Business leaders who build agility into their business models have a key competitive advantage.
So said Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler in their 2011 Harvard Business Review article. In it they state that adaptability can be broken down into 4 key capabilities:
- The ability to read and act on signals: Businesses operate in a readily moving environment with lots of changing factors happening all the time. This means they need to be able to sense change and if possible, react to it.
- The ability to experiment: Businesses need to be able to innovate and try new ideas quickly, and they need to be able to fail fast and move on.
- The ability to manage multi company systems: With increasing technology, businesses find themselves interacting in more complicated ways both internally and externally. They need to be able to manage this network complexity.
- The ability to mobilise: Once a course of action has been agreed the business needs to be able to make change happen quickly, effectively and with commitment.
Fundamentally though what this boils down to is agility: the ability to see and make changes quickly and easily. More and more this is increasingly also about digital agility.
Ecommerce Needs to be Agile
In the specific case of online retail, change happens continually and at a rapid pace. The need to be able to keep ahead of competitors and ever-changing customer tastes and demands is a constant and relentless battle.
For this reason, online retailers need to create what we call “Ecommerce Agility”.
Ecommerce Agility is a retailer’s ability to optimise, improve and change rapidly while staying focused on the customer. We define this as:
- User Experience – How quickly can you make changes that surprise and delight customers? Are you able to rapidly alter your experience for different customer groups or based on new trends?
- Addressing New Customers – How quickly can you address new groups of customers, either new market segments, demographics or even new countries?
- Technology Adoption – How quickly can you adopt (and drop) new technology that will improve a customer’s experience and your ability to understand them?
What You Need to Build Ecommerce Agility
In tackling these areas within an ecommerce organisation, we usually focus on three key strategies: People, Platforms & Processes.
Fundamentally retail is about people. Irrespective of technological advancements, retail is about real people buying goods and services. The methods of delivery and communication may differ, but the end goal is still the same: a happy customer.
From a team perspective you need people who are able to put the customer at the heart of everything they do. But they also need to be adaptable enough to leverage all information and tools they need to help with their approach.
So not head down, follow the script. But head up, what can I use that will help me deliver on my promises to my customer?
Tools and technology without a team that can leverage them are useless. As your toolset increases in complexity so does the need for dedicated customer specialists that can utilise them to get your return on investment from them. A strong delivery focused culture is a must, but so is the need to invest in your people with the correct training.
In some businesses training is often viewed as an unwelcome cost with few teams having a dedicated training budget. Commercially this does not make sense. Despite the expense involved, the opportunity cost due to lack of speed to full utilisation means you may be losing money over the longer term.
The companies you partner with and the technology you invest in can make or break your business. Many companies tend to fall into two camps on this front: the “overly cautious” or the “buy everything and hope for the best”.
The overly cautious companies tend to gravitate to enterprise level solutions. They change much less often but when they do, they do it at a large scale with huge investment and potential disruption to day-to-day operations.
The “buy everything” companies adopt everything going, often including conflicting solutions that may or may not be compatible and integrate them with varying success. They are generally led by the technology and not the needs of their customers.
Both approaches are actually trying to solve the same problem but ultimately still failing to put customer needs at the heart of their approach. An overly cautious approach stifles agility and locks you into choices potentially for years. Conversely if you buy every new and shiny thing that crosses your desk, you disregard your ability to utilise it to its full potential, as well as working out if it’s appropriate for your stage of digital maturity.
Your platform choices need to fit specific customer needs. The challenge however is understanding how to address those needs over time and as they change.
Ultimately your choices need to be as concrete as necessary to solve your immediate needs, while at the same time leaving flexibility for uncertainty and giving you the ability to change as you move forward.
At CommerceCentric we apply a digital maturity mapping approach that matches your strategic ambitions to your current state of digital maturity to give a defined but flexible change roadmap.
Process for process sake kills agility. It is the curse of any large corporation, where bureaucracy ranks as one of the most common complaints at the water cooler. The biggest culprit is often the approval process, meaning that staff find themselves going through round after round of rubber stamping to get an action or budget spend approved.
This can become increasingly damaging when specialists are forced to explain their work to other non-technical team members and go through rigid processes that were designed for completely different needs.
You can identify a bad process in a few key ways:
- The process adds no value - Nothing is gained from the process, no extra detail or alignment is added. The outcome would be the same even if the process did not occur.
- The process only exists to stop bad things happening - This usually evolves from historic negative experiences. No one likes problems but we shouldn’t stop all activity to prevent them from happening.
- The process was created for a different purpose - Just because a process works in one area doesn’t mean it will work in another.
That being said good process and process tools can vastly improve output, coordination and alignment when implemented in the correct way. Good processes add value, they help things get delivered and they improve efficiency.
Process change can be difficult, but it only takes one team to be successful for it to be rolled out effectively across the whole organisation. Equally there are numerous productivity tools on the market from JIRA and Slack to Trello and Evernote, and like your ecommerce technology choices, you need to align adoption to your strategy and team style.
The important element should always be that your processes and tools are focused on delivering value to your team, your customers and making your Ecommerce Operations more digitally agile.
There are many considerations when thinking about digital agility for an ecommerce team but our recipe for success would be:
- A focus on the customer and their experience
- A well trained, agile team
- Flexible technology platforms and partners
- Value adding processes and tools
If you’re interested in improving your ecommerce agility and ecommerce approach get in touch today.