Building an eCommerce website gets more difficult as more people become involved in the project. Once you begin managing multiple stakeholders and their expectations, managing the project becomes essential.
(Stakeholders vary from those with a management interest in adding to the bottom line or data entry clerks in human resources with interest in how job application forms will display on their section of the website) Everyone wants their say and managing stakeholder expectations is a critical part of the process.
Whether building an eCommerce website in the hope of generating a second income, taking over your full-time income or managing the build for a global entity, following a process will reap benefits in time and money savings. Here's my guide to getting your eCommerce website built right the first time, big or small.
1. Assign a Technical Project Manager
- The Technical Project Manager (TPM) is the person that provides the conduit through which all communication flows, providing the connection between development staff, clients, design firms, graphic design agencies and anyone else involved in the project. The TPM organises and coordinates all project meetings, familiarisation, scheduling, and project planning.
- In small projects, the TPM can be the design lead or even the business owner themselves. In larger projects, TPM's with diplomacy and good technical knowledge are highly valued for their ability to cut to the chase and curtail the excessive email chatter that typically accompanies projects with many vested interests.
2. Risk Assessment And Evaluation
- What are the goals of the new site? Why do you want to do this?
- What are the current conversion metrics? Any new implementation must not make these worse.
- Building a new eCommerce website using a cloud-based website builder like Shopify or EKM poses little risk. The main considerations to take into account are the amount of time the website build will consume and allocating resources.
- Building a new eCommerce website using open source tools carries more risk because there is more development work to be done. Magento particularly is resource intensive and requires more man hours to develop. Typical digital agency rates for Magento are £50 per hour. Professionally built and maintained Magento websites have the Wow! factor and they look great.
- Replacing an existing website with a new one carries a higher level of risk. The amount of work involved in migrating data, configuring redirects and moving everything into a new CMS (content management system) can be considerable depending on the size of the website.
- Consider whether you have the expertise and resources to maintain the finished website and drive it forward.
- Involve stakeholders and ask what new technology or approaches they would like to try. Risk evaluation will determine what is feasible or a step too far. Design your project in phases to add more functionality in later stages.
3. Budget Analysis
- Expect to pay £2k - £3k for a well designed Shopify, EKM or Shopwired eCommerce website. Maintenance costs are your monthly subscription.
- Magento or other comparable open source solutions typically cost in the £5k to £10k region at the low end with hosting and maintenance costs at £2k+ per year at the low end.
- Hybris, SAP, IBM and Hewlett Packard solutions begin at £50k+
- Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) projects can easily run into millions of pounds. If you have to ask the price you can't afford it. AEM lead developers charge £500 per day and are thin on the ground.
- SEO, Social media and other promotions need a £10k+ per annum budget. Results from companies that advertise top rankings for £100 per month are poor value for money.
Decide On An eCommerce Platform: See Shopify v Magento
4. Competition Analysis
- List all the websites you like in your niche and those you don't like. What are the good points of those you do like?
- Who are your competitors? Competitor research and uncovering their use of technology is an essential part of the process. As well as uncovering the eCommerce platform they use (Wappalyser) you also need to analyse where they get their backlinks from (SEMRush) how they manage their PPC campaigns (SpyFu) and any other business intelligence.
- How do the pricing rules work? B2B (Business to Business) accounts have many different requirements than standard B2C (Business to Consumer) retail accounts. If flexibility in pricing is a major consideration, you should be looking at Magento, Lemonstand or Zoey where you can fully customise this aspect of your business. Zoey has well-developed processes for handling B2B sales.
- How do the shipping rules work? Some products may have country exclusions or special requirements such as palletization or shipping via freight
- .How does the order fulfilment workflow account for your business practices, for example dropshipping?
- What are the legal requirements of doing business in your jurisdiction?
Functional requirements are based on the user of the service. Some examples are:
- Product reviews increase conversion rates and highlight product strengths. Who will moderate user reviews and will anonymous reviews be accepted?
- Product tours (photos/videos/etc.) increase user engagement and differentiate your products from the competition.
- Shipping calculators set expectations and decrease cart abandonment.
- Drop-shipped products increase the variety of products.
- Implement saved shopping carts or printable quotes, because shoppers often require a manager’s permission or a purchase order prior to checkout.
- How will the account creation routine function?
Stakeholder Management & Staff Training
There are two ways of approaching stakeholder management. The first is to include the minimum amount of stakeholders possible to avoid creating excessive workflows. This can lead to major disaffection with some stakeholder groups but ensures the project runs on time with the minimum of distraction. The second is to include as many stakeholder groups as possible and seek opinions from all. This adds to the project overhead but appeases stakeholders and is the preferable route.
- Identify relevant contacts within each stakeholder group and gather requirements. The objective is to gather a picture from every angle of the business. Surveys, workshops, meetings and external agencies are often utilized to gather the ‘bigger’ picture across the business.
- Discover what forms, feeds and database integrations are required.
- Prioritise the requirements. This can be a challenging exercise when dealing with many senior stakeholders.
- Assign timeframes and create a roadmap to execute the requirements.
- Ascertain staff training requirements (Content editing, writing blogs, order processing, SEO & PR)
- Assign documentation detailing.
Project Management Tools & Milestone Dates
For smaller projects, you could use Trello as your roadmap. I use it to manage content planning here at Storebuilder.
Larger projects commonly use the Jira project management system to organize development work. Projects will have a client Jira login providing complete access to sprint boards, tickets, comments, attachments, and view of code commits - it is used for task level scoping and planning.The TPM can manage the Jira board
- Detailed tickets outline user case stories, followed by all tasks at a granular level that will accomplish that user story.
- Tickets are moved from the backlog into two-week development sprints. This planning is done every day by the Technical Project Manager and reviewed on at least a weekly basis with clients.
- Change is expected during development (it can't be avoided) and utilising the Agile approach embraces that reality.
- The weekly discussion with the client concerns the time/budget available and ascertains which features are the highest priority.
- Ticket “types” identify new feature requests, bugs, and general tasks and have a four-step workflow for all tickets — Open, In Progress, Ready to QA, Resolved.
- The Agile approach minimizes risk, as there is never a time when developers do not have a clear direction and they can never be more than 5 days into developing any one feature before it is reviewed or goes through a round of QA with the client.
- Agree on a Content Delivery Date
- Agree on a Site Architecture Freeze Date
- Agree on a Site Functionality Freeze Date
- Agree on a Design Freeze date
- Agree on a Launch Date & Domain Transfers
Design & Development
- How many design mockups will be expected for the client to review? 2-3 is usually sufficient.
- Examine competitor websites for themes that look good.
- eCommerce website builders make it easy to choose a theme which can be modified.
- Use the existing logo or design a new one? If existing what formats are available?
- Establish the colour theme.
- Establish the design elements: Buttons/calls to action (square or rounded edges, gradients, etc.)
Establish borders/headers and padding/margins. Less padding and smaller margins provide tighter content. More padding and bigger margins create white space.
Discuss a content to image ratio. Image aspect ratio (A good aspect ratio is 1:1 for product images). Organising photo shoots. Managing photos in a database.Which payment gateways are available?
- Organise SSL Certificates if using a self-hosted solution.
- Produce a Site Plan (example attached)
One task that is often overlooked when replacing an old site with a new is content migration:
- The migration process can be quick and painless if the new and old sites have structurally similar databases or there isn’t too much content, to begin with. For sites with a significant amount of content that needs to fit in more complex layouts, migration can actually take more time than the actual build.
- It’s always ideal to start with a spreadsheet of all pages you plan to migrate with separate columns for links (old & new), status (open, in progress, done) and notes highlighting, for example, if the page needs copy editing or should be rewritten entirely.
- Shared Google Spreadsheets are useful for creating the master list of content and tracking what pages to migrate, their migration status (To Do, In Progress, Done), and notes.
Use cart2cart to move from one eCommerce platform to another or automate data migration
Content Writing And Style Guides
- Ensure you produce guidelines for content creation. For example embedded link content, anchor text rules and how to structure headings and subheadings.
- Determine the type of “case” you want to use for headings. For example All Caps, Title case etc.
- Do specific departments have a different style from the “house” style?
- Ensure your CSS documents are well annotated.
- An often overlooked part of building a new website is usability testing.
- Often forms can be difficult to fill in or allow for erroneous characters to be entered. User testing will spot these flaws and allow you to remedy them.
- User testing is particularly useful for eCommerce websites where cart abandonment is such a major concern. Eliminate any doubt by having your website extensively user tested.
SEO & Other
- Set up redirects from old pages to new.
- Configure your robots.txt so that private parts of your site don't appear in search results.
- Create And Submit A Sitemap
- Implement Analytics
- Set up an admin or [email protected] address for all enquiries
- Run a survey. Often you can fix problems by making your website visible internally before it goes live.
- Write a “lessons learned” document
- Backup all your data and store it securely
- Create a disaster recovery plan
- Create a page with all your passwords, FTP access etc
Have A Party!