How to Avoid a 5 Year Mistake

Over the 11 years I have been working in the eCommerce agency business, I have seen short-term thinking plague many growing retailers. The instance when this is most troubling is when they pursue a trusting relationship with a digital agency and are lead astray. Both parties have shared responsibility for this outcome, but I want to focus on the responsibility of the agency. Long-term thinking is especially important when we talk about the valuable role of the agency in an eCommerce replatforming project.

Our team specializes in two platforms, Shopify and Magento. Both are strong platforms, both are competing to maintain leadership positions within their market segments and both compete with each other where those segments overlap (the big Shopify deals compete with the smaller Magento deals). Therefore, both sales teams are appropriately focused on making sure their own businesses are healthy and growing. Of course, there is nothing sinister in that, it is the reality of stiff competition in a growing, capitalist, free market economy; but it can be a slippery slope, so we need to acknowledge the potential downsides. More importantly, we have to understand how this affects the merchant.

Ultimately this means both platforms will over-sell their capabilities and under-represent their weaknesses. Again, there is nothing wrong with that; a good salesman does not proclaim the faults of his products louder than its strengths.

With the reality of ever-increasing competition between digital agencies, many agencies feel pressure from their partner reps to sell more software licenses. With this comes a plague of agencies selling short-term solutions to the very people who trust them to protect their long-term interests.

This ideology and role is being abandoned by many digital agencies we see in the market who are working to close deals and maintain their standing with the software platforms MORE than they are working to protect and represent their clients. This is a subtle shift in priority, but a very slippery slope.

This is in direct conflict with the critical role of the agency.

The primary function of the digital agency is to be the trusted guide and intermediary between the digital platforms and the retailer. To bridge the gap between technology and everyday business. To be the truth-teller.

We, as agencies, must continually remind ourselves that it is our job, first and foremost, to serve the long-term interests of our clients and to recommend the platform that best fits their needs and will result in the best long-term fit.  We have first-hand experience talking with many retailers who come to us because they have been operating on a platform that severely hindered their business. These mistakes often have long-standing negative consequences which are incredibly difficult to quantify.  How do you quantify the frustration your team feels when the software they have to use every day doesn’t support their business processes and results in extra steps to complete basic tasks? Since replatforming is not something a retailer does often, if the wrong decision is made, you’ll be living with the consequences for at least 3-5 years.

How can you make sure you avoid the short term trap?

 

First, invest in a detailed scoping process.  

Everyone wants to move fast, we live in a world that is constantly changing and speed is a major business asset. However, many times you have to slow down to go fast. When I talk about this with our team, I like to use a racing analogy.  The driver on an F1 racing team is focused on completing the entire course as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean he constantly keeps the throttle wide open all the time. He would naturally crash and burn at the first corner if that were the case.  In order to complete the best lap time, he has to slow down and carefully navigate the corners. The same is true for you.

Completing a project like an eCommerce site build or ERP integration is the lap we’re all trying to complete as fast as possible. But investing in the scoping process is one of the corners we need to navigate in order to hit top speeds later. This is why we strongly recommend a small planning project up front as the first phase to a project. This work has to be done regardless, so investing in this process first, before committing resources to a project, makes good business sense.

We ALWAYS uncover challenges during this process that would not have been addressed without the time spent digging deeper. Those major issues naturally affect scope, timeline, and price, so uncovering them up-front helps to create a better project plan with a much greater likelihood of success.

The result is:

  • A detailed and realistic project scope with fewer surprises
  • A detailed timeline so you know when you’ll launch
  • A fixed price you can count on

 

Second, don’t pick the platform before you assess real business needs.

Many times we see growing retailers who are on the bubble. They could build on either platform with relative success and at face value, there aren’t any major indicators to push them one way or the other. However, that doesn’t mean that you can simply pick either one and go with it. As we all know, the devil is in the details, and the specific business processes you use to run your business are dramatically impacted by the platform you choose. If you come to an agency with your mind made up on a platform, don’t be surprised when they don’t work too hard to take a second look.

This is primarily why we have intentionally chosen to work on two very different platforms, Magento and Shopify. We know that the specific needs for each retailer will vary wildly and we know we need more flexibility to recommend a platform that will best serve their long-term growth needs. While Shopify is generally less expensive to maintain, it may not be able to support extremely custom business logic. On the other hand, while Magento can be fully customized, that customization is generally more expensive to build and maintain. The success of your project depends upon your ability to select the best platform, and agency, for the job. Detailed discovery and well-documented requirements, in combination with analyzing the long-term total cost of ownership (including the cost of the build) is a critical step in making a platform selection.

Making sure your eCommerce team maintains a long-term mindset when making major decisions is a critical key to business success. In a world of short-term thinking, those who think long-term will have a distinct advantage over those who do not.

Remember to slow down, navigate the corners, and set a winning lap time.

We’re here to help with this process and to help your team navigate the deep technical details to make the right decision.