Building Blue Chip Ecommerce Sites: The Learnings

Retailers offering an online experience has long been an expectation in developed markets. With increased investment and growth in connectivity on our continent, I would hazard to guess consumers will have similar expectations in 5 years’ time. Failure to consider your ecommerce offering today leaves you exposed to losing relevance in an ever-changing, digitally enabled world.

In the last 18 months Quirk has launched 3 of the continent’s largest enterprise ecommerce sites. The 3 platforms have spanned the food and clothing, wholesale and insurance industries and each has required their own bespoke build. The experience of building these sites has highlighted a set of challenges common across all big site builds.
The Challenge
Mimicking the in-store experience
Each of South Africa’s retailers have a very definite in-store experience. One key consideration when designing the online experience is to create consistency. This goes beyond simply the look and feel. One needs to consider the need for comparing or combining products. This extends to how the backend systems support service delivery and the advertising of specials.
Developing an integrated shopper experience
A great ecommerce site blurs the line between in-store and online shopping. Delivering on this requires collaboration across the business. Campaigns initiated online need to come alive in-store.
Single view of customer – the integration of offline sales data with the online experience – has proven to increases relevance to customers and boost sales for retailers.
Content is king
“Content is king” is fast becoming an online cliché, but its value in adding richness to the online shopping experience should not be overlooked. Feeling fabric, building looks and being inspired by ingredients are all part of the offline shopping journey. In developing an ecommerce platform, content needs to add these elements to avoid a flat, unengaging experience.
Screen agnostic
Ecommerce allows for 24/7 shopping. This can see a customer’s experience stretch across desktop, tablet and smartphone. Building a site with responsive screen size is crucial in a world where consumers expect the same quality of engagement regardless of the device they are on.
In Africa, cash is king
In our developing markets one can’t simply assume customers will have access to credit cards. Flexibility around payments methods, in particular being able to process payment in cash, broadens who is able to transact on your site.
Integrating the backend
While the growth in ecommerce is undeniable, revenue generated online is still a fraction of offline sales across the continent. An ecommerce site needs to integrate with systems and processes that facilitate offline sales. One can’t expect the launch of an online store to fundamentally change the status quo.
Know thy customer
Before a user journey can be plotted or a wireframe drawn, one must be sure that the entire team knows the customer experience intimately. This knowledge needs to cover the in-store experience and returns policy.
Contributors to the experience, which include how items are merchandised in-store and expectations from loyalty programs, should be included in consumer research.
Finally one must consider customers’ levels of connectivity and develop content that accounts for their access speed and data sensitivity.
Know thy retailer
Understanding the process and needs of the customer is only half the battle. Knowledge of the retailer’s fulfilment process and backend requirements is equally crucial to building a profitable site.
Consideration around the fulfilment process, number of SKUs, content and online merchandising all need to factor into the research.
Path of least resistance
With the clarity on both customer and retailers’ needs then turn to mapping a user journey. The experience needs to reduce friction in the checkout process.
The learnings
Remain agile to allow for updates and advancements in technology, customer needs and the retail landscape.
Be ready to change as you learn more about the customer and retailer’s needs.
Don’t skimp on a backend system. Ensure it offers room for growth as you add SKUs to your online offering.


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