Many of these businesses started out with brick and mortar locations and have since closed their physical presences as a result of higher revenues and profit margins from their online sales. Unfortunately, many other businesses started to execute our mutually created game plan and then got busy and put it on the side burner.
What’s the result? Their ability to grow their business, stay ahead of their competitors and truly reap the rewards of their competitive advantages has not yet been realized. Ironically, many of these companies should be sitting in a far better situation today than they are, but, they continue to struggle because they’ve got caught up in the day-to-day operation of their business and put aside the most important activity that’s vital to any company’s long-term success – following a game plan. We’ve all heard the old adage, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
So sit down and ask yourself honestly the following questions. It’s time to see if you’re truly doing all that you can to ensure that your ecommerce business reaches its potential. Focus on the reasons that you started your business to begin with and plan where you want to be in the next 5 years. Now, ensure that you’re doing everything you can to get there. Always push yourself a little bit harder, never accept the status quo and you’ll truly become a leader in your industry.
Here are the action items:
Make sure your site is built right!
- Categorize products and services by how your customers will search for them
Make sure you don’t miss out on sales because your site is more difficult to use than one of your competitors. If you sell maps, and your customers are only interested in fishing maps and have to wade through all of your maps to find what they’re looking for, they may choose a competitor’s site where it’s easy to find what they’re looking for.
- Powerful search capabilities
Enabling your customers to search for products and services by options is tremendously valuable. Depending on your products, the options are limitless (e.g. type of product, price range, sizes, style, what’s new, bundled deals, specials, clearance, etc.)
- Great customer service
Make it easy for your customers to ask questions, find answers and contact you. Your customers are what keep you in business, ensure that they’re never left feeling like they’re on their own. Display your phone number, email address, contact forms and frequently asked questions prominently on your ecommerce site.
Get traffic to your website
- Paid search engine marketing (SEM)
Ensure that you are purchasing paid search engine marketing services for your website. If done right, targeted paid search engine marketing can be one of your best ROIs. Even large, profitable companies are purchasing keywords, because they work (think Amazon.com)! Learn more about search engine marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
Ensure that your website is optimized for search engine indexing. This doesn’t mean just optimizing the titles, keywords, file names, alt tags, etc. It means learning about your customers, studying what they search for and potentially changing the layout of your site to attract more targeted traffic via search engines. Learn more about search engine optimization
- Partnering sites
Take some time every month to consider potential partnering websites that could help sell your services. If you sell chocolate, partner with companies who sell flowers, coffee or gift baskets. This is a tremendously easy, but effective way to increase your sales dramatically with very little ongoing work after the partnership agreement has been set up.
- Affiliate sales
The largest online retailers of products and services have affiliate programs that motivate complimentary businesses and online entrepreneurs to sell products and services of other companies. Every sale that an affiliate makes results in earned commission. Learn more about this approach at Commission Junction
- Local currency
If a significant percentage of sales are generated from one specific country, and you do not accept payments using their local currency, then consider addressing this. When one of our US clients, who sold 30% of their products and services to clients in the UK, started accepting payments via their own local currency, sales skyrocketed by 50%+ within just a few months!
- If you ship internationally, accept US currency payments
If you sell internationally, make sure your customers can purchase using US dollars. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the world are comfortable making purchases online using US dollars, however, if you sell in a currency less well known, even Canadian dollars, you will miss out on many international sales due to customer apprehension.
- Provide shipping costs ASAP!
Provide clear shipping costs, as soon as possible. If you make it tough for your customers to determine shipping costs, you risk losing them before they even try to checkout.
- Provide fair shipping prices
Make sure that you are providing the best shipping prices possible. If you aren’t comparable to your competitors you will lose sales… and lots of them!
Warning: If you need to pad your shipping costs, you’re pricing your products or services wrong. I’ve personally witnessed companies lose hundreds of sales because of overpriced shipping costs. When you charge too much for shipping, you insult your customers. It’s as simple as that.
- Free shipping incentives
Know your profit margins inside-out, upside-down and backwards. Now find a way to offer free shipping incentives to your customers. Whether that’s at $50, $100, $200 in sales or higher, offer it… even if only 1 in 10 times it results in a customer purchasing something additional, if you sell $1M a year, you’ve just added a cool crisp $100K of revenue on top of that! Alternately, ignore this tip and throw three brand new vehicles out your window… because well… that’s what you’ll be leaving on the sidelines (but call me first, so I can pick up those cars that you toss out the window, thanks!).
Brokerage Fees and Customs
- Do your research related to both brokerage fees and customs
If there are one or two simple steps you can do to reduce the potential tax and customs burden on your customers; then do them. You will create hundreds of loyal customers for life if you can avoid additional fees and beat out other would-be competitors. For example, shipping via UPS from US to Canada results in a $10+ brokerage fee (and most times it’s $29+), if you ship the same product via USPS, 95%+ of the time you’ll avoid paying this hefty surcharge and their fees are much more reasonable. This all boils down to research. Take your time and do it, this could give you a significant advantage over your competitors.
- Make sure that your shopping cart is legal
Don’t charge tax on the products and services that you sell if you’re not legally entitled and/or obligated to do so. Not only can this provide you with a significant benefit over competitors, especially on large ticket items, but it could also prevent costly fines as a result of a post-financial-audit that reveals illegal tax practices. Believe me; the benefits outweigh the potential costs in this situation. If done wrong, not only will you have to remit all tax dollars for the last 7 years, but you’ll also have to pay interest and fines in addition. For more details, visit the Government of Canada’s Business Network, the Internal Revenue Service, or if your company is in another country, visit your government’s online resources.
- Rate and comment on your products and services
When a visitor is trying to decide on the best product to fit their needs, ratings and customer reviews often times helps seal the deal. The majority of lost sales is a result of indecision; give your customers the tools that they need to decide immediately. If a customer is undecided and walks away, you risk losing that sale to a competitor if they change their mind later.
- Collect testimonials
Collect testimonials. When customers talk about how valuable a product or service of yours was, it helps other potential customers to visualize the potential benefits that they will receive. Often times, this takes down the last decision barriers at the moment when the customer is trying to decide whether to buy or to walk.
- Complimentary products and services
When a visitor is viewing a product or service on your site, make sure that the most popular complimentary products or services are also showcased. Most large sites do this nowadays and for good reasons, when cross-selling is done right it can easily increase your online revenue by 20% or higher with very little additional expense.
- Extended warranties
Depending on if it makes sense for your business, consider offering extended warranties on your products or services. Not only can this result in additional sales as a result of increased customer trust and loyalty, but it can also be a revenue stream on its own when done right.
Based upon a customer’s historical and/or current items in their cart, it’s valuable to provide recommended products and services that may be of interest or compliment their purchase. This is an easy way to offer valuable advice to your customers while generating additional sales for your business at the same time.
- Others also bought
Showing products that other customers purchased at the same time is an easy way to generate additional sales and provide tremendous value to your customers. Consider a real estate investor purchasing his/her latest book on multiplex investing, he/she may also benefit from a real estate tax law book. This feature is also infinitely useful on websites that are social media integrated, when a customer sees that his family, friends or peers have purchased a product; they will be more inclined to purchase it as well.
- Spend only $10 more to qualify for free shipping
Simply put, everyone loves feeling appreciated. By offering free shipping to your customers who make a larger purchase in your products and services, it immediately creates a sense of appreciation and helps to increase customer loyalty. Companies that go the extra mile build highly loyal customers. This is one of the key tools that have helped propel Amazon.com to the ecommerce giant of the Internet that it is today! It’s estimated that their free shipping incentives have resulted in doubling the speed at which their business grows consistently over the last several years!
If you offer email support, ensure that your processes are setup optimally so that all inquiries are responded to within the first 24 hours. You won’t believe what a difference this can impact your bottom line! Some companies have reported to me doubling their sales once they implemented this policy!
Deliver newsletters regularly. If you keep your company in your customers’ minds, they are 300%+ more likely to consider your products and services again when the time comes to buy something you have to offer.
- Social media
No magic here, social media is an extension to traditional marketing. Why the buzz word “social media” if it’s just marketing? Cause it’s done differently. Time to start learning now, if you’re not ready to get on the bandwagon then you’re only losing out. Learn more about social media marketing
- Loyalty memberships
While this only works for certain businesses, it can do wonders for loyalty. Think about it, how many times have you heard your colleagues say “I only buy my gas, books, groceries, etc. at [Insert store name here] because I collect points”. Simply put, when done right, this approach has the potential to secure loyalty on it’s own.
While I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, I hope that I’ve given you a lot to think about. It’s vital that you take the time to consider your long term vision, put together a plan and ensure that you keep your eye on your competitors. There’s no time for rest if you’re going to become or maintain your prestigious rank as an industry leader, start today! When ecommerce is done right, it will take your business to levels that you never could have imagined. There are thousands of success stories out there already, but yours could be next! All that you have to do is brainstorm a plan, document your next steps and hold yourself accountable. One step at a time, you will get there.