The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Strategy and Planning
Are you looking to grow your eCommerce sales quickly and easily? You’ve come to the right place.
An effective eCommerce strategy and careful planning are key to achieving rapid growth in your eCommerce business. If you haven’t started your eCommerce business or set up your online store yet, don’t worry, we’ll show you how. We also have a strategy for creating an in-depth eCommerce business plan from scratch.
Find out some of the benefits of eCommerce, options for eCommerce training, and how to use eCommerce analytics. By the end, we’ll have you asking WHO not HOW when it comes to overcoming your eCommerce woes. Let us show you how.
What is an eCommerce Strategy?
Your vision, goals and objectives for growing your eCommerce sales over a specified period all comprise your eCommerce strategy. Your strategy should include an overview of where you are now, where you would like to go, the obstacles you will need to overcome, and the benefits of reaching your new eCommerce destination.
What is an eCommerce Plan?
Sometimes an eCommerce strategy is confused with an eCommerce plan. The two, however, are not the same. An eCommerce plan is a component of your eCommerce strategy containing the specific steps you will take to bring your strategy to fruition. The key topics to cover in an eCommerce plan include:
- Vision and Strategy Summary
- What does success look like and how will you get there in 2-3 sentences?
- Key Requirements
- What resources and information will you need to achieve your strategy?
- Who’s Involved?
- Who will comprise your team of experts to help you meet your objectives?
- What is the extent of your strategy? What are the limits?
- What is your timeframe for achieving your objectives?
- Obstacles, and Strategies to Overcome
- What are the obstacles you expect to face and how will you overcome them?
- Key Results - Metrics and KPIs
- How will you measure your success?
- Benefits from Achieving the Results
- What do you hope to gain when your strategy is successful?
If compiling all of this information feels overwhelming right now, try utilizing some of our free tools for a more methodical approach. We’ll provide links to these and more in the “How to Get eCommerce Training” section of this page.
How to Start an eCommerce Business
Before you start diving into the world of eCommerce business, you need to get clear on where you are. Without this critical step, how will you decide where to go next? To get a clear picture of where you’re stand next to eCommerce, you will need to ask yourself three big questions:
Why would you want to engage in eCommerce? You’ll need to consider why eCommerce might be beneficial to your business and make a list of these reasons. You can find some ideas in the “Benefits of eCommerce” section of this page.
What would you do with an eCommerce strategy? This is all about brainstorming a basic strategy and deciding if it’s feasible for your business. You’ll need to understand how to commit to and plan for eCommerce, then explore potential solutions and the impact they might have on standard operations.
REMEMBER: launching an online store should not be treated as a one-and-done project. You will need to commit to ongoing maintenance in order for your eCommerce strategy to be successful.
If eCommerce is right for you, how will you get started? You’ll need to consider first which selling platform is best for you, how you are going to coordinate marketing and what you will do to optimize customer service. We recommend starting with one or two key products while you are getting established. You will need to keep an eye out for services that integrate with your platform as you continue to grow and innovate.
Making a Plan
Once you’ve quizzed yourself with those three big questions, get ready to make a plan. Your plan should account for the five stages of the customer journey, from the initial attraction to selling and delivering your product to customer satisfaction, retention and growth.
The good news is that there’s a simple and complete way to plan for, implement and operate your eCommerce business. You just need to make a plan in five areas.
At the center of this approach, is the insight that eCommerce is best thought of as a loop. At Second Spring, we view the customer journey as a continuous, never ending loop with the customer at the center. Your goal should be to accelerate this journey as your relationships grow and new customers come aboard.
Simplify selling online by thinking like your customer and every step of the way, and never losing sight of what they want. The customer relationship should be the basis for all of your selling and marketing decisions.
There are five key stages in the loop.
- Attract strangers to your products
- Sell your products online
- Deliver on what you promised
- Satisfy your customers
- Grow your relationships – and your business
We’ll look into these steps more in-depth in the “How to Create an eCommerce Business Plan” section of this page.
REMEMBER: B2B and service-based companies can make improvements using the exact same loop. The difference is that a B2B or service-based business may make their investments in different areas than retail and B2C companies.
For example, where a B2C company may invest in promoting product pages across Google Shopping, a service-based company may invest in sponsored advertisements in the social media feeds of its target audience. A B2C company may invest in an information database and knowledgeable chatbots to handle part of their customer satisfaction while a B2B company will likely invest in live, assigned representatives for each customer.
How to Setup an Online Store
If you’ve started researching potential selling platforms, you’ve likely stumbled upon Shopify. Shopify is one of the most popular platforms with shopping cart software and the platform we most highly recommend when you’re first launching an online store.
Shopify is ideal for small and new businesses because it’s convenient and requires little to no coding knowledge. Once you’ve set up an account and answered a few questions, you’ll find yourself at the admin panel where you’ll be invited to connect your website. From there, you’ll select a theme and add your products. (Again, we recommend starting with one or two until you get a feel for the platform and the online selling experience.)
Once you’re ready, you’ll go back to carefully add all of your products and install more apps, like HubSpot, that integrate with your selling platform and will help you further expand your business.
Click here for a full beginner’s guide on setting up your online store with Shopify.
How to Create an eCommerce Business Plan
There are typically eight steps to take on the way to building and solidifying your eCommerce business plan, beginning with your commitment to eCommerce and defining your customer. You’ll recognize steps 3 to 7 as the components of the customer loop from the previous section.
Step #1 - Commit to eCommerce
In this first step, you are going to map out your eCommerce project at a high level and make that critical decision to commit to it. You’ll need to create a vision, address any resistance, and develop strategies for managing resistance. Conceive items that will be required to craft a detailed plan for your eCommerce project and review any key decisions that need to be made before you make the final call.
Step #2 – Define your Customer
In this step, you need to define your customer persona. Really establish who you are selling to. Create an overview of the key elements of your customer persona and think about tools you can use to attract these customers specifically to your online store. Make a list.
Step #3 – Attracting Your Ideal Customer
Attracting your ideal customer can be achieved in several ways. Perhaps you will always be paying for traffic to your website or maybe you plan on receiving a significant number of referrals from a repeat customer. The way that you attract your audience to buy from you will vary based on your eCommerce business plan and the customer persona you designed above.
In the beginning, though, you will likely need to focus primarily on defining your keywords and positioning yourself to score well in the rankings for those keywords, whether organically or with paid ads, so you can get found online.
Generating organic traffic and client referrals takes time, so in most cases you will start by generating paid traffic. As you build trust with your customers over time, they will become advocates and ultimately start doing a portion of your marketing for you through means such as social media sharing and word -of-mouth.
Step #4 – Selling Online
In this step, you need to educate yourself on the different ways to sell through eCommerce and decide which platform or marketplace is best for you. In most cases, we recommend using Shopify to start your online store because it is user-friendly with excellent customer support, just like your online store will be.
Step #5 – Delivering on What Your Promised to Your Customer
Decide how you are going to get your products from point A to point B. Who is the most cost-effective carrier with a reputation for timely delivery? Will you need to warehouse your inventory or will you drop-ship? Will you need to hire additional employees? These are all considerations that need to be made to coordinate a satisfying delivery process for your clientele.
You should also put some thought into which products are feasible to sell online. If you can’t compete for price with online competitors or the cost of freight is enormous, you may not be able to achieve a reasonable return on the time and money you put into listing and marketing that item online.
Step #6 – Satisfy and Delight Your Customer
Assess how ready you are to satisfy your online customers. What sort of supports will you have in place to ensure they have the most delightful experience and keep on coming back for more? This is a critical part of your plan and accelerating your customer loop by turning customers into advocates, so don’t take it lightly.
You might consider using a knowledge base or you may need to hire a live support team. You might want to wow your clients with a tailored follow up process and perhaps some targeted remarketing. Again, this piece depends on your specific business model and your own evaluation of your customer persona.
Step #7 – Grow Your Customers, Grow Your Business
Think about the different ways you will grow your online store and decide how to allocate resources as you move forward. All of the time and resources you invested in delivering on your promises and satisfying your customers should be paying off here when they become advocates. Advocates have had such a delightful experience that they will jump at the chance to tell everyone they know about your company, quickly creating new prospects.
Keep all of your customers engaged and maximize your advocates by developing a Customer Trust Circle as we describe it here.
Step #8 – Get Ready to Implement Your Plan
By the end of this process, you should be ready to finalize your eCommerce plan and have a strategy in place for implementation. Make sure to request internal estimates or vendor quotes to clarify the budget and schedule required to make it all happen.
If you’re reaching this point still unsure, you may consider taking the eCommerce training we offer as described in the “How to Get eCommerce Training: section of this page.
Management guru Peter Drucker infamously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” What he meant by this was that your ability to control the destiny of your company is contingent on your ability to measure your results.
You need metrics at every stage of the eCommerce loop to relate exactly how you’re doing and where you can improve. To achieve this, you need one or two KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, that you use as a dashboard for the entire eCommerce division. Most importantly, you need to hold someone accountable for each metric, whether that someone is yourself or one of the experts on your team.
Some key metrics to pay attention to are:
- Rankings for target search keywords
How is your SEO scoring against competitors for target keywords?
- Traffic for organic (aka free) search traffic
How much free traffic is your SEO strategy driving to your website?
- Pay-per-click ad traffic and cost-per-click/CPM
Is the cost of your paid traffic worth the conversions it’s generating?
- New prospects captured
How many prospects are you converting to customers?
- eCommerce store sessions
How many people are landing on your online store?
- eCommerce store conversions (added to cart, reached checkout, sold)
How many people who come to your store are actually buying something?
- Average order value
What is the average ROI per marketing dollar?
- Customer Acquisition Cost
How much do you need to invest for that first sale?
- Lifetime Value of Customer
What is your ROI on marketing to each customer?
Combining data can also help you answer more questions like:
- Which channels drive the most new customers?
- What is the most common path for the customer journey?
- What are our most profitable revenue channels?
- Which users are the most profitable?
- Where are we losing customers?
- What behaviours do repeat customers display?
- What features do customers utilize most?
Understanding your analytics and KPIs will give you constructive insight into your customer behaviours so you can improve the way you interact with your target markets. Gleaning data is also helpful for comparative analyses and making future decisions.
You can utilize header tags to track key events, such as conversions and the popularity of one post versus another posted in the same place. Many social media services offer tools for tracking performance data free of charge. Use Google to handle general reporting on a variety of valuable analytics, including traffic analysis.
All traffic can be divided into four categories: traffic from search engines, traffic from backlink referrals, traffic from marketing campaigns, and direct traffic. Understanding where your traffic is coming from and why is an essential part of measuring the performance of your online store, determining your return on investment and establishing how you should respond.
One final aspect to consider is absolute changes versus relative changes. When you are measuring your KPIs, you should always look at figures comparatively in addition to absolutely. Sometimes, a number may seem small absolutely but it is relatively large when compared to present data. Likewise, a number that seems absolutely large may be relatively small in proportion to your current position and thus not worth a significant investment of resources to investigate at this time. Comparing your measurable changes to a given position will help you understand the relative impact on your business and prevent you from jumping to conclusions based on absolute misconceptions.
How to Get eCommerce Training
If you don’t know where to start, you might consider investing in some eCommerce training for you and your team. At Second Spring, we specialize in making eCommerce as simple and understandable as possible so everyone can use it, not just big corporations. If you decide that a little how-to before getting started is the right route for your business, our knowledgeable team will be here for your every step of the way, we promise.
Below is a summary of our 8-module course, including the tools you’ll be given free lifetime access to.
● Module 1 - Commit to eCommerce:
- Learn how to use The Project Composer™ tool
- Map out your eCommerce project at a high level and feel ready to commit to it
- Learn how to use The eCommerce Growth Planner™ tool to produce a detailed eCommerce plan outline
- Craft a detailed plan for your eCommerce project and review key decisions that need to be made
● Module 2 – Attract #1:
- Understand key elements that attract new customers to your online store
- Learn how to use The Persona Builder™ tool
- Define personas and who you want to be selling to
● Module 3 – Attract #2:
- Focus on defining keywords you want to be known for and how to get found online
- Learn how to use The Keyword Planner™ tool
● Module 4 - Sell:
- Understand the different ways to sell through eCommerce
- Learn how to use The Sell Planning Matrix™ tool
- Determine which platform or marketplace may be best for you
● Module 5 - Deliver:
- Learn how to use The Deliver Planning Matrix™
- Pick and choose the products you want to sell online
● Module 6 - Satisfy:
- Learn how to use The Customer Journey Gap Tool™
- Evaluate your readiness to satisfy online customers
● Module 7 - Grow:
- Develop strategies for allocating resources to grow your online store
- Learn how to use The Digital Growth Planner Canvas™
- Create a visual summary of your growth plan
● Module 8 – Implement:
- Finalize the eCommerce plan based on learnings throughout the course
- Learn how to use The Testimonial Builder™ tool
Benefits of eCommerce
Here are some of the benefits companies often report for eCommerce. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it will give you some ideas about how an eCommerce strategy might be beneficial for your business.
REMEMBER: No one knows your business like you do, so you are best placed to make this assessment on your own.
- Distinguish your brand
- Connect with strangers / out of region
- Nurture prospects
- Lower customer acquisition costs
- Improve customer experience
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Improve cash flow
- Reduce collections efforts
- Shorten your supply chain
- Improve margins
- Shorten sales cycles
- Improve customer service
- Systemize incidents
- Provide customer self service
- Easier follow-on sales (supplies, service)
- Add communication channels
- Provide rewards and discounts
- Offer payment and financing options
- Display testimonials and case studies
- Increase customer loyalty
- Lower operating costs
- Track your customers
- Expand your reach
- Sell internationally
- Encourage impulse buyers
- Increase remarketing potential
- Simplify data collection
Do I Need an eCommerce Consultant?
Before you jump to say no, you’d like to do it all yourself, think about where you’re at. Consider how your life might change if you only did work that aligned with your purpose instead of trying to wear every hat?
Think about how things would be different if you weren’t spending so much timing working on mundane tasks that you don’t enjoy. What if everything you did was your choice? What if you could control how you spent your time, how much money you made, and how you formed relationships and with whom?
That’s where the question of “WHO not HOW” comes in. Too often we are trying to figure out HOW to do something when we should be trying to figure out WHO can do it for us. What may take hours of your valuable time to figure is another’s area of expertise. How much time and energy would you save by outsourcing tasks that don’t align with what you want your role to be in your business?
Make your eCommerce Who Not How Decision!
If you want to focus on HOW to do something, you will do it yourself. In this case, you have no need for a consultant because you’ve decided that you have the capacity to do it or that you are committed to digging in and figuring it out.
However, in many cases, you will find the better answer is searching for someone WHO can help you solve the problem. In this case, you will bring in help and play the role of leader and subject matter expert in your business. Make sure that whoever you bring in aligns well with your strategy, understands where you are within it and where you want to go, and is well armed to help remove the obstacles that are in your way.
If you’re looking for an eCommerce expert that can take the heavy lifting off your plate, Second Spring has a team of specialists waiting to take it on. Let’s connect to discuss a plan of action that will ease your load and exceed your eCommerce expectations today.