Key performance indicators are becoming common in large corporations as a way to measure and monitor the success of key activities. But they can also play an important role in any sized ecommerce business.
A KPI — key performance indicator — is simply a measure of some process, event, or activity. An example is checkout abandonment, when shoppers exit before completing an order. This KPI should be monitored closely by all ecommerce businesses. If it is typically 10 percent and suddenly goes to 15 percent, that may be an indicator that something is broken on your website, like your SSL, your shipping estimator, or your credit card authorization. By monitoring that KPI daily, you will mitigate the risk of losing business if something breaks.
KPIs differ among businesses. For example, large corporations monitor the time between orders and final payment, striving to reduce that cycle. For an ecommerce business, checkout abandonment is an important KPI and lowering that percentage generally leads to higher revenue.
For strategic and operational planning, KPIs are also used for SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. As an example, you may want to set a goal to improve your checkout abandonment from 10 to 7 percent in six months. Or, you may want to set customer service goals to reduce the average number of open cases from 10 to 5 in three months.
All businesses should regularly monitor their revenue, cash position, receivables, payables, and basic accounting reports. If you have an inventory and higher-end accounting system, you can also monitor your cost-of-goods sold and gross-profit margins daily. Beyond that, you should monitor pay-per-click advertising performance, social media metrics, email marketing results, and marketplace sales (such as Amazon, eBay) to identify areas of improvement. Virtually any measurement can become a KPI as long as you have a means of capturing the data in a fast and consistent method.
21 KPIs for Ecommerce
Baseline KPIs should always be monitored, and acted on if they deviate from their normal range. KPIs used for goal setting may change, as may the target range of those KPIs.
In my experience, the important KPIs that ecommerce merchants should monitor are as follows.
- Unique visitors
- Total visits
- Page views
- New visitors
- New customers
- Total orders per day, week, month
- Time on site per visit
- Page views per visit
- Checkout abandonment
- Cart abandonment
- Return rate
- Gross margin
- Customer service open cases
- Pay-per-click cost per acquisition
- Pay-per-click total conversions
- Average order value
- Facebook “talking about this” and new Likes
- Twitter retweets and new followers
- Amazon ratings, response and order turnaround time, and open cases
- Email open, click, and conversion rates
- Referral sources: percent from search, direct, email, pay-per-click, other
Your business may have many more than this if you outsource fulfillment, have a high percentage of call-in orders, and so forth.
What's a Normal KPI?
You may be wondering what the normal range is for these types of KPIs. In general, there is no answer, as every business is different. Develop your baseline over time and become aware of your typical operating ranges.
Once you have established your standard ranges, you can begin to use KPIs to set goals and measure improvement. More than likely you already do that with PPC advertising — with targets for click throughs, cost per acquisition, and cost per click. Perhaps you set targets regularly to improve those metrics. You can do the same thing with all the KPIs listed above.
Make Monitoring Easy
If you don’t have a dashboard that is capable of displaying most of your KPIs — this usually requires a higher-end, highly integrated system — then pull KPIs from all your various monitoring tools and dashboards into a spreadsheet on a weekly or monthly basis. This will provide you with a snapshot of your historical performance that identifies seasonal trends and necessary troubleshooting if KPIs deviate from their normal ranges.
Monitoring Peaks and Valleys
KPIs are also useful to check your normal cycles. In a simplified example, if you suddenly get a bump of new customers and don’t really understand why, you may want to look at your social media activity or referral KPIs to identify new traffic sources. Perhaps your “talking about you” KPI in Facebook is high because of a new product someone is talking up. Likewise, if your gross margins are suddenly much lower, it may be because your cost of goods sold has increased or because more customers are taking advantage of free shipping. In short, use your dashboards or any other tools you can to monitor your KPIs on a daily basis if possible.
Seasoned ecommerce managers can often predict revenue based on the number of visitors, checkout abandonment, cart abandonment, and other factors. More importantly, they can flag problems immediately.
Use your KPIs for setting SMART goals for your business improvement. KPIs can be identified for almost every operational area — from shipping to traffic to conversions. Work with your staff to identify areas for improvement, choose your baseline KPI, and set a target for improvement in a specific timeframe. Then you have a measurable goal.