Opening an online store or business comes with many challenges and benefits alike. For those who have managed brick and mortar businesses in the past, the ability to reach a larger audience and save money on a variety of other unavoidable costs makes online business an appealing dynamic. However, the lack of a personal connection with customers and the fact that bad customer experiences are amplified online can make the process frustrating as well.
For online businesses to be successful, a variety of criteria must be met. From having the proper inventory and targeting audiences effectively to supply stellar customer service, these challenges may feel familiar when compared to traditional businesses – but they pose new hurdles in the digital realm.
The only way online stores and businesses can be successful is by overcoming these obstacles and avoiding a variety of pitfalls that sink most other online brands. With that being said, which pitfalls are the most likely to derail your online business’ chances of success? We’ll look at these challenges today and help provide advice so you can avoid such a fate.
Inconsistent Stock & Inventory
Every online store – from mega-corporations like Amazon to fledgling first-time entrepreneurs – face some of the same challenges. One of the most universal aspects of having a successful business is balancing the amount of inventory with consumer demand. When stores buy too much, they end up with capital stuck in a product that might never sell. However, when stores don’t buy enough, even worse outcomes can happen.
Simply put, a big and popular company can navigate the realities of low or no inventory better than upstart businesses. With more competition than ever, consumers will simply look elsewhere if your online store doesn’t have what they need. It’s a delicate dance – but one that can be overcome with the right expertise and know-how.
Supply chain management is an essential component of any online store’s day-to-day operations. Pursuing a supply chain management master’s degree or similar educational program is a vital component of any entrepreneurial endeavor. A variety of businesses hire dedicated individuals with supply chain management master’s degrees, just to ensure elements such as vendor relations and inventory management remain optimized. Many new businesses can’t afford this, but learning how to properly manage inventory levels – through consumer research and market data – is a must.
Poor Customer Service
In a world where an unprecedented number of businesses are competing online for the same customers, there are few attributes that can set you apart from the competition. Arguably more important than anything with respect to first impressions, an effective customer service strategy can make or break your chances with any number of prospective customers.
Customer service interactions can occur before, during and after purchase. Not everybody who will make a purchase will require direct person-to-person interaction. Some who do reach out to your store may not ultimately buy anything. Nevertheless, there are multiple opportunities to make a good impression upon customers and window-shoppers alike: too many businesses fail to do so.
From ensuring that there are multiple, easy ways for shoppers to contact you, to follow up with customers if orders are being fulfilled more slowly than expected, online stores that fail in customer service tend to not last very long. Make sure that every customer and contact is made to feel welcome, appreciated and satisfied.
No Cohesive Marketing Strategy
Online stores and businesses – more so than non-profit websites – must rely upon sophisticated strategies to attract visitors and customers. Given that you are pitching products to shoppers rather than providing something of value for free, the likelihood of organic exposure (especially for small and/or new businesses) is small.
Many online stores begin throwing money at a variety of digital marketing efforts, including search engine ads and social media targeting. While these – and more – are viable forms of marketing, a comprehensive strategy must first be devised. By knowing how much should be spent and where it should be spent, a better plan can be formed. Additionally, research regarding your target audience must be compiled before any cohesive marketing strategy can be formulated.
A Lack of Customer Loyalty
The difference between a one-time customer and a returning customer is exponential. Depending on the niche and exact audience, returning customers can generate as much as ten times the profit for online businesses as one-time customers. The goal for most online stores is to snag as many returning customers as possible, as it’s simply good business sense. However, building a reliable base of returning customers requires building loyalty.
How do online stores and brands build loyalty? Good marketing, thorough customer service, competitive pricing and fast shipping times all help encourage customers to return time and time again. In short, following all of the other advice in this article will help online stores build stronger bonds with customers, thereby reinforcing brand loyalty.
High Product and Shipping Charges
Newer online stores, in particular, tend to have less clout in their niches. Likewise, they also tend to pay higher prices for the products they sell or the materials they use to manufacture products. The end result is that bigger companies can often out-compete them with respect to absolute prices. However, there is wiggle room – as long as online stores remember not to price gouge.
While it may not be possible to offer the lowest prices possible, offering lower prices can and does have an impact on purchasing decisions. A shopper may be willing to pay 5-10% more through a smaller online store they like than through a big-box retailer, but they probably will not be willing to pay 20-30% more. Balancing the difference between bigger competitors and company profit requires tedious experimentation.
Likewise, it has long been known that shipping costs can alienate shoppers more so than product prices. Even if the cost of shipping is factored into the product’s upfront price – with “free shipping” provided – customers are more likely to spend. Wherever possible, keep shipping costs low or eliminate them outright.
Getting off on the right foot when opening an online store or business requires careful planning and dedication. It also involves avoiding many of the biggest mistakes so many other stores make in their infancy. These five mistakes are among the situations you’ll want to avoid in order to have a successful, long-term online enterprise.