What, exactly, makes a great eCommerce site?
This question makes the ears of the internet prickle with anticipation — a great secret is about to be shared. No matter the details of the success — vertical, following, eCommerce pure-play or a mix of channels, B2B, B2C, or any or all of the above — everyone’s always searching for the next magic sauce that could launch their business to the same level as the brands they idolize.
Here’s the catch, though: aside from the obvious answer of “there’s no such thing as magic eCommerce success sauce,” there’s also no one-size-fits-all solution. Every business is unique, predicting that each recipe for success is also unique. But that still doesn’t stop many businesses from trying to replicate someone else’s model, especially when it comes to ecommerce sites.
The thing is, aside from trying to force-fit your business into someone else’s carefully chosen strategy outright, businesses looking to emulate instead of invest in their own path as embarking on a fruitless journey: while you may be able to replicate someone’s ecommerce site from the front-end, would-be copycats simply don’t have access to the full arrangement of technology that makes amazing ecommerce sites tick. No matter how clever you think you are in spying on the technology tied to the back-end of a site, you’re never going to get the full picture of all the intricacies that make the best eCommerce business the best.
Doubling down on ‘the wrong way to build a winning eCommerce site’, many copycat businesses don’t ever get to the stage where they’re thinking about the technology powering a site — it’s an outright focus on creating that sexy front-end and superficial customer experience. This may be excusable as humans are visually-dependent animals — sometimes we unintentionally put more weight on visual aspects — but when you’re looking to build a long-lasting, amazing business, eCommerce should be excluded from this visual-first approach. While a great customer experience and user interface for eCommerce is extremely important, it’s only a small part of the battle in creating long-lasting eCommerce success.
A Great Looking Website does not equal Great Ecommerce Functionality
Today, a great-looking website is not hard to come by, or to create. Great eCommerce platforms like Shopify & Shopify Plus, Bigcommerce, Magento and more have made creating great-looking and highly functional eCommerce websites a breeze. And for those businesses looking for an extra edge on their ecommerce design, each of these platforms comes with extensive networks of affiliated expert partners and agencies.
But take a closer look at almost any eCommerce platform’s marketplace or partner listings, and you’ll start to notice a trend. Plenty is focused on front-end design and user experience. Far fewer are focused on the principles that allow your business to deliver on the promises your website implies through a top-notch front end. This imbalance reflects demand and strongly implied that the market thinks of eCommerce as a primarily visual function.
Top eCommerce sites go way deeper than the visual, though, and much, much deeper than just a great-looking website. These companies understand that customer experience does not stop (nor start!) at the eCommerce site; many more tools, partners, resources, planning, platforms, and more go into creating and maintaining a cohesive brand that keeps customers coming back again and again.
A Great Ecommerce Site Starts with Strategy & Technology
Contrary to the popular approach to the problem of great eCommerce of design-first, a great eCommerce website does not start with a great eCommerce website! While selecting the right eCommerce platform is absolutely crucial for your business goals, it’s one component of a much broader mix. Approaching all decisions and technology as strategy-first objectives (i.e., choosing the best technology to satisfy core strategic objectives, instead of from want-driven or other lesser drivers), the best eCommerce businesses then and only then build out their ecosystems with the right applications, partners, and execution to meet the said strategy.
“Digital transformation isn’t a technology initiative — it’s a business strategy”
It’s as simple as this: strategy provides the road map for your business, and everything after that serves to meet that strategy. But there’s more. You’ve got a great strategy in hand, you’ve selected the right ecommerce platform, design, and suite of technology and tools to make things happen. … Now what?
You see, not only does a great eCommerce site not stop with choosing the right eCommerce platform, your journey also doesn’t end with selecting the best technology to fulfill on a great customer experience from the first touch, all the way down to delivery and loyalty. Successful businesses don’t just buy software as a service. They operationalize the tech powering their business to ensure they’re getting every last powerful drop from their investments.
Ecommerce Success Is Creating A Great Customer Experience – From First Touch, Onward
There’s a direct relationship between strategy and technology — the latter are the tactics or tools that allow you to execute on your strategy, while the former is informing the road map of where you want your business to go.
Confusion and errors in building out a highly functional, tightly woven technological back end with that of executing strategy is a common misunderstanding, and an extremely forgivable one. With all the excitement around the possibilities of new or rapidly improving applications, it can be very easy to get swept up in the hype.
And matching strategy to tactics is not even where your business should be starting, in reality: it’s very important to have even a preliminary strategic outline before evaluating tactics, otherwise you risk having the tactics drive your strategy instead of the other way around. If you want to learn more about crafting a tailored strategy and how to match the right tactics (technology and more) to achieve these goals.
So why is the intersection between strategy and tactics so important?
The two together are what serves to inform your customer experience.
This brings us to the final but perhaps most important point of this section: how you tie your technology together is extremely important to informing a consistently excellent customer experience. Your chosen data integration strategy (again, based on your needs, business rules, and specific business requirements) and the data integration solution you choose to implement is extremely important. For example, if you choose a data integration solution that’s undersized for your business’ needs (like a plug-and-play integration, or a hard-coded solution), your customers’ order data may not get moved out of your ecommerce platform and into your accounting systems and shipping systems in a timely and efficient matter. Email notifications may be delayed, and so may delivery. All of these individually small pain points can quickly add up to unhappy customers who simply will not return to shop with you next time.
So keep your strategy front and center in filling out your tactical plan with applications and solutions, but also keep in mind how everything needs to be connected together: nothing’s worse than onboarding technology that won’t allow you to move data the way your business needs to!
Ecommerce Success Is Surrounding Your Business with Partners, Not Suppliers
To round off this two-part article, we leave you with perhaps one of the most important yet least mentioned elements in creating long-term eCommerce success: surrounding your business with trusted partners.
There’s a subtle difference between partners and suppliers when it comes to those businesses that are built to serve your business and its industry. Partners are those businesses that are invested in the success of your business over the long-term; suppliers are those that serve the market but are not necessarily as invested in working with your individual company on its success and growth.
Just like the difference between strategy and tactics, the nuances between partners and suppliers comes down to — again — your chosen strategy. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship with the businesses that help your business run, then you should be looking at a partner and should be evaluating culture fit and the solution set for the long-term. But if you have more immediate, short-term goals or are looking for clipped, specific functionality, then you may in fact be looking for a supplier: a business that can give you the tools you need for the now.
The importance of the intersection of your business strategy and chosen tactics for fulfilling that strategy. Because of the importance of these two elements in creating a great customer experience from start to finish every time, creating a strategy for your business should be a carefully considered endeavor that is iterative.