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Planning E-Commerce Sites

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Building the site yourself

As with everything else, you also have to make decisions about whether you want to do this internally or use external resources to do it.


The advantages are that if you have the skills and the capability to do this, it can be a low-cost way of getting things up and running. It can also be a very quick and easy way of getting your initial proposition into the market and tested quickly.


The disadvantages are that if you don’t have the sufficient skills and as a result, you don’t produce a website that has the hygiene factors in place and provides a service that your customers are expecting, then this can massively undermine your value proposition. And as a result, damage your brand.

Secondly, if it’s not your core competency, then your attention may be drawn away from things that are more important to your business and that you are more capable of delivering. So it’s a good general principle to focus on the things that you’re really excellent at and then look for other people to help you on the things where they’re better.

Using an in-house team

Next, we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of an in-house team when you’re building your own website.


This has the same advantages of increased control, where you can really tailor it to exactly what you’re looking for. I’d also continually optimize that over time.

A link to this is the second advantage of it being relatively high-speed. So you’ve got control over what you’re wanting to do and you can make changes at high-speed, which is really what you’re looking for, for being able to test lots of different versions and see which ones work and then continually iterate to get to the best solution over time.

And thirdly, you can alter all stages of the development, even after the development’s happened.

So again, this isn’t something where this is much harder to do if you don’t have the internal resource because you constantly have to be going back to the internet provider or the e-commerce provider to help you with that.


If you don’t have the expertise to do it, it can damage the overall brand.

And secondly, it requires a different type of management to manage an internal team. And if you don’t have that skill set, it can compromise the completion of the project. So the type of project management that’s often used for IT projects. It’s what’s called Agile Management, where small projects are broken off into bite-size chunks and then they’re delivered over a short period of time and then moved on to the next one or revisited to optimize further.

Third-party sites


The alternative to having an in-house e-commerce team is outsourcing it to a third-party e-commerce provider.

The advantages of this are that you get the tailor-made skill for the project you’re looking for, as that’s exactly what the agency’s there to provide. They’re driven to a deadline so you can make sure things are delivered on time and in full. And you can also really accurately define the exact specification of what you’re looking to do and make sure that’s what the third-party provider delivers.


Disadvantages are that it can be very difficult to find an appropriate partner. And you’re also putting a huge amount of faith in an external part of your business. And so that whole process of finding the right blend of talent and skills and that understand your business model, understand your business culture, can be quite a difficult process.

The second thing is it could be quite expensive. Because again, there’s uncertainty involved in the process. And so the provider may well want to make sure that they are guaranteeing that they’re going to generate enough income from your piece of work. And so the overall upfront costs can often be expensive for these types of work.

So as I mentioned, it can be very difficult to choose the right partner, so it’s important that we get it right.

Choosing a third-party vendor

And these are some of the things that we should be looking for when choosing that partner.

  • Varied skills: It’s really important they’ve got a varied set of skills, because ideally, you want to be able to get all the skills you’re looking for from one provider. So, for example, you’d be hoping that they’ve got a really good understanding of all the back-end execution of your website, and the hosting requirements. You’d hope they’ve got a great understanding of consumer user experience, and user design, and also are really well versed in all the different conversion rate optimization tactics that we mentioned before.
  • Document all aspects of the specification at the specification stage: You want to have real clarity on what you’re asking the vendor to do right at the outset, so that if anything does change after that, that’s when changes can often become expensive and delay the product. So it’s incredibly important that both sides, both you and the vendor, are really clear on exactly what this project is going to deliver and any uncertainties are ironed out at that stage.
  • Proven track record: Check that they’ve got a proven track record of delivering projects that are similar to yours
  • A client base that shares some similarities with your organization: This is basically the best and easiest way of getting an approximation of whether they’re going to be able to do a good job to do the type of project you’re looking for. Because fundamentally, have they done it before to the standard that you think is acceptable? Because often, an agency may be brilliant at doing a single-product site, but the skills required to do either a multi-product offering, or even a subscription business may be very different, and also, the skills required to deal with a big business versus a small business can be totally different, too.


So, we’ve spoken about the importance of getting the specification process right, and also about managing this process through, and this slide goes into a bit more detail on that. So, as previously mentioned, it’s incredibly important to get it really clear on what it is that you’re looking for the project, and the e-commerce site, to deliver, and this goes right back to making sure you’re thinking about your value proposition. What is it that your customers value from you more than others, and then, making sure that the project delivers a specification that delivers that. So once you’re crystal clear on that specification, you then move into the build phase. And again, because these projects can be very big and very long, it’s useful to break it down into bite-size chunks.

So start with a particular part of the project, deliver that, look at how it’s been done, feedback at that stage, make sure everyone’s happy about it, and then move onto the next stage, then repeat that process all the way through the project, until all of the specifications have been delivered.

Stages of a build

So the next stage is looking at the specific stages that we need to go through to build the site.

Site mapping

Step one is about mapping out the site. So, this is really understanding all the different pages that you’re going to need on the site, and how they relate to each other. So, really simply, you’ll have a home page, leading into a category page, often leading into product pages. That’s kind of that flow. Then, you’ll have to think of how the cart then leads through to the checkout, and the flow of those pages. And then, you’ll have other pages, like Terms and Conditions, Contact Us, Customer Service, and again, you need to think about what are all those pages that need to be included, and how do they all link together.


For each one of those pages we’ve mentioned there, you need to lay out what’s referred to as a wireframe of where all the different elements of the page go. So things like, where’s the lead image going to be, where’s the copy going to be beside it, where’s the drop down of more detailed information on the product going to be?


Then, once you’ve got those wireframes clear and everyone’s happy with them, you then move on to concepts, and this is where you start kind of coloring in the lines, and putting in the pictures that make your website different to all the competition.

First draft

And again, once you’re happy with that, you moved on to a first draft phase where you’ll get to see, by this stage, a really quite worked up version of what the website’s going to look like.


And again, once you’re happy, you move on to the final stage, which is about encoding, and effectively, turning those pictures and functionality into all the coding language that makes it all work.

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Graeme Smeaton

Graeme Smeaton is the founder of Royal & Awesome. Along with a proven track record in defining and delivering marketing strategies that drive significant growth and create real shareholder value, Graeme is highly commercial. He has extensive experience managing PLs and other key financial statements, while being an operational board director of AFG Media Ltd, and has experience negotiating with suppliers, distributors and licensing partners.

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:

  • Identify the impact of logistics, packaging, purchasing, distribution, and payment options for an e-commerce solution
  • Evaluate e-commerce revenue models and the advantages associated with different e-commerce solutions 
  • Critically appraise the requirements for managing e-commerce customers in accordance with current laws and legal guidelines

    Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

    DMI Short Course: GDPR

    The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

    You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

    You will not be assessed on this content.


      E-Commerce Strategy
      Graeme Smeaton
      Skills Expert

      The E-Commerce Strategy module will introduce the characteristics of the e-commerce business model and will help you understand the corresponding business requirements and decisions that flow from their value proposition. You will learn to recognize the strengths and limitations of different e-commerce solutions and common payment methods. Finally, you will respond to a range of different illustrations showing how the level of customer service affects an e-commerce business in an industry where trust is key to the purchasing decision.