We recently launched a new tool that provides a quick and easy way to discover potential pain points within your digital commerce operation. This tool, or Digital Commerce Assessment as we call it, is a focused survey of about 40 questions spanning 6 primary categories. In the end, you get valuable feedback on your digital commerce operation as well as a workbook to help you quantify the real cost of any disconnected data that you may be experiencing.
This is the first in an ongoing series of posts focused on trending problem areas that we see coming from the assessment results. First off, reporting. Are you not able to get the reports you need out of your ecommerce platform? It turns out, you’re not alone. Our respondents are indicating that a lack of reporting is hindering their ability to make informed operational decisions.
Disclaimer: All of the information we gather from the assessment is between us and the individuals who take it. No one else will see the answers. This post only talks in general terms and does not delve into any details specific to an individual or company.
Take the assessment
Before we get started, below is a link to the Digital Commerce Assessment tool. Check it out for yourself and gain a better understanding of your business’s ecommerce operation. This is the first step towards developing your optimal commerce ecosystem that will adapt with your growing business.
Reporting, what we see so far
Of all areas covered within the assessment, reporting seems to be where many ecommerce operations are seeing a disconnect. Any ecommerce platform, whether it’s SaaS, open source, or custom, will obviously focus on selling products, but it seems that maybe not enough attention is being given to reporting. Oddly enough, a businesses ability to make confident operational decisions relies on accurate and real-time reporting. It’s a necessary piece of the the ecommerce ecosystem.
But, before I talk about solutions, let’s first look at some of the questions in the assessment that stand out, and why they matter.
QUESTION: Are you unable to accurately calculate and measure the customer lifetime value of your customers?
Being able to measure your customer lifetime value is an important and interesting metric. Most ecommerce operations, rightly so, focus a lot of time and effort on the customer experience. The goal of this is customer retention. You want your customers to have a great experience when interacting with your company for many reasons, among them is that it’s more likely these customers will make additional purchases as well as promote your company via word-of-mouth and social media.
So, how do you know at a glance if this is happening and if your actual customer lifetime value matches with the projections that you’ve established? A report of your current customer lifetime value and how this metric is trending over time would show this and help you to understand if you need to adjust your projections for the future. There is a lot of insight to be gained here.
QUESTION: Do you wish you had the ability to perform granular product/sales analysis for different customer segments because your existing SaaS platform doesn’t provide the necessary reports?
If you’ve spent any time in MailChimp, you’ll know that segmenting your email-marketing lists is the most effective way to engage your subscribers. Although I don’t have any specific data to back up this next assumption, it makes sense that segmented reporting would also be extremely valuable for ecommerce decision making. Just like how you would target specific marketing to segmented email lists, segmented ecommerce reporting would allow you to understand your customers and run on-site promotions that target these segmented customer groups. This is the kind of promotional personalization that could have a big impact on your bottom line.
QUESTION: Do you have to be creative when using the predefined SaaS reporting capabilities in order to accommodate the unique needs of your business?
Inability to serve unique business models tends to be one of the more common issues we see with SaaS ecommerce platforms in general. I’m not saying that all SaaS ecommerce platforms don’t work for unique businesses, but the fact of the matter is that SaaS is typically looking to serve a mass market of businesses and so the focus is going to be on what the majority of these businesses need. Unique businesses that don’t fit the mould often struggle to grow beyond what these platforms allow. Some SaaS providers, BigCommerce for example, are recognizing that not every business is the same and are making progress towards serving unique businesses, too.
Reporting, apparently, is no exception to the rule. Since most development of a SaaS ecommerce platform happens at the service providers end, you’re stuck with the reporting suite that they provide. Sometime, a paid extension might be available to give you more information, but even those extensions are limited by the data that the platform makes available. In the end, you either need to get creative with the reporting provided, accept that you can’t get the reports you want, or seek a different solution altogether.
Businesses stuck in this situation often resort to “swivel chair” processes, meaning that data from multiple sources is manually entered into another source, bringing it all together in one location to generate the needed reports. This, of course, is often time consuming and prone to data entry errors. It's not a scalable solution as the business grows.
QUESTION: Have you ever needed to produce a specific report that wasn’t offered in your current SaaS platform?
Similar the the previous questions, this question speaks to the limitations that most SaaS platforms have when it comes to performing tasks outside of what a platform allows by default. I won’t get into much more detail here, just reiterate that if a platform extension doesn’t give you the reporting that you need, you’re probably handcuffed.
QUESTION: Would proactive reporting between inventory, accounting, forecasting and your CRM provide more insight to make decisions?
This question gets away from the ecommerce platform and instead makes reference to your overall commerce architecture, the ecosystem of software that works together to operate your business. While these individual software components may all be completely different from one another, this question brings up an interesting topic of discussion around how your data flows from one place to another and how much access you have to it for reporting. Do your software components “talk” to one another? How integrated are they with one another? Can you draw reports from each individually component? Etc.
Obviously, if you could generate custom reports from any combination of these components on any data that they contain, the intelligence at your fingertips could be extremely powerful for decision making.
How to make your ecommerce reporting better
All of the assessment questions discussed above are either platform based or architecture based. But how can you actually get better reporting abilities? Here are some ideas to get you started.
If you’re currently using a SaaS ecommerce platform, check the platforms app or extension library for better reporting tools. There is a pretty good chance that others are looking for the same capabilities, so an extension could already be available to provide this. If this is the case, you may need to pay an additional fee to use it, but you can be the judge as to whether or not it’s worth it to your organization.
You may also be able to hire a development company to build the tools you need. A lot of what can and can’t be done will be determined by the platform’s APIs. If the information needed for robust reporting can be accessed through an API, you’re good to go! The investment could be worth-while since you will get the reports you need and possibly automate some related manual tasks at the same time.
If your ecommerce platform is open source, check the platforms app or extension library just like you would using SaaS. Again, there’s a good chance that you’re not the only one looking for better reporting tools, so and extension may already be available to you. If not, you might be able to find out if an extension is being built and what its development status is.
One of the benefits to open source is that you can definitely hire a development company to custom build the reporting functionality that you need. Open source platforms will give you the most freedom to innovate, since you will have full access to the code and can manipulate it at will. You’re possibly limited by the platform’s reporting architecture and how easily data can be extracted from it, but some enterprise level open source ecommerce platforms, an example being Drupal Commerce, offer a robust reporting architecture that will allow you to custom build a reporting suite specific to your unique business. Not only this, but open source will also give you the most flexibility for integrating this data into other systems within you overall digital commerce architecture, too.
What’s the current state of your digital commerce operation?
If you’re suffering from a lack of reporting abilities or just reading this out of interest, I hope you’ve been able to take something away from this post that will help make your digital operations better.
If you haven’t done so yet, I’d urge you to give Acro Media’s Digital Commerce Assessment tool a try and see what you come out with. By doing this, you’ll gain a better understanding of your digital commerce operations and know where to focus your energy.