The Brainstorm: E-commerce Deployment Strategies

How to plan for e-commerce deployment options and their implications on the total cost of ownership and customer experience?

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The WBSRocks E-commerce roundtable features industry experts sharing their perspectives on issues critical to the manufacturers' e-commerce journey. In this issue, we ask: how to plan for e-commerce deployment options and their implications on the total cost of ownership and customer experience?

Traditionally, most businesses deployed their e-commerce websites in their data centers. So, while you didn't have to worry about the yearly licensing costs, it was your responsibility to take care of the speed, security, and upkeep of your hardware. With the advancements in technology, there are tons of subscription options available for business owners. But understanding the pricing and how each of its variables affects your site's performance could be tricky.

Sam Gupta, Principal Consultant, ElevatIQ

Deployment is essentially finding a home for your website to be discoverable and available for use on the internet. Of course, the easiest option would always be to find a SaaS provider such as Shopify as they provide hosting as part of their entire platform in their subscription fee. But you might see a lot of surprise line items on your bill if you didn't understand terms such as the number of sessions, the number of transactions, the type of your tier, storage, bandwidth, etc.

For example, if you are a high volume, low dollar transaction business, such as pet food manufacturers or distributors, you may have tons of sales orders per month. So if your pricing is based on the number of transactions per month, you might be paying a lot as part of your monthly subscription fee. On the other hand, if you are selling costly items, you could have many more sessions while you may not have as many transactions. In this case, the consumers are likely to spend enough time researching expensive items, and their decision-making would be slower. They might come back to your site multiple times to research but may not complete the purchase, which will drive the number of sessions. So if you paid based on the number of sessions for expensive items, you might end up paying a lot more than if you paid based on the number of transactions.

The type of tier is another consideration that would drive how fast your site loads. Most cloud providers would offer multi-tenant options to make it affordable for you. Think of multi-tenant is like multiple businesses sharing the underlying hardware infrastructure and splitting the costs. As you might be able to imagine, if there are too many businesses sharing your tier, your site would not likely be as fast. However, even if fewer businesses may be sharing the hardware, the site may still be slow if underlying hardware doesn't have enough processing power. Thus, you need to plan for the appropriate tier depending upon the expectation of your volume. Or your conversion may suffer.

Finally, storage and bandwidth are other considerations you need to keep in mind while planning your site. For example, suppose you plan to sell products that may require you to upload high-definition videos. In that case, you need to watch for the charges for additional storage in case the storage provided with your tier is not sufficient. Similarly, think of bandwidth as a "pipe" available to send large files in chunks. If the bandwidth for your current tier is too low, it may take forever to stream the video files of your product, which may affect the customer experience.

Understanding how deployment options affect your total cost of ownership and customer experience is critical for your e-commerce journey.

Eric Landmann, Ecommerce Division Manager, Earthling Interactive

Deploying a new eCommerce technology is usually more challenging than companies anticipate. My advice is to spend more energy upfront on the requirements and goals you want to achieve from new software and implementation to ensure it will last 3 to 5 years.

Deployments have many moving parts and some danger zones where the process can run into trouble and take longer than expected or fail in the worst case. If everything goes well, web visitors will not notice the difference, except for some new features post-deployment. However, if it goes wrong, it can be really bad. That is where you need highly competent staff and a backup plan.

Some of the pieces that add complexity and cost to the process are:

  • The hosting environment (such as cloud hosting on AWS, Azure, MageMojo, Nexcess, Siteground)
  • Your hosting provider's turnaround time for support issues
  • Integration systems that push code
  • Developer knowledge or available time to do deployments
  • The amount of time it takes to manage a deployment by developers or DevOps personnel
  • Server and database backup plans and management of those systems
  • Versions of underlying web hosting architecture, development languages, and databases
  • Is the site owner or admin in direct communication with the personnel doing the deployments?

Each of these items could have cost and schedule implications. You might want to ask the following questions:

  1. Will extra hosting resources be needed?
  2. What is the cost of any downtime?
  3. How fast is the typical turnaround if a tech support ticket is filed with the hosting provider? Will you be waiting half an hour for an answer, or half a day?
  4. What happens if the deployment fails midway through? What is the rollback plan?
  5. Are there developers scheduled and on-staff who can deal with deployments at the necessary time window?
  6. Does the development (or staging) environment match the production environment? If these are not substantially the same, code may not perform the same.
  7. Are deployments covered by a maintenance agreement with the development company?
  8. How much staff time do you need for actual deployment?
  9. How much staff time do you need for post-deployment quality assurance?

Kristina Harrington, President, GenAlpha

A strong deployment plan is critical to the success of any eCommerce launch. Whether this is your first launch or re-platforming, many deployment elements can impact cost, site traffic, and customer experience.

To ensure you don't miss any important factors, I recommend including the following activities in your deployment preparation:

  1. Invest in a single experienced leader with full accountability for your eCommerce goals and objectives. Surround this leader with a cross-functional team of influencers who will be dedicated to supporting pre- and post-deployment. The investment in resources is critical to the success and adoption of your new selling channel.
  2. Prioritize a seamless customer experience. What are your customers' goals and objectives? How can you make their job easier? What information do they need to make a purchase decision?
  3. Build and prioritize your requirements list. Minimally, this should include customer requirements above, global business needs, systems integrations (ERP, CRM, PIM, Marketing Platforms, etc.), and all features and functionality identified from your cross-functional team.
  4. Evaluate each vendor's ability to deliver your business requirements. Be sure to review their ability to offer security and monitoring (Hosting, GDPR, CCPA, PCI compliance, Penetrations Tests, Service Level Agreement, and System Availability Guarantee), open APIs, and multiple environments for user testing and production.
  5. Define your success metrics. This will determine the budgeted amount you are willing to invest to get the appropriate business outcomes. If you are simply migrating sales from offline to online, this differs from growing revenues or winning back market share lost to competitors. Make sure your objectives are clear, and any changes to sales compensation to achieve these objectives are included in your plan.
  6. Define a content strategy and determine any costs associated with preparing your data. For many B2B companies, data preparation is very different when transitioning to digital.
  7. Plan to test. Test payment processes, all ERP integrations, and workflows.
  8. Develop a launch plan. To get the greatest level of internal and external adoption after launch, you need to tell everyone about it. Identify the marketing and sales activities necessary for a successful launch.

Low adoption rates, loss of market share, and a decrease in customer satisfaction are potential business implications if this process is not handled properly.

The above eight elements are important in determining your deployment success.

Dave Meyer, President, BizzyWeb

When deploying your eCommerce site, you need to think about your company's needs, your customer's end goals and find a solution that will help you scale up over time.

For Google to notice a site, it needs to be findable in a few different ways. For example, eCommerce systems have allowances for meta descriptions, formatting in the right tags, easy access to cross-linking, "pretty" permalinks that include keywords, and more. Unfortunately, some consumer-grade eCommerce tools are easy to set up but start to have usability issues when you load too many products or when you need to integrate with your company's ordering and ERP systems.

It can be tempting to go with the cheapest option for your site and marketing - but if you don't get the traffic you need, or those visitors don't convert, you could save a few thousand dollars but also lose out on hundreds of thousands in lost potential revenue.

Invest wisely and find a partner who will grow with you.

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