The digital economy is open for business and e-commerce volume sales are just getting bigger and better year on year.
But what if you haven't got your e-commerce strategy right and your online selling techniques are not as successful as you would wish?
Setting up, managing and developing an e-commerce business is an ongoing, exciting challenge not for the faint hearted. But, you need to do it. Profits for Morrisons Supermarket have suffered in recent years because the company failed to give customers an online shopping experienc, unlike most of its rivals. Many more small businesses are now waking up to the opportunities. The growth of social media has introduced different and creative ways to target your potential customers. I want to share some of the commercial challenges about an online presence which we've identified and which we know SMEs and SOHO business are facing too.
1. Lack of strategic direction
Fail to plan, plan to fail! Any business strategy requires proper research, planning and the right execution to help deliver important business aims and to meet the needs of customers. After all, without customers you don't have a business.
Your organisation's website is a shop window looking into cyber street. So, your e-commerce strategy needs to engage your target audience and meet its expectations. How it looks, feels and ease of use all give the feel good factor about your brand, products or services. Think about compliance and how you can build good practice into a smarter commercial brand that gives your customers confidence in your e-commerce. Remember that if you aren't doing it your competitors probably are - and shouting about it too!
2. Failure to manage customers
Do you put yourself in the shoes of your customer? You can't sit in an ivory tower presuming you know what your customers want. Presumption is a business killer.
Management reports on how customers are using your e-commerce platform are your best friend. Learn from customer experiences, preferences and behaviours to help improve your online presence. You can use analytical tools like Google Analytics to track the browsing behaviour of your website visitors. What interests your customers? Have you surveyed them? Tap into customer data regularly to make informed management decisions. Leverage social media, newsletters and subscribe to blogs. Undertake personal direct marketing campaigns to keep your customers informed of the latest information about your products and services. Ask them how you can improve your online presence based upon their business and personal lifestyles.
3. Lack of personalisation
How many times has a website given you an impersonal email address, such as [email protected] or [email protected] to contact the business? Sure, cold, regimented businesses processes are what drive the organisation. But your customers don't need to see them.
One size does not fit all. Your website should offer a variety of products, prices and styles for different customer segments to increase sales. Just as you would if you were operating offline.
Provide differentiated pricing and promotions for the various entry/point of sale sections of your website (as you would promote your product/service offline). Tailor the online experience as much as possible by allowing your visitors to tell you in detail what interests them. You can also use their past behaviour to create personalised communications that show their interests. There are many options depending on the outcomes you wish you do. Personalisation is a powerful tool that can be very rewarding when done correctly and can boost your e-commerce significantly.
4. No incentives
It's no secret that promotions boost sales. Customers often go online because they're looking for a bargain.
If you don't offer incentives you may be losing out to your competition. Offer seasonal promotions, sales and loyalty programmes which offer perks. Online tools like social media and email give the perfect platforms to share these incentives. You don't always have to consider offering discounts. Free shipping and free returns are just as rewarding to your customers.
5. Poor user experience
There's lots of e-commerce websites out there all vying for our attention. Don't overcomplicate your user experience. Keep your website clean, fresh and simple. Your users don't need to see the advanced back-end, however impressive it is. A well designed, easy-to-use website will always enhance your e-commerce strategy.
Give clear details about your products and services. Provide your customer with all the tools they need to make that all important purchase. Have you got a help section with often asked questions? Display contact details should they need to speak with one of your customer representatives.
One website feature often used (and which really annoys me) is taking users through a long process of help and advice before giving a telephone number or email address. Internet is instant information. Hiding contact details in this way tells me I'm unimportant; yet, the site is quite happy to take my money.
Focus on and cater for, your target audience is one of the sure ways to avoid e-commerce failure and to enhance your online presence.
6. Inadequate payment gateways
Ensure your payment gateways are simple to use and provide Secure Socket Layer (SSL) security. My financial information is precious so I expect e-commerce gateways to acknowledge this!
Limited payment options, complicated check-out process and poor post-transaction communications may stop your customers from coming back again. Make sure your customers are able to download a receipt for record of purchase. Take them to a personalised 'thank you' page once the transaction is completed. It adds a nice touch to your customers' experience.
7. Poor technology
As an Internet business we're well aware that a poorly maintained, slow loading and out-of-date website will reflect badly upon the business brand. E-commerce technologies are evolving constantly so it's important to keep up with the latest innovations. Build product comparison capabilities, product reviews, 1-click shopping carts, social media tools into your e-commerce platform.
Robust website technology also streamlines your distribution, simplifies stock control and increases overall organisational efficiency through integration with CRM and accounting databases and platforms. Taking care of these can help to cut your overall working and management costs, thus improving the effectiveness of your online presence.
8. Chasing trends
Don't fall into the trap of keeping up with cutting-edge trends just for the sake of appearances. Chase trends only if they enhance customer experience and support your business aims. For example, mobile enterprise and mobile working are emerging business practices but they need careful consideration before you commit any investment.
Always refer back to your business strategy and build firm foundations based upon careful judgment. Yet make sure that your strategy is flexible enough to allow for new applications, tools and platforms.
9. No trust in your online presence
Trust and confidence among your customer is essential. Online trust is not just an issue about IT security - it's the package about your cyber presence. Yet SMEs and SOHO businesses have a problem in that a lack of personal brand may stop customers from purchasing products and services from them. Instead, customers may turn to the bigger brands even though you may offer a better deal.
Not only do you need to think about using encryption to protect sensitive information during the transaction process, but also whether you have complied with e-commerce laws and regulations. E RADAR's Cyber Law Tracker gives you a list of those laws and regulations which are important in managing your online presence.
Privacy policies, terms and conditions, copyright and business information notices can all help enhance your online business brand and promote trust and confidence among your users. Provide product tracking capabilities for your customers and have a testimonial page so that your customers can give feedback on how well you have done.
Licensing a trustmark for your website is also a good way of building trust. E RADAR is developing a set of trustmarks to help support your online business brand.
10. Expect Customers to Find You
Don't expect! Sitting back and waiting for your customers to land on your website is not a good strategy for e-commerce success. It takes time to build website ranking and a following using social media tools, such as Twitter and Pinterest.
How does a potential customer find your website? You must support e-commerce with marketing and advertising if you want to make a success of it. Use key word tools, search engine marketing, optimisation and social media strategies to push your website up the rankings. Make sure you business brand gives a consistent message.