Various e-commerce businesses face unique challenges. Quick-fix advice for e-commerce success only scratches the surface of what distinguishes successful businesses from struggling ones. However, long-term successful e-commerce businesses share some characteristics. By dissecting these characteristics, newcomers to the e-commerce world can enter with a handy toolkit of tricks and tips for thriving in this digital marketplace.
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1. Make Your Company Stand Out
Why should a client come to you? Do you sell limited-edition merchandise? Do you have the best price? Is your customer service exceptional?
The answers to these “heartfelt” business questions will lead you to develop your USP, or “unique selling proposition.” Every company must distinguish itself. You cannot expect to sell everything to everyone as an e-commerce business.
You might be shaking your head and pointing to Amazon.com at this point. Everything from used books to fresh shrimp is available here. And, of course, if you believe you have what it takes to become the next Amazon, go for it. But first, consider how many other business examples you can think of that serve a similarly broad purpose. Your company’s ability to stand for something specific in the minds of customers is likely to be critical.
One way to differentiate your company is to solve at least one customer problem, preferably one that no one else is solving.
2. Get Your Technology in Order
With the kind of robust e-commerce software and hosting available these days, there is no excuse for ineffective e-commerce websites. It is not enough to have a bug-free website when it comes to technology. It is also about leveraging technology to achieve business objectives.
For example, it was once common for e-commerce businesses to include a blog on their website. Many of those blogs now appear to be neglected graveyards. Those sites would benefit from either committing to keeping a compelling, up-to-date blog or deleting it entirely. Similarly, there are numerous e-commerce businesses that view SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as the panacea to all of their problems. That is an example of the tail wagging the dog—SEO is an important tool, but improving search engine rankings won’t help if the site’s landing page is riddled with bugs or contains outdated information.
3. Customers should not be forced to run in circles.
A business should make purchases as easy as possible, according to common sense. Surprisingly, some e-commerce websites make the purchase process more difficult. Instead of simplifying the process, they require first-time visitors to fill out a registration form, verify the registration via an email link, log in using the registration credentials, and then click through a series of up-sell attempts before reaching the purchase page.
Even successful e-commerce businesses may discover that half (or more!) of their customers abandon their shopping carts before paying. When an e-commerce company isn’t friendly to customers, the conversion rate plummets even further. The message is clear: many customers are tired of going in circles.
4. Protect Your Supply Chain
Order fulfillment occurs behind the scenes, but when a component of the supply chain fails, customers are affected. Incorrect, damaged, delayed, or missing merchandise can lead to a customer never returning to you.
Because supply chain management predates e-commerce, there is no scarcity of dependable service providers who can manage sourcing, fulfillment, and other aspects of supply. All e-commerce businesses outsource some of their supply chain, but you cannot outsource your customer responsibility. Every outsourcing partnership must be strategic—if something goes wrong, the customer will blame your company, not the supply chain.
5. Be Budget-conscious
E-commerce businesses are tempted to reduce gross margins to single digits in order to increase sales. This cannot be sustained. All e-commerce businesses are under pressure to reduce their prices. Price wars have plagued the history of e-commerce, with some leading to the demise of major players.
Some companies set their prices high, while others offer steep discounts. However, when it comes to cost management, opposing viewpoints are not permitted. Only e-commerce businesses with efficient cost-cutting procedures will thrive. Know your product, know your customer, and base your pricing on a thorough business plan. Don’t let the desire for increased sales volume drive your decisions.