By Bridget McCrea
With a brand new, fully-functional e-commerce site in the works, The Lighting Factory discusses the impetus behind this move, the challenges it ran into, and how everything is going so far.
When The Lighting Factory rolls out its new e-commerce website later this year, the company will join the small group of electrical distributors that are conducting transactions with their customers online. Under construction since 2015, the new site will replace an existing online presence that was in need of an overhaul.
In an exclusive interview with tED magazine, Marge Holdsworth, marketing manager, explains why The Lighting Factory is investing time and money in an e-commerce site, how it’s tackling the project, its overall goals for the new site, and how everything is going so far. Here’s what she had to say.
tED magazine: What prompted The Lighting Factory to develop a full-blown e-commerce site?
Marge Holdsworth: The Lighting Factory has an existing website, but it’s not an e-commerce site. We have been growing as a company and really felt that there was a need to provide an online shopping experience not only for our current customers, but also for prospective customers. We were able to acquire the domain name (TheLightingFactory.com) so we decided to go ahead and create an e-commerce site.
tED: Why now?
Holdsworth: We see a lot of competitors – and other distributors that aren’t direct competitors of ours – getting into the online space. We feel that we need to be there too.
tED: What will the new site offer/handle that your existing web presence can’t do?
Holdsworth: There are a couple of things that we’re expecting the e-commerce site to do for us. We expect that it will help supplement our customers’ visits to stores, allowing them to conduct after-hours or field-based product research and ordering. We want to build it into an online warehouse of product information for both existing and future customers. The Lighting Factory sells a broad range of products across different lines and suppliers, and we want our customers to know more about these options. While they’re at the site getting the information that they need, our hope is that they’ll go ahead and place an order.
tED: How is this initiative progressing?
Holdsworth: This is an ongoing project for us. Whenever you undertake a project of this size, things come up and timelines get pushed out. Overall, it’s taking longer than we would have liked. When you build a website from scratch, there are a lot of moving pieces that have to come together to ensure that everything works properly when the site goes live for your customers. Our ultimate goal is that when someone visits the website, he or she has a very smooth, easy experience and wants to come back. To make that happen, we have to work out all of the glitches and go through a number of “what if” scenarios. There’s a lot to it.
tED: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Holdsworth: I think the biggest challenge that we’ve run into involves good communication and just making sure everyone who is involved in the project is on the same page. We’ve contracted with an outside web development firm to build the website itself, the shopping cart, and other elements for us. We’re coordinating with that firm plus our own marketing, accounting, sales, and management teams. Making sure everything is being taken care of and that we all share the same vision has definitely been the biggest challenge on this project.
tED: How are you managing this issue?
Holdsworth: We’re using an online collaboration tool (Basecamp), to outline overall goals, lay out the steps, collaborate with one another, and ensure that everyone is onboard and handling their respective parts of the project. This web-based project management platform works particularly well because we’re in different physical locations and can’t just pop into someone’s office and say, “Hey, can you help me with this?”
tED: Were your customers asking for online transactions?
Holdsworth: Yes, we’ve had customers ask for it. But more importantly, everything is moving in this direction. Our feeling is that by giving them the tools, research, and information that they need to make informed buying decisions – and then combining that content with an easy ordering tool – they’ll be more apt to buy from us online. We don’t see this replacing our brick-and-mortar stores, but it’s more of an “enhancement” that will allows us to expand our service area. In fact, we’re expecting the new site to help boost sales at our physical locations and also increase The Lighting Factory’s overall name recognition.
tED: What can other electrical distributors learn from your experience thus far?
Holdsworth: That gathering all of the information and data is tedious and it takes time, namely because it has to be collected from so many different sources. We’re using IDEA as a feed for our product information/population, for example, but the process is still pretty time consuming. Also, be prepared for it to take longer than you expect. There are just so many moving parts and pieces that go into a good, e-commerce-enabled website. To ensure a smooth process, sit down and have some conversations internally before the project even starts. Get everyone on board and get everyone’s goals aligned with exactly how you want the online store to operate.
tED: How much time and money have you invested in this initiative?
Holdsworth: We’re privately owned so I can’t give you a dollar amount. However, I can tell you that we’re investing heavily in internal staff time to get this completed. We’re also paying the outside web development company for its services and we’re considering another outside source to handle the search engine optimization (SEO) and other promotional/advertising work once the site goes live. So there will be ongoing costs associated with the site, not to mention the cost of the IDEA feed. So while the software itself is fairly minimal, when you look at the picture it’s really the time involved that costs the most.
tED: Will we see The Lighting Factory up and running this year?
Holdsworth: It’s definitely coming. We’re moving towards it but I’m not sure that I can really pin down an exact timeframe as to when it will be live. Ultimately, our goal is to be up and operational this year.
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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