How do you do e-commerce in your organisation? How do you structure your approach so that you maximise the return on your investment while minimising the risks of investing in technologies that don’t deliver on the bottom line?

Here is a framework that you might find useful. It is loosely based on the Lean Startup approach advocated by entrepreneurs such as Steve Blank, Eric Ries and Sean Ellis but adapted here for application in innovative customer-led enterprises –

e-Commerce Framework

1. Market Discovery – Start by identifying the market opportunity for your new e-commerce business. ‘Discovery’ implies that you don’t know all the answers. If you did, your business would probably already be a global Internet success. Develop a deep understanding of your customers’ goals and the activities they currently undertake to achieve those goals. What problems, pain points or frustrations do they encounter with existing market solutions?  How can you make it easier, quicker or cheaper for customers to achieve their goals, by leveraging your organisation’s core competencies and innovatively harnessing the latest consumer technologies.

2. Platform Design – Before you build anything, design your e-commerce platform end-to-end. Consider the interfaces and devices which will support your customers’ decision journeys. Outline the business processes required to support those journeys and the technical, organisational, supply and fulfilment infrastructures that will need to be implemented. Paint the complete picture so that you can validate the approach with customers, internal stakeholders and partners. Check if the business case stacks up.

3. Market Readiness – Typically, the majority of effort pre-launch goes into the technological development. Equally important to developing core functionality is the organisational readiness for initial market launch and planned future growth. While the initial systems,  process and resource implementation will be fit for purpose in order to get to market quickly, it must be implemented with a view to enabling rapid scale when required.

4. Socialise Market Offering – Marketing is changing today thanks to the new opportunities to gain traction not just through paid-for advertising, but by harnessing the power of word-of-mouth; amplified through the vast range of social applications. In the long run, a market strategy that focuses on ‘socialising’ your offering rather than ‘promoting’ it will deliver higher quality customer engagements at lower cost. Plan for how you are going to encourage, facilitate and reward customers and influencers to talk about your products.

5. Optimise for Growth – Monitor and analyse everything so that you can deepen your understanding of how customers behave towards your product and platform. You will start small by solving the core customer problem identified and then spend time identifying what is working and what is not. If it is not working; fix it or eliminate it. Begin by ensuring that adequate measurement capabilities are in place to track and report on all key customer activities at every single touch-point.

Constantly iterate so that you are continuously testing and learning how to better meet customer needs and deliver on your bottom line. You will never bring a solution to market that is entirely complete. Commence with that core offering. Focus on getting it right. By closely aligning your understanding with your customers’ expectations you will gradually discover new paths to profit as your platform becomes evermore ‘tuned into’ their needs.