Three key factors for successfully setting up an online store that should not be ignored

When companies start selling online, they often get to the following situations:

  • "We planned to have our online store come to life within three months. It's been a year now and we're still not selling online.'
  • "We've finished the project of launching a new online store, but now we're drowning in product management, there's a lot of manual work and things are getting away."
  • "The designer drew us a gorgeous UX and we thought we were building just another site and then it got complicated with data and execution."

Gorazd Planinc and Lenart Ambrož from the Martech agency Vareo spoke at the workshop of the Marketing Society of Slovenia (DMS) about these and similar "cheres" on the way to the introduction or exchange of platforms for online shops, and how to avoid them. The problems often stem from the insufficient preparation and planning of the introduction of an online store, and a poor understanding of all the necessary steps on the road to implementation.

The interplay of IT knowledge and marketing decides on the success of digitisation projects

According to research by Gartner and the European Marketing Agenda 2021, marketing managers in Europe are by far the most engaged in digitisation, e-commerce and data analytics during this period. In doing so, they highlight the implementation and integration of CRM systems, e-commerce platforms and data processing systems as a major challenge. Some companies are also changing their marketing technology and are looking for more advanced platforms due to the limitations of existing systems.

According to Gartner, more than half of the functionalities provided by these tools are unused after the implementation of marketing tools. The main obstacle to successful implementation of marketing technologies is the interplay of IT knowledge and marketing, which is difficult to find in one person but is essential for understanding whether certain marketing technology solves our business needs and whether it can be integrated into an existing information system.  

Holy Grail: A comprehensive view of customer and CONNECTIVITY OF IT tools

If we have tools in an IT company that are not interconnected or we do not know how to connect with each other, there is a fragmentation of data and duplicate or tripled work. With data, the challenge is to consolidate multiple data sources into a comprehensive, 360-degree customer view, which is a particularly big and complex problem in larger companies. Customer data is found in a wide variety of systems: for example, some data about the purchase route is available through Google Analytics, some in the CRM tool, and then there is also data on issued invoices, followed by the marketing automation tool, etc.  

The holy grail of any marketer is to have all the data to help us understand the customer in one place and a comprehensive one-click overview. In the case of online commerce, however, it is particularly important that the platform on which we build e-commerce is tied to our basic business system for stocks and finance.  

If we look at the situation in Slovenia, we are currently in the period of redistribution of budgets and optimisation of costs. Budgets are strongly focused on digitisation and implementation of marketing technologies. The current situation is due to the malnutrition of companies in the field of marketing technologies, covid-19 for Slovenian marketing represents a great reminder that companies are finally aware of the importance of this area. On the other hand, quick changes and quick fixes make errors more frequently.

Planning, team composition and technology selection make or break the project

The three areas where digitisation projects get stuck most often are the following:

  1. poor planning and misunderstanding of the complexity of projects;
  1. teams have a lack of knowledge for successful implementation;
  1. the wrong technology is selected according to the specific needs and problems the company wants to solve.

To begin with, each company has to do its own "homework" and analyse what it needs and structure what it wants before bidding. Don't sit down with a sounding sales slogan, but look at what's consistent with your business strategy, back-end processes, employee competencies and existing information systems.

PLANNING: The more time you spend, the faster and easier the implementation will be

It may sound paradoxical, but if we take enough time to prepare well, then the implementation of the project is much faster and more efficient. The fragmentation of the project into phases allows for greater focus, which is elsewhere at each stage.

The placement or renovation of the online store is a major project in which all the key departments of the company must be involved and which must be given sufficient time, attention and planning if we do not want to turn into a nightmare. Such a project is particularly challenging for larger companies with established processes and specific IT infrastructure, which represent certain limitations and legality that need to be aware and taken into account when setting up an online store.

With good planning, realistic expectations and an agile project approach, the project will be easily carried out within the set financial and time frames. Preparing for the launch or renovation of an online store usually takes 2-3 months. At this stage we analyse and make key decisions regarding the selection of technology, team design and architecture of the solution. This allows us to identify the necessary functionalities and basic integrations between systems that can quickly be brought to life as MVP. In the coming months we then embark on more complex implementation of additional functionality with high added value, advanced analytics, automation ... in the final phase we optimize all back-end processes, improve user experience and launch solutions in additional markets or product lines.

Understanding your business model and purchasing path

Planning and successful start are also influenced by questions about the business model (B2C, B2B...) and the goals we pursue through our online business and the problems of the customers we solve. During the planning phase, it is especially important to draw the entire purchase route: an inventory of all contact points by identifying the needs and data that the buyer needs at each point. This will serve as a basis for assessing what technology we need to serve the customer with the right information to create a great user experience.

4 steps to successfully start the project:

  1. RESEARCH – Are we ready for e-commerce? Do we have people, resources and knowledge? What are our expectations after launch? What goals are we pursuing? When are we going to be at the point where the project will meet our expectations?
  1. PLANNING – Plot the user's purchase path and inventory of all points of contact. Reflecting on what technology we need and what functions we really want to impress at every point. Preparation of brifa or RFP in which we describe our requirements and wishes regarding the functionality of the online store and existing IT systems.
  1. GAP ANALYSIS – Select a partner to best catch with the team and existing technology. Are the functionalities proposed at the planning stage feasible at all. Definition of limitations and execution timelines.
  1. ARCHITECTURE – A detailed inventory of all necessary integrations and the composition of the multidisciplinary team that will participate in the project. Don't forget the back-end processes.

If we have done well preparation, then the designer will know what he is designing in the implementation phase, the software developer will know what he is developing. If we have a clear plan, we are much more likely to get a good result more quickly.  

Preparation of a technological briff or RFP

The key document that underpins the selection of the solution is RFP - a "request for proposal" to invite e-commerce solutions providers to the presentation. RFP is a "technological brif" and will base that presentations from potential providers will not be generic, but can immediately show how their technology can work for you.

Each technology has its limitations, so gaps must be identified and restrictions defined during the planning phase. The last part of the planning is to outline the architecture of the solution (system connections, etc., necessary description of all necessary integrations) and the composition of a multidisciplinary team that will bring the project to life.  

Data that require special attention through the implementation of e-commerce and should be included in the RFP:

  • Inventory :Especially when it is constantly updated. Are we going to run the stock from ERP or from an online store?
  • Price: What is our pricing policy and how to manage the price? The system allows us to enter discountsI will we manage the price from ERP or from the online store?
  • Attributes: Each product has specific attributes that are usually seen as filters. What's the filtering key? Will we equip products with fitre attributes in ERP, PIM or online store?
  • Pictures: What pictures do we choose, how we present them on the page? Is our system capable of storing large amounts of images and displaying them properly?
  • Product affinity: We need to specify a key that will help the user identify related products (buy a combination, you'll like...) and possibly increase their cart. Where and how will we determine the affinity and equip images with this information?

TEAM: don't hire businesses, hire people

The design of the team for the launch of the new ecommerce platform depends on the complexity of the project. In the case of smaller projects, the project sponsor is usually also the project manager, but it needs a strong internal team, in which it must involve (at least in individual stages) all those involved in products and are familiar with back-end processes. In addition to the implementation agency, the ERP provider should also be included, because the data for ecommerce (prices, invoices, shipments...) are derived from it. We also need a visit to the website, which is why a media agency is among the key stakeholders of the project. Transparent and clear communication between all partners is important for successful implementation, usually through project leaders on a daily basis.

The "don't hire, hire people" principle applies when selecting the right contractors - request CMs and references from everyone who will work on the project, and see if they are certified to work with the technologies you will introduce and if they have sufficient knowledge and experience from comparable projects.

TECHNOLOGY: A selection of technology depends on your needs

There is plenty of options in the area of choosing the right technology, which way we can go. One of the criteria is the way we pay/buy individual technologies - what we actually buy and how we use it. The difference is, for example, if the solution runs in the cloud or on our own infrastructure, and we also need to think about how much platform customization and upgrades we want or perhaps plan for in the future, as sales grow and new markets open up, adding advanced and complex functionality.

Instead of looking for functionality in advance, ask yourself how certain functionality solves your problem before choosing a solution for your new online store. On a specific case, the provider should show you how their solution solves a particular problem that you have.

Define exclusion criteria that can be based on how much each of the proposed solutions is flexible, scalable, stable, and safe. The final decision will also depend on what stage of digital maturity you are at. For beginners, plaforms with simple online stores are more suitable, while digitally advanced companies will want flexible and hybrid solutions that can grow with them and support the growth of their business.

Originally published as MM Magazine, June 2021.

By Gorazd Planinc and Nataša Mithans