Golf is a lot like eCommerce …

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Recently while catching up with a long lost friend (I just recently moved back to Chicago with my wife) we were discussing a range of things when he asked me about my job.  I explained I work in eCommerce with companies who are looking at re-plat forming along with a host of other things; Strategy, Mobile/Digital Marketing, Training, Support, Hosting etc.

His response was what I expected…”So you just like help people put a store up, on the web, which allows them to sell things?  And you charge them for it?  Why don’t they just use yahoo or ebay?”  This is where I tried to break it down in a way that he could understand (Golf) that’s what eCommerce is it’s not just selling things online.  There are many moving parts involved.  This made me realize that if my friend was thinking this then obviously there must be more people out there like him that are thinking the same thing.  So here is my attempt to better explain how “Ecommerce” is much more than just “selling things online.” And I will use golf to better explain.  (I read a blog post once that used golf to better explain the paleo diet, which I use for as the bases of this blog.)

In order to play golf you need golf clubs. (It’s true. I tried to play using a hockey stick and an umbrella, and neither worked very well.)  But having golf clubs does not mean you will be a successful golfer. Golf clubs are simply the primary tool needed.  If you want to experience success in golf, then you need to successfully navigate the other components that influence the final outcome.

Some of these include…

  • swing mechanics
  • golf course management (Dogleg left or right, hills, green speed, bunkers, etc.)
  • individual shot selection (each shot requires a decision about the best club to use based on where your ball landed and how far you are from the hole)
  • weather conditions (wind, rain or very dry conditions affect each shot)
  • recovering from lousy shots (how well can you recover from crucial mistakes)

There are other elements that come into play, but my point is to illustrate that to succeed at the game of golf requires that one become adept at identifying and then successfully handling its other key components. Failure to recognize these, limits any success people may experience.

Ecommerce refers to the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks. Ecommerce draws on such technologies as electronic funds transfer, supply chain management, Internet marketing, online transaction processing, electronic data interchange (EDI), inventory management system & order management systems, ERP, CRM, automated data collection systems and so on.

So eCommerce is to your overall business what golf clubs are to golf: a crucial component in the process to achieving success, but like golf clubs, means nothing if you can’t successfully negotiate the other components that make up eCommerce.  See eCommerce is not just a “platform” or just “selling online” it’s much more.

The bigger picture…

Success in the area of eCommerce for those who are successful has not been accidental.  It has come because early on they developed a strategy, understood there goals and expectations and put processes in place to achieve those goals. I recognized that it is far more complex than this.

Having said that. I believe that eCommerce success consists of 7 components each vitally important to the final outcome.  Below are the components that are vital to a successful eCommerce implementation and the long-term success that can be had.

It’s smart to understand that there is a cast of supporting characters when it comes to eCommerce (which most don’t know exist) are as important as the lead character (Platform).

1. Platform component

This is where eCommerce comes into play.  This is the primary tool you use to help facilitate sales.  A eCommerce platform (Magento, Demandware, Hybris etc) acts as the middle man between your products and the consumer. But like the golf example above, simply having an eCommerce presence does not in any way guarantee success just as simply having golf clubs or going to the driving range is not going to guarantee you will become an exceptional golfer.

2. Movement component

UX/IA (ie: user experience & information architecture) shapes how your customers purchase your products, better yet; navigate your site in a way that enhances its functionality and there experience. Do you have in place at least (4) aspects of what I deem to be the bare minimum when it comes to site nav/user exp [1. intelligent navigation 2. communication (ie: pricing, shipping, etc) 3. simple/clear design 4. consistent brand marketing/message] or do you just DO STUFF in the hopes something magical will happen?  It is not enough simply to make a website usable, create an experience through which your customers learn to trust you.

3. Environmental component

Unless you live in an underground bunker or a space station (and if you do, SWEET!), then you must learn to successfully navigate the environments you will inhabit (the web, social media).  Home (your site) is the easiest to control, but your customers spend only a fraction of their time there, you hope!  When not there their time is spent on social networking sites (Facebook, pinterest, twitter, google, etc) so your success comes from your ability to navigate these social environments.  It won’t matter how awesome you think your product is if you can’t successfully deal with these situations (and trust me, many can’t) then you are dead in the water.  It’s important to develop a strategy as it relates to social media, product reviews, word of mouth, etc.

4. Tactical component

Golfers don’t just show up at a golf tournament the morning of and just start playing.  They arrive a few days’ early, play practice rounds and study the surroundings of each hole.  They then (in conjunction with their caddy) come up with a plan about how they are going to play each hole. How will/do you deal with your online retail environment? Do you have a strategy in place? Do you study the surroundings and plan out strategies to deal with a, for example, a competitor’s new online promotion or upcoming product launch for instance?  How about when you start to notice that your online conversion rate is dropping?  Do you know how you are going to fix the problem or what the cause is behind the drop in conversion? Or do you just hope that next month a miracle will happen and it was all just all a bad dream?

5. Analytical component

So baseball players will spend hours each day reviewing video footage of their previous at bats searching for any clues that might lead to a successful outcome the next time they step to the plate.  Do you analyze your site analytic’s each month or look at social media analytic’s to track what your target market and customers are saying about you and your products? You would be surprised how few people actually take the time to breakdown things down and thus don’t really know why they were successful or why they are failing. Sadly this prevents them from being able to consistently repeat success online.

6. Emotional/psychological component

In sports, it’s called choking when an athlete fails to deliver when the chips are down.  Failing is not an option and this plays a factor into the final outcome and it consistently derails many well-intentioned people when it comes to eCommerce implementation.  They think they get it, or as mentioned above, just having an online store they think will do the trick.  But they failed to understand the whole picture; platform, strategy, design, support, training, etc.  No matter how you look at it always comes down to price.  Which leads to the final piece…

7. Intellectual component

Are you constantly seeking a Band-Aid to fix your current problem(s)? How much are you doing to arm yourself with as much info as possible so you can succeed long term? Do you just hope for the best or is there a long-term plan, business goal/outcome, in mind? (Note: it better be the latter!).  If it’s online retail success with high expectations then I would hope you make an intelligent decision when it comes to eCommerce.  That means understanding that a truly successful eCommerce implementation when done with the right strategy in place along with the right tools (platform, analytics’, marketing, mail, social media) and partner you could be the next Jack Nicolas of eCommerce

Image borrowed from  [http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_LL2Rikki4I4/TU4DjmvXqnI/AAAAAAAAAbY/ZTAnro7dWhU/s400/chevy+chase.jpg] @Savvy Spice [http://www.savvyspice.com/2011/02/ladies-its-tee-time.html]

About Ryan Sheppard
Over the past few years I have worked in IT Research as a consultant with a focus on Retail, Commerce and Mobile/Digital Marketing. Most recently my focus has switched to eCommerce platforms and prelaunch strategy as it pertains to implementation, design and strategy around the Magento and Demandware platforms. Having worked with start-up’s all the way up to Fortune500 heavy weights. My goal has always been to help those know more about the retail, commerce and digital marketing landscape. So that one can make better decisions as it pertains to their customers, competitors, markets and technologies. Based in Chicago, IL I live with my beautiful wife and dog Lucy. I have a love for travel, good food, local beer’s, crossfit, starwars and driving ROI!!

One Response to Golf is a lot like eCommerce …

  1. Nice analogy – we find that many people do in fact turn up with their clubs and expect to hit an eagle on the first hole and do a Tiger Woods first round of 68 – unfortunately the first shot is usually a shot into the rough – i.e. lost ball on page 768 of Google’s serps.

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