5 Things You Need to Know About Launching an eCommerce Site

When reading this title, most individuals will expect to see a list of tools, utilities or a punchiest of to-do’s. The approach that I will take on writing this is a bit more touchy-feely, however I find that many of these are either overlooked or arise as an afterthought and should instead be considered from ideation to the metaphorical ‘flip of the switch’ onwards!

Launching a site can definitely be a daunting task with what it seems to be an infinite amount of resources available online to guide, coach, educate – many of which can be filled with quality material but at times can be overwhelming. This is by no means the be all and end all, however my hope is that you can take away at least one point that will apply to your site and help with the launch and growth!

Related: eCommerce Glossary of Terms and Definitions for Merchants

1. Test! But remember, it is not going to be perfect out of the gate

Shopify Theming team workflow

There are definitely some key items that you are going to want to test before launching a site, but this will not mean that it will be flawless. The major items to examine and test for are as follows (not an exhaustive list as each implementation will have their own elements of uniqueness):
customer order workflow in addition, make sure that all credentials are updated to ‘live’ or ‘production’

Although at times it may be hard to wrap your head around it, you need to think of software as ‘living’, especially in the world of eCommerce as a site launch is never the end of development and there will definitely be bumps along the way. With this in mind however, there still needs to be a plan in place to resolve these items as they arise along with a classification method for each as if you are not developing and maintaining your own site, that Saturday night phone call to your agency/developer is going to cost you!

The easiest method that I use in classification is to divide all items into two groups:

Critical

  • users cannot check out or checkout down
  • cannot create an account
  • site will not load

Non-critical

  • everything else 🙂

If you can go in with this mentality, it will save from paying for off hours support for something that may only be impacting one customer in a specific use case, as well will help with day-to-day stress and allow you to focus on the bigger picture!

2. Start small, then scale

Launching an eCommerce site

When starting your Commerce store you will typically be either an existing business that is creating an online presence or a new business focused solely on selling online. In either case, it is important to keep a narrow focus out of the gate and realize that not your entire catalogue will need to be online out of the gate. In doing so, you will be able to really focus on creating quality content for these products and really tell the story as to why the customer should purchase and provide them with all the information that they will require to make an informed and confident purchase.

In order to pair down what should be made available, there are a few questions that can be asked to help out:

  • what are your best sellers in store?
  • what have been most successful in focus groups?
  • what products are not available in the region that you are targeting for launch?
  • what products can compliment the main offerings that are essential to the site?
  • which products will provide the greatest margins to start and help to grow profitability in order to reinvest?

Launching with a smaller, focused catalogue will allow as well to test out the fulfillment process on a smaller scale, allow time to discover which merchandising works best (content and category taxonomy) and provide time to allow for focus on content throughout the site! With most eCommerce platforms the addition of a product is quite an easy task so this is something that can be tackled after the site has opened – if you get caught up in adding every product under the sun before launching the site, months of missed sales opportunity can go by while this is in progress.

Related: The Anatomy of an eCommerce Site

3. Make sure that your customers can find you and keep coming back!

retention

A challenge with any new online presence will be to have your potential customers actually find your site – driving traffic is one of the largest challenges that will be faced.

To help with the initial ‘find’ here are some ideas that may help:

Remember SEO basics – make sure that they are in place:

  • on site content (titles, descriptions)
  • content for not only products, but homepage, category pages and all other content pages
  • meta information is not as relevant today, but should still be included
  • make sure that the site is crawlable and it will be indexed

Update all social and mapping profiles

  • make sure that if someone is looking you up and lands on a social page that they have the chance to be directed to the site

Don’t take on too much out of the gate when it comes to social

  • if you have to pick one, choose Facebook

Remember to consider location based services

  • Google Maps
  • Google+
  • Yahoo Maps
  • Bing Maps

Once that you begin to actually drive the traffic, you want to make sure that they keep coming back, even if they do not make a purchase on their initial visit. At times, customers will reach out to you with inquiries on products or services and you want to make sure that they not only have channels to do so (contact us, live chat) but when they do that they will receive a response. At times the customer service aspect can be overwhelming, so this ties to the theory of ‘start small’ – if you do not have a Community Manager for example, ask yourself if you can really respond to Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram, Yelp, email, telephone, carrier pigeon…

Another method to help drive traffic is to make those customers that you have done such a great job serving your champions in order to continue driving traffic – this can include reviews on products and the site, social channels, emails that can be quoted, Yelp, etc. Even those that have had a negative experience can be addressed so that can be spun into a positive that will show you are a retailer that will go above and beyond to make the customer happy!

Related: Next Practices vs. Best Practices – Winning in Retail

4. Make sure that you can get the product to your customer!

shipping success

Great! You have your first sale, or even better your first hundred! Now, how do we actually get the product to the customer?

In planning your build, one of the most common aspects that I find to be overlooked is the fulfillment cycle. This will include everything from stock levels and making sure that product is available to the product leaving the building and making sure that it ends up in the customers’ hands.

Some of the major points to consider relating to the lifecycle are as follows:

Keep a handle on stock/inventory levels

  • do not stock too much but at the same time do not run too thin if backorder timelines will present a negative customer experience

Think about streamlining order fulfillment as much as possible

  • at first it may be okay when there are only five orders a day, however if you need to scale fast OMS/WMS can be lengthy to implement and revise
  • try for as much automation as possible, but not at the risk of delaying launch or planing for 1000 orders a day when that may not be reached until the 5th year

Customers expect tracking information and order status updates

  • be proactive and not reactive!

Returns and exchanges

  • unfortunately this does happen so make sure that this is mapped out ahead of time or customers can become irate and share this negative experience
  • buyer protection is one of the major factors in any purchasing decision

While the above is not exhaustive, it is definitely a good start to get you thinking and researching as to what will be the right solution for your business.

Related: 6 Tips for Shipping Success

5. Make data-based decisions

data

“I saw this today on and it will revolutionize the world as we know it – let’s get this implemented on our site ASAP!”

Have you ever experienced a C or V deliver that message and watch collective eyes of those whom it impacts roll infinitely or even explode? Do not be one of those individuals! One of my biggest pet peeves is to watch knee-jerk reactions to articles or posts that relate to something that has not been proven or where there is no concrete evidence to support the direction in a particular organization or market. Don’t get me wrong though, some of these ideas and concepts can be quite beneficial to a business, however this can be proven in an informed and methodological process that is supported by data!

There are a variety of tools in the market that will allow for data collection, current analysis and predictive analysis to help individuals or the organization make informed decisions about what works and what does not work. Google Analytics is the backbone to be used for the basics in data analysis and can help prove or disprove gut feelings when it comes to competing being ‘wrong’ on the site.

If for example there was one ‘bad’ weekend for CR and stakeholders felt that something was broken on the site to cause this there are a few approaches to determining if this was fact or if there may be something else at play that can be capitalized on. The first place to look is to see the line graph for CR as well as orders to see if there are any sharp drop-offs or periods of inactivity – if there are, there are two initial places to look:

  • error logs for the site – this will point to errors in code that then need to be corrected
    • data from past weeks, months and years – is this a recurring trend that it happens on the first weekend of every month?
    • if so, then this presents an opportunity to drive marketing initiatives or traffic to the site to help level this out!

Another tool that everyone should be using is an A/B testing platform to help quantify the impact of changes to the front end of the site and see what works and what does not work. If A/B testing is a new concept to you, it is definitely recommended to read Stroker and Koomen’s A/B Testing: The Most Powerful Way to Turn Clicks Into Customers which will provide a solid background on the subject, tools, techniques and how to implement at your organization. Tools such as Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer will allow for you to make front end changes to the site and run a controlled test, presenting both iterations to visitors to the site and measuring against the conversion impact that each one has. For example, will a green ‘Add to cart’ button have a more positive impact on that conversion metric than the current orange one that is in place?

There are many more data areas that can be measured, but as that can be a post unto itself here are just a few:

  • email marketing
  • SEM
  • affiliate
  • CRM
  • lifetime value of a customer
  • omni-channel
  • social

The above is not to dissuade from new and exciting ideas, but it is to outline that the implementation strategy surrounding these must take into account the proper way to measure and analyze the impact. The last thing you want to do is implement something that is going to hurt an already effective site and without this analysis, there is no way to accurately make this conclusion.

Related: Enhanced eCommerce for Google Analytics: How Does it Work?

Not the end-all be-all

This is by no means is this an exhaustive list, however it should be another tool in your tool belt of eCommerce building and maintenance. Take a look back at these points every few months or as your business looks to pivot as they will ring true not only during the initial build but as well as during the maintenance and evolution of the site. If I can stress one of these five the most it will be to make data-based decisions – this will definitely help as at times emotions can take over or their may be conflicting views within an organization, however the numbers never lie!

Related: Marshmallow Soft Sell: Attention Grabbing Personalized Content