For many of us, the idea that we can be our own boss and follow our personal interests by starting a business is a pursuit that is well worth exploring. While there is never any guarantee that our new enterprise will be immediately successful, evidence suggests that engaging with the ecommerce sector can yield impressive results. It’s certainly one of the more accessible startup models.
That’s not to say that the online marketplace is without its challenges. There are elements of the ecommerce sector which can lead to difficulties both in the short term and in terms of overall ambitions. Certain obstacles are rather common and predictable enough to allow the intelligent entrepreneur to plan accordingly.
The truly hazardous challenges are those that crop up unexpectedly, blindsiding us to the extent that we react inappropriately, perhaps crippling our business. Of course, we are not entirely powerless to prepare for these. Doing a little digging into the potential range of problems can uncover solutions that will serve you and your business well.
Whether you’re diving in full-time or just dipping a toe into ecommerce as your side hustle, one advantage of online retail is that you don’t necessarily need to have product on hand. Dropshipping and third-party suppliers ensure that you can keep your overheads low.
These methods rely on a certain amount of trust on your part; while dropshipped products may look good in pictures, you can’t always guarantee that what you see and what the consumer receives will be the same. Let’s face it: you also can’t always rely on reviews to be accurate.
In these third-party supplier situations, there is no point during the sales process at which you handle the goods yourself, so your ability to undertake frequent quality control is taken out of the equation. One solution to this is to order product samples before adding them to your store. While this may represent some up-front cost on your part, it allows you to review the goods before committing to them, and improve your ability to provide an accurate description on your website. This approach also doubles as a marketing opportunity where you can produce product showcase videos that can help drive user engagement.
When you don’t control the production of goods, it can also be difficult to accurately control the availability of your inventory, which sometimes results in customers becoming disappointed by cancelled orders or unexpectedly delayed delivery periods. When you’re dealing with a third-party manufacturer, it’s important whenever possible to build a relationship with your supplier and foster an open dialogue—discuss your popular products, and have them keep you abreast of any difficulties in the manufacture and distribution areas. This can help you to more accurately forecast your perceived inventory, and keep your customers’ expectations realistic.
Consumer Conduct and Engagement
Your most important resource when it comes to ecommerce is your customers. While it is tempting to take the old adage of “the customer is always right” as gospel, by not preparing customer-caused problems, you could be setting yourself up for failure. The obvious issue can come in the form of complaints, but there are other ways in which your customers can affect your trajectory toward success.
Customer spending habits may seem to favor ecommerce in general, but some online retailers mistakenly assume that their biggest challenge lies in getting as many eyes as possible on their product. In actuality, one of the most important factors impacting the success of your store is customer loyalty.
Some of the best ways to address this challenge are with good marketing practices: personalize their experience with friendly emails and direct inquiries about purchases, provide live support, and set up a loyalty program that provides varied and fun rewards. Having a buyer purchase a single item from your store is nice, but if you can get some of your users to continually invest in you, you're building the framework for a sustainable business model.
No business person likes to think that their customers would be anything less than honest in their dealings with you, but it’s an unfortunate fact that consumer fraud can crop up in ecommerce. Credit card fraud and identity theft can be issues for online retailers, but chargeback fraud is a particularly tricky situation. Chargeback fraud occurs when a customer purchases an item from you, then requests a chargeback from their bank after receiving the goods by claiming they didn’t receive them, or the card purchase wasn’t authorized.
Solutions to chargeback fraud include ensuring you use a reputable payment processor that utilizes measures such as address verification (AVS), finding a payment processor that provides seller protection, and, whenever possible, shipping via tracked delivery services.
Approach to Platform Accessibility
While there are many great platforms and templates available to ecommerce entrepreneurs, getting your storefront ship shape can still be a challenging aspect of your business.
It’s certainly wise to engage some design sensibility to make your shop attractive and engaging, but there are other factors which require your attention. The platform you use to sell your items should be treated as an easy, positive gateway for customers to explore what you have to offer and have a positive buying experience.
Internet shoppers having gotten used to being able to access the goods they want with absolute convenience. Don’t underestimate their ability to be put off of purchasing something because you haven’t made it easy enough for them to access.
Make any forms they have to fill easy to complete and simple to understand, make variable product options clear, and include the option of autocompletion for shipping addresses. Anything you can do to help guide your consumer smoothly through a transaction will leave a great impression that may encourage customers to return.
While registration is useful for your marketing and analytical needs, it can also be a mistake to make this a requirement of purchase. Insisting that customers register with you makes the purchasing process more lengthy, and users can see it as an irritating and unnecessary step.
Instead, allow them to go through the purchasing process, and afterwards suggest they register to save time in the future; this leaves the customer with a positive experience, while advertising the benefits of returning to you in the future.
Ecommerce is a thriving industry, and the variety of platforms available can make starting a new business a viable option for most of us. However, as the industry progresses, new and unexpected challenges to the online entrepreneur can present themselves, and those who are unprepared can suffer serious setbacks.
By keeping abreast of industry developments and frequently reviewing our business practices, we can continue to devise creative solutions that will benefit the marketplace as it expands.