Comsim: Mastering the art of custom eCommerce

Published on April 9, 2024 by Alex Eade

In this blog, we delve into the fascinating world of custom eCommerce projects with seasoned professionals, Comsim. Through our conversation with Sam we explore the challenges and solutions surrounding custom eCommerce websites, as well as the pivotal role of effective communication and strategic alignment. From bridging the gap between technical and business teams to navigating conflicting perspectives among stakeholders, we uncover invaluable insights to streamline project success. Read on to discover Sam’s thoughts on the evolving landscape of eCommerce development, offering expert guidance and foresight into future trends and challenges.

Q) What are some typical challenges clients encounter when initiating a new custom eCommerce project, and how can these issues be resolved?

A) There’s a lot to think about for a successful eCommerce project. 

At the top level, the primary objectives of an eCommerce project will often be defined in the loosest terms; for example ‘we want to integrate our e-commerce system with our ERP system and have data flow between the two’, or ‘we believe we need a new platform, because our current Ecommerce systems checkout is difficult to complete’.

Below those high-level objectives though is where the challenges really begin. 

Defining the scope of the project, understanding the technical requirements, investigating the technical solutions available, comparing commercials, and delivering the ideal operational procedures and customer experience, within expected timelines and budget, requires detailed capture and communication pieces with both development teams and internal representatives, and a broad range of technical and design experience. 

Strong and tailored communication is the way that we resolve these issues and stop them from impeding any eCommerce project. We ensure that our team is comfortable with communicating the operational aspects of business. We come from that environment so we understand the customers’ needs, and we know how to communicate properly to the dev team around technical and design aspects. We also provide the executive level of the project with the information that they need, communicated in the right way so that they can plan accurately and budget correctly, which is generally their primary concern. 

Understanding and accounting for different stakeholder priorities, and being able to communicate effectively with each stakeholder can reduce the risk associated with eCommerce projects, as well as saving time and money and delivering better project outcomes. 

 

Q) What common obstacles do clients face when bridging the gap between technical and business teams?

A) eCommerce is like learning a new language. Much like any other specialism there’s industry specific terms and practices, which in this instance are particularly fast moving. 

A good example of this are the changes in the past year from Google Universal Analytics to GA4, where the whole scheme of how the data capture has changed from user to session based, or the growth of AI products, where there’s suddenly a plethora of new tools with huge potential upside for revenue generation.

Understanding all of these tools and the language that surrounds them, keeping up with the change and identifying what’s wheat and what’s chaff requires a foundational knowledge base coupled with continuous learning. 

It’s a big resource requirement for the mid-market B2B and B2C businesses we work with, who often aren’t primarily eCommerce based. Not understanding the language sufficiently, leads to inaccurate or insufficiently detailed briefs, inability to communicate technical detail, inaccurate project tracking and project creep. It also results in relationship issues between project partners, which can lead to complete project break down and cost huge amounts of money.

Aside from technical implementation expertise, we’ve learnt that we have to act almost as a digital translator for our clients when interacting with the dev teams and software providers, thus bridging gaps and avoiding the errors of communication that could happen otherwise. Doing this helps to produce a more collaborative, accurately implemented custom eCommerce project, improving results for both the client and the implementation teams.

 

Q) How does Comsim’s role as an intermediary provide advantages in aligning client expectations with technical implementation?

A) There’s a really interesting thing that happens with custom digital projects where from the developer and software provision side, quite accurately, almost anything a client wants can be communicated as possible to produce.

Digital marketing and eCommerce is very flexible, customisable, and given the right dev team and budget, the most fantastic custom tools can be created. Good dev teams love to build new solutions too, so they’re inherently inclined towards the ‘yes, we can do that’ answers!

However, there are always systemic limits to any given technology stack. So, within the dev framework of ‘anything is possible’ the problem can be managing the expectation of the client based on their choices around the tech stack, businesses, their budget and other operational parameters. Unfortunately, it’s never quite as simple as ‘we can do that’ (unless there’s an unlimited budget and incredibly flexible business operations!)

Because of our backgrounds at Comsim, we’re good at digging out the achievable from the blue sky conceptual. 

Getting into the detail, recognising, and communicating the systemic limits, defining briefs, producing, then delivering project plans and working collaboratively with the different expert implementers of the technology stack. It’s what Comsim exists for

Again, a big part of that is based on correct communication, but it helps to have us on board to bring all of the disparate elements of the project together, a large proportion of whom we can recommend having already established the working relationships, and to have our skills available in the implementation stage of the solutions, too.

 

Q) If conflicting perspectives arise amongst project stakeholders, how would you navigate and resolve this?

A) Diversity of views actually creates value and indicates that groupthink isn’t going to be a problem. We will always approach each stakeholder’s perspective as a valuable contribution to the project and believe it’s important to recognise and communicate the requirements of the separate business areas, capture them, then identify and document the priorities. 

We wouldn’t view different perspectives as conflict, so much as identification of project drivers and scope.

We’ve found that our independent perspective actually improves the accuracy of communication between different areas of a project, because we’re outside the organisational structures. There are usually perfectly understandable, logical reasons for stakeholders taking a position that seem difficult to resolve at first glance, and when you resolve them, they generally lead to improved project outcomes in one way or another.

We have tools in our cupboard for best practice management of those sorts of project development requirements, and we’re not afraid to use them!

 

Q) How does Comsim’s external perspective help uncover and address obstacles that internal teams might overlook?

A) Internal teams will generally be a brilliant repository of product and market knowledge unrivalled elsewhere. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, there is also danger in the assumed ‘expert’ positions these knowledge bases can lead to, when you’re trying to identify where an organisation needs to improve. 

For instance, it is very unusual for a business member to interact with their business as a customer, and then to be able to evaluate and provide structured feedback on the level of service, or quality of product accurately, without referring to their ‘expert’ position. 

It’s not from lack of good intent on the businesses part, it’s just there’s a certain level of ‘blindness’ that results from being overly familiar with a particular product or service from a particular perspective, and internal business operational priorities can obscure the view even further.

These sorts of issues exist on eCommerce websites in the same way they exist in other areas of businesses. If you’re an eCommerce service representative, you probably haven’t completed a checkout process any time in the recent past, so you’re not aware of how annoying that button you added to inform customers of a ‘new improved’ offer has become, and your potential customers haven’t told you, because they’re part of the 50% of checkout losses you’re seeing in reporting, but aren’t quite sure why. 

You’re also busy servicing the customers who have completed, answering their enquiries, ensuring stock levels are maintained, having that meeting about a new product launch etc… and somehow it’s just not a priority to look at the drop outs.

Comsim has one focus and that’s to optimise the systems and customer experience. We’ll spot the button because we’ll approach the whole experience with a critical, data-oriented eye that is absolutely focused on discovering where the customer experience improvements can be gained. Then we’ll fix it and test again to make sure changes haven’t had some other unexpected effect (and if it has, we’ll fix that too if needed).

 

Q) The growth of “out of the box” and SAAS solutions has shifted the eCommerce development landscape. How has this impacted consultants like Comsim, and what changes to the field do you foresee for the future?

A) There’s a number of really interesting results from this.

The first thing is that the days of buying developed within an inch of its life software, for a one-off price, and perhaps get an update once a year for a small fee, are long gone, now all the software is subscription, cloud based, and developers may well roll out updates every month following iterative release patterns. It has many benefits in that the software isn’t of a fixed form, and grows with the user feedback loop, but it’s also more likely to create errors and conflicts as updates are rolled out, creating maintenance requirements.

The next is that there’s been an explosion of expert systems that focus on provision of a particular area of marketing and service requirements. They’re very good at one element, highly focused and flexible, but they complicate stacks, integrations, and maintenance requirements even further.

The third thing we’ve seen is that there is a move towards supplying SAAS systems which attempt to solve the complexity issue of system stacks, by offering a one size fits all software solution that aims to provide all the individual services from one software suite. 

This makes a lot of sense from an operational perspective, because it simplifies the stack, reduces supplier complexity, and provides simplified management, whilst also reducing data siloing, so improving analytical capabilities and insight. The down-side is that the individual components of these types of systems don’t tend to be particularly detailed in their implementation, they’re less flexible, less customisable and generally less focused, so there are real trade-offs when prioritising project outcomes.

In terms of how this affects us, we’re evaluating, learning and managing more and more systems, in the user interface, operational automation, and marketing data arenas. Digital has always been a continuous learning environment, and that’s accelerating as the technologies available democratise with scale and develop at pace. It means that our data sources have proliferated so we’ve got more visibility of what’s happening with businesses and when, and it’s resulted in an increased ability to understand customer behaviours and buying patterns.

For what comes next, in the medium to long term, we’re living in a world where science fiction and science fact are increasingly converging. Virtual and augmented reality are developing at pace and have huge potential for flexibility in interfaces and marketing innovation. 

We have explosive growth in AI capabilities, which are already increasingly appearing in the software tools we use even though still in their relative infancy. 

There’s even recently been developments in brain chips, where it’s been demonstrated that navigating digital interfaces can be achieved just by thinking about it, that could be huge, and that’s all without mentioning rockets to Mars sending us multi-planetary and robotic developments that will likely see us living with domestic robots. We’re hugely inspired by what’s coming in digital and broader technological advances.

On the more immediate timeline though, privacy legislation is continuing to catch up with the wild west of data collection that we’ve lived with for the past 15ish years, so we know this will continue to be a huge focus in digital arenas over coming months, as we try to rebalance privacy concerns, with marketing and behavioural data collection drives.