Getting your new E-commerce store up and running is only half the fun. Once that’s done – then you’ve got to figure out how to efficiently run your store in order to maximize your bottom line.
Very little of it qualifies as rocket science. In fact, most of it is nothing more than running to ground a bunch of little issues – any one of which can cause endless headaches for your new enterprise. As with most things business, what you’ll soon discover is that the devil is in the details.
Here are a few ‘best practices’ tips that will help get your E-commerce operation headed in the right direction.
1. Put somebody in charge. Running your E-commerce site can consume a surprising amount of time. An online store requires constant care and feeding – and inside your business someone should have the ‘official’ responsibility of keeping up with it. If your business is very small you likely don’t have any choice. But the larger your business, the more urgent the need becomes to delegate your E-commerce site’s operation to someone who can dedicate the required time to the task on a daily basis.
2. Monitor your “drops”. Dropped transactions and abandoned shopping carts are the bane of any E-commerce operation. Fortunately, over the past few years online commerce applications have become so dependable that technology – the dreaded browser crash – is no longer the main culprit in most drops. Rather, abandoned shopping carts now more frequently result from either the onset of consumer cold feet or, worse, customer frustration with something encountered on your E-commerce site. Either way, you want to gather as much information as possible about the problem and try to get it resolved. Ideally, your E-commerce software should provide you with data on abandoned or incomplete transactions.
Systems that require user registration may even provide you with contact information for the customers who abandon their carts. If your system provides you with such info, treat it like gold and follow up immediately via email. You just might salvage a sale after all.
3. Keep it fresh. Your site will thrive on returning customers, but you generally have to give them a reason to return. New products, new featured items or new specials should all play key roles in your marketing scheme. Your customers aren’t alone in their appreciation of ‘new’. Search engines give better ranking to sites with dynamic content – and what could be more dynamic than a store with constantly-updated inventory? Most E-commerce applications are turbo-charged content-management engines with dollar signs attached and you can take advantage of that dynamic power to keep your site interesting. Some of the available ‘stock’ applications even include built-in tools that allow you to create ‘straight’ content pages for your site. If your solution includes that capability, you need to take advantage of it as often as possible. Providing your customers (and the search engines) with information associated with your products can prove extremely valuable to your long-term efforts at building site traffic.
4. Don’t get lazy. This is one of the most common mistakes I see in small business E-commerce. When a site is first launched, everything is spot-on perfect. Products and categories are well-organized. Product descriptions are clear and detailed. Product photography is well-done and there are plenty of images for every product. But somehow within the span of a few months, some of the fine points start to slip. Descriptions for new products entered into the system are only one or two sentences long. The product photos are poorly lit or badly cropped. Products start to show up in oddball categories, and sometimes in no category at all.
Somebody has discovered that there is no Easy Button for E-commerce. Unfortunately, they will also soon discover that cutting corners on their site’s presentation and reducing the amount of useful information they provide will have a negative impact on their store sales. If they let things get sloppy enough, they may kill their store entirely.
Remember all of the energy and effort that went into creating your E-commerce site? Well, that same level of energy and effort is required to keep it running. Nothing turns customers off faster than inconsistency and sloppiness.
5. Respond immediately to customer service contacts. Whether they’re extremely aggravated or insanely happy, customers always (always, always, always) appreciate prompt responses to their feedback and/or inquiries. Answers to contact form questions and responses to customer service issues should be part of your daily site management routine. Note that in this case, by “response” I don’t mean the usual “Thanks and we’ll get back to you” that an auto-responder can send out for you. Auto-responders should be used as nothing more than a technological ‘ping’ to let your customers know you’ve received their e-mail. The “response” is when a real, live person either calls them or sends them an email. Your auto-responses should give the customer an expectation of when they will receive a live response – and you should make every effort to stay within your promised time-frame. Promptness, courtesy and respect can often defuse a sticky customer service situation – before anybody has a chance to light the fuse.