The advantages of ecommerce get hyped a lot — low startup costs, little overhead. All you need is a product, a website and a 3PL to ship your product, and you’ll be the next Zappo’s, Dollar Shave Club or Casper, right?
Well, no, not exactly. That oversimplified thinking might explain why eight out of 10 ecommerce startups fail. Even without a storefront, an e-commerce business is still a business, and entrepreneurs must address just about every issue that a brick-and-mortar business faces.
Online retailers who’ve made it, and made it big, say that running a successful e-commerce company requires as much strategic thinking as any other business. They’ll also tell you that it’s essential to understand how and why consumers buy online, and how to develop websites, social media and distribution systems that align with consumer habits and preferences.
If you want to be among the 20 percent of ecommerce companies that succeed, here are some best practices to follow.
A customer who walks into a well-organized store with attractively displayed merchandise is going to be more inclined to make a purchase. In ecommerce, your website is your store, so make it a virtual treat, a pleasurable place to visit where visitors feel comfortable and find it easy to “walk” around.
One must-do: Top quality photos of your product, along with detailed descriptions. The best stores also have friendly, helpful staff. Make sure it is easy for online customers to reach you by including contact information prominently throughout a website. Don’t make them search for your toll-free number.
Again, stores with a streamlined checkout process—from quick and easy checkout to departments that are well defined by signage and other visuals—appeal to customers. Websites should do the same. Put time and effort into developing an online purchasing system that allows customers to check out quickly with as few steps as possible. Try to avoid shipping and other fees, if possible. If you do need to add fees, make sure they are clear up front, otherwise, a lot of your customers will abandon their shopping carts when they realize they are being charged these fees.
Make sure your website is designed for mobile users. It makes no sense to design for a desktop or laptop screen when 45 percent of online shoppers use their smartphone or tablet to shop and buy online. That percentage is expected to increase to almost 54 percent by 2021.
A great product and a well-designed website are, of course, essential to an online business, but that’s not enough. Just as traditional stores have always promoted themselves with advertising in newspapers and magazines and commercials on television and radio, an online retail business has to market itself. Social media channels allow online retailers to market in many different ways and to more targeted audiences. And, although social media may be less expensive than traditional forms of advertising, it is not free and requires an investment in time as staff must keep up with the latest social media options and learn how to use them effectively. That’s one reason some small companies find it more effective to hire a professional marketing firm to manage their social media.
Social media is the new word of mouth. For example, if you sell online and people love your products and customer service you provide, social media gives them the opportunity to share their experiences. They might do reviews, make comments, shoot pictures or video to show how they use that new beach umbrella that they bought from your online store. One channel that is well worth learning more about is Instagram, second only to Facebook in use, with 1 billion monthly active users and 500 million who use it everyday.
As Instagram has grown in popularity it has also added important new features. One of them allows online retailers to imbed links in photos that take followers directly to the product on their website. Called Shoppable Posts, it is available to most companies (check this list to see the types of products that canned use this feature). Studies show that 60 percent of Instagram users find new products through the platform more and 75 percent of them are inspired to take action after they see a post on Instagram.
Fulfillment–the process of receiving, packaging and shipping customer orders — is sometimes treated as an afterthought by online retailers. They typically handle this business function themselves for a time, but as their business grows, often, they can’t keep up. And let’s face it, making tons of sales won’t matter if you can’t deliver your product in a quick and professional manner.
Successful ecommerce companies realize that they need a 3PL professional when it comes to fulfillment. A good fulfillment partner provides many advantages–the ability to negotiate better shipping fees, expertise in packaging varied products, skills at creating systems for returns, the capacity to easily increase or decrease needed warehouse space for clients and computerized inventory management systems that provide valuable sales and marketing information to their ecommerce clients.
As an integrated marketing company, we can assist ecommerce companies with all aspects of their business–from website design to shipping product to customers.
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