It’s becoming more clear every day that eCommerce is the future of retail shopping. Even successful traditional brick-and-mortar stores have found that they can’t remain competitive without an online presence.
For aspiring business owners, eCommerce offers a number of benefits over traditional retail. There’s less overhead associated with eCommerce, which means it’s easier for new online stores to get off the ground. Customers are increasingly expressing a preference for online shopping, so online stores are poised to do more business in the future. Plus, eCommerce stores are far more scalable than traditional retail business models.
Not all online stores are equally successful, though, and with so many new eCommerce storefronts popping up all the time, it’s easy for new business owners to feel overwhelmed and lost in the crowd. They can read on to find out about five of the factors that differentiate successful online stores from those destined for failure and get help with applying those lessons to their own business models.
1. Provide Consistent Results
Customers expect the same level of service from online stores than they get at brick-and-mortar retail establishments. They expect to place an order for a product, then receive the correct item on time. If online stores can’t provide consistent results, they’ll lose customers.
Dissatisfied customers won’t just start shopping elsewhere after receiving an incorrect, damaged, or late order. They’ll also tell their friends, coworkers, and family members about the experience, at a minimum, and may even take it upon themselves to damage the store’s online reputation. Correct and timely order fulfillment should be considered an absolute necessity for eCommerce merchants, so those who haven’t come up with an effective and efficient way to store, pack, and ship products should check out their options at Fulfillment.com before making any other changes.
2. Remove Friction from Checkout
Cart abandonment is one of the top reasons that online stores lose business. The average rate of cart abandonment is staggeringly high, but there are a few steps that eCommerce merchants can take to alleviate this common problem. What they all boil down to is removing friction from the checkout process and making it easy for customers to place orders.
Before making any changes, business owners should evaluate their current checkout processes. If they require customers to create accounts, click through a multitude of screens, fill out unnecessary form fields, or input billing and shipping information each time they make new purchases, customers may start heading elsewhere to make online purchases. It’s also important to ensure that customers have their pick of common payment options, including not just credit cards and debit cards, but also PayPal.
3. Optimize for Mobile Use
The majority of U.S. consumers now own smartphones, and experts predict that this will drive a shift toward mobile-optimized eCommerce, sometimes referred to as “m-commerce.” Currently, only around a quarter of online shoppers use their phones to make purchases. Some consumers dislike having to navigate websites, investigate products, and make purchases on a smaller screen, preferring to do their shopping at home on laptop or desktop computers, but consumer preferences are changing and m-commerce is expected to overtake traditional eCommerce sales in the near future.
Online merchants can keep up with this trend by optimizing their eCommerce stores for mobile use. That doesn’t just mean changing layouts. It can also mean creating shopping apps, integrating functions, and using mobile-friendly SEO strategies to make it easier for potential customers to find the store on their cell phones or tablets. It’s a mistake to think that interested buyers will wait until they get home if they find a product they like on an online storefront but can’t easily navigate the checkout process. Instead, they’re more likely to turn to a competitor.
Online store owners should expect to focus more on mobile customers in the near future and start making changes to their storefront designs now to accommodate that fact.
4. Understand the Customer Base
Defining and getting to know the target audience should be every retail store owner’s first step, but many eCommerce merchants underestimate how important it is for online businesses. There’s no reason to market to consumers who will never be converted into loyal customers. Instead, define the intended customer base first before coming up with a marketing plan to produce a better return on investment.
Successful online stores are always designed with a specific demographic in mind, just like brick-and-mortar retail stores cater to different crowds. The difference is that with a brick-and-mortar store, potential customers may just happen by the storefront and be enticed in by its design, signage, or advertisements. With online stores, business owners have to invest money in every ad. Ads that target the wrong demographics are a waste of money, so don’t underestimate how important it is to understand the store’s customer base.
5. Focus on Testimonials and Reviews
The vast majority of online shoppers look to other customers for guidance before making any serious purchases. If they don’t know anyone personally who can offer recommendations, they’ll turn to third-party review sites or testimonials on the store’s website. The best way to encourage positive reviews is to make it easy for satisfied customers to create and share user testimonials and cross-post them to different review sites.
No matter how good an online store’s advertising copy is, it won’t replace genuine reviews or testimonials from satisfied customers. Savvy consumers take what others say about a product or store much more seriously than what the business says about itself, and online presence is all eCommerce merchants have to rely on when it comes to building a reputation. Make sure to leverage positive reviews and customer feedback.
The Bottom Line
Getting an eCommerce store off the ground isn’t easy, but those who are willing to put in the work to research target audiences, optimize online storefronts, and provide customer service that’s really something to write home about will be poised for success.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of third-party services, but make sure to research each provider thoroughly before deciding who to work with. If online merchants want to keep customers coming back, they need to make sure everything goes smoothly from the customer’s first click on a paid ad to the timely delivery of the product to his or her doorstep.