E-commerce is growing & it’s growing really big. With better access to technology & efficiency in sourcing, manufacturing, designing as well as delivering the products/services have become relatively easier. Starting up & offering the range of products is now possible for (almost) anyone or everyone through various quick-start hosted services such as Shopify or by using open-source frameworks like WordPress with Woocommerce or Magento, etc. These are really good ones.
Past few years, I’ve been helping various businesses with technology. Helping them to bring efficiency to run their conventional business using modern technology. When I decided to assist these businesses to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon, I realized that it’s not easy, not even a bit as I had imagined. More so when some of the clients wanted to scale-up the newly set e-commerce business.
We did find bottlenecks in various areas at some point in time. And that is despite the team’s expertise in procurement, order deliveries, dealing with courier companies, customer support, order cancellations, returns & refunds, business analytics, & marketing. As if that wasn’t enough, we were facing various problems on our web hosting. We faced high memory usage, hacking attempts, malware injections, framework updates & compatibility. This added into the downtime of our web store.
Then, we decided to move (one of our clients) onto the IBM’s Commerce solution so that some of the issues are taken care of and few processes become efficient, which will allow us to focus on the core business.
The shift to IBM Commerce
It’s the powerful SaaS e-commerce platform that fit right for our business. Although it can fit just fine for any industry or business requirements. It’s like a one-stop-shop that lets us fulfill both, B2B & B2C requirements with flexible digital commerce. When we combined the commerce platform with IBM Watson, it offered comprehensive insights & we could push personalized experience to our customers. We got all the necessary tools that helped us speed up our IT so we could focus where needed the most.
The mobile experience was another hiccup that we faced in early days. In our case deploying a native mobile app was not an option. The website had to work best on smaller devices. Mobile visitors are dominating the markets so was the case with us & yet the mobile conversion percentage was lower. With IBM commerce platform we started delivering the mobile-optimized experience. Not just that, we could also manage the backend on mobile which I think increased our productivity.
Looking back, I really feel we did end up wasting quite a bit of time and efforts for the mobile-optimized online shop. We struggled a lot with it. It’s important to understand & get on board with the right platform when you have clear objectives for scaling up.
As I said, if you’ve already started your e-commerce business or if you’re planning to, then please understand that it’s not just about putting up the catalog & selling bunch of stuff online. When we realized it, fortunately, the cognitive computing capabilities of IBM via its Watson commerce came handy. We could provide relevant information, understanding customer’s intent, push our brand’s message & build a relationship with the consumers in a timelier manner.
The consumers now have tons of other options to buy online. If you wish to stand out from the crowd then giving all the above faster, is our only chance to retain our customers’ attention. Don’t you agree?
Scaling with IBM
Every platform that I’ve used during this journey does offer various benefits, some even offer a way a quick setup & allows selling immediately. Which is great to choose if you’re just starting up.
We got stuck when the scaling was needed. When we decided to scale our online business, IBM Commerce offered us capabilities that we could leverage during the process. Different features of IBM commerce offer different benefits. Everything is centrally accessible & stored securely on the cloud.
First, we assumed, we may need to manage most of the content on IBM servers through a command line. Also thought it would be a complex stuff on the backend to configure. To our surprise, it was way easier. The interface is clean & works well for everyone on the team. Our marketing team or the orders fulfillment managers were able to see the vital information right on the storefront. They could take required actions immediately. Few KPIs are available as an overlay on every product thumbnail.
Displaying product thumbnails, sorting them into categories & using appropriate colors for add-to-cart buttons, is just not the customer experience we wanted to provide. We wanted to go beyond these standard templating structures. Our customers wanted us to understand them better & offer targeted products that never come to the surface. Such instances lead to early exits or non-converting customers. But now, we could push precise, personalized marketing communication, display the catalog as per user’s expectations. This got us an increase in conversions. We began to give the engaging user experience which resulted in reduction in the bounce rate & increase in average ticket size.
Another feature that I found interesting on the IBM commerce is that, a way to automatically segment customers into multiple lists. We created various lists/groups based on customers who like to buy branded items, customers who shop for discounted items, and customers who browse through certain product categories but never purchased anything & so on.
This type of list creation can be a daunting task. In this case, we were amazed by the simple drag & drop console. Creating the funnels & building the relationship structure based on demographics, behavior, cookies & using several other attributes was relatively easier. The visual flow helps in the precision.
Search within the website was another feature we had to work a lot on. We did try using ElasticSearch to improve the search functionality in earlier versions of the web store. The sophistication on the IBM platform gave us a full control over the search results with highly improved relevancy. We did modify the search results for various customer groups. That certainly gave a boost in engagement on these result pages & the connecting product pages.
To make our advertisements seem more targeted & yield better ROI, landing pages play a vital role, right? In our case, while retailing certain type of products the landing page needed to be like a microsite which would carry product information, specifications, product photos, highlighted reviews, use cases & a section for the support. On the IBM digital commerce platform, building & tracking these complex pages was possible. We finally got rid of scattered management of these pages & brought them under one console.
Recently, they’ve added Apple Pay integration during checkout. This should further improve our mobile optimized experience for iOS users. Hopefully, it will decrease the failed payments & retries.
There are various features that we liked especially because they came built-in. Such as:
- Consumer can order a build-your-own configurable product
- Pricing rules, discount promotions & schedule
- On-page search engine optimization & social media integration
- Integrated marketing campaigns with A/B testing
- Multiple currencies & languages
- Business intelligence
- Analytics & various reports with charts & graphs that makes it easy to make decisions.
Supply Chain Improvements
Initially, during the scale-up process, we were managing own inventory in our local warehouses. Later, to improve our product offerings, to optimize inventory & delivery times, we thought of moving to the marketplace model. The IBM commerce has the in-built architecture to quickly convert the solely managed store into a private marketplace. Pretty cool.
Using the help from IBM Watson Supply chain it was possible to bring transparency into the processes, mitigate risks, predict & control the cost of goods. This resulted in improving the gross profitability.
We could analyze & predict various aspects of our online business through IBM’s cognitive technology. It enabled us to interact better with our suppliers. Both of us are now able to collaborate together for bringing more efficiency into our supply chain.
Cognitive technology gave us an advantage
Understanding the reports may it be the logs or the analytics & then making sense of that data is a big task. We had to consider the human error when manually interpreting such data. After using IBM Watson commerce, we believed that data never lies. Its cognitive capabilities could learn & understand our data as we grew. It provided us the guidelines for customer behavior, backend processes to take the future business decisions.
This cognitive assistance gave us an advantage over the competition because we are now able to personalize the website for every visitor in real-time & we can predict the most convertible customers too.
The pricing for IBM Commerce depends on which modules are required for your enterprise. While the cost is easily predictable, we can upgrade to different modules as we scale further.
The e-commerce dynamics is changing every hour. The operating hours of businesses are now beyond 9-5. For the eCommerce stores, it’s 24x7x365. IBM helped us prepare a robust online store that not only delivered better user experience but also empowered the staff in monitoring the changes.
Having an e-commerce portal as good as Flipkart or Amazon is not just on paper anymore. It’s more accessible. With the robust IBM WebSphere Commerce, we achieved the scaling of our conventional retail business to an online store while delivering the customization & personalization to our customers.