E-commerce sales are enduringly popular and here at Sofeast a number of our clients sell products that way. With the latter in mind, here are a few tips to help you get better results…
What are some common challenges e-commerce sellers face during the product development phase, and how can they overcome them?
Let’s refresh ourselves on the NPI process:
In the first half of the NPI process (until end of prototyping), our advice is generally as follows:
- Resist going into “solution mode” during early design work.
- Take your time to do market research and get feedback from your potential/target customer base about the product before you go too far into development (we discussed market research in more detail in this episode of our podcast).
- Focus on product reliability/durability which can sometimes be underestimated when designing and developing a new product. Some products have figuratively (and sometimes literally) crashed and burned because of poor reliability and bad reviews.
- Also pay attention to product safety & compliance aspects, too, as a non-compliant product that turns out to be unsafe could be barred from sale in your target market and you, not the manufacturer, may be heavily fined or even prosecuted if customers are put in danger.
In the 2nd half of the NPI process (transfer into manufacturing and first mass production batches) we usually suggest following these guidelines:
- Do proper DFM to avoid issues caused by products that turn out to be hard to assemble and manufacture, such as increased costs, poor performance, waste, longer lead times, and more.
- Have patience with the manufacturer, this will resist the temptation to skip steps in order to get to market faster (see later).
- Trust the process.
- Resist the suggestions from Chinese OEMs to skip steps, even if it means that your costs may be higher. The cost of poor quality and reliability are significant, and likely to be far higher than the cost of completing a comprehensive NPI process (learn more about the dangers of skipping NPI steps here).
When it comes to product sourcing and manufacturing, how to strike the right balance between quality, cost-effectiveness, & timely delivery?
Striking the right balance depends on the manufacturing situation and relationship each e-commerce seller finds themselves in:
- Private labelling of off-the-shelf products (e-commerce seller is a ‘distributor’)
You should focus on your quality standard, qualifying the manufacturer (systems but also fit), and setting up an enforceable manufacturing contract.
- ODM + your own tweaks to their existing design
You’ll be more “engaged” with this supplier, so go deeper in due diligence and spend the time to meet regularly in China or whichever country they’re in (or if you can’t fly, at least send a third party to audit them periodically on your behalf).
- You’re designing and developing your own new product from scratch
Do some of the R&D work on your side (that’s especially true of the app for electronic devices using one) rather than leaving it to a supplier and then there’s a lower risk of them claiming the design as their own. Then perform thorough due diligence to find suitable suppliers and then engage the chosen manufacturer relatively early for them to do DFM work and sourcing the components. Don’t forget to nail down who owns the intellectual property such as the product design files, BOM information, tooling, etc, at this point in an enforceable product development and manufacturing contract.
How to achieve more with less when it comes to product development?
Forget about the idea that there are shortcuts…instead think about mistakes to avoid. When developing your new product it’s effectiveness before efficiency.
Even if you are not a large business, following the comprehensive NPI process you can see above in the graphic is so important as your risks multiply whenever a step is skipped or even not given enough attention. Risks such as:
- Designing a product that can’t be manufactured at scale, can’t be made for your target price, or will always be plagued by massive quality issues.
- Going into manufacturing with a factory that is the wrong fit for you.
- Launching a product that fails too early in the hands of users.
Related topics to read more about
Here are a few links to blog posts you might also like:
- A Textbook on Design for Manufacturing and the NPI Process (EVT-DVT-PVT)
- From Prototype to Production: 7 Pitfalls for Tech Products
- How Many Prototypes Are Needed Before We Get ‘Perfection?’
- Exploring Product Safety & Reliability Issue Liability
- Sourcing & Manufacturing In China For E-Commerce Sellers [Interview By Proboxx]