We love eCommerce. It's our bread & butter. Some of our best & longest-lasting ongoing relationships are from working with our clients who operate online businesses.
Below I'm going to look at a handful of common situations & the best practices that we at EvenVision have worked on, tested & refined over the years.
1. Only enter data as many times as necessary.
ECommerce can sometimes come across as a big hairy mess, with many different systems required to make a single sale. One of the pitfalls of working with a lot of different systems is identical data needs to be present in a lot of different places, usually by entering/importing back and forth.
Some of the businesses we've seen have their products listed on a number of different sales platforms; some have them listed in one place and wish they got more exposure. Copy/pasting product information isn't a big deal when there's only a dozen or so products.
If a business is going to grow, there's only two solutions. Either hire an army of interns, or make the web presence smarter.
We actually like interns, but when a business gets to the point where it's managing thousands of products, usually cost to develop something smarter is dwarfed by the man-hours of the hypothetical, or very real, interns on staff.
It's not hard to see how a business winds up with half a dozen systems that all need their data actively managed. For example, one of the common setups we see goes like this:
Website + eStore + POS + Inventory Tracking + Bookkeeping + CRM/Customer Support/Order History/Returns/Refunds...
When taking on a new project, we like to streamline that gnarly combo from above and change it to something like:
Website + POS + Bookkeeping
With a little work and the right business, the website (or a hybrid setup like the example below) can handle tracking inventory, keeping customer & order records, returns & refunds, giving customers access to their order history, even customer support & service. When the different pieces in the chain are able to talk to each other, the staff doesn't have to spend time on it, and efficiency improves.
Let's just take a look at the Website + eStore setup for a moment:
Example | Custom Site w/ Integrated Commerce
Among other things, this allows a staff member to update product information & manage inventory in one place. The system can then handles that data with the main site's database, allowing it to treat the products like it treats any other piece of content & distribute that content to wherever it needs to be.
The new process is simply two steps:
Step 1: Staff member updates the product info.
Step 2: The site does everything else.
2.1: The site adds images & text from that product to the appropriate store category, like so:
2.2: And generates the product's details page:
2.3/2.4: As well as generating the content for other areas as needed, like the homepage & rich menus:
There's 100% control over how much is automated, and how much is determined by the staff.
In the case of the rich menu above (2.4), the three featured images/products for each category are controlled by entering a product name into a search field under the category settings, like so:
This gives staff the ability to hand-pick which products to feature, and the site does the rest. It's that simple.
2. Make the system pick up the mundane work.
Most businesses deal with the following issue: The office manager, or business owner, has some day of the month that they're not looking forward to, because they'll have to do "that thing". Usually for websites it involves some kind of accounting, reporting, or time spent copying data from one place to another. to keep that inventory up to date.
Surprisingly, this is an area where a lot of businesses don't realize how much waste and inefficiency their paying for each month. They've been doing things by hand or in a way that's "good enough" for so long that they've numbed themselves to just how much they're spending. Or they simply just have no idea there are other solutions out there, that aren't going to break the bank to implement.
The more time a business's staff spends crunching numbers and doing boring clerical work, the less time they're able to spend doing things that are more productive.
It's one of the first things people created computers to do, and as it turns out, computers are pretty good at it.
Let's take a look at some specifics:
Example 1 | Monthly Referral Payouts
Here's an example of a managerial interface we put together recently for a client based out of Eureka. The business has a number of different ways content creators can get kickbacks on the instructional lessons they create, and they should get a check each month based on how the business performs.
Without this interface, the person signing the checks would need to go through each order and figure out who the content creator for each video is, who referred the user to the site, what organization they belong to, how many referrals that organization has credit for, then calculate the % referral for each different method from the price of the lesson.
Notice with this setup, the manager has to do zero math to tell how big each creator's referral check needs to be. This means the system is not only more efficient, but reduces the chance for clerical errors.
If we wanted to get really crazy, even this could be automated, connecting the referral amounts to a checking account & sending out checks for the appropriate value to content creators directly.
That's the flip side of this however, sometimes it only makes sense to automate up to a point. That level of automation isn't for everyone, and it's a balance as to where the biggest efficiency gains are to be made.
Example 2 | Back-in Stock Notifications
We have a client based out of Arcata that needed a way to avoid sending out hundreds of hand-written emails to their customers each time a product came back in stock. This is a system that pretty clearly could benefit from automation, but it also needed the ability to only send out emails when desired.
With some clever development, the email addresses are now securely collected on product pages when a product goes out of stock, then the staff can then use the interface below to see how many people have signed up for notifications, who they are, whether they've been contacted before, and whether a product has come back in stock.
When the staff are ready to send, emails are generated based on a template, which has tons of customizability, and allows them to send out each notification with the click of a button.
There are numerous benefits of this type of system, like providing an outlet for customer interaction, or gauging the relative demand for a particular product.
3. Make decisions based on data, not feelings.
This can be a tough one. Most business owners look at the company as their baby, especially when it’s small a company that reflects a lot of the owner’s personality. But also like children, companies frequently get stifled by too much control on the part of a single owner.
In order to grow and be successful, a company needs some room to breathe, to test the waters, to try things that is outside the owners comfort zone. That's not to say they have to let go, but just loosen the grip a little.
One of the best things for a company is when the owner steps back a few inches, and starts to make decisions based on actual quantifiable data. A company will only know if something is really successful or not if it has a clear way of actively tracking it’s goals (or at least some measurable indicator of success) over time.
The first step is to actually have hard data. For most web-based businesses, this means keeping tabs on the number of visitors to the site, what they’re doing on it, and whether they’re finding success or not. To make this a bit technical, having access to analytics data and the ability to understand it will always provide a return on investment.
Here's a few of the tools we use & provide on a regular basis.
Shopify's reporting system provides a store's performance in real-time. It also has reporting features built into other areas of the admin area where they can be helpful for certain things, like ordering, or capturing abandoned carts.
We build an analytics dashboard into each site we launch, which pulls in-depth traffic data directly from Google Analytics.
It's also highly customizable, so if the business needs to know about a particular area or metric, we can simply put a block together that displays the needed information.
SEMRush provides an overwhelming amount of information on organic search data, which we can use to optimize a site's language, and discover name-spaces that could drive more traffic to the site in question with a little promotion.
Moz is a tool that measures credibility of a business in the eyes of search engines, and helps businesses manage the contact information about them that's online. It shows what different listing sites have duplicate profiles, missing or conflictory data, and offers owners the ability to clean it up if needed.
What you can do with data:
As an example, we recently used traffic data to determine the best way to promote a sale was actually to boost the appropriate products to the top of that site’s regular category pages and include "sale" labels on the products. In this case, the category pages have a pretty stellar bounce rate of only 15-20%, which means that we have an audience on those pages that was largely engaged in doing exactly what we wanted them to do: browsing products.
We can then look at the performance of the boosted products against other weekly sales & promotion techniques, measuring the effectiveness & settling on the best way forward.
Data allows for strategy development, but even the best strategy soon need to be executed. Be willing to experiment. Try things on the small scale & see how they go rather than putting all one's hopes on a moon-shot. Nobody gets to the moon without first learning how to get off the ground.
One of the powers of a data-driven approach is that it allows a business to make incremental changes, testing out ideas before going full-steam-ahead.
Make your life easier.
A lot of the ideas & tools above are simpler than they look. A lot of business isn't mind-blowing. A lot of it is simply knowing what you're good at, and what you need help with, then finding good partners who share your values & will stick around for the long-haul. Look after your business & base your decisions on what's best for it.
There will always be challenges in business. But that doesn't mean the day to day has to be mundane. Let the technology take over the routine, so you can direct your energy to the better, bigger, more interesting challenges, or running an amazing business.