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GUEST COMMENT How can an ecommerce platform transform a good business into a great one?

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Every company wants to be a visionary; every company wants to grow; every company wants to be top of their industry.

But business isn’t as quite straightforward as it sometimes used to be. With the proliferation of high speed internet, cloud, multichannel offering and an increase in consumer expectations, the stakes have never been higher for a company looking at staying ahead of the technology curve.

And retail is certainly one of the fastest moving industries out there. Consider Amazon as an example: it’s reinvented itself from an online book store to one of the biggest growing companies in the world, spanning live music, groceries, fashion, baby care and a pioneer in the latest technologies.

So what’s the relevance of ecommerce platforms? Fundamentally, an ecommerce platform is the backbone of any retail organisation, allowing the front-end and back-end to work in tandem and efficiently. Consider the ecommerce platform as the foundation or the girders of an enterprise; without it, your business will come crashing down.

Without a solid ecommerce platform, your company won’t grow. If your company doesn’t grow, it will never be more than ‘good’. Let’s discuss how, through ecommerce platforms, we can turn a good business into a great one.

A brief history of time

Before specialised platforms came into existence, ecommerce solutions were a costly and time-consuming business. They were unscalable, challenging to manipulate and difficult to integrate with other software across the business.

Nowadays, with the benefit of the cloud and an explosion of channels, platforms have become an essential component of any serious ecommerce business. And they cover so much more than they ever used to.

From inventory management, warehouse fulfilment, CRM, customisable web design, integrated M-commerce (mobile commerce) functionalities and many more, the platform allows a business to perform complex functions both in the back end and front end of its operations.

Without all of the above functioning in one smooth process, problems can occur. Just one chink in this ‘supply chain’ could have a knock-on effect on your whole business, denting your reputation and ultimately affecting sales.

A data-first approach

Data has managed to flush out many of a business’ pain points; now, it is simply one of the main drivers to successful enablement of a platform. Data is the building blocks of a platform – and it can never truly be built without the input of good, quality information.

One of the main mistakes when building an ecommerce platform is starting it before the data is ready. Whereas, introducing it right at the beginning of a platform implementation project means companies avoid the pitfalls of elongated test cycles at the end.

Products, pricing, inventory, customer specific contracts, promotions — all of this data bounces off the product and customised code, and gives you a sense of how the system responds in real life.

According to a report by McKinsey, only 26% of digital transformation efforts deliver performance results above expectations. Making sure you have the right data, married to the right application and the appropriate interfaces (ie. how you get at the data) is a recipe for platform success and will improve your business no end.

Best practice guidelines

Before you even consider selecting a platform vendor, you need to consider what your vision and business objective is. Let that decision shape the evaluation of the platform and an implementation partner you trust shape the platform decision — you should consider both together.

Here are some guidelines to help you through best practice ecommerce implementation:

1. Start with a vision that articulates the strategic direction of your ecommerce plan. You should craft this with involvement and feedback from your customers.

2. Develop an architecture that supports your vision. Identify your data and develop your interfaces before you start on implementing what customers see.

3. Select an implementation partner that is the most likely to be able to take the vision and implement it in all its vivid detail.

4. Choosing a partner with prior experience of implementations of your scale, and in your market, is extremely important.

What does the future bring?

The technology sector is rapidly changing – and unfortunately, there’s no accurate way of predicting the future. For many organisations, this creates a lot of uncertainty in an industry that is constantly in flux.

Our research showed that a considerable number of businesses seem to underestimate, or are ill-prepared, for the technology of the future. Nearly a third (29%) said they don’t have the technology in place to cope with emerging trends in the next five years, while 55% state keeping up with new technology to satisfy customer demand as a new concern. Perhaps this is why three out of four major businesses say they plan to switch ecommerce platforms within 12 to 18 months.

Yet suffice it to say, ecommerce platforms have come a long way in the past twenty years, in terms of the power of the technology on which it’s powered and the support it provides any retail business.

Don’t ignore the value in investing in an ecommerce platform that works for you. Don’t settle for ‘good’ and make that platform change that will bring your company greatness.

Craig Harper-Ashton is multichannel director at Salmon

Internet Retailing is hosting a webinar, The experts’ guide to ecommerce platform selection and delivery, with Salmon and Forrester on Thursday June 22 – you can register here.

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