The effort it takes to get an e-commerce business off the ground is one thing, but sustaining a successful e-commerce business is a whole other kettle of fish. Entrepreneur Michele Romanow shares her hard-won lessons on creating lasting success for your e-commerce business.
For those in the dark, Michele is one of the newest Dragons on CBC Dragons’ Den. At age 32, she’s also the youngest Dragon ever to appear in the den. She’s an expert in all things e-commerce, and has run several huge e-commerce businesses including BuyTopia, and Snap by Groupon.
In video 4, Michele offers insight into how to run a successful e-commerce business over the long term. Her advice is concise and gleaned from experience, so take note:
Tip #1: Determine the right shipping strategy and partner for you
Most e-commerce businesses have to ship products to customers. As a result, having a good shipping strategy is essential for the majority of e-merchants. Is your strategy up to snuff? Here are some of Michele’s best tips to get you there:
Offer free and express shipping whenever possible
Providing your customers with appealing shipping options, like free shipping, is key. Remember, free shipping is only free for your customers. You have to ensure that you can foot the bill without losing money over the long term. Luckily you don’t have to offer it year round, or to every customer, in order to keep them coming back for more.
Consider offering free shipping during peak sales periods – like the holiday season. You can also offset the cost of free shipping by offering it as a perk for large orders only. Your customers will appreciate the gesture, and it may inspire them to buy more from you.
“Most of today’s customers expect free shipping, so you gotta figure out when it makes sense to boost sales with a free shipping offer, and what your minimum order should be for free shipping,” advises Michele.
Free shipping can mean long wait times for customers. While most Canadians are willing to wait if shipping is free or inexpensive, some customers do not want to wait for their parcel to eventually arrive, and may be willing to pay a premium in order to get it sooner. “You can…offer pricier express shipping for those who don’t want to wait for their purchases right now – like me,” says Michele.
Find a great shipping service
When you first start out, you may coordinate your own shipments out of your offices. As you grow, this will become more cumbersome. When the time comes to upgrade to a more suitable shipping service for your business, don’t hesitate. A good shipping service can make a world of difference for your operations. Choosing the right one for you is essential.
“You need a reliable, cost-effective shipping service. Every penny counts, and so does every minute you save,” says Michele.
Knowledge is power, and most customers want to be kept in the loop about their shipments. As the seller, you should also aim to have maximum visibility on a shipment throughout its journey to the customer. To make this possible, look for a shipping service that makes it easy for you and your customers to track their shipments, advises Michele.
Go omni-channel to satisfy your customers
We’re all busy, and that makes receiving deliveries tricky for some people. Not everyone wants to receive their order in their home.
“These days, many people aren’t home to accept a parcel, so you need a shipping partner that has a lot of accessible pick up locations,” advises Michele.
Offering pick up flexibility to your customers is a major plus for your business. The more you tailor your services to your customers, the more advocates and fans you will create – and customer loyalty is the true key to longevity in business.
Tip #2: Encourage repeat customers
While many e-commerce businesses invest heavily in finding new customers, it’s actually customer loyalty that will help your business thrive long term. You want to invest in, and do everything you can to retain, your customer base.
“It’s hugely important to keep your existing customers happy. The majority of your sales will actually come from repeat customers, not finding new customers,” says Michele.
To build loyalty you need to regularly engage with your customers, and show them that you value them. There are countless ways to do this, and the more creative you get with your customer outreach and appreciation strategy, the better.
“One way you can build loyalty is to entice users to sign up for regular email notifications with an incentive. Discounts for members is a great example of an incentive that will drive repeat business. Who doesn’t love that feeling of exclusivity,” says Michele.
Tip #3: Top notch customer service is a must for repeat business
One of the best ways to ensure customer loyalty is to put your best face forward, and you can do that by providing outstanding customer service.
Every single interaction with your customers is an opportunity to build them up or let them down. By being a little ray of sunshine in their day, you not only avoid complaints, you make allies, fans and advocates.
No matter what you sell, and how well you sell it, you will get product returns. It’s just part of the e-commerce game. How you handle those returns is an extension of your customer service, and it matters.
When your customers need to make a return, the process should be as simple as possible, but not expose you to customer fraud.
You need to make your customers feel heard, help them navigate the returns process easily, and pay attention to what is being returned and why. Keeping good data on your returns never hurts, so try to keep accurate records so you can observe patterns and change your inventory accordingly. What you don’t want to establish is an open-door returns policy that makes constant returns a burden for your business. You want unhappy customers to be able to return their unwanted purchases, but avoid appeasing scammers.
Tip #4: Never take your eye off the competition and what they’re doing
Your competition matters, a lot. If you’re not careful, they’ll blow you right out of the water.
Take time to stay on top of what your competitors are up to, and how they are getting themselves and their products out to market. Learn from them – especially their mistakes and triumphs. Let their work inspire you, but don’t flat out imitate them – you want to be distinct.
Get an edge on the competition
For lasting success in business, it’s important to be at the leading edge of your industry. “Stay on top of technology trends, and e-commerce and marketing. If your website isn’t already mobile-friendly, stop everything and fix that now,” advises Michele.
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Evolve, don’t stand still
Another key tip is to never stagnate. Figuring out your branding and marketing strategy doesn’t mean it’s done and dusted. “Technology, trends, and customer tastes will change, and so must you,” advises Michele.
Tip #5: A happy and valued team is essential
No machine will run smoothly if its parts aren’t cared for. How you treat your staff is critical to your success. You wouldn’t stay in a bad situation to see how it turns out – and neither will they.
Show them you care
“You gotta reward your best employees and empower them to treat the business as if it’s their own,” says Michele.
This leadership principle is so important because a happy team is a hardworking team. Unsatisfied employees will spend their time looking for new work – even while they’re at work! A large study in 2017 revealed that 71% of employees are actively looking for new jobs! You need to work to retain your employees. Happy employees will focus their energy on your projects and initiatives.
“At Clear Banc I host an annual retreat and get everyone out of the office for some well-deserved fun and relaxation,” says Michele. Team building moments like these can be incredibly effective for boosting morale in the workplace.
Keep communication open
Michele also recommends keeping the lines of communication between you and your staff open.
“Our office is totally open-concept. I sit at my desk with the team and it allows conversation to happen organically throughout the day. My door is never closed. I don’t have one!”
By letting your employees have some autonomy, you open your business up to fresh ideas and you will inspire your staff to listen and be heard.
Share your work and delegate when you can
As a business owner, you probably have a strong work ethic and the desire to make things happen. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a one man/woman show to be a success. In fact, taking on too much and failing to share your workload will most likely work against you.
“Make sure you share the workload. It’s important to have really good partners to work with. My partners have made a huge difference in my career,” says Michele.
Doing it all won’t make you a star, but fostering competence in your staff, trusting your business partners to work with you, and effectively managing your team just might.
“You must learn to offload and delegate tasks to your employees and partners. You just can’t possibly do everything on your own,” says Michele.
With these tips, you have a great foundation of knowledge that will help you sustain a successful e-commerce business over the long term.
We hope you enjoyed our E-commerce Crash Course with Michele Romanow. We’re inspired by her work ethic, expertise and outlook and hope that you are too.
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