ECommerce Replatforming: Part 2 – “I Don’t Believe in Luck, I Believe in Preparation”

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I Don’t Believe in Luck, I Believe in Preparation

In the first part of our series on ecommerce replatforming, we explored the signs, and potential concerns, that indicate it’s time to upgrade your ecommerce solution. Assuming you’ve reached the decision to move ahead, the next step on the journey is to prepare for the evaluation and selection of your ecommerce platform.

While creating a shortlist of potential options is one of the steps in this process, there are other, less evident aspects that every organization should also consider prior to starting their selection process. In this article, we’ll outline the steps you should take to prepare your organization so as to reach the best possible outcome when choosing your next ecommerce partner.

Preparing Your Organization:

Anytime you undertake a significant project impacting multiple areas of your business, it’s imperative to make sure your organization is on board and ready to support the effort. Without sufficient “buy-in” and the right team in place, many projects are doomed before they even start.

  • Executive Team Support – while it goes without saying that projects of this magnitude don’t occur without the CEO’s support (or initiation), that support must be conveyed to the rest of the executive management team. Not only must they understand that this is important to the CEO (and hence the company) but also that each member of the team must mirror that support and actively work to ensure the successful completion of the project. Too often, ecommerce replatforming projects get approved by the CEO and CFO without the explicit buy-in of other functional leaders including marketing, merchandising, IT, operations and/or customer service. The result can be a suboptimal solution at a higher cost and longer duration than expected.
  • Project Team – having the right leader and supporting team in place will be crucial to the project.
    • Project Leader – Your team leader should have an extensive knowledge of your business, your future ecommerce strategy, and an understanding of the interdependencies critical to the successful implementation of any ecommerce solution. They will need to coordinate the multitude of requests (sometimes conflicting) coming from throughout the organization, ascertain the potential impact to the business, and be able to successfully prioritize these opportunities. Part negotiator, visionary, strategist, and technologist, this is someone who can paint a picture while being mindful of the details.
    • Supporting Cast – just as ecommerce cuts across multiple areas of the company, the project team will need to be comprised of representatives from your organization’s marketing, merchandising, IT, operations, and customer service organizations. With a focus on the customer, these respective departments need to help shape the vision and requirements for your ecommerce business. Getting their input, and more importantly, their active participation in the planning of the project will ultimately lead to a better outcome. Initially, department heads should be apprised of, and help shape, the project’s objectives. Implementation efforts can be subsequently delegated to the appropriate individuals within those respective areas.

Project Vision:

It’s difficult to reach your destination without a roadmap. While it’s never easy to anticipate future business requirements, the longer your planning horizon the better the likelihood of being able to match your needs with the right partner. Some key aspects to consider include:

  • Growth – what kind of traffic, revenue, and order growth do you anticipate?
  • Brand expansion – will you be launching additional sub-brands? If so, will they be separate entities? Or, consolidated (one shopping cart) under a parent organization?
  • B2C, B2B, or both? – are you planning on adding B2B capabilities at some point down the road? What capabilities and/or feature sets would you need online to service this market?
  • Multichannel expansion – will you be expanding into retail? Do you need to share inventory, enable BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), or curbside pickup?
  • Customization – what is unique to my business? Do I need to offer product personalization? How will my merchandising requirements change?

Understanding, and being able to articulate, your ecommerce vision will be critical to your selection process.

Infrastructure Assessment:

Many companies today still underestimate the interdependency between their ecommerce platform and their existing IT infrastructure. Consequently, when they evaluate ecommerce platforms based on product features, they’re often disappointed to learn that they can’t actually utilize a particular feature due to an infrastructure shortcoming. In many cases, it’s a company’s ERP system that serves as the lowest common denominator, ultimately limiting the customer experience despite the purchase of a new ecommerce solution. To help avoid such disappointments, it’s best to assess your infrastructure capabilities before your selection process.

  • Integrations – what systems will your ecommerce solution need to integrate with? An ERP, OMS (Order Management System), WMS (Warehouse Management System), PIM (Product Information Management system), something else? Will these integrations be passing data in real-time? Or, at certain intervals via a batch loading protocol?
  • Data – Is your product information data in one location (e.g.: a PIM system) or is it in multiple locations? What attributes will you need for the website? For search refinement? For shipping?
  • Pricing – what system will be the “book of record”? Will prices be static or dynamic? Are there volume tiers? Do you utilize catalog-specific pricing? Customer-specific pricing?
  • Promotions – what type of promotions do you want to offer your customers? Can your ERP support those promotions? How does promotional web pricing get conveyed to your CRM system?

While there are inevitable hurdles in any ecommerce project, a good partner will help you identify innovative and resourceful solutions that can overcome any obstacles you might encounter.

Vendor Attributes:

Once you’ve taken an assessment of your internal readiness, the next step is to consider the type of partner you want to work with. Finding the right culture fit with your ecommerce partner is as important, if not more, than their technical capabilities. Questions to consider include:

  • Size – do you want a vendor with a large number of clients and resources? Or do you want a smaller partner where you can be a “big fish in a small pond”?
  • Private vs. Public – there pros and cons to both. Privately held companies don’t need to answer to the short-term whims of shareholders. Whereas publicly traded companies tend to have greater access to financial resources.
  • Software Vendor vs. Full-Service Solution: many ecommerce platforms today are sold by software vendors that rely on 3rd-party partners (or system integrators) to help implement the solution. This means the client first needs to decide what software to purchase and then choose which SI they want to implement their system. In this scenario, there can often be coordination and accountability conflicts between the software vendor and the SI. A full-service solution provider is one that not only sells the ecommerce technology but also provides the implementation support to get it up and running. It can ease the project management and coordination requirements due to having only one primary point of contact. However, the client typically does not have other implementation options outside of that provider.
  • Target Audience – does the vendor’s target audience match your company? Do they specialize in a particular vertical? Do they work with companies similar in size to yours?
  • Platform flexibility – is their solution designed to work across the largest possible audience or can it be customized to meet the needs of your particular business? If it can be customized, how difficult is it to do that? Will customizing your solution take you off the upgrade path?

Vendor Identification (Short List):

Lastly, it’s time to create a short list of potential vendors for your selection process. The answers to the questions discussed above should help guide and inform your list selection. To get started, and help develop your target list, consider the following options:

  • 3rd-party review sites & recommendations – there are numerous options out there but use discretion. Some of these recommendations may be influenced by marketing support dollars.
  • Agency/Partner Recommendations – outside marketing, analytics, and technology partners can potentially offer valuable insights based on feedback from their clients.
  • Word-of-mouth – industry contacts can be a valuable source of first-hand information.
  • Evaluating other websites – tools like builtwith.com can help identify the underlying technologies used by your competitors or other, best-in-class, ecommerce providers.

In Part 3 of our series on ecommerce replatforming, we’ll explore the selection process and the steps you should take for finding that perfect partner.

* Source: Bobby Knight, Former Indiana University Men’s Basketball Coach