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February 22, 2021
The full guide consists of 3 parts.
Ecommerce Guide. Part 2 - LAUNCH.
We’ve developed a 3-step framework for brands that want to add an online sales channel to their offerings:
Step 1: Releasing an online product catalog.
Step 2: Adding information about product availability and promotional offers to your catalog.
Step 3: Allowing users to purchase products straight from the catalog
This step has two stages to it, depending on the type of delivery:
Step 3a: Self-pickup
Step 3b: Home delivery
As you can see, at the end of the process, you will end up with a full-fledged ecommerce website for your brand—that is your ultimate goal, right? On top of that, you will enjoy multiple benefits of building your store this way. Let’s take a closer look at the main advantages.
First of all, you will be able to provide value to your consumers quickly. Launching the first version of your ecommerce (the online catalog) will take weeks instead of months. Furthermore, you will start collecting data earlier. Once your product catalog is online, you can start gathering both quantitative data (web and mobile analytics) and qualitative data (user feedback). These insights will help you make better, data-driven decisions along the way and validate your ideas.
You no longer have to guess what your audience wants to see in your online store—you will have data to back your call up. Even if you decide to launch a feature that turns out to be unpopular among your users, you can easily back down and iterate it based on people’s feedback. Imagine a similar situation when you’re not moving step-by-step, but instead launching your ecommerce as a big-bang release. In such a case, you have to hope that people like it as it is because you have already spent a lot of time and money on building your online store.
Finally, this approach will help you build a better relationship with your online audience. Not only will you provide value for your users early, but you also will be able to provide it often. Every upgrade to your ecommerce will further benefit your users. A continuous stream of valuable features will make them happy and give you time to earn trust and win their loyalty.
Our approach to online retail expansion is rooted in the Lean Startup methodology. One of the main principles of this approach is to develop the so-called Minimum Viable Products, collect feedback on them, and then further improve the product.
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the smallest version of your product that delivers customer value. MVP is not a mockup or a beta version—it’s a product that solves your audience’s real problems. It’s just stripped of bells and whistles that aren’t the core of its functionality.
Thinking about your upcoming ecommerce as an MVP allows you to focus on the features that really matter, and leave the fluff for later. Sure, your competitors might have fancy interactions and features in their ecommerces. Still, if you’re not confident they would make a considerable difference for your audience, you shouldn’t copy these features just because they “seem cool”. It’s an excellent exercise in user empathy and building human-centered products.
Relying on Minimum Viable Products is a great strategy for ecommerce development because it helps you to build products that are better suited to your audience's actual needs.
We hope that these arguments have convinced you that dividing the development of your ecommerce into stages is beneficial for you and your audience. It’s time to focus on the first step of our framework: creating an online product catalog.
Building an online catalog is a viable first step in creating an online presence for your brand.
Why? It’s relatively simple to build, and it provides an excellent foundation for further development of your ecommerce. On top of that, an online product catalog offers significant business benefits.
It’s possible that, when trying to collect information for your upcoming online catalog, you’ll realize that you don’t have all of the data at hand. Simultaneously, complete and consistent product information will help you tremendously to build trust with your audience and provide them with a convenient browsing experience.
So, what should you do? We’ve collated some tips that will help you to overcome this challenge.
First of all, audit the data you have. Make sure the facts you’ve gathered are up-to-date and correct.
If you’re genuinely starting from scratch when it comes to product information, begin with a general inventory (you can use a spreadsheet for that). Such a list will help you realize the scale of your endeavor: we assume that you more-less know how many products your business offers, but you also need to understand the types of data you will need to gather.
Divide these categories of data into:
While you’re at it, you might also want to think about your organization’s product information management processes. Who’s in charge of product data? How does product information originate? How is it updated? Where do you store it?
If you’re set on building an online presence for your company, proper data management will be of utmost importance. This is the time for you to implement processes and software that will help your organization to manage its product information in the long haul.
Yet another way to efficiently populate your product database would be to acquire information from external catalogs. There are platforms (e.g., Syndigo, Nielsen Brandbank) that can provide you with comprehensive information on products you need for your online catalog. Check if the data provider you want to choose follows the Global Data Synchronisation Network (GDSN) standard.
We’ve already mentioned that effective product data management should be a priority for you. In order to manage your data, you need some space where you can store it. Below, you'll find a list of options, ordered from simple to more sophisticated solutions.
These tools can work if you have a limited product range and/or you don’t need to integrate your product database with external systems:
Spreadsheet - organize your product data in Excel or Google Sheets, add FTP links to images. It needs to be exportable to the .csv format.
Internal database - you can use a database that includes product information your company gathered for different purposes as long as it can be exported to the .csv format.
The next couple of options are more robust. They have their own API, which means you can navigate the data efficiently and export it in a structured way.
Custom-built software - if your organization's needs are very unique, the best option for you may be to hire a technical team to build a tool for you.
CMS platforms - Content Management Systems allow you to store content and create, for example, new product pages, landing pages, or blog posts. Adobe Experience Manager and Drupal are popular CMS options for ecommerces.
Headless CMS platforms - software is “headless” when it doesn’t have (or even need) a graphical user interface. You can store your data in a headless content management solution (e.g., Contentful), and seamlessly integrate it with the rest of your ecommerce infrastructure.
Finally, you can decide to utilize software that’s been specifically designed to store product-related data and assets. You might have heard about PIM (Product Information Management) and DAM (Digital Asset Management) tools. Let’s dive deeper into these types of tools and use cases you might consider.
What’s the difference between PIMs and DAMs? They are both used to manage data, but the difference lies in the kind of data they store:
PIM and DAM apps come with features that make it easier to create and update assets, but their benefits also depend on your use cases:
You could also use tools that have integrated the features of both PIM and DAM so that you have a well-structured repository of your product-specific information and other assets created by your teams.
One final thought in this section. At the end of the day, it’s crucial to tailor your software to your company’s data management processes. That’s why you need to identify your organization’s current processes and its deficiencies—this is something an experienced group of consultants may help you with.
It’s time to get to the second step of your ecommerce implementation. Your online product catalog is already up: use this opportunity to collect user feedback and start measuring people’s activity on your catalog’s website. This kind of data will help guide your decision regarding the next steps.
At this stage, we will enrich your online catalog by adding information about product availability and prices. Users will be able to see how much the products cost and check their availability in your brick-and-mortar locations. What is more, you will have an opportunity to update prices in the catalog to reflect current promotions.
At first, this step sounds pretty straightforward—you just need to provide more information to your existing online product catalog. In fact, however, it’s a bit more complicated. In order to build a robust catalog with dynamic prices and product availability, you need to integrate several tools:
During this phase, you can encounter a couple of obstacles that are not easy to anticipate:
This is the stage when you can transform your online channel into a typical ecommerce store. You’ll do that by adding the registration/log-in paths to your catalog and enabling people to purchase products directly on the website.
In order to do that, you will need a platform (read more on your tech options below: SaaS commerce platforms or custom ecommerce development) where users can create an account, sign in, add your products to their carts, and pay for their orders.
This is a crucial stage in ecommerce development. Mistakes made here may prove to have severe consequences for your store’s bottom line and your brand’s reputation. That’s why you need to take some time to think through the following elements of your ecommerce.
Each of these deserves a thorough evaluation:
How does it work? People purchase items through your website, but they need to pick them up in a brick-and-mortar store. It’s lately become a popular strategy for ecommerce stores: according to iVend’s research, 81.4% of consumers have used the Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS) method.
The Click & Collect approach can be beneficial for both clients and retailers.
From your perspective, this is obviously a cost-saving solution: it’s cheaper to set up a self pick-up system than to coordinate delivery services. On top of that, you have more chances to make a good impression on your customers, as they will actually visit your brick and mortar stores (if this is where you decide to create your pick-up points). Self pick-up is also a great strategy for upselling. When a customer visits your offline location to collect their order, you can attract their attention to other products you offer.
From your customers’ perspective, Click & Collect could be a very convenient option, especially if you offer a wide selection of pick-up locations. Customers themselves can decide when they want to get the products they’ve purchased, without having to wait for the delivery.
Shoppers who prefer to purchase goods offline still have an opportunity to visit your store, but they’re confident that the product they’re after will be available and waiting for them. Finally, Click & Collect is usually free for the buyers, so they can save some money.
Regardless of the location of your pick-up points, you can’t forget about designing an exceptional in-store experience. It shouldn’t feel like an afterthought, but rather as an integral part of the purchase process.
How does it work? People purchase items through your website, and the products they buy are shipped to them. As a person working in retail and, most probably, an online shopper yourself, you’re definitely familiar with home delivery. It requires quite a lot of additional logistic and operational efforts, which is why we suggest it to be the second step in your ecommerce delivery strategy, after self pick-up.
There you have it—a blueprint for building ecommerce platforms that allows you to provide new value to your audience regularly, but also develop your store with customers’ needs in mind.
Similarly to B2C companies, B2B retailers prioritize superior client experience, although, for B2B ecommerce, the focus is on customer retention. In order to maintain a loyal client base, your platform needs to be very convenient to use for whole teams and reflect the individual needs of businesses purchasing from you.
When planning to build an ecommerce platform for business clients, you can follow a similar framework to the one outlined above. Yet, you have to make some adjustments to comply with your customers’ requirements. We’ve prepared a list of considerations you may want to consider from the very beginning when building a B2B ecommerce platform.
Individual offers for different customers. One of the main differences between B2C and B2B is that, while individual customers usually all have to pay the same price for a given product, business customers may have various rates depending on different factors. This is why B2B ecommerce platforms (even at the online product catalog level) often need to include a registration option. Customers can log in and access their own catalog with products and prices adjusted to their contracts with a given retailer.
As for the prices themselves, even if you don’t need to display individual rates, you may want to remind your customers about threshold discounts (and adjust the size of the discount to a particular client).
Many B2B retailers decide not to have an open-access online catalog and instead give access credentials only to the businesses they collaborate with.
Robust customer service. As we’ve already mentioned, B2B retailers deeply care about customer retention. In order to keep your key clients on board, you might want to introduce customer services available for your online customers.
Imagine this scenario: one of your business clients wants to order products that, unfortunately, are currently out of stock. If they don’t find a suitable alternative in your offer, they may switch to one of your competitors. Of course, that’s not a turn of events you want to see.
In order to fulfill their needs, you can build a system that will automatically recommend alternatives. Still, chances are that a human customer success agent will be able to come up with a more personalized offer. Pairing technology with some human touch might be a recipe for success here.
Ordering and purchasing workflow. B2B purchasing is often much more complex than B2C shopping. First of all, the person who orders products doesn’t have to be the person who ends up paying for the order.
This is why, as a B2B retailer, you might want to set up special workflows and permissions in your ecommerce that will allow companies to shop according to their internal procedures. For example, one person will be ordering products (potentially up to a certain limit). Then, another employee of that company will verify the order and finalize the transaction.
On top of that, the ordering process doesn’t have to end with payment. Depending on your typical procedures, you may be sending invoices to be paid later or provide clients with monthly invoices, including all of their purchases from a given period.
Integrations. This aspect of ecommerce implementation is crucial for both B2C and B2B brands. A well-connected online platform will be more efficient to use and provide you with more valuable insights. Key systems to integrate your B2B ecommerce with are:
You may also want to consider a punchout integration, a connection between your catalog and your client’s eProcurement system. You can connect them via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). As a result, buyers will be able to access and purchase your products within their own infrastructure.
Complex product configuration. If the product or service you offer is configurable, you may benefit from an interactive configurator on your ecommerce platform. Granted, you still may need to confirm a client-chosen configuration via your sales reps. Still, your customers will appreciate an option to set up their configuration online and see estimated quotes. Overall, it’s also a potential time-saver for both sides of the transaction.
The most important thing to remember here is that even if your B2B retail business has even more specific requirements, you can still progress iteratively. Start with an MVP, the most basic platform that provides value for your customers, and expand your ecommerce based on clients’ feedback and business objectives.
We will discuss different technology choices you have when building up an ecommerce, in the final section of this guide.
Schedule a consultation with New Gravity, experts in building online platforms for retailers.
If you are wondering where we get our knowledge from, take a look at the examples of our work.
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