A report from Stackline noted that in March 2020, ecommerce product categories are as diverse as bread machines and computer monitors to craft kits experienced sales percentage increases in the triple digits — to say nothing of food products and medical supplies.
At the same time, other ecommerce categories experienced significant declines. Luggage sales fell by 77%, and event supplies fell 55%, and clothing and furniture products also generally experienced large sales drops.
Some ecommerce brands are currently enjoying higher demand than ever. Others have seen demand for their products fall or have experienced significant supply chain interruptions that limit their ability to fulfill orders.
To get through the current situation and position yourself well for future challenges, ecommerce entrepreneurs must go above and beyond to build their brand.
By focusing on critical obstacles that all ecommerce brands face, you will be better equipped to ensure that your online store survives both times of plenty and times of uncertainty.
1. Accurately assessing market demand
For any ecommerce brand, you must first assess the actual market demand for your products. A startup postmortem conducted by CB Insights found that a lack of market need contributed to 42% of startup failures — far outpacing other issues. Mistimed or user-unfriendly products were also common problems.
Because ecommerce is such a product-driven environment, these concerns should be an even greater priority for digital entrepreneurs. You don’t necessarily have to invent a completely new product to find market success. However, you must do your research to confirm that there is demand within your particular niche.
Further specialization within your industry can help you find an underserved market. Looking at top-selling products on Amazon and evaluating Google Trends data are just two easy ways to see which products and niches have the greatest demand or offer untapped opportunities.
Of course, market demands and interests can change over time. Continual monitoring of industry trends will be necessary to help you stay ahead of the curve and know what products you should introduce or retire.
2. Driving site traffic
Having a great product is an important starting point, but you need to consistently drive traffic to your ecommerce site if you want to generate any revenue. SEO is the baseline for any successful ecommerce site. Optimize all site content (including alt text) with keywords that are relevant to your niche and products. Most importantly, however, is ensuring that your content is high-value. Product descriptions should be helpful and informative, and you should never stuff pages with keywords.
Generating quality backlinks and referrals will also play an important role in your early growth. A strong social media presence can be particularly powerful when you tie your ecommerce products into trending online topics. Social media is also a great place to host contests and special promotions that encourage your initial customer base to share your brand.
Keep in mind that some social media networks deliver more value than others. An analysis of ecommerce revenue by Justin Bullion of Yotpo found that while the average value of a Facebook visitor was 22 cents, the average value of customers arriving via Twitter was only 5 cents. Invest your marketing dollars on the platforms your target audience uses to drive stronger revenue.
Driving site traffic is an ongoing challenge for ecommerce brands. By consistently investing in social media, SEO and paid search, you will appear in front of more potential customers and achieve consistent growth for your brand.
3. Streamlining customer communication
How you communicate with your customers once they reach your site can have a big impact on whether or not they make a purchase. Quality communication enhances the entire customer experience, from when they first visit your site to the time the product is delivered.
While email updates can certainly be helpful (especially for shipping updates), many customers want to get real-time answers when they visit your site. This is where using a chatbot or virtual assistant can help you provide quality customer service without needing to spend the money on a large customer support team.
For example, conversational AI company Hyro recently developed a free COVID-19 assistant for healthcare enterprises. The tool’s designed to triage patient symptoms and perform first-touch risk assessments, allowing providers to focus on other key areas of digital engagement.
Successful ecommerce brands take a similar approach. The eBay ShopBot asks users questions about the products they’re looking for to help them find specific products that match their interests and desired price range. Using chatbots to address these and other most common concerns allows “human” support staff to only worry about more complex requests.
Reducing your customer service burden will also help you reduce the overhead that comes from hiring a large customer support staff. The cost savings can provide a much-needed financial buffer during times of crisis.
4. Increasing your conversion rate
It’s one thing to get someone to visit your ecommerce site. But just because someone clicks on your site, doesn’t mean they will make a purchase. On-site optimizations and effectively communicating the value of your products are essential for driving conversions.
An attractive, professional site design will help you make a positive first impression with customers. Making sure that ads lead to a quality landing page can also drive purchases. Of course, a sound investment in SEO will ensure that relevant traffic is discovering your online store via organic search, which will improve your conversion rate.
Still, even with your best efforts, don’t expect to see the majority of your site visitors converting into paying customers. A report from invesp reveals that in the United States, the average ecommerce conversion rate is just 2.63%.
That being said, some industries (such as electronics and entertainment) tend to have higher average conversion rates. Benchmark your performance against the standard for your niche to see where you stand, and perform regular site audits to identify potential areas for improvement.
5. Cart abandonment
Most ecommerce stores have an ongoing struggle in trying to reduce their cart abandonment rate. An analysis by Baymard Institute puts the average online cart abandonment rate at 69.57%.
While some cart abandonment occurs because of the equivalent of digital “window shopping,” Baymard’s survey highlights several key areas where website issues can cause a customer to leave after adding an item to their cart. Some of the most-cited issues are high fees and shipping costs, sites that require account creation, or even slow delivery times.
The issues contributing to cart abandonment can relate to any part of the purchasing process. Ecommerce entrepreneurs must evaluate ways to streamline the checkout process, reduce or eliminate unnecessary fees, and improve shipping and customer service.
A strong reacquisition campaign can also make a difference, particularly if you already have the customer’s email address. An analysis by Barilliance reported an 18.64% conversion rate for cart abandonment emails. These emails were the largest driver of revenue for all email campaigns.
6. Prioritizing cybersecurity
Security concerns could cause some customers to avoid buying from your ecommerce site altogether.
They have good reason to be vigilant. Nobody wants their credit card data stolen simply because they purchased a product from the wrong website. Even the leak of an email address can prove problematic for your brand and its customers, allowing hackers to deliver malware to your customers.
Big brands are popular targets — in 2014, a hack of a major home improvement brand compromised 56 million credit cards. However, smaller ecommerce brands with less robust security measures can also be an attractive target. Ecommerce stores must use secure transaction platforms that protect customer data and constantly monitor their site for potential threats.
Be sure to communicate your commitment to security to your customers. Explaining how your secure checkout system works (or highlighting the well-known payment processor that you use) can provide the peace of mind that helps a customer decide to make a purchase.
Prepared for any situation
There is also no way to fully predict what new opportunities or challenges may arise in the future.
Regardless of what the future might bring, taking the time to address these recurring ecommerce obstacles is an absolute must. By preparing a sure foundation for your online business now, you will be well-equipped to handle both unusual circumstances such as these and the everyday risks of running an ecommerce brand.
Lucas Miller is a business blogger, sportswriter, and founder of Echelon Copy, a media relations agency based in Orem, Utah.