With so much change in our day-to-day lives, taking on a big project might not feel like something you should be considering. But in reality, there is no time like a crisis to re-evaluate your priorities and focus on what is truly essential. Across the world, businesses are streamlining their operations to the bare minimum while remaining in a position to trade “normally” once restrictions are lifted.
All of a sudden, businesses are having to understand the impact of a huge change in transaction volume and unpredictable consumer behaviour. Whether you’ve seen a dip in sales as people prioritise their finances, or a surge in orders for in-demand products, your business model is likely to have changed and will continue to change for the foreseeable future.
Is now the right time?
eCommerce is over 20 years old and has grown at a pace which retail has never previously experienced. Not only forging its own behaviours and expectations, but also influencing other established methods of transacting which had been around for many decades without significant change.
Payments, logistics and marketing have all been transformed in the move to cater for the growth of digital commerce. Most retail brands have made a valiant attempt to keep up with the evolving demands of online customers, but the technological legacies they’ve left in their wake are complex, confused and inefficient.
The original belief that eCommerce was a flash-in-the-pan was quickly replaced by the notion of it changing too fast to justify investing in, then a feeling that the boat had been missed, and finally that it was too late and there was too much competition online to truly compete. Businesses currently looking to invest in the next stage of their online strategy are feeling much the same way. When is the best time to spend money? If I leave it for another year, will I get better value/more features for my investment? Why should I rock the boat when things are stable/fine/tolerable as they are? This indecisiveness, or misguided sense of contentment with your current position, is a highly dangerous state to be in.
The companies seeing effective growth now are those who have the agility to react. Even established retailers with cash in the bank are at a disadvantage, as no amount of money can compete against Amazon or make an antiquated ERP system offer click and collect to a mobile eCommerce customer. So, how can you make this work for you?
Use an MVP Approach
Now eCommerce has passed its awkward teenage years, with all the chaotic changes and mood swings that go with it, we’re seeing a far more stable and mature industry. One which has learnt from past mistakes and create the foundations for a long and successful future. It’s not too late to get on board. In fact, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate where eCommerce sits within your wider business and rebuild your online operation to accommodate where you will be in five years’ time, not where you were five, 10 or even 20 years ago.
Preparing to re-platform an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or launch a new site on your existing platform using the out-of-the-box features can be a cathartic experience. By focusing on the core reasons your customers visit your site, you can concentrate on making the very best customer experience for the vast majority of valuable visitors.
That’s not to say that the pared-back site can’t have customisations or unique features. But for each one, justifying their presence, evaluating and putting a true commercial impact against them will soon demonstrate which features are invaluable and which are effectively marketing vanity projects.
Something which has become much more important to a successful eCommerce business as the channel has evolved is a robust and comprehensive integration between your web platform and back office systems. Real-time stock, pricing and up-to-date account information is expected by most customers now. The majority of platforms will support drawing this information from third party systems instead of using static information managed exclusively by the platform itself. A well-architected integration layer will not only make your site run more efficiently but will also greatly reduce the amount of customisation needed on the front-end site.
Recreating business logic in your eCommerce platform which already exists elsewhere in your company is inefficient and will lead to discrepancies as the platforms are upgraded and changed in future. Create a centralised version of your business logic (ideally your ERP, PIM, CRM or similar, depending on the particular data involved) and use that as the ‘single version of the truth’ for the rest of your business systems.
The end goal
The idea behind this approach is by no means to leave you with a barebones eCommerce site forever. There is scope to add features and customise once the new MVP is live. You will also be in possession of up-to-date customer behaviour insights and an understanding of which features they are genuinely missing.
As an analogy, envision your website as a room in a house. Every time you have re-decorated, you’ve papered and painted on top of what’s already there. Fixtures and fittings have been adapted and twisted to fit the latest fashion, but the underlying foundation of the room is buried under 10 layers of paint, dust and general wear and tear. On the surface, every new re-vamp looks great, but each time it becomes harder to hide the cracks and make everything look exactly how you’d like. Pulling everything back to the bare brickwork, re-plastering and starting from the simplest of rooms is the best course of action in the long-term.
If you’d like guidance on understanding how to start such a project, or need any assistance with your eCommerce platform, don’t hesitate to contact Team Pinpoint.