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In this article we illustrate how to create a digital strategy for fashion following 10 steps with practical examples of implementation.
Defining and implementing a Digital Strategy for Fashion
Questions we answer:
- What is a Digital strategy?
- What does it entail?
- Who is involved in creating a digital strategy?
10 Steps Digital Strategy
- Define the Goals
- Define the Scope of Work
- Choose Team and Suppliers
- Elaborate the Implementation Plan
- Track progress against the plan
- Control Quality
- Deploy the Pilot
- Roll out the full plan
If I had to start from scratch to implement a digital strategy for a fashion business I would go for a digital first approach to market, free of the boundaries of the traditional retail approach.
But most of us will need to build the digital strategy on top of an existing structure, frequently made of bricks and mortar points of sale, the train cannot be stopped.
So let’s get to it!
1) Define the goals
The first thing to do is “define the goals of the Digital Strategy”, this is not an easy task, but is the corner stone of your strategy. It is the lighthouse that will guide you when you will be in the middle of the implementation and you will face certain challenges.
I say goals, not goal singular, because we need to define a set of targets that we want to achieve.
Goals should be set for every function involved in the digital roadmap from the e-commerce business unit to the marketing department, from operations to customer service.
Goals should be set for performance improvement and for cost effectiveness.
Goals will derive from expectations which are generated by the current situation, that we can call “as is”.
To summarize we have:
An “as is” situation that is made of
– current performance measured through KPIs,
– pain points that we want to resolve
– new destinations and “to be” that we are going to detail as part of the definition of the goals of the digital strategy.
See Smart goals
2) Define the Scope of Work
The Second biggest Challenge is to Define the scope of work, in other words, What we are and What we aren’t going to do as part of the Digital strategy implementation.
The implementation of a Digital strategy could take years, and conditions may change during years, but what will not change is the fact that the world is going towards the digitization.
Let’s just mention the fact that 90% of Retail sales are influenced by digital media and the social media users are a large percentage of the world population.
What do we put in the Digital strategy? What’s in Scope and what’s out of Scope? What can be done realistically by our companies considered the available resources and the competing projects that will impact the same resources.
Are we able to prioritize the projects and plan the implementation of all or some of them over the next 3 to 5 years?
Do we have a Project management team able to carry out the implementation of those projects? What are the criteria that we use to prioritize the projects? Are we basing our decisions on the value generated by every project?
The expected result of this process would be a 3 or 5 year plan that would contain what we are going to do, when, with what resources and with what results.
Easier said than done, right?
This takes us to point number three: finding people to do the work, with a clearer idea of what to look for in terms of skills.
3) Define and selected the team and suppliers
The People part is probably the most important one.
You have to define roles and responsibilities of the people that you will onboard to carry out the projects. You will need find them, acquire them and then empower them so they can achieve the transformation goals that we want to achieve.
So far we can resume the strategy as following:
Define goals > What to do > Find people to do the work
The number of people needed and the skills will depend on your goals and the scope of work. The scale of the digital project will strictly depend on the size of the digital business. If you are planning to implement a multi million online business on a global scale you will need more resources than if you are planning to run a small local online shop. In my experience, mainly in the fashion and luxury industry, I have observed that in many cases company need at least one person for every million Euro generated, so if you are planning to implement a digital business that will drive 100 million Euros revenues you might need 100 people or more. It doesn’t apply to all digital businesses, but you can start from there to size your team.
Among the people you are going to hire you will have different skill sets, from Technology profile to E-commerce, from Digital Marketing to Project Management.
All profiles will contribute to the creation of a plan that will guide the effort towards the implementation of the digital strategy.
4) Create the implementation plan.
Why do you need an implementation plan and what does it contain?
The implementation plan is the trait-d’union between your ambitions as a company, i.e. what you want to achieve, and the work that will be done to see those ambitions realised.
In all effects the implementation plan is paper-work, a set of documents describing what you will do and how you will achieve it; without this set of documents to guide your actions your company may be steering in a different direction each day.
Changing direction every other day, if you are lucky, it would make achieving your goals slower and more expensive that it should be, and in the worst case it could prevent completely the company from achieving its goals. An example could be doing several pilot projects that never reach the roll out phase or big projects started and never ended, frozen or abandoned.
A different thing is changing direction by making an informed decision as the main company goal has changed. This may as well slow down the progress towards the goal or may speed it up.
What does the implementation plan contain?
If you have at least started, if not completed, steps 1 to 3, I.e. define goals, scope of work and R&R, you are in a good place to work through the creation of the implementation plan with a good chance of success.
The implementation plan needs to contain the breakdown of work that needs to be done, divided by function. Then the work packages (the result of the break down) need to be prioritised based on their dependencies. Finally the estimation of effort and duration needs to be done and the final schedule has to be created.
You may want to use a project manager with some years of experience and a certification in waterfall project management methodology to work with the team on the creation of the implementation plan. I wouldn’t suggest any agile methodology at this stage, it is not applicable in this phase, unless you are in parallel developing a software.
Bear in mind that the whole team needs to contribute to the definition of the implementation plan. It is not advisable to plan activities that will need to be done by someone without his/her input during the planning phase.
Once you got your plan and you should feel confident that the plan is achievable and realistic. You can kick it off and start the actual work.
5) Track progress against the plan
Once you start the actual work you will inevitably find things that were not accounted for or things that work in a slightly different way from what the team thought – that is normal, it happens in every project – this is why you need track the progress against the plan. You will also need to track and manage any issues arising during the project and to do this you may need to assign a person in charge of tracking the project, the changes and any deviation from the planned route, in other words you will need to choose a member of your team to be the project manager. If you don’t have a resource you may have to do it yourself.
The project manager will put in place any corrective actions needed and he will liaise with the project board to get approval for any changes and manage expectations.
It’s not an easy job and it’s not particularly rewarding neither, therefore if you are lucky enough to have a good project manager in your team try to keep him.
5) Control Quality
Quality control is an essential part of any digital project, sometimes it is overlooked or underestimated, but without it, it’s very unlikely that you will achieve the results that the stakeholders and the clients expect.
- A website that is slow to load or containing not working pages, will put off your customers and will result in higher abandon rate of the website.
- A missing image in the product page or a translation done too literarily and not sounding authentic will reduce the add to cart rate or conversion rate.
- An sloppy user experience design or an unclear communication with generate more requests for the customer service team
- The publication of a product on a social that is not available for sale may generate frustration in the customer
Quality control is part of the quality assurance process that entails the definition of quality objectives, quality checks, corrective actions in case of deviations.
The quality control sets the rules for golive of digital projects, the criteria for classification of bugs and their priority.
Quality control also will also keep doing periodical tests and assessment on the website or digital application also after the implementation phase. Quality test to ensure everything is working on our website should be done after every release.
Quality control can also be in charge of running automated tests that have the purpose of reducing the amount of manual work and replace with machine testing.
6) Implement a Pilot Project
Piloting, which consists in running small pilot project to assess the feasibility and measure results of an idea before committing to a full scale project, has become a standard operating model for companies who want to tackle the digital business.
Starting a new service or product with a pilot project allows companies to test the market and to acquire the skills needed in the company before launching a full scale project which will impact the whole company.
The pilot project, for example, can be carried out for the launch of a new feature in a single country and, if successful, the same feature can be implemented in all the countries where the company is active in.
The roll out phase is when a new feature or a new product after been tested in a single country or function, or in a more general subset of the business, is then rolled out to all the countries, or functions.
An example could be a new software for managing travel expenses could be tested during the pilot phase by one department and then rolled out to all departments when the pilot has been completed.
How did we do? Is the output of the project bringing the expected results?
The next thing to do is to measure the performance of the projects that have been deployed, both pilot and roll out projects need to need be measured and compared with the established goals.
Now, the fact that the goals where established at the sunset of the project is what allows you to determine if the project has, or not, beed successful. No point in measuring the results if the goal has been defined near the completion of the project. If you don’t define the goals at the beginning of the project you won’t be able to determine if the project has been delivered on time and on budget and you won’t be able to verify if the assumptions of the business case were correct.
You may want to define what are the key metrics that you will consider when evaluating the results of the projects, the key metrics are generally referred to as KPI or Key Performance Indicators.
At the end of every project or, even better, at the end of every phase of the project or after the completion of a milestone, we need to consolidate the experience and lessons learned during the project in a learnings document that will be used in the following projects.
The purpose of lessons learned is to avoid making the same mistakes in the future or to make note the best practices that worked well during the project so they can be used in future projects as well.