Avoiding the pitfalls of ecommerce projects

23 April 2012

Successful projects are a team effort so get buy in from all departments

Do you want to join the thousands of companies that fail at ecommerce projects each year? Would you like to see all your hard work and money go down the drain? Well, it’s easier than you might think.

Project failure statistics from the British Computer Society show that 31 per cent of all IT projects will be cancelled before they’re completed. A further 52 per cent will cost more than originally estimated. In fact, just one in eight can be considered truly successful.

However don’t let the figures put you off. Ecommerce ventures, if planned and executed well, can be a huge benefit to a business. Around 80 per cent of the UK population now have Internet access and 40 per cent of all retail purchases are made online.

While there’s no magic formula to make your ecommerce project a success, there are some sure-fire ways to turn it into a failure. Most advice is common sense, but when you’re bogged down in a project, it’s sometimes difficult to see the bigger picture.

By making sure you don’t commit any of the seven deadly ecommerce sins below, your project may not be guaranteed success – but it will avoid falling into the black hole of ecommerce failures.

Deadly Sin No.1: Focusing on what you want rather than what your customers want

You have to remember that the customers will be the ones using your site. It’s important to recognise who you’re trying to target, why they’re visiting your site and what they hope to achieve from their visit. User analysis is essential for any ecommerce project; too often, in-house teams who don’t understand the customers’ needs are making the decisions.

Deadly Sin No.2: Failing to set S.M.A.R.T goals

Use S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-constrained) business goals, to ensure you can set realistic expectations and determine whether the finished product is satisfactory. For example, content typically takes longer to put together than you think it will, as it often needs to be created and collected from a variety of sources. So plan early, carry out regular user testing (both during the project and post-launch) to identify problem areas, and take corrective action. Your website will evolve through a continuous process of testing, analysis and refinement.

Deadly Sin No.3: Failing to provide a multichannel solution

Don’t ignore the influence your online presence has over the rest of your business. The key to making it a success is cross-functional collaboration. Your ecommerce store is not a silo; you need to integrate it with your other trading channels (e.g. retail stores, customer service teams). Customer behaviour has seen a massive shift in recent years, and your website is the tool that influences sales in all other stores.

Deadly Sin No.4: Doing the same as everyone else

As with any aspect of business, the fact that everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Looking at what others are doing may help you benchmark or gain an insight, but you have your own business to run. Also, the conventional wisdom may be stupid. For example, many firms employ commonly accepted design standards but fail to adapt them to match how their customers engage with the website. Gauge what design elements your customers are looking for. What features and functionality are most important to them at each stage of the buying process?

Deadly Sin No.5: Choosing design over functionality

Figures from the Internet Statistics Compendium show that consumers spend an average of three minutes on a site and 80 per cent only scan the page they’re looking at. Therefore, the most important factor of any webpage is simplicity, allowing your customers to find the information easily. One of the most common traps that companies fall into is spending too much time on the homepage. Less than half of all web users will arrive on a site through the homepage, and the chances of making a sale from it are slim. Extra effort should be made to optimise your product pages, as these are making you the most money. Pay attention to issues like download times and web browsers; customers have little patience for sites that don’t work.

Deadly Sin No.6: Failing to understand the online business environment

The people running your team must have a proper understanding of the online environment and be committed to the project, particularly at the senior levels. Make sure your whole business is ready for the ecommerce project, not just the departments and employees directly involved in its initial creation. Success will depend on cross-functional collaboration rather than the ecommerce manager running things alone.

Deadly Sin No.7: Appointing one person to run the show

Of course, you need someone at the top to make all the big decisions – but the number one reason for ecommerce project failure is poor management. Remember, it’s a team effort. You need people who are in charge of a specific area and can sign-off on things, so assess the impact the project will have on job employee roles, business functions and processes. Appoint an internal business team from the start, with representatives from each department. Employ a good project manager to get everyone pulling together and make sure there are decision-makers with budgetary discretion who can maintain the project’s momentum.

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