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E-commerce

How to launch in 100 days

What’s in the working life of an ecommerce project management consultant?work

Phil Grech takes us on the journey of a recent enterprise implementation for a national retailer with 55+ stores across Australia who recently launched their online store with a completed new website.

On the first day of trading online, the company met all expectations and met the internal targets originally used to generate its return on investment (ROI).

So what had to happen in the lead to the launch of this instantly successful site?

In the days leading to the launch of the website it was almost impossible to get hold of Phil Grech, the e-commerce Project Manager to complete an interview about the new site as he and his team hurried the site to readiness. Eventually we managed to agree on a time, and settled down well past 10pm one evening to learn more about the implementation. Phil is a charismatic native of Canada, with a depth of solution and integration experience  globally.

The directive to Phil by management was to ensure that an ecommerce site was to be built and operating in time for the Christmas trade which basically meant Nov 10th. This gave the e-team a very short 100 day window to implement all components of the solution

  • Designed a brand new look-and-feel for the website and produced all of the content, graphics and customer communications for the entire site;
  • Formed partnerships with approximitely10+ companies from around the world to deliver their “best of breed” component;
  • Integrated the world’s best of breed e-commerce and social networking functionality into a single enterprise class platform built on top of IBM WebSphere Commerce;
  • Built a dedicated area for the fulfilment of products ordered online (“the eStore”) within the DC;
  • Built and equipped a standalone Call Centre within the Distribution Centre (DC);
  • Rolled out a VOIP telephony network through the Call Centre and throughout Head Office;
  • Developed an e-module for the DC to plug-in to the existing warehouse management system and successfully rolled into production the upgraded system to manage the entire 17,000 square metre warehouse;
  • Built an 600 square metre photographic studio that can accommodate four separate photographers and up to eight graphic designers simultaneously;
  • Created over 21,000 separate image files for more than 1,400 products;
  • Outsourced the entire IT infrastructure to a third party provider using a virtualised pay as-you-go model;
  • Implemented a new shipping contract with Australia Post and a piece of middleware (IFS) to simplify the future business implementation of multiple carriers in order to take advantage of the cheapest rates.
  • Assisted the business in defining roles required to support the solution i.e. call centre professionals, photographers, graphic artists and eStore warehouse pickers and structured the management layer for ongoing support;
  • Developed most of the  policies required for the online business from scratch;
  • Assisted with the roll-out a pre-launch marketing campaign that tied existing store promotions to the upcoming virtual world activities;
  • Migrated a number of key aspects of the old website to the new platform.

To ensure the above was delivered with optimal efficiency, within cost and to schedule an active decision was made from the beginning not to manage by committee.

An overview of the strategy and thinking gears

Senior Management at this retailer had realised that ecommerce was a logical extension to its existing retail business operation. The retailer also had strong social ties with its youthful customers and lifestyle icons and selling online and enhancing the existing social media channels was an excellent fit with its business model, and a natural extension to its products.

Phil was very fortunate in that senior management did not place any major restrictions on the development of the ecommerce channel other than a budget. Through experience and a very good understanding of the complexities required to build an enterprise class e-channel, the e- team made a decision not to outsource to a  local development outfit but rather to find the world’s best practitioners being utilised by the World’s most successfully online retailers with proven solutions and world class implementations. This approach reduced risk, decreased time to market and forced the business to start thinking about where the World is heading in this space versus the all too common “what’s our local competition doing. This is quite unusual for an Australian retailer, as local retailers seem to think that investments in ecommerce are not nearly as valuable or important as their shopping centre or high street stores.

There was also a substantial hiring of staff to undertake photography, descriptions and copy, packing, order fulfilment, customer service etc.

Phil suggests based on his previous experience that the focus in developing each aspect of the website, database, order fulfilment, customer service etc was all based on a long term return on investment (ROI) strategy. “ROI was the first component of the project to be delivered. An ROI calculator that was able to tell the business at exactly what point in the future will  A) this investment break even and B ) what are the potential profits based on a +/- variance.” Says Phil. for example, we are able to say to a 99% accuracy that attracting X number of visitors will translate to X number of sales.  Another pragmatic approach was to “look at what others have done, investigate workflows, and see how it’s been done successfully and who makes the most money from it! Why spend money reinventing the wheel if it’s already been developed”

The same approach has been taken for the social media aspects of the site. “What we did not want to do was try and copy existing functionality already found on the web such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, chat, etc with our own versions of it. Instead we took an approach to integrate those social components into our site. As a good example of this is YouTube video clips shown on the retailer’s  Site with the same look and feel as YouTube today. We did this because we wanted our users to seamlessly use the functionality within a framework that we know works well. Another example was blogging. The retailer invited certain “kids” on board to blog on behalf of the retailer providing content relevant to their market” says Phil.

What the world doesn’t need are more blogging and chat engines but rather more integration between existing tools, people and content that will drive relevance. The icing on the cake however must surely be the ability for consumers to not only leave reviews regarding products but the ability for buyers to recommend products as they see fit. This soon to be released functionality will allow users to ask questions about any product they wish directly to a subject matter expert that will then get posted as part of the product content. Other users will also have an opportunity to answer these same questions  The strength of this is two fold.  There are obviously the social components that drive interaction between relevant users and the retailer, creating relationships but also from a technology perspective where these reviews are tagged and indexed to each product and brand that will then provide the Bings and Googles of the world with the means to more positively rate in their respective search engines.

Project management and implementation

The warehouse system is a state of the art automated warehouse Supply Chain execution solution originally supplied by Highjump which is a specialist supply chain software solution. The existing Highjump infrastructure was further customised to handle efficient pick packing for online sales. This was a huge change to the warehouse in itself but the implementation went off without a hitch. The new code was rollout out and while the team had planned to stay the entire night for bug fixing, issue resolution etc, the team locked up the doors at around midnight because all test cases were successfully performed to the CIO and Project Managers satisfaction.

A purpose built call centre has also been built with a Voice Over IP (VOIP) system to deal with customer service issues, live chat queries and compliments because as Phil says everything boils down to customer service, and management believes this extra step is an extremely important value add.

As the retailer sells such a comprehensive range of products it was decided to set up an in house photographic studio to maintain conformity with the look and feel of all products on the site. The studio can handle four photo shoots at once to ensure that all new season stock can be photographed, etched and edited as quickly as possible to get it onto the site. The challenge to match data to images considering the large variety of stock has been “massive” says Phil, so much so that when the site originally launched there were quite a few products listed without images.

In choosing an ecommerce platform Phil and his team looked at what would best fit the needs of the business and maximise ROI. They ultimately chose IBM’s Websphere platform. “This was not without some intense negotiation ‘says Phil.

“While numerous partners implemented in their designated timeslots the icing on the cake of the whole implementation had to have been partnering up freight company Interactive Freight Systems (IFS)” says Phil who feels they have been excellent to work with. “IFS has the ability to store numerous different carrier information simultaneously and based on the data you feed it will automatically tell which carrier can deliver for the cheapest cost.

The company’s goal is to be able to efficiently service overseas markets should it need to as well as Australia and New Zealand. To be able to do this Phil needed a payment gateway that could handle international payments in a variety of foreign currencies and be PCI Compliant level 1. He found this in Cybersource an international payment gateway provider.

The project has come in 10% below budget and on time. Phil admits that at go live there were a few problems with functionality and data, however the long term goal as previously mentioned is ROI. He also credits the CIO’s pragmatic approach about getting going and fixing things while gaining momentum, an unusual trait he says for an Australian implementation.

Performance of Site

Technically the site is extremely stable, secure and robust.” We are using a virtual model that has the ability to be automatically ramped up depending on needs. Of course we will only pay for what we need!” says Phil

On SEO

While there is an SEO strategy Phil believes everything needs to be properly in place for the strategy to work. “SEO is only a small sliver in the scheme of things” says Phil. There are other areas such as customer service, fulfilment, brand awareness etc that are just as important in getting people to visit the site and then return regularly.

“The real art comes to doing all things well”

Lessons Learnt

Spend the extra time defining scope with your vendors. While common practise states to list the deliverables it would also be wise to specifically list what is not being delivered. This way everyone is crystal clear and expectations can be better managed.

“This success boils down to the right people to do the job. The business didn’t just “assign” people to the project because they had extra capacity or wanted to save money, but instead we were allowed to find the best people suited for the tasks at hand with the result being a successful implementation.”

When it comes to implementation it boils down to people, not systems. People make systems works and it’s the people that integrate the systems. Projects usually fail because there is a lack of capacity in either the team or the executives calling the show. The sooner this is understood and the sooner we all accept the notion of personal accountability the sooner we will read more success stories!

In conclusion

Phil says that most businesses focus too much on the sale instead of the need to draw customers to their business (I.e. the traditional sales based model. Build it and they will come, as opposed to a marketing model catering towards needs and emotions). “The web has changed over the past few years and until retailers begin realising that they need to offer an experience rather than a shopping cart, overseas companies will continue to make strong inroads into the Australian market place”

  • phil_gresch

About Phil Grech: Phil is Canadian born global e-commerce practitioner with about 15 years of practical experience building and rolling out complicated enterprise class solutions across numerous industries including banking, retailing, software and government. He is a qualified Project Manager Professionals (PMP)  with multiple diplomas and a proven track record for delivering project on time and on budget. More recently however, Phil is now the managing director of FourFires, a business that specialises in providing end to end e-channel services such as strategy, integration, and full channel management in the Australian marketplace. On a more personal front, Phil is now living with wife and three kids on the Gold Coast where BBQing and surfing takes up an unequal proportion of his personal time. Phil can be reached [email protected] Add some good Karma and mention you got his address from this website so he knows where you got his information from!

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