Designing Operations Before Websites is Crucial to E-Commerce Success
The owner of an e-commerce apparel company specializing in custom T-shirts for teams, organizations and community groups recently approached us to design a new website for the brand, but was concerned about the cost of a major overhaul.
The CEO explained that they didn't have an actual "shopping cart" on their website, just a contact form, and that they used spreadsheets and email to track and fulfill orders. He was specifically frustrated with the following:
- onboarding new staff members to their manual ordering process;
- keeping up with order fulfillment required three full-time staffers;
- dealing with lost/mixed-up orders that fell apart during the fulfillment process; and
- handling orders when someone was out of the office, as communications were managed on an individual employee's computer.
It was clear that what was needed was a redesign of operations before a web rebuild to manage demand and increase profitability. We whiteboarded the customer relationship journey, mapped each point of interaction and came away with a framework for a new fulfillment strategy.
I explained to the CEO that like most e-commerce companies, he should think about his fulfillment strategy in two parts: process and platforms.
Process includes the activities necessary to move an order from placement through customer receipt and is viewed through two perspectives:
- customer interaction: What communications are outbound to your customer?
- internal interaction: What communications are internal or with a third-party vendor?
Although specific activities vary company to company, generally they require the following steps:
- Purchase: How the order is placed, how is payment received.
- Confirmation: How customers are notified regarding their order.
- Shipment: How shipping is purchased/tracked.
- Reconciliation: Adjusting inventory levels, financial records and status to reflect a successful order.
- Support: Handling post-order questions or customer concerns.
Platforms are the technology to facilitate activities defined within the process. This company was heavily reliant on email, spreadsheets and Word documents to support its processes. When thinking about how to improve the business, it's primarily about finding new platforms to enhance existing processes. Most companies can't alter the communications or activities that comprise order fulfillment, but altering platforms and, how platforms interact, can be a win.