The e-commerce market is so big that many people figure they can get a small slice of the pie, or else get swallowed by the competition. Start-ups come and go, and that's basically because many had a "50 percent" attitude toward their online stores. They didn't do what was needed to make it a success.
That's what we'll be talking about today.
First off, let's deal with the one fact that's always in your face no matter what type of business you go into: you have to work hard. There is no such thing as easy money...well, not in the long term, anyway. Sure, you could luck out on a wildly popular product that will make you lots of money and get plenty of attention, but it isn't sustainable if you don't plan for the “what next?” Think Pet Rocks. Think Flappy Bird. Think child actors.
Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are the basic things you need to do to make your e-commerce store (or business) a success.
Test the Product
You really need to be your own worst critic. Remember that your customers are buying the product on faith; they can't hold it, smell it, or test it, so you have to do the QA for them. As a dropshipper, you don't usually have the stock on hand, but you can at least get a sample. Note what could be improved, what the potential problems could be, and whether it works as it should. Include these in your product description so your customers know what to expect. If it really sucks, then you don't have to sell it.
If you're upfront with them, it may cost some sales initially, but ultimately you will build trust and sell more products in the future. Remember, your customer is the one thing that can make or break your business. You will also experience fewer returns for misrepresentation and avoid negative feedback (the latter of which is a quick way to ruin your reputation).
If you're dropshipping from China, the most common problem isn't with the product per se (folks tend to have a laid-back attitude when they buy items made in China), but with the instruction manuals which are next to useless unless your customers are fluent in Mandarin. That's not a big deal if you're selling something that doesn't have to be assembled, or so simple that you don't really need instructions, but otherwise you have to do something about a crappy manual. You can make your own set of instructions and upload it for your customers. Doing so is a lot easier if you've already tested the product.
Establish a System
Even if you don't have your own store and are only selling on sites like eBay, you should already have a system in place to handle your orders. Have the right packaging handy, and the numbers for your delivery companies on speed dial. You should also be aware of:
- Applicable taxes.
- Customs duties.
- Brokerage fees.
- And all those other annoying must-haves for local and international purchases.
While you're at it, establish how to handle returns, exchanges, and refunds, especially if you're dropshipping. It's not as simple to keep up with everything when you don't handle your own inventory. Find out the returns policies of your suppliers and adjust your prices accordingly.
Make sure that your customer service is exemplary, even if it is only via email or chat. Respond to inquiries promptly and courteously. Make your customers feel important even if they're only buying low-value products. Most people appreciate it when they receive attention. They are less likely to complain about problems they encounter and more likely to make another purchase.
It is sometimes cheaper to simply replace a low-value item if it's defective or an incorrect, rather than having the customer ship it back to you. You'll be out the cost of the replacement, but you gain the goodwill of your customer.
Reward Repeat Customers
Remember what we said about the value of giving attention to your customer? Nothing beats showing appreciation for your regulars. Take note of anyone who buys from you more than once, and give them freebies on their next order, and again after their 5th or 6th order. You can also offer them exclusive discounts, or coupons that are truly exclusive (and not just called that to sound fancy). The idea is to reward the behavior you like. Think of yourself as an e-commerce Pavlov, slowly conditioning your customers with free stuff.
It's like having a loyalty card but without the hassle. Just create a spreadsheet listing your customers and track those who have given you repeat business. You'll be amazed at how positively they react to such small gestures.
In lieu of freebies, you can offer them free shipping, with no strings attached (like a minimum purchase amount). If they already paid for the shipping, issue them a refund and inform them after the fact. It'll be a pleasant surprise and generate a ton of goodwill.
Spread the Word
You can really improve your click-through rate by promoting your products on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogs. You can do this by posting an offer, guest blogging, or by encouraging your customers to post reviews on your e-commerce store, which you can then feed into your store's social network pages. If you're not sure how to integrate social media into your e-commerce store, check this article out.
People rely heavily on reviews when purchasing online, but a product that has only positive reviews become suspect (even if they are all authentic). Therefore, don't delete posts or comments that point out some of the problems with the products. These make your positive reviews that much more believable.
Avoid the Hard Sell
The tendency of most e-commerce sellers is to try to hold on to visitors in a death grip, hence the “are you sure?” pop-up windows that can be super annoying. If they clicked away from your website it's because they didn't find anything interesting in it, so hounding them as they are going out the door will only harden their resolve to get away as soon as possible. Instead of trying to get them to stay, make them want to stay by making your store entertaining, attractive, and easy to use. Avoid large graphics that takes ages to load (the average browser will only wait 3 seconds before moving on) and regularly populate your pages with relevant, search-optimized content to keep you in the forefront of search engine results. Construct your site so there is a natural progression toward conversion.
Facebook and Twitter have come up with a “buy” feature that lets a user purchase directly on the social media platform, instead of being redirected to your site. The beauty of this is usability. Fewer steps between “want” and “buy” equals a higher chance of making a sale. The trade-off is you lose out on the chance to get them on your beautiful website and perhaps make multiple sales. Weigh the pros and cons before deciding to jump on that particular bandwagon.
This is not a comprehensive list, but these are the things you can do no matter whether you're thinking of starting an e-commerce store or if you've been at it for a while. In the end, the whole point is to foster a relationship with your customers that will result in higher satisfaction for them and more conversions for you.
What tactics have you used to drive your e-commerce venture to the next level? Share your triumphs in the comments.