Creating Your eCommerce Development Calendar

New year, new opportunities and what better way to get started than mapping out your roadmap for the year ahead.

Devised to help you get the most from your eCommerce website in line with peak events, upgrades, testing and to aid you in considering resource requirements and budget, we’re sharing our experience to help you plan for 2021.

Reflect on the previous year

After a busy peak period, there’s no better time to reflect, consider what worked and what didn’t. This is the opportunity to evaluate your wider system architecture, from fulfilment and logistics to customer service and your eCommerce store’s performance. Doing so allows you to understand what improvements may be needed for the year ahead.

Now is also a great time to give your website an all-important health check. As we’ve learnt from 2020, your online store has become the main asset your customers interact with and, as a result, it needs to consistently work well. Your website is online 24/7 and it’s normal that over time it will need a health check and further development.

Conducting a yearly review can provide insights that otherwise could be easily overlooked. Without this ongoing maintenance, your once sleek and sophisticated store can quickly become slow, costly, unsecure and outdated. An annual health check considers factors such as:

  • Site and code audit
  • Front end code audit
  • Site performance
  • Site speed and responsiveness
  • Content audit
  • User experience audit

Undergoing a health check at this time of year can help you plan for what changes may need to be made throughout the year. Other than checking your website health is high and ensuring the longest lifespan possible, it also helps to keep your site secure and can save you money.

Map out your peak periods

For most eCommerce brands, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and the January sales are standard peak periods. These events are often the deadlines worked to for website improvements – in fact, it’s not uncommon for website improvements to be made all with Q4 in mind.

However, the seasonal trends for your business may well be different and there is no one size fits all calendar. Instead, it’s important to map out and prepare for the peak periods that your business has, taking into account unique factors such as product releases, seasons, sales, promotional periods and historical peaks.

Box off your promotional strategies early

When an event is coming up, you may find that additions to your website are required or it may drive your desire to implement new functionality such as better fulfilment operations or a gifting service.

Whatever your promotional strategy may be, it’s important to ensure it’s finalised with plenty of time to spare. For example, we would recommend getting your Black Friday strategy boxed off by September.

Create a development roadmap

After clearly mapping out your peaks in the year ahead, it becomes easier to work backwards pre-planning your website’s development needs as recognised in your review and audit stage.

Taking this approach also allows you to consider the resource you will require in advance. This information can then easily be fed into ongoing support services including:

  • A retainer plan: A retained Magento support contract allows you to manage your work and create a predictable stream of leases on your site. Starting at 26 hours per month, our Magento retainers have no limits. Unused hours can simply be carried over in the event you need to slow down development at any point or pick it up, such as on the lead up to a peak event.
  • A support timebank: Unrestricted by months, timebanks are a pot of hours dedicated to supporting your eCommerce website. Ideal for general maintenance of your website, these hours could be tapped into for hosting, extension installations, patch installation, design and UX guidance or eCommerce strategy advice.

When it comes to managing larger pieces of development or integrations, we strongly advise commencing work three months before you want to go-live. This timescale should be considered when planning out your development calendar.

Remember, if you know you need certain functionality or changes by a specific date, it doesn’t have to wait until then to be done. We actually suggest spreading this across the year which will help you divide your costs and resource availability while also giving plenty of time for testing.  

Make time for testing

Don’t launch new functionality just in time for peak. Ideally, you need to give plenty of time to test and use new functionality beforehand to ensure it’s fit for purpose when the event comes around.

By leaving time for testing, you also reduce the risk of not meeting deadlines and not having the functionality live due to unexpected delays or issues.

Plan for code freeze

Site stability should be top of your agenda all year round. However, it becomes all the more important when a traffic influx is expected. The last thing you want is for a bug to make your site unstable and even worse, unusable, during peak shopping periods. For example, imagine your latest onsite implementation is a new checkout process that you launch a few days prior to a peak event only to find a problem that is affecting conversions.

To reduce the risk of bugs causing negative impacts like this during peak times, we recommend going into a code freeze ideally a month prior. This means new functionality or changes that are being made to your website’s code need to have been thoroughly tested and live for some time to ensure any issues have been spotted and resolved beforehand. 

Code freeze is common practice, and a good eCommerce web agency will enforce a code freeze prior to the likes of Black Friday and Christmas. However, no matter when your business peaks fall, you will want to take the same approach and implement a code freeze a month before.

Be mindful of who will need to involve

Once you’ve firmed up your development roadmap for the year ahead, consider who will be involved in making this plan a reality.

Be mindful of reliance on third parties so you can allocate sufficient time in case of delays and allow more time for communications. Some partners or third-party technologies can be easier to integrate with than others so this is also a good time to reconsider your third-party selection and whether there may be a better option. Your web agency should be able to advise and recommend partner technology to help you reach your end goal.

Think about the resource needed and how it effects your business operations. Don’t forget to consider factors outside of your website too, such as logistics and fulfilment, as these operations could heavily effect stock, shipping and your ability to deliver.

Keep Magento upgrades in mind

To help keep your store in tip top condition, Magento regularly releases upgrades. Typically one a quarter, Magento’s upgrades are released as software patches to implement fixes, enhance security or release new functionality to your Magneto store.

These upgrades are an extremely important part of your website’s health and your customer’s shopping experience. We advise businesses to stay informed and plan for upgrades. By keeping on top of them, you are doing your bit to ensure your site remains safe, secure and reliable.

When Magento upgrades are released, it’s important they’re carried out by an experienced team. One way to make the process easier and reduce your risk is to lean on a Magento agency for support. If you don’t already work to a retainer plan with your web agency to cover the implementation of Magento updates, you should budget accordingly and make room within your roadmap. Working with a dedicated Magento agency means you have one less thing to worry about in the year ahead and you can rest a little easier knowing your website is in the hand of experts.

Book in your regular review sessions

When you’re already in regular contact with your web agency, it’s easy to overlook the importance of undertaking formal strategic review sessions.

You may have weekly account management calls and monthly meetings as standard, but there are two key points in the year when we suggest scheduling in official reviews.

The first should fall towards the end of Q2. The middle of the year is the ideal time to review your progress against the roadmap you set out and your targets. This gives you the opportunity to make modifications if requirements have changed within your business or reprioritise tasks where necessary. We like to follow the ‘Stop. Start. Continue.’ which encourages us and our clients to consider what worked, what didn’t and therefore what we’re going to stop, what will continue and what else we’re going to do.

The second formal review should be in Q4, ideally around October or November. This is the time to evaluate how the year has gone and form your plan for the following year. Doing so will allow you to hit the ground running in Q1 and ensure you do not lose any valuable time.

Your eCommerce Development Calendar

Using an eCommerce development calendar will not only help to keep you on track throughout the year but also allows you to get the very best from your website and budget. Being aware in advance of upgrades, peak events, testing periods and the resource needed to see you through these times is fundamental to a successful year in eCommerce.

We’ve worked alongside many brands including Casio, American Medical ID, Sue Ryder and Hammonds to devise a roadmap and carry out their eCommerce calendar through a retainer plan.  If you need to chat more about the year that lays ahead and how it could look for your eCommerce store, contact our Magento experts who will be happy to talk.