Fixing non-performing eCommerce/Digital channels - the importance of working on your existing eCommerce technology first

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Before heading into a detailed look at what it takes to fix underperforming eCommerce/Digital channels, the first point to make is replatforming is not the answer.

If you are leading or heading an eCommerce/Digital channel and you know it can perform better, you may be asking yourself the following questions...

  1. What does the process look like in order to uncover the under-performing or sub standard parts of the eCommerce/Digital channel?
  2. Once I find these underperforming parts, what is the process of identifying the solutions to repair what's found?
  3. What activities do specialists need to undertake to change these underperforming parts into valuable contributors to creating amazing online experiences?

When organisations are confronted with underperforming eCommerce/Digital channels, many think replatforming is the answer. The automatic assumption is the problem stems from the eCommerce technology.

This is an incorrect assumption.

eCommerce technology is an easy scapegoat, because its always there, and the technology vendors are typically poor communicators, making them easy targets.

Greg Randall has personally taken technology, considered to be the "problem", and has increased revenues anywhere from 100% to 1,000% on that technology!

If you listen to every single head of a digital, you will hear them all complain about their own eCommerce technology. This implies every single eCommerce technology is ill-equipped to support an organisation's digital strategy.

This assumption is also incorrect.

Replatforming is the process of throwing away the existing technology and undergoing the complex process of identifying a new suitable eCommerce technology and more importantly, a new suitable vendor to support the eCommerce technology.

The is not the right approach.

The Right Approach

The right approach is to make changes to the existing eCommerce technology and gain as much value out if it as possible. This achieves a few things:

  1. Improves experiences for consumers and increases revenue for the retailer in the short term.
  2. Due to a more rigorous best practice approach in driving the technology to improve performance, the true weaknesses of the technology (if any) becomes apparent. Only once the business gains this clarity does it become the beginning of a business case to replatform.

When undertaking this approach of improving the performance of the existing eCommerce technology the effort and cost of replatforming typically does not stack up.

This is because the perceived weakness of the technology prove to be inaccurate, and a number of new issues causing the eCommerce/Digital channels underperformance comes to light.

Some common examples of the "new issues" that are typically uncovered...

  1. The wider business architecture (business systems sending information to the eCommerce technology) is either poorly constructed or the integrations of business systems to the eCommerce technology is to a low standard and thus influences performance.
  2. The low standard of conduct by the current technology vendors caused the issues.
  3. The low standard of conduct by the supporting advertising agency, causes the issues by driving a low standard of traffic to the site.
  4. The low standard of self proclaimed "UX experts", and/or the design team caused the issues.
  5. The low standard of conduct by internal employees caused the issues.

So what does the process of repairing the existing eCommerce technology look like?

The first and biggest challenge is finding a digital specialist who can lead this process. Greg Randall has been fixing existing digital channels for 15 years, and has developed a robust process, proven to deliver results every time.

Why is it important to focus on improving experiences for consumers?

There are 10 principles that must working together to create amazing online experiences. These are embedded into this process and explained in a research paper written by Greg Randall (click here to read).

A retailer currently has an approach to digitally present products, content, brand material, and there is underlying functionality to enable it all. This is represented by the circle in Figure 1 titled "How Retailers Sell".

Consumers have their own preferences as to how they wish to engage with these products and content. If the content is not presented to the consumer’s expectation, he/she has a bad experience. This is represented by the circle in Figure 1 titled "How Consumers Buy"(or information gather or seeking inspiration).

The overlap in Figure 1 represents when a retailer meets the consumer's expectation resulting in an online purchase. This is also known as the conversion rate (dividing total purchases into total visits). The average global conversion rate across all retail is 2.3% to 3%.

Figure 1

This process to enhance experiences dramatically, is one that improves alignment between a retailer’s presentation of products and content to how consumers want to engage with products and content.

This improvement in alignment creates amazing online experiences and builds a larger overlap (of the two circles), leading to an increase conversion rates.

The process below shows how to create amazing online experiences (building the overlap).

The Process:

Step 1: The wider business strategy

Digital channels add the most value when they support, align, and enhance the wider business strategy.

To ensure all decision-making supports the wider business, a full appreciation of business wide strategies is necessary.

What are the foundation business activities in place to help the business achieve KPI's.

The second part of this step is reviewing the business architecture to ensure business systems are working together in translating and efficiently passing the right information from one business system to another to a high standard.

Step 2: Deep dive into the data

This step is a fact-finding mission to understand and uncover the following:

  1. What experiences customers enjoy when interacting with the retailer? Greg Randall searching for those areas of the site are delivering great experiences. Once found, these experiences are preserved and leveraged.
  2. What customers do not like when engaging with the retailer? This is uncovering the pain points occurring when existing customers have intent to purchase and their needs are not being adequately addressed. Uncovering and resolving this builds customer loyalty.
  3. What consumers (not customers) do not like when engaging with the retailer? This is the process of uncovering the pain points the retailer is not addressing for those consumers who has never purchased from the retailer previously. Uncovering and resolving this improves new customer acquisition.
  4. What types of experiences do consumers need to either buy online or have the confidence to make the effort of heading into a physical store location?

The definition of "consumer pain” is when they have intent, want to engage, and the site does not deliver on the consumer’s expectation (remember the two circles).

Meeting the needs of a market the retailer could not previously satisfy, drives the customer acquisition strategy.

Specific activities required in Step 2:

Deep analysis will be conducted from the following sources:

  1. Behavioural site analytics
  2. Customer communication data (for example online chat records)
  3. Interviews with front line employees (salespeople) and customer support teams
  4. Consumer demand data

There are reasons why each of the above four sources are important:

Analysis Source #1 - Site Analytics:

Consumers vote through their actions. The analysis of site analytics is critical to uncover "what" is happening. Analysing the right data also provides insight into “why" these consumer behaviours are occurring.

Understanding the “What” focuses our attention on the “Why”. Answering the “Why” shapes and influences the enhancement plan. The "Enhancement Plan" is the deliverable document comprising all the necessary changes needed to improve performance.

Behavioural data is the quantitative perspective of identifying consumer pain points.

Analysis Sources #2 and #3 - Customer communication data and employee interviews:

These sources gaining a truer, qualitative sense of consumer pain points. These sources heavily contributes to answering the "why".

Why are these sources so important?

The most accurate and clear representation of consumer pain points comes in the moment when buying intent is happening.

A recent study showed 64% of consumers reached out to customer support to assist them with an online or in store purchase. Because in-store employees and call center teams are positioned on the front line, they are exposed to consumer pain on a daily basis.

To be effective in their roles, frontline staff are literally forced to construct solutions to deal with these consumer pain points. If they didn’t, no sales would be occurring. Further to this point, call center teams (and employees who are managing the communications on the online chat) are engaging with consumers who are on the website. The consumer is calling because the site is not answering their important questions (this is the pain). These employees are resolving this pain while the consumer is in their "moment of need".

This insight is a valuable source of information to resolve the "why" question of what is happening on the site.

Once this data is captured, the eCommerce expert goes through a lengthy process of digitally translating all the insights gathered and applies them to the enhancement plan.

Greg Randall calls this part of the process as “value creation” and is discussed in the 10 principles research paper.

Analysis Source #4 - Consumer Demand data:

The eCommerce expert embarks on a research process looking for consumer demand data for specific keywords (these are search terms consumers are entering into Google Australia or NZ) that indicate specific intent for target markets the retailer wishes to align too.

This approach aligns to what Google calls “micro moments”, a key principle to delivering amazing online experiences, and a core part of new customer acquisition.

The deliverables for Step 2:

All the insights gathered within Step 2 culminates in capturing the following information:

  1. All the issues (and pain points) found
  2. All solutions to resolve the issues
  3. New opportunities*

*These are experiences occurring on the site and consumer demand the retailer will not be aware of. These are called out in the document.

Step 3. Front End Best Practice Audit

From the outputs of Step 2, there will be a clear view of the "experience issues" and more importantly, where on the site these issues are occurring. This understanding sharpens the focus of the front-end best practice audit.

Because this audit is done in the context of the behavioural data it builds the connection of issues to the front end (what the consumer engages with). Having this clarity makes it simpler to repair.

In the instance where a replatform project becomes the next business priority, having this clarity ensures the "experience issues" are not copied over to the new eCommerce technology. The act of copying over bad experiences over is one of the most common aspects of replatform failure globally.

Greg Randall is recognised as being a world class practitioner in Digital/eCommerce best practice, and has published a 4-book series on this subject matter.

The outcomes of the audit become part of the deliverable document (the enhancement plan).

Step 4. Confirming Functional Requirements:

The insights and findings gathered in steps 1, 2, and 3 identifies a series of behaviours the digital channel must undertake to create amazing experiences. These “behaviours” are enabled by functionality and business architecture (as mentioned above).

The purpose of this step is to confirm all eCommerce functionality and business architecture requirements in order to support business strategy and create amazing online experiences.

Step 5. Document Creation – The Enhancement Plan

The findings from the above sources come together to form a document written in “business speak” articulating what the eCommerce/Digital channel needs to look and behave like to lift performance.

This document will produce the following outputs:

  1. Site performance issues are called out and backed up by the data and insights gathered.
  2. For every issue, there is a corresponding solution to rectify.
  3. Clear instructions are provided on how the business can acquire new customers through the proposed enhancements.
  4. If new functionality is part of the solution, it is justified as to why, and an explanation is provided on how it needs to be treated both visually and in its behaviour.
  5. Changes required in the online analytics tool configuration to improve the standard of monitoring (typically Google Analytics).

The recommendations are then arranged from high impact to low impact in the context to improving online experiences. There are also complexity ratings to inform the business of the level of effort required in specific recommendations.

The "impact" and "complexity" ratings provides clarity around the order in which the changes need to be made. The obvious thing to do is to prioritise the "high impact" "low complexity" activities which does the following...

  1. Forms the first phase of improvements to be implemented
  2. To ensure the body of work delivers maximum business impact
  3. To deliver ROI ASAP


It's important to note, while the process works across all business models, no two enhancement plans are the same.

Businesses have different dynamics influencing the performance of their own eCommerce/Digital channel. There is no such thing as a "cookie cutter" approach to improving the online channel to new heights.

And once the changes are made, they continue adding value long after the project is completed.

You have essentially improved the selling capability of your "online sales employee".

This article was as tagged as Best Practice , Customer Experience Design , Data Driven Decision Making , Digital Strategy

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