The Biggest Mistake Merchants Make (And How to Avoid It)

The summer is almost over, and back to school signs are everywhere, yet despite that, I can’t even count the number of times I get calls in July and August asking if big project X can be done for back to school.

“Sure, there are some kinks and bugs but we can work it out later, right? You mean you don’t think it’s a good idea to try and launch a new project in just a few days’ or weeks notice?”

The answer: a big nope.

The biggest mistake merchants make are is something I like to call misusing the time to market.

Time to market

Time to market is a very important factor in modern day technology implementations. eCommerce platforms are no exception.

Often I find myself in a discussion with a merchant where we’re talking about re-platforming them to some new eCommerce technology. Sometimes that’s platforms, sometimes that’s re-designs, sometimes email, sometimes ERP.

Everyone in the industry knows this is something that merchants think about every three to five years as they look towards a redesign or a major upgrade of their tech stack. So this isn’t really the problem.

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Admitting We Have a Problem

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Here’s the problem. Many merchants get focused on going fast and getting to market with their new technology instead of focusing on the impacts of the platform in the long term.

Who can blame them? They are investing in the project because they see potential for strong returns from the investment and they want those returns to start as soon as possible.

This poor planning plagues the retail industry. Proper planning and roadmap development requires a lot more than this article will cover, but stay with me: step one is admitting you have a problem and that’s what we’re doing here.

Yes, I’m going to speak in generalities here and there are exceptions to every rule. But this article is my observations from speaking with hundreds, if not thousands, of retail merchants.

What Happens When We Market Too Fast

Why is this a problem? The most common reason is that too often there are far too many corners being cut and sacrifices made in the initial development and implementation that will severely limit future improvements, making the long term time to market on those improvements severely handicapped.

In other words, by rushing the design and development of their new platform, they often find themselves in a situation where additional new features and functionalities take too long to add on. They sacrifice long term, continued momentum and speed for a short term sprint. They ran the 100 meter dash instead of a marathon.

The HIPPO Effect

What really boggles my mind is the reasoning many have for wanting to go extremely fast. It’s usually because of the highest paid person’s opinion (the HIPPO effect). Someone high up the food chain in their company gave them a budget and a deadline to hit. While the budget was based in reality, the deadline was usually the result of someone wanting to get to market for a particular season (I.e. Back to school or holiday season).

This is really, really dangerous. If you’re a merchant and you have ever asked yourself how you are going to compete with Amazon, it’s the following:

Don’t ever let opinion drive your business. Let the data from experiments drive your strategy. It seems to be working just dandy for Amazon…

 

Look, I totally get wanting to get something to market for a busy shopping season. Most of the time I disagree with the timelines many merchants give themselves to pull it off. It’s particularly dangerous for mid- to large- size merchants, where the risks are very high.

The Two Cardinal Rules

And yet, there are two facts of life when planning big re-designs or moderate to large technology implementations. This goes for all technology that’s foundational to a business, not just eCommerce platforms:

  1. Shit is going to go wrong.
  2. See #1 and prepare accordingly.

While technology is getting more accessible, there’s also an increasing number of systems that businesses have to implement and operate. If you work in technology, this is a known side effect of the democratization of technology that’s currently underway.

This actually increases in complexity over time. It means there are more integrations and more processes that are dependent on each other, meaning more points of failure whenever you look to replace or change one of those points. It means that while each individual component technology is supposed to be getting better and easier, the web of integrations between these components is getting more intricate.

Because of this ecosystem complexity, you should be investing appropriately in roadmap development and planning.

So yes, time to market is incredibly important. I just think the time it takes you to improve your platform over three to five years is of far greater value than the time it takes you to get it set up in the first place.

I would never be willing to sacrifice the long term return of an investment in technology or process so that I could squeeze into an upcoming busy season. That’s the very definition of short versus long term gain – and perhaps the very definition of short versus long term success.

Which do you want?