be measuring the impact those updates have to the bottom line.

Customer Experience Features

The experience customers have on your ecommerce channel will determine whether they’ll come back to buy. To support them, provide:

  • Comprehensive product search and filtering capabilities.
  • Detailed product information, including photos and videos.
  • Quick ways to reorder the products they love.
  • Reminders on items in their cart that haven’t been checked out.

How to measure results?

For filtering, search, and shopping experiences the obvious point of measurement is conversion rate. But with any update to browsing capabilities, keep an eye on and refer to the number of inbound questions for customers regarding product catalog and selection:

  • Are customers searching for specific products that they think you have, but aren’t able to find?
  • Is there a change in the number of last-resort product keyword searches?

Self-Service Customer Portal

Giving customers the ability to serve themselves increases ease of use, reduces purchase frictions, and saves time for your team who can now focus on strategic actions.

Some of the features to include in your customer portal are:

  • Account information (name, email, phone, shipping address).
  • Payment information (payment options, order history, invoices).
  • Order frequency (reordering, recurring deliveries).

How to measure results?

A well-built customer portal should immediately reduce the number of inbound calls and emails especially if the end customer is comfortable with logging in. Over time, achieving customer adoption is critical. The customer service team should log and track the accounts that are actively (or not) using the portal and look for ways to drive engagement. 

Product Catalog Management

Your team is another sector you need to serve well in order to increase efficiency and sales. To support them in managing your product catalog, provide:

  • Comprehensive product search and filtering capabilities.
  • Inventory availability information and extensive sorting options.
  • Quote-building features, both for your general customer population and for custom orders.

How to measure results?

Happy customers order more items and at a higher frequency. If you’re building a better order process, is your sales team winning more deals by providing immediate and 24/7 access to information? The big question is:

  • Are there sales being made that would have previously gone to competitors?

Marketing, Reporting and Analytics

Specifically, your marketing team needs additional features, such as:

  • Pricing setup options, including the ability to set minimum and maximum prices.
  • Customer specific pricing and promotion options—for specific customer sectors and for custom one-on-one orders.
  • Data tools, including downloading data or exporting it to other tools.
  • Reporting and analytics dashboard, because you can’t change what you can’t measure.

How to measure results?

The marketing tools may be the hardest group to measure because of the indirect impacts to your team. In fact, it may be best to think of the marketing investment as a learning opportunity rather than a direct KPI. The analysis and reporting enables access to information that answers key business questions, such as:

  • What’s selling? How much are we selling? Could we sell more?
  • What are the trends in the business? Areas of opportunity or growth? 

Operational Tools

Some features are less glamorous than others, but still as essential. For example:

  • Payment integrations with other tools.
  • Tax and shipping setup.
  • Cybersecurity capabilities, such as PCI compliance.

How to measure results?

Investing in reporting and marketing tools and services may be hard to track in terms of ROI, but they get everyone excited. No one gets excited about investing in taxes, security, or shipping. However, from a financial services standpoint, small investments (new tax provider, reduced credit card charges, shipping cost savings) significantly add to margins within the organization. Find opportunities where switching providers or enabling remote integrations can quickly improve the business’ bottom line without adding a single new customer.

Step-by-Step Guide for eCommerce Launch Success

Now that we’re clear on the features, let’s take a broader overview of the ecommerce launch process.

Choose a Minimum Viable Launch for Quick Wins

Starting with all the products, features, and dream integrations could actually be counterproductive for a successful ecommerce launch. Starting small helps you:

  • Test things out when the stakes are lower and improve quickly as you expand.
  • Reduce the pressure from management to ace everything at the first attempt.
  • Build a continuously stronger business case for management, so you can expand with more and more buy-in at each stage.
  • Use smaller releases to easily measure impact.
  • Gain opportunities for additional launches and promotions later on.
  • Actually get started. Yes, really - at some point, it’s time to move off the white board and kickoff the project.

Communicate Across Departments

Each department has vast expertise in its own field, but no one is an expert at everything. Cross-departmental collaboration helps you:

  • Gain a more holistic understanding of your customer’s journey.
  • Consider all aspects of supporting your customer—including customer service, operations, and shipping. This way, you’re not finding yourself promising a shipping date that converts well, only to later discover your coworkers can’t deliver on that promise, for example.

Create a Realistic, Actionable Game Plan

Launching an ecommerce channel requires collaboration across departments and partner companies. Therefore, it’s important to have an actionable game plan, including:

  • Clarification on who owns what in the process.
  • Beyond ownership, don’t forget clarification on who needs to be involved in parts of the project, including new and existing vendors.
  • Accountability mechanisms, such as regular progress reporting times.

However, with so many balls in the air, the “best case scenario” plan might need to be shifted as you go. Therefore, leave space in your schedule and budget for things to take longer and cost more than planned.

A minimum viable launch has fewer variables, making it much easier to gain wins for your team in a shorter timeframe.

Start Promoting Before You Launch

Don’t wait until your ecommerce store or new updates are live to tell people about it. Get them excited beforehand, so you’ll already have a minimum viable audience ready to buy when you open your virtual doors.

One way to get customers excited is to involve them in some of the decisions. It gives them a sense of ownership of your store and products, creating the “Ikea Effect” proven by multiple studies.

According to the Journal of Consumer Psychology, when “consumers assembled Ikea boxes, folded origami and built sets of Legos[…][they] saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.” According to the journal, the studies discovered that “when labor results in successful completion of tasks […]labor leads to love.”

To create the same effect in your ecommerce store, get customers involved in the process, and show them the results they helped create—the product line you included following their votes, the color palette they chose, and the customer service options that are now available thanks to them.

Analyze and Adjust to Scale Your Ecommerce Store

It’s important to analyze your progress and the results you see (as well as what’s not working) and adjust as you go. Remember, you’re testing things out—certainly at first, certainly with a minimum viable launch—and you’ll continue improving as you gain more data and customer feedback.

Schedule regular analysis times just as you schedule any other part of the project. The sooner you catch glimpses and mistakes, the sooner you can fix them. Similarly, the sooner you catch what’s working better than you thought, the sooner you can scale.

Key Takeaways

  • Create a minimal list of goals for a launch.
  • Determine the metrics for measuring success for each of your goals.
  • Assign responsible stakeholders for each set of tasks (or projects).
  • Build flexibility for cost, timeline and features to account for changes.

Brad Gustavesen is CMO and partner of Slatwall Commerce, located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Brad is responsible for building awareness of the Slatwall Commerce platform as well as working directly with agency and technology partners, and other services in the ecommerce ecosystem. Brad’s experience as an ecommerce manager and developer gives him a unique perspective on building and creating successful e-commerce operations.

Slatwall Commerce is a modern ecommerce platform that combines enterprise features with headless commerce flexibility, securely in the cloud. A complete ecommerce platform with open-source roots, Slatwall Commerce is available as a SaaS solution providing a full suite of tools and functionality for business and marketing teams while being developer-friendly.

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