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After a year like 2020, it’s tempting to advise any and all entrepreneurs to simply hold on for dear life in 2021. Many businesses are still scrambling to move online, and big brands are diving into e-commerce in a way that may intimidate some smaller players who are looking to break out.
So, to help your e-commerce brand prepare for the year ahead, there are a few core areas of focus that you can’t afford to ignore. Let’s look at five of the most important ones that will guide your investments, customer interactions and how you deliver on your promises.
Utilize your data
One core business lesson we all learned in 2020 was the need to always be flexible. If one thing isn’t working, you must have the ability to pivot to something else.
Furthermore, we learned that all of the areas in which we spend money in our businesses needs to have a specific return and value for your business, its products or customers. If you can’t tie something back to a positive return, don’t pay for it. Pare down channels or targeting that aren’t performing. If you can’t capture your data, it isn’t informing you about today’s customers or the ones you need to reach tomorrow.
We’re going to see a lot of tight budgets in 2021. Ensure that yours stretches as far as possible by limiting spending to only the products or services in which you see a clear ROI.
Create useful customer service channels
Don’t neglect to put your customers first. At the startup stage, you’re going to rely on those first customers enjoying your product or service and recommending it to friends and family. In many cases, this means much more than just having an excellent product. You need to engage with people and provide support however they need.
E-commerce companies can automate a wide range of notices and information with standard sales software. Make sure you share details such as tracking numbers and updates as well as company news and discounts with your customers. Share the information that you think customers may need as they start their relationship with you in order to keep them coming back.
You’ll also want rapid responses within customer service channels. Try to keep things under 24 hours whenever possible. At the bare minimum, have service channels that correspond with every sales channel. So, if you’ve fired up a Facebook Messenger bot that drives to product pages, have someone on your team overseeing your Facebook page to verify that no questions are going unanswered.
The better your customer service, the more likely you’re creating a return customer experience with people who trust whatever your brand promises next.
Prioritize your core traffic
Do not lose sight of the niche your company serves. It’s easy to get tempted by new offerings like Twitter’s fleets, but before you put the effort into a new platform or feature, make sure your customers are already there. Return to your customer research and see where your people are. Prioritize the channels they use, as that will help drive more traffic to your site.
Stay focused and constantly return to where your customers are, and determine how you can reinvest in those opportunities to deliver more for your customers. This will help you monitor customers, too, by constantly learning about where they are or when they start moving away. Where you focus may change over time, but let that focus be driven by sales and where your niche audience is found.
Get orders out on time and accurately
Customers were forgiving in 2020 when the pandemic threw everything for a loop. Frustrations around the year-end holidays and significant shipping delays with USPS and package carriers may be a sign that this leniency is over.
So, prep your business for success by ensuring you have reliable, fast processes for managing your orders and getting them out the door to customers quickly. You’ll want to use methods that check items as they are picked and put into orders and are verified before they ship. You’ll of course want to select the best shipping method based on delivery needs, as well.
When orders are inaccurate or arrive late, you experience increased costs and upset customers. You’ll end up paying to process returns or make refunds, so it’s worth investing in getting this process right the first time.
Beyond avoiding complaints, minimizing returns also protects revenue. You reduce costs for products, people, space and more. Instead, when you get shipping right, you can focus on selling and keeping a team to manage the few returns that happen for every business.
If e-commerce fulfilment becomes too difficult for your business to manage, consider outsourcing the task. Third-party logistics companies focus on offering the service and make guarantees about order accuracy and speed. In many cases, you can save money as you scale your business because you pay for a few small increases instead of needing to lease additional warehouse space.
Create a positive customer experience
You want to build an experience that your customers won’t forget. What’s important for startup e-commerce brands to remember is that the customer experience doesn’t end right after the sale. The experience ends after the customer receives your product, decides to keep it, and uses it for a while.
If a customer has to reach out to your support team a week after they get a product because something isn’t right, this is still part of their experience with your brand.
The best thing you can do is build all of your startup’s channels and interactions with long customer experiences in mind. Bring everything together and focus on creating an experience that keeps people happy and brings them directly to your next sale.
Measure everything you can
Each of these focus areas requires you to understand your business and its customers, and that means utilizing your data. For example, some people in your audience might rely on social media interactions for their first purchase, while your repeat buyers may be brought back with an email coupon for additional purchases. You won’t find these patterns if you’re not collecting data and looking through it regularly. In the startup phase, it’s essential to collect as much information as possible, and then use that data to inform your business decisions.
There is no perfect metric or measurement to use to run your business. So, collect what’s available and analyze to understand the valuable information you have right in front of you. E-commerce startups grow by working the numbers and reaching out when they need to. Remember, your customers are a community that are ready and waiting to help.