Minimum Viable Product in E-commerce – a Reflection
Origins of the MVP Concept
A popular definition these days is the one by Ash Maurya, founder of the Leanstack platform: “A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).” But let’s look a little further back into the past, to the year 2001. Frank Robinson is the first person to use the term ‘MVP’ and Steve Blank and Eric Ries popularised the MVP with their publication of The Lean Startup in 2011. According to the advocates of the MVP idea, the product development team should communicate closely with the target groups so that hypotheses on product development can be verified or falsified upfront. This reduces time and effort in development and increases the chances of the later product being received well. Even back in 2011, there were many references to digital products and software solutions.
But how do MVPs do in the e-commerce environment, where companies often use software products and development platforms and integrate them with other platforms (in parallel to the MVP release or at a later stage)?
Two Borderline Cases With MVP in E-commerce
Case 1: E-commerce systems are usually not stand-alone ‘products’, but have to work in the context of an entire application and data landscape:
For digital sales to work well, it usually takes additional information systems – or at least data from other systems as fuel. If, for instance, product data is only available in inferior quality because there is no proper product data maintenance in the background or no data enrichment specific to target groups in product information management, e-commerce will suffer. So, the quality of data from surrounding systems in the application landscape is an important aspect which has a direct effect on the perceived quality of your planned digital product.
Many companies entering into e-commerce already have a functioning application landscape. It pays for MVP planners to investigate which business functions are already in place before introducing an e-commerce system. Unwanted redundancies should be avoided wherever possible. Example: An existing ERP system can be used during the MVP phase to execute the incoming orders from the web shop (sales orders). But most e-commerce systems also offer functionalities for order execution. What to do? Quite a bit of architectural work is required here to design the MVP and ensure the best possible value creation for the company in future in the form of integrated, automated, and efficiently supported business processes.
Conclusion: Your entry into e-commerce should be lightweight, but not taken lightly. Introducing a web shop should be considered a marketing instrument in a comprehensive and efficiently designed solutions cluster. The target groups do not care whether your company separates its application universe into website/CMS, web shop, ERP or customer service. Customers want to see their needs and requirements met – valuable information and a good experience are key value drivers, so make sure you have an integrated, future-proof architecture concept.
Case 2: A lack of regard for future needs when selecting the e-commerce application:
When selecting your future e-commerce software, you should bear in mind that the features of the new application platform go beyond those used in the scope of the MVP. This means two things: Firstly, high-end web shop suites can do much more than just support digital sales. By choosing wisely, you may be able to quickly close functional gaps in the digital support of your business model. Secondly, with a little time and effort, you may get access to standard functionalities already in the MVP phase which would have required bigger initiatives in the past.
In addition, in our VUCA* world, companies are much more frequently faced with the challenge of adequately responding to changes in the market and environment. Business models are changing faster than ever before, and if you rely on software with a limited scope, you may make it harder to support the business model of the future. From a software architecture perspective, concepts such as headless architecture, composable applications and integrations with modern API layers are gaining ground fast.
*VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
Conclusion: Take an in-depth look at the business vision and upcoming changes to the business model of your company when planning your MVP. Don’t forget to look at the out-of-the-box features of your future e-commerce platform. For your roadmap planning, include methods from business innovation planning to reflect your idea of an MVP (see our joint offer with Spryker).
An unfortunate choice for your MVP approach may lead to a rude awakening if new features suddenly require a disproportionate amount of time and effort to add and the e-commerce foundation does not scale reliably. I have seen quite a few companies who had to set up a new project and tender after just two years, with a lot of sunk cost.
Rethinking MVP – the ‘Maximum Valuable Product’ Mindset for Your E-commerce
An e-commerce MVP needs to be ‘minimum’ in the traditional sense, and of course, be ‘viable’, work well enough and be trouble-free for the target group. On the other hand, an entry into e-commerce is usually part of a long-term market development strategy that is based on assumptions of buying behaviour trending towards the digital, as Gartner describe it in their B2B Buying Journey. In the end, digital sales is only one of many features of the digital product world that is the ‘integrated customer portal’. Web shop features have become systems of record in the meantime, and one can, in general, assume an acceptance of web shops and the like as the number-one digital touchpoints across all industries.
We would like to inspire you to include the medium-term and long-term perspectives when thinking about your entry into e-commerce. It helps to imagine the MVP as an integrated and expandable ‘maximum valuable product’. Web shop applications that work in the short term but also support possible future business activities can be mission-critical – especially if and when your business model and vision evolve. Make sure the architecture and technology you choose create the right foundation to create maximum value for your business, your customers and your entire company.
How can we help you?
We have been consulting on e-commerce transformation for years. We use robust methods for sustainable solutions and bank on future-proof software partners. Together with Spryker, we support companies such as the SWISS KRONO Group and Aldi Suisse in the conception, implementation and expansion of their digital market development.
To get you started, have a look at this interesting webinar: A panel, consisting of experts from SWISS KRONO Group, Spryker, Akeneo and Unic, are discussing "MVP Kickstart in B2B e-commerce - Minimum Viable Product or Maximum Valuable Product?"
Contact for your Digital Solution with UnicBook an appointment
Are you keen too discuss your digital tasks with us? We would be happy to exchange ideas with you: Jörg Nölke and Gerrit Taaks (from left to right).
Contact for your Digital SolutionBook an appointment
Are you keen to talk about your next project? We will be happy exchange ideas with you: Melanie Klühe, Stefanie Berger, Stephan Handschin and Philippe Surber (clockwise).