Do you know that according to research, on average, 865 stores open and 525 close every month in Poland? These intriguing statistics reveal a dynamic and evolving retail landscape. As the know-how and skills needed for opening online stores are being spread far and wide, the effective implementation of e-commerce in a company remains an art, a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the market and the target audience.

This article describes the case study of e-commerce implementation in Poznańskie Zakłady Zielarskie Herbapol S.A. This company, which used to be a strictly manufacturing enterprise, is undergoing a very dynamic transformation towards becoming a modern b2b and b2c company. We are currently having the pleasure and honor of running 21 development projects for them, including, of course, the implementation of an online store.

How the story goes

In the course of discussion, we stressed the importance of several key points and convinced the Management Board. Firstly, creating an online store is a relatively simple project, if the company has well-built business foundations that enable success. Secondly, building e-commerce must be integrated with the company’s marketing and sales processes; if this does not happen, we risk market cannibalization.

We also highlighted the fact that very often it is necessary to build a separate SPV business unit, especially in case of companies with a well-established position on the market, and, at the same time, conservative in their actions. Last but not least, we emphasized the fact that launching an online store requires project management skills with particular emphasis on the ability to manage the project in a hybrid way: using an agile approach while simultaneously monitoring sequences and milestones in the waterfall formula.

Given the risks inherent in launching an online store without adequate preparation, we’ve strategically divided the implementation process into three distinct stages. Each one is punctuated by the review and approval process conducted by the Steering Committee to ensure integrity with our overall objectives and strategies.

1. Analysis and Conceptualization Stage

This initial stage involves a comprehensive diagnosis of the company’s current operations and the development of a tailored e-commerce strategy. This strategy is designed to seamlessly integrate with the traditional areas of the company’s activity. We made a strategic decision to leverage existing processes and functions within the company, specifically in the areas of Research & Development (R&D), procurement, production, and logistics. However, we also recognized the need to create additional processes and functions that operate independently of the company’s existing units. This approach allowed us to maintain operational efficiency while fostering innovation and adaptability.

2. Implementation and Integration Stage

The second stage focuses on the practical application of the e-commerce concept within the company’s existing functional areas. This involves the development of a model for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) marketing and the implementation of an organizational and production concept. Key components of this stage include the creation of an e-commerce platform, the development of a new product brand, and the organization of R&D processes that are integrated with this product line. We also focused on e-commerce segmentation, positioning, and targeting, as well as the preparation of marketing concepts and financial scenarios. This stage is crucial for ensuring that the e-commerce operations are fully integrated and aligned with the company’s overall marketing and sales strategies.

3. Online Store Development and E-commerce Launch Stage

The final stage involves the actual construction of the online store and the launch of e-commerce sales. This stage represents the culmination of all the planning and preparation done in the previous stages. It’s where the theoretical concepts and strategies are brought to life in a practical, operational context.

By dividing the implementation process into these three stages, we’re able to manage the project more effectively, ensuring that each aspect of the e-commerce operation is given enough attention and resources that are needed in order to succeed. This approach also allows us to mitigate risks and address potential issues in a timely and efficient manner. 

In the process of creating the final e-commerce solution for our client, we strategically utilized the existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) program within the company. Recognizing the unique requirements of e-commerce operations, we allocated a separate warehouse specifically for e-commerce products. This dedicated warehouse ensures efficient inventory management and order fulfillment, which are critical for the success of any online store.

To further enhance our e-commerce operations, we established a centralized distribution center for product information. This center serves as a single source of truth for all product-related data, ensuring consistency and accuracy across all platforms. It streamlines the process of updating product information, making it easier to manage and maintain.

In addition to the distribution center, we also created a comprehensive database that houses a great deal of information, including prices and variants of products, technical descriptions of the products, and Bill of Materials (BOM) for production. Having all this information in one place simplifies the process of managing product listings and ensures that customers have access to all the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions.

When it came to building the online store, we turned to Shoper and Baselinker, two leading e-commerce solutions. These platforms offer a wide range of services and modules that are essential for running an online store. These include payment processing, shipment handling, product visualization, and order management. By leveraging these solutions, we were able to create a user-friendly online store that offers a unique shopping experience.

But we didn’t stop there. Recognizing the importance of multi-channel selling in today’s competitive e-commerce landscape, we also connected our online store with several major marketplaces. These include Allegro, Amazon, Ceneo, and others. This multi-channel approach not only widens the reach but also provides customers with more options for how and where they can purchase the products.

Conclusions drawn from the implementation

What did this implementation teach us? We confirmed our observation, coming from several previous e-commerce implementations for clients, that creating an online store is only the last element of the project and not the most important one. Building requirements for e-commerce (defining goals and metrics) and interactions of e-commerce with the company’s core business is the foundation of success.

We also paid attention to the way we conducted the project. We worked in weekly sprints, starting each of the cooperation periods with planning activities for the next sprint, we assigned personal responsibility for their execution and we made summaries in the form of project meetings and lessons learned. We used a kanban board (Planner from the Office365 package) and Teams channels to manage communication in the project. We also built an executive schedule in MS Project that we updated every week and managed by means of deviations from the baseline plan.

We also kept and regularly updated the risk register, introducing appropriate preventive and minimizing actions. We also put a lot of care and attention into the mood in the team – despite the high time pressure and the inevitability of conflicts appearing in such a large transformation project, the quality of cooperation between people involved in the project was improving from sprint to sprint.

We finished the project a month before the planned date, delivering all the expected functionalities. Thanks to that, we were invited to continue cooperation in the area of merge, production relocation, R&D development and implementation of the tailor-made mentoring program for future project managers in the company.

We are currently running three more e-commerce implementations for clients. The conclusions we draw from these implementations are almost identical as those observed in Herbapol Poznań. It is easy to build an online store, just as it is easy to implement a CRM system. It is important, however, that it is not “dead” or empty – so we encourage readers to devote enough time to preparatory and analytical work before you start building tools.

A valuable lesson 

As a conclusion, this e-commerce implementation has provided us with valuable lessons and insights that are not only applicable to future projects, but also contribute to a broader understanding of effective project management and e-commerce strategy. It puts emphasis on the importance of thorough planning, effective project management, proactive risk management, positive team dynamics, and continuous learning and improvement. These are all critical factors that can significantly influence the success of an e-commerce implementation and, ultimately, the company’s business performance.