E-commerce has been a growing industry for a number of years but has exploded as access to the internet has expanded from our homes to our pockets.
The US’s online industry saw over $750 billion in sales in 2019 alone – making it the place to be for new start-ups. But what sets a successful online business apart from an unsuccessful one?
One of the key ways an online business can stand out from the rest is in the personalization of the customer’s experience. Successful online businesses cater their websites and online platforms to the user, in a number of ways; they can utilize cookies to learn more about visitors to their site, and to personalize suggestions to returning customers. With platforms that require sign-ups for new customers, introductory questionnaires can allow new users to “self-segment”, selecting options when prompted that will push relevant content their way, whether suggested purchases or email campaigns. Push notifications, used judiciously, can increase sales by suggesting products or services to customers while they browse, and “abandoned cart” reminder emails can prompt customers to revisit the site, increasing the chance of a sale.
Successful e-commerce businesses pay close attention to their delivery terms, ensuring products make it to customers intact, in a timely manner and at an affordable price. Larger companies that make their profits by volume can afford to pay for delivery over a certain transaction price, creating incentive for customers as well as a perceived ‘offer’. Returns processes are just as important, and have become even more so since the coronavirus pandemic, when online shopping returns rose by nearly two thirds for 16–34-year-olds. If a customer receives a defective product, they want to know they can return it with ease and without additional cost.
Ease of use is the prevailing characteristic of any successful business’ checkout process. Customers use a wide variety of banking services, whether a good old-fashioned debit card or an online payment service like PayPal. Checkout integration with a variety of popular platforms makes the process more accessible. But different kinds of system can keep customers coming back – for example, incorporating a loyalty program into a webstore, where customers collect points per item purchased and can redeem those points at checkout. Financing services also make an impact, with apps like Klarna enabling people to split their payment monthly.
Social media platforms provide a simple and clear way for businesses to promote their business, products and message – and the successful ones do it well. Facebook is a community site, enabling businesses to target specific demographics with sponsored posts and converse directly with customers in comments sections. Twitter is a much more concise site, but the sleek feed format enables even more direct communication, the harvesting of feedback and the dissemination of word-of-mouth marketing via hashtags. Meanwhile, Instagram enables businesses to show off their products in the best possible light.
Perhaps the most important trait of a successful business which relies on repeat or ongoing custom, good customer service is the chief mechanism by which customers are retained: the first point of contact for any issues with a product or service, and an opportunity to make things right on an individual basis. Customer service can also assist in the onboarding of new customers, where the personal touch in a tweet or email query may be that last little thing to secure a sale.