EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post is the sixth in a continuing series. If you’re considering an eCommerce project at your company, you’ll want to watch this space. The posts in this series – and the link to resources at the end of each post – will help you complete some vital groundwork and address important questions that will save you time, work, and money. We hope you enjoy them and find them useful.
Welcome to the sixth post in our “Seven Keys to a Successful eCommerce Launch” series! If you’ve been with us since the beginning, you know that we’ve already covered a lot of material. So far, we’ve discussed planning your eCommerce project, establishing your company’s specific marketing objectives, addressing operational objectives, determining internal resources and vendors, and dealing with timeline and budgeting tasks. Many of you may have already downloaded our free eCommerce Planning Template and completed the first five tabs of that document, populating them with your own information.
In each of our previous blog posts, we’ve been talking about all of the things that need to happen before your eCommerce launch actually takes place. Today, we’re switching gears in a big way – it’s time to talk implementation! It’s a big subject, of course, so as we typically do here at ten24, we’re breaking it down into smaller sub-topics. Here’s exactly what we’ll be covering:
- Understanding the typical implementation process
- Dealing with “unknown unknowns”
- Recognizing the value of communication
Understanding the typical implementation process
No matter what your company’s size or industry focus, the eCommerce implementation process is always the same. It begins with a plan and wireframes. In this first step, you’ll nail down the specifics around technical areas. You’ll also agree on your overall execution plan, which will identify and assign tasks. The planning and wireframe stage focuses on the journey your customers will take in their eCommerce interactions with you. By the time you complete this stage, you’ll know exactly what your webpages should look like, how many there will be, what kinds of information and functionality they’ll contain, and who will be doing the work to bring these pages to life.
Next, it’s time to get into design – you’ll take those wireframes and flesh them out. (Think of it as going from a black-and-white television to a color one.) The result of the design work will be screen-based layouts of functionality for every single customer touch-point of your eCommerce initiative. Whether your website is allowing people to book services, search databases, buy products, sign up for events, or purchase subscriptions (or any combination of these), every interaction your customer has with you online will be thoroughly designed. At the end of this stage, you’ll have a website that is almost ready to be launched.
You’ll note that we said “almost” – that’s because you need to implement what you’ve just finished working so hard to create. This is the stage where you will go through your website page by page, as if you were an actual customer on the other end. You’ll need to make sure everything works exactly the way you want it to. It probably won’t, of course – at least not right away. That’s why you’ll have to keep detailed notes on what you find as you go through each page implementation.
You’ve probably guessed the final stage in the implementation process: testing and launching. With your detailed notes in hand from the previous step, you’ll perform all necessary fixes and enhancements. Now it’s time to run those page-by-page tests again. When the tests are all clear, you’ll launch your website (and probably have a well-deserved celebration). Be sure to run your own live transactions from start to finish, including all tasks that have anything to do with order processing.
Dealing with “unknown unknowns”
In a perfect world, your eCommerce project will run smoothly from start to finish, and your implementation will take place without even the smallest hiccup. Sadly, the world is not perfect. Sometimes, things happen over which you have no control. You might not even know what those “things” are. We like to call them the “unknown unknowns.” Here’s how to deal with them.
First, consider your initial response. How serious is the issue you’re dealing with? Identify exactly what you’re up against and determine which parts of your eCommerce project are impacted. With this information in hand, you’re ready to take action.
Come up with your resolution options. There is always more than one way to fix a problem. With your team, sit down and figure out exactly which options you can use to solve the issue you’re facing. Consider and write down the impacts – both positive and negative – of each option.
Commit to resolution selection. Decide which option is the best for your situation, and then get the appropriate buy-in and sign-off from all relevant stakeholders. Update your overall eCommerce plan so that it reflects the actions you’ve taken, and be sure to update any impacted timelines, budgets, or staffing plans.
Identify any necessary vendor input. Maybe your unknown unknowns can be handled easily by your own staff. If so, that’s great! But what if you need some outside help from a vendor? Make sure that you’re relying on partners who have your organization’s best interests in mind. Don’t make the mistake of working with someone who tries to convince you to do what is easiest for them. As the legendary Beverly Sills once said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
Recognizing the value of communication
We’ve talked about the implementation process itself and what to do when you encounter problems. A hallmark of any successful eCommerce project is timely, clear, and effective communication. Being able to communicate well throughout your eCommerce implementation is vital. Are you doing the best you possibly can in this area? Here are some ideas and strategies that work well with different audiences:
- Your vendors. To keep in touch with this audience, consider setting up weekly status phone calls, or take advantage of group messaging and transparent task-management software apps.
- Your company’s executives. This group responds well to weekly high-level reports and status updates. Subjects might include timelines, cost adjustments, major milestone achievements, and barriers to progress.
- Your internal teams. Daily stand-ups and weekly progress reports are a terrific way to keep the communication lines open among your personnel who are performing the actual implementation and doing all of the day-to-day work.
As you’ve done with all of the previous blog posts in this series, go to Tab 6 (titled “Implementation”) in your eCommerce Planning Template. This planning worksheet will give you a detailed list of features and functionality that are typically part of an eCommerce project. Use this list to make sure you don't miss any critical requirements during your planning phase.
Congratulations – you are almost at the finish line! There’s only one more blog post to go in this series. We’ll be tackling post-launch concerns and activities in our final installment. In the meantime, please share your comments and questions about this blog post with us!