When a Small Ecommerce Business Should Consider a Consultant
Small to mid-size businesses have to do more with less than their competitors, but sometimes it's okay to admit you need an extra hand.
Running an ecommerce business is no walk in the park. It’s a multifaceted undertaking with a lot of moving parts -- web development, retail merchandising, logistics, brand marketing, payment processing and so on -- and you have to be good at all of them. Lots of large brands and retailers pull it off each year, of course, but they have an army of staff and resources at their disposal.
I’m always impressed with how small to mid-size ecommerce businesses do so much with so little. These small teams have to be shrewd, agile and determined to work harder and smarter than their competitors.
That said, sometimes they need a little help because even on the most well-run ecommerce sites, things occasionally go awry.
When you have to move fast to put out (or prevent) a big fire and preserve your bottom line, it helps to be able to bring in the experts, and this is where a consultancy can deliver immense value.
Quickly build and fix large sections of back-end code
Imagine this scenario. It’s weeks until Black Friday, the beginning of the season that brings in more sales revenue than any other time of year. All of a sudden, a new product line becomes available from the distributor several weeks earlier than planned. It’s a popular product and could boost your company’s profit margin substantially. But, that can’t happen until a fully functioning product page is integrated into the website.
For a small ecommerce company, a team of one or two staff developers might not be able to build out a new section of the website in such a short amount of time and perform all the necessary testing and debugging to ensure it won’t glitch once it’s being used by customers.
The team of developers at an ecommerce consultancy can make a difference because it has the capacity and the expertise to deal with large-scale, quick-turnaround projects. Consultancies tend to see similar projects over time, so a solution for one client can inform how the consultant team thinks about another client’s current challenge. Generally, consultants also have a variety of platforms at their disposal that they can leverage to meet a client’s specific need.
Leverage data to gain insights on customer shopping habits
When profit margins seem to be shrinking, a thorough analysis of data -- particularly website user and sales data -- can make a huge difference. A lot of big companies have budgets for data scientists and the technical tools that are required for a robust analysis.
Smaller companies, on the other hand, are usually better served by hiring a consultant team to creatively put data to work and determine how to get value out of it. Knowing where to start can be the hardest thing. Toward that end, a consultancy can help clients decide what data to analyze, what data to collect and what tools to use.
Generally, the more data you have, the more you can understand your customers and cater to them. A highly effective way to boost sales is to personalize their shopping experience based on the insights you gather about their habits. A consultant team can help decipher those insights and translate them into actionable changes to be made in the content, the user interface, the back-end code, etc. so that user bottlenecks are removed and sales can grow.
Navigating security risks
With data collection comes some risk. More and more retailers are making their way into the news because of data breaches, which have resulted in hackers getting access to sensitive, potentially identifying customer information. Worse yet, data breaches can result in stolen payment information and legal action against retailers whose data protection measures weren’t quite strong enough. Just look at Target and Yahoo for examples of the data disasters and the fallouts that followed.
Again, a consultancy can provide valuable guidance to clients when it comes to storing customer data securely and encrypting it as you’re collecting it. You want to be certain you’ve taken every precaution to make sure your brand isn’t the next one in the news for the wrong reasons.
Taking the first step of hiring a consultancy can be daunting, particularly for ecommerce companies that have built themselves from the ground up. But the effort and the investment are well worth it -- leveraging a consultant team’s expertise to make customers’ shopping experience more engaging pays dividends you'll reap for years to come.
Bart Mroz is the co-founder and CEO of SUMO Heavy, a digital commerce consulting and strategy firm. He is a serial entrepreneur who has over a decade of business management and technology experience. Mroz was a founding partner of multiple consulting companies and a thought leader who has been published in top eCommerce publications including Internet Retailer and AdExchanger. Prior to founding SUMO Heavy, Mroz was a partner at round3 media, a creative e-commerce agency, as well as owner and managing director of SimplyHelp, an IT firm based in Philadelphia.