Discovery Phase to Define Project Focus

“When you know what you want, you will find a way to get it.”

Ever wondered what to focus on first when starting a new project? 

Discovery phase is an information-gathering process that involves digging deep into the details of what is important to the particular kind of business, the needs of the target audience, and the current trends of the industry. This phase helps figure out what goals you can achieve and what you need to focus on to achieve them.

How does it work in practice? Here is a tangible example:

At the beginning of 2014, we conducted a Discovery Study for an eCommerce client. The client had a diversified network of physical stores and was developing an advanced eCommerce solution that’s designed to sell their products online following the model of a Marketplace (like Amazon). 

The client turned to us for the following consulting assistance:

  • to validate the concept applied to build their Marketplace solution;
  • to identify gaps in their current solution;
  • to get recommendations/ideas on the prospective directions in their development and the crucial improvements for the solution.

The last point was the most valuable one for the client since they were planning to buy a system from third-party vendors that would be the core of their future Marketplace. The client’s team had not enough expertise in eCommerce to cover all the points above and to choose the best third-party system. Furthermore, the client wasn’t confident in the validity of the systems and workflows they already had.

The client had a set of advanced systems and modules that covered most aspects of the eCommerce Marketplace.

The client’s IT infrastructure included:

  1. SIM (Supplier Integration Module)
  2. PIM (Product Information Management) including Inventory Management module, Price Management module, and Image Processing module.
  3. CMS (Content Management System)
  4. CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  5. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
  6. OMS (Order Management System)
  7. WMS (Warehouse Management System)
  8. Storefront
  9. Payment Gateway
  10. Customer Service
  11. Fraud Detection
  12. Email Platform
  13. Web Analytics

Many areas of the client’s Marketplace were covered well by features and workflows. The following parts of eCommerce Marketplace were already well-developed:

  1. Product matching and catalog syndication, including product content management.
  2. Price management rules and alerts/validations.
  3. Publishing a significant volume of content/price/inventory data to Frontend.
  4. Automatic order routing and the entire order management process.
  5. Support for multiple websites on the Frontend side.

After careful review, we identified two areas that were not advanced enough and could hinder the development of the client’s Marketplace in the future:

  1. Low automation in supplier integration and insufficient integration visibility for suppliers.
  2. Non-optimal selling model chosen to build Frontend: Owner Branded model was used; the best recommended was Supplier Branded.

According to our first recommendation a fully fledged Supplier Portal solution was needed. The solution could be based on the functionality and workflows that the client already had, but the main goals were to: a) minimize manual work; b) provide more function visibility to suppliers within the interaction. 

Here are the key aspects of Supplier Portal that we recommended to develop/improve vs what the client had before:

  • Easy onboarding for new suppliers (including Amazon and eBay feeds integration);
  • Workflows to monitor the onboarding process and activity status for every supplier;
  • Generic supplier PIM and Offer Management, including pricing/inventory controls/thresholds;
  • Supplier Order Management with reverse logistic support;
  • Settlement/reconciliation/invoicing visible for suppliers and available for management;
  • Supplier ranking and selling activity monitors for Marketplace staff on the client side.

Supplier-Branded Frontend was the second recommendation that would upgrade the client’s Marketplace for future growth and satisfy eCommerce top standards:

  • Customers see the names of the suppliers who offer a certain product:
    • when a customer places an order, he/she selects a supplier who will fulfill the order (considering the price and shipping conditions of every supplier), and then, the marketplace system routes the order to the supplier;
    • a customer can view the supplier’s rank and statistics (to choose the best supplier for each order);
    • a customer can provide feedback on the supplier’s work and communicate with the supplier’s support team in case of problems.
  • Suppliers deliver items in their own packaging. Returns are sent back to the supplier.

The recommendations above helped to define the following priority goals:

  1. Taxonomy building;
  2. Advanced matching rules and more flexible matching automation;
  3. Catalog syndication simplification;
  4. Supplier restrictions and real-time validations;
  5. Real-time offer management directly in Frontend (for price/inventory mistakes) and special offers (like the Buy Box winner);
  6. Offers from suppliers with no product content;
  7. Supervision of order management and order rerouting in special cases;
  8. RMA and refunds/returns best practice;
  9. KPI for suppliers.

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