Social-distancing norms and lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the need for customers to shop online. Brands that had a strong digital presence find themselves at an advantage in catering to this increased online traffic. Those that did not invest in creating a robust digital commerce experience find themselves losing customers to peers and face a much more slowed recovery post-pandemic.
“The complexity of setting up a digital commerce platform makes it difficult to roll out quickly. It takes months and sometimes even almost a year to have the platform ready for customers,” says Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “In the current scenario, however, time is of the essence for businesses to jump-start their digital commerce platforms, if they haven’t done so already.”
To quickly launch an e-commerce platform in as little as seven days, organizations can follow three steps.
Step 1: Prepare by setting up the team and defining business
This phase sets up a collaboration team and defines the business’ go-to-market approach.
Digital commerce requires cross-functional teams consisting of sales, marketing, merchandising, customer service, supply chain and IT. As multiple workstreams take place at the same time, each team needs to own its part of the customer journey. For example, marketing will drive a customer from awareness to evaluation, purchase and fulfillment. IT, sales and customer service typically come into the picture only after a customer has moved beyond the awareness phase.
“For an efficient commerce platform, silos have to break. Every team has to be tied together with one mission,” says Shen.
“ A successful platform needs to continuously evolve and cater to the changing needs of the customer”
In this phase, leaders must identify bottlenecks that may jeopardize the project. Brainstorm ways to accelerate the pace of delivery. Contribution from every team is critical and imperative to the success of the platform.
Once the team is set, the next move is to define the business. Identify metrics beyond financial performance that will define success of the platform. The four important questions leaders must ask at these points are:
- What products need to be online?
- Which customers should I target?
- Which business model will I use — B2B or B2C?
- Which channels should I focus on for the initial launch?
Read more: Top 10 Trends in Digital Commerce
Step 2: Select go-to-market approaches and deploy the technology
0 –7 days: Social media
Social media is the fastest and easiest way to kick-start digital commerce. Set up a business account with a social media platform where the majority of the target audience is present.
For example, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and WhatsApp allow the sale of physical goods, whereas WeChat allows a wide range of products including physical, digital and services.
“This channel has its own limitations, too. It is better suited for B2C brands rather than B2B. A lot of clutter sometimes distracts customers from purchasing products, so it is best to stick to 20 or fewer units on the interface. The limited options make the purchase journey faster,” says Shen.
7 – 60 days: Online marketplaces
Online marketplaces such as Amazon and Tmall are popular shopping destinations in many markets. A low-to-medium level of technical skills is required to set up a store, and integration with back-end systems is often required. While setting up marketplace stores does not take long, successfully operating those stores requires knowledge of marketplace rules and expertise in operations.
7 – 100 days: Direct-to-customer platform
An independent commerce platform gives a more fulfilling and personalized customer experience but requires a higher level of technical expertise.
Step 3: Improve and evolve with fast iterations
Post-launch, monitor performance metrics to identify areas of improvement such as product assortment, product recommendation, logistics and operational efficiency.
“The launch of a digital commerce platform is only the tip of the iceberg. A successful platform needs to continuously evolve and cater to the changing needs of the customer,” says Shen. “Focus on customer feedback as well as employee feedback to assess the effectiveness of the platform.”
As the platform evolves, teams can add more components on the platform that were excluded earlier in the interest of time. Replicate the success of the platform to more product lines and business units once you are confident that the model is working.