E-Commerce Planning Process

There’s always a lot of headlines about the growth of e-Commerce, but how do you know it’s right for your business? If you don’t currently sell online, where do you start? And if you do, how do you know you are optimising your approach? Read our guide to the five key steps of the e-Commerce planning process to find answers to these questions and more.

E-Commerce Planning Process

How this guide raises your game.

1. Learn the five key steps of the e-Commerce planning process.

2. Understand how to identify and validate e-Commerce opportunities and the pros and cons of different e-Commerce channels. 

3. Learn the activities and processes you need to manage to create successful online selling experiences for your target audience. 

From a business point of view, e-Commerce changes the way that consumers and brands interact. It gives consumers the opportunity to buy things without going to a physical store. And it gives brands new ways to engage with consumers through technology. 

At the press of a button, you, as an online shopper can buy anything you want, and at any time.

You don’t need to leave home.

You don’t even need to speak to anyone.  

For business, this is a huge commercial opportunity. Globally, the e-Commerce market was valued at US$ 3.5 trillion in 2019 following consecutive years of double digit growth.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a boom in some e-Commerce categories. Reports from earlier in the year put US retailers YOY online revenue growth at almost 70%, for example. 

With this continued growth and the massive leaps forward in technology in the last 10 years, more and more businesses are adding e-Commerce to their plans.

But how do you know it’s right for your brand?

And if you’ve already started your e-Commerce journey, how do you know you are doing it as well as you can?

Three brains e-Commerce symbolic open shop sign

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The e-Commerce planning process

This guide to the e-Commerce planning process walks you through the key steps you should go through to get e-Commerce up and running.

It’ll help turn you from zero to hero in e-Commerce by covering the key skills, systems and sales know-how you need to drive e-Commerce success.

There are six key steps you should go through to start selling online. 

The first two steps focus on the opportunity.

e-commerce planning process - The 5 key steps of the e-commerce process

It’s important to identify what the online selling opportunity is for your business. What is it that selling online is going to do for you and your target audience? And from this, you then need to work out the sales and costs that go with selling online to validate that opportunity. 

The third and fourth steps then involve planning and deciding where and how you will sell online. It’s important to review the available e-Commerce channels you can use. You need to work out the ideal experience for your target audience, and how you will deliver it.

The final steps then once you are available to buy online cover how you actually sell. And once you start selling, how do you keep it going? How do you evaluate and optimise what you sell online? 

Because, online selling is an on-going operational process, You need systems and processes to manage day-to-day operations. And you need to generate new ideas and activations to keep your target audience buying online again and again.

So, now you know where you are heading, let’s go through the e-Commerce planning process step by step.

Step 1 – Identify the opportunity

The first step of the e-Commerce planing process is to identity the opportunity. What benefit is e-Commerce actually going to have for your target audience and your brand?

You need to spend some time defining the opportunity more specifically than just “sell online”.

The move to sell online is similar to the decision to launch a new product.

So, you can take processes that work for launching new products and adapt them for the e-Commerce planning process. 

Ansoff matrix - Marketing innovation options - 2 x2 matrix of new/existing products and markets

In our guide to marketing innovation for example, we talk about the Ansoff Matrix as a way to identify growth opportunities through innovation. You can apply these same principles to identify opportunities in e-Commerce.

Your first choice is whether to go after existing or new customers. It’s important to define your target audience early in the e-Commerce planning process.

And then, you have to decide whether to use existing products or develop new ones. The combination of these customer and product choices gives you four options for growth.

Market penetration : Existing customers / existing products

When you choose to grow your business online with existing customers and existing products, this is usually the least disruptive approach. You don’t need to create new products or find new customers, after all. 

But it comes with two obvious challenges. 

The online selling experience needs to offer the consumer a benefit over and above what they currently get through existing channels. And you need to be clear, what will happen to these existing channels when you move customers online. What benefit does that offer your business? 

For consumers, online shopping is a service. And as a service, there are four main benefits that drive shopping online over in-store. 

Ease and convenience

Online shopping is easier and more convenient than traditional shopping. 

For example, in most cases there’s no need to physically visit the store. No need to get dressed, get in the car, find a parking space and wander round the aisles.

You can do what you need to while sat on your sofa, at your desk or on the train. There’s a clear time and effort saving with online shopping. 

Even with click and collect services, where you pick your order up from the store, you still have the convenience of not having to go round the store and find all the items. 

Mobile phone interactive use

You can also shop any time you want to. That’s shopping 24/7, 365 days a year. No opening and closing times to worry about.

And, if the products you need are bulky or heavy, then online shopping means someone else takes on the job to deliver them to your doorstep.

Very easy.

Very convenient.

Range

If you go to your local shopping centre or shops, you can only buy what’s physically there on the shelf. But with online shopping, the range of products available is much wider. There’s not the same physical space limitation online. Online stores can offer a far wider range of products than a physical store can. 

And with online shopping, you don’t just have access to your local store, you have access to EVERY store that sells online. 

With good search functionality, you can find the widest range of products online with the widest range of specifications. And if your favourite store doesn’t have what you need, it’s simple to flick over to another store. 

Price 

Online stores also make it easy to compare prices across retailers. There is much more price transparency, and it’s easier to shop around than to physically visit lots of stores to compare prices.

There are direct price comparison sites like comparethemarket.com for financial services or frugl and latest deals for grocery shopping. 

D2C warehouse

Product information

With physical products in a store, the amount of information you can share about a product to help sell it is limited by space.  Either the space on the packaging or on any sales promotion materials. 

Even when you sell services like flights and healthcare in a physical location, there are limits on the information you can share, based on the time available.

In those cases, the customer needs time talking to a staff member to learn about the service. 

 

Amazon Coca-Cola product page

Neither of these limitations apply when it comes to selling online.

You set up an interactive page, and the consumer navigates through it themselves to get the right amount of product information for their needs.

This could be basic factual product information like how and where the product was made. But it can go much further than that. You can share demonstration videos of the product, for example.

Product pages can include reviews from previous customers. They can even have an interactive function so consumers can contact you directly to ask questions via email or live chat.

These experiences give you a great engagement and education opportunity to drive sales. We’ll come on to more of these experiences in step 4 of the e-Commerce planning process.

Online shopping benefits for the online seller

All these shopper benefits also come with benefits to the business selling online. 

With a website rather than physical premises, you are “always open” to sell for example. Online shops never shut, they can take orders 24/7, 365 days a year. There’s less staff costs because there’s less need for customer interaction. Automated systems handle key elements like questions and payments. It’s only where there’s an issue that you need actual staff. 

You also have much more visibility of competitor pricing, since pricing information is “live” and public. This gives you both opportunities to flex pricing, but challenges when your competitors flex their pricing. 

You are able to offer a wider range of products and to access more potential buyers across the world. Although, remember, every online seller can access those same buyers so, there’s more competition. 

Which brings us to the next opportunity and challenge. 

Market development : Existing products into new markets

One of the biggest commercial opportunities in e-Commerce is the open access to global markets. Your products are available to buy from anywhere in the world. That’s a huge number of potential customers. 

With e-Commerce you don’t even need to be physically present in a country to sell your products there. You just need to set up a way to get products delivered to that country.

But while this is an exciting opportunity, it’s not always an easy opportunity. 

Globe

Firstly, just because e-Commerce means you can sell globally, it doesn’t guarantee you will sell globally.

It’s an important difference.

For example, think about the logistics of moving products across borders. Or the tax implications of being in one country and selling in another.

And both of those come after you work out the marketing challenge of selling products to consumers who come from a different cultural background. And have no idea who you or your brand are.

To take on these sorts of challenges, you need to take a more rounded approach to how you do business.

Setting up an online shop to sell overseas is more than just setting up the website for example. It’s also about putting the right functional support mechanisms in place. Support mechanisms like financial systems, customer support systems and customer service systems, for example.

And as we said, if you can sell globally, then so can anyone else from any other market too. e-Commerce can be highly competitive. Many e-tailers compete for the same online shopping dollars. It’s incredibly important that you find your own unique and distinctive position to selling online.

To attract new consumers you need to stand out.

You need to be different from what’s already on offer.

Product development : New products with existing customers

Another opportunity for growth through e-Commerce is that to create new products and services for existing customers. These broadly fall into three categories – subscriptions, online exclusives and product and service extensions. 

Subscriptions

Products that are consumed on a regular basis, open up the opportunity to set up a subscription model offer. With a subscription, the shopper agrees to renew or replenish the product from you on a regular basis, in return for some sort of additional benefit. 

This is a highly attractive business model, as you sign up subscribers. With subscribers, you have an upfront commitment to buy at a future date. 

e-Commerce makes it easier to operate these types of model. You can set up your website so the shopper can manage their account, settings and order directly. You can manage your digital marketing activities like CRM and social media to engage in direct conversations with individual customers. These are loyal customers who have committed to buy from you on a regular basis. 

There’s two key challenges with subscription models though. Firstly, you need to create the right type of offer that persuades consumers to sign up in the first place. And then, you need to make the offer work so that consumers continue to buy. 

Subscription offers normally fall into one of three areas – discounts, curation or exclusives. 

Discount subscription

With discount subscriptions, the shopper commits to buying products for a set period of time in return for getting a price discount compared to buying them one at a time. 

So, “sign up for 12 monthly issues, and get a 25% saving for the next year”, for example. This isn’t a new model by any means, as it’s been common in industries like magazines and wine for a while.

Discount subscriptions work well with functional products where the consumer knows they will use the end product regularly. Think men’s razors like Dollar Shave Club and toilet rolls like Who Gives a Crap

Curated subscription

Curated subscriptions are where the supplier gathers together a number of items related to a particular theme or topic. This “box of goodies” approach works well in more emotion and pleasure driven categories. They are also often set up so that they are easy to give as a gift to someone else. 

It’s a common model in the beauty category for example, with offers like bellabox, in chocolate with offers like beanbaryou, and for new parents

It’s also common to set up curated subscription model on products which are collectable. In these cases, they often include products that are difficult to find elsewhere. So think comic books or TV and film merchandise for example.

Online exclusives

Online exclusives are where the seller decides to limit the availability of a particular product to an online store or channel only. 

This type of selling has its roots in old-fashioned mail order businesses and direct marketing. How often do you hear “not available in stores” for example? This selling approach also works well online. 

It taps into a deep psychological influencer, that the more exclusive an item is, the more we find it desirable. This scarcity effect is talked about in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. You can use it to create compelling online offers. We cover more on the topic of scarcity in our guide to writing sales copy.

Check out the range at the Bundaberg Rum online shop for example. You’ll see some liqueurs that are only available to buy through their online store. Or check out the beauty range at Lancombe to see products that can only be bought online. 

Products and service extensions

The final product development area to consider is to extend your existing product or service with added features.

You can have different levels of service and extra features, for example. 

So, entertainment streaming services like Netflix for example, are also online sellers. And they offer basic, standard and premium options.

The more you pay, the more screens and the higher resolution, on which you can play the content.

Netflix on a smartphone

For brands, it’s an opportunity to sell additional branded merchandise that they wouldn’t otherwise sell. So, brands like Bundaberg and Vegemite sell clothing and other related items that they wouldn’t otherwise sell. This generates additional sales.

For smaller brands, like say restaurants and cafes, it’s an opportunity to sell cook books or recipes beyond what they sell on the premises, like this one

Diversification 

The rise in e-commerce has created huge disruption to the traditional retail model. New businesses and new services have appeared that either weren’t being met or were being poorly met. 

Look at food delivery services for example.

In the past, takeaway food was limited to relatively cheap and cheerful meals like pizza and curries.

The last mile cost - food delivery guy on a bike with food in backpack

Now, companies like Deliveroo and Uber Eats help bring restaurant quality food to people’s homes. They’ve set up systems that help get the food from the restaurant to the customer

For traditional businesses who have moved into D2C, this creates a diversification since it essentially moves them from being a manufacturer to being a manufacturer and retailer.

You can read more about what it takes to go D2C in our guides to setting up your own online store.

Step 2 – Validate the opportunity

So, once you’ve identified the opportunity, you need to test out if it is big enough to be worth pursuing. There’s no single best way to do this. It very much depends on the size and nature of the opportunity. And your approach to opportunities and risks. 

But there are some common elements that should be in place. You certainly need to consider some sort of market research. And you need to have an estimate of the likely sales, and how much it will cost you to drive those sales. 

At the very least, it’s worth carrying out secondary research to see whether there is demand for the online service.

Size of opportunity

Your aim is to estimate the likely size of the opportunity in terms of total potential sales. You make this estimate based on the total number of customers and how much you think they will spend.

Ideally, you want to estimate sales for ALL products in the category, and then your potential share of those sales.

Bigger businesses will typically have more formal and more structured approaches to estimate the size of the market.

They will usually require that you gather data through extensive market research, especially quantitative research. will be.

D2C coins

It will take representative samples and lots of data to test for intent to purchase to determine what the future sales The aim is to “prove” the opportunity is big enough to get approval to launch.

You use this formal type of validation approach to identify only the highest potential ideas. It screens ideas with less potential. It aims to reduce the risk of a failure. 

But, this formal approach does’t always work. And it can take time, so that by the time you “prove” an opportunity, the market has already moved on and you’ve missed it. 

Smaller businesses can take a more entrepreneurial approach. They can test out ideas on a smaller basis with smaller audiences. They can take more of an agile approach where they put prototypes in front of consumers and co-create the offer and service together.

This is still market research but with lower investment levels and lower risk. Look at what level of service e-tailers currently offer online for example. Is there a gap or opportunity there?

Or take a look at what competitors currently offer. How could you make that better?

What about what happens in other countries or adjacent categories? Are there ideas you could use as benchmarks there? 

It’s important either way, to make sure you base your choices on consumers and what they need. What drives your target audience to purchase online?

If you understand what drives their attitudes and behaviours, you will create an online shopping experiences that drives more sales. 

Costs to serve

It’s also important in the validation to work out what your costs will be to support those sales.

As we cover in our guide to online store costs, the cost mix can be very different for online stores compared to traditional channels. The costs cover not just the set-up but the on-going management of orders.

You need to consider digital media costs to drive traffic for example. Then, there’s the costs of storage, returns and refunds. Delivery costs can be high, especially in the last mile. And then, you also have to include website costs like hosting and maintenance. 

Burning money

Even if you choose to go through existing e-tailer channels, you have to factor in what retail margins they will take. You have to factor in additional costs you like protective packaging. It’s better to have an idea of these costs early in the e-Commerce planning process. 

It’s also worth factoring in what you believe the competitor response will be. That can impact the size of your opportunity. Are they already active in e-Commerce? Or will your move into e-Commerce leave them behind?

Finally, you also need to consider the different channels where you can sell online.

Which brings us to the next step of the e-Commerce planning process.

Step 3 – Channel planning

Once you’ve identified and validated the overall e-Commerce planning opportunity for your business, it’s now time to think about where you will sell online.

This means identifying the online sales channels, in which you will choose to play. 

There are five potential online sales channels to choose from. 

It is possible to sell through all five channels. But each comes with it’s own advantages and disadvantages, and most business start with one and then build out. You should have a priority list of which channels to focus on. 

e-commerce planning process graph showing 5 key channels level of complexity and control

Four of these channels involve working with third party online retailers. And the final channel involves going direct to consumer with no third party retailers.

Control vs complexity

In general, you can segment these channels by two different factors. The degree of control you have over how your products are sold through the channel. And the amount of complexity involved in selling through that channel.

There is generally a trade off between these two factors. The least complex channels, come with the least amount of control. And the most control comes with the most complex channels.

The least complex channels are when you work with third party online retailers. With these partners, the e-tailer takes on the more complex elements. They drive traffic to their site, the manage payments and deliveries, and they deal with customer complaints for example, You essentially plug your product images and information into their online shopping system, and they take care of the rest.

But for each of these areas of complexity has a cost associated with it. And so, the more you hand over to the e-tailers, the less a share of the sale you actually take. They take large margins to cover their costs. So, your profitability per item sold can be less when you sell this way.

In channels where you take more direct control, you handle many or all of these complexities. The opportunity in terms of sales and profit is higher, since you take the maximum amount of the sale. But that only works if you can keep all the costs at a level below that of the e-tailer margin. And as we cover in our article on the D2C business model, there’s quite a lot of additional costs to consider.

Marketplaces

The easiest channels to access are marketplace services. 

These are online portals where you can directly access and sell goods to anyone who visits the site. The best known of these would be E-Bay.

In fact, E-Bay is the most visited online shopping site in Australia. It has almost three times as many visits per month as Amazon. 

But sites, like Gumtree and Tmall are also examples of marketplace services.

And they also get a lot of online visitors. 

Ebay screenshot

These types of sites are generally geared towards individuals selling individual items. But because of the high amount of traffic they attract, you do see much bigger retailers like Coles, Myer and Big W selling there.

It’s often very price driven on marketplaces like E-bay with a lot of deal-based sites operating there. For newer, smaller business, it’s usually worth focusing on selling unique and distinctive products than generic products and competing on price. 

You can find more examples of marketplace in our guide to online retailer strategy.

Bricks and Clicks

Bricks and clicks are stores where the seller has physical stores as well as online stores. They are sometimes also called omni-channel sellers. 

They use their online stores as a way to extend their reach to shoppers beyond the physical locations of their stores. 

Take grocery shopping for example. Most people still go to a grocery store to buy their food products.

But almost all grocery retailers now have their own online store. They take the orders online. And either they deliver the order direct with a driver employed by the store.

 

Breakfast cereal Woolworths online

Or increasingly, they will offer ‘click and collect’ where the customer picks up their order from a special area in the store.

How online grocery works in Australia is a topic that crops up frequently in our blog posts such as this one that covered their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From a channel planning point of view, these types of customers offer a number of advantages and disadvantages.

Bricks and clicks – advantages

If you already sell through these types of retailers, then it’s usually relatively easy to set up selling though their online stores. 

These retailers will already have set up their websites and delivery systems. 

So your main task is to integrate with those systems. For example, you need to manage how your products appear on their website by providing product images, product specifications and product benefit details to the retailer.

 

Screengrab of bottled water category at Coles online

This is done either directly with spreadsheets and emails. Or through third-party websites like skuvantage.

These retailers obviously work to drive traffic to their online stores. They take care of payments and delivery. From your point of view, there are relatively few tasks to manage which is why it’s comparatively easier to sell this way.

Bricks and clicks – disadvantages

The main disadvantage to selling online through bricks and clicks is your relative lack of control over how the product is sold. Because the retailer manages their own website, they control the look and feel. They control the overall experience and design of the shopping pages.

You have very little say. 

This will include for example how navigation works on the site. It will include which products are featured and promoted, and how pricing works on the site.

With bricks and clicks, you never interact directly with the shopper. So you never have access to the data that sits behind the online selling. Unless you pay the retailer, and even then, you never see individual levels of data, only aggregate data. 

Also, if you want to make your products more prominent on the website, or drive more traffic to your particular products, this means you need to invest dollars in digital media. 

You either do this via 3rd party providers like google or facebook. Or by investing money with the e-tailer themselves in return for more prominent placements. 

So even though there’s an easiness factor when you see through bricks and clicks, there’s a number of costs to consider as well.

You can find more examples of bricks and clicks in our guide to online retailer strategy.

Pure Players

Pure Players are stores that only operate online. Often newer to market, they do not carry the overheads required to physically own and operate stores.

They often compete on price, range or service levels.

Amazon are probably the most famous pure player globally.

You can find more examples of Pure Players and Amazon in our guide to online retailer strategy.

See also our separate article on the specific challenges of working with Amazon.

Amazon logo on phone

Drop-shipping / Print on Demand

Another online selling model to consider is drop shipping. 

With drop-shipping, you find suppliers who are willing to sell you products at wholesale prices. You then set up an online store website, which sells those same products to consumers at higher retail prices.

Your online store become a retailer intermediary between suppliers and consumers. You make money on the difference between the supplier selling price and the price you charge shoppers.

You might obviously ask, why someone would buy at retail prices if they can also buy at wholesale prices. 

But this is many shoppers don’t know about the wholesale price websites. And those websites are not always set up to make it easy to buy. For example, sites like aliexpress allow you to find Chinese based suppliers on a wide range of goods. But, as a stand-alone shopping site, it’s not the easiest to navigate. 

The value you add is in the creation of a branded store website, which builds traffic and attracts people to the products. When people order the products from you, they don’t know that you then order these products from the supplier. 

No stockholding

Because you only order products from the supplier when a customer places an order, you don’t have to invest money in holding stock. The supplier manufacturers “to order” and ships the product direct to your customer. 

Your main costs then are marketing costs. You need to drive traffic to the site and maintain the site and customer service. 

Customer service costs come from you having to resolve any issues with the purchase such as damaged or incomplete orders. You also have to manage issues if customers are not happy with the quality of the goods. 

For this reason, it’s important to check the quality of the drop-ship supplier you use to make sure they have good quality controls in place. 

It’s a competitive market-place. Other online stores can order products from the same supplier. You need to work out what will make your store offer different and better. 

Print on Demand

A variation on drop-shipping is Print on Demand or POD. This is where you create designs that can go on standard items like T-shirts, caps and water bottles.

In effect, you are selling the design itself. 

You pass the fulfilment of the order on to a third-party printer who sends the product to the customer. They handle the payment and delivery and you get a % commission on the sale. This commission is typically 10% to 20% of the sale price. 

Our online shop for example sells T-shirt designs that are sold via Print on Demand services. There are many Print on Demand providers.

But based on our research, we’ve found Redbubble and Spreadshirt to offer the best level of service and flexibility. 

You can find more examples of drop shipping and Print on Demand in our guide to online retailer strategy.

Australian Invention Wifi - Women's Black T-shirt

Direct to Consumer (D2C)

Direct to Consumer or D2C is the final e-commerce model. Here, there are no third-party retailers involved. The consumer buys directly from you, and you arrange all the payment, shipping and delivery. 

D2C advantages

With D2C, you have control over each step of the online selling experience. You link your website and digital media activity directly to your own online store to create an online path to purchase for your target audience. 

It’s your decision what the store looks like and which products you sell. You decide what price you charge, and how much to charge for delivery.

The price the consumer pays is pretty much what you see going in to your bank account. 

Delivery driver handing over a brown package

You also have a direct connection to the individual customer. Their data they give to deliver the product and their permissions to contact so you can email them, sit with you and not with a third party. You’ll have their contact details as well as their shopping history and preferences.

This gives you a rich source of insight into your online shopping audience as well as a chance to run CRM activity.

D2C disadvantages

But with this level of control, also comes complexity. 

D2C can be complex to set up and manage. In our guide to D2C cost planning for example, we review all the costs that go into D2C, including payments, delivery and refunds. You need to cover all of these costs out of the sales revenue you generate. 

You also need to manage all the interactions within the order to delivery process. From storage, dispatch and delivery to managing customer enquiries, this requires additional functions to exist in your business. You will also need IT expertise to make sure that website, payment, reporting and delivery systems integrate and work effectively. 

Your customer service plan needs to account for scenarios like the product not being delivered, being delivered damaged or to the wrong address. How will you respond to these types of enquiries? 

You also need to account for customers changing their mind once they’ve ordered a product. Or finding faults with the product. These types of situations are not uncommon with e-Commerce. 

Then you need to factor in other areas like managing credit card fraud, and managing stock levels. While the extra level of sales dollars per sale compared to other channels is exciting, it needs to generate enough revenue to cover all these other costs. You can read much more about setting up an online store in our separate guide.

Step 4 – Develop experiences

In our guide to marketing plans, we talk about the brand choice funnel.

This is where there are a series of steps consumers go through before they become loyal and regular purchasers.

So, they need to trust your brand, be aware of your brand, be persuaded to consider it and so on. 

A similar funnel process sits behind e-Commerce. There are a series of steps that need to happen before potential shoppers become actual regular purchasers.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

With the e-Commerce planning process, this drives a series of different online experiences that you need to create move potential customers along this journey. At the most simple level, these break down into 5 key areas.

Traffic

The first challenge is to drive your potential target audience to visit your product page.

How is the shopper going to find your online product page? How will they know it exists, and how will they know where to find it?

From a brand activation point of view, this usually leads to digital media.

You want to reach potential customers through relevant search, social and display ads activity.

This helps your target audience know where to find your product. It helps them understand your selling offer.

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

You can use market research and a test and learn approach to identify what works and what doesn’t. Typical research questions you might want to test include :-

  • Do shoppers search for your product in Google first, and then go straight to the product page?
  • Or do they visit the online store home page first, and then search for your product? 
  • What are the click-through rates likely to be on display and social media advertising?
  • Can we use existing consumer contact details to promote our online availability through CRM?

Conversion

You also need to consider how to use the navigation on your own website and any e-tailers website as a way to help get consumers to see your product and page. 

If you are listed on a larger e-tailer site for example, how are products within the category listed? e.g. alphabetically, by price or by popularity? 

This can affect the chances of how often shoppers see your product listing. In general, shoppers won’t look at every product listed. They will until they find one that sounds right, which is why it’s important to be near the top of a list of products. You want to have high visibility on category pages. 

It’s very common when working with online retailers for example to pay to have banner adverts on the category home page for products. Or to pay to use their CRM mailing lists to contact potential customers with a special offer.  

And once the consumer finds your page, there are a number of ways you can increase the chances of that visit converting to a sale. 

Product pages optimisation

When an online shopper visits your product page, it’s a key moment in the buying process. It’s where they make the final decision to buy. Or not buy.

So, it’s important to make sure you have basic elements in place to help complete the sale. If you don’t pay attention to these basic elements, they can often lead to lost sales.

The three most basic elements you need to cover are the product name, product images and the product description.

We’ll briefly cover the key points here. But you can read more detail about product page optimisation and more advanced online selling techniques in our guide to how to get more sales online.

How to get more sales online - 3 key basic of a product page - product name, images and information

 

Product name

You also want to consider how you name your product online. Clear and consistent naming makes it easier for consumers to find the right product. It also helps with your search engine ranking.

Normally, your “name” would include the brand name, the product variety and any defining features and sizes when listing your product online.

So rather than listing your product as let’s say, AnyCo Shampoo, better to list it as AnyCo Ant-Dandruff Shampoo with Mint Shampoo 200ml.

In our article on product pages, we cover how the likes of Amazon and Google handle the management of this type of basic product information.

Product Images

Because the online shopper can’t physically touch your product like they can in a store, how you represent it visually on screen makes a big difference. 

Make sure your product photography is sharp and clear. Think about how to show your products in the best light.

Consider a combination of plain background product shots, and lifestyle shots if they are relevant to the category.

These lifestyle shots show someone using the product itself. This can help bring the product to life. 

You need to consider how the images you use for your product appear on a screen. And in particular, how they might look on different sizes of screens.

A lot of online shopping is now done on mobile phones. Your product images need to look good when seen on a 6 inch screen. 

Most online retailer sites will let you show up to half a dozen images. It’s good practice to show the product from multiple angles – front on, side on, from the the back etc.

You also have to think about this online context when you design the packaging itself.

There’s an overlap with the marketing skill of packaging development, since your packaging development should think ahead to both how a product appears on shelf AND on a screen. You can read more about some of the challenges of packaging development for e-Commerce in this article.

Product description

Consider the description you give your product You can normally copy this straight from the packaging.  Highlight the features and benefits that will persuade the consumer to buy your product. There is usually more space to use more words on a retailer website than there is on packaging. Use this extra space wisely.

A good product description would cover key features and benefits and be around 300 words. 

We have some examples of good and bad practice in another article.

You can also read about these and other ways to drive online sales in our guide on how to get more sales online.  

Payment, delivery and customer service

Once you persuade the customer to buy your product online, there are a number of steps like payment, delivery and customer service that still need to happen to complete the process. 

If you are sell through online retailers, these steps of normally sit with them. You can work with them to optimise these steps.

For example, you can recommend copy for any emails around the order. And you can influence the packaging of the products that they send out.

Three brains e-Commerce online purchase with credit card

But in most cases, the e-tailers will use these steps to drive their own brand experience. You will not have a huge amount of opportunity to influence these steps.

However, if you sell D2C, YOU take ownership and control of each of these steps. Payment and delivery come with their own opportunities and challenges. We cover these in much more detail in our guide to Order to Delivery.

Customer service is another important consideration. There’s a lot that potentially can go write when you send out good directly. Setting up a customer service experience that is trained and empowered to solve customer problems can be a very strong marketing tool. It can drives loyalty and satisfaction. But, it also requires investment to set-up and maintain. 

Step 5 – Sell, sell, sell

Once you have all these elements of the e-Commerce planning process lined up, then your focus moves on how to continue to sell your products online. 

Sales promotions

For example, do you need to carry out online sales promotions at certain times of year?

And if you do, what type of promotion will work best in your category?

Is it a straight-forward price offer like 20% off, or buy one get one free, for example? 

Red Sale Sign

This might sound simple, but think about the previous steps of the e-Commerce planning process. You need to make this type of offer work at each step of the process. You need to tell people about this sales promotion though a digital media campaign. And the message in that campaign needs to say when the promotion starts and ends.

The promotional offer then needs to appear on the appropriate part of the website at the right time. Your financial tracking system and supply chain system need to be set-up to manage the change in details from the regular order price. 

If it’s a buy one, get one free for example, the warehouse need to have the right packaging to send out two items together. The delivery company need to know that there will be more items that will be twice as heavy as normal orders. And you need to be able to check your analytics and sales data, so that you evaluate the effectiveness of the promotion afterwards. 

Online selling operations

At the start of the e-Commerce planning process, we covered opportunities like subscription models and online exclusives. These present big opportunities. But, you also need to fit them into each steps of the process. 

So, with subscription models for example, you need digital media to highlight the subscription offer and generate interest. You need to be able to set up your website to allow people to choose their subscription and to manage it on-going. Do they get to choose what goes in the subscription box for example? Or do you fix it in advance? 

If you take regular payments from someones credit card via subscription, how do you store their personal details? How do you make sure this is secure? If a shopper wants to cancel their subscription or amend it, have you made it easy for them to do so?

If you sell online exclusives, what happens if a retailer then wants to buy they from you? How much do they need to buy to make it worthwhile to give up the exclusivity? Do those products always remain as online exclusives?

Step 6 – Evaluate and optimise

In our guides to setting up an online store and online retailers, we expand more on the day to day operations of online selling once you’ve gone through the e-Commerce planning process. 

On-going, it’s important to think like a retailer. 

For example, how will you continue to drive traffic to your product pages? How will you drive conversions and create great customer experiences? 

What about your digital data? Can you use it to guide you as to what your customers like and don’t like? How do your track and measure how your online business performs? And how do you make adjustments to spend more on activities that work? And cut out activities that don’t?

Do you have the website capability to test out different activations and learn from the results? If you manage payments and delivery, how do you keep those systems working efficiently and in the interests of the customer? 

These are just some of the questions you need to answer when it comes to managing your own online store. None are impossible, but as we said before, it’s an on-going operation to continue to sell, sell, sell. 

E-Commerce planning process conclusion

In this guide, we’ve talked about how e-Commerce pulls together a number of different business skills. It leans on market research skills to understand consumer needs and digital marketing skills to drive traffic and conversions.

And it needs you to set up back-of-house capabilities to manage payments, deliveries and keep customers happy.

There are many different ways to sell online. From the “toe in the water” approach of using market places and bricks and clicks retailers, to the full-scale operation of a D2C set-up.

E-Commerce Home page title

When you go through the e-Commerce planning process, its basic aim is to ask key questions to make sure you are best prepared for the challenges that come with e-Commerce. There’s no single best way to do e-Commerce. It depends on your brand, your category and your own view on how much control you want over online selling.

But, once you are in, there’s no doubt it’s an exciting, dynamic and challenging way to grow your business.

You can drive connection to your customers that you already engage with through digital media and websites.

You can do this in a way that brings commercial benefits to your business through increased sales and new selling opportunities.

And, with D2C in particular, you bring a new level of control to how and where your products are sold.

Three-brains and e-Commerce

We have worked on many e-Commerce projects and have good experience across the e-commerce planning process. This includes working with online retailers and building D2C stores and operations. We know how to connect these expertise areas back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your e-Commerce to grow your business through our coaching and consulting services, click the button below to send us a message.

We can coach you to reach the top of your competitive game.

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