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vinnkejä verkkokauppaprojektiin

Tips for an e-commerce project

Learn from the mistakes of others – Nine tips for a successful e-commerce project

 

Over the last few years I have been involved in several projects where the aim was to build a new online store or portal. Considering my profession, my own role and approach has naturally revolved around the integration of product information from our PIM system to the online store, but I have also observed many other aspects of these projects. Also, in my private life, we are embarking upon a housebuilding project. When doing research for that project, I found that there are many similarities with e-commerce projects, even though the end products are very different.

Here are some of my observations – I hope some people facing similar challenges will find them helpful!

1. Know what you want and be prepared to measure your success

  • If you don’t have a clear vision about what it is you’re looking for and why you have started the project in the first place, it will be difficult to achieve satisfactory results. Therefore, you should start by clearly outlining your main goals as well as the reasons for wanting to achieve them. For instance, if your objective is to double your e-commerce revenue, multiplying the amount of products sold in your web store, or improving the customer experience, it is advisable to think about ways to measure these results after the project is completed.
  • Defining the project should be done at this early stage – write down your requirements for the new online shop prior to launching the project. The better your understanding is of what you require from your web store (or even your new house) before you start the bidding process, the more accurate and comparable the quotations you receive will be. This preparation is also directly correlated with the amount of surprises you will have on the way.

2. If you are not yourself an expert, hire a reliable consultant

  • Building a new web store sounds like it’s not supposed to be rocket science, and this may even be true in principle. However, ecom solutions can be tricky in the sense that they often require one, two or even three integrations. Some seemingly small things can become surprisingly large problems, especially when they emerge in the middle of the project.
  • Therefore, before you start your first round of bidding, you should always try to find an expert, preferably a neutral third party who can help you define the project and request quotations. No matter how well you do your homework, a layperson will find it difficult to grasp all the relevant knowledge, particularly in a bit of a rush. A good consultant can help you get on the right track from the start and define the project, which helps you avoid expensive surprises in the final stages. You may end up paying “extra” to a consultant, but in reality this is likely to save you both time and money.

3. Buying a pre-fabricated ‘turnkey’ solution does not mean that you don’t have to do any work yourself

  • Many web store builders (and house-builders, I’ve heard) are surprised by the amount of work required, even if you aren’t coding a single line or hammering any nails into the wall yourself. Therefore, it is important to be mentally prepared and to have the necessary resources, clearly defined roles, and realistic deadlines. An e-commerce project will require at least one internal project manager (who may well spend half of his or hers working hours on the project), IT support for designing interfaces and data flow, and probably some product management support in cases where the data content as such does not support the vision.

4. Have a solid foundation

  • Make sure that your background systems such as ERP/PLM and PIM can support the new e-commerce. It is particularly important to check the quality of product information prior to starting the project. If you want your online store to have the world’s greatest (or even average) search features and filters, as well as comprehensive product information, the data has to be structurally sound and checked in advance. Many people find out only after the e-commerce project is launched that a large portion of their time is spent cleaning up and making sense of old data, as this has to be done if product information is to be presented in a sharp manner. In this stage, at the very latest, you should consider incorporating a Product Information Management (PIM) system, because ERP and the web store are very rarely sufficient if the goal is to have a functioning product information process and comprehensive product information.

5. Invite bids

  • Just like building a house, a new e-commerce solution is an expensive project, and I can’t think of any good reason not have a bidding process. Squeezing the budget is sensible, if not for any other reason than to gain an understanding of the price range and the various implementation options from different suppliers. You might need to spend a bit more time than you would if you gave the project to the first vendor with an impressive sales pitch, but in my experience this is a worthwhile investment.
  • On the other hand, a bidding process will not amount to anything if you don’t know what you want. In the worst case scenario, the quotes you receive won’t be comparable to one another because the definition of the project was too narrow or too ambiguous. Therefore, it is important to focus on the definition now if you haven’t already. A coherent project definition requires that you have completed the steps in Section 1 and that you know what you want and can express it in a coherent and detailed manner. The more detailed the description of your requirements is, the easier it will be to compare bids and to get on with the project.

6. Choose your partner carefully

  • When building my own house, I have obviously collected advice from friends who have already built theirs plus read through various online forums, and this research has helped in eliminating at least a few suppliers – the same can probably be done with e-commerce providers. In my experience, a large supplier is not the best match for a smaller client because a large company is not always interested in devoting resources to a small client, and therefore the project might be poorly managed. For a smaller company each new client is important and your project will receive their full attention. Therefore, you should choose a provider that is similar in size to your business.

7. Demand documentation

  • Just like constructing a house, it is critical for the future maintenance of the online store to know what has been installed, when and where. If you want to make changes to the presentation of information or your integrations, it’s like taking down a wall in your house: you would want to know how things were built and where the electrical wiring is without having to tear down the entire house to find out.
  • Often people get the feeling in the implementation stage of the project that the supplier will take care of things according to your specifications and you can just monitor their progress from the sidelines. However, according to my experience, it is important to stay alert in this stage and demand that all agreed upon actions are properly documented. Anything that is not written in ink does not officially exist, and you are dependent on the good will of the supplier. Often this good will works just fine, but to ensure peace of mind and the ease of future maintenance work, it’s important to demand proper documentation, no matter how tedious this may be.

8. Testing, testing and more testing

  • It would be great if everything went according to plan and the first version was perfect, but unfortunately you can’t count on this. Both software and houses come with some guarantees, but it’s usually easier (and cheaper) to fix issues if they are detected at an early stage. In this stage you should also seriously consider hiring a consultant if you are at all unsure about your own expertise. This will probably save you both time and money (and some nerves).

9. When the project is completed, take good care of maintenance processes and internal role assignments

  • Yes! The project is completed and now we can sit back and relax! Unfortunately not quite – when you finish building your house or your online shop, you should be self-sufficient and capable of getting the best possible returns for your investment. In this stage your own internal division of labour becomes critical – you have to decide who within your organisation is responsible for the proper maintenance of your store (or house) and for making sure that it responds to changes. This may require less work than the development stage, but you should not underestimate the amount of resources you need to devote to it. In addition to these resources, technology is changing so fast that you should also have a budget for constant minor development work to avoid your online shop becoming outdated.
Rajapinnat REST API

About API’s and their publicness

A modern application lives or dies based on the availability of its public API. Before having a deeper look into what API’s mean to us, and how they can be used in the most effective way, we should understand the basics.

API (Application Programming Interface) is an interface that allows the application data and functionality to be reached, as well as allowing for further programming of the program or a part of it, for example in regards to standard libraries. These interfaces can function on a very low level and deal with the inner functions of the application itself, for example calling open source libraries within the system. However this article only covers public API’s that are expandable or can be integrated and allow for the application data to be used in a variety of different ways.

API-centric architecture

Traditionally API’s have been considered to be an internal part of the application, or at the very least to be used as a means to integrate something to the application. Modern applications act as services, and this is why it’s important to make sure that expanding the system is just as easy as is the use of the data included in it. Modern applications use and offer a multitude of interfaces, for example social media applications like Facebook and LinkedIn are mainly run on interfaces with separate user interfaces built on top of them (e.g., browser, mobile, etc.).

In an API-centric architecture the applications connect to each other over these interfaces. How a single application has been built doesn’t matter as long as it follows the general practices in its interfaces. API-centric architecture also makes it easier to create device independent applications, so that for example the application can be run on multiple mobile operating systems using the same interface on them all.

 

Adeona_PIM_2017

RESTful API

Using general practices and de facto standards when connecting applications and using the data via different applications makes the whole process easy.

REST (Representational state transfer) is an stateless interface architecture model based on HTTP protocol. Typically REST API offers the information in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) or in XML format. Our REST API’s use JSON, which is an open format based on readable text and attribute value pairs.

Public API

One of the main ideas of an API-centric architecture in that the interfaces are publicly available and that they contain a comprehensive documentation. Even a good interface will go unused if it’s hard to use or lacks documentation completely. In the best case scenario all the information and logic of the application can be reached via the API. This makes it flexible to connect, integrate and expand the system with needed applications.

Public API doesn’t however mean that all the information within the system would be publicly available. API calls are always authenticated so that the user will only have access to information they have credentials for.

More information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_programming_interface
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representational_state_transfer

 

Virtual Shopping Is (Almost) Here!

In collaboration with the Myer’s store chain, eBay has published the world’s first 3D virtual online store. This pretty simple concept consists of a cardboard “Shopticals” box, into which a smartphone is attached. An app is loaded into the smartphone which is then viewed through the cardboard box mount.

In a virtual store there is no need to click the mouse. All the choices and navigation are accomplished by aligning the gaze. If you look at a certain item or a product for a while, more detailed information will be listed. The store has 3D images of the most popular products in each product category. Right now the virtual store is available only in Australia, but surely we will soon have something similar.

Virtual shopping and the 3D world present new challenges for listing product information and sharing this information via different channels. 3D product images are clearly the first milestone, and maybe in a few years there will be product content for the other senses as well – like scents, virtual touch and feel and sound.

When product information and its foundation management are done right, it is easier to share information and refine this information toward new technologies and distribution channels. If you feel like your company’s Product Information Management needs to be improved, do contact us!

More information:
Manager, Customer Relations
Katri Koskentalo
040 167 8971
katri.koskentalo@canter.fi

Read also “Product information and buying”!

Product Information and Buying

This summer, our company will move to a new location. The renovation has just started, and I hope we’ll be in a shining new office that has been designed according to our needs. I’ll certainly write more about the new premises in our blog at a later time.

I have participated in the design of the new office, dealing with everything from the layout plan to cabling. During this process, I have learned about dozens of products and services that were new to me. As examples, I could mention glass walls, acoustic solutions, teamwork products, wall drawing boards, furniture, and AV technology, which all have become more familiar to me. Not everything has been a walk in the park.

In particular, companies that do B2B trading, product information availability varies greatly. Be it an online store, a website, or a product catalog, many businesses seem to assume that the customer will ask or know what they are looking for. With many products, even the basic data isn’t shown properly. This is my list of information I want to see when I’m looking for products:

  • Price: If the price or service is customizable, information on the effect on price
  • Availability or delivery time
  • Product properties: Technical specifications, dimensions, etc.
  • Product description: Where and what type of use the product is suitable for, e.g., consumer vs. office product
  • Images: If the product is related to interior decoration, illustrations in different environments
  • Services: What services are related to or available for the product: g., design, installation, transport, etc.
  • Where to ask, who to contact for details: For many products, I would have been a sure customer if the product page had had readily accessible information on which expert I can contact when in doubt
  • Reviews: What other customers are saying of this product

There’s been a lot of talk about how B2B trading is changing, and clients that are used to consumer online stores are expecting rock solid purchase and service experience also when buying online. The world definitely isn’t finished in this aspect. Products that don’t have complete information don’t sell. Fortunately, there are already some positive exceptions that stand out from the crowd. As for myself, I’ll do my business where the product information is extensive and up-to-date, and in this case the price isn’t always the decisive factor.

Read more about our solutions for product information management.

Sales, more sales, video  

kissavideo_canter_blogi

Would you rather watch this blog post on video? Image borrowed from this site

 

I admit it, I am pretty lazy. When I’m shopping online, I tend to spend only about 15 seconds on a single page – especially if there is nothing to grab my attention right from the start, or if I’m not finding what I’m looking for. My worst turn-off is badly presented content. Pretty pictures will make it easier to stay on the site, but if for example the photo gallery doesn’t work with the arrow keys, I tend to just give up before long as using the mouse from the bed is too much of an effort. I also read very selectively: large feature posts, sub-headers and maybe the reviews. If I am extremely interested in the content, I just might read the small print and the actual body text.

But how about a video? Those I’ll watch pretty much every single time – especially if they’re short ones. I’ve bought more than enough dresses online because of a compelling product video. Nowadays I know that photos often lie, but I feel that a video is more concrete, more informative and more truthful.

Me and I’m guessing everybody else never reads a manual, but when I’m having problems I always have some time for few minutes long how-to video. With the advent of multiple new channels and everything becoming social, the end users are creating these videos themselves as well. You can find out how the product actually performs by watching a short YouTube or Snapchat video someone posted.

I believe that most people are like me – lazy, who believe when they see. Moving images work better and demand less from us. According to recent case studies, product videos can increase the conversion rate of a web-store by up to 85%. Google is also giving higher search result ranks to sites with videos. Maybe my next blog post too should be a video…

Videos are an important part of enriched product information – in addition to being informative and sometimes even entertaining, at best they can be the factor that makes the customer decide to buy the product, and increase your sales. Does your company already have a solution to tackle this new frontier? Look into Adeona PIM solutions for product information management and publishing.

Could you utilize existing data more, so that the customer experience would always be high quality? 

This title is a direct quote from the Trade Union’s e-commerce education presentation by CGI’s Mikko Kuusisto. We were participating in a training of experts involved in e-commerce. The discussion in this event proceeded very fast into customer experience and its improvement. This topic is popular right now, and for a reason. Both good and bad service experiences spread faster than before and reach across multiple channels to ever increasing audiences. All of these experiences are also shared more daringly.

How do product information and customer experience in an online store relate to each other? The picture below tells the story. The most important parts of an online store are considered to be the product image, product features, product description and product reviews.

 

ecommerce_productinformation

All of these details are associated with product data. Often this product data is stored in several places, based on each user’s preferences. One person’s excel looks one way, another person’s word file another way, and somebody else’s files look distinctly different. Product photos are stored in each user’s personal files, on the desktop or “where they are easy to find.” In a rush a wrong picture might be published with wrong information. If a customer cannot find what they want, there will be no sale.

It is possible to vastly improve the customer experience with already existing product data. Compilation of information in one place, for example in the PIM system, makes updating the product data more systematic. This way nobody has to look for “the right image” or wonder about a suitable marketing message. When product information is aggregated in one place, product data enrichment becomes easier. Everyone will have access to the same information in one place. Also, this way errors will be minimized.

Some of our customers have faced challenges with product data management.  You can view the solutions to their problems here.

High-quality product information in e-commerce – a breakfast meeting on October 20 in Turku

Canter and Anders Innovations are  organizing together a breakfast meeting in Turku. The focus will be on the importance of very high quality product information for a multichannel online business. You are welcome to join us to hear the latest news on product information management and the e-commerce world, and to network! Remember to sign up by October 13.

Address: Aurakatu 12 B, 5. floor, 20100 Turku

More information:
Patrik Palatz
patrik.palatz@canter.fi
040 774 1200

The new online stores of K-rauta and Rautia are taking advantage of Adeona’s rich product information

During the current year, Rautakesko has expanded its e-commerce activities in Finland. In April K-rauta e-commerce was published, in May it was Rautia’s turn and in June the new K-maatalous redesigned website was published. In Sweden, K-rauta e-commerce was published in the summer of 2014.

Foundation and processes that cover the comprehensive product information are built in Adeona carefully, which has facilitated the renewal of all network services. Data accuracy, speedy access and distribution ensure high quality of product information and distribution in all of Rautakesko’s online services.

Adeona supports the improvement of the customer experience by providing the network services with high-quality product information. Adeona also serves as a background for search operations services, and plays an integral part in filtering information or finding alternative products. In addition to online services, Adeona PIM’s maintained and controlled product information is also used in traditional marketing, on printed materials, as well as in stakeholder services. With Adeona, the “do once, benefit forever” -principle is realized – even with hundreds of thousands of titles. Rautakesko’s Global Development Manager, Antti Sarkkula, describes the importance of product information:

We are able to improve our online store customer experience, because our foundation is in order, in  example, in regard to the product information.

Kesko tuotetiedonhallinta

More information:

Katri Koskentalo
Manager, Customer Relations
+358 40 167 8971
katri.koskentalo@canter.fi