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Last week, while attending the Internet Retailer Conference in Chicago, someone asked me what the greatest challenge is with ecommerce today. Not wanting to give a less than thoughtful answer, but also not wanting to get into the vortex of all that is right and wrong in the world of ecommerce, I simply gave a four letter word as my answer.
Inevitably, with clients that I’ve worked with in the past, or my own sites that I’ve led, the root of all issues in ecommerce always seems to come back to that four letter word. Poor data can be the reason why conversion rates are bad, why bounce rates are bad, or for a less than ideal user experience. Incorrect data can be a reason why otherwise correct code doesn’t work properly, why faceting breaks, or why images don’t display properly. In a nutshell, it can make or break an entire ecommerce business.
I’ve had clients at large, global brands asking why their ecommerce sales are not what they expect. And then after doing a thorough assessment of their site, you find that they have a mismatched taxonomy, no defining attributes, inaccurate descriptive attributes, and generally terrible product data. This is not an issue limited to small companies. In fact, in my experience, it is actually more prevalent at the larger, more established organizations where the existing data long precedes ecommerce, or even the internet itself. More and more businesses are implementing a D2C model (Direct to Consumer), and these organizations are typically manufacturers by nature. Manufacturing data is typically created by engineers and not merchandisers, and therefore the data is not thought about in the same manner that a merchandiser or marketing professional would consider it. A common naming convention in the industry may not make any sense whatsoever to an ordinary customer.
So with that being said, here are a few things to consider when organizing and planning your data architecture.
- Group your products in a way that makes sense. If you have 10 variations of essentially the same product, don’t make them all individual products. They should be a single product, with 10 varying child SKUs under the product. The only data that should differ among those products would be whatever makes that SKU unique from the rest of the products. For example, if you have a bunch of shirts that are identical other than the fact that they are available in red, black, and blue, and each comes in size S, M, L, and XL, then you should set this up as a single product. It would be 12 unique SKUs under this product (4 for each size in each of the 3 different colors), but the only thing that would differ between those SKUs would be Size and Color. The name, description, and all descriptive attributes would all be identical, and the defining attributes would be the method in which you select the unique SKU to Add to Cart, by selecting Size and Color. Too many sites have these broken up into too many product pages, which is a waste of time and energy that goes against ecommerce best practices.
- Make sure the data that you do have is accurate and valid. There is nothing that will kill a conversion more than giving a customer a reason to doubt that the product they are looking at is the product that they need to buy. It is imperative to make sure that every piece of information that you have is available on the product detail page. Nobody likes surprises later on in the checkout flow, so if a product it out of stock, has an additional shipping charge, or requires special tools for installation, then you should let the customer know BEFORE they add the item to the cart. Otherwise, you risk alienating them as a potential customer and cause problems for yourself in having to make the situation right in the future.
Blue Jackets Current Magic Number: 6 Points
Updated 4/6/2014 @9:45 p.m.
How Is The Magic Number Calculated?
Basically, the magic number in hockey is the number of points needed by a team, in our case, the Blue Jackets, to earn (or their opponents to lose) in order to clinch a playoff spot. Right now, the Jackets have 4 games left. If they win 3 of them, they are guaranteed a playoff spot. They can also get in if other teams that are chasing them happen to lose. Every point that those other teams do not earn reduces the Blue Jackets magic number by the same number of points. Right now, with the magic number at 6, (to knock out the Devils) that means that the CBJ would have to finish 3-1 (for a total of 6 points) to ensure a playoff spot this year. As they have the head to head tie-breaker against New Jersey, and lead the ROW tie-breaker, a 2-1-1 finish would be good enough to clinch the playoff spot, if the two wins are both in regulation.
Right now, the Jackets are very, very likely going to make the playoffs.
For those of you that tracked this journey with me the last time the Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2009, welcome back. Let’s hope the outcome is the same this year with some playoff wins this time around.
A lot has happened since the last time the Jackets made the playoffs, including an entirely new NHL playoff structure. So here is how things stand at the moment.
Today’s Playoff Status
April 6, 2014 – The Jackets are IN the playoffs as of the time I am writing this post, which is 9:45 p.m. EST. They are currently set as the 8th place team in the Eastern Conference and would play against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. We can still catch Philadelphia for that key 3rd place finish in the division, but we are 2 points back without the tie-breaker, with only 4 games left apiece.
The Jackets also trail Detroit by one point through the same number of games, though the Jackets lead the tie-breaker. This is a key race to get to the #7 seed and avoid the #1 seeded Bruins in round one of the playoffs.
Who to Root For in the NHL, as a Jackets Fan:
Monday, April 7:
Calgary @ New Jersey – CBJ Preference: Calgary win in regulation. A Calgary win in regulation on Monday night would drop the Jackets magic number to only 4 points. Huge game for us… Go Flames!
Tuesday, April 8:
Washington @ St. Louis – CBJ Preference: Blues win in regulation. A Blues win in regulation, combined with a Jackets win over Phoenix on Tuesday night, would eliminate the Capitals from contention for a playoff spot.
Toronto @ Tampa Bay – CBJ Preference: Lightning win in regulation. A Lightning win of any sort, combined with a Jackets win over Phoenix on Tuesday night, would complete the Toronto collapse and eliminate the Leafs from contention for a playoff spot.
Detroit @ Buffalo – CBJ Preference: Buffalo win in regulation. Not likely to happen, but this would be a great outcome for the Jackets in the battle for the 7th seed.
Philadelphia @ Florida – CBJ Preference: Florida win in regulation. Again, not likely to happen, but this would be a great outcome for the Jackets in the battle for 3rd place in the division.
Where Things Currently Stand
Columbus currently sits with 87 points with a maximum of 8 additional points remaining on the table. They have a maximum point total this season of 95 points. We have 35 Regulation/Overtime Wins (ROW), which is the 1st tie-breaker.
4 Spots Have Been Clinched – Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Tampa
Contenders’ Remaining Road:
New York Rangers: (currently 2nd in division, in a playoff spot): Presently No Magic Number from being eliminated by the Jackets (91 points in 79 games, maximum point total of 97 points with tie-breaker TBD – Rangers clinched tie-breaker)
Philadelphia Flyers: (currently 3rd in division, in a playoff spot): Presently No Magic Number from being eliminated by the Jackets (87 points in 77 games, maximum point total of 97 points with tie-breaker TBD – Flyers lead ROW, 36-35)
Wildcard Playoff Chasers:
#7 Seed – Detroit Red Wings: Presently No Magic Number from being eliminated by the Jackets (88 points in 78 games, maximum point total of 96 points with tie-breaker TBD – Jackets lead ROW, 35-32)
#8 Seed – Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils: 6 points away from being eliminated by the Jackets (84 points in 78 games, maximum point total of 92 points with tie-breaker TBD – Jackets lead ROW, 35-34 & won H2H tie-breaker)
Washington Capitals: 4 points away from being eliminated by the Jackets (83 points in 78 games, maximum point total of 91 points, Jackets clinched ROW)
Toronto Maple Leafs: 3 points away from being eliminated by the Jackets (84 points in 79 games, maximum point total of 90 points, Jackets clinched ROW)
Ottawa Senators: 1 point away from being eliminated by the Jackets (80 points in 78 games, maximum point total of 88 points , Jackets clinched ROW)
Carolina Hurricanes: 1 point away from being eliminated by the Jackets (79 points in 78 games, maximum point total of 87 points with tie-breaker TBD – Jackets lead ROW, 35-33)
New York Islanders: Officially eliminated from passing the Blue Jackets
Florida Panthers: Officially eliminated from passing the Blue Jackets
Buffalo Sabres: Officially eliminated from passing the Blue Jackets
I’m working on a step by step guide to selling your products on Amazon, completely outside of your own ecommerce site. Regardless of what platform you use, you can easily take advantage of Amazon traffic to sell your own products on their site. There are many pros and cons to doing so, with the biggest pro being the visibility that a site like Amazon can bring to you, with the biggest con being the price pressure of selling on Amazon. Unless you are offering a very unique product or premier brand item, there is a ton of competition when selling products on Amazon. Very soon I’ll have a more detailed guide on my site walking you through everything you need to know, should you decide to use Amazon as one of your own sales channels.
One of the first things I’m often asked at the beginning of an engagement is “How should our organization be structured?” Many eCommerce businesses are not set up in a very efficient manner, including many large companies. Regardless of the size of your eCommerce team, there is a structure that can be used to group functionality and tasks so that the work gets done in the most efficient manner possible. Every company is different, but inevitably when I work with clients to define an organizational structure for their eCommerce team, I end up with something very similar to the same thing.
If you break down the shopping experience, I find that there are often four different universal areas for businesses to focus for eCommerce.
While some of the specific work tasks tend to cross the lines a bit, the four primary pillars are:
- Getting customers to the site
- Helping customers find what they are looking for and presenting it in a way that makes them want to transact
- Processing customer orders (collecting payment and getting the product to the customer)
- Taking care of the customer AFTER the transaction is complete
We can put better names to these divisions of work, which make more sense and give a little more clarity as to the roles and work that is done within each. Knowing that everyone’s nomenclature is different, we’ll use the term “team” for each of these departments. That is just a personal preference that I have, and it makes it feel more like everyone is working together. I realize at many places it may not always feel like that.
Marketing Team – This group is responsible for getting traffic to the site. Any requirement or task that has to do with getting traffic to the site would fall under this category. Some examples of those tasks would include inbound marketing, pay per click, search engine optimization, social media, homepage design, site look and feel, email marketing, and customer segmentation requirements. Basically, the job of the marketing department is to get people to the site. Once the customer reaches the site, the job of the marketing team is done for that visitor. In essence, the marketing team brings people to the site, and hands them off to the…
Merchandising Team – The merchandising team has the sole job of taking the people who are on the site and turning them into paying customers, also known in eCommerce terminology as, a “conversion”. If conversion is a familiar term for you, then you would correctly assume that Conversion Rate on an eCommerce site should be completely owned by the head of the merchandising team. Every task of function needs one specific owner, often with many contributors, and the head of the merchandising team tends to have more tasks than others to own. In my opinion, and no disrespect to the other areas of an eCommerce organization, but the head of the merchandising team is the most important person in the entire operation. If you do not have the right person in this role, you will likely fail. If you have the right person in this role, you will likely thrive.
This person needs to be a seasoned eCommerce veteran who truly understands retail, and lives for analytical data such as conversion rates, average cart size, cart abandonment, checkout funnels, and that sort of thing. As that person is ultimately responsible for those analytics, they also would be the person with final decision making authority over things such as site taxonomy, product detail page look and feel, category structure, and navigational appearance. They also would own site search and the optimizing of site search results, as well as cross-sells and up-sells, category landing pages, promotions, and ultimately, the entire checkout process.
A good merchandising team will provide a customer with the products they want in a manner in which they expect to find them, and then smoothly complete the checkout and purchase of that product. A great merchandising team will do the same thing, but also present some higher margin alternatives and perhaps convince the customer to buy a few higher margin accessories or impulse items along the way. That skill alone is so valuable when you consider the cost of customer acquisition is usually quite high in eCommerce, so selling more to those customers (increasing average cart size) is the difference between a good sale and a great sale, and in essence.. a good year and a great year. Once the customer has found the products they want to purchase, and have navigated their way through the checkout button, the next hand-off comes when the customer clicks the submit order button on your site. Clicking that button then passes the baton from the merchandising team to the…
Operations Team – The operations team is responsible for the successful operation of all logistics of completing an order, commonly referred to as ‘Order Processing’. Order processing begins with the acceptance and processing of the customers payment method, such as a credit card transaction. This team will own the relationship with any payment processor third parties, banks, merchant accounts, tax collection and submission, and shipping requirements. Many companies use third party vendors who specialize in these areas, specifically when it comes to tax and shipping, and the operations team is responsible for managing all of those relationships and requirements. There is a lot of pressure on this area as well, because no matter how great of a job the marketing and merchandising team does, if the operations team drops the ball, then that customer may very well never return to place another order again. They also have the responsibility of fraud detection, which is a very commonplace activity that is part of eCommerce life nowadays. Whether your company has a large distribution center or relies entirely on dropshippers, the operations team is responsible for making sure that purchased products are delivered to the door of the paying customer. This includes the “pickers and packers” who take the item from inventory and prepare it for shipping in an appropriate and cost efficient sized box, as well as overall inventory management to make sure that the numbers of which products are on-hand and which are not, are accurate. Once the package arrives at the customer’s doorstep, then the operations team has done it’s job completely and it is time for the…
Customer Service Team – The customer service team is there to support the post transaction customer experience. This would include everything from the order confirmation email, order status tracking, and shipment confirmation, through to processing returns if necessary and following up with customers to ensure their satisfaction with surveys or requesting a product rating and review. This also means staffing a customer service phone number, email, online chat, or even snail mail communication if your organization offers it. Assuming the customer service team does a great job to complete the sales process, it would then be handed back over to the marketing team to target those previous customers and start the entire cycle over again.
There are definitely many roles and responsibilities under each of these teams, and many tasks have somewhat blurred lines and there is often questions about who owns which aspects of each. I’ll add a post in the future to talk more about that and best practices for each of these groups, but for now, I hope this helps explain best practices for a high level eCommerce org structure.
Please feel free to use the comments section below to ask any questions or provide your own input as well.
This will be an interesting holiday ecommerce shopping season. The world of ecommerce is changing, as it is all the time it seems, with new players and old making pushes and promotional messaging to get through to the consumer. Connecting with the consumer in more than just ecommerce, however, is what is going to be the difference this year and in years to come. The retailers that can truly connect with the customer, and provide a community and something of value more than just a shopping site with a competitive price, will be the retailers that are most successful.
If the retailers can capitalize on small advantages, like Amazon having to add sales tax in many states (with more to come), they will be well positioned to have a better year than they would have otherwise. All customers expect competitive pricing now, free or greatly discounted pricing around the holidays, and rewards for frequent customers. This information also helps retailers segment their customers, and present offers and suggestions to them at just the right time. They key to a successful ecommerce business, more than any other role, is that of the merchandising manager in charge of presenting the products to the customer in a way that generates the most revenue per visit. Increasing cart size somehow with higher margin products, improving search results, and digging into the analytics of the data to find some actionable information that can be used to improve revenue are just some of the things that a merchandiser can do to make it a better than expected holiday season for retailers.
More will be coming in another post soon, geared entirely toward merchandising. So until then…