Why read this? : We explore how you make faster and smarter decisions as you build your e-Commerce knowledge. Learn which lessons from our first store launch accelerated the launch of our second store. On your marks, get set, build your e-Commerce knowledge!
As we were doing that, it struck us how much of a role speed has in e-Commerce.
Yes, you need a wide range of knowledge to succeed in e-Commerce. But how quickly you can apply that e-Commerce knowledge makes a big difference to your chances of success.
This week’s article looks at what we learned from our first online store launch to accelerate our second launch. How we went from very little e-Commerce knowledge and a 4-month timeline to more advanced e-Commerce knowledge and a 4-week timeline.
Our first online store - limited e-Commerce knowledge
Some context. This first online store was for a well-known global FMCG business. They wanted to start selling direct-to-consumer (D2C) to solve availability issues. Demand for their products was so high that retailers struggled to keep the shelves stocked. Admittedly, not the worst business problem to have.
They’d spent 18 months talking about D2C. There were some ‘false starts’ before the project started. Some consultants produced lots of documents, but no actual plan, for example. But mostly, the delay was down to their SAP system not being capable of handling the order to delivery process.
We helped them get past this. (For example, see our e-Commerce learnings from the magpie and barriers to e-Commerce articles). They’d agreed to run the set-up of an online store as a pilot project to see how it would go down with customers. The pilot needed to keep things simple and focus on the basics. More advanced e-Commerce techniques were parked until we were sure customers would buy D2C.
Cross-functional pilot store launch team
We started by setting up a cross-functional project team of 8 people.
There was an e-Commerce manager who was the overall project manager to launch D2C. Their role was to coordinate the different tasks and make sure the project hit its sales targets.
Then, a digital marketer from the brand team. Their role was to handle the digital marketing aspects of the project. For example digital media, especially search, and the content and design of the store website.
Next, an IT manager, responsible for bringing IT skills to the project. This included choosing the e-Commerce software (we used Magento) and the back-end build of the store site itself (with an agency). This role also handled internal system connections to run the order to delivery system. For example, payments and the order processing into SAP through to the delivery company. Though SAP being SAP, we also had to bring in a separate SAP IT manager to the team. You know it’s called SAP, because it SAPs the energy of anyone who uses it, right?
Add in a Finance Manager to validate the forecast, the profit and loss, and the overall business model. And, a Regulatory Manager to make sure we were legally compliant, and to help us set up our terms and conditions and policies.
That was 8 people (including us) at each regular project meeting.
Stakeholders and interdependencies
But we also had other stakeholders and interdependencies. For example, the Sales Director was the project sponsor, and was very supportive.
Then there was a steering committee of the Managing Director, Marketing Director and Head of IT. They were less supportive as they’d never done anything like this before.
We also had global connections in marketing, sales, IT and supply chain keen to learn from us. This meant lots of questions and ‘helpful’ suggestions from them during the project.
And that’s not counting the many people at the agencies and at the delivery company we used.
Lots of people then. But none who’d ever set up an online store before. So when we built and launched the store in only 4 months, we thought that was good going. Not quite a great e-Commerce culture right away, but at least a good start.
Our second online store - if you had to launch it tomorrow?
An odd thing happened, though. After the launch, the store did OK for the first 3 months, but nothing special. In fact, sales were below expectations. But then, we got called into the Sales Director’s office. We were expecting to pull the plug as the store was behind target. But it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all.
The company had received a threat to its products. Someone had sent them an extortion note, threatening to inject poison into the products in-store in another market. Pretty serious stuff. (Note, the extortionist was later caught and jailed).
That’s when it became clear the safest and most secure way to get products to customers is through direct channels.
You can track and trace everyone who comes into contact with a product from your warehouse to the end customer.
You can’t do that when your product sits on a shelf in a store. Anyone could interfere with the products on the shelf. Of course, that rarely happens. But it’s what the extortionist threatened.
At the time, the only way to be sure the products weren’t tampered with in-store was to have them behind the counter. Or with security guards in the aisle. Fine, in the short term. But not sustainable long term.
But with online deliveries, every part of the supply chain is secure.
So, the Sales Director asked how soon we could launch a D2C store to cover this other market. The only objective was to do it fast. Like tomorrow. So, we had carte blanche to decide how best to do that.
That’s having taken 4 months the first time.
Why did it take 4 months the first time?
In fact, all the things we cover under Strategy and Plan in our online store dashboard. Although, this stage can also be called “arguing”. Because, there was a lot of that, too
(Note, we made a point of not having a dedicated strategist on the team – we’re not big fans of that role. Strategy is everyone’s role).
We did this with the sales and marketing members of the team, plus their bosses who wanted to be involved. Add in the steering committee who wanted to sign off the business case. We reckon at least 2 of those 4 months were spent planning. Arguing over details like branding, pricing and sales copy. Writing PowerPoint decks with all the business plan details. Lots of check-ins and stakeholder management.
We also spent about a month gathering and / or creating digital assets, writing website copy and preparing the SAP system upgrades and customer service training.
And then, it took about a month to build the site. That also meant testing it and placing trial orders to make sure everything worked properly.
From 4 months to 4 weeks
The second online store, the one we’d to launch “tomorrow” was live in 4 weeks.
And, we had a “working” though very clunky solution in place we could have turned on in a week if we’d needed it.
Compare that to 4 MONTHS on the first store.
How we got it from 4 months to 4 weeks, was by stripping out everything that wasn’t vital.
We already had the “plan” for the first store. So, we could lose the “planners” and focus on the “do-ers” on the second store. Everyone else was politely told to get out of the way.
We stripped the team down to 3 core people, with only 2 approvers. Everyone else was “informed” only. That team had absolute power to make decisions. That team did the work in 4 weeks.
The team was one project lead (us) who combined the marketing, sales, finance (business case) and project management roles. No delays arguing over whether this image, that piece of copy was “on brand” or not. No delays arguing about pricing and delivery costs.
And that was it. The Sales Director and the Regulatory Manager were the approvers. No finance sign-off. No global stakeholders. The rest of the directors trusted the Sales Director and the small core team to launch the store quickly. It was quite a lesson for us.
Smaller teams mean faster results
Looking back now, we know it’s possible with the likes of marketplaces to set up an online store in less than a day.
One person can do it on their own if you do print on demand or drop-shipping.
In those channels, you outsource payments and supply chain, as those normally take the most time.
We couldn’t have done this project in a day. But, there were lots of ways to reduce the time.
With lessons from the first store, it was clearer what we needed to go faster the second time around.
If you’re looking to stretch your business into setting up your own online store, you’ve probably got ways of running other projects you think will just port over to D2C. But, unless you’ve got existing e-Commerce knowledge, that’ll take time.
If you want to go faster, you need people who already have e-Commerce knowledge. Put them in small, agile, empowered teams. Smaller teams with clear decision-making authority mean faster results. In other words, set up your e-Commerce culture properly.
But, we know this is a challenge for many businesses. They want to make sure they do things properly. They want controls, checks and validations in place. But, they don’t want to put anyone’s nose out of joint. And they want to protect their existing businesses, systems and reputation.
And that’s all fine. But, you can’t have all those things and still be fast to market. That’s the price you pay to be speedy in e-Commerce.
Conclusion - smaller teams, faster results in e-Commerce
And here’s where being small in e-Commerce is an advantage. You can go much faster than bigger businesses. You have many opportunities for first-mover advantage.
Online shoppers don’t know how big your business is. They just know what it does for them. Building better D2C experiences because you built your e-Commerce knowledge faster puts you well ahead in the race for the online shopper’s dollar.
On your marks.