This article is aimed for companies doing e-commerce today - companies who need to change focus to be more digital and prioritize e-business for growth or business transformation, like markets moving online or going global. It's written in cooperation with my talented colleagues at Kruso.
Your boss has been reading a bestseller about digital transformation and what to do to win the e-commerce era. The board have decided to slightly increase budget to marketing and/or IT, to implement e-commerce or expand your existing, partly custom developed e-commerce platform to scale into new markets. The mantra is; “Get started, see what happens and adjust while running”.
This leaves the e-commerce manager with some sort of executive buy-in, a change of strategy, and an order to execute. If this was in the wild nature it would be time to find your Swiss knife to survive, so what do you do behind your desk?
I have collected some survival tips that my colleagues and I believe are essential to succeed as an e-commerce manager. It’s not based on what we’ve read in books or heard on conferences but based on our experience from several projects for customers in Scandinavia.
1. Preparation, or not
Before the battle you should always be prepared, but… sometimes we see organizations turn themselves inside out in their own preparation. This is often a waste of time and internal resources. Some key pillars need to be settled and you have some corner flags, but pulling a long internally developed e-commerce strategy is not efficient. What e-commerce projects needs is executive buy-in. The top management need to be willing to accept that business is going to change, old qualities may not work online, construction of customer segments and their buying habits are moving into other buying journey on digital devices.
2. Be agile
Once upon a time (not long ago) a structured, rigid, and fairly simple e-commerce site was to prefer. But as time change, people change – and so does the customers’ demands. An explosion in touchpoints and possibilities has increased the demand for a more agile and flexible e-commerce platform. Defining your customers as one or a few specific types and developing a system for these exact types will no longer be enough to keep up, as these types will continuously change and evolve. Therefore, your approach and your e-commerce platform must do the same. An agile approach and a constant ambition to keep developing your platform is key. Make sure your e-commerce platform lets you be agile, it should be easy to extend and update. Episerver is a role model with their bi-weekly updates for all their products.
3. Data is King. Bad data quality - not so much
You might need to accept that your product data and digital assets will never be prepared enough. You always need to be aware of the risk for bad data, and a Data Quality Assessment is always something you need to perform in one way or another. It can be everything from a few samples to data wash programs. In the e-commerce project, you need so much data from multiple sources, that being afraid for data will let you lose focus on everything what matters. You will often see other parts of your business involved in enriching the data you use (e.g. ERP and CRM data, stock, shipping and payment data, etc.). Often there is also a PIM system being owned by the e-commerce manager. With all these sources, data quality must be an ongoing mantra for the project and not a one-time thing. Data will be developed, merged, mined, and cleaned as you implement and maintain your e-commerce solution. In the beginning of a project a mapping of architecture and data flow is always mandatory for an overview, but it must never be locked or static. Architecture and how the data is shared, spread, pushed, and pulled between systems is something being modelized during the process. Accept agile data management and you will be able to sleep at night.
4. Seek help
E-commerce is not something you can do overnight. Organizations often assume they can use the existing staff and just change what people do today into e-business tomorrow. Sometimes it will work, but sometimes it is a dead end. An organization is taking a huge risk by transforming offline marketers into digital. Therefore, an advice is always to seek help. Attract a board member with experience from a similar e-commerce project, and/or hire an external specialist advisor. Getting an experienced e-commerce manager or even a team of digital marketers is a great start. The help will know e-commerce is not a project, but an ongoing movement within your organization and your way of transforming your business into digital. Therefore, the help cannot be onetime advisory, reports, or an external consultant on a fixed amount of hours.
5. E-commerce platforms are here to help, but complex stuff is complex
E-commerce is a discipline in digital and you need to take it seriously. The e-commerce platform is built to support your business delivering a smooth online experience. See the e-commerce platform as the overall hub that let data flow through, be enriched, be combined, or be stored, and that combine content and commerce in a contextual marketing experience. A well selected e-commerce platform will be able to be modelized into your organizations exact demands and be flexible enough to continue supporting new requirements and features down the line. To pick the right e-commerce platform we always advise to take an assessment and not only choose based on earlier experience. This will be a central part of your infrastructure and not all e-commerce platforms work for any case, whether the brand is big and famous or new and upcoming. Once you have your platform in place it is important that you really know the features and functionality. We've seen many clients underutilize their platform, a pure waste of a sometimes large investment. We think Episerver stands out when it comes to providing manuals, training courses, and support. If that isn't enough there is a large friendly online community at world.episerver.com.
To sum it up; You need to be brave, you need to dare, there will be a lot of uncertainties. You probably need to learn a lot. Seek help from someone experienced, that is also brave and will dare to challenge both you and your organization.