Over two billion people purchased their goods and services online in 2020 alone. While this makes e-commerce an excellent business opportunity, it also means you’re facing a lot of competition for those customers and challenges unique to online operations. With the likes of Amazon and Alibaba dominating the market and the e-commerce industry expanding at a rapid pace, growing an e-commerce business is no easy feat.
Like any business, the main objective is growth. But even if you’ve taken advantage of the move from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce to capitalize on a new revenue stream, steady growth isn’t guaranteed. You’ll not only need to figure out how to carve out a portion of that market for yourself but also learn how to overcome common e-commerce challenges.
Keep reading or use the links below to go directly to a specific section that addresses a problem you’re currently experiencing.
- Having the wrong product mix
- Not understanding your customers
- Inability to handle multiple sales channels
- Inventory management problems
- Setting prices
- Marketing and driving traffic
- Failing to establish your own e-commerce website
1. Having the wrong product mix
Choosing the right product mix is critical to long-term success. But in a highly competitive market, it’s virtually impossible to have a completely exclusive offering unless you manufacture and sell products directly to the consumer.
It’s common for businesses to invest in a product range they think customers will want but that doesn’t actually align with their target buyers’ needs or preferences. Likewise, many businesses put their faith in certain products only to find out that the same or very similar items are available elsewhere, cheaper.
If you find yourself with products that aren’t selling, rest assured that the majority of businesses go through a period of trial and error before settling on a product range that’s right for their customers. To mitigate the risk of costly missteps, however, make sure to:
- Do a thorough market and competitor analysis, so you know what products are already out there before making an investment.
- Define your target customer’s needs and preferences, so you can accurately evaluate if a product serves the right purpose.
- Consider how you can differentiate your product mix to offer an alternative that’s a better value, better quality, or a more innovative solution to their problem.
2. Not understanding your customers
In a perfect world, your customer base would be a distinct group of people who share the same behaviors, preferences, and interests. However, in reality, most customers will readily switch from brand to brand as their needs change, your offerings change, and as competitors’ offerings change. This can make forming a reliable picture of your customer base a challenge.
Reporting and analytics are invaluable for tracking your customers’ behaviors, demographics, and actions on an ongoing basis. These reports and insights are often provided by tools such as your customer relationship management (CRM) software, inventory management software, or e-commerce platform.
You should analyze this data regularly. With the most up-to-date information, you can ensure you have the best understanding of current customer behavior and tailor your sales efforts accordingly.
3. Inability to handle multiple sales channels
Expanding your e-commerce business to multiple sales channels is one of the biggest challenges in e-commerce, no matter what you’re selling. This is especially true if you don’t have the right setup in place to properly manage all your inventory and orders. Having your own e-commerce store, plus other sales channels—Shopify, eBay, etc.—can be a lot to keep track of.
Before you make any major business decision regarding multi-channel selling, it’s imperative to ensure you have the right workflows in place. Streamlined operations enable a better customer experience and increased customer satisfaction, and also provide a solid platform for growth.
A cloud-based order management system like QuickBooks Commerce acts as a single source of truth (SSOT) for all your data, which is critical as your business expands to include more working parts. By having everything organized in one place, you can keep track of e-commerce sales across platforms and efficiently manage each channel.
4. Inventory management problems
Overstocking and understocking your products might seem like an unavoidable aspect of selling goods. However, if it’s a regular occurrence, it’s cutting into your bottom line. Having too much stock sitting around keeps your money tied up, meaning your cash flow is restricted. When that inventory becomes dead stock, you may end up taking a complete loss on remaining goods.
Not only are overstock and out-of-stock problems costly for growing businesses, but they also provide a poor customer experience and contribute to a negative brand reputation. Online shoppers want to buy from businesses who have what they need when they need it. If you’re constantly running out of popular items on your e-commerce site, your customers are likely going to look elsewhere.
Utilizing a robust inventory management system is the key to maintaining ideal stock levels. With an automated solution, your inventory levels are constantly updated as sales are made, allowing you to keep track of stock. With automated inventory tracking, you no longer have to worry about manual data entry, which can be time-consuming and inefficient. Before dedicating to one system make sure you’re asking the right inventory management questions for your business.
5. Setting prices
Pricing is a key aspect of launching e-commerce business and making sales. If your pricing is too high, online shoppers will simply turn to a competitor if there are other products similar to yours on the market. On the other hand, if your pricing is set too low, you’re losing out on revenue, which can be detrimental to your bottom line. This is why pricing is notoriously one of the biggest challenges in e-commerce.
So, how do you find the ideal price points for your goods and services? It starts with market research and ends with establishing a well-thought-out pricing strategy.
In addition to pricing your products in a way that helps you turn the most profit, you also need to consider other factors, such as shipping costs.
6. Marketing and driving traffic
You can take advantage of online marketplaces like Amazon to get your products in front of customers who are specifically looking for goods like yours. However, that shouldn’t be your only strategy. If you’re selling on several different sales channels, you need to be driving traffic to them, especially if you have your own e-commerce site.
The problem is that many small businesses struggle with marketing efforts. You’ll either need to invest the time to learn about marketing strategies or work with a professional marketer, but either way, it’s essential for e-commerce success. Some of the key digital marketing initiatives you should consider include:
- SEO (search engine optimization) to help you get your business to the top of the search results.
- Social media marketing to expose your brand to new customers and let current customers know about updates to your offerings.
- Email marketing to retarget previous visitors, send reminders about online shopping carts, and send coupons to reward customer loyalty.
Another tactic e-commerce companies have had success with is influencer marketing. Look into your options and see what will realistically fit your budget, to figure out where to get started.
7. Failing to establish your own e-commerce website
Relying on online marketplaces to make all your retail sales for you puts you at a disadvantage. These e-commerce marketplaces and stores have countless products just like yours, meaning your brand can get lost in the sea of offerings. In this case, so much of the process is out of your control.
While you should keep selling on these marketplaces, you should also create your own site. Having your own e-commerce website gives you freedom and the opportunity to establish your brand.
With your own e-commerce site, you can:
- Optimize the shopping experience for your core customers.
- Emphasize what makes your brand different.
- Have complete control over how your brand is presented.
- Establish your own return and refund policies.
- Choose which payment methods you want to accept and how payment is processed.
When you set up your business for online sales, invest in a high-quality design upfront, complete with user-friendly navigation and mobile-friendly functionality. Doing so will not only help set you apart from other online retailers, but it will also help you cater to the Google algorithm.