Basics: There is more than one way to peel an orange
As a wet behind the ears creative SMB and online babe in the woods, I would suggest there is one more thing you probably need to have internalised before you start on the path of your great big online adventure.
In addition to:
- understanding the importance in knowing the type of online presence you need, and/or your eventual goal(s)/destination(s) in terms of that presence, and
- being able to articulate the bare bones of what you need to do and what you need to say to the people who will be executing it for you
The third factor in the trifecta is a realisation that there is more than one way to achieve the end you wish, just as there is more than one way to peel an orange.
In which we look at some of the ways we can peel an orange
Let’s sidetrack ourselves by considering your orange peeling options. You can peel it:
- with your fingers
- with a knife
- with a zester or a grater because you want the peel for something else, or
- by getting someone else to do all the dirty work
Even within those options, you are still able to work to different opportunities and different outcomes:
- will you peel/cut sections of peel and pith off or will you try for a peel spiral?
- do you only need a teaspoon of zest, not the whole skin? In which case are you going to leave a bald patch or are you going to find something else to do with the rest of the zest?
- what incentives can you offer to the person who you want to peel your orange, so that they don’t mind being the ones to clean the orange smell from their hands
A little lateral thinking now can save alot of bandaids later
Rather than going all out and creating an online retail experience as sophisicated and complex as the online presences you aspire to (or aspire to become), consider that the truth applied to the orange you want to peel can also be true of the path to your eventual destination (or the eventual destination, as you see it at this point in time).
There is also more than one way to peel that particular orange..
Splitting out what you want to achieve in the future and what you can achieve right now may be the difference between success and failure for your business.
I would ask you to consider if what you want is what you really need right now…and which parts of your particular orange you need, now and in the future.
When what you want is not what you need and why…
So you stock a range of awesome products by other people and you want to sell that range online. You’ve seen asos; and you think it’s doable.
Brilliant, did you know about modcloth?
Modcloth are an online only retail site stocking independent labels of clothing, homewares and vintage.
Along the way, the owners have been developing their customer base, the recognition of their brand and their customers’ brand experience; as well as evolving their product range to meet their customers’ needs and building one of the more wide ranging online advertising presences I have seen.
Kudos to them, but are you sure you want to take on that expertise in the field straight away? To be the success you want to be, you are going to need to meet, match or better their examples, and you are only just getting started. Do you feel lucky, punk?
Grasshopper has alot to learn..
To get to the complexity, reach and sophistication of modcloth was not a woah-to-go journey, it was an evolution. The site as it is today is one incarnation of the current state of play within that evolutionary process.
It is probable that this business will continue to evolve and grow over time and as needed, demonstrating my point that an online presence is not a destination, but a journey.
And it was a journey that started before many of the other online/digital channels (etsy, ebay, facebook and etc) had really hit their stride in terms of critical mass of international users and critical functionality. So they did it hard, before many other people, with the resources available to them being based on the given technology available and what they could call on within their company – one of the two partners is a developer, after all.
This doesn’t make you a late bloomer, nor mean you should race around like a blue-arsed fly trying to create something as amazing as modcloth’s current evolution, on an SMB budget , nor does it require you to partner up with a developer, unless you want really to.
Although they are ahead of the game and an example to aspire to, you have access to a range of options and opportunities modcloth never did at the time that they were starting on their journey.
So you can consider starting small on some of the emerged online/digital channels, thereby avoiding some of the risks inherent in investing in a stand-alone proprietary solution for your company.
I have already covered one of the first risks in a previous post Basics: This is not a website but now I would like to touch on a couple more.
Avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul
So when your business grows up, you want it to grow up to be just like modcloth? Awesome goal, but let’s consider a couple of minor points first…
Point One: Assuming you already have an offline business and want to develop an online retail presence to match or better your offline activities, how are you going to make that site visible to potential customers?
Are you going to promote it to the customers you already have? Those would be the ones that are already going into your store and already buying from you.
You already have them in the bag, or as in the bag as they can be with other offline competitors in the same shopping precincts as you. Why would you mess with that?
Is your aim to build your online customer base at the expense of your existing offline (walk-in/physical) customer base?
Is what you want, what you really want
Point Two: Apart from gutting your offline retail base, sending them online is going to:
- open them up to the possibility of the other sites they can find online and they can compare prices, buy elsewhere and/or fall in love with a site like modcloth as I have done, or
- turn them away from you as a customer, if all they really want to do is to browse racks and run their hands over your clothes before they try them on and buy
Perhaps what you want isn’t what they want from you. Are you set on pouring a significant amount of money, time and effort into finding that out the hard way?
Test the waters before you jump straight in
Or do you want to stage your own journey so that it can be agile to change or evolution based on the feedback you receive in terms of increased/decreased sales, analytics (online and business) plus more connected customers who identify with your brand and only want to shop with you, be it online or offline.
A staged process will enable you to iron out any teething problems at each iteration, rather than committing you to having those problems as an endemic part of your online presence until you can justify investment in redevelopment.
That works to ameliorate some of the risk of those issues turning your customers off your company once and for all. How many online and offline retail presences have you never visited again, because they weren’t easy to use and/or made it incredibly difficult for you to do what you wanted to do on them?
If that wasn’t all, it’s a jungle out there and you’re in it with the lions, the tigers, the mosquitos and poisonous spiders as well as the bears, so you do need to be prepared. I wish I could say the point above is the only risk you face, but it’s not.
Point Three: Once you send people online and want to take money from them, you had better have a very secure means of faciliating that transaction, because the axe is going to fall on you if you don’t.
Many people will not buy online for that reason, or will only buy if there is an option to purchase using paypal.
Not that purchasing anything offline isn’t filled with risk (they rely on your phsycial security measures in ensuring cards are not being skimmed, receipts are being held/archived/destroyed in a secure manner), however the minute you open up a portal for them to submit sensitive personal and financial information, you need to make very sure you are not exposing them or yourself to any risk of that data being accessed, manipulated and/or used by anyone other than your business.
If something happens, it won’t just happen to them it may happen to many of your customers; as well as to any of your business records also accessed – it is a situation of incredible vulnerability for you as you have to trust that whoever you are paying to do create your online retail site knows to take every possible measure to avoid you being exposed to any risk.
Yes this definitely something you would want front any centre in any brief you submit for proposals, as is likely you will be the one cleaning off the egg on your face if things go wrong. And it will be your business that immediately counts the cost of your customers losing confidence in you, not your developers.
It can even happen to big business.
Is it good news that, if something does go wrong, you’re in some good company?
Consider the 2011 Sony Playstation Network incident: that is a company who do and can pay a lot of m0ney to ensure every security measure is identified and all vulnerabilities and loopholes closed for the current point in time. That is a company who is reliant on the fact that their system is monitored and scrutinised for any irregular activities, with investigation and corrective action being taken immediately. And look what has happened to them…
When things go pear-shaped in this area, they go really pear-shaped. Sony may be able to afford to fail in some areas, can you? How will it affect your business if:
- all your customers lose faith in you?
- you have to rectify and remedy the damage done by an insecure system?
- you have to address any liabilities on your part
- you have to consider if you have recourse to pursue your developer for exposing you to those liabilities
Is your business large enough and your pockets deep enough for you to see a significant loss of good will from your customers as an acceptable and minor risk?
No, it’s not all doom and gloom!
Golly it got serious in here all of a sudden, didn’t it?
This isn’t written scare you to the point that you never leave your house again, let alone open a browswer window…but it is written with the aim to make you realise that there are some pretty serious fundamental issues you need to be aware of, whatever online presence(s) you choose.
Point Four: The risks are significant, so it is important to be prepared and to ensure that any planning you do and whatever you brief in takes this into account.
Over the next couple of weeks I will look at some of the ways you can reduce, allay, minimise or avoid (as much as humanly possible) having to confront the 3 major issues I flagged in this post.