Imagine travelling not all that far back in time – let's say just to the days of Windows 95.
If you told a casual AOL or Earthlink user that in just a few short years you'd be able to buy virtually anything in a virtual store, including underwear, movies, stocks, toilet paper, cars, airline tickets, and even something called cryptocurrency, they'd probably think you were crazy.
But as the upsurge in online shopping driven by Covid-19 has shown us, the sky's the limit when it comes to e-commerce business. Everybody from plumbing supply shops to psychotherapists is hawking their wares online via an e-commerce website.
The business model has changed for millions of entrepreneurs. Stripped of the constraints of locality and real-world advertising, companies are developing e-commerce development plans and reaching out to customers on the other side of the world who are willing to part with their dollars, yen, rupees, and yuan.
And the people implementing these kinds of business models are not wrong to pursue potential customers via e-commerce: according to projections, in 2021, online e-commerce platforms will generate £3.28 trillion ($4.5 trillion) globally.
Thinking Strategically About E-Commerce
Even the most humble mom-and-pop company is likely to have some kind of web presence and online ordering system these days. But the vast majority of businesses are not taking full advantage by crafting an e-commerce development plan specific to their needs.
It's one thing to buy a domain name and slap a basic ordering page and a payment gateway on your site. It's quite another to fully develop a strategy – a business plan to go with an e-commerce platform that suits your company's unique needs.
We'll talk about what goes into creating an e-commerce development plan, project management methodologies, the processes of developing an e-commerce platform, outsourcing versus in-house design, and creating the best online store user experience.
Finally, we'll look at what you'll need to do post-project in terms of digital marketing, search engine optimisation, marketing on social media, and more in order to ensure the success of your store.
Project Development Methodologies
The development process for an e-commerce business plan might be one of the most important aspects of building an e-commerce website. The choices you make at this stage will affect everything down the road.
Website development is a tech-heavy, jargon-heavy, complex set of interlocking processes performed by a team of highly skilled developers, so it's not fully explainable in this limited space.
However, we can talk about a framework by which you can approach the creation of your e-commerce development plan to ensure that every part of your current organisation has some input. You'll need to integrate all the functions of an e-commerce website with your current business, including:
Organisational Structure – Identify any organisational changes or challenges adding an e-commerce platform might cause your current operation.
Sales and Marketing – You'll want to examine how integrating a digital sales platform into your current sales functions will work best.
IT – A robust digital sales platform often requires tech upgrades in software, hardware, and even personnel.
Supply Chain – Your team should thoroughly review and assess your current supply chain, identifying potential soft spots in completing digital orders.
The Process of Creating an E-commerce Development Plan
Now we get down to the nuts and bolts of what exactly goes into crafting an e-commerce business plan. Here's a rough blueprint:
Analysis of the Competition – First, turn a dispassionate spotlight on your competitors. By identifying their strengths and weaknesses, you can gain a new perspective on your own business and develop some ideas for how to optimise what's already working and eliminate what's not.
List of Features – This is the time to figure out exactly what features you want on your new platform or e-commerce website with an eye toward how they'll impact user experience and potential customers.
Research Shippers and Payment Services – Ensure that your online business uses reputable, trustworthy providers of these services.
Design – Here's where the fun part begins. You can work with your in-house dev team as well as your graphics and marketing people to come up with ideas for a design that will grab the eyeballs of potential customers and keep them playing in your sandbox (and spending that money).
Data Migration – Shifting over existing databases associated with your current online shop takes careful planning. The process affects costs and the time needed to develop your new e-commerce platform, so think this through thoroughly well in advance.
Outsourcing vs In-House Design
Often, a major stumbling block companies encounter when they're getting serious about crafting an e-commerce development plan is deciding who will do the actual work: your in-house developers or an outside team.
It's a tricky question because it can lead to bruised feelings from the in-house team: “What, our work suddenly isn't good enough?”
At the same time, concerns about how it's even possible for an outside dev team to really be in tune with a given company's ethos and style can paralyse some business owners when considering this question.
The key that many business owners hit upon is to give themselves the best of both worlds.
As described above, have your in-house team work up a basic outline of parameters and functions the site will need for your unique operation – after all, they should know – and then put them with the outside team for early meetings on the overall direction you intend to take. At the same time, you can remind the in-house guys and gals that their full skill sets are vital to day-to-day operations.
This fusion is a tidy way to both appease your loyal workers and ensure that you get an outside perspective on what's really possible with an all-new e-commerce platform. You don't want to smother possibility with limited vision, but you also don't want to allow outsiders to blow up everything you've built so far.
If you go with an outside developer team, make sure they have a reputation for constant internal communication and daily team meetings as well as frequent contact with clients as the project progresses. There's nothing more frustrating than signing an enthusiastic dev team whose communications suddenly drop to a trickle once the contract is finalised.
Executing Your E-commerce Development Plan
There are, of course, a million ways to do everything, but the following workflow has proven valuable to numerous businesses looking to implement a new e-commerce platform.
Initiate – Here's where your team seeks to start lining up your goals for a new e-commerce website with your current business and ensure that discussions amongst all stakeholders result in a consensus path forward.
Research – The research phase is just what it sounds like: gather all relevant info like sales reports, IT data, shipping costs, data on the competition, production costs, etc. This information will help your team fully understand what it needs to know to create the new e-commerce website and to sniff out any glaring omissions in the way the current business is run.
Analysis – Number-crunching time, folks. Modelling potential new e-commerce platforms and how they might function with your business will help you test the value versus the cost of various features you're considering. Here's where you decide the specifics of the best way to proceed.
Strategy Development – Now, the major changes that have been agreed upon will start to get hammered out with specificity. At this point, it's wise to introduce some kind of review process of the overall e-commerce development plan as it is implemented to ensure that everything is working as hoped.
You can put up the best looking, most perfectly functional e-commerce site, but if you don't put in the work to drive traffic to the platform, it'll gather virtual dust. Remember to do your due diligence regarding:
Digital marketing – Capture eyeballs with relevant content that's engaging. Blog posts, contests, discussion threads, discount offers – get your site out there, and people will respond.
Social media – Facebook, Instagram and other platforms are where tons of web traffic gets initiated for even the smallest of businesses. Research how you can effectively tap into all that traffic and engage with the scrolling masses.
SEO – If you don't know SEO inside and out, we urge you to take some time to research the possibilities over at SEO review tools. They've got over 50 distinct tools to help you maximise your reach, along with great explainers outlining how all this works.
The future for commerce is e-commerce. Implementing a solid, well thought-out and strategic e-commerce development plan is vital to maximise your potential for growth.
Here at Laracle, we offer services to consult and develop e-commerce websites and more for businesses large and small. Reach out today and provide us with a few basics and we'll happily get a member of our e-commerce development team working on sketching out an outline for how we can help fulfill the specific needs of your business.
Call our office at 02080 165 891 or email today, and we'll get started on creating a proposal within 24 hours. Don't let another day slip past without fully realising the potential for sales a top-notch e-commerce website can bring you!