14. Building Your e-Tailing Business
The Supply Chain to Retailing: Manufacturer, Distributor, Wholesaler, Retailer, Consumer.
Check the Manufacturer's website for specifications and pictures.
In the offline brick and mortar world of retail business, one may say that shoppers and shops populate the marketplace. When one steps online, one enters the world of e-commerce where electronic retailing is often termed “e-tailing.” It too is a world of shoppers and shops, but it is the world where both the shoppers and shops have moved to conduct business electronically over the Internet.
The sale of goods and services through the Internet, or e-tailing, can include business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales. Growing an online business is the key to success.
Online success is enhanced by getting favourable online store reviews and suggested below are ways in which this outcome can be promoted. Probably the biggest hurdle that new e-tailers face is getting started. Opening an online store is the first visible step, and it is more affordable than opening an offline shop however in many ways it requires much planning. It is recommended that e-tailers accept the fact that they will face a process of continuous improvement, change,refinement and evolution. Once they have accepted this, it is suggested that, for success, they need to commit to the continuous improvement of the three critical enablers that follow and to the suggested seven-point business plan.
14.1 Online Business Enabler No. 1 – Customer Focus
For an existing offline business, having an online store adds a new channel or tool that needs to be accommodated within the business plan. In many ways, it increases the distance between the merchant and their customers, and in other ways, it brings them closer together. They need to maintain their customer focus, but they also need to find a way to create and maintain trust without having customer eye contact. The focus of the business should not change from serving the customer’s needs or providing solutions to customer problems when the store adds an online channel however the way in which their customer focus is maintained may change. Keeping a customer focus in the e-tailing venture will enable them to get closer to customers and to exceed their expectations.
14.2 Online Business Enabler No. 2- Defined Objectives
There needs to be clarity about online objectives. As any pilot will tell you, the basics of getting from A to B are that you know where you are and where you want to go.
Some business strategies seek to use online stores to attract walk-in customers by providing an efficient and swift shopping experience. In these circumstances, customers are coached to order in advance for collection. Goods are drawn from warehouses before the customer arrives at the store where, after the closer inspection of selected items, they finalise their, preordered purchases, which are bagged and are ready to go. This two-step objective is hugely different to an online only e-tailing approach to remote customers. Thus, clarity on online objectives, what the target market is and how it is to be serviced are key to successfully building an on-line store dedicated to remote customers.
14.3 Online Business Enabler No. 3 - Trust
Online stores must bridge the gap created by not having the item to touch and feel as well as not having eye contact with an in-store company representative.
To overcome this gap e-tailers must build consumer trust. If an e-tailer establishes a trusting relationship with a remote customer base, they will give him the reviews that he will be proud of. Above all, in applying the seven-point business plan, make a promise and keep it.
Keeping your promises to customers far exceeds the value of promising that which only “maybe” can be delivered. Set out to build a reputation for reliable and predictable service. Keeping your promises is point six of the business plan, and it is a critical but not sufficient part of building trust. Build a total strategy to do this and monitor customer feedback.
How do you build consumer trust, loyalty and how do you get good customer reviews? I believe that if you use the following seven-point business plan in setting your online policies and practices, you will have established a solid foundation for online business growth.
14.4 The seven-point online business plan to e-tailing success:
1. Create awareness.
2. Create a good first impression.
3. Make your online store easy to navigate.
4. Provide complete and accurate product information.
5. Provide the option of a conversation to your clients and be available to chat.
6. Create a service delivery expectation and then exceed it.
7. Meet delivery expectations and costs.
14.4.1 Create awareness
This point is covered in the next chapter but is repeated here in an executive summary format for completeness. You need to create awareness of your online presence. If your store is not promoted to your current and prospective customer market, your store will not be found.
Note that even search engines can require you to bring your store to their attention by providing Meta Data information within the coding of your website (this includes website title, description and keywords).
Promote your store via your normal marketing channels and consider online options such as:
o Google Adwords,
o affiliate marketing, article marketing, site submission
o local online business directory listings,
o social media,
o print media adverts and advertorials,
o e-Mail campaigns to opt-in lists,
o YouTube video marketing,
o Digital deal/discount coupons,
o e-Book giveaways etc
14.4.2 Create a good first impression
- Catching the immediate attention of a possible new buyer is a critical success factor to growing your online store business.
- It is easier to go to another online store than it is to walk out of a shop, office, factory, etc.
- Get people to list the “Ghee Wiz’s” on your online site. The chances are that if they cannot spot them, you can improve upon the look and feel of your online store. Analyse the user experience of users and ensure that your target market can find and buy what they seek without difficulty.
14.4.3 Make your online store easy to navigate
To do this give attention to your categories:
- Where many very similar products are available with technical, engineering or specialist differences, listing all of them such that the differences serve to confuse rather than to impress a new customer base should be avoided.
- If your customer base is mature and understands the technical differences and meaning of say, product numbers then this matter may not be applicable.
- If not, it may be better to limit the number of listed categories and to suggest an online chat or sales call back to explore a wider category range than to narrow the categories in respect of finer product differences that are not understood.
- Again, research the user experience and ensure that shopping the online store is a comfortable experience and that it is not a frustrating process.
- Providing product “buying guides” on your website.
- You need to ensure that your customers know how to shop your online store. They need to know what to expect from a category or keyword searches. How to explore packaged quantity options, quality differences, size or colour options, etc.
- Offering buying guides in cases where a large number of product ranges are offered is highly recommended.
- Mostly buying guides are “how to” manuals. Examples include how to buy a used car, hard wearing workwear or durable appliances online. How to buy a ladies evening gown online, might, for instance, provide measured dimensions and not just sizes and the product listing would advantageously offer multiple images and zoomed in views of the product. A technical or engineered product would usefully offer not only the technical specification but also views of the product in manufacture, interviews with technical staff, engineers and customers. A maintenance manual download would also enhance a buyer’s decision process.
- A “how to” manual on narrowing down possibilities by using “keyword searches” or “category searches” may also improve the user experience.
- Physical stores are often “dressed for seasons” so why not dress up the look and feel of your online store. Dress it up for Christmas or Valentines Day et cetera by changing the look but also by creating keyword listings or special categories for Xmas gifts, Valentines, Easter, Birthdays, etc.
Essentially this point says: do not assume that your online customers can make product selections without the help of a sales assistant. Think through how best to overcome this challenge and meet it.
14.4.4 Provide complete and accurate product information
- The quality and accuracy of product presentation are critical. You do this by way of images and text.
- Photographs or other graphics can be of a low resolution however they must be well styled and often more than one image is preferable. Providing a front and back view gives just that little extra that would be available if the customer was in your store.
- Accurate and detailed online store product descriptions and a listing of product features together with other useful information on the store’s website relating to the company and the companies established user community are essential.
Do not hold back information and be sure to provide accurate, crisp and complete accounts on the products and your company. Remember that customers cannot physically inspect the product or the company so you need to provide more information than you would to an in-store customer.
For example, as stated above, provide garment dimensions and not just sizes, as the customer cannot try garments on. Providing dimensions for many products is a good idea as photography masks size.
Use the store website to provide labelled colour variation swatches for there are many shades of every colour. Spending time and effort on rethinking the way you present your products is seldom wasted. In essence, it’s about packaging and showcasing your products. A website should compliment the online store. Most everyday websites were not planned to support online trading. Make sure that your website builds on the product information on the online store. The way you present products needs to accurately portray the products in question.
14.4.5 Provide options for conversations & be available to chat
- Always get in touch with a customer if you are in doubt as to any aspect of an online order or contact clients to discuss orders where a product has a high return rate.
- Set a low goods return rate target and effect changes to the online store until the delivered product meets customer expectations. Simply put, a low goods return rate is a critical success factor, and it should be accorded your undivided attention. Be sure to monitor it closely.
- Test your site and ensure that it is mobile friendly. On the go consumers increasingly search for local alternatives and information on their mobile phones.
Consider offering an online blog. This takes the place of chatting to a customer sales person in a store or it takes the place of a phone call. It gives the opportunity to chat with a person, in real time, who is knowledgeable about the products, without having to wait for email responses.
Never try to fake what it is not. If it is not “Free Range” then it’s best that you do not insinuate that it is.
- Make your website and store social. Encourage customer opinions and reviews. Many customers draw great comfort from the experiences of others.
- Remember that it is not always about quality or price but it is always about meeting expectations.
14.4.6 Make a promise & keep it
- Provide a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee and as a minimum, if you or your customers get it wrong, keep this promise with a smile, never be grumpy about passing a credit that was promised.
- If a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee cannot be given, then the reasons for not being able to offer one should be motivated together with the likelihood and consequences of this eventuality.
14.4.7 Meet delivery expectations and costs
- Firstly it is critically important to specify the delivery period and to always meet delivery expectations.
- Disappointing customers who have paid for the product with delayed availability excuses can ruin a good business. For instance, getting an online birthday gift late can ruin your reputation no matter how good the product is.
- Secondly, delivery costs. These are a significant barrier to certain product purchases especially low priced items that are available. Having bread and milk delivered at a charge of more than the cost of the products purchased may be acceptable to purchasers in certain circumstances - but they would be unhappy to find an unexpected charge demanded by a delivery company. To illustrate, say you want a box of chocolates delivered as a surprise gift and are happy to pay three times the price of the chocolates for delivery. In this case, it is definitely “the thought” that matters. What if the delivery company unexpectedly requires a COD payment that was not explained?
- Applicable charges should be clearly explained so as not to disappoint or provide unexpected costs. The trade-off between the convenience of door-to-door delivery and delivery cost needs to be fully explained.
- Thirdly, delivery dependability. This point needs little debate - Use established reliable delivery agents for your reputation is unlikely to exceed that of theirs.
Thank you for taking the time to consider the above seven point plan for your e-tailing success that has been built on the foundations of focus, defined objectives and trust.