3 Major Development Challenges in eCommerce Projects

"So, how long will that take?”

It seems like an innocuous question. But this is usually one of the first questions on our clients’ minds when discussing a new eCommerce build. They’re eager to launch, after all, and they’re hungry for details as their new website vision is brought to life.

Unfortunately, the "how long" question is more complicated than it sounds. Countless issues can speed up—or impede—the progress of an eCommerce build, and before we have a chance to review everything in-depth, it's hard to provide estimates.

Of course, not every issue that pops up will wreck a project timetable, but some problems are more pervasive than others. And as developers, we've seen three issues, in particular, creep their way into most eCommerce projects. And the longer these details get put off or pushed out, the more problems they’ll cause. Let’s review these issues and offer some tips to help you stay one step ahead.

1. Front End Implementation

Your biggest challenge will involve dealing with front end implementation issues, specifically related to design.

In most builds, the engineering side of things comes first. You'll work with your eCommerce partner to discuss which integrations and features to include, which tends to be a black and white process. It's easy to map out the concrete features and deliver those features on schedule. However, the problems appear when design enters the picture.

Design is far more subjective than engineering, and as such, it’s often responsible for the majority of project delays. 

This makes sense when you consider how abstract front end design can be. It’s hard to visualize how different site elements, layouts, or page elements will look until you see them for yourself, and sometimes, those elements don’t work together in the way you expect.

Clients often want to see multiple iterations of a project before continuing, which can slow project progress—but this isn't the most significant concern here. A few retooled layouts won't significantly delay your project. The bigger issue comes when new stakeholders enter the equation late-stage and start requesting changes to an in-progress build.

This type of late-stage feedback can throw a huge monkey wrench into the process. Design touches almost every area of the front end build, and it’s hard to make global design tweaks in isolation. Requests beyond the initial design scope will substantially slow the project timetable.

Stay on Track:

Feedback is essential to the process, of course, but its timing is important as well.

  • Decide early on who will be responsible for project management, design approvals, and other decisions from the very beginning of the build. 

  • Think about what you're looking for, and what type of relationship you have with your eCommerce provider. (As in, are they soliciting your opinion with their feedback? Or, are they offering a suggestion for the best way forward?)

  • Review each design change request and consider its impact on both the success of the project and the timeline before moving forward with it. Are you willing to pay the potential cost?

  • Provide feedback in a timely manner to keep things on schedule!

2. Data Imports

In eCommerce projects, there's almost always data to migrate from one system to another. It could mean moving data from your old website to a new one, moving old financial data into a better accounting system, and so on. The data migration process is integral to eCommerce, yet it represents a considerable challenge for project management.

Just like design, every company’s data is unique. There's no one-size-fits-all solution that can be applied to a data migration just like there's no template that can give you the front end design of your dreams. And to complicate matters further, all of this data will need to be parsed, organized, and translated into whatever format your new eCommerce platform needs.

And in most cases, there are only a few people at each company who really know what data is relevant, how to display it, and where it all lives across systems. This adds to the complexity, as a data migration is the perfect time to clean your system of old, unnecessary data while preserving the more valuable artifact data.

Stay on Track:

Each of these complexities can slow down the project timetable, but if you approach the data import with a plan, you can minimize delays.

  • Take stock of your data and get a handle on where you’re at. Start by identifying from where all the data is coming in terms of both internal and external systems.

  • Establish a point person who’s familiar with your data streams to help coordinate the import.

  • Work with your eCommerce partner to establish expectations for the import. How long should it take? What does the development team need from us?

  • Is there any data to clean up? To archive? To bring to a new system?

  • Look at the project plan and deliver this data to your developers, giving them enough time to move things over and make sure things are updated before launch.

Above all, prepare for this process to take some time. Data imports are a crucial part of an eCommerce project and they’re one of the more complex aspects to plan out.

3. Integrations

These days, every eCommerce site has a few third-party tools or services that will need to be connected. These could be order processing platforms, internal systems for shipping, analytics, your accounting platform, or any other third-party platform. And likely, each of these integrations are customized to your business’s unique system. From a feature perspective, this is great—but from a migration standpoint, this presents challenges.

eCommerce integrators will need to know which services are involved, how they’re connected to one another, and what workflows will be necessary to bring them into the new system. It seems small in scope, but this area can present a slew of new challenges and unexpected scenarios that will slow down a project build.

If the eCommerce project involves a move to a headless commerce platform or modern framework, the opportunity to update integrations and add new API-based connections means there’s more planning required.

And when not properly accounted for, these integrations may be forgotten until the build has already started - creating a whole new set of problems down the road.

Stay on Track:

Like our other eCommerce challenges, getting around integration issues comes down to preparation. Think big-picture, here, and identify all integrations early in the process.

  • Which integrations exist, and what can we provide to help facilitate these connections?

  • Are there any integrations they can knock out early? 

  • Which integrations will be longer-term projects that should we start ASAP?

  • Line out everything up-front on both the client and integrator side. 

  • Establish deadlines for these decisions, and commit to this schedule.

  • Provide everything your development team needs to run with the project.

Plan to Avoid eCommerce Challenges

You may notice a recurrent theme in these solutions—proper planning of your eCommerce build will go a long way in avoiding problems. Of course, it’s not always possible to account for every issue that may arise, but by taking a methodical approach to pre-build planning and ongoing communication with your provider, you can get ahead of as many issues as possible. This is the simplest way to ensure that your eCommerce project goes off without a hitch.

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