On your marks, get set, build your e-Commerce knowledge!

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Snapshot : The first time you build an online store, it takes time. But, as you build your e-Commerce knowledge, you’ll find you go faster. You’re clearer on what’s needed and what’s not. This week, we share the story of how we reduced the time to launch from four months to four weeks between the first and second online stores we ever worked on. 

We’ve recently updated the content in our e-Commerce skills section. There’s now longer, more detailed articles. And, we’ve added case studies and quizzes on e-Commerce topics to make it more interactive.

Our aim is to share our e-Commerce knowledge widely with our followers. Building e-Commerce capability is how you improve the service you offer customers online. 

But as we updated the content, the concept of speed in e-Commerce was in the back of our minds. Because, it’s not just what you know that drives success. It’s what you do, and how fast you can do it. 

Yes, e-Commerce is like marketing, where a wide range of knowledge helps. But, every day it takes to launch your store, or add new products is a day you don’t get back in terms of selling.

Often  it’s the people who can go fast, and get over corporate barriers to e-Commerce that find the most success. 

Relay sprinter holding a baton in his blocks about to start a sprint relay

You need a wide range of knowledge to succeed in e-Commerce, but also the ability to use that knowledge quickly and decisively.

So, this week, we wanted to share the story of our first online store when we had very little e-Commerce knowledge. And, then, how we used that e-Commerce knowledge to go much quicker on our second online store. 

Our first online store – limited e-Commerce knowledge

So here’s some context. The first online store project we ever lead was for a well-known international FMCG business. They wanted to start selling products direct-to-consumer because of availability issues. The demand for their products was so high, traditional retailers struggled to keep the shelves stocked. 

Not the worst business problem, we have to say. 

They’d actually spent around 12 to 18 months talking about the project. There were a couple of ‘false starts’ before the project actually started. Some consultants who produced lots of paperwork, but no actual activity or plan for example. But mostly, the delay was down to an archaic SAP system that wasn’t ready to manage the order to delivery process.

But we managed to eventually get those out of the way. (Check our article on barriers to e-Commerce to see how we did that). That meant agreement to run the set up of an online store as a pilot project, to see if it would work. 

And, to do that, we did what happens in most bigger businesses. We set up a cross-functional project team with about 8 people in it for launch. 

Cross-functional pilot store launch team

We had an e-Commerce manager who was the overall project manager to launch the store. Their role was to co-ordinate all the different streams, and to make sure the project hit its sales targets. 

Then, we had a digital marketer from the brand team. Their role was there to handle the digital marketing aspects of the project. So, to consider digital media, especially search, and the content and design of the store website for example. 

Next, we had an IT manager who was responsible for the technical parts of the project. This included the choice of e-Commerce software (we used Magento) and the back-end build of the store site itself (with an agency). This role also covered all the internal system connections to run the order to delivery system. This included the payment gateway and the transfer of orders into SAP and though to the delivery company.

Though SAP being SAP, we also had to bring in a separate SAP IT manager to the project. 

You know it’s called SAP, because it SAPs the energy of anyone who works with it, right?

Then we had a Supply Chain Manager who worked on organising the warehouse and delivery systems set-up. Their role was also to prepare the customer service team to answer any D2C enquiries which came in. 

Add in a Finance Manager to validate all the sales and cost projections and the overall business model. And, a Regulatory Manager to make sure we were compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements and to help us set up our terms and conditions and policies

That was 8 people attending the regular project meetings.

Stakeholders and interdependencies

But we also had a bunch of other stakeholders and interdependencies. The Sales Director was the project sponsor, and was very supportive. 

But, then there was also a steering committee of directors including the Managing Director,  Marketing Director and Head of IT who were rather less supportive, because they’d never done anything like this before.

A big learning for us, is not to give approvals and decision-making power to people based on their job title. Give it on their knowledge of the subject, and commitment to the project.  

A rope net with many connections

We, then also had global connections in marketing, sales, IT and supply chain who were keen to learn from us. And by learn from us, we mean ask lots of questions and make lots of ‘helpful’ suggestions all the way through the project. 

And that’s not counting the many people at the agencies and at the delivery company who we involved. 

Given neither we nor the company involved had ever set up an online store before, we built and launched the store in around four months from the project “go” point. 

We thought that was pretty damn good. Not what we’d now call a great e-Commerce culture but at least a good start to developing one. 

Our second online store - if you had to launch it tomorrow?

Here’s a funny thing, though.

 After the store launched, it did OK for the first 3 months, but nothing special. In fact, sales were behind where we expected. 

And then, we got called into the Sales Director’s office. We were expecting to pull the plug on the store as it hadn’t driven the level of sales we wanted. 

But it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all. 

The company had received a serious threat to its product range in-store in another market. An anonymous external party had sent an extortion note, threatening to inject poison into the products in-store. 

Pretty serious stuff. 

(Note, the extortionist was later caught and jailed by the way).

And that’s when it became clear that the safest and most secure way to get products out 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. 

When your product sits on a shelf in a store, you can’t do that. Anyone could interfere with the products on the shelf. Of course, that almost never happens but it’s what the extortionist threatened. 

Hand holding a small wrapper package marked fragile

At the time, the only way to be sure the products were not 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 us how soon we could roll the first store out 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 four months the first time. 

Why did it take four months the first time?

So, we spent a lot of the time on the first store in planning. Who was the target consumer, what was the store proposition, what was our competitive position and so on.

In fact, all the things that 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  

(though 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).

D2C Online Store Status dashboard

With representatives from sales and marketing on the team, plus their bosses who wanted to be kept informed. Add in the steering committee who wanted to validate the business case beforehand. We reckon at least two of those four months were spent in planning. Arguing over details like branding, pricing and sales copy and writing powerpoint decks as the business plan to get approval. 

We also spent about a month gathering all the digital assets, writing product copy and preparing the SAP system upgrades and customer service training. And production of all the digital assets occurred in this phase too.

And then, it was about a month to actually build the site. That also meant testing it, and placing trial orders to make sure everything worked properly.

From four months to four weeks

The second online store, the one we had to launch “tomorrow” was in fact live in four weeks.

And in actual fact, we had a “working” though very clunky solution in place that we could have turned on in a week, if we’d needed it. 

Compare that to four MONTHS on the first store. 

How we got the process down from four months to four weeks, was by stripping out everything that wasn’t vital to get the store up.

Person holding calendar with 9 days crossed out with the letter x

We already had the “plan” on 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.  

That meant we stripped the team down to three core people, with only two approvers. Everyone else became “informed” only. That team had absolute power to make decisions. That team did the work in four weeks.

The team was one project lead (us) who combined the marketing, sales, finance (business case) and project management roles. No delays arguing about whether this image, that piece of copy was “on brand” or not. No delays arguing about pricing and delivery costs. 

We had the IT manager, and the Supply Chain Manager go full time to sort out the website build with the agency, and the distribution set-up with the delivery company. 

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 on their own can do it, if you choose to use print on demand or drop shipping.

In those channels, you outsource payments and supply chain, which are the areas that seem to take the most time. 

We couldn’t have done this project in a day. But, there were a lot of ways to strip the time down. 

Having already done the first store, meant we could see what we really needed to do to go faster the second time around. 

If you’re a big business looking to stretch into e-Commerce and setting up your own online store, you’ve probably got ways of running other projects that you think will just port over to D2C. 

But, unless you’ve have that existing e-Commerce knowledge, that approach takes time. If you want to or need to go faster, you need to find people who already have that e-Commerce knowledge. You need to put them in small, agile, empowered teams. Give them clear decision-making authority to get the store up and running by the launch target date. Set up your e-Commerce culture properly. 

Smaller teams mean faster results. 

But, we know this is a challenge for big businesses. Bigger businesses want to make sure they do things properly. Bigger businesses want controls, checks and validations in place. They don’t want to put anyone’s nose out of  joint. They want to protect their existing businesses, systems and reputation.

And that’s all fine.

But, if you want all these things, that means you sacrifice speed to market.

Small and fast can be an advantage in e-Commerce

And here’s where being small in e-Commerce is actually an advantage. Because, you can go much faster than bigger businesses. You have a lot of opportunities for first mover advantage. 

Online shoppers don’t really know how big your business is. They just know what it does for them. And if you can build better e-Commerce experiences for them, because you build your e-Commerce knowledge faster, that puts you well ahead in the race for the online shopper’s dollar. 

On your marks. 

Get ready.

Check out our guide to setting up an online store, or contact us if you want more practical hands-on coaching to set up and run your own store.  

Photo credit

Sprinter : Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Rope netting : Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

Small fragile delivery box in hand : Photo by jesse ramirez on Unsplash

Calendar (adapted) : Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Three people pointing at laptop : Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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