Challenges to create an ecommerce solution

A new doll in my collection

When designing an ecommerce solution there is many challenges which the developer needs to take into consideration to save time and frustration for both them and the client. Good planning and asking the right questions up-front will help in over coming the challenges. Below is a list of some of the challenges faced in creating an ecommerce solution and some basic questions that should be asked to minimise the challenges.

Ecommerce is focused on workflow compared to website design which is focused on content and layout. When designing an ecommerce solution the most important part is to understand the workflow. This involves working through each of the stages of the process the solution is meant to solve. While there may be existing processes, the online tool should be about refining those processes instead of just creating an online version of the offline solution. The first questions that should be asked are:
Photo by Joel Mark Witt

  • What is the desired outputs?
  • What is the inputs?
  • Who provides the inputs?
  • What and who needs to be checked and signed-off/audited?
  • What can be automated?
  • What is the current straight-through process?
  • What are the exceptions?
  • What causes the exceptions?
  • What is the process for exceptions?

Ecommerce solutions need to focus on functionally over aesthetics. Think of ecommerce solutions like a warehouse, this is the area hidden to the customers of the store. The warehouse should be neat, well laid out, and functional. While you might have balloons and large ticket talkers in the store such things would clutter and add hassles to the warehouse same for ecommerce solutions. The most important part of designing the interface is to make sure it is functional. It should be neat, well laid out, and functional. To overcome this you should focus on simplicity first. Questions to ask:

  • What needs to be on which screen?
  • How does what is shown and not shown effect workflow?
  • What is the right and right amount of information to displayed?
  • What would be logical?
  • How should exceptions be handled?
  • What feedback should given to the user?

There is a lot of cool and exciting technologies and methods that can be used for designing ecommerce solutions. The challenge is to remember that technology is the enabler. Coming back to the first two points the solution needs to focus on workflow. When designing the online tool you need to think of tasks that need to be completed and what technologies available will do this. A big trap is to see a technology and think “wow that is cool I wonder how I can use this”. For instance you might be able to create a timesheet application in Flash and have cool effects and all but might limit your users’ ability to copy text off the screen. Questions you should ask:

  • What technologies is the customer happy to use?
  • How will the technologies use enhance the application?
  • Will the technologies add value?
  • Will the technologies introduce complications/limitations?
  • Is there a more suitable technology?
  • Is the technology functional?

Ecommerce solutions need to be easy to use for the intended audience. Think for a moment of WordPress vs PhotoShop. All very powerful applications and very different. WordPress is easy to use for most people, you can create a blog and site in minutes using free themes. PhotoShop is a lot more complicated. There is a lot more to learn. For the intended audience both applications have a great workflow and are easy to use. Questions to ask are:

  • What is the computer skills of the users like?
  • Is there variation in their computer proficiency?
  • What is the level skills in this type of application?
  • How easily do the users get confused?

Big part of ecommerce solutions is the information contained will require restricted access. You will need to consider user access levels, what information can be displayed and what has to be restricted, who can overwrite inputs and who can execute exceptions. This can become a big challenge and by introducing user levels it makes the job a lot easier. You need to ask:

  • Who should have access to what?
  • What restrictions need to be in place?

Applications need to be flexible and easy for the administrator to make changes. The main challenge is to make sure that if something like a value needs to be added to a drop-down that the admin can do this without having to call you. This involves creating screens which allows the admin to update the application. Questions to ask:

  • What inputs change on a regular basis?

All ecommerce solutions will involve some form of tailoring, it might be a completely custom solution or a logo change. In making changes you need to consider the effects on future releases especially if you are modifying an off-the-shelf solution. Ask:

  • What tailoring is required?
  • Does the code/database need modifying or can a plug-in be created?
  • Would is the effects on other parts of the application?

Ugly is sometimes right. When creating a first prototype the focus attention needs to be on functionally and that it works.? After designing websites you feel a great tendency to make everything look seamless and “pretty”. While it should look and feel seamless and pretty you do have to compromise this at times. Having something standing out is important in big bold red lettering will have to occur. At the end of the day the application working is a lot more important than looking amazing. The look and feel of the application should be pleasing and simple to use. The look should still be great. Just the shadows, rounded corners, and Flash are not so important. Ask the following:

  • What is the current layout of their applications?
  • What is the simplest layout you can apply without compromising the user experience?
  • What is the colours and themes to apply?
  • What needs to stand out?

The ecommerce solution needs to deliver value. This means you need to work out what problems the solution will be solving and how that effects the bottom line. Ask:

  • What efficiencies will this be adding?
  • What problems will it remove?
  • How many mistakes will it reduce?
  • What was the effect on FTE?
  • How is it improving their business?
  • How does it improve the customer experience?

When creating an ecommerce solution there is going to be a lot of challenges and good planning is what will solve a lot of these challenges.

Create My is an ecommerces specialist with in-depth knowledge of creating ecommerce solutions for small to medium enterprises. Please contact us to talk about how we can help build efficiencies and deliver value to your business with a custom ecommerce solution.

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