If you’ve not been paying attention to the steady rise of e-commerce, it would be easy to say that the seismic shift in consumer spending from brick and mortar to digital is due to the global pandemic forcing people to shop online.
But that’s simply not the case.
Every year since the dot-com boom in the 90’s, brick and mortar retail has steadily lost ground to the rising tide of e-commerce. Indeed, e-commerce has fundamentally altered the way business is done and how we as humans interact. We live in a world where we now expect to have products delivered same day, someone to give us tech support 24/7, and returns to be a question free affair as simple as printing a shipping label.
It’s safe to say that, even when the global pandemic is in our review mirror, e-commerce will be on the horizon. Getting bigger and becoming more central to consumers of all spectrums, industries, and disciplines. It’s no longer a case of “should I go into e-commerce” but, “will I survive if I don’t?”
If you’re still wondering if e-commerce is right for you and your business, here are six questions to help you get started.
1. Do I really know what e-commerce is?
When most people think of e-commerce, they think of some large Amazon style entity that focuses on selling a product directly to consumers. You go to the site, you add an amount of items to your cart, and you checkout – simple.
This type of e-commerce platform is called business-to-consumer (B2C). It’s a marketplace offering aimed at the end-user of the product.
But there are many other types of e-commerce platforms, from business-to-business (B2B) and consumer-to-consumer (Ebay, Etsy), to consumer-to-administration and consumer-to-business. The list goes on and on, and this doesn’t even count the amount of hybrid applications wherein businesses offer direct to consumer pricing for smaller customers and gate access to business and distributor level offerings. Nor does it include all the automation, data generation, or customer segmentation.
While many e-commerce platforms can be just as simple as putting a product in a cart, there are a myriad of options for e-commerce applications, from sales and services, automation, food orders, custom RFQ’s, consultations and more. Chances are, there is one that fits your business.
2. What portions of my business can I move to e-commerce?
A common challenge we hear companies express is how to offer something they feel is very custom and dependent on relationship building in an “off the digital shelf” way. Doing so, they feel, undermines their value proposition as a unique service or solutions provider.
While “known quantity” offerings lend themselves to e-commerce sales because it makes the experience more transactional and therefore easier to facilitate, it doesn’t mean that a relationship can’t be built, or a custom solution can’t be created.
Often the reverse happens.
Remember that the end-user is not really shopping for a product or service so much as they are shopping for an end result, an outcome, an application.
Parts, tools, products, services—shoppers may know what they are, but they may need help understanding how to apply, incorporate, or connect them. This is where relationships are built.
Listing products and services and offering to sell them directly doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum. Many of our clients tell us that customers find them through what they sell, but they become lifetime customers because of the service and support that comes with it.
3. How do I talk to my existing sales staff about a digital salesman?
This question encapsulates the disruptive nature of moving away from traditional sales to a 24/7, never takes a sick day, web-focused approach. Sales teams that make their living through relationship building don’t like the idea of losing their job to a machine. Who does!?
However, adopting e-commerce as a sales channel doesn’t have to be the end of your sales team. In fact, most sales teams appreciate the automation of the sales process brought by e-commerce, and the chance to unload smaller orders and needs to a dedicated sales system the customer can use at their leisure.
We’ve helped numerous companies integrate e-commerce functionality into their sales processes and the response we often hear is how well it helps clear the transactional minutia off the plate of the sales teams so they can focus on hunting and winning newer, bigger business. In fact, a common feedback item from our clients’ sales teams is, “the prospects ask if we have an [e-commerce] ordering system so they can simplify their ordering needs.”
Turns out that customers are busy to, and if they can get what they want with a few clicks, they will.
4. Would my distributors be upset if I offered e-commerce?
If you’re a company that relies on distributors to sell your products, you may be worried they’ll be upset if you offer direct sales offerings. Doing so may feel like “undercutting” them or their efforts to sell your products.
Often this is a worst-case scenario, and obscures that there are many e-commerce solutions that work around this, including offering only select products, offering products at differing price points, or offering all products but in a marketplace format that allows purchases to be made directly from the nearest distributor.
This highlights a key concept in e-commerce: the person advertising isn’t always the person fulfilling.
You may wish to use an e-commerce platform that advertises your products, offers the chance to purchase said products, but still funnels customers and order fulfillment to distributors. In effect, you’d be helping your distributors move more product, not less, and at no perceptible price difference.
Perhaps distributors only want to stock what they make the best margin on, but not your whole product line? In this case, offer e-commerce sales of your exhaustive product line, but direct users to distributors for purchases of the products they stock.
5. Could my business handle orders from an online only relationship?This question is unique to every business and may require that you rethink things like:
- How do I handle customer support needs?
- What kind of product information do I list on my site?
- How many informational resources can I offer to help the customer understand the intended application?
- Who answers the phone when a new customer calls?
- How do I handle increased order fulfillment?
- Who does tech support?
- What if the system breaks?
A little forethought can go a long way here. While your website can handle a lot of common customer issues with well-placed information, it can't handle everything—especially if it’s broke!
Depending on your businesses size, outsourcing support for e-commerce platforms might be better than trying to take it on in-house. There are benefits to this, and those benefits compound if you choose a partner that can facilitate tech support, web design, and marketing—a common trio of services key to digital marketing success.
That said, many e-commerce platforms can be seamlessly integrated with or alongside your existing website, and offer tiered service levels to ensure security and functionality.
6. How do I market my new e-commerce services?
Think of the way you use the internet now. Think of how you discover new websites, vendors, or interests. When’s the last time you discovered a new company by going directly to their site?
Most of us (the overwhelming majority) start our consumer journey in a search box, like Google search. From there it’s a series of searches, often generic and mostly information gathering. In fact, all searches are questions (called queries in search engine lingo) even if they are just one keyword.
Let’s say you typed in “who makes custom dinosaur lawn sculptures?”
In the fraction of a second that follows your mouse click, when those first search results show up, our brain refines our search based on a lot of quick data we trust search engines to provide us: images of products, star reviews, associated ads, semantical equivalents (e.g., dinosaur garden statues)—all of it plays a role in educating us in what we’re actually looking for.
It’s amazing just how much, as consumers, we trust search engines to think for us. Right or wrong, the it’s the world we live in. The information search engines provide moves us further down the marketing funnel in this case, a click to a website that looks like it has what we want.
Consider your own website or business. Is it showing up in those early information gathering stages? Remember, Google doesn’t make the search results. We do, with our websites and blog articles and content. The best of it gets the highest listings in search results.
In a nutshell Google just matches the best answers to what it feels the searcher is asking about.
Any e-commerce business that doesn’t address the world of search engine match making, also known as SEO will be invisible to customers.
If your e-commerce site is floundering or you are in the beginning stages of taking your business online, contact us. We're always happy to help!