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Online businesses often seem deceptively easy to start. But what are the pitfalls that you might need to be aware of?
With the Internet and social media playing a huge role in buying decisions today, one may be led to believe that an e-commerce business is all about a good website and secondly an account on Facebook or Twitter, or sometimes even both. But in reality, it is not. If you are looking to kick-start an online business, what are the things to keep in mind?
Earning the customer’s trust
An attractive website alone cannot convince a customer into considering your services worthwhile. It helps if critical information such as physical address or location, biography of the proprietor or the management team (preferably with photographs) is published on the website.
Many websites also showcase their associations or affiliations with parent firms, and details on the investors if any. This adds to the legitimacy of the venture. Apart from these steps, it is imperative to provide relevant and updated information on the products or services that you offer.
“Arth markets authentic Indian handicrafts, so we emphasize on blogs and pictures of various crafts and artisans. This helps customers better understand and appreciate the crafts,” says Divya Ravichandran, who is the sole proprietor of Arth Crafts, a venture that markets authentic Indian handicrafts.
Needless to say, social media platforms should address any customer queries, feedback and complaints quickly so that there is no room for doubt. Testimonials too go a long way in adding authenticity to one’s business.
Getting them to “Add to cart”
Unfortunately the adage “If you cannot convince them, confuse them” does not hold good in the virtual world. In fact, it spells disaster! You must not only convince the customer about your offerings, but also ensure that she makes that final purchase from you and not your competitor. Here is where user friendliness of your website, ease of navigation and cataloguing of your products or services play a huge role. No customer will make a purchase without checking out the product range, testimonials, and most importantly payment and delivery options.
Divya opines that payment options can make a difference, “There is always this initial hesitation to shop online with a new store. Here, a return policy or cash on delivery is helpful to convince customers to make the purchase.”
…the adage “If you cannot convince them, confuse them” does not hold good in the virtual world. In fact, it spells disaster!
The easier and quicker the payment and checkout options are, the better. Saurabh Mathur, one of the founders of Rangiru, a website that offers a variety of handmade products, tells us that it is possible to calculate the drop off rates. He shares, “It is a well known fact that there should be minimal number of steps after the customer has clicked on “Add To Cart” or you risk losing customers at every step. Google Analytics and other e-commerce analytics software offer funnel visualization of your sale flow. This gives a good idea on how much the drop off rate is at each step in the purchase process and you can improve your site based on that.”
Customer retention and growth
Businesses need to focus on customer relationship management with excellent after-sales services, attractive offers and competent advertising. The aim should be to attain a right mix of repeat and new customers.
Udit Hooda, owner of Travel Sense India, a boutique travel company believes in updating interested customers regularly. He states, “Once a month or so personal mailers and newsletter about the company’s activities, deals and products is a good idea. Of course they should be subscribed by the buyer out of interest and not spammed’.
Managing expenses wisely
Many a time, we are led to believe that setting up an online business is a lot easier on the wallet compared to a retail store. Well, that is not the case always.
“The expenditures in e-commerce are usually around website development, hosting, online ads, office space and tie ups with payment gateways etc. Services like Amazon web services now provide a free server to companies for up to one year for hosting. This can help you get bootstrapped until you increase the daily user footprint of your site. We built our website ourselves and maintain it too so we didn’t incur that cost,” Saurabh explains.
You may also need to invest in ads on a “pay per click” basis. According to the budget, Google/Facebook will showcase your ads to the target audience. Chalking out such expenses wisely helps to sustain the business and minimize losses.
Adding a personal touch
Many believe that adding a personal touch like an e-mail or phone call can make all the difference. “I call each customer after they receive products; customers appreciate the personal touch and are more likely to make repeat purchases.” says Divya.
It always pays to go an extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. “We often talk to the customers to ask about their orders to reassure them that there are real people behind these websites who care about their preferences. We also have a blog and a Facebook page where we encourage folks to simply chat with us, praise us or bash us,” says Saurabh.
It always pays to go an extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.
Smooth and secure functioning
If your website is not up to speed and adequately protected by internet firewalls, you are very close to chasing your customers away. Technical glitches and bugs are the biggest turn offs for any online shopper. Having a website which gets disrupted between transactions will only fetch you a long list of disgruntled customers.
Udit reiterates how this can leave a bad impression on the customer. He elaborates, “A website is like your store, and like it is important to have a right location and infrastructure, it is also critical to have the right server, hosting and other technical back-end services in place. Inviting the customer to a malfunctioning site is like closing your store when the customer has come to shop.”
Saurabh adds, “Hosting your site in the country where most of your audience is from, helps to make things faster.”
Also, a virus/bug once identified must be immediately removed forever. As far as misuse of customer’s information like credit card number or bank account is concerned, it is up to the payment gateway to ensure that it stays confidential and well protected.
The good news is that the majority of these common hiccups normally occur at the teething stages. So worry not; as you master the tricks of the trade, you will have more customers clicking at your doorstep!
*Photo credit: miguel ugalde
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