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Developing an ecommerce strategy

Get your business ready for ecommerce

It takes a significant amount of preparation to get your business ready for e-commerce. The most important first-step is to create a comprehensive ecommerce strategy that clearly outlines what your goals are and how you will achieve them.

Below we cover a few essential areas of consideration to help you prepare a comprehensive e-commerce strategy document prior to launching an online store or ordering system.

Why do you need an e-commerce strategy?

An online store or ordering system is a tool. It's a bit like a hammer: Having a hammer in the toolbox does not get you any nails in the wall. But you can actively use it to put nails in the wall. Same with an online ordering system. It does not go out knocking on people's doors selling your products and services for you. Rather, it is a tool that you can actively use to sell your products and services. You can scale your sales quite dramatically if you use it right.

So how do you use an online store right? That's where a good and well executed e-commerce strategy comes in. Read on.

What are you trying to achieve?

There can be many diverse reasons for entering into e-commerce. An online store may be your sole sales channel, or it may be one part of a bigger multi-channel or omni-channel strategy. Either way, opening an online channel will be a means to achieving an objective.

How will an online channel help you achieve your objectives?

So, what are you trying to achieve? Solve a problem? Increase sales? Save costs? Expand your catalogue? Convert manual sales or tele sales to online sales (aka. drive-to-web)? Offer better service? Take over the world? How will an online channel help you achieve your objectives?

You need to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve, and how. Write it down. Both the overall objectives, and broken down into parts. This is a fundamental phase of your planning and what you write down will help guide the rest of your e-commerce strategy. More on this later.

How ready is your business?

Opening an online store is an integral part of your business, not just a side project. It often carries a considerable investment which needs to be returned. It is easy to underestimate the preparation required for ensuring realisation of this return. An online store is never a goal in itself but forms part of a strategy to achieve a goal.

Is your business ready? Do you need to change existing business processes or implement new ones to accommodate online sales? Can you handle a sudden increase in product throughput? Have you considered, and planned for, logistical challenges? Do you have enough products in stock? How quickly can you have new stock delivered (avoid the ‘Look at our new shop, we have nothing in stock’ fiasco)? Have you arranged for daily courier pickup? Do you have enough packaging material? Can you print address labels?

Do you have a written policy for product returns, exchanges and refunds? Are you prepared for handling this? Have you briefed your staff on this? Are your legal documents prepared? Website terms of use, product purchase policy, product return and refund policy, credit policy, shipping policy, etc. Make sure these documents are cleared off with your legal department prior to launch. These documents should be ready for publishing on the website.

Even the simplest problems (like not being able to print address labels) can cause major disruptions once orders start coming in. You need to be prepared and have contingency plans in place.

What’s your strategic competitive advantage?

You also need to be clear about your strategic competitive advantage online, which may very well be completely different from your offline strategic competitive advantage. You may be the only shop in town to offer certain products, but that will most likely not be your advantage online. Is your competitive advantage that you have the best prices, best phone support, best delivery times or best refund policy etc.? Whatever your point of advantage is, online competitors will try to beat it from day one. How do you maintain and promote your point of strategic competitive advantage? These are extremely important ongoing questions.

Formulate an e-commerce strategy

As discussed above, the first part of your e-commerce strategy sets out your overall objectives and it breaks this down into smaller more tangible goals. Your e-commerce strategy also describes your strategic advantage, as mentioned above, plus any other considerations which will affect how you do business online. The questions we have mentioned so far all tie in to your e-commerce strategy and should be written down as part of it. Your e-commerce strategy depends on what exactly you are trying to achieve. Typically it will consist of multiple strategies that all tie together to achieve your objectives.

Let’s take the case of the ‘We want to increase sales’ objective. If your e-commerce strategy consists of ‘let’s open an online store’ then you will not succeed. Simply opening an online store does not increase sales! So how do you achieve your objective of increasing sales?

We advise clients to implement an e-commerce strategy that we call ‘The 3 pillars of e-commerce’. It divides the actionable part of your strategy into 3 parts:

  • Pillar 1: Create and increase online customers.
  • Pillar 2: Maximise number and frequency of orders per customer.
  • Pillar 3: Maximise order value of each order.

Each pillar is fundamental in creating a successful e-commerce store, and each pillar requires careful planning of long-term initiatives and implementation. It is necessary to carefully formulate your strategy for each pillar, including which tools to use, frequency of using these tools, budgets, expected results, and careful evaluation. Each pillar requires active involvement by your business, in particular your marketing department, and each requires your software solution to provide necessary tools. Talk to your e-commerce provider, make sure it does.

Different types of e-commerce strategy will be required for different objectives, but the principle is the same: A successful return on investment requires careful planning, implementation and evaluation of your e-commerce strategy. You will fail without this. We have seen it before.

Engage professional advice

We offer a consultancy service to help you asses your e-commerce readiness. We will sit down with you for a discussion of some of the points outlined above in order to help evaluate the right e-commerce strategy for your business and help you prepare a plan for how to achieve it.

The discussion will highlight what you need to work on, establish your goals and help set out a roadmap. After a few hours of discussion, you will have the contours of your e-commerce strategy with all the advice that we can give you based on our deep experience in helping businesses getting ready for e-commerce.

This service is not tied into our own e-commerce services and can be super helpful even if you are using a different provider for your e-commerce platform. Get in touch to get started.