These days, it’s easier than ever to enter the ecommerce market. DIY platforms and services that help brands sell online abound. The range of digital marketplaces keeps expanding; the barrier to entry keeps shrinking. Whether your brand is B2B or D2C, established or emerging, it’s an exciting time for businesses looking to expand their online sales. But this opportunity can be a double-edged sword. Bombarded with options and surrounded by competitors building up their online infrastructure, even enterprise-level companies risk scaling up their ecommerce operations before they’re truly ready.
As Director of Commerce at a full-service digital consultancy,I urge businesses to take a step back and look before they leap. To help brands navigate the launch of an ecommerce strategy that best fits their goals, I’ve laid out 5 principles to remember:
Choose the platform that’s right for you.
Selecting an ecommerce platform is not a one-size-fits-all game. Your business should drive your technology choices – not the other way around. Companies can enhance their platforms as their business grows (making platform flexibility an important consideration), but adding processes and features you’re not yet ready for will only hijack your capacity.
Cost, new tech options, and specific market trends are all key factors that brands must consider. Developments from industry titans – like Adobe’s acquisition of Magento last year and Shopify’s recent launch of a nationwide fulfillment network – are game changers that brands should understand before committing to a platform or strategy. Companies that don’t choose the right product for their business risk wasting valuable time and budget as well as jeopardizing their brand leadership.
Many brands feel they should move their sales online and rush to make logistical decisions without knowing how. Ecommerce involves more than just having an online store or selling on Amazon. It’s active. It requires strategy and optimization – and perhaps most critically, staffing resources. Teams must be coordinated, platform and marketing must be aligned, and milestone events must be developed thoughtfully.
Building your ecommerce platform is phase one, but ideally, your business will run for many years to come. Assess your current day-to-day operations frankly when contemplating a launch. Like any other business decision, entering the ecommerce marketplace should be a sound strategic choice.
Have a [marketing] plan.
False: “If you build it, they will come.” We see this misconception all the time as brands – even ones with built-in audiences – launch their ecommerce platforms. But a move of this magnitude demands taking stock of the state of your brand. What does your current customer base look like? Are you selling an item with existing market recognition? Are you rolling out a new product altogether or hoping to convert offline customers into online ones? Do you have ample budget for acquisition and driving traffic or would your product benefit more from the existing traffic of a marketplace like Amazon?
Any successful launch, whether a platform or a product, necessitates marketing budget and capacity planning at the outset. Otherwise, it’s simply not the right time to launch.
Expect to optimize.
Like all things digital, online shopping is constantly progressing. Innovations from the tech giants, from Amazon Prime Day to Instagram’s new selling capabilities, keep the entire industry—agencies and our clients alike—on their toes. Make sure that you’re constantly tracking your performance, testing your marketing and user experience, and optimizing based on what you learn.
Launching an extensible platform also means planning for its full life cycle – and the lifetime value of your customers. Retaining your shoppers requires understanding what’s driving your traffic and conversions and how those are shaped by user experience; regular A/B testing can provide these crucial insights. At the outset, remember that you’ll need to optimize in two distinct areas over time to keep ahead of the competition: your platform by adding new features, and your business by adding new products, options, and services.
The platforms that last will be those that do one important thing: evolve.
Seek expert guidance.
Of course, in order to optimize, businesses need to set clear metrics for growth, and outside vendors will tout numbers they can help you hit. But benchmarks of success will be different for different companies and products. Find an expert guide to partner with who will help you deliver on your goals and build for the future, not just achieve a certain number of impressions. Seek out and consider full-service solutions and avoid outsourcing projects piece-by-piece to numerous vendors. This will keep your projects cohesive and your learnings comprehensive. Pick partners with diverse technical experience who will advise you on what’s right for your brand, not just what’s on trend.
And any company, no matter how sophisticated, needs trusted compliance advice. From GDPR in Europe to the California Consumer Privacy Act, regulations addressing data security and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) are ushering in far-reaching impacts for businesses around the world. Digital leaders need to stay in front of these changes by seeking expert counsel on the information they’re collecting, how it’s being stored, and what their customers can access – and whether any activities now might one day put their company at risk.
Ultimately, the point here is that ecommerce should no longer be viewed as an add-on – it’s simply commerce. Incorporate the “e” with an eye on constant optimization. As you look to grow your online sales, don’t rush blindly to catch up to your competitors – build the foundation to surpass them.
Jarod Jones is Director of Commerce at FortyFour