Lessons on the Importance of eCommerce Dashboards from a Retired General

My latest read was “My Share of the Task” by retired US Army General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”) and head of US military operations in Afghanistan. In his memoirs, General McChrystal provides an unorthodox, but highly engaging perspective of decision-making under duress, transformational leadership, team building. One of the recurring themes in the book is the importance of disseminating information across a team. McChrystal is a strong proponent of “small teams, tackling interesting problems, with lots of autonomy”; access to good data is an essential part of enabling this strategy.

Importance of eCommerce Dashboards

When General McChrystal first took over leadership of Afghanistan, he realized there was no shortage of information; he describes in detail storage rooms filled to the ceiling with burlap sacks labelled with post-it notes, containing field intelligence from countless operations around the country. His greatest challenge was certainly not a shortage of information, rather developing a framework through which this information could be turned into actionable tasks.

The military uses the concept of a sitrep (“Situation Report”), a concise report that contains pertinent details to a given situation, that will allow leaders to evaluate their tactical options. You should think of your eCommerce dashboards, or *ahem* wait for it … SiteRep (“Site Report”) in a similar fashion. Your eCommerce dashboards should enable you to quickly identify issues, evaluate the effectiveness of strategies in real time, and encourage deeper analysis for potential development opportunities. Like McChrystal, the ultimate goal of your eCommerce dashboards is to parse out the information relevant to decision making, and to highlight the areas worth further exploration to enable teams to better perform their duties.

Related: Understanding eCommerce Conversion Optimization

So what should you be capturing in your eCommerce dashboard?

Well, ultimately that will depend on what you are trying to accomplish, but some ideas to get you started include:

  • Revenue (by category, acquisition channel, mobile etc.)
  • Average order value (AOV)
  • Conversion rate (purchase, email signup, checkout, social media follow etc.)
  • Transactions
  • Traffic
  • Geo data
  • Top selling SKUs
  • Demographic data
  • Cost and revenue by ad campaign

Now that you have some sense of what you want to be capturing in your eCommerce dashboards, how should you go about gathering this information? Of course you could do it manually by manually navigating through Google Analytics, however there are better alternatives.

1. Google Analytics Native Dashboard:

Google Analytics has a native dashboard function, which allows you to use a “starter” dashboard that GA provides, import templates that other users have created. The interface is intuitive, and there is documentation on how to create/customize/delete dashboards provided by Google.

Lessons on the importance of eCommerce Dashboards from a retired General

Lessons on the importance of eCommerce Dashboards from a retired General

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We use this internally as a quick reporting tool, and use it to track traffic and eCommerce metrics by technology, revenue, traffic, eCommerce conversion rates, Daily and hourly performance, traffic source, ad campaigns, and product performance. Click here for our most frequently used template.

Pros: Fast, easy to implement. Has a built in automation scheduler, so you can define a report that runs daily/weekly/monthly/yearly and sends a pdf of the report to a distribution list via email.

Cons: Only allows for up to 12 widgets on a given dashboard. Depending on your needs, may not sufficiently service your data requirements. Limited to GA’s data visualization tools.

Related: 5 Tips to Improve your Online Conversion Rate

2. Third Party Applications:

There are several third party products, like Ducksboard, Cyfe, and Geckoboard which integrate with cloud services and allow for customizable data dashboards. These services typically are typically capable of data exports, allowing for easy reporting and sharing.

Pros: Multiple integrations mean that you can have a centralized business dashboard for various business functions (accounting, project management, human resources, IT, etc.) These tools go beyond what is required for an eCommerce dashboard. In general, these tools also have better visualization tools than those available in GA.

Cons: Fees. These third party applications have free trial periods, but have a subscription fee associated with them. Geckoboard pricing ranges from $17 for an individual user, to $359 a month for company wide reporting. If you are focused on eCommerce, then you may not require the extra functionality these tools provide.

Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-On

Previously only accessible via the GA API, Google has released an extension for Sheets that allows you to import GA data to Spreadsheets for more robust data manipulation and visualization.

Lessons on the importance of eCommerce Dashboards from a retired General

Lessons on the importance of eCommerce Dashboards from a retired General

Pros: Unlimited customizability, full access to google sheets data visualization. With JavaScript, this solution can be extremely flexible with some programming know-how. This solution also does not require that the person viewing the output have access to analytics or to a third party dashboard tool. If your data sharing needs are dynamic, ie. the person consuming the data needs to look at different dates or different accounts, this option gives them the flexibility to view everything in one place.

Cons: Can be slow to load, requires working knowledge of Sheets formulas and Javascript to unlock full potential.

The eCommerce Dashboard

Once you have landed on what you want to be capturing, and how you will be capturing it, you should ensure that you are sharing this information regularly with the people who need it. Similar to McChrystal, in this day and age data is cheap. It’s finding the right data, and knowing what to do with it that counts. Your newfound eCommerce dashboard is just one tool in your toolbox to help you wade through the data you have, to find the insights you need.

Related: How Does Having More Payment Methods Affect Conversion Rates?