A well-built eCommerce website begins with a well-thought-out website specification. Developing a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve and how your eCommerce site will operate is an essential first step on the road to creating one. A successful project specification will enable web development teams to understand your intentions, preventing any nasty design or budget surprises down the line.
But, with so many variables to consider, it can be difficult to know where to begin and even harder to determine how much time you should invest in the process. Using this guide and project specification template, you can ensure you’ve covered all your bases, whilst keeping your project specification from becoming a sprawling monstrosity.
Project Specification Part 1: Project Background
The start of an eCommerce specification serves to introduce the project, explaining its aims and providing the necessary context. It can be split into multiple sections like so:
To put it simply: who is involved in this project? Outline the project team and their roles, and list any additional stakeholders. It needs to be clear who has the authority to instruct and make decisions about the project.
What do you expect this eCommerce website to do for your business? In order to keep this section tightly focused, write down your overall mission statement in general terms, and then add some measurable KPIs.
For example, you might consider “increasing online awareness of our brand and products” to be part of your general mission statement. Measurable KPIs could then include website traffic, conversion rate and dwell time.
Here you should also explain how this project fits into your wider business strategy.
A project specification needs to contain information about your company to ensure that the resultant website is an accurate and effective representation of your brand.
Begin this section with a general overview of the brand. Outline its style, personality and values. Are you young and trendy? High quality and dependable?
Then summarise your brand strategy. What elements of the brand are you aiming to grow or adapt, and will your new website play a key role in this? For instance, you may be trying to tap into a new demographic.
The next step is to explain how this informs your design preferences. You want to produce a website that’s in keeping with your brand concept, so consider building a mood board or finding examples of other websites that have a similar feel.
Another way to communicate the essence of your brand is to identify your business’s place within the competitor landscape. Set out who your main competitors are and how you differ from them.
A major part of this is relaying your company’s Unique Value Proposition. Communicate in a few sentences what it is you do differently – or better – in order to meet your customers’ needs. What is it that your customers want, and how do you provide this better than anyone else?
Do you offer more choice or customisation? The best value for money? Faster turnaround times? This is something you’ll want your website to shout loud and clear so that a casual visitor can tell at a glance what you’re all about.
A vital section of any eCommerce project specification pertains to the audience. You need to consider who will be using your website in order to determine how it should function.
It’s likely you already have a well-developed idea of your customer base, but this not the only group whose requirements your website must meet. When thinking about your audience, don’t forget to consider “internal” users, such as warehouse teams, prospective employees, or members of your customer support team.
User stories can help define different subsections of your audience and the activities they need to carry out. These are essentially a way of describing software requirements in non-technical language, putting the intended outcome (and therefore your audience’s needs) first.
As a customer I want to track the status of my orders so that I know when my items will arrive.
As a warehouse worker, I want each customisation option to have a separate product code, so I can ensure I send out the correct product.
When writing user stories, the key things to consider are who your audience is, what they need and why.
The website designer will also need to know how you acquire new customers. Do you rely on social media, search, newsletter subscriptions, etc.
Project Specification Part 2: Information Architecture
With the fundamentals covered, the next step is to think about the set-up of your eCommerce website: how its information will be structured. This can be divided into two sections.
CMS content structure
First lay out how the website itself will be organized. Consider how your users will move from your homepage or other landing pages to each different section of the website.
How will customers navigate to different products? Will you have one main store page, or subcategories containing different kinds of products or services? What other pages will be important?
You should use this section to sketch out a preliminary site map, outlining the hierarchy of your pages. This will ensure that everything is included in the final design and help to gauge the project’s complexity.
- Product type A
- Subcategory 1
- Subcategory 2
- Product type B
Product catalogue data structure
This section should outline your website’s product pages: what the customer is able to see when searching for items to purchase.
A brief overview of the types of products you’re selling should be included here. What customisation options will you have?
You should also explain what visual components such as videos, images and 3D models will be included on product pages. Will you add images for each different colour variant? Videos demonstrating your products in action?
Project Specification Part 3: Information Architecture
The functional requirements explain what your website needs to do, so this is likely to be the longest part of your project specification. However, it’s also easy to go overboard here and get bogged down in unnecessary padding.
Bear in mind, for instance, that many functions are universally shared between all eCommerce websites. As such, you only need to focus on the areas where your project differs from the norm.
For example, all eCommerce websites have an “add to cart” function, so this can be left out of your specification. But if you have a more specific or unusual requirement, if the “add to cart” button should only appear on certain product pages for instance, then that information should be included.
To help designers prioritise, apply the MoSCoW methodology (Must, Should, Could, Won’t) to indicate the relative importance of each feature. This system can also be applied to non-functional requirements.
Product Listing Page Requirements
This covers any specific requirements relating to how information should be arranged on your catalogue page. For example, you might want customers to be able to apply specific filters or adjust the order in which products are listed (sorting by price, alphabetical order, etc.)
Product Detail Page Requirements
Here you detail the information that will be viewable on product pages. This could include customer wish lists, user reviews, related products, etc. If you have a third-party platform you will use for reviews then add this here.
You should also outline the types of products you intend to sell, using the Magento categories as your guideline. For example, a mug with options for different colourways or printed initials would be a configurable product, while a laptop with a variety of processors and RAM sizes to select would be a bundle product.
Any other special considerations for how your products should be presented also belong in this section. For example, if your business incorporates a subscription model, information on this, such as how often subscribers receive your products and whether those products are fixed, random or selected by the customer, should be provided here.
Every eCommerce website will be integrated with a number of different systems. These are likely to include PIMs (for managing product data), CRMs (for managing contacts) and ERPs (for managing stock). Explain which of these systems you want your website to be integrated with and how the site must interact with each of them. Are you still in the process of tendering for these systems, or do you already use them?
The data associated with these systems tends to be imported and exported in the form of CSV files for easy integration. What data sets will you want integrated into your site?
PIM: There are many reasons you might use a PIM to manage product information beyond Magento’s basic functionalities, from enabling complex workflows to obtaining automatic data enrichment. You might, for example, have a PIM in order to manage product information from multiple sources. Explain which PIM you’re using and your specific integration requirements.
CRM: If you’re using a CRM to keep track of and better understand your site’s customers, then outline this here. The main thing to consider is whether your chosen CRM has a module for Magento or will require manual integration.
ERP: This is the most variable of the three. You might only have an ERP to deal with stock, but your ERP could also be managing accounts or providing a more all-encompassing database. Therefore, along with the specific ERP you’re using, be sure to explain your requirements in full. For example, do you have multiple warehouses to which different orders must be routed?
Alongside systems for managing data, Magento also provides a number of payment gateways such as PayPal or Amazon Pay. If you have other requirements for specific providers, this is the place to list them.
Try to provide as much information on your integration needs as possible. However, bear in mind that if you have significant, complex requirements, a discovery phase with the designers can be arranged later to help map these out in greater detail.
This refers to how product, order and customer data are fed back to you, as well as analytics. Consider what information you’ll need to understand your website’s performance. For most eCommerce sites this will be standard issue, but here you can detail any particular concerns or specific needs.
For example, a bakery with many physical restaurant locations might need to know about the sales made for collection at each of those locations, i.e. what was bought where?
Internal user stories may be a helpful planning tool for considering your colleagues’ needs, since it’s likely that different departments will want different information.
In this section you should explain where your website will be operating from and what impact this will have on shipping and tax.
If you operate in multiple countries, provide the necessary information for each. If this is the case, you’re likely to need separate versions of your site for individual countries: presenting different information on shipping and tax, with prices listed in different currencies and with content in different languages.
A store hierarchy can indicate how these different versions relate to one another, and various settings can be shared between closely related versions.
Your store hierarchy might look like this:
- US website
- EU website
- France view
- Germany view
Project Specification Part 4:
This section will outline any of your website’s feature requirements that aren’t directly related to how it will function. Once again, use the MoSCoW method to indicate your priorities.
All web projects should be designed with certain accessibility measures in place, such as avoiding strobing lights and using appropriate font sizes and contrast levels. However, you may have specific accessibility needs depending on your audience(s) or require particular standards to be met (such as a specific level of WCAG).
What web browsers will your site support? This is particularly important if you require compatibility with Internet Explorer.
If your new eCommerce website is intended to replace an old, outdated site, it’s likely you’ll be transferring a certain amount of content, or customer or product data from your old platform. Outline this here.
It’s important to give information about the hosting of your new eCommerce website. Who will your hosting provider be?
This will depend on which version of Magento you intend to use. Will you opt for Magento Cloud or Magento On-Premise? The former allows you to dodge the issues associated with self-hosting, such as security and maintenance, or the burdens of managing a hosting company; the latter gives you full control. Within each option there are a number of different packages and tiers to choose between.
If you’ve selected Magento On-Premise, do you have an existing hosting company you want to continue working with, or do you plan to make a move to AWS?
Do you intend to outsource management or support of your integrated systems to another company? List any other parties involved in your project here, along with the roles they will play.
What are the key dates for this project? Bear in mind that eCommerce websites take longer to design than other, simpler sites. Depending on how complex your requirements are, the timeframe could be anything from six weeks to six months.
Specify what deliverables must be in the minimum viable product and what could be completed in a second phase if necessary. This is particularly helpful if you’re after a very rapid turnaround.
How much do you intend to spend on this project? While the instinct can be to ask for a quote before disclosing your budget, transparency with designers at this stage will allow them to help you meet your objectives. If your allotted budget is above what’s required, they’ll be able to suggest additional features that could take your website to another level. Conversely, if your budget is too low, they’ll be able to suggest a way to dial things back.
Ongoing support and maintenance
Once your website is up and running, you’re bound to want some kind of maintenance in order to look after it. Website maintenance can include monitoring analytics, SEO optimisation, preventing broken links, ensuring browser updates don’t wreck your layout and a dozen other tweaks and fixes.
Your business might manage website maintenance internally, pay for infrequent ad-hoc updates, or require regular monitoring. Outline your requirements and expectations in this section.
Create a first-class website
Still with me? Well, thankfully that’s everything! You should have all you need to create a detailed and comprehensive website specification. With this guidance and the downloadable Web Specification Template below, you’ll be well on your way to creating a first-rate eCommerce platform. That said, if you’ve additional concerns or queries, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Happy planning!