The Importance of Having an Ecommerce Project Plan
Wakefly has done more ecommerce projects than usual this year, and a number of them have been with clients who are new to ecommerce. In the realm of website design and development, ecommerce is its own island. It’s critical to consider all of the myriad functional options and the business processes that hinge off of them before selecting a platform and vendor. Companies new to ecommerce often don’t think of these details until it’s too late, and companies that are redesigning a legacy ecommerce system often gloss over custom functionality their business relies upon that may or may not be available in their new ecommerce platform.
In an effort to assist in both of these scenarios, we ask a lot of questions so we can make an ecommerce project plan before embarking on a new project to help clarify scope and requirements before the all-important platform decision. In part two of this post, I’ll explore some of the popular ecommerce platforms out there and how your answers to these questions might affect your choice.
What are the distinct product types? From an ecommerce perspective, a product type is a set of products that share unique purchase and configuration options. For example, dress shirts have fabric, neck size and arm length. Casual shirts may just have color and size. Books may have neither, but require a “look inside” feature. Prepare the full list of product types and what options they have. Also consider any interactivity among options or product-specific rules imposed during the purchase process.
Some additional product information considerations:
- How many products are you looking to sell on the site?
- How are products organized? Establish a category hierarchy.
- What types of product images will you have, and what kind of viewing experience do you require?
- Will you be importing product data from an existing system or from a drop shipper feed? What level of reformatting/normalization may need to take place as part of the data migration?
- Do you require inventory tracking? If so, do you require tracking across multiple warehouses?
If you’re shipping physical products, how do you want to charge customers for shipping? Many conversion experts recommend that shipping cost be baked into product prices so that shipping can be “free”. Other options are flat rate shipping or weight-based shipping. The later can be based on a table of weights and costs or integrated directly with specific shipping providers. Also consider what countries you’re willing to ship to and any special rules that apply to international orders.
Consider your internal fulfillment process and in what ways the ecommerce software will need to support those processes. Examples might be specific reports that need to be pulled, automated customer notifications or a workflow system to drive back-end fulfillment.
Some additional fulfillment considerations:
- If you’re selling virtual goods (software, webinar attendance, content access, etc.) consider how you’ll deliver these goods upon sale.
- Do you need to offer split orders? For example, a single order being shipped to two different addresses?
- Do you require back-order handling? If so, consider what the ecommerce platform needs to do to support back-orders.
Consider what types of discounts, special offers and coupon functionality you require. Is it important to incent repeat customers through a loyalty or points program? If you’re migrating from another system, be sure to consider any outstanding offers or coupons that will need to be honored by the new system.
CRM, ERP or PIM Integration
Most enterprise customers will want their ecommerce site to integrate with their ERP or PIM system. Work with the internal resources at your company to understand what type of integration is required and who will be responsible for what.
- Do you want users to have a login for the site where they can view order status? This is a fairly standard feature, but consider any custom or special functionality beyond the basics that your site may require in this area.
- Consider whether you want billing information stored for customer accounts. There can be substantial security risk if this isn’t done properly.
- Do your customers want to manage a list of shipping addresses through your site?
- What type of wish list or saved cart functionality do you require?
- Do you have an existing customer database that needs to be imported? While basic user information is usually fairly simple, consider whether the cost and complexity of migrating order history to another system is with worth it.
Other Questions to Consider for Ecommerce Project Planning
- Tax handling could be a post in itself. Be sure to consult with your accountant and/or attorney to understand the tax implications of your ecommerce activities and how, if at all, you intend to calculate taxes. Tax rules are very specific to your business location, the location of your customers and the type of products you sell.
- Is there a specific payment processing method you require? We like Stripe, but there are many widely supported options.
- Do you require a specific check-out sequence? Customers with an existing site may have tested and found that one check-out sequence works better for their customers than another. Keep in mind that customizing this is impossible for many platforms and complicated for most others.
- What types of add-ons, up-sell and cross-sells are required during shopping and checkout?
- Are you looking to sell the same products from multiple sites?
- Does your site need to support multiple languages and currencies?
- Do you need to sell gift cards? Are gift cards sold or honored outside of the ecommerce site? Are there cards sold by the existing site that need to be honored by the new site?
In summary, I hope this post serves to illustrate the complexities possible in an ecommerce project and why it’s important not to gloss over these details when planning and scoping a project. Most ecommerce platforms support a subset of the features mentioned above, so picking a platform based on marketing fluff without considering your actual requirements is setting your project up for failure. In my next post, I’ll be reviewing some of the popular ecommerce platforms and their strengths and weaknesses.