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E-Commerce Planning Process

Why read this? : We share the 6 key steps of the e-Commerce planning process. Learn how to find opportunities and decide if they’re right for you. Learn how to decide which e-Commerce channels best meet your needs. And learn the key objectives and activities you need to plan for to start selling online. Read this to get started with the e-Commerce planning process. 

E-Commerce Planning Process

How this guide raises your game :-

1. Learn the 6 key steps of the e-Commerce planning process.

2. Understand how to identify and validate e-Commerce opportunities and the pros and cons of different e-Commerce channels. 

3. Learn the activities and processes you need to manage to create successful online selling experiences for your target audience. 

E-Commerce changes the way customers and brands interact with each other.

Customers can buy things without going to a physical store. They can buy anything they want, and at any time. All they is a credit card and an internet connection. 

No need to leave home. No need to speak to anyone.  

Brands get new ways to connect with customers online. And it’s a huge commercial opportunity. Globally, the e-Commerce market was valued at US$4.9 trillion in 2021 following consecutive years of rapid growth.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a boom in some e-Commerce categories. Recent reports put US retailers YOY online revenue growth at almost 70%, for example. 

With this continued growth and the massive leaps forward in technology in the last 10 years, more and more businesses are adding e-Commerce to their plans.

But how do you know it’s right for your business?

And if you’ve already started your e-Commerce journey, how do you know you’re doing it as well as you can?

Glass door to a shop with a sign saying "Open - Shop"

Ready to test your knowledge?

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Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains e-commerce planning process quiz and see how much you know about the e-Commerce planning process already.

The e-Commerce planning process

This guide to the e-Commerce planning process walks you through the 6 key steps that’ll get you up and running with e-Commerce. 

It covers the key capabilities  and decisions you need to drive e-Commerce success.

The first 2 steps focus on the opportunity.

It’s important to identify what the online selling opportunity is for your business. What is it that selling online is going to do for you and your target audience?

From this, you then need to work out the sales and costs that go with selling online to validate that opportunity. 

e-commerce planning process - The 5 key steps of the e-commerce process

The next 2 steps involve planning and deciding where and how you will sell online. You decide which e-Commerce channels to use. And you work out how to deliver the idea customer experience for your target audience.

The final steps cover how you actually sell. And once you start selling, how do you keep it going? How do you evaluate and optimise what you sell online? 

Because, online selling is an on-going operational process, You need systems and processes to manage day-to-day operations. And you need to generate new ideas and activities to keep customers coming back for more.

So, now you know where you’re heading, let’s go through the e-Commerce planning process step by step.

Step 1 - Identify the opportunity

The first step of the e-Commerce planning process is to identify the opportunity.

It’s about looking for an unmet shopper need which your brand can meet better than anyone else. 

First, you need to work out where your e-Commerce growth will come from. A useful tool you can use to help you identify growth options is the Ansoff Matrix.

It’s an innovation planning tool. You look for growth from by deciding whether to go after existing or new customers and existing or new markets.

This decision gives you 4 growth options :-

Ansoff matrix - Marketing innovation options - 2 x2 matrix of new/existing products and markets
  • market penetration.
  • market development.
  • product development.
  • diversification.

E-Commerce market penetration

Market penetration assumes you’re already selling products and have existing customers. In e-Commerce planning process terms, your products may already be available to buy online. Through online retailers for example. But you haven’t actively gone after those sales. 

In this case, a market penetration strategy would involve identifying where you’re currently selling online, and aiming to sell more through those customers. 

For example, you’d work with those retailers and improve your product pages. That would involve supplying better images and copy into their product information management systems. 

You also want to highlight your online availability to your existing customers. Taglines in your digital media for example. Links from your website to retailer sites. Promotional placements and sales promotions on online retailer sites so you get found more easily by their shoppers.  

In e-Commerce planning terms, it’s the simplest approach to online selling. Someone else does the work of selling. You work with them to optimise how your products are sold. 

E-Commerce market development

This is about selling your existing products in new markets. That could be :-

  • new groups of customers – e.g. you currently sell to men, but launch a women’s range.
  • customers in other locations – e.g. you currently only sell in Sydney, but decide to ship to Melbourne and Brisbane.

When it’s new customers, the challenge is to find new ways of using your existing product. So for example, razors have historically been mainly used by men to shave their face. But product development led to the rise of women’s razors to shave their legs.

Globe showing Africa and Indian Ocean towards the camera sat on a wooden table in a dimly lit room

When it’s new locations, especially if those are overseas, the appeal of lots of new customers is high. But it’s not always easy. There can be many cultural and logistical challenges. You need to work out new customer needs. How they make decisions. And how your product is better than anything they can get locally. You also need to deal with different customs and export rules, and different tax legislation. It can be a slow and risky process.

E-Commerce product development

This is about creating new products and services for existing customers. That could be a completely new product innovation, or finding a new way to connect to customers. 

In e-Commerce for example, that could mean you look at areas like :- 

  • Online exclusives – you create products which can only be bought through e-Commerce and only from specific sites. This taps into the psychological idea of scarcity, outlined in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. In simple terms, the harder you make something to buy, the more people want it. (see our sales copy guide and our behavioural science article for more on this). 
Bundaberg rum website page showing their exclusive range of products
  • Subscriptions – you set up a repeat order system on your website. It’s usually driven by value for money and convenience (for regularly consumed products), or by discovery (where customers get a “surprise”package of goods on a regular basis).
  • Product and service extensions – this is about adding extra levels of features and services to your eating offer. Take Netflix for example, where you can buy basic, standard and premium options. The more you pay, the more screens and the higher resolution, on which you can play the content. Or look at brands like Bundaberg and Vegemite who sell clothing and other related items on their D2C sites, for example. (see our advanced e-Commerce techniques article for more on product and service extensions).

Diversification 

Diversification is where you go for both new products and new markets. It’s in essence starting a completely new business from scratch. 

As you start from nothing, everything you do which drives growth will be new growth.

You’ve got no baggage or history with those customers. You can take a fresh and innovative approach. 

However, many diversifications fail. It’s more risky because you don’t know the customers, and they don’t know you.

It takes time to persuade them to change from what they currently do. And you might need to spend a lot of marketing dollars to convince them.

Get it right, and there’s a big upside. Look at how food delivery businesses like Deliveroo and Uber Eats have changed the way we order food from home for example.(see our last mile article for more on this). But these are usually exceptions, and diversification is usually the rarest of the ways to look for e-Commerce growth.

Refine the opportunity

Once you decided the broad opportunity area for your e-Commerce growth, you next need to get more specific. You decide who it’s going to come from and how you’re going to do it. 

You do that by first carrying out segmentation research. And then looking at the attractiveness of each segment to decide on your target audience.  

You have to identify insights about the audience so you understand what their unmet need is. If they’re happy doing what they do now, they won’t see the benefit of what you’re selling. You need to identity what your e-Commerce offer can do better for them than what they currently do. 

That usually starts with the benefit they need. In general terms, e-Commerce offer shoppers these 4 benefits :- 

  • ease and convenience.
  • range.
  • price comparisons.
  • product information.

Ease and convenience

Online shopping is easier and more convenient than traditional shopping. 

For example, in most cases there’s no need to physically visit the store. No need to get dressed. Get in the car. Find a parking space. Wander round the aisles.

You can do what you need to while sat on your sofa, at your desk or on the train. Online shopping saves time and effort. It’s just easier and more convenient.

Even with click and collect services, where you pick your order up from the store, you still have the convenience of not having to go round the store and find all the items. 

Man holding a mobile phone reading a message notification with a desk and keyboard in the background

You can also shop any time you want, 24/7, 365 days a year. No opening and closing times to worry about.

And, if what you’re buying is bulky or heavy, then online shopping means someone else carries it to your doorstep.

Very easy.

Very convenient.

Range

If you go to your local shopping centre or shops, you can only buy what’s physically there on the shelf.

But with online shopping, the range of products available is much wider. There’s not the same physical space limitation when you shop online.

Online stores can offer a far wider range of products than a physical store can. With online shopping, you don’t just have access to your local store, you have access to EVERY store that sells online. 

With good search functionality, you can find the widest range of products online with the widest range of specifications. And if your favourite store doesn’t have what you need, it’s simple to flick over to another store. 

Price

Online stores also make it easy to compare prices across retailers. There’s more price transparency, and it’s easier to shop around for price discounts than to physically visit lots of stores to compare prices.

There are direct price comparison sites like comparethemarket.com for financial services or frugl and latest deals for grocery shopping.

Interior of a warehouse showing high shelving and main aisle

Product information

With physical products in a store, the amount of information you can share about a product to help sell it is limited by space.  Either the space on the packaging or on any sales promotion materials. 

Even when you sell services like travel and healthcare in a physical location, there are limits on the information you can share, based on the time available.

In those cases, the customer needs time talking to a staff member to learn about the service. 

None of this applies to selling online.

You set up an interactive product page. The shopper navigates through it themselves to get the right amount of product information for their needs.

This could be basic factual product information like how and where the product was made. But it can go much further than that. You can share demonstration videos of the product, for example.

Product pages can include reviews from previous customers. They can even have an interactive function so customers can contact you directly to ask questions via email or live chat.

These experiences give you a great engagement and education opportunity to drive sales. We’ll come on to more of these experiences in step 4 of the e-Commerce planning process.

The online selling opportunity

All these shopper benefits also come with benefits to the business selling online. 

With a website rather than physical premises, you are “always open” to sell for example. Online shops never shut, they can take orders 24/7, 365 days a year. There’s less staff costs because there’s less need for customer interaction. Automated systems handle key elements like questions and payments. It’s only where there’s an issue that you need actual staff to provide customer service. 

You also have much more visibility of competitor pricing, since pricing information is “live” and public. This gives you both opportunities to flex pricing, but challenges when your competitors flex their pricing. 

You are able to offer a wider range of products and to access more potential buyers across the world. Although, remember, every online seller can access those same buyers so, there’s more competition. 

With all this in mind – both customer opportunity and online selling opportunity, next you need to work out if that opportunity is worth going after. 

Step 2 - Validate the opportunity

There’s no single best way to validate the opportunity you’ve found. It depends on the size and nature of the opportunity. And your approach to opportunities and risks. 

But there are some common elements you can explore to build your case. You certainly need to consider some sort of market research to identify and quantify e-Commerce insights.  And you need to have an e-Commerce sales forecast, and how much it’ll cost you to drive those sales. 

At the very least, it’s worth carrying out secondary research to see whether there’s demand for the online service.

Size of opportunity

Your aim is to estimate the likely size of the opportunity in terms of total potential sales. You make this forecast based on the total number of customers, and how much you think they’ll spend.

Ideally, you want to estimate sales for ALL products in the category, and then your potential share of those sales.

Bigger businesses will typically have more formal and more structured approaches to estimate the size of the market.

They’ll usually gather data through extensive market research, especially quantitative research.

Glass jar knocked over on floor with coins spilled out onto the floor

This takes representative samples and lots of data to test for intent to purchase to determine the level of future sales. The aim is to “prove” the opportunity is big enough to get approval to launch.

You use this formal type of validation approach to identify only the highest potential ideas. It screens out ideas with less potential. It aims to reduce the risk of a failure. 

But, this formal approach does’t always work. And it can take time, so that by the time you “prove” an opportunity, the market has already moved on and you’ve missed it. 

Smaller businesses can take a more entrepreneurial approach. They can test out ideas on a smaller basis with smaller audiences. They can take more of an agile approach (see our marketing innovation guide for more on this). This is where they put prototypes in front of customers and co-create the offer and service with them.

This is still market research but with lower investment levels and lower risk. Look at what level of service online retailers currently offer online for example. Is there a gap or opportunity there?

Or take a look at what competitors currently offer. What’s your competitive strategy going to be to in e-Commerce? How will you build your competitive advantage?

What about what happens in other countries or adjacent categories? Are there ideas you could use as benchmarks there? 

It’s important whichever ideas you go after, you base your choices on what customers need. What drives your target audience to purchase online? You’re more likely to create an experience which drives sales when you understand how customers make buying decisions. 

Costs to serve

It’s also important in the validation to work out what your costs will be to support those sales.

As we cover in our guide to the online store business model, the cost mix can be very different for online stores compared to traditional channels. The costs cover not just the set-up but the on-going management of orders.

You need to consider digital media costs to drive traffic for example. Then, there’s the costs of storage, returns and refunds. Delivery costs can be high, especially in the last mile. And then, you also have to include website costs like hosting and maintenance. 

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

Even if you choose to go through existing online retailer channels, you have to factor in what retail margins they will take. You have to factor in additional costs like protective packaging. It’s better to have an idea of these costs early in the e-Commerce planning process. 

It’s also worth factoring in what you believe the competitor response will be. That can impact the size of your opportunity. Are they already active in e-Commerce? Or will your move into e-Commerce leave them behind?

Finally, you also need to consider the different channels where you can sell online.

Which brings us to the next step of the e-Commerce planning process.

Step 3 - Channel planning

Once you’ve identified and validated the overall e-Commerce planning opportunity for your business, it’s now time to think about where you will sell online.

This means identifying the online sales channels you want to play in. There’s 5 channels to choose from. 

It is possible to sell through all 5 channels. But each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Most businesses start with one and then build out. You should have a priority list of which channels to focus on. 

4 of these channels involve working with third party online retailers. And the final channel involves going direct to consumer (D2C), with no third party retailers.

e-commerce 5 key channel options - on a x-y graph against level of complexity and control

Control vs complexity

2 factors drive the differences between the channels. The degree of control you have over how your products are sold through the channel. And the amount of complexity involved in selling through that channel.

There’s a trade-off between these 2 factors. The least complex channels, come with the least amount of control. And the most control comes with the most complex channels.

The least complex channels are when you work with third party online retailers. With these partners, the retailer takes on the more complex elements. They drive traffic to their site, they manage payments and deliveries, and they deal with customer complaints, for example. You essentially plug your product images and information into their online shopping system, and they take care of the rest.

But, each of these areas of complexity has a cost associated with it. And so, the more you hand over to the online retailers, the less a share of the sale you actually take. They take large margins to cover their costs. So, your profitability per item sold can be less when you sell this way.

In channels where you take more direct control, you handle many or all of these complexities. The opportunity in terms of sales and profit is higher, since you take the maximum amount of the sale. But that only works if you can keep all the costs at a level below that of the retailer margin. And as per our D2C business model article, there’s quite a lot of additional costs to consider.

Marketplaces

The easiest channels to access are marketplaces. These are online portal you can directly access to sell your goods to anyone who visits the site. They’re mainly geared to individuals and one-off sales of high ticket items. But there’s also opportunities to sell more regularly on them too. 

There’s local examples, like the very popular Gumtree. You’ve also got the big US players who’re very active in Australia like ebay and Amazon. 

You can find big retailers like Coles, Myer and Big W on eBay because of the high visitor numbers the site gets. 

Then there’s also other international players like Tmall who can give you access to many markets across Asia. 

Ebay home page - headline says Ebay Plus - start a 30 day free trial

It’s often very price driven on marketplaces with a lot of deal-based sites operating in that channel. For smaller business, it’s usually best to focus on selling unique and distinctive products than selling generic products and competing on price. 

Bricks and Clicks

Bricks and clicks are stores where the seller has physical stores as well as online stores. They are sometimes also called omni-channel sellers. 

They use their online stores as a way to extend their reach to shoppers beyond the physical locations of their stores. 

Take grocery shopping for example. Most people still go to a grocery store to buy their food products.

But almost all grocery retailers now have their own online store. They take the orders online. And they deliver the order direct with a driver employed by the store.

Screengrab of Woolworths breakfast cereal page showing 12 different cereals to choose from

Or increasingly, they will offer ‘click and collect’ where the customer picks up their order from a special area in the store.

How online grocery works in Australia is a topic that crops up frequently in our blog posts such as this one which covered their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From a channel planning point of view, these types of customers offer a number of advantages and disadvantages.

Bricks and clicks - advantages

If you already sell through these types of retailers, then it’s usually relatively easy to set up selling though their online stores. 

These retailers will already have set up their websites and delivery systems. 

So your main task is to integrate with those systems. For example, you need to manage how your products appear on their website by providing product images, product specifications and product benefit details to the retailer.

This is done with spreadsheets and emails, or through third-party websites like skuvantage.

Screengrab of Coles online bottled water page showing 12 different bottled waters to choose from

These retailers obviously work to drive traffic to their online stores. They take care of payments and deliveries. From your point of view, there are relatively few tasks to manage which is why it’s comparatively easier to sell this way.

Bricks and clicks - disadvantages

The main disadvantage to selling online through bricks and clicks is your relative lack of control over how the product is sold. Because the retailer manages their own website, they control the look and feel. They control the overall experience and design of the shopping pages.

You have very little say. 

This will include for example how navigation works on the site. It will include which products are featured and promoted, and how pricing works on the site.

With bricks and clicks, you never interact directly with the shopper. So you never have access to the data that sits behind the online selling. Unless you pay the retailer, and even then, you never see individual levels of data, only aggregate data. 

Also, if you want to make your products more prominent on the website, or drive more traffic to your particular products, this means you need to invest dollars in digital media. 

You either do this via 3rd party providers like google or facebook. Or by investing money with the retailer themselves in return for more prominent placements. 

So even though there’s an easiness factor when you sell through bricks and clicks, there’s a number of costs to consider as well.

You can find more examples of bricks and clicks in our guide to online retailer strategy.

Pure Players

Pure Players are stores that only operate online. Often newer to market, they do not carry the overheads required to physically own and operate stores.

They often compete on price, range or service levels.

Amazon are the most famous pure player globally.

You can find more examples of Pure Players and Amazon in our guide to online retailer strategy.

See also our separate article on the specific challenges of selling with Amazon.

Amazon logo on phone

Dropshipping / Print on Demand

Another online selling model to consider is dropshipping.

With dropshipping, you find suppliers who are willing to sell you products at wholesale prices. You then set up an online store website, which sells those same products to consumers at higher retail prices.

Your online store become a retailer intermediary between suppliers and consumers. You make money on the difference between the supplier selling price and the price you charge shoppers.

You might obviously ask, why someone would buy at retail prices if they can also buy at wholesale prices.

But, many shoppers don’t know about the wholesale price websites. And those websites are not always set up to make it easy to buy. For example, sites like aliexpress allow you to find Chinese based suppliers on a wide range of goods. But, as a stand-alone shopping site, it’s not the easiest to navigate.

The value you add is in the creation of a branded store website, which builds traffic and attracts people to the products. When people order the products from you, they don’t know that you then order these products from the supplier.

No stockholding

Because you only order products from the supplier when a customer places an order, you don’t have to invest money in holding stock. The supplier manufacturers “to order” and ships the product direct to your customer. 

Your main costs then are marketing costs. You need to drive traffic to the site and maintain the site and customer service. 

Customer service costs come from you having to resolve any issues with the purchase such as damaged or incomplete orders. You also have to manage issues if customers are not happy with the quality of the goods. 

For this reason, it’s important to check the quality of the dropship supplier you use to make sure they have good quality controls in place. 

It’s a competitive market-place. Other online stores can order products from the same supplier. You need to work out what will make your store offer different and better. 

Print on Demand

A variation on dropshipping is Print on Demand (POD). This is where you create designs which can go on standard items like T-shirts, caps and water bottles.

In effect, you’re selling the design itself. 

You pass the order fulfilment to a third-party printer who sends the product to the customer. 

They handle payments and deliveries, and you get a % commission on the sale. This commission is typically 10% to 20% of the sale price. 

Our online shop for example sells T-shirt designs that are sold via Print on Demand services. There are many Print on Demand providers.

But based on our research, we’ve found Redbubble and Spreadshirt to offer the best level of service and flexibility. 

You can find more examples of drop shipping and Print on Demand in our guide to online retailer strategy.

Woman wearing a black T-shirt with a design showing a WiFi symbol and the words Australian Invention

Direct to Consumer (D2C)

Direct to Consumer or D2C is the final e-commerce model. Here, there are no third-party retailers involved. The consumer buys directly from you, and you arrange all the payment, shipping and delivery. 

D2C advantages

With D2C, you have control over each step of the online selling experience. You link your website and digital media activity directly to your own online store to create an online path to purchase for your target audience. 

It’s your decision what the store looks like and which products you sell. You decide what price you charge, and how much to charge for delivery. The price the consumer pays is pretty much what you see going in to your bank account.

You also have a direct connection to the individual customer. They give over their details for you to deliver the product.  And, they give you permission to contact them directly. All good for your CRM activity

Close up of a delivery driver handing over a cardboard box delivery to a customer

You’ll have their contact details as well as their shopping history and preferences.

This gives you a rich source of digital data and insight into your customers, as well as a chance to run CRM activity.

D2C disadvantages

But with this level of control, also comes complexity. 

D2C can be complex to set up and manage. In our guide to D2C cost planning for example, we review all the costs that go into D2C, including payments, delivery and refunds. You need to cover all these costs out of the sales revenue. 

You also need to manage all the interactions within the order to delivery process. From storage, dispatch and delivery to managing customer enquiries, this requires additional functions to exist in your business. You will also need IT expertise to make sure that website, payment, reporting and delivery systems integrate and work effectively. 

Your customer service plan needs to account for scenarios like the product not being delivered, being delivered damaged, or to the wrong address. How will you respond to these types of enquiries? 

You also need to account for customers changing their mind once they’ve ordered a product. Or finding faults with the product. These types of situations happen a lot with e-Commerce. 

Then you need to factor in other areas like managing credit card fraud, and managing stock levels. While the extra level of sales dollars per sale compared to other channels is exciting, it needs to generate enough revenue to cover all these other costs. Read more about setting up an online store in our separate guide.

Step 4 - Develop experiences

In our guide to marketing plans, we talk about the brand choice funnel.

This is where there are a series of steps consumers go through before they become loyal and regular purchasers.

So, they need to trust your brand, be aware of your brand, be persuaded to consider it and so on. 

A similar funnel process sits behind e-Commerce. There are a series of steps that need to happen before potential shoppers become actual regular purchasers.

With the e-Commerce planning process, this drives a series of different online experiences that you need to create to move potential customers along this journey. At the most simple level, these break down into 5 key areas.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Traffic

The first challenge is to drive your potential target audience to visit your product page.

How is the shopper going to find your online product page? How will they know it exists, and how will they know where to find it?

From a brand activation point of view, this usually leads to digital media.

You want to reach potential customers through relevant search, social and display ads activity.

This helps your target audience know where to find your product. It helps them understand your selling offer.

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

You can use market research, and a test and learn approach to identify what works and what doesn’t. Typical research questions you might want to test include :-

  • Do shoppers search for your product in Google first, and then go straight to the product page?
  • Or do they visit the online store home page first, and then search for your product? 
  • What are the click-through rates likely to be on display and social media advertising?
  • Can we use existing consumer contact details to promote our online availability through CRM?

Conversion

You also need to work out how to use the navigation on your own website and any online retailers website as a way to help get customers to see your product and page.

If you’re listed on a larger retailer site for example, how are products within the category listed? e.g. alphabetically, by price or by popularity? You normally have to input your information directly into their product information management system

This can affect the chances of how often shoppers see your product listing. In general, shoppers won’t look at every product listed. They will only look until they find one that sounds right, which is why it’s important to be near the top of a list of products. You want to have high visibility on category pages. 

It’s very common when working with online retailers for example to pay to have banner adverts on the category home page for products. Or to pay to use their CRM mailing lists to contact potential customers with a special offer.  

And once the consumer finds your page, there are many ways to increase the chances of that visit converting to a sale. 

Product pages optimisation

When an online shopper visits your product page, it’s a key moment in the buying process. It’s where they make the final decision to buy. Or not buy.

So, it’s important to make sure you have basic elements in place to help complete the sale. If you don’t get these basic elements right, you’ll lose sales.

The three most basic elements you need to cover are the product name, product images and the product description.

We’ll briefly cover the key points here. But you can read more detail about product page optimisation and more advanced online selling techniques in our guide to how to get more sales online.

How to get more sales online - 3 key basic of a product page - product name, images and information

Product name

You also want to consider how you name your product online. Clear and consistent naming makes it easier for customers to find the right product. It also helps with your search engine ranking.

Normally, your “name” would include the brand name, the product variety and any defining features and sizes when listing your product online.

So rather than let’s say, AnyCo Shampoo, better to list it as AnyCo Anti-Dandruff Shampoo with Mint 200ml.

In our article on product pages, we cover how the likes of Amazon and Google handle the management of this type of basic product information.

Product images

Because the online shopper can’t physically touch your product like they can in a store, how you represent it visually on screen makes a big difference. 

Make sure your product photography is sharp and clear. Think about how to evaluate your photography so it’s doing a good job for you. 

Consider a combination of plain background product shots, and lifestyle shots if they’re relevant.

These lifestyle shots show someone using the product itself. This can help bring the product to life. 

You need to consider how the images you use for your product appear on a screen. And in particular, how they might look on different sizes of screens.

A lot of online shopping is now done on mobile phones.

Your product images need to look good when seen on a small screen. 

Man wearing a black T-shirt with a design showing poker chips and the words pocket rockets I'm all in

Most online retailer sites allow you to show up to half a dozen images. It’s good practice to show the product from multiple angles – front on, side on, from the back etc.

You also have to think about this online context when you design the packaging itself.

There’s an overlap with the marketing skill of packaging development, since your packaging development should think ahead to both how a product appears on shelf AND on a screen. You can read more about some of the challenges of packaging development for e-Commerce in this article.

Product description

Consider the description you give your product You can normally copy this straight from the packaging. Highlight the features and benefits that will persuade the consumer to buy your product. There is usually more space to use more words on a retailer website than there is on packaging. Use this extra space wisely.

A good product description would cover key features and benefits and be around 300 words. 

We have some examples of good and bad practice in another article.

You can also read about these and other ways to drive online sales in our guide on how to get more sales online.  

Payment, delivery and customer service

Once you persuade the customer to buy, there are still steps like payment, delivery and customer service which need to happen to complete the process. 

If you sell through online retailers, they manage these steps. You work with them to optimise these steps.

For example, you recommend email copy to go with the order. You influence the packaging of the products that they send out.

But in most cases, the retailers will use these steps to drive their own brand experience. You won’t have a huge amount of opportunity to influence these steps.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

However, if you sell D2C, YOU take ownership and control of each of these steps. Payment and delivery come with their own opportunities and challenges. We cover these in our Order to Delivery guide.

Customer service is important too. It’s a big part of the D2C experience. There’s a lot that potentially can go wrong when you send out goods directly. Your customer service team and system should be able to fix problems quickly and keep customers happy. That can be a very strong marketing tool. It drives loyalty and satisfaction. But, it also takes time and money to set up and maintain. 

Step 5 - Sell, sell, sell

Once you have all these elements of the e-Commerce planning process lined up, then your focus moves on to how to continue to sell your products online. 

Sales promotions

For example, do you need to carry out online sales promotions at certain times of year?

And if you do, what type of promotion will work best in your category?

Is it a straight-forward price offer like 20% off, or buy one get one free, for example?

Sale sign in white on a red window with outline of a person walking past in the background

This might sound simple, but think about the previous steps of the e-Commerce planning process. You need to make this type of offer work at each step of the process. You need to tell people about this sales promotion though a digital media campaign. And the message in that campaign needs to say when the promotion starts and ends.

The promotional offer then needs to appear on the appropriate part of the website at the right time. Your financial tracking system and supply chain system need to be set-up to manage the change in details from the regular order price. 

If it’s a buy one, get one free for example, the warehouse need to have the right packaging to send out two items together. The delivery company need to know that there will be more items that will be twice as heavy as normal orders. And you need to be able to check your analytics and sales data, so that you evaluate the effectiveness of the promotion afterwards. 

Online selling operations

At the start of the e-Commerce planning process, we covered opportunities like subscription models and online exclusives. These present big opportunities. But, you also need to fit them into each steps of the process. 

So, with subscription models for example, you need digital media to highlight the subscription offer and generate interest. You need to be able to set up your website to allow people to choose their subscription and to manage it on-going. Do they get to choose what goes in the subscription box for example? Or do you fix it in advance? 

If you take regular payments from someones credit card via subscription, how do you store their personal details? How do you make sure this is secure? If a shopper wants to cancel their subscription or amend it, have you made it easy for them to do so?

If you sell online exclusives, what happens if a retailer then wants to buy them from you? How much do they need to buy to make it worthwhile to give up the exclusivity? Do those products always remain as online exclusives?

Step 6 - Evaluate and optimise

Once you start selling online, you should schedule a post-launch review to capture what you learned from going through the process. And, as you manage your online store, and / or work with online retailers, you need to continue to look for ways to improve how you sell. 

On-going, it’s important to think like a retailer. 

For example, how will you continue to drive traffic to your product pages? How will you drive conversions and create great customer experiences? 

What about your digital data? Can you use it to guide you as to what your customers like and don’t like? How do you set up a dashboard to track and measure how your online business performs? And how do you make adjustments to spend more on activities which work? And cut out those which don’t?

Do you have the website capability to test different activations and learn from the results? If you manage payments and delivery, how do you keep those systems working efficiently and in the interests of the customer? 

These are just some of the questions you need to answer when it comes to managing your own online store. None are impossible. But as we said before, it’s an on-going operation to continue to sell, sell, sell. 

Conclusion - E-Commerce planning process

In this guide, we’ve talked about how e-Commerce needs a wide range of capabilities. It leans on market research skills to understand consumer needs and digital marketing skills to drive traffic and conversions, for example.

And it needs you to set up back-of-house capabilities to manage payments, deliveries and keep customers happy.

There are many different ways to sell online. From the “toe in the water” approach of using marketplaces and bricks and clicks retailers, to the full-scale operation of a D2C set-up.

When you go through the e-Commerce planning process, its basic aim is to ask key questions to make sure you’re prepared for the e-Commerce challenges you’ll face. 

e-commerce planning process - The 5 key steps of the e-commerce process

There’s no single best way to do e-Commerce. It depends on your brand, your category and your own view on how much control you want over online selling.

But, once you’re in, there’s no doubt it’s an exciting, dynamic and challenging way to grow your business.

You can drive connection to your customers you already engage with through digital media and websites.

You can do this in a way that brings commercial benefits to your business through increased sales, and new selling opportunities. That’s good for your profit and loss

And with the D2C experience, you get a new level of control over how and where your products are sold online. You control each step of the interaction with the customer build a direct connection with them. 

Three-Brains and e-Commerce

We’ve worked on many e-Commerce projects and have good experience across the e-Commerce planning process. This includes working with online retailers and building D2C stores and operations. We know how to connect these expertise areas back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

Contact us to find out more about how we can support your e-Commerce growth with our coaching and consulting services. We can help you set up and run your e-Commerce planning process so you make the smartest decisions about how to sell online.

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