OPERATIONS & LOGISTICS | Build it and they will come

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10 essential tips for launching a successful e-commerce site

By Rob Stocks

Although Canadians are typically slow to adopt technology, it is becoming an indisputable necessity to have a robust e-commerce portal if you are a retailer, manufacturer or non-profit organization. And while it has never been easier to sell online with the proliferation of off-the-shelf solutions, the road to e-commerce success is can be filled with potholes, detours and frustration.

And marketers, working on behalf of their clients, face a bewildering array of platforms, plug-ins, and third-party services all dedicated to generating online revenue. Bringing all of these processes into alignment can be a complex undertaking. In ideaLEVER’s 18 years of e-commerce experience we have found that those who have the greatest success with online selling are those with greatest precision in planning ahead of their website build.

After a decade-and-a-half of online shopping, customers have high expectations for their online shopping experience. They want convenience, they want trust, and they want security. They want it on their computer, their tablet, and their phone. In short, they want the Amazon experience.

Your e-commerce site is a key part of your strategy (and has to enhance your reputation, reflect the quality of your products, services, or organization) and must match your traditional offline efforts. Managing a successful e-commerce operation requires a special set of skills and a whole new vocabulary. The days when you could simply launch a site to attract customers are long gone and consumers have an incredible range of choices from whom they buy or to whom they donate.

While you won’t have Amazon’s resources, you must produce a roadmap that will deliver an experience that is equal, if not better, than your competition. Your success will be determined months before you get your first order through careful planning. In an effort to help chart the course for online success we offer these 10 essential tips for launching a successful e-commerce site.

  1. Determine what your goals are.

Without goals you will never know if you are succeeding.  You can set goals for whatever makes the most sense for you: visitors, orders, total sales. A good target for an e-commerce site is to convert two percent of your visitors into customers. So if you want five orders a day, you are going to need 250 users a day, or 7,500 unique visitors a month.  If you are not getting that level of traffic now, you will need a budget to help you drive traffic or you will have to adjust your goals.

  1. Complement or cannibal?

How will e-commerce support your existing sales or fundraising channels? Despite massive growth, e-commerce is still only a small portion of total sales or funds raised. And often, online sales will cannibalize your existing offline sales. And this is not a bad thing if you do the math. Online retail is growing at 15 percent a year; retail might be growing a three percent a year. If you’re not cannibalizing your own in-store sales to some degree, then someone else is.

If you are selling through other channels (phone, mail-order, bricks and mortar) consider how the e-commerce site will help support those channels. Many shoppers use the web to pre-shop and still convert offline.

  1. Process evolution

Think about the cost and impact on existing operations and processes. A new e-commerce site will change your existing processes so all members of your staff will have to adjust. If you are currently doing direct mail or other campaigns, you now need to plan to make sure your landing pages, messages and offers are consistent. This is going to change how your current campaigns are rolled out.

  1. The cost of integration

What systems will your e-commerce site have to integrate with? You might be able to manage the logistics manually at the beginning, but as your site grows, you are going to need plan for the automation of many of your processes. If you are using multiple systems (fulfillment, accounting, point of sale, ERP, donor management) you need to investigate if, and how, they can all communicate.  If they can’t all talk together you may be forced to rebuild the entire site in the future.

  1. The measure of success

Measure your results. Direct Marketers excel at testing and tracking responses to campaigns and offers. Determine how your chosen platform will support the same sort of detailed tracking.  This could require advanced support for web tools like Google Analytics. This is not just site visits and unique visitors, but also keywords, A/B testing and, most importantly, conversion rates. The goal should always be incrementally improving the results of your website.

  1. Social engineering

Encourage and monitor social sharing: recommendations from friends and strangers have a huge impact on consumers. Encourage sharing with tools like AddThis and ShareThis which also provide excellent tracking tools to show you what people are sharing and how much additional traffic it is driving to your site. Knowing what people are engaging with can help you do more. Social media is a great way to connect with existing and potential customers for your e-commerce site. Your customers are already Tweeting, Instagraming, and Facebooking so you need to be too. Use tools like HootSuite to schedule your posts. This, of course, requires time and resources Budget accordingly.

  1. The marketing mix

Have a clear idea how your e-commerce site will fit into your overall marketing mix. It will require a great deal of resources (search-engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media, blogging). How much of your marketing budget will you re-allocate to online? How will your offline efforts support it?

  1. Customer acquisition

Unfortunately, if you build it they will not come. You need to have a viable plan and budget in place to drive traffic to your website. Determine who your customers are and have a clear idea how you are going to attract them online. This will likely be the single biggest ongoing cost to your operation. Pay-Per-Click ads on Google and Bing find customers with the intention to purchase. Facebook ads can be targeted to people who match your customers demographic and psychographic profiles.

  1. Device agnostic

Design your site for impact across all devices. Mobile has changed everything. Your site needs to be designed to be Responsive so it adapts to all of the different ways people use the internet. It needs to match your brand, your message and support your unique calls to action. Will you need a dedicated App (development costs of $75k to $300k or more) or will a mobile optimized site be able to do most of the heavy lifting?

  1. Work with experts

There are experts that can help you during all phases of the life cycle of your e-commerce website. Budget for a reputable consultant or company that can help you with the following: design, development, user experience, custom programming, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media, content marketing, direct marketing, fulfilment. If it’s not in your budget to hire these experts to do the work, at the very least hire them to consult on your strategy as this can save you significant time and money.

Rob Stocks is the founder and president of ideaLEVER Solutions, a BC-based web and e-commerce development company that serves clients across North America. For nearly 20 years, ideaLEVER has built partnerships with entrepreneurial organizations to grow their revenue with powerful and innovative online solutions.

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