We all know the story of The Three Bears.
Personally, my problem with the story is that it focuses on the needs of a spoiled little girl, Goldilocks, and not enough about the victimized bear family. We can think about selecting an ecommerce platform in a similar light. Try not to focus on what Goldilocks thinks is “just right”. Instead, focus on what you (the bear) are really looking for. So, what kind of bear are you?
All companies face opportunity costs for their large capital projects. Finding the solution that works for your business is paramount. Oftentimes, companies are led down the path of a solution that is over simplified or overly complex for their needs by internal and external factors. For each company, the scale and evaluation process will be different. Be willing to compromise by understanding the difference between what you need and what you simply want.
External and Unique Factors
Have your competitors recently launched a new ecommerce solution? While keeping pace with competitors is important for consumer brands, many senior executives over-invest to overtake the competition in one area, only to be passed by the same competitor in another. Remember, what you’re seeing on your competitor’s site today likely started 6 to 12 months ago. Before building a business case and investing significant dollars, make sure that what your competitors are doing is relevant to you. More importantly, try to think beyond parity.
Instead of exchanging blows with your competitors, use your customers as the basis of your investment. Find out what your customers are saying, or not saying, about their digital and ecommerce experiences. Do you have any anecdotes to share about the experience your customers have on your website? If you don’t, some basic customer research can go a long way.
Customer expectations are increasing rapidly. A good portion of your visitors likely just landed on your site from Facebook, Amazon, or Google, three companies that invest tens of millions of dollars to creating intuitive user experiences for their websites. Customers come to your site expecting an impeccable and consistent experience across channels and devices. No matter your size, this need to meet customer expectations should be considered in your “just right” equation.
Solutions that save money initially may sacrifice the most important touch points between you and your customers, costing you considerably more in the long run. Forrester recommends conducting usability testing of your current site to inform the redesign of your next site. If you have the foresight, you can also build user testing into your redesign process. At the very least, ensure that your agency partner starts the design process with user persona definition and user story creation. It’s impossible to design a customer-centered experience if you don’t know the demographics, goals, and objectives of the user types that visit your ecommerce store.
Identify Project Business Drivers (Cost savings? Head count reduction? Expected increase in conversion rate or revenue?)
Assuming you’re not just reacting to customer and competitive pressures, there is likely some internal business driver that started the discussion to re-platform. Keep these business drivers in mind as you prioritize your requirements. For example, if you’re currently using a custom ecommerce platform, rebuilding your site on a commercially available platform may allow you to reduce IT resources, (but don’t assume the exercise will be without effort). However, don’t assume a new ecommerce platform by itself will solve all of your business issues either.
While a new platform can lead to increased conversion rates and average order values because of enhanced marketing and merchandising tools, many companies experience a (significant) dip in conversion rate, average order value, and page load speed upon launching their new site. The dip in key site metrics can be attributed to several factors, some of which are out of your control (e.g. Google’s time to re-index your new site). However, your execution of 301 redirects and an improved user experience can mitigate this dip and put your metrics in the green within 30 days of launching a new site. Build your business rationale around conservative uplift estimates and balance any cost-saving justification with solid cost estimates.
How long has your company operated an ecommerce business for, if at all?
If you’re business is new to ecommerce, one-size fits all and low-cost ecommerce solutions may serve you well. This assumes you have very low revenue online currently and a fairly straightforward business. If your business is established in other channels and has become more complex, it is important to right-size your solution criteria (and budget) accordingly.
Understand the Composition of your team
When evaluating ecommerce solutions, a decision to go one way or another can be heavily influenced by the composition of your internal team. Marketers and merchandisers will gravitate to more elaborate and “sexy” demos. IT will want to find the most well thought out software architecture. The business will want the most return on investment. All of these perspectives are valid. Make sure each one is heard, is considered, and contributes to the decision-making process. Form a steering committee to make sure no one constituent dominates the decision, which may lead to a false positive when it comes to platform selection.
Where are you in the value chain and how should this influence your decision?
While it sounds simple, you should take your business model into consideration. B2B manufacturers are still dipping their toes into ecommerce and should carefully consider the context in which B2B ecommerce exists in their industries. While younger B2B buyers are showing preference for a web ecommerce experience over catalog purchases, suppliers and internal stakeholders may see B2B ecommerce as too big a change. Often, objective third-party advice and anecdotal stories from similar companies can overcome these concerns.
If you are a consumer brand manufacturer, you have several constituents and trends to consider. Your customers expect a great experience, including mobile (even responsive sites). If you’ve never launched a true B2C ecommerce site before, internal sponsors may kill the project due to concerns over channel conflict.
If you are a retailer, you will likely need to spend more time conceiving a unified omnichannel experience that provides your consumers with a continuous experience across retail, catalog, web, and mobile channels. Remember, consumers don’t see channels. They see brands.
Throughout your ecommerce project, it helps to have a clearly defined, prioritized list of what your customers and internal users will need to drive the business outcomes that make the project worthwhile. Remember, it was Goldilocks who didn’t like the hot or cold porridge. Ecommerce platforms are the porridge. You’re the bear.