IDENTIFYING THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY FOR YOUR ECOMMERCE BUSINESS
Aspiration for growth in online sales, international expansion and delivery of an enhanced customer experience are the primary drivers for changing and upgrading technology. Businesses who invest in agile, responsive and well-planned systems as part of their overall strategy will find themselves ahead of competitors using outdated and inflexible systems that don’t allow them to respond to market forces.
Growth and scale
As eCommerce continues to grow at pace, the underlying technology supporting each stage of the consumer journey needs to scale accordingly. A significant rise in website traffic and customer orders, particularly during peak trading periods, may reveal weaknesses in eCommerce technology, which are difficult to resolve with existing systems. High end eCommerce platforms have a number of deployment strategies proven to work at scale, but this is less likely to be the case for medium and small sized businesses who are looking to carve out a profitable online presence.
As eCommerce expands, the number of retail business users also grows. Ecommerce technology needs to continually evolve to keep place with both the expectations of consumers and the teams that manage systems and processes underpinning the business.
The search for growth takes many retailers beyond their home country, and online retailers have been particularly adept at growing significant overseas sales. The change in trading rules between the UK and the EU post Brexit have undoubtably caused turbulence for both retailer and consumers, but businesses who have actively sought ways to mitigate the risk have created a key differentiator between their competitors and fostered loyalty with customers.
New technology plays a key role in supporting businesses who are eager to realise international expansion. Examples include country specific merchandising, tax and duty management, stock forwarding, product data translation, additional payment methods and fraud prevention, currency conversion and financial accounting. In addition, technology must be tested for performance and availability in overseas territories, and support a myriad of different consumer behaviours.
Without customers, an eCommerce store is just a static website that will relieve a business of its enthusiasm and money at an equal pace. A well-executed marketing campaign and competitively priced product range will be rendered ineffective and superfluous if the customer experience is not able to deliver revenue. Consumers expect (and rightly so) a visit to an eCommerce store to fill them with confidence, generate excitement and a willingness to spend.
The volume of customer journeys that start and end on mobile is increasing annually and it is critical that an eCommerce store is able to creatively adapt its experience and flex between browsing platforms, together with its ability to cross-promote across different mediums in order to allow consumers to checkout on their preferred terms.
The drive to provide a seamless omni-channel experience for customers is a challenge for retailers with outdated technology. Weaknesses include an absence of integrations between online stores, retail units, and third-party software facilitating services from sales and marketing through to order management, stock control, logistics and accounting. Online functions such as responsive websites, geo-location services, cross-channel acquisition, on-site personalisation, and tailored marketing communications are often missing or poorly developed.
APPROACHES TO IMPROVING ECOMMERCE TECHNOLOGY
Once an online retailer has decided to review its technology, there are three main options to consider. Each comes with its own benefits and disadvantages, and retailers need to spend time deciding on the best strategy. It is often at this point that a retailer will engage a specialist consultancy to help with the eCommerce technology strategy and identify the right solutions for their business.
1 Improving existing platforms
Updating existing technology is often the lowest cost and least disruptive of the options. It can often be handled by the existing team and is the fastest route to improving functionality. However, over time, customisations added to commercial packages and home-grown systems tend to become slower to implement, more complex to integrate, and harder to support, particularly if applied in isolation from a long-term strategy. However, there comes a point when the existing technology is unable to further adapt, and the system has reached is full operating potential. At this point, a business is faced with disheartening reality that they are unable to keep pace with eCommerce evolution. At some point in the near future they will be unable to take advantage of systems that allow them to realise their true potential.
2 Bolt-on specialist technology
When functional weaknesses are concentrated in few areas, it can make sense to implement a specialist technology package. For example, adding a strong search engine might improve search and on-site merchandising, and avoid the need to change the core eCommerce platform. If eCommerce performance is being reduced through lack of consistent and timely product data, implementing product data process changes alongside a PIM (Product Information Management) solution may be the answer.
There are many types of packages and for each one there are a large number of competing vendors. Implementing a specialist technology solution is many times easier than replacing the core eCommerce platform, and the work will not be wasted if the eCommerce platform is upgraded at a later date.
3 Replace the core eCommerce platform
When improvements in technology are required across the board, or when business growth indicates future scale will be difficult to support, the core eCommerce platform will need to be replaced.
The cost, time required, and risk of disruption associated with this is significant, but so is the improved business performance achieved by using a leading platform. Although many of the major packages may look similar, each has significant advantages, which need to be understood in order to make the right choice.
UNDERSTANDING THE RIGHT FIT
An eCommerce platform, while a significant investment in its own right, is not sufficient to run most retail operations. There are 100’s of additional types of software packages which typically integrate with eCommerce platforms. For each of these types there can be dozens of software vendors and service providers. No retailer will need all every additional solution, but it can be a challenge to work out which ones are required, which are optional, and which are not needed or already included in other systems.
Some of the larger additional solutions include:
PIM (Product Information Management) solutions provide the means to standardise and formalise the process of capturing product data and enriching it ready for the web. Some have tools to enable product translations to be entered and managed. Some provide supplier portal features to enable a retailer’s suppliers to load or key in data for their product, in some cases extending to stock and price information.
Shipping and fulfilment solutions provide a mechanism, that allows retailers to integrate directly with carriers to make the shipping & logistics experience much smoother. This is crucial for businesses who are looking to increase sales whilst preventing inevitable bottlenecks during distribution.
Search engines optimise the on-site search and navigation experience and give business users tools to manage synonyms, ranking algorithms, on-site merchandising slots, navigation bars and landing pages. Your customers have taken the time to visit your eCommerce store, so make it as easy as possible for them to find the right products.
User generated content is growing rapidly, as consumers are looking to read about authentic user experiences as opposed to relying on carefully curated brand marketing to inform their decisions. The ubiquity of social media allows brands to harness the power of peer-to-peer recommendations to increase product authority and alleviate barriers to conversion.
Integrated, cross-channel marketing has been adopted by those online businesses who want to create strong engagement with their audience. The changes to the way social media platforms can track your behaviours and profile your shopping habits has been limited by the advent of changes brought in by Apple. It is therefore necessary for brands to be able to communicate with their customers using a myriad of different platforms, and to continually test to ascertain the effectiveness of each.
IN HOUSE OR EXTERNAL IMPLEMENTATION?
The implementation team has a major bearing on the project’s cost, duration and quality. There are three main choices:
The in-house team
This team, which may be supplemented by contractors with specific platform knowledge, is normally the lowest cost (if all goes well) and provides a ready-made team for ongoing support. However, if a team lacks experience with the technology, it may show up in poorly executed integrations which are difficult to fix, upgrade and scale.
External large systems integrator
This team makes most sense when there is an existing relationship in place. They already know the retailer’s business and systems, bring change management and programme management skills, can ramp up quickly for a big project, and provide hosting and post implementation application maintenance services. Whilst the benefits of using a large team are clear, the costs can be prohibitively expensive for all but the largest of international retailers.
External small specialist integrator
A small team, with deep skills in a specific technology, is the natural choice when the retailer prioritises agility of delivery and can match this with rapid internal decision making. A carefully selected specialist integrator will typically produce the highest quality results the shortest amount of time, and for a cost that delivers a greater ROI than a business would expect to get in-house or with a large agency. This is absolutely where VUMO Digital sit!
In the eCommerce world, technology choices are not simple and have long term implications on business performance. The fiercely competitive environment and the high expectations of customers require a functional, flexible and scalable solution. Choosing the right solutions, and implementing them well, is a great source of competitive advantage for retailers of all sizes.
ABOUT VUMO DIGITAL
We live and breathe eCommerce, and have done for the last 15 years, but that’s why we’re continually breaking new ground to adopt innovation and deliver systems that are optimised for each business that we work with.
By focusing on the entire eCommerce journey from the outset, we’re able to help you remove barriers to growth, deliver optimised solutions and create eCommerce experiences that will be loved not just by customers, but by teams, too.
We provide targeted support to help clients understand the market forces affecting their eCommerce business.
Through detailed analysis, we help clients with a comprehensive understanding of their current position and identify the barriers that need to be removed to enable strong growth, longevity and brand capital.
If you would like to meet us for an exploratory discussion of your eCommerce technology requirements, please get in touch.