5 Ways to Make the Right E-Commerce Investment Decisions
A workshop session I co-led at the recent Annual Conference for Catalog & Multichannel Merchants in New Orleans provided specific and actionable advice on the full gamut of technology investment decisions — from knowing when it’s time for a change, to making the best decision, to ensuring a successful implementation. Joining me on the panel were Jay Greenberg, director of e-commerce at the retail specialty gifts and novelties chain Spencer Gifts; Steve Jones, president/CEO of multichannel food merchant Home Bistro; Fatemeh Khatibloo, vice president of strategic services for Binger Catalog Marketing, a catalog creative and marketing agency; and Danielle Savin, vice president of multichannel retail and marketing at my e-commerce consulting firm, FitForCommerce.
From this three-hour session, we've extracted five key takeaway pointers:
1. Now's the time to invest, not retrench. Even if your business is doing well, look for ways to increase sales, customer satisfaction and market share. Are you falling behind the competition? Do a competitive analysis. Evaluate yourself against direct and indirect competitors. Know your Web analytics, and where and why visitors leave your site. Survey your customers for pain points, opportunities and suggestions. Now that you know what you need to do, determine whether better processes, technologies or skills can make it happen.
In the case of Home Bistro, Jones cited security concerns as what necessitated a change in platform. But it also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to build more flexibility and features into its Web store.
2. Plan as if you're already behind. The e-commerce industry is changing rapidly. Yesterday’s “best practice” is today’s old news. Today’s “nice-to-have” features are tomorrow’s “givens.” Today's Web customers are savvy, time-starved and conditioned to have high expectations.
Stay abreast of trends and technological advances by using all available resources: industry Web sites, publications, knowledge bases, experts, conferences, virtual conferences and peer networking, to name a few. By combining the knowledge of what you need with what others are doing, you'll be able to determine your business's functional and technical requirements at a detailed enough level to plan properly.
3. Prioritize as if you could conquer only one thing at a time. Rarely do we have the time or resources to conquer all that we need to. To avoid spending a lot of effort while achieving little, examine all your options and prioritize them into “must-haves,” “should-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Prioritize your opportunities with short- and long-term objectives in mind. Go a step further and stack-rank them.
Making these hard decisions will bring clarity to your priorities and help set realistic expectations. Make the quick-hit, low-hanging-fruit changes that'll show immediate benefit, be they technology, marketing or process changes.
For Spencer's specialty Halloween Web store, Greenberg said the company focused as much on site management improvements — e.g., auto merchandising — as it did on the customer experience — e.g., social navigation, personalized recommendations and express shopping.
4. Do your e-commerce diligence to find the "best-fit" solution. Whether your new needs are large (e.g., platform, content management system) or small (e.g., e-mail point solution, search engine optimization consultant), spend the necessary time and effort to select the right solution. Replatforming, for example, is a big investment of time, money and, if you don’t do it right, opportunity cost. Use your detailed requirements to create a request for proposal that’s clear to bidders on what they're bidding for. Kick the tires on the potential solutions until you're absolutely sure of what you're buying and, more importantly, what you're not getting.
5. Position yourself for a successful implementation. Pull together the right team. Determine who the key stakeholders are, and make sure they're active participants in this process. Don’t ignore merchandising and marketing strategies. Ensure consistent branding across all channels. And stay on top of the project plan!
Bernadine Wu is CEO of FitForCommerce, an e-commerce consulting firm. She can be reached at email@example.com. If you'd like a copy of the workshop materials, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.