Putting up a website isn't really the hard part. Just about anyone can launch an online store and start selling products in a very short amount of time. But, there's potential bad news here, as well. As the common saying goes, the devil is in the details.
In fact, there is so much more to ecommerce than just selling products online. You have to build trust with your customers, streamline your order fulfillment process, secure your website, create and follow a content marketing and SEO strategy and much more.
The good news is that you can always learn from the past victories and failures of others. Here are five areas where ecommerce businesses often struggle, and how you can improve your own experience with each of them.
1. Building trust and loyalty with the customer
It doesn't matter how fancy your website looks: If you're just getting started in the online space, building trust and loyalty with the customer will often be a struggle.
Quite simply, this occurs because nobody knows who you are. People work with those they know, like and trust, and it can take time for a new site to get to that point. Recognize that people aren't automatically going to trust you with their personal information. The task before you is going to prove even tougher if you're trying to sell big-ticket items.
Similarly, it's hard to earn customers' loyalty unless you do a good job of impressing them up-front. There are plenty of online retailers in every niche, so you have to identify your competitive advantage to nurture customers over the long haul.
There are, however, a few simple ways to increase trust with visitors. You can display your address and phone number, pictures of your staff, customer testimonials and credibility badges. A blog can also help as you work to build trust.
As for loyalty, you may find it helpful to create loyalty programs in which your customers collect points. Since the points aren't transferable, your customers are less likely to go elsewhere for their purchases.
2. Website security
Many business owners never anticipate having to deal with hackers and security breaches. But if you're running an ecommerce business -- no matter how small it is -- you are a target and you need to start preparing for this eventuality.
If customers' sensitive information is leaked, you're going to have a hard time earning back their trust, and as we've already noted, building trust is tough enough as it is.
There are a variety of other things that can happen. Payments could be funneled off to another site. You could get locked out of your website and be unable to make any changes to it. The content on your site could be scrambled and tampered with.
Make sure to identify any potential weaknesses with your website, hosting provider and shopping-cart system. Changing your password on a regular basis is an absolute must. Customizing the installation of database-dependent elements is recommended. Also look into apps and software tools that can enhance the security of your platform.
3. Order fulfillment
It's not that order fulfillment is complicated. Rather, it's nuanced and idiosyncratic. Different products are going to need to be packed in different boxes. Some couriers are going to be faster and more reliable than others. Shipping logistics aren't always going to be obvious. And what might at first appear to be the fastest delivery method may turn out to be the slowest.
If you don't have your picking, packing and shipping process down to a science -- and this can take a while to figure out -- you're going to find it much harder to keep your customers happy. Fast order fulfillment is now an expected component of excellent customer service.
There are essentially four pieces to efficient shipping. The first is people. Your warehouse staffers need systems and checklists they can easily follow to get orders out the door more quickly. The second is software. You need a way to manage and track your inventory, and there are many tools you can use to achieve this end.
The third is hardware -- meaning the machines and tools that help with procuring products in the warehouse. And the fourth is logistics. This is usually a matter of partnering with the right couriers and mapping out efficient routes for the delivery of products.
You need to pay careful attention to each of these elements to make sure that your order fulfillment is as fast as it can be.
4. Returns, exchanges and refunds
These items go hand in hand with order fulfillment. You might have your picking, packing and shipping processes working like a well-oiled machine, but if you don't have a system for handling returns, exchanges and refunds, you might be caught off guard.
Returns, exchanges and refunds also tie in with customer service. If your goal is to create a great experience for your customers, you have to think about how to process returns, exchanges and refunds as quickly as possible.
Make sure to create a policy for each, and make it easy to find on your website. In some cases, you may choose to create a no-returns policy. This can work while your business is still small, but you shouldn't expect it to scale.
Whether or not you accept returns, exchanges and refunds, however, you still need a policy. This will guide employee conduct, and also put any customers' uneasy minds at ease.
5. Mobile commerce
Smartphone and tablet device use is through the roof. Unfortunately, many online retailers are not keeping up with this trend.
It isn't enough to make your website mobile friendly. You also need to optimize your checkout process, as this can be a major bottleneck. What may appear to be a completely streamlined process on a laptop or desktop computer can be painstaking and even broken on a mobile device.
In addition, you need to pay attention to the overall shopping experience you are offering. Is it easy to browse products and add them to a cart? Is it easy to navigate from one page to another? Is it easy for your customers to find what they're looking for?
If you want to make sure that you're delivering a great shopping experience on smartphones and tablets, thorough testing is a prerequisite. A mobile app is another great asset for your business.
Tremendous opportunity is available in ecommerce. And the more organized and prepared you are, the easier it will be for you to scale and grow.
It's important to be aware of these issues. You can deal with them as they arise, but that approach may slow your progress. For some online retailers, not paying attention to present challenges can actually be disastrous.
If you don't want to struggle, then, choose not to. Do everything in your power to prepare for growth at every stage of your business, and it will have a better chance to thrive.