By Gillean Smith, Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM
Running your business online is nothing new. Growing your business online with not one but multiple websites that serve numerous countries and millions of customers may not be new either. The level of strategic forethought to ensure your customer’s online experience is all that they expect and more, however, can be a bit challenging, if not daunting. Truth be told, no matter what size or geographic footprint your online business has, one thing will never change. The “customer experience” always matters, and maintaining a superior online shopping experience takes time, expertise, and proven best practices and processes.
From website design and coding to uploading and downloading speeds and an intuitive online purchasing process, there is a lot to keep on top of while ensuring you have enough product in stock to meet customer demand.
Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM is an award-winning global e-commerce and product brokerage company specializing in one-to-one marketing. For close to 30 years and with dozens of e-commerce sites, this company is well-versed in building, updating, enhancing, and maintaining all aspects of its global online retail world. Now, Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM is sharing some of the best practices and processes its leadership and IT department have learned along the way to becoming an award-winning and successful global online retailer.
Tom Collins has been engineering, implementing, and overseeing IT processes based on ITIL best practices for over 15 years. His focus has been on the areas that require stringent controls to mitigate their associated IT risks. such as Incident, Change, and Release Management.
“First and foremost, there are industry best practices and processes that we have built here at Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM that we improve on, learn from and make better every day. These are always evolving as the e-commerce industry evolves,” said Tom Collins, Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM’s Director of Release Management. “Overall, we provide online shoppers from anywhere around the world access to millions of products and services 24/7, 365 days a year. E-commerce involves more than just website availability. We must refine what happens when people place orders and how products will move from the order queue to a shipping box to the customer’s doorstep within a few days. We all know that you do not maintain your customers if you have faulty websites or downtime. If people go to your website and it is unavailable one or two times, they can access enough online retailer alternatives to never return to your site again. For this reason, it is important to not only establish best practices and processes but also apply them daily to ensure consumers will keep coming back.”
Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM’s best practices and processes include utilizing a series of checks and balances for anything proposed to appear on any of its dozens of global e-commerce sites. Additionally, the company has various IT team members monitoring user activity for patterns, maintaining network redundancy, scheduling, and managing necessary updates, and having a comprehensive incident management protocol to handle any issues or ideas that come from online shoppers from around the world.
- Checks & Balances: Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM uses checks and balances for anything intended to appear on any of its e-commerce sites, such as SHOP.COM, Isotonix.com, Getlayered.com, and more. For example, the company’s software development life cycle uses checks and balances along the way to ensure any element appearing on any page on any of its e-commerce sites passes certain testing stages and receives QA (Quality Assurance) approval before proceeding to final staging. Deployment to the production environment follows, meaning the item then goes live on a particular e-commerce site and/or page.
“Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM excels at its coding and software development process. All coding goes through the proper environments to test and verify the intended functionality. So, by the time we release the code, our entire IT department knows that every consumer will have a positive online shopping experience,” said Collins.
- User Activity: Monitoring patterns and ongoing behavior in online user activity is essential to providing the best online user experience regularly. For instance, if Mondays at 9:00 p.m. is a peak time for online purchases, this is not the time to work on major upgrades. Instead, when necessary, the company’s IT team can take down parts of a website to work on upgrades while keeping everything else moving smoothly. What’s more, this global e-commerce business has found great value and flexibility in using the cloud as well as hard drives for data storage and more. The flexibility of splitting access to its various e-commerce sites by using the cloud also has proven beneficial as it relates to regular user activity on all its e-commerce sites.
- Network Redundancy: For Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM, its infrastructure team oversees updating and maintaining multiple servers for its more than ten e-commerce sites. If there is a blackout or a faulty piece of equipment at the company’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, its various e-commerce sites around the world still need to be operational and accessible to online shoppers worldwide. As such, IT leadership has built in a lot of resiliency and redundancy. Switches, network devices and equipment, an alternate internet source, phone and VOIP backups, and alternate power sources protect all sites from being affected by various issues that may arise at just one of the company’s locations.
- Change Management: The phrase “having everyone on the same page” is crucial for managing when things are updated or changed online. For instance, if one team member must update a firewall but an internal discussion on when the best time to have this update take place does not occur, the person or team members working on the firewall update may cause issues with another person or team deploying code at the same time. Change management is an essential step when making sure that any planned changes occur at the best day and time that work with all necessary work taking place on each e-commerce site that day.
- Incident Management: Opportunities for effective incident management occur when customers share concerns regarding their online experience. When an incident ticket is created, the appropriate team member(s) review the ticket and make any necessary changes. However, the last and most important step is to recheck the initial customer concern and test if the fix resolved the primary issue. Without having the appropriate process in place that includes reviewing and comparing the customer’s problem with the implemented fix, there is no guaranteed problem resolution, which can lead to more time and effort spent on the same problem multiple times.
- Reacting Quickly: No matter how many processes or checks and balances are in place, it is inevitable that any number of situations can and will arise with an online business. Having team members in place who can handle anything at any time, both quickly and effectively and without any disruption to the online shopping experience, is key to maintaining a successful online business at the local, national, and global levels.
“The company’s IT department once again demonstrates superiority when it comes to addressing incidents of almost any kind. I’m sometimes amazed by the magnitude of what could have happened had our IT team failed to fix an issue quickly. For instance, I’ll get an initial message about an incident and think, uh-oh. But before I can even follow up on next steps, I’ll see another message detailing exactly what the issue was, what was needed, how it was fixed, and how it was verified as resolved,” said Collins.
Another example of how Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM utilizes its proven best practices and processes comes by way of the company’s recent partnership with Sezzle (ASX: SZL), a financial technology company and highest-rated buy now, pay later online payment provider. Partnering with Sezzle allows the company to provide its online shoppers with another convenient method to purchase their everyday needs.
“When the business leaders recently decided to integrate with Sezzle to offer our customers a new payment solution, we wanted to launch this as quickly as possible. Internally, we had to implement a few upgrades to our existing systems to integrate with Sezzle’s Buy Now, Pay Later platform, and design, develop, and implement the code changes that had to follow the normal development life cycle before being deployed to our live environments. Our testing needed to be robust to ensure that the environment upgrades and code changes did not negatively impact our existing services. There is a lot of coordination required to implement a change of this nature,” said Collins.
Overall, when developing an online business, it is often the protocol business owners put in place, using proven best practices and processes, that will drive first-time customers into repeat and loyal customers. If an online store is offering products and services that a customer wants, the ease and convenience of the online shopping experience can translate into repeat and loyal customers for many years to come.
“For businesses wondering where to start, developing your company’s own set of best practices and processes is definitely number one. Consider developing a process for change management and incident management first. Next, expand to other processes that are naturally a daily part of these first two processes. Then, once you have your best practices in place and working effectively, determine how you will keep them working? If you are already an online business that is up and running, make sure you are investing in your IT department or outsourcing a credible and experienced tech team. If you do not invest in processes and best practices at the beginning of building your online business, eventually, you’re going to have problems, you’re going to lose your customer base and your competitors are going to take over. It’s all about setting yourself up to be successful,” said Collins.
About The Author
Gillean Smith is the Public Relations Manager for Market America Worldwide | SHOP.COM and has more than 20 years of experience in public relations with various agencies, including running her own firm. She began her career in radio and television news and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her passions include photography, music, and spending time with her three sons.