Ecommerce.co.za

Project ecommerce: ‘Are we there yet?’

The factors that determine how long it takes to build an ecommerce website.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. If success happened right away, everybody would be successful, and the meaning would be lost.

Creating an ecommerce website – successfully – from start to finish takes time, energy, and dedication. Just having an ecommerce website does not automatically translate into sales; it is not enough to have a nice-to-look-at online store.

Taking on an ecommerce build should not be understood as an expense; it is a short, medium and long-term business investment of which you should see an ongoing and eventual exceeding return.





When a decision gets made to build an ecommerce website, there are inevitably two questions almost every prospective client asks during the engagement process: how much does an ecommerce website cost, and how long does it take to build?

The answer to both questions: it depends.

“On what?”, you may ask.

The cost and timeline can be related, but there are many other elements that come into play when creating and building an ecommerce site where your customers browse and purchase products, when compared to a standard or static website.

The team at Vectra have shared the following insights to help you understand the various factors at play that ultimately determines the answer – each unique to every client...

1. Ecommerce expertise vs self-build

In our experience it is best practice and to your absolute and solid benefit to partner with an experienced ecommerce vendor. Nevertheless, without proper ecommerce processes in place and knowledge of ecommerce project management, it is easy to fail before the online store goes live/launches.

Why is it so hard to launch an online store successfully?

The development of an online store consists of many small processes such as business analysis, choosing the ecommerce platform, UI/UX design and many others. In order not to fall behind schedule and avoid budget overruns, you need to have a clear strategy for managing an ecommerce project.





For instance, many business and retail owners are unaware of the online market situation and competition, the technical environments, and further lengthy and/or complex tasks that they are required to do with their ecommerce platform and site, on a continuous basis.

At Vectra we push to breach the knowledge gap for prospective and current clients because an uninformed, therefore unknowing attitude, results in the lack of vision for the future development of the ecommerce website.

For example, a merchant with over 5,000 items in their product catalogue using a SaaS solution, like Shopify, will not get you anywhere. Why? Because website builders provide users with a limited amount of space on their servers. In this case, more tech-powerful platforms, such as Magento (Open-Source or Commerce and Commerce Cloud), would be the right choice.

2. Ecommerce solution platform

The ecommerce space has been dominated by Magento for the better part of the decade; while Shopify is probably the first name most people think of when they hear “ecommerce”.

You get what you pay for…

The site that represents your brand is not where you want to cut corners. It should be easy to navigate, pleasing to the eye, and have engaging content. Of course, building an ecommerce site is easier said than done, as it takes a lot of work, a certain skill set, and moola.

There is no hard and fast answer to how much an ecommerce site costs to create.

Although you might be lured into an especially affordable plan that meets some of your criteria, it is important to do some research before you commit. You can change hosts at any time but migrating your site can be a hassle for you and your customers.

Consider the following when choosing your ecommerce solution platform and vendor:

  • Total investment budget (incl. marketing budget)
  • Target audience
  • Number of products
  • Capability for growth and scalability
  • Type of support and maintenance.

Although there are a variety of platform options available out there, we will start by looking at the pros and cons around each of Vectra’s partner ecommerce solution platform brands: Adobe’s Magento and Shopify. Although you can find all this info and more on each platform brand’s official website, being able to glance at them in one place is useful in this case.





ADOBE MAGENTO


Best for:

  • Brands who are already heavily invested in IT infrastructure or development teams
  • Businesses that require a more intricate ecommerce architecture/system
  • Brands that are ready to integrate ecommerce solutions like omni-channel and global expansion into their strategy.

Pros:

  • Robust and feature rich
  • Strong SEO
  • Lots of users and a dedicated community
  • Scalable and highly customisable
  • Flexible to choose where you want to host the software
  • Creates better brand interaction
  • B2C and/or B2B (Hybrid) cater capability
  • Powerful insights and data reporting
  • Advanced security features including a number of bug-fixing patches to overcome security vulnerabilities.

Cons:

  • Lengthier project delivery, timeline and build depending on amount of customisation needed
  • Development on this platform requires specialised technical capability, skill and know-how
  • More complicated to set up, customise and operate without specialist technical expertise.





SHOPIFY


Best for:

  • New store owners, hobbyists, and brands with SKU (product) count less than 100
  • Brands that do not want a highly technical ecommerce platform
  • Business owners that want to make updates to their store on their own without the help of a developer or vendor team.

Pros:

  • Fastest load time
  • Mobile friendly
  • Ease of use, quick to learn for starter stores
  • Lots of certified partners and developers to help you
  • Allows multiple channel- and social selling
  • Wide range of store themes with varied designs.

Cons:

  • Weak at SEO
  • Checkout is not customisable
  • Apps can add up and become costly
  • You will need a developer for any advanced features, advanced customisation difficult and expensive
  • Does not cater well to B2B sector businesses
  • Restricted API call volume
  • Limited URL structure customisation and high transaction fees for merchants.

The ecommerce platform we would recommend and propose depends on the client’s business needs, goals, budget, and a multitude of other factors.

Our platform recommendation and proposed ecommerce solution would be based on the following criteria:

We would most likely propose a tech-powerful platform solution like Adobe’s Magento (Open-Source, Commerce or Commerce Cloud) when your company:

  • Has a complex product, a broad and complex distribution chain, or unique market requirements that can be addressed only by and with custom development
  • Believes that its own ecommerce design will provide a unique competitive advantage
  • Has made a large investment in ecommerce, digital transformation, or the platform itself early on
  • Investment requires for innovation and ongoing support
  • Has built up a large or enterprise level organisation and has legal, financial, or organisational limitations.

We would most likely propose a hosted ecommerce solution like Shopify when your business:

  • Lacks the internal technical and management resources required to build, deploy, and support an ecommerce system and technical landscape
  • Cannot financially keep up with the pace of innovation in ecommerce and 3rd-party technologies
  • Competes in a market that requires rapid response to market changes and has short ‘time-to-productivity’ requirements that cannot be met with certain vendor workflows and resource capacities.

3. Ecommerce project management and constraints

As we said before, an ecommerce development project consists of small tasks and requires the work of many specialists.

In simple terms, project management is the art of getting something done on time, on budget. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals and objectives while honouring the preconceived constraints.

A project management methodology is the first step to the success of your ecommerce project.





At Vectra we use a combination of two project management methodologies: Agile and Waterfall.

This Hybrid Methodology allows us to work as a cross-functional unit with self-organisation and accountability; enabling the team to implement deliverables most efficiently and effectively while reducing the risks. Through daily communication within the team, we evaluate and adjust the results at each stage of project development. With this approach, we achieve the best quality of the final product.

The primary constraints at play with every ecommerce development project are:

  • Scope / Work
  • Time / Schedule
  • Cost / Budget.

The primary goal of the project manager here is to keep the project on time, on budget and in scope. These three parameters make up the Project Triangle.

We encourage our clients to keep these three elements of the Triple Constraint in mind as we start – and ongoingly manage – a project. Making sure that everyone is aware of these factors – for whatever project it is that we are working on – helps us adapt to changing conditions while still delivering projects on time within budget and within scope.

By having this conversation upfront with our clients, we have found that it makes it so much easier to manage expectations throughout the project journey.

Here is a closer look at what these constraints are and why they’re important to communicate:

Time

This refers to the pressure to meet a deadline. As the saying goes ‘time is money’ – a commodity that slips away too easily and, now more than ever where everyone must act fast to stay afloat – you must use your time effectively. When you reduce the project’s time, you will either have to increase its cost or reduce its scope.

Scope

The scope of a project defines specific activities, deliverables, functions, features and elements needed to complete the project. Many projects fail on this constraint because the scope of the project is either not fully defined or understood from the start. When you increase a project’s scope, you will either have to increase its cost or time.

Cost

The project’s budget comprises all the financial resources and other elements required to complete the project on time, and within its agreed scope. If you reduce the project’s cost, you will either have to reduce its scope or increase its time.

To put this simply, these are the basic equations we share with clients:

  • Good + Cheap = Slow
  • Good + Quick = Expensive
  • Quick + Cheap = Low Quality.

The most common issues that occur during the project are schedule delay, the cost overrun and poor quality of the product. To avoid such issues, our project managers understand how to make all three project constraints adjust to each other to deliver a high-quality product.

To provide the projects within the budget and in time, we control human and financial resources, as well as prevent stakeholders from managing project scope. Also, our project managers keep the team focused and adjust milestones when necessary.

Developing an online store, especially with custom features, could be risky. To reduce the risks, we develop solutions that use a Minimum Viable Products (MVP) approach, growing the ecommerce presence of a business in planned and calculated phases.

4. Start with an MVP-approach assessment

The benefit of MVP-approached solutions is multi-faceted:

  • It allows your business to start building customer relationships sooner
  • Provides maximum effort with minimum costs
  • Enables you to learn what your customers want in a faster and more efficient manner
  • Reduces the room for error, and
  • Brings to focus the core value proposition.

An MVP of an online store allows feedback from customers and online shoppers that we consider improving the design, customer journey, and other online store elements.

However, most of all, MVP establishes the principle of continual development.

The scope of an MVP for the ecommerce website depends on the platform, the business goals, and the industry. In ecommerce, an MVP could vary depending on the initial business goals. For one client, the MVP could bring profit, while for the other it could be a test of a concept.

5. Continuous consulting and ongoing development

After launching the MVP of the ecommerce website, we move to a Phase Two roll-out, where we build on what is already there. We also monitor how users interact with the site once it is live. We help our customers to identify and tweak the site, run usability tests and discuss future innovative solutions.

It is important to consider a Solution Partner that can grow with you; that invests in fully understanding your business and becomes an extension of your business.

A complete holistic solution is imperative for the success of any business and ecommerce platform. More importantly, it is crucial that these tools are implemented in the right way.

The project timeline for an ecommerce website should list each important milestone and stage in the process of creation. Each stage within the timeline should have a set length of time that corresponds with the size and complexity to the online store you are looking to build.

There are many factors that go into creating a timeline for an ecommerce build. Working on an ecommerce project could be chaotic, especially when there are many relevant features to implement. Moreover, knowing the flow of online shop development will help you improve communication with your internal team and get the most out of the collaboration and vendor partnership/relationship.

  1. Planning and Analysis
  2. Design
  3. Implementation and Development
  4. Testing and Integration
  5. Deployment
  6. Maintenance and Support.

Timelines will vary depending on the type and scale of ecommerce site you are looking to build. In the early stages of the project, we conduct in-depth planning and analysis to construct the scope of work to provide a proposal on the solution, cost, and the timeline.

The design stage is crucial, as the first impression of your site from visitors is based on the look and feel. It should be visually appealing, user-friendly, and memorable.

The development stage is when we will start building your ecommerce website. At the initial stage of online store development, we focus on the purchase process and shopper experience. This way, we create a better customer journey, which results in a higher conversion rate of the online store.

Smaller ecommerce sites can be built within 3 months, while larger ecommerce sites can take three or four times as long. Once the development stage is complete, your feedback will be crucial, if there are any tweaks before launch, they will be done during this stage.

The support stage in the timeline is ongoing, as the work of creating an ecommerce site should not stop at Go-Live.

You want to make sure your website is updated and modern, and that includes writing fresh and unique content often, swapping out images, reskinning designs, and enhancing the overall user experience.

There is no denying that ecommerce is an enormous and prospective market. In 2021, its value is going to reach USD $4.5 trillion. To receive more profit, many brick-’n-mortar merchants and businesses want to invest in ecommerce development. Whether you are a fledgling entrepreneur starting from scratch or an established business trying to improve your online presence, there is no better time to start building your ecommerce site than today.

No matter which ecommerce solution platform you want to use, no matter which marketing channels you want to explore, there are plenty of effective ways to reach your target audience. But with the number of online retailers growing every day, the competition for that audience will only intensify going forward. That is why it is so important to get the ball rolling, whatever this means for you, as soon as you possibly can.

Start your ecommerce journey with Vectra today where we lay bricks every hour.


Useful resources:
Vectra
Vectra Business Technologies is a software company focused on digital innovation in Retail. We specialise in point-of-sale and e-commerce solutions.
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