E-commerce website briefing checklist
Further in my series of E-commerce basics blogs for marketing/e-commerce managers I am today looking at writing a comprehensive brief. I thought it would be useful to cover the main elements you need to consider and convey before briefing your internal team or new agency on a new e-commerce project. I also thought the theme of Monty Python was apt as getting this process wrong could be a bit like being in an episode!
Why are you doing the project?
This sounds like a pretty obvious question, but it’s one that we’ve had potential clients scrabbling to answer on many an occasion. Sometimes it can be that companies are getting a new website to keep up with competition or simply that the mandate has been passed down by senior management. Put plainly there has to be a genuine business driver for the investment.
Understanding your objectives is key to driving success for the new site. Make sure the objectives are clearly outlined in the brief and where appropriate set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each objective so it’s clear what the site needs to deliver commercially. If it’s an upgrade to an existing online store, what increase are you hoping to achieve? Get your pitching agencies to agree NDAs and provide information on the current stores performance. This valuable insight allows pitching agencies to consider the brief and respond accordingly, giving you a more robust solution. It also gives you the opportunity to negotiate some element of performance related remuneration.
Seek and agree stakeholder involvement
As with all projects, digital or not, it is always important to bring together all the major stakeholders involved including sales, finance, stock control, operations and the board. By getting them involved at the start you will be able to gather all their opinions and then create a plan that takes their thoughts into consideration. In theory this will allow the project to move on without interruptions as everyone will have had their say and you can involve the relevant stakeholders at the right time in the project process.
E-commerce sites vary widely in costs, you can set Ebay stores up for free, SAAS solutions such as Shopify start at £10 per month and fully bespoke e-commerce sites can cost £100,000 + and in general you get what you pay for. Remember though it’s not a cost, rather an investment in making money. Agree a 3-tier revenue target, best, average and minimum and then work out how much investment is required to get you there.
You should consider a major overhaul of the site every 3 years on average, so make the investment that will provide you with a robust, scalable site for at least this period. As a rough guide you should expect to spend between 5-10% of the yearly revenue you expect from the project which will deliver a ROI in year 1 and then a greater return in year 2 and 3. Set aside a similar portion for visibility (marketing the site both digitally and traditionally) so that lots of new potential customers find you.
Be clear with your agencies and internal team about your budget even if it means giving a ballpark figure. This allows any pitching agencies to pitch appropriately and allows you to fairly assess like for like solutions, this will save you time in the scoping/pitch process.
How is it going to look and feel? (Design requirements)
This is the fun part for some but it can be quite tricky, especially when you’re trying to manage the expectations of a wider team. Managing a creative process by committee can be extremely frustrating and riddled with compromise leading to a sub-optimal design. Before you start the process try and agree roles and responsibilities within the process, ideally assigning one person sign off on creative. Understanding your brand is important, what are the fixed and flexible elements of the brand? Can the project team have free rein over the branding or is there guidelines to be followed?
Do some competitor benchmarking - remember it is your customers who will be comparing you to these other sites so whilst it may be tempting to follow the crowd, be unique, stand out and delight your audience. This research will help you to form a creative brief, which is the basis for briefing the team to design your site. Let the creative people do their thing, ideally presenting you with 2 or 3 options, which can form the final solution. Keep in mind your in-store experience (if you have one) and other brand touch points and let the site represent that experience rather than being something separate (unless you are testing a new market sector).
What does the new site need to do? (Functional requirements)
The days when you could just put up a home page with a couple of pictures of your products and a basket that allows people to give you the money for the goods are long gone. Equally all the functionality you see on sites such as net-a-porter, ASOS and Amazon etc. are not standard and can take considerable development time to reproduce on your site. There is a multitude of different solutions including SAAS(Software as a service or cloud based) platforms where you pay a monthly fee or a percentage of every sale. Bespoke platforms that are created specially for you allow you to pick and choose what your customers see and provide a series of add on’s that enrich the experience. These include analytics, business system integrations (your accounts, stock control etc.), marketing tools and probably anything else you desire as long as you have the budget to pay for it!
My advice would be to sit down either with your team or with a consultant to really investigate the needs of your customers (this could be done using user personas) and then put together a list of functions that the site must do and what you would like it to do. Once you understand what you’re looking for it’s easier to review the various platform solutions and understand what might be right for you.
Business Systems that need to be integrated
Consider all the systems in the business and either decide that they need to be integrated with new site or that the new site might replace some of these systems. As in my previous blog on choosing a CMS platform, modern systems have many elements that allow a business to manage much more than what appears on the web. By stretching the budget to meet the needs of other departments you might be able to achieve greater efficiencies as part of the project. Most modern business systems will have an API, allowing for easy integration and two-way data communication with your website. Legacy systems might need some bespoke integration development to allow your older system to talk to your new website, so consider budgeting for this within the project.
The opportunity to sell your products and services through more marketplaces than just your website is becoming more and more accepted by retailers and consumers alike. The rise of players such as Amazon, Rakuten, and Play.com etc. provides you with the opportunity to reach targeted audiences in a place that consumers can quickly view your offering and compare with others. Price is a major driver but so is peer confidence in products with ratings that help consumers make their choice. Affiliate programmes also provide a unique way to meet consumers who don’t already know your products or brand. By leveraging the loyalty of consumers in a trusted brand owner it is possible to gain ground through the power of suggestion and develop a relationship with your target market. If you reach customers via the high street, catalogue, digital marketplaces, affiliates and online via app, mobile, tablet and desktop, you will be truly reaching customers in an environment they choose and should generate increased sales through your increased exposure.
Consider content and testing early on
A bespoke e-commerce site could take between 3-12 months to design and develop. Transferral of content from the old site and the development of new content can seriously hold up the launch timescales. Content generation is generally handled by you the client, as you know it better than anyone, so think about when you are going to get time to do the work. If you need your site launched ASAP (you want to be making more money as soon as possible right?) then consider hiring a content manager from the agency or in-house and let them get on with it early in the process.
Testing will also hold things back if too many late changes are made to functionality or design. Spend the time at the beginning of the project planning testing with your agency and you’ll be repaid by a quicker, smoother development process. If possible do some testing as the project goes along and ask to see interim releases of the interface and functionality. This will allow you to positively input into the development process, giving you clear visibility of progress and your development team valuable early feedback.
Future development requirements
Without being a fortune teller it is worth considering where the business is going over the next 3-5 years and aligning your web project with this direction. Is your business looking to establish a new brand? If so, then how will this be established online and are there elements that you can share across both current and future brands. Getting the most from your development pound is critical in order to maximise ROI on all projects. Do you currently only sell in the UK and have future plans to export overseas? Get your multi-currency, multi-lingual requirements in place so you can switch this on as soon as you need them. Scalability is another concern particularly if you’re looking at SAAS solutions. It might be cost effective for current sales figures but as sales increases the suitability of these services may become limited
Talk to the internal team and agencies to better understand how they can support the site in the future and how cost effective this might be. When talking with agencies get references from other clients on support packages and give them a call to understand support performance.
Plan the launch campaign
Remember that a website redesign will not automatically mean you will increase visitors, rather current visitors will enjoy the experience of shopping with you more and new customers will be converted when they come to the site. Therefore setting a KPI to grow visitors, needs to also include your visibility activity (SEO, PPC, traditional marketing etc.) as well as on-site SEO. One area that can be improved through the redesign is mobile traffic. When a mobile optimised/responsive design site is implemented you should also see some natural improvements in organic search if your new site is well built.
Easy interface for you with the power to change
Finally don’t forget, the likelihood is that you and your team are going to need to administer the site, adding new pages and setting up promotions. Make sure that your agency both takes you through how to operate the back end and/or develops the interface to better match your needs. A lot of e-commerce managers assume they have to put up with the back-end even though it might be difficult for them to use. A good agency will devote time to making sure it is as easy for you to work with and makes changes as easy as possible to implement. Your analytics should also be bespoke to your business targets and reports should deliver the data you need to make decisions in a transparent format.
If you take a little time to consider all these points then I’m sure that you will get a great response from your agency in terms of a reply to your brief and a much smoother process throughout the development of the project. Best of luck and if you have any queries then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us here at Gibe.