Running any kind of business requires an ability to be clear-headed about what is needed to succeed. Even a lifestyle business, designed to fit in with your life, your values and your schedule, needs to find its audience and bend to meet their wants and needs. In many ways, business isn’t easy because you have to walk two paths at once – the gratification of making profits and earning money, versus the sacrifice of seeking to serve the customer above all.
Of course, these two motives aren’t necessarily separate from one another. Your commercial interests are, generally, served by giving the customer what they want. With that said, it’s fair to say that in business, nothing is that simple. There have to be limits to what you will do to keep a customer: finding the space between being relaxed enough to appeal to your audience and rigid enough to keep making a profit isn’t something that happens overnight.
What it comes down to is this: if you want a business to be serious enough to make a profit, and human enough to develop a positive reputation with customers, there is a playbook to stick to. There are a lot of aspects to maintaining a positive and broad relationship with customers, and being what a customer needs you to be.
Expertise plays a key part.
There is no shortage of ecommerce advice built around the concept of niches, with plenty of people telling you where quicker or easier money can be made. In terms of sustainability, though, this is a bad way to go. Those niches are the ones which will quickly get overcrowded, and it gets harder to set yourself apart from the crowd. The end result is likely to see you fighting for a customer base that has, for the most part, made up its mind where it prefers to shop, which means you’ll need to make bigger and better offers for fewer returns.
Entering a niche in which you have some measure of expertise is a sounder way forward. When you know your niche, you can leverage that knowledge to source better lines for your ecommerce store, and are better-equipped to take a leap of faith on a new or less well-known line which other stores won’t yet be carrying. It’s not just your product choice that will benefit, however. The content that you write to promote each product, and to identify your store as a whole, will have the ring of credibility about it – and customers will appreciate that, as it makes each purchase less of a gamble.
Knowing even more about an area of business pays off all the more if your business takes the chance to go international, as is increasingly possible using ecommerce platforms. If you know that a certain product or material is well thought-of in Germany, while Japanese customers prefer a different brand, you can feature the preferred options more prominently on your storefronts for the respective countries. It’s never a bad thing to have a customer base that is more spread out; while the market struggles in one country it can be thriving in another.
Your customers are not all the same.
Perhaps more than ever before thanks to ecommerce and online buying, customer bases have become ever more diverse in recent years. For a simple and slightly flippant example, a store specializing in “cheesy” pop memorabilia online has a significant advantage over the same one in a town center. People who would not dare to be seen in the brick-and-mortar store won’t have any such qualms about shopping online for the same products. We mention this to underline the fact that there is more difference among 100 ecommerce customers than there would be among the same cohort offline.
The difference is a key point, because stores which have a broader range of just about anything will pull in more customers than those with a fixed approach. This is true of something as specific as customer services. A business that offers contact email details and a support ticket system relies on customers being determined enough to pursue a question over a period of time. If you take the opportunity to learn how to add web chat software to your website, then you’ll also catch the customers who have a more speculative query. Add a phone number, and you’ll also pick up those who are unsure when expressing themselves in writing.
Ecommerce lets you diversify a lot of what you do, and it’s worth taking every opportunity you can to embrace that diversity. Attach social media accounts, give customers every chance to modify and customize what they order, and let your store become the place that they think of when they want a reassuring, easy and tailored shopping experience. That’s how customers become repeat customers.
Make it speedy – on all possible fronts.
You will know what it is like to be using a website that takes longer than normal to load. It feels very much like a 21st-Century, first world problem, but when you’re used to rapidly-loading websites that take you where you need to be at a click, you come to expect it. The end result is that even if a website was offering the secret to eternal life, many of us would browse off elsewhere if it took longer than a couple of seconds to load. Not only do slow-loading sites irritate us and make the user experience more of a drag, they create an impression that the business behind the site doesn’t care – and that’s lethal.
It is essential that you pull out the stops to make sure your site loads as quickly as any other. Speed isn’t constant, and there may still be hiccups here and there, but it is incumbent upon you to use every plugin, every advantage and all the wit of your SaaS provider to get loading speeds down to the lowest possible number. It’s that simple: if you have an element of on-page content that you love, but hosting it slows down the site, get rid of that element or find a way to host it without compromising speed. There is no higher priority.
The truth is, your customer wants what they want, and if they can’t have it now then they won’t settle for less than ASAP. So, as well as a fast-loading website, explore all of your options for making delivery as quick as possible. That includes using fulfilment services that can provide next day delivery, if it’s an option open to you. It can’t be exaggerated how much of a difference promptness makes to giving your ecommerce business a boost in the eyes of customers.
Choice is essential! But more nuanced than some think!
It is not unheard of for companies to sell, under different packaging, the same product aimed at different customers. The idea behind doing so is to create the impression that the business has specialized so well, they have the solution to any issue you may have. Offering customers as much choice as you physically can will often seem like the best way forward, but it’s not necessarily so.
Often referred to as “choice paralysis” or overchoice, the act of providing too many options to customers can leave them feeling overwhelmed and unable to make a choice. It helps to put yourself in the position of a customer when you are deciding which lines to stock. Imagine a father trying to pick out a present for a teenager. He knows he should be purchasing ear buds for his music-loving offspring, but when faced with a choice of twelve different types and brands, he’s terrified of making the wrong selection. So he shelves the decision for the moment. Later that evening, he’s out shopping with the same child, and sees ear buds in the store. He calls his progeny over, and they make their choice from what’s there.
Unless your store is extremely specialized in a particular product, there is no need for you to be offering more than – at most – six versions of one item. Three wouldn’t be far wrong. Doing this allows your customer to find items quickly, reduces the amount of bandwidth you’re using and helps keep your site speedy, and it also means you don’t have to have bulky inventory for dozens of different products. That also makes for more efficient and quicker deliveries, so everyone’s a winner – and you can always diversify lines if you keep getting requests for specific products.
Ecommerce offers so many options that sometimes it is possible to over-hone your offering to the point where it is ideal for one customer, but not so appealing to the large crowds you want to attract. Keeping some core priorities at the center of everything you do means that you can offer everything a customer needs without necessarily having to keep hold of everything they want. And if you’re everything they need you to be, it will be you they turn to when it comes to making the essential purchases, time and again.