December 17, 2014

eCommerce Best Practices: The Platform

In Part One of “eCommerce Best Practices,” we took a look at key components of creating a seamless and intuitive customer experience through your web storefront. We now go behind the scenes and explore characteristics of a technology platform that gives you the control needed to optimize web store functionality.

While a well-designed online storefront may attract a customer initially, the site must be responsive and efficient to encourage a quick sale or return visit. As the engine of your online operation, a web store’s platform should be as robust as possible from the start of your eCommerce development process. You will want to incorporate features that allow for organization on the backend, resulting in consistency and reliability on the customer side.

Below are four key components, as identified by industry experts1, which you will want to consider when selecting the best platform for your eCommerce site:

1. Compatibility

Your web platform will need to be compatible on two fronts: external and internal.

Externally, your customers are accessing your eCommerce site through mobile devices more frequently than ever before. For example, 58 percent of contractors are using tablets at work and 89 percent are using smartphones, according to a 2014 NEMA study2. The adoption rate of mobile devices will continue to increase, so it is important to make sure your platform is compatible for PCs and mobile devices for future market success.

Internally, maintaining your technological ecosystem will require the consideration of other technology systems your company already has in place. When setting up your web platform, ensure it is compatible with your other business systems containing customer sales, contact, and product information. This process is complicated and many choose to outsource to a third party for hosting and managing. Ultimately, the platform you set up should allow for elastic growth as your company and business continue to expand online. 

2. Dynamics

Your eCommerce store will constantly change and evolve. As you introduce sales specials, new products, and new product categories, you will need a flexible web platform set-up. You don’t want to be stuck with a web platform that can’t change with your business.

In addition, technology and corresponding customer expectations are always evolving, so the platform of your eCommerce store must be able to adapt in response. A more dynamic platform allows for a site that is easier to manage and update, and a well-managed site leads to a better customer experience.

3. Varied search avenues

Search avenues on your site are used by your customers to quickly find the product for which they are looking, so give your customers as many ways to get to that product as possible. Typically, at a minimum a site will have both a navigation bar with subsequent categories and subcategories of products that will allow for a customer to filter based on their own needs, as well as a search bar.

Either way, efficient search parameters will need to be established for your web platform. Part of the way this is handled is through normalized data, which we will talk more about in Part Three of this series. These parameters will feed into every aspect of your search options.

For instance, when a customer searches in the search bar for a “CFL,” they are really trying to get to the products that you have labeled as “compact fluorescent lamps.” In order to direct your customer to that page quickly, you will need to set up a synonym table, which will associate related words with your normalized labels and map the search results to show all your compact fluorescent lamps.

Along with creating a synonym table, adding an autosuggest feature to your search bar, which populates different suggestions of products based on the first few letters of a search, will guide users to use the parameters you have set, and ultimately get them to the correct product faster.   

The easier you make it for your customer to find the product for which they are looking, the more likely they are to do business with your company. 

4.PIM Systems

A general business system does not maintain all of the data needed for a web storefront. Rather, a Product Information Management (PIM) system should be used to internally house all of your eCommerce marketing digital assets and product data. The PIM integrates business information with marketing content to create one storage system from which to pull all of the data for your site. Marketing content includes specification sheets, installation videos and product photos, among others.

A PIM is also where businesses create custom data fields for their products and where a business generates keywords with which customers can later search for products on the web store.

Incorporating these different features in your web platform will create a system that is satisfactory for your company’s needs today and in the future. In Part Three of “eCommerce Best Practices,” we will discuss what fuels your web storefront – the content. Using high-quality data to populate your eCommerce site is the final piece of the puzzle in a successful online business.  

[1] In writing this article, IDEA product managers and representatives from Unilog Content Solutions were consulted. The opinions and knowledge shared in this article are for educational purposes and do not seek to present any bias.

[2] NEMA “2014 Electrical Contractors’ Technology Benchmarking Survey,” October 2014