Knowing your business’s lifecycle is important. Before you invest in a new ecommerce platform, or make decisions based on the latest ecommerce trends, be sure you know where you are in the lifecycle of your business.
Why is the business lifecycle important? There are many reasons.
- Objectives change. Your business objectives will be different when you are starting out versus 10 years into the business.
- Resources change. Your internal resources will improve over time, allowing you to implement more sophisticated technology and marketing strategies.
- Platform needs change. Your ecommerce platform and supporting systems will be different throughout your various levels of maturity.
- Budgets grow larger. Assuming your business is successful, you’ll be able to invest in more sophisticated strategies.
Let’s assume there are four levels of ecommerce maturity: “Beginner,” “Novice,” “Intermediate,” and “Expert.” Further, let’s assume you operate one or more online stores in the business-to-consumer markets.
What follows are examples of the types of priorities and investments you might have in different levels of your business lifecycle.
In the beginning, you will likely be focused on the following types of objectives and investments.
- Products, suppliers. Finding suppliers and choosing products that someone will buy.
- Hiring a team. Hire staff to design and operate your business.
- Platform, systems. Choosing the right ecommerce platform and systems to support your business.
- Launch. Branding and planning the launch of your business.
- Visibility. Designing a way to gain visibility for your new store, such as search engine optimization and promotion.
- Populating products. Getting all your products into your new online store with content, images, pricing, and other data.
- Metrics. Monitoring key metrics that involve traffic, visits, unique visitors, bounces, and referrals.
- Fulfillment. Piecing together a fulfillment system, learning as you go.
- Physical space. Renting an office you can afford.
That’s a lot of work, and potentially a significant investment. Once you have everything built out, you will be focused on successfully fulfilling your orders and then learning about what sells and what does not.
Novice: 1 to 2 Years in Operation
As a novice, you likely have a fledgling business. You’ll have customers, search engine visibility, and a revenue stream. Your objectives and investments will likely move to increasing revenue. You may also start to tackle operating inefficiencies.
Here are some priorities you will likely have.
- More customers. Expanding your customer base to expand revenue.
- Adding more products to increase revenue.
- SEO. Gaining visibility in search engines.
- Monitor key metrics. Paying attention to key metrics related to conversation rates, cart and checkout abandonment, new customers, average order value, and acquisition cost.
- Customer service. Dealing with more customer service issues and improving your turnaround time. You may need to automate your processes with a customer management system.
- Supply chain. Broadening your supply chain and working to optimize your inventory levels and reorder points.
- Hiring experts. Hiring more in-house expertise for your platforms, systems, and marketing
- System efficiencies. Integrating or upgrading your shopping cart, order management, and financial systems.
- Marketing. Email, social media, Pay-per-click advertising, and remarketing.
Intermediate: 3 to 7 Years in Operation
At the intermediate level, your business could experience growing pains, but you likely have a reasonably successful company. This is when companies frequently need to upgrade or change their shopping carts. You’ll also start to focus more on profitability and seek new markets for products rather than keep going with a single online strategy. Here are some other key priorities and investment activities.
- New sales channels. Seeking new markets with niche stores, selling in marketplaces, or expanding to completely new markets, such as business-to-business or global.
- Continued product expansion. This could include private label goods to enhance your margins and competitive advantage.
- Focus on profit. Key performance indicators will focus on profit.
- Improved analytics. You will use improved analytics and business intelligence tools to drive decision making
- Staffing. You will likely hire professional managers to build and train your growing staff.
- Financing. You will need to secure larger lines of credit to support your inventory needs.
- Physical space. Do not invest in your own building.
- Platforms. Ecommerce platforms will be upgraded for scalability and new features and to become competitive with larger retailers. This could include integration with a customer management system.
- Marketing. Digital marketing will be ultracompetitive. You’ll manage it carefully, making sure you reach target consumers.
Expert: More than 7 Years in Operation
Now, you are head-to-head with the top 500 etailers. You likely have an experienced management team, with consistent recruiting of new talent. Your margins may be smaller than ever as your overhead has increased to support your growing operations. Your investments will be based on profitability.
- Consistent customer service. Ensuring your customer experience is consistent across all touch points: mobile devices to social media interactions.
- Global. Possibly launch global stores to further expand your markets.
- Personalization. You could use data mining to personalize marketing programs.
- Supply chain automation. Automating your supply chain, if you have not already done so.
- Sophisticated platforms. Your ecommerce platforms will be highly scalable and integrated with all other systems.
- More channels. Depending on your products, you may further expand into additional channels.