Amazon has unleashed an e-commerce tsunami that has caused waves of disruption in the retail industry. As a commercial vendor engaged in B2B sales, you may think you’re not affected by Amazon. After all, you sell widgets, not books. Think again.
Amazon has established a new mindset among shoppers. Yes, these are retail shoppers, not commercial ones. However, it’s only a matter of time before this e-commerce wave washes up on commercial B2B vendors’ shores. And that means you.
Very soon – if not already – one or more of your customers are going to be shopping online at Amazon and wonder why their business vendors don’t offer the same convenience, speed and delivery as Amazon. Will you be ready when that happens? Or perhaps it has happened and you’re wondering what to do next?
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Let’s Go Surfing Now, Everybody’s Shopping… and How!
The old business axiom of “location, location, location” is hopelessly obsolete. Buying local? That’s so 20th century. The entire world is a marketplace in 2018. A company may reside in Houston, but thanks to the Web and e-commerce, its customers may now be in Houston, Austin, Seattle, or even Europe or Australia. Success today no longer depends on your customers getting to you to buy your offerings, but on you getting your products and services to the customer after the purchase – the quicker the better.
No matter what commercial product or service you provide, e-commerce has almost certainly begun to alter the way you do business. Customers today have grown used to buying online, without ever having visited a traditional brick and mortar establishment, and having those items shipped to them either overnight or via express two-day mail. It doesn’t matter if these purchases are for personal or business use. Expectations have been set, and if a vendor does not offer an e-commerce option, it stands a good chance of losing a sale and, ultimately, a customer.
What if your business isn’t currently riding the crest of the e-commerce wave? What if you don’t offer your customers a way to buy online and receive purchases via next-day or rapid delivery? Are you simply sunk and out of luck?
Happily, the answer is no. You can still catch the tsunami. However, here are a few things to keep in mind about e-commerce before you throw up a website and expect revenue to flow in like the tide.
Consistent In-Person and Online Experiences are a Must
Your brick-and-mortar locations are well known for their great customer service and welcoming experience. Your online presence must reflect that same feel. Otherwise, you risk causing customer confusion, disappointment and even anger because they won’t be getting what they are used to when dealing with you in person.
You’ve no doubt spent a great deal of time and resources building your brand. You’ve gone the extra mile to ensure your customers know that when they step into your establishment with a need that you’re there to help them solve their problems and that their business is valuable to you. If they don’t get that same vibe from your online presence, you risk losing not only their future business, but your hard-won market reputation as well.
Giving Enough Product Information to Make a Sale
When a customer shops in a brick-and-mortar business, there’s someone around who can answer questions, provide guidance or even offer a demonstration. Not so online. That means it’s important to offer enough information to convince the prospect to buy, but not so much they are overwhelmed, become confused or frustrated.
Three things to consider are visuals, use of enticing marketing language and specifications. Always include a photo of the item. People won’t buy what they can’t see. As for language, spice it up. “Sell the sizzle” applies in person and online. Finally, as the potential buyer can’t touch or feel the item, be sure to give product specifications. Providing specs will often answer many initial, basic questions and head off potential return problems down the road.
Provide Excellent Customer Service – Before and After the Sale
No doubt you already provide great customer service at your brick-and-mortar location. Don’t overlook customer service when it comes to e-commerce. Just because you may never see or interact with your online customers in person doesn’t mean you can take their purchase or their satisfaction for granted.
A good, customer-friendly e-commerce site will have the company name prominently displayed and easy-to-find contact information. Furthermore, that contact information will have a phone number customers can call with questions, concerns or complaints. The site will also clearly state the days and hours that number is available. It will also contain an email address along with the expected response timeframe. Many companies (including Charter Capital) are using live chat features to provide instant e-help.
One big don’t… don’t simply have your customers fill out an online form without the option to receive live assistance. That’s not only a turn-off, it tells them their questions and concerns – as well as their business – aren’t that important to you.
A Wide Variety of Shipping and Delivery Options is Essential
In the entertainment world, a sure path to success is to “give the people what they want.” The same is true in the e-commerce arena when it comes to shipping and delivery.
Customers come to your website or app for two reasons: First, they believe you have a solution to their problem or can fill their need. And if they’re interested enough to make an online purchase with you, you’ve successfully convinced them you can do both. However, unlike a sale at a brick-and-mortar location, the job isn’t finished yet. Why not? Because second, they want that purchase as quickly (and cheaply) as possible. If you can’t provide that, then all your work to this point will have been for nothing.
Amazon has set the retail e-commerce bar for shipping and delivery, and it’s a high one. Buyers know that when they purchase from Amazon, they’ll get their shipments in two days. Not only that, they’ll get shipping at a good rate, or even receive free delivery. Maybe it’s unwarranted, but if they can get these things at Amazon, business and commercial buyers expect that speed and price from you as well. To them, it doesn’t matter if the item is a $10 novel or a $10,000 industrial widget.
You can probably match the two-day delivery without much difficulty, but will you be able match the rate? That’s where the problem starts for small businesses. Yes, you’ve developed a customer-friendly website, you’ve established top-notch customer service, and your product price beats the competition. Congratulations… but you still may miss the sale because your shipping rate is higher. Or because you don’t offer package tracking.
Fulfillment Coordination Can Make or Break Your e-Commerce Efforts
Finally, there’s fulfillment. You’ve sold your product to an eager customer at a price they could afford and at a satisfactory shipping rate and schedule. Game over, right? No. Now the truly hard stuff begins: fulfillment.
In a brick-and-mortar establishment, the customer picks up an item themselves. Any error is usually met with a smile or a shrug from them. In e-commerce, you send the item to the customer. If you send them the wrong item, or if you send the right item to the wrong address, all the work and good will you’ve built using the tips above sinks like lead.
Organization, training and constant vigilance are the hallmarks of accurate fulfillment. The delivered package is the last thing the customer sees from you, and nothing leaves a worse impression than bad fulfillment.
Now that you’re more familiar with what to do – and now also know some things not to do – get ready to make a few e-commerce waves of your own.