Top Tips to Keep Your Online Business from Failing

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Today, it’s easier than ever to start an online business. Platforms like Shopify, Square, and Amazon make setting up a store as simple as a few clicks. While it’s quick and relatively easy to start selling though, maintaining long-term success is another story. 

In fact, nine out of ten startups fail. 

You read that right. Online sellers don’t have the odds on their side, but there’s plenty that have found a way to grow and thrive over the years. Learning from them, here’s 5 top tips to ensure the success of your online business

1. Be ethical.

eCommerce advice doesn’t always include enough how to be an ethical seller. While entrenched in expanding your business, many owners overlook ethical fundamentals, specifically those beyond data security. While you might get by for a while without adhering to rules and laws, the consequences will undoubtedly follow at some point. 

First, you should always make data security a top priority, no matter what point you’re at in the life of your business. Online transactions require passing handfuls of sensitive data through your systems like credit card numbers, addresses, purchase history, and browser activity. Sellers must read, understand, and take action to properly store and process customer data. 

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Photo by TheDigitalArtist

There’s also an ethical responsibility to follow rules such as: 

  • Tax regulations

  • PCI Compliance

  • Online marketing laws like the CAN-SPAM act and advertising disclosures

  • International regulations like GDPR requirements

  • Product-specific regulations like selling alcohol to customers under 21

  • Selling counterfeit products 

  • Web accessibility – standard for sites to be useable for people with certain disabilities 

Violations of these rules can quickly shut down your business or get you banned from sites like Amazon or eBay. In the end, the risk is not worth the short-term success.   

Read more in-depth about how to address ethical responsibilities when selling online. 

2. Enable your customers to be better. 

Now that ethics are taken care, the next area to focus on is customer experience. What sets bestselling brands apart from failed brands? The answer isn’t always lowest price, best quality products, or the fastest checkout processes. 

Bestselling brands happen because delighted customers go out of their way to recommend or showoff products that they use to their friends and family.  

While having a great quality product sure doesn’t hurt, customer recommendations are what drives brand trust and loyalty. And, we aren’t talking about fake product reviews that are trolling sites like Amazon. 

70% of U.S. adults online trust recommendations from each other far more than statements from brands.

The question then is how to do you drive customers to recommend your products to their friends and family? 

The short answer is enabling them to be better. We’re talking more than just building a great online experience that includes sleek layouts, easy checkout, and detailed product pages. All those things are important, but they aren’t the driving force behind brand loyalty. Instead, focus on how your product can enable your customer to be a better version of themselves. No matter what you sell, you can apply this concept to your brand. 

If you sell cameras, help your customers be better photographers. If you sell outdoor clothing, help your customers conquer their biggest summit yet. It doesn’t have to be a lofty goal either, it could be giving your customer confidence to take that first hike. You get the idea though. 

When you empower your users to be better in a bigger context, you’ll fundamentally shift the way you think about crafting a customer experience with your brand. Customers will respond by purchasing from you and telling all their friends about it. 

3. Choose the right eCommerce platform.

Online sellers have no shortage of options when it comes to eCommerce platforms. The challenge then is choosing the best one for you. Your eCommerce software serves as the backbone of your online business and it dictates the functionality available, how agile you are responding to customer demands, and if you can integrate it with the rest of your business systems. 

When evaluating platforms, it’s important to consider:

  • Types of products you sell – Can the platform support your product catalog structure, or any other unique product needs you might need?

  • Where you sell – Does it support global selling or ability to customize by region?

  • Who you sell to – Are you selling B2C or B2B? B2B eCommerce has its own set of unique needs like payment terms and customer-specific product catalogs. 

  • Responsive design – Does you web content render properly across different devices?

  • Platform architecture – Is it an open source or a SaaS platform? This will affect your total cost of ownership, maintenance, and ability to customize functionality. 

  • Integration – Can the eCommerce platform easily integrate into other systems like your ERP, POS, or 3PL provider?

  • Content Management – Selling online is more than just managing product pages. How does it help you with marketing or social selling? 

  • Community – Is there a group of followers that you can learn from or collaborate with? 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These areas though should help you narrow down your list to a few real contenders. At the end of the day, your choice is an investment in your online business and should be done right the first time around. 

4. Choose the Right Fulfillment Strategy. 

An integral part to selling online is order fulfillment. A negative shipping experience can have an irreparable impact on your relationship with customers. 

84% of consumers say that they won’t return to a brand after just one poor delivery experience. 

The stakes are high when it comes to delivering your products accurately and on-time. You don’t want to make promises that you can’t keep, but you also must stay competitive. Fast and free shipping is the standard among consumers. 

According to the NRF, 65% of consumers say they look up free-shipping thresholds before adding items to their online shopping carts. Further, 39% expect two-day shipping to be free. And, if you don’t offer it, consumers will shop somewhere else.

Your fulfillment success though relies on the organization of your people, processes, and technology. This includes everything from your online checkout process, payment provider, order management system, to how you pick, pack, and ship items. This is a tall order for merchants. It often requires knowledge that’s outside your wheelhouse. 

You do not want to let your order fulfillment process get out of hand. Stay on top of your issues and outsource the capabilities when you can’t provide them. As your order volume grows, it probably makes sense to consider eCommerce fulfillment strategies outside of your own walls like drop shipping and 3PLs (third-party logistic providers) such as Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), Newgistics, or Shipwire. 

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Over the past decade or so, there’s been a lot of talk about the retail apocalypse. Many headlines focus on the next big-name brand that’s closing its doors. 

Retail has been on wild ride these last several years. If there’s anything to learn from it, it’s that the winning brands are the ones who aren’t afraid to experiment or be innovative. It’s the ones who are rewriting the rules of retail and the standards of how to get things done.

Experimentation can be anything from flash sales, social selling, in-store tech to making content and product changes from one region to the next. If you’re truly thinking about how to best serve your customers, you’ll know what you need to change.

Innovate
Photo by Startup Stock Photos

To go from a startup online business to a thriving one, merchants undoubtedly have many challenges ahead of them. Success doesn’t happen overnight, but we believe these tips will guide you in the right direction. 

About nChannel: nChannel empowers retailers, wholesalers and technologists with integration tools to sync data and automate processes between their eCommerce, ERP, POS and 3PL systems from inventory synchronization and order fulfillment to supply chain management. 

About the Author: Jillian Hufford joined nChannel as their Marketing Strategist and Partner Manager. Using both her writing and analytic skills, she assists the Marketing and Sales teams. Jillian performs competitor market research, provides analysis of key sales metrics, and writes informative posts on multichannel commerce trends. 


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