Why read this? : We take some e-Commerce inspiration from our favourite bird, the magpie. Learn why staying curious and picking things up as you go matters so much in e-Commerce. We share examples of this from our first ever D2C project. Read this to learn more about e-Commerce, and how to do it better.
It’s currently magpie swooping season in Australia, as the swooping freaks out kids (and adults) who get too close to their nests and their newly laid eggs. It’s such a problem, there’s even a whole website dedicated to swooping magpies.
Add that to the magpies reputation for being thieves, and you’d say magpies are the troublemakers of the bird world.
And yet, they’re not. Not at all.
Because imagine a stranger running past your house and your newborn children. You’d get a bit defensive too, right? And the thieving thing is even more interesting. Because it’s totally untrue.
Curious and pick things up along the way
In fact, magpies are just highly curious birds who pick up things along the way. And we kinda like that, because we’re like that too.
Apparently they recognise faces too. So we like to think the local magpies who hang around Three-Brains HQ now recognise us. That they see us as fellow curious souls.
So, the magpie’s curiosity and picking things up along the way is our inspiration this week. Because these are important traits in e-Commerce.
Plus, we recently found some notes from the post-launch review of one of our first big e-Commerce projects, where we set up an online store. This project took place 5+ years ago. And it’s kind of weird to think about it as “old”. Because e-Commerce doesn’t feel old. Because everyone we talk to about e-Commerce these days still seems to think of it as a “new” thing.
And it’s not “new”, at all.
So, with another 5 years experience behind us, we wanted to look back at those “old” learnings.
Partly to share them with you, our audience. Because like us, we know you always want to learn more about e-Commerce. But, also to reflect on how relevant the learnings still were.
Online store context
The client was a large multinational food manufacturer who’d just started their e-Commerce journey.
Their e-Commerce plan at the time was supplying product images and information to online retailers. In the same way as they supported the retailer’s catalogues. Online promotions were basically an extension of in-store promotions. There was little contact with the retailer’s online team. No sharing of digital data. No digital insights. There were no links between brand websites and online stores.
The only “opportunities” were to spend digital media money to feature on the retailer sites. But there was little data and measurement to support this. So, this company decided to take control of the channel, and launch their own D2C online store.
We presented these lessons to the senior team at the end of the project so they could learn more about e-Commerce. This cross-functional team liked the idea of “e-Commerce”. Which was helpful. But, to be honest, they had no experience in what was needed to manage an online store.
Lesson 1 - Recognise the achievement in setting up an online store
In some ways, it’s easy to set up an online store. But only, if you piggyback on someone else’s platform.
For example, you can start selling on marketplaces really quickly. Or via Print on Demand. We set up our Redbubble and Spreadshirt T-shirt stores in less than a day.
All you need is a logo, some designs and a bit of SEO copy and away you go. But, to be honest, this feels like wearing someone else’s clothes. Eww.
It’ll do if there’s no alternative. But pretty soon, it starts to feel uncomfortable.
Having a store where you directly control ALL elements of the customer experience takes more than a day. This one took about 4 months all in. Because there’s a lot of complexity with many steps to do it well.
28 different tasks on the D2C dashboard
For example, the first version of our D2C dashboard started with that first project. The dashboard has 28 different tasks spread across strategy and plan, the store, order to delivery and operations.
This was a simplified (yes, simplified) checklist of what you should really do before you open a “proper” online store.
Be very wary of anyone who promises you opening an online store is easy. If you want to do it well, it’s not easy.
Our experience since, is that most business still don’t get this. They only see the outputs, and in particular, the store website. They assume because the online shopping experience is easy for the shopper, then the process to create the online shopping experience is also easy. And that’s just not true.
Setting up an online store takes a lot of effort, skills and expertise to do well. It’s a big e-Commerce capability challenge.
We recognised the achievement of actually launching a store was important. It was big milestone. We learned a lot along the way. And we used that to reflect on how far we’d come. And as motivation to learn more about e-Commerce into the future.
Lesson 2 - It’s easier to “say” test and learn, than do it
Ah, if only we had a dollar for every time we hear the phrase “test and learn” in e-Commerce. We’d have MANY dollars.
It rolls off the tongue so easily. And it makes perfect sense, of course.
But saying it is way easier than doing it. It’s can be a hard concept to sell in as some people think testing‘s a waste of money. As per our creative companies article, most businesses prioritise being efficient. And efficiency isn’t what test and learn is about.
Most “efficient” businesses are set up to control and protect the status quo. To minimise the risk of failure. And “test and learn” doesn’t sit well with that. When you ‘test and learn’, by definition, some of those tests will fail. And failure isn’t efficient.
Failure isn't a dirty word
In many businesses, failure’s a dirty word. More traditional management practices focus on planning and preparation, so you don’t fail. For example, you don’t write the marketing plan, so it’ll fail. You write the marketing plan based on market research and brand strategy, so it’ll succeed.
But here’s the thing. We’re not against planning. You have to plan. But remember, these plans exist to help you set the long-term direction. They stop you veering off on weird tangents and wild goose chases.
But because they’re long-term, they take a long time to craft. By the time you’ve written them, circumstances may have changed. They’re slow. And often, you can’t afford to be slow.
If you’ve your own online store, you can run smaller, faster test activity alongside your planning process. Try things out with a small segments. Fix issues, especially those which crop up just after you launch.
If it works, brilliant. Do it again. If it doesn’t, no big loss. Say f*ck it. Move on to the next test.
But not everyone gets this. Some people get stuck on the fact it didn’t work. They point the finger. They use it to put up barriers. That’s unhelpful and obstructive.
No, these small failures (and successes) are a natural part of how e-Commerce stores work.
They’re how you learn more about e-Commerce. From activities you do with actual customers. And this is a big culture shift in many businesses.
Lesson 3 - Digital success needs a change in culture
In our creative thinking guide, we talk a lot about how culture helps drive new ways of working.
Setting up an online store is a great example of creative thinking. So you need a plan for the key areas of culture which drive it. That’s people, leadership and environment. These make a big difference.
And what we most remember from that project 5+ years ago, was this was the hardest part to do.
Because culture shifts take time. And if you don’t have the right people, with the right mindset, then there’s no way to make it work.
Not everyone’s a fan of e-Commerce. Not everyone wants to commit to the time and budget it takes to build e-Commerce capability.
Senior leaders who aren’t open-minded or humble enough to admit their previous experience hasn’t prepared them for this new way of working. This is a cultural barrier.
Functional leaders who insist on standards and process developed with the existing business model in mind, being force-fitted to an entirely different business model. This, too, is a cultural barrier.
No, e-Commerce and in particular, setting up an online store is a big change driver in most businesses. It was definitely transformational in that business. And there was lots of resistance and barriers to what e-Commerce meant for the way the business worked.
Lesson 4 - Sidestep the barriers or grind them down
When there’s resistance to change, you really only have 2 options.
The first is to avoid it by heading in a different direction. You try to sidestep the barrier.
For example, one of our proposals at the time was to set the online store up as a separate legal entity. It would have its own operating rules and culture.
But the leadership team didn’t have the vision to see how this could work.
So, they nixed it.
The other more painful option to take on resistance to change is to grind it down one day at a time.
That particular store was basic compared to other stores we’ve worked on since. But the simplicity and decisions taken were necessary to get it up and running at the time. These were about removing internal barriers like profit margin hurdles, supply chain efficiency targets and website maintenance protocols. All of which, once the store went live, mysteriously faded away.
As part of the process of learning more about e-Commerce, it’s also worth noting the first time you do anything will always be the hardest and slowest time you do it. Because you are having to learn and invent as you go. But the next time you do it, it’s faster. Because, you’ve done it before.
And then the next time, faster still. Until you pick up pace and it becomes “normal”. Because that’s how you learn more about e-Commerce. You do it, and you do it again, and again.
Lesson 5 - Decision making by knowledge and not job title
And then to our last learning. And that’s really about how you make decisions about e-Commerce.
There are some principles like the focus on the customer experience which are universal for driving e-Commerce success.
But, much still comes down to the context of what your specific target audience actually wants.
So, that means successful e-Commerce businesses build up this knowledge base and make their decisions based on what customers want.
That’s a challenge in some business where the senior team hasn’t built a store before.
They have to park their egos and sense of entitlement due to their job title. They have to hand over decision making to the people who actually have e-Commerce knowledge. Those who’ve taken the time to learn more about e-Commerce.
Or basically, your online store is screwed.
Conclusion - Learn more about e-Commerce thanks to the magpie
When you work in e-Commerce, you know there’s no one golden answer. It’s the customer who ultimately decides if you’re right or wrong. They buy into your call to action. Or they don’t. And that’s why and how you must continue to learn more about e-Commerce.
If you’re in a business, where you don’t realise that, then your online store won’t succeed.
Like our friend the magpie, keep being curious. Pick things up as you go. And maybe think about how to “protect your nest”. Maybe you need to find a way to swoop on those intruders who shouldn’t be anywhere near your online store.
Check out our setting up an online store guide to learn more. Or email us if you need specific help to set up your own store.
Magpie : Photo by Beth Hope on Unsplash
Confetti : Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash
Money on fire : Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash
Grinding an axe : Photo by C D-X on Unsplash
Wooden Gavel : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash