The Best Retail Website – how to build it and measure it

Date: 20th January 2012
Author: Deri Jones

As retailers make up a good part of the projects we’re busy with the question of to “how to build the best retail website” sometimes comes up.

Which is a great question, and one that everyone in eCommerce should be asking, but even more interesting is when a  Director level person poses the question:

“How do I build and manage a TEAM, to build the Best Retail Website?”

Because it shows a much deeper, more sophisticated, understanding of the evolution of online retail: technology can do great things – but it needs great people to achieve that.

Some retailers I meet are engaged on a fast track growth in their online operations:  either newer companies for whom online has always been the greater part of the business, or household names who are ramping up online strategically.Online Retail

The challenge that I see the more effective ones meet in is recognising that to build the team that will build the best website, it’s vital to get the IT wing and the non-IT (business) wing working together.  Retailers who have not strategically realised the level of focus needed internally to embrace multichannel retailing tend to find it harder to bridge the technology gap.  (Fair do’s, it wasn’t so long ago that IT were seen and not heard, running head office systems that did overnight batch processing! ).

Online retailing means that everything you do, everything, is dependent on the technology! Bringing IT into the circle in a new way.

It’s even clearer that the technology is central when you have in-store kiosks, web-sites, mobile websites, video delivery, social network features, Twitter integration!

What’s needed is to Unite the Tribes by having a common language that both sides can understand. This provides both sides of the vital double-sided coin approach, i.e. an approach that works for both your IT teams, and your marketing and business teams.

The double-sided approach supplies metrics and KPIs for both.

Provides Business level, Budget level proof to the E-commerce Director and the business teams that:

  • Customer experience is being maintained centre-stage through the hectic page of feature change, site development and visitor volumes ramp-up
  • It has been made easy to pass problems and tasks to IT because they are well defined without needing your input; and proof of success is available for free every day in the metrics
  • There is no need to feel powerless, and fear that problems with technology-based root causes seem to avoid solution or genuine identification

Provides  IT teams (both Software Development and Operations):

  • the details and specifics of the online problems that are hurting customer experience
  • specifics right down at the tech detail level, so your teams can quickly find and fix the causes of the symptoms that Business teams say are top priority right now – no more looking through known error logs, hoping to work out which ones are the really important ones!
  • No more feeling that the Business expects a magic wand! That they expect you to ‘fix the website’ without saying which bit and then, conversely, seem reluctant to provide budget for the system updates you request because they want more ROI proof than is easy to provide from an IT systems perspective.

The video of Chris Howell, Director at Dixons Stores speaking on this theme of Uniting the Tribes last year at an online retail event in London, is a worthwhile investment of 3 minutes for any online retail director.

The common language you need – it has to be based on 24/7 monitoring of the customer experience on your site – the vital Do What your Customer Does metrics.

The eCommerce Director directly benefits from these measurements by use of a common language.

No more inconclusive post-mortem meetings, after poor performance during a major marketing campaign:

  • the users’ experience metrics are there in black and white, together with the detailed root causes down to the specific problem pages in the users’ journeys, the specific page components that caused the symptoms
  • IT teams can go away empowered to fix and improve what is already highlighted, instead of being asked to look back and see ‘what happened’

Budget dilemmas around whether to spend software dev. time on new features, or address the worst of the known bugs are easily resolved:

  • There are always bugs in a  website! The question is which bugs are losing you the most money? The KPIs answer that for you – invest in those and ignore the rest
  • Budget spend for things IT want: hardware, upgrades in software packages,  instead of them being a cost you can demonstrate them into a ROI
  • If it can be proven that a request for budget will speed up User Journey X, or reduce errors on User Journey Y, then they can have their money.

Every online retailer is different, but a shared aim seems to be focus around the one thing that success online requires: having IT and Marketing pull together on:  continual improvement of the customer experience 24/7.

That ensures a path towards the best multi-channel delivery:  the best retail mobile website, the best retail kiosk website and the best retail website.