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E-commerce  |  6 min read

7 E-commerce Challenges Small Businesses Face—And How to Conquer Them

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Liz Alton

You’ve launched a website and put your digital stake into the online frontier. The online store is stocked with products and ready to go. Now what? Heading down the e-commerce trail takes focus, strategy, and persistence—and it can help you establish a thriving business. Take a look at seven of the biggest challenges growing companies face with e-commerce—and creative ways to overcome them.

1. Speaking to your audience with your value proposition

It’s easy to get caught up in focusing on your product. After all, if you’re selling fishing lures or vintage records or specialized podcasting equipment, ultimately you want consumers to purchase these wares. However, there’s often a large difference between audiences even within niches.

The mystery reader who loves the mellow, non-violent, cozy novel is looking for something very different than a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction. Your branding, product selection, messaging, and more is completely different depending on who you’re targeting. Fundamentally, this is your value proposition: What are you selling, and to whom? The more specific you are, the more effective you’ll be.

In the case of fishing lures, are you selling budget lures to price conscious grandmas fishing in Iowa, or handcrafted organic lures to hunting and gathering hipsters in Portland? Determine that—and your whole strategy, including your marketing—will become much more effective.

2. Providing sufficient product information

Buying a product online is status quo. Consumers are trained to look online for the exact product they want and to trust that a mysterious business somewhere out there will deliver their package. However, today’s customers use a specific set of information to help them decide whether the online products they want should be purchased from you. Great product communication comes down to three points which can easily be addressed:

  • Visuals: Shoppers want pictures. Ideally, your product images should be high quality and high resolution, and showcase the product from a variety of different angles.
  • A detailed product description: Using your value proposition to guide your language choices, think about whether you’re offering a detailed enough product description. Is someone more likely to buy “An elegant black dress” or “An ink black sheath dress, with an elegant boat neck, flattering A-line cut, and eye-catching handkerchief hemline which falls below the knee.”
  • Product specs: If the products you’re selling have specifications (or specs), make sure they’re listed. Often, they come directly from the manufacturer, and they help customers answer simple questions. Someone purchasing a couch, for example, can refer to the specs and determine whether a specific piece will fit in their living room.

3. Building an email list

When a customer comes to your website and makes a transaction, there’s an immediate connection that’s forged. Smart businesses turn site visitors and customers into email list subscribers in order to nurture them for future sales. Have a big, bold, hard to miss email sign-up form on your website. Ask customers if you can add them to your list when they make a purchase. Automate a drip campaign that sends valuable information to your customers based on their interests, whether it’s helpful content or discount coupons to get them back to shop more. 

4. Offering reachable customer service

Online shopping usually leads to questions: Are these snazzy shoes available in my very specific, favorite shade of blue, and are they extra wide? Where’s my package? Is this business I’m about to give my credit card to even real? It’s important to build trust, and there’s no easier way to do that than by being transparent with your customer service info and contact details. When you go incognito or make it difficult for customers (or potential customers) to contact you, they are less likely to want to do business with you. Factors to consider include:

  • Make sure your website has a contact page
  • Include your business name and address on your website
  • When possible, don’t just rely on a form. Have a customer service email address or (even better!) provide a phone number users can call
  • Consider using live chat, which is an increasingly popular way to connect buyers with your customer service team

5. An Optimization Strategy from “Days of the Desktop”

Venturebeat reports that two out of every three minutes online is spent on mobile devices. That means consumers are likely to be spending time browsing your website, shopping for products, and going through the checkout process on their tablets and smartphones. Is your optimization strategy adapted to the new mobile reality? Do your pages look great and load quickly on small smartphone screens? Is your design touch screen friendly? Does your checkout process stand up to the needs of a fussy mobile device user? Ensure that your website is optimized for a range of different mobile users.

6. Eliminating friction from the checkout process

When a customer has made it to the checkout process, you want to eliminate any distraction or challenge that might keep them from reaching the finish line. Conversion experts call this friction. For example, are you asking for just enough information to complete the transaction, or are you using your checkout form to collect information—a task which could be better accomplished in another format? Does your website allow return customers to store their information for faster ordering? Identifying and eliminating friction points during the checkout process is one of the most important steps you can take to increase conversions.

7. Investing in a content and social strategy

In today’s busy digital world, consumers are going to look at the content you produce and your social presence. These channels help draw interested customers into your orbit and help establish your legitimacy. Whether you’re selling a salad spinner or complex machines that fight mold in houses, there’s an audience hungry to learn more. To develop an effective strategy:

  • Profile your audience: Who are you speaking to, specifically? What do they care about the most?
  • Topics: Put together a list of topics that interest them. In the salad spinner case, for instance, you could focus on different salad recipes, the benefits of different types of greens, or broader lifestyle topics like getting fussy kids to eat vegetables.
  • Products: Can you write specific pieces about the products you carry, for people looking for more information about these items?
  • Vary your formats: E-commerce stores often publish blog posts, offer giveaways with longer pieces, and experiment with different forms of social media content to see which ones resonate with their audience.

E-commerce best practices are constantly evolving. By learning from what others have done, it’s possible to avoid common mistakes and put better practices in place that improve your results, delight customers, and provide a healthy bump to your bottom line.

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