You’ve built the worlds best ecommerce site. It’s beautiful, it’s constructed with cutting edge platforms and tools and delivers best-in-class, streamlined customer journeys. You’re generating great high quality traffic from multiple, co-ordinated channels from a top-notch acquisition strategy. You did everything right.
So why aren’t your customers happy? Why are your review scores plummeting, along with your ROI?
Enter the world of Ecommerce Operations. The nerdy cousin of the ecommerce family. The technology, processes, partners and physical activities that happen in the background, stop your business grinding to a halt, keep your store working and your customers happy.
It is the greatest defining factor for long term success in any ecommerce business. Yet it is often an afterthought at best.
What are Ecommerce Operations?
Ecommerce Operations are essentially the tasks, technology, partners and processes required to run and maintain your store. Exact duties vary from one business to another depending on organisational structure. But broadly speaking it covers these main areas:
- Live Service
- Logistics & Fulfilment
- Payments & Fraud
- Customer Service
- Processes & Workarounds
An ecommerce store can never be considered finished. It should be thought of as a living, breathing thing with merely the latest version released for use. Depending on your delivery approach, this could be weekly, monthly or an ad hoc update. However, once it is released it needs to be kept alive and the store available to trade. This is Live Services.
It seems quite fundamental, but many businesses seem to take it for granted and expect that their store should just “work”. This is a risky mindset, especially when any outage of an ecommerce store stops all trade and directly hits business revenue, forecasts and run rate. When a site is offline you’re not just missing trade, you’re compromising future performance by increasing your run rate targets.
Your ability to manage critical issues, deal with bugs and defects, rollbacks and intermittent problems is essential to continuous operation of your store. The more complexity you add to your store and your activities, the more vital this becomes, as it’s not only developers that can introduce issues. Store administrators, merchandisers and copywriters can all break features, load incorrect files and bring a site down.
It’s likely that you also routinely rely on several integrations to your partners and technology providers that can affect the smooth operation of your store. Customers are also constantly finding new ways to break journeys or getting stuck due to minor processing errors, which can balloon into serious customer service complaints if not handled quickly.
In addition to handling this you need to know when it is happening, so robust reporting and monitoring of your ecommerce store is crucial, as well as having the correct KPIs to measure against.
Logistics & Fulfilment
Customer expectations around delivery of orders has never been higher. Convenience and efficiency are no longer differentiators. They are assumed, and consumers have zero tolerance for mistakes. With the rate of change in this area continuing to increase, businesses need strong operations and procedures in place to keep their day-to-day offering as healthy as possible, while leaving scope for agile changes to technology and partners.
Customers demand a wide scope of delivery options from same day to next day, weekday vs weekend, click and collect vs access point. Many businesses are now integrating several logistics partners and offering the choice of provider to the customer. Don’t like UPS? Try Royal Mail instead.
The pick, pack and ship aspects of your operation need to be an efficiently managed, frictionless customer experience. But when they are not, when you have a problem, or an edge case occurs, you need strong operations management ready to solve the issue and work with customer services to provide excellent customer care. This applies to returned items just as much as new purchases which is also often overlooked.
Payments & Fraud
It’s the most critical part in any buyer’s journey and as a retailer your most vulnerable. Taking payments, especially international payments, is a balancing act.
Your customers like to pay in a variety of ways, they have numerous payment options and payment bias’s that might not be apparent to you. As an ecommerce retailer you should be aiming to reduce friction at all times and make the buyer journey as easy and painless as possible. Covering the basic payment methods is not enough, nor will it help you understand changes in the market or the payment tastes of your customers. You need to be offering the right payment types not only for the country you are selling into but also for the right demographic. At the same time, you want to make sure your payment mix is not impacting on your margins or causing customer service issues.
Fraud is an ever-present danger to retailers and one that requires robust processes and a bespoke approach for your business. Setting your fraud thresholds too high stops legitimate buyers being able to complete purchases, too low and you leave yourself open to attack.
Constant monitoring, forecasting and optimising of your payments mix and fraud prevention processes is an essential part of any Ecommerce Operations activities.
Like delivery the bar is set high for a best-in-class ecommerce customer service experience. The role of Ecommerce Operations is to ensure that customers never have to contact your call centre. But if they do that agents have the information and tools to resolve issues quickly and painlessly with minimal manual processes.
In an ideal world you build easy to use and understood self-service customer service tools and processes, like being able to return items without the need to make a phone call. Ecommerce Operations is about mapping these customer flows and creating solutions that minimise customer pain, hopefully without introducing business pain in the form of manual workarounds.
Monitoring of transactions and failed customer journeys is also best practice to head off potential customer service issues and retain sales wherever possible.
Processes & Workarounds
Ecommerce Operations managers know where the bodies are buried. They know all the workarounds for the processes that should work but don’t, what to do when that edge case occurs, and the processes that keep your store working and your customers happy. Over time most ecommerce businesses will have workarounds that creep in, such as the issues that are waiting on a fix but until that happens a manual process has been accepted.
In theory, to keep trade flowing accepting these quick fixes for short manageable periods is fine. But documenting the processes and creating long term solutions should be a priority for Ecommerce Operations. Just because you’re managing a back-end process manually with no issues today doesn’t mean it will hold up during a peak period such as Black Friday. Ecommerce operations is all about documenting these processes and raising briefs for long term fixes.
One final thing to note is that Ecommerce Operations is a fantastic source of data, be that payment mix, fraud velocity or edge case run rates. It’s all information you should be harnessing for your business and acting upon.