What does it take for your business to be an ecommerce leader? Digital Planet CEO Neil Watson takes us through what he has learned over the years about achieving sustainable ecommerce success.
Ecommerce opportunity is everywhere but achieving lasting success is altogether more difficult. At Digital Planet, we’ve experienced both sides of the ecommerce coin. Having started out as an online retailer, we’ve faced the many challenges associated with starting and maintaining an ecommerce platform: sales, customer service, logistics, returns and the overall economics of the service.
With over 15 years in the ecommerce space, we’ve seen it all when it comes to online retail. This has provided us with valuable insights in terms of what works and what doesn’t, enabling us to guide others on the journey to ecommerce success. Here are our five golden rules to follow:
Do make ecommerce part of your core business
Companies need to treat ecommerce as an additional sales channel. However, this only works if you have a champion and it becomes part of the commercial part of the business. Giving the CFO or marketing manager control of the ecommerce side of your strategy will likely result in it being side-lined in favour of the brick and mortar stores.
There’s also the danger that the store side will see ecommerce as competitive. In order to buy into ecommerce, the stores must see it as enhancing their business and feel incentivised to drive online traffic.
We had a retailer who treated ecommerce as another store with its own P&L. It never worked. Ecommerce takes time to manifest ROI, so it’s best to take a long-term view. If your ecommerce platform is meant to pay for itself from the beginning, it will never gain the momentum it needs to deliver its full value.
Do plan thoroughly…but know it’s going to change
Planning is critical to ecommerce success. Before you hire a single developer, you should consider what your online value proposition is and bring in experts to advise accordingly. Our most successful roll-outs are with customers who know what they're trying to achieve and build their platforms around that.
Having said that, expect your initial strategy to change. Once you're in the market, you need a strategy that can adapt and morph as you learn more about how your customers behave and what they actually want.
Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come
Building a great online platform is important, but it’s also one of the easier aspects of the ecommerce journey. People first have to know about your site. Directing customers to that beautifully designed website you’ve just created and keeping them interested in what you have to offer is what determines its success.
It's really important to market heavily in the beginning to drive traffic to your site and make sure you build a critical mass. Market early and market hard or you'll never get over the hump where ecommerce starts paying for itself.
Once you have the marketing down, ensure your operations are in place. There are many economies of scale in ecommerce. It doesn’t matter whether you have one or 1-million customers, the work to maintain the products and the technology is the same. The only thing that needs to scale is the operations side of the business. Your marketing, customer service, order management, warehousing and logistics must all be able to keep up with your customers’ demands.
Do communicate with customers
There’s nothing worse for customers than feeling as if they have lost control of their orders. This is especially important in South Africa where consumers are not as trusting as they are in other countries. Always keep your customers updated on what’s going on with their orders, as this builds trust and loyalty.
The highest customer satisfaction scores we have ever achieved was when we implemented a mobile order management system for a client. When a consumer ordered a product from our client, the consumer was sent an SMS link to an order management system. There, they could manage their updates, communicate with the client, update delivery details and get the latest information on their orders.
Don’t fall into the trap of sending through pointless information, however. The key is to communicate the right amount of information at the right level so that customers trust that you're looking after their orders and it doesn't feel like spam. Letting the customer feel as if they have control of their order is a key to making them feel good about your store.
Do innovate and then innovate some more
When we started out as an online retailer, the ecommerce landscape was practically non-existent. As the years passed and the landscape matured, we continually adapted our strategy and practices. This model of consistent self-improvement is essential for keeping ahead of the competition.
Ecommerce is always changing. It's amazing how many insights you can get from seeing how people behave on your site. You should be testing all the time, trying new things and making changes to your site. If you're not changing, you're losing an opportunity. We have seen cases where some simple A/B testing on checkout, can lead to up to 20% improvement on closing the sale.
Online retail is set to explode over the next few years, and it’s fast becoming mandatory for companies to have strong digital strategies in place in order to remain competitive. As ecommerce becomes more entrenched in South African society, we’ll see the above rules separate the leaders from the rest.