Adding or refreshing eCommerce offerings is a huge undertaking for manufacturing and distribution businesses. Like many other B2B industries, there are a lot of considerations to be made that will not be satisfied with an off-the-shelf eCommerce platform. Because online selling is or will become a huge part of your business, it is wise to invest the time and money up front to have some custom development done to tailor the platform to your needs. If you have never gone through the development process, or even if you have, it can be very helpful to plan ahead so you know what to expect and what you want out of the process. Luckily, we have some advice for you!
Decision-Making and Timelines
The logistics of a project of this scope can be overwhelming, and oftentimes becoming overwhelmed happens in the early stage of getting stakeholders and decision-makers on the same page. Don’t underestimate how many different points of view will be involved in the planning of your eCommerce development project. Account for the time this process will take and try to manage everyone’s expectations. Decide on your core systems for the project and plan to start there.
In manufacturing and distribution, your core systems will usually be your eCommerce platform, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), and CRM (Customer Relationship Management). You may already have ERP and CRM in place, but it is important to consider whether or not their existing form is aligned with your long-term vision for your digital business. Try not to think of your new eCommerce platform as another component bolted on to existing systems, but instead place it at the center of your vision for the direction of the business and align other systems around it. This is an opportunity for evolution, and developing a full ecosystem of complementary technologies now will pay off with efficiency and longevity.
Iteration and Evolution
That vision for evolution is key for planning out your development process. Like evolution, your project won’t happen all at once. It can be tempting to push to launch all phases of the project at the same time, but an iterative method is much less risky and more efficient. Development, deployment, integration and implementation involves has so many facets that if you attempt to do everything at once certain aspects of the implementation may already be out of date upon launch. Aim to launch your core systems first and iterate from there. This is sometimes referred to as the “land and expand” approach.
The iterative approach is less traditional, and there may be some push back in your organization. But there is a good reason to move away from the traditional approaches. Development projects are not like assembly lines, where it is known exactly what needs to be done and how the product should turn out. Your development project is unique and will require the ability to adapt to unpredictable challenges.
Many development projects are cut short by time or budget constraints. Using the iterative approach will ensure that the most crucial elements of the project are completed first, so if resources run out you won’t be left with nothing. Oftentimes among the excitement of a big new project the last thing you want to discuss is the prospect of something going wrong, so build success into the plan.
You don’t need to become an expert in development processes to plan and execute your eCommerce deployment, but it can be helpful to have some preferences and ideas to discuss when vetting development companies. One method of the iterative approach used by some developers is Agile development. Agile was created as an alternative to traditional methods, and it is designed to deliver the minimum viable product and refine and expand from there. Agile accounts for unpredictability by allowing for changes to be constantly implemented as the client is provided access to multiple iterations of the product.
One great feature of this type of development is that it not only allows for, but plans for changes to the project as it is developed. As the client, you are able to test the iterations of the product and provide feedback or even change what you want, without necessarily setting the whole project back.
There are various services a development company might provide you. The simplest enterprise eCommerce project will require the implementation of the eCommerce platform and integration to core business systems. Integration may seem simple conceptually, but efficient integrations will need to be customized to satisfy the most important requirements of your business. Having your systems communicate with your eCommerce platform is much more helpful if the data that matters most to you displays in customized dashboards. Data should update in both directions so that the most recent information is available across your business systems, so you never have to worry about your information being wrong.
You may also need to pair the eCommerce component with a new website to deliver on your new marketing strategy. One thing to consider is having the site built on the same technology as the eCommerce platform. For example, Clarity eCommerce is built on a .NET framework, and we deliver websites on .NET as well. This ensures that the two function together at a high level. Your site may require custom modules and APIs to meet the functionality you’re looking for.
As mentioned earlier, custom dashboards can really change the way your business operates. Sales, shipping, inventory, marketing, and analytics can all be accessed through easy to view dashboards that put crucial data in front of your employees and let them perform important tasks. For the customer, customized dashboards will allow them to access the data you deem important, while allowing them to perform functions on their own that would otherwise take time from your employees. All of these administration features will require specific and customized permissions.
Clarity Can Help
eCommerce development projects require an excellent understanding and working relationship between client and developer. It is critical to select a company with experience in all facets of the project, and expertise in your field. Clarity eCommerce was built with B2B industries like manufacturing and distributing in mind, and we are happy to work with you to flexible develop a plan that puts your most important needs first. For a free consultation, please click to complete the form below!