eCommerce Platform Implementations Fail Before They Start

A staggering number of IT and eCommerce projects fail every year. Here is what you can do about it.

 According to the Standish Group Chaos Report, a measly 9 percent of IT projects finish on-time, and on-budget. And those that make it past the finish line deliver only 42% of what was originally proposed. The track record is no better in eCommerce implementation projects. In fact, "67% of eCommerce initiatives, and 60% of ecommerce ‘marriages end in divorce’ due to poor choices," according to strategy and technology advisory firm, FitForCommerce. 

I have worked for eight years for eCommerce design and implementation agencies, and in that time, I’ve seen a pattern of behavior that leads to failure. It’s not what most people would expect such as code quality or bad design. eCommerce project failure or success seems to come down to four more ambigous and therefore, difficult to control, success factors:

  1. Internal Alignement
  2. Understanding your Customer
  3. Program Clarity
  4. Human-factor

This series will cover each success factor in detail including practical advice about how to avoid project failure. 


Speaking of Failure, before we review the first success factor, we need to talk about the F-word. That’s right, FAILURE. If you’re a human being, you are probably crazy when it comes to failure. You’ve also probably experienced failure dozens or even hundreds of times in both personal and work life. No? Just me? Well, failure is something we don’t often talk openly about, admit when it’s happening, or want to hear about from someone else. 

Speak no failure, see no failure, hear no failure

You can take comfort in knowing that projects and people are failing all the time, pretty much everywhere. You’re not alone if you’ve ever had challenged projects and you won’t be the last person to have an eCommerce project fail, if that does happen. The willingness to face the possibility of failure is the first step in conquering it. The good news is there are actions you can take to avoid project failure and put your project on a path to success. So let’s dig into the four success factors for an eCommerce project. Because failure is not an option. 

eCommerce Projects Fail Before They Begin

If an airplane traveling from JFK to LAX is just 1o off course, by the time the flight arrives in Los Angeles, it will be forty miles away from the airport. The same is true in eCommerce project, if you’re starting out off course you’re going to land somewhere you didn’t want or expect. These four success factors can be addressed before you begin your eCommerce project and have little to do with software or traditional project deliverables.

Internal Alignement

A key success factor for an eCommerce project implementation is organizational alignement, both between departments and into the executive suite. Without alignment, projects will stall before they get off the ground. Or worse, silo’s will work independently on user experience and implemetation and hope to "hook it all together" later.

Here are four key aspects of internal alignement:

#1 Call it a Program, not a Project. Going live is just the beginning of an eCommerce initiative. Executives and project leaders are often focused on the go-live date and not the longer term (6 to 24 month) cycle that follows the launch of the site. While go-live is a critical step in the process, it is not the end, it is the beginning. Project leaders that articulate their eCommerce implementations as long term, multi-step programs have a higher chance of success because the project vision is tied to the definition of success that has been articulated and agreed upon. ”Launching or re-launching a website should be managed like launching a new business,” says Bernardine Wu, CEO at FitForCommerce. “Take the time to strategize, plan and proactively manage the entire program as a business.

#2 Form a “Tiger Team". Companies that form “tiger teams” or steering committee’s fare much better than those that do not, assuming key people participate and regularly attend. The key to a successful tiger team is to put people on the team who will challenge you and the project. Don’t stack your tiger team with everyone from your department. It will hurt you in the long run. If you are going to battle it out with IT or Marketing, extend the olive branch and put them on the committee assuming there is clear support.

#3 Define success. Before any eCommerce project begins it is crucial that everyone invovled in the project including executive sponsors, outside consultants, and implementation partners can artciulate the definition of success of the project in specific, measurable, customer-oriented, and time-based language. Wu also cautions that success milestones are also important. “Knowing the destination and knowing how to adjust midflight needs” are important says Wu. When you have agreed on what the mission is , excutive alignment, cross department alignment, planning, and requirements gathering smoother.

An example from a previous eCommerce project is shown here: For the first 12 months after-launch, 1 out of 2 customers will make an online purchase using our new eCommerce site. Between 13 and 24 months, 15% of our revenue will be from online orders.

#4 Get an Executive sponsor. "Leaders create futures," says Wu, “so every project’s success is tied to the championship of it – from the Executive Sponsor down – as well as bottom up. Do not start an eCommerce project without clear executive sponsorship. eCommerce projects have become top priority initiatives for organizations and are typically disrupting traditional sales channels and the ways an organization engages with customers and partners. Without executive sponsorship, when projects hit troubled waters, the project can run aground and experience significant delays or re-starts. Once your tiger team is formed and a clear definition of success has been authored, securing executive will be much easier.


Project failure is common and likely for any eCommerce initiative. Facing this reality openly before your project begins will greatly increase your chance of success. Aligning your organization to the eCommerce initiative by looking at the big picture, forming a tiger team, clearly defining success, and securing executive sponsorship will set your project on the right course. In Part 2, we will cover why understanding your customer is an obvious yet often overlooked success factor for an eCommerce project.

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