7 questions to consider when advising clients on their new e-commerce journey
As trusted advisors, we’ve been through the gamut this year. Our clients are running into customer acquisition challenges of their own. After years of slowly adjusting to a mix of e-commerce and brick and mortar, the buying market has swung heavily in favor of e-commerce, due to the current health crisis (I won’t say its name, as we’ve all likely heard just enough about THAT).
According to our own retail specialist, Leah Swain, “Customers are now removing the physical barriers from their own shopping experience. They have the whole world at their fingertips. Accessing information anywhere on a certain product, with a quick search, comparing prices, and reading reviews, has redefined what merchants need to do to strengthen their own funnels. No longer are people limited to local stores, spending time pushing a cart trying to find the right aisle or department. Merchants absolutely have to adapt to these developments.”
While sometimes intimidating, setting up basic e-commerce systems is not as complicated as it may seem. You want to start by collecting some basic information through these seven questions:
- What customers are they targeting? B2B? B2C? Specific industries or demographics? Different client profiles have both design and function implications. You will want to plan accordingly.
- What designers are best suited for designing the front end of their website? Will a basic theme do, or are there special needs or considerations? Does the web designer have an established portfolio, or can they offer a proof of concept?
- How will they collect payments? Using an e-commerce platform that works with Intuit® Payments will make reconciliation much easier, and the merchant probably already has great rates as a QuickBooks® Online or Desktop customer.
- What other technology will be involved? Proposal software? Client portals? There are a dizzying amount of plugins and software options, depending on what your platform stack is made of. Make sure you test these for conflicts with others, while developing a proof of concept.
- How will transactions flow back and forth? If they plan to sell on several platforms, such as Amazon and eBay, how will inventory sync?
- How many SKUs do they need to list? Scalability is always a factor. Small catalogs don’t require the same import and bulk edit functions as large catalogs, and you need to make sure that your platform can handle not only the initial traffic, but also traffic two, three, and five years down the road. Websites are expensive to build, whether using a WYSIWYG editor or hard coding. I lean on SaaS solutions as a general rule, since the technical maintenance is managed for the client. You may need both front- and back-end designers, depending on the level of complexity of the project. I recommend keeping it as simple as possible for new merchants, but if there is a lot of complexity, partner with a web developer.
- How will the customer attain their website visitors? You can use paid advertising, such as Google Ads, social media like Facebook (which may also require investment to be visible to an audience), or referrals from their brick and mortar. Content will likely play a part, but because the market is flooded with content, it needs to be unique. Ideally, you want a mix, but don’t overcomplicate your strategy, as whatever you choose to do requires time and money, and authenticity is key here. There is no point in creating a website with no visitors. This is the definition of sunk costs. Make sure you set it up for success.
You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing what consultants to source for your client is important. Since there are moving parts, it’s critical to have a plan. Use a collaborative software like Asana to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Many of us will unavoidably be pushed into the e-commerce arena over the near future. It touches just about every vertical out there. As accountants and advisors, we can embrace this need now and realize that knowing how to implement e-commerce is going to be just as important as write up, inventory management, and the like. The skills that serve us well as advisors and accounting professionals will be heavily needed in order to keep stock of platform inventory, taxes, and more. We can no longer relegate ourselves to the back office on this one.