Before You Open Up Shop: 5 Guidelines for a Functioning E-commerce Business

Whether you’re hoping to put your existing business on the Web or start a new online store, making the plunge into e-commerce can be rewarding. But it’s best to get your business started online properly.

In this post, we’ll look at some things to consider before opening an online store.

1. Let them help themselves

One of the major differences between traditional and online retail is that there is no physical person to go to for help. A potential customer could easily leave your site without buying your product or solution if they’re not convinced it meets their need. The trick is to give them all the information they need to make a purchase.

Because there’s no one physically there to help them make a purchase, you should help site visitors help themselves with material like sizing charts, product specifications, FAQ’s — anything that will help them answer their questions.

Not only will providing them comprehensive and accurate information help convince people they have the right product for their need, but it will also reduce the likelihood that a customer will be disappointed in a product because they were expecting something different.

2. Monitor and take part in discussions on external sites and social networks

The latest Harris Poll on consumer holiday shopping found that consumers seek out multiple sources of information in their gift planning and shopping process. As much as 10 per cent of consumers seek out the collective wisdom of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and blogs. You can find out what is being said about your company through this chatter, and even use it to help customers connect with your business to become a part of the conversation.

To integrate your expand your presence online, TopRank Online Marketing recommends (among other things) becoming active on the networks where your customers are, seeking out reactions to your business and competitors, and offering promotions through social media.

Making use of at least one of the resources available — such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube — can help you connect with customers, helping educate them, resolve problems, and show your corporate culture.

3. Manage your inventory

Storage and shipping is one of the major stress points of e-commerce. If you have the space and labour, you can store and ship products from your current location. Another popular option is using a fulfilment warehouse, which is basically a company that will store your inventory off-site, receive orders, package them, and ship them to the end consumer.

A fulfilment warehouse can be an efficient way to take care of your deliveries and manage your stock, according to Hallmark Consumer Services’ James Harper. Some fulfilment services companies make running your online store even easier by receiving orders from your e-commerce application automatically, and sending them off to the buyer. Harper also notes that the extra money that you make from sales and save from managing your own warehouse and shipping can offset the fulfilment service fees.

With storage and shipping taken care of by a third party, you can offer a more plentiful and varied stock of products than what can usually be achieved at your own location. Having more items in stock means that delivery won’t be delayed because products have run out. And the ability to have more products for sale could give you the diverse product catalog needed to appeal to niche consumers, which Wired editor Chris Anderson identified as a key business model in his theory of the Long Tail.

4. Have a policy for returns and exchanges

A solid return policy builds confidence in buyers and shows your commitment to customer service, according to Shopify’s Mark Hayes. Laying out a straightforward policy also makes the hassle of handling returns and exchanges more smoothly because there are no surprises for either you or your customers.

Hayes provides some valuable pointers such as accurately describing products so that customers don’t return items out of disappointment, not hiding return shipping and handling fees, giving a specific time frame in which returns are accepted, and specifying if a customer can expect to receive an exchange, store credit, or a cash return. It’s also important to train staff members in the returns policy so that they can be as helpful as possible to customers.

5. Don’t go overboard on e-commerce!

It can be a little disheartening for traditional businesses to see – at first – only a small number of online customers compared to their brick-and-mortar store or office.

Texas Web design firm A Divine Studio says that budding e-merchants should be aware that success can be elusive and take time, and not to ignore your core business. “If you do decide to make the investment [in e-commerce], make certain you go in with your eyes wide open, not expecting to be an overnight success,” they write. “Whatever you do, don’t place at risk what got you the measure of success you’ve enjoyed in your local market.”

It’s important to make sure your business is making its best use of all the channels it has available — and while many managers are excited about the opportunities of new ones, they should not automatically take precedence over old channels like in-person sales that may, in fact, be keeping the operation afloat.

Also, while e-commerce is often thought of as opening new markets and gaining new clients, we think e-commerce can help businesses strengthen their relationship with their existing customers too. It can be wise to market to your current customers who already know and believe in your store, so they know about the option of e-commerce, which can be more convenient than getting to your store. They’ll also be able to recommend your company to their social network peers, and can keep their loyalty even if they (or you!) move. Ultimately, e-commerce can add to the amount of shopping your current customers do with you , and even slow natural attrition and brand loyalty.

We think that e-commerce can be a great way for a new company to sell a product or service, or as a new channel for an existing business. A great e-commerce site can help provide the same high-quality experience to online visitors as they would get in-person, and it can give your business greater flexibility and the ability to quickly respond to customer needs. We hope this advice builds your confidence in your e-commerce endeavors.

Need more help with your e-commerce site design and strategy? Kobayashi Online is a one-stop digital marketing agency that can help make the e-commerce world friendly.

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