Why a business plan isn’t enough – 7 steps to a successful ecommerce strategy

For retailers with an online presence looking to grow year-on-year, an ambition to scale or even an overall business plan isn’t enough. It’s absolutely vital to have a well worked through e-commerce strategy in place. Here are the steps to take to nail your ecommerce plan.

1. Begin with what you know

The starting point should be what you already know. Understanding how your digital marketing and website are currently performing and where there is headroom for improvement is key. If you don’t know where you are, you can’t move forwards and you will not be building on a solid and understood foundation. Growth will be achieved by a mixture of attracting additional traffic,  improved conversion of that traffic (website UX or CRO (conversion rate optimisation) and customer retention or repeat purchase.

2. Get into the specifics

Drill down into your data. The key things to understand and base your plan on are:

  • Which digital marketing channels are performing right now (and which aren’t)?
  • What devices are people using to browse your site and to buy from you?
  • What ROI are you getting from your current marketing activity?
  • What’s the historical customer lifetime value (LTV)?
  • What conversion rate is your website achieving (by device)?

By collecting and analysing this data from the last 12 – 24 months, you can start to identify the following:

  • What is working well and giving you a strong ROI?
  • How much more can you get from each channel and at what cost to the business?
  • Where is there room for improvement, specifically to bring you a better ROI?

Having your data to hand will allow you to model outcomes driven by data insight rather than assumption. It will also allow you to build a business case for additional investment in the website and associated digital marketing channels with predicted uplifts and returns.

3. Conversion rate is key

As a benchmark, a typical e-commerce website should be achieving between 2-4% conversion. It’s worth looking at this rate and setting targets by device; we are currently seeing that desktop is double that of mobile on some sites, but over 60% of people start their journey on mobile. So the sites with poor mobile conversion or user experience are missing an opportunity.

4. Treat your website like an employee

It’s vital that time, effort and resource is put into this critical success factor. Treat the website like an employee: with a focus on continually supporting, developing and refining it. You continue to train evolve your sales team; why not invest in your best sales person that works for you 24/7?

5. Focus on driving traffic – both quantity and quality

By utilising tools such as Google Adwords planner, you can understand what is the size of the market for your terms in your given geographical region. Be niche: what terms are really relevant and are you ranking for them? If not, what revenue do you think they would drive – you can model this using traffic, conversion and AOV.

6. Always dedicate time to trialling new techniques

SEO, PPC (paid search and paid social), social media and email marketing are vital techniques to use to keep your business at the forefront of customers’ minds and to ensure you are always found when people are hunting. You have to invest time, effort and money into these channels to have a successful online business. The beauty of digital marketing is that everything is measurable and easy to test, and you can always model potential outcomes.

7. Continue to test and learn

Test, measure, learn and evolve. Even if a test doesn’t deliver what you predicted or hoped for, you can still gain great insight. All models can be monitored and measured on a regular basis – I would suggest you plan to do this every 3 – 6 months. Models can also be tweaked and fine tuned as results come in and 3rd party elements change – such as Google algorithm updates, Google UX updates, browser changes such as Chrome on Https and so on. We often take a one year plan and convert it into four lots of 90 day sprints – this ensures elements are prioritised and everyone is focused on getting these done.

By having a strong ecommerce plan in place, you can ensure you stay focused on your goals. Always reference them when new opportunities arise and ask yourself ‘by doing this, is it going to take us where we want to be?’

Al Keck is the founder and managing director of Infinity Nation, which helps manage the ecommerce operations for many major brands.

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