Cornerstones of E-Commerce

Daniel Honig — March 04, 2016

When you are building a new e-commerce business, or attempting to modernize an existing business there are a number of key areas that need to be considered. Todays online retailers have more opportunity to engage and convert users than ever before. But with this comes the complexity of building a smooth running e-commerce experience. In this blog we examine what the building blocks of a modern e-commerce that is ready to scale.


Your e-commerce engine is the heart of your system. Your e-commerce engine should be able to deliver an outstanding shopping experience that is in step with how your users browse and interact with your website. For most businesses it is important to not assume that your users will come from any particular channel or device exlclusively. Sales on mobile and tablet have grown to a point where they exceed desktop numbers for many retailers. For this reason any e-commerce experience built today should should to be responsive framework, ideally with a framework such as Zurb Foundation or Bootstrap. Building on these frameworks will make sure your front end experience is well positioned to keep up with new devices as they are rolled out.

Checkout should be as streamlined as possible and place as few barriers to conversion as possible. A well implemented one-page checkout can help mitigate a long and complicated wizard like checkout process that has been the dominant design on the web for ages. A one page checkout is especially key for mobile and tablet users who would be likely to abandon a purchase over a bandwidth starved connection. Integration with tools such as Amazon Payments can further impact by avoiding the need for a customer to enter the details of their payment method. In, 2016 the reality is that most of us already have an Amazon account with at least one credit card stored.

If your e-commerce platform is not custom built or using a framework such as Magento or Spree, it is important to consider page load times. Slower page load times have been shown to create an increase in page abadonment. Web performance is a topic worth exploring in it's own right, but our point in mentioning this is that from the perspective of someone planning an e-commerce build, we believe that performance should be a condsideration that spans the entire implementation phase of an e-commerce website.


Content is at the core of any e-commerce system, but we find it helpful to seperate out the different kinds of content that are part of any e-commerce build:  - Product Information Management (PIM) ** Product information is the basis for your e-commerce catalog. A good e-commerce system will have a sophisticated product information management tool and provide an extensible product information model that scales across a wide range of products. It should allow you to manage products, variants, sku information and arrange products in multiple category hiearchies. -Web Content Mangement** - This is the domain of a traditional CMS. A good e-commerce CMS will provide marketers with a rich set of tools to from which to merchandise the products of the site. Marketers should be able to mix product content with storytelling content freely, without the constant need for the tech team involved. It should include the ability to create customized product display pages and landing pages. Text, images and video should be able to mixed freely to enable marketers to deliver complex storylines around products in an efficient and engaging manner.

Operations and Customer Service

Building your e-commerce business to run in automated fashion will pay dividends from your initial rollout to the time you start processing hundreds or more orders per day. Cost concious businesses may be tempted to ship everything themselves, but once order volume increases you need to be focusing on managing your growth, not schlepping packages to the UPS office or drowning in a myriad of complex logistics and customer service issues. Retailers such as Amazon have set a high bar that all companies are now expected to compete meet.

Solutions to these challenges can be simple, but too often retailers view these challenges as too costly, a rapidly scaling business should not take chances with shipping and fulfillment. These are core business processes that are the backbone of any e-commerce business.

Sales Tax Internet sales already are subject to sales tax, just like catalog and telephone order sales. All retailers, whether online or on Main Street, are required to collect sales tax on goods delivered in any state where the retailer has a physical presence or “nexus.” That is why you pay sales tax on catalog or online orders from a company that owns and operates stores in your home state. Solutions such as those from Avalara provide tools to manage your tax nexus in an automated fashion. Avalara can also provide valuable guidance about tax liability as your business expands, and if desired they can even file your returns for you.

Shipping Software Third party apps such as Shipstation, Shippo and EasyPost can provide a cost effective solution to very challenging shipping problems. These softwares provide integration with all major carriers, tools for managing label printing and tracking shipments by implementing a single API.

Third Party Fulfillment Shipping is a major expense for an e-commerce business, yet alone, many companies will be located in an urban center, making it impractical for them to warehouse inventory in high cost urban areas. A third party fulfillment provider can provide valuable infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of building it in house. Better yet many of these companies can advise on best practices for avoiding shipping delays or managing backordered stock. The investment that it required to get up and running with a third party shipping provider such as Quiet Logistics or Fosdick will can have huge dividends by freeing your own resources to focus on marketing and adverstising, ensuring that you can grow the business on a solid foundation. If you do not think you are ready to outsource these logistics, then it will still pay off to research these options so it is an easy decision for the future.

Customer Service Every customer should be treated as a priority and all communications with a customer should be logged in a central repository to ensure that the resolution of a customer services issue is not tied to a single team member. Implementing a simple ticketing system such as ZenDesk or can be done at very little cost and will ensure your team is prepared to provide outstanding service to the customer across the organization.


#Analytics and Reporting Focusing on the numbers to see the real story is an important aspect of running a modern e-commerce business. Knowledge an insight can equal true power when it comes to e-commerce. We see three kinds of analytics that businesses need on: - Web Analytics - Web traffic data is one of the most important and commonly analyzed source for any e-commerce business. Tools such as Google Analytics or Piwik can be invaluable tools for understanding user behavior. Traffic is literally money. These tools are easy enough to get going with that anyone can start using them, finding some experience with these tools can go along way, as setting up conversion funnels and tweaking the way these tools are used can be time intensive. Businesses that get this right will be able to correlate advertising budgets and activities to user behaviour and metrics on conversion. This is where experience can make a major difference by helping you get this set up right the from the start. - Ecommerce Analytics - While web traffic analysis can provide a lot of valuable insight into user behavior, online retailers have a different set of metrics they wish to track that are unique to e-commerce. Tools such as , Jirafe, Zaius and RJ Metrics provide rich insights into user behavior on e-commerce sites. These tools can provide information on user segmentation and allow you to monitor e-commerce specific metrics and create dashboards that are not possible inside of Google Analytics. Some of these tools will require more integration and setup than others so it makes sense to do your research before selecting a package. -**Management Reports Most businesses will require a way to generate reports required in the actual operation of the business. These could be inventory reports, top selling SKU reports etc.