As many companies strive to build and expand their ecommerce technology, they should identify a minimum viable product and limit their scope to what makes most sense for their business, Lori McDonald of Brilliance Business Solutions writes.

LoriMcDonald-BrillianceBusinessSolutions

Lori McDonald

Companies are scrambling to move online and initiate or improve their digital commerce capabilities. But they are also cautious about investing resources with the current economic environment.

The key to an ecommerce site that costs less is limiting your scope.

Remember that the more data points you add, the more complex the project gets.

While this may seem obvious, in my experience, we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.  Once you decide to act, it is exciting to list all the things you have been hoping for. As you get a team together, the list grows. You deliver that dream list to a digital agency or systems implementer and they will gladly quote the work for you. You find yourself looking at the quoted cost and project timeline and thinking, “How did it get so big?!”

Don’t throw away the list of all the things you want. Your vision is good and important. However, it’s not the best place to start if you are trying to manage cost.

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Identify Your MVP

I recommend defining your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).  For our purposes this will refer to the simplest version of your digital commerce site that you can take to market.

In order to hone in on your MVP, you have to identify your project priorities. What are the business goals that led to this specific project? Why are you doing this now? How does this project relate to your business strategy?

Don’t try to get everything you want on your site on day one.  Instead, focus on the features and functionality that are critical to your initial goals.

You can always make improvements later. In fact, you need to plan for ongoing improvements to effectively compete anyway. Limit what you are trying to accomplish now and know that the things you are giving up will come later. In fact, they will likely be even better than you envisioned as you learn more along your journey.

How to Limit Your Scope

As you identify your MVP, reflect on what is most important to you. What represents your competitive advantage?

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Here are several areas to consider when working through your MVP and the scope of your project:

  • Design – Branding and user experience design are valuable. It also can be a large contributor to cost and time. In my experience with mid-market manufacturers and distributors that are implementing digital commerce, there are times when it makes sense to keep the design very simple for your MVP.  Focus on a matching your existing brand guidelines and plan to improve the design and user experience over time.
  • Data Integrations – ERP, CRM, and product information management (PIM) integrations are typically a significant portion of budget costs. Remember that the more data points you add, the more complex the project gets. Integrating digital commerce to your fulfillment system is a wise idea. However, there are options for simplifying the integrations for the ordering process, shipping and tracking details, customer data, and product information. Whether these options are reasonable depends on several factors, including your pricing structure, how many SKUs you have, and how often new products are added.
  • Search – Search is important is built into your ecommerce solution. However, best practices in search like rich text autocomplete, faceted navigation, display of reviews in search, and search optimization will require additional development. Consider limiting your requirements for search in your MVP and create a plan to improve it over time.
  • Payment Options – Giving customers multiple payment options is a great way to improve conversions, but depending on your platform and the payment methods you choose, it can also add time. Enabling customers to pay from their bank account (via ACH) takes more effort to implement. If you want to allow customers to purchase on credit up to a specific credit limit, this would require a data integration or third-arty service.

Go through and question other elements that you have on your list.  Which of these features are must-haves from the beginning?  Add the features that you remove from your MVP to a backlog to be added in the future.

Get Started

Identifying the scope of a digital commerce project is the first step. It can be challenging for you to do that well without understanding how much time it takes to implement the things you want.

When scoping out ecommerce development options, be sure to scope out the details of the project.  If you are working with a tight budget, stick with your MVP and have a plan to make ongoing improvements over time.  By limiting your scope, you can get up and running faster, for less money, start seeing a return on investment sooner, and you will be able to learn from feedback on your experience as you implement additional features.

Lori McDonald is the founder, president and CEO of Brilliance Business Solutions, a web development firm that implements digital commerce solutions for manufacturers and distributors. Follow her on Twitter @lorimcd and on LinkedIn.

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