Mar 1, 2013

Don’t be surprised by customers

When you launch a new E-commerce web site above all else there is one thing you need to be ready to face: Customers.

That might sound like a “Duh-uh” comment, but not every E-commerce operator is as prepared as they should be when their new store goes online and the first order (or ten or fifty orders) appears in their control panel. Turning those early orders into happy customers sometimes proves an unexpected challenge for even experienced retail business people.

Preparing a new online store for operation demands a lot of attention. If you’re not organized in advance, small details can be left undone. And it only takes a couple of small details to add up to a bigger problem.

Orders aren’t secrets

Does everyone in your organization who you plan to have ‘in the loop’ have the appropriate access to your store’s control panel? For single-person operations it’s not a big deal, but in a larger business all of the people involved need to be able to see their part of the puzzle. For general site security, it’s not a good idea to distribute the main administrative login credentials to everybody – so the people who will be responsible for processing and fulfilling orders (and any other store-related functions) need to have separate login accounts that allow them access only to the functions they need.

A quick note: If third-party sources like drop-shippers or fulfillment services are critical to your operation, DO NOT depend entirely upon store-generated e-mails to deliver order information to them. If possible, they should have their own console access to the information they need and a protocol in place for regular account service. If that can’t be arranged, you should at the very least follow up by phone call to check on a summary of all orders placed each day.

Plan for the best

Are the items you have for sale actually ready to be sold? Do you (or your fulfillment partner) have your products in stock and do you have procedures in place for shipping? You and your staff need to be prepared for orders, just like a retail business has to be ready when the first customer walks through the door.

Take a moment to think about what would happen if you got 100 orders on your first day online. You’re tempted to think “that would be a great problem to have” – but I’ll point out that it IS a problem if you’re not prepared. If you can’t process orders accurately and ship products quickly, customer enthusiasm (and orders) might drain away before you know it – and then you’ll have a long haul to regain their confidence.

Get coordinated

Ideally, your site’s E-commerce engine will have features designed to interact with the systems you use for inventory management and customer care. Very expensive solutions may have some of these systems built in, but that’s atypical. E-commerce programmers tend to concentrate on E-commerce, and build in the common data interfaces that you need to exchange information with ‘off line’ programs dedicated to inventory, bookkeeping and marketing.

If you run a retail business in addition to an E-commerce site, then coordinating customer information becomes a more critical process. Centralizing contact information and purchase histories can be very helpful in the development of successful online marketing campaigns.

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