The first of the year is a time for traditions: Pickled herring at midnight, college bowl games, resolutions — oh and, figuring out how to fortify your ecommerce business for what will undoubtedly be a new year of fierce competition, changing consumer habits and rapid-fire changes in markets and technology.
And no, it’s not too early to chart the course to success in 2018. Three ecommerce veterans recently pooled their knowledge in a webinar “Nine Ecommerce Tips for a Successful 2018,” which provided a game plan for attracting, converting and keeping customers in the coming year.
The trio provided a start-to-finish users guide on how to improve the customer experience for your ecommerce customers.
Missy Hildebrand, a marketing consultant with Americaneagle.com, talked about the importance of being deliberate when building a marketing program that incorporates all the many channels that consumers turn to today.
“I think a lot of times people forget it’s not just about the website,” Hildebrand says. “Your ecommerce solution is about all the different channels that you are active on. Nowadays, customers are literally everywhere — online and offline. And so we need to be where they are, too.”
And not just be there, but be consistent when you are there. It can be tricky, particularly when different people have responsibilities for different channels, but your brand’s personality should be evident on every channel. No, your email messages and your social media messages don’t have to be identical, but they should sound as if they are coming from the same company.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes
And what is it they should say, exactly? Hildebrand says it pays to take the time to think about your customers. Build some personas. Put yourself in their position and think about what they need, what they want and how you can be there to help. Think about where your customers spend their time in terms of channels.
Don’t be shy. Make sure your channels are promoting each other. If you conduct an email campaign, consider referring to your social channels and plugging the notion that consumers can find deals or helpful information on them. Use your social channels to drive customers to email, maybe by offering a deal for those who sign up for email notifications.
And, of course, Hildebrand says, you need to measure your success. Monitor your communication efforts. Tweak or junk what doesn’t work. Find ways to more broadly use the ideas that do work.
Remember, too, that channels magnify each other. Yes, you have great content on your web — sterling copy that practically sings. How about supporting it with a well-thought-out SEO strategy? Content marketing is good. SEO is good. Content marketing plus SEO? Really good.
Let’s assume all your hard work on marketing channels has the desired effect and orders are pouring in. That’s where Kenny Johnson, who joined the webinar from accounting and inventory management system company Brightpearl, comes in. The first step in getting a handle on fulfillment and shipping, Johnson says, is figuring out what model works best for you.
Most commonly, retailers either run their own fulfillment, turn to drop-shipping or work with a third-party logistics company. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Drop-shipping, for instance, means you don’t own your inventory and so it means a business can launch without as large a capital outlay. You also give up some control, leaving delivery to a just-in-time operation.
With a third-party fulfillment company, you own the inventory and have complete control of that, but you cede some control over the shipping process and performance. In self-fulfillment, you have complete control, but you also bear all the costs involved in storing, managing and shipping your products.
Automate what can be automated
The one constant that Johnson sees, regardless of the shipping method, is a tendency for operations to rely on too many manual processes when automated processes could save time and operational costs. Sure, he says, there is some complexity involved in getting the goods to consumers, but there is plenty of room to simplify.
“These are generally very, very repeatable roles,” he says. “So, this is a perfect area to add automation into your business. It just involves looking for the right tools that allow you to establish those rules. So look at it and understand, ‘Am I throwing people at a problem that I could be just setting up as an automated role?'”
If automation seems like the way to go, there are still questions to ask. Will the automation tool you’ve settled on be able to handle the scale of your operation? Does it have the features you want to run your business the way you want to? Is it secure?
Finally, Johnson said, keep an eye on the total cost of acquiring the goods you buy. Sure there is a wholesale price, but be sure to consider the costs of moving that product — things like insurance, freight, customs and tariff costs etc.
Lee Hadsock, Signifyd’s head of partnerships, focused on another link in the ecommerce chain where profits can slip away. Fraud and the fear of fraud can tie merchants and orders up in knots.
The first key to fighting fraud, Hadsock says, is to make sure you’re not underestimating the threat.
“If you think fraudsters are mischievous pranksters breaking into your site as a hobby, think again,” he says.
Most online fraud is committed by sophisticated fraudsters who make their living ripping off merchants. Retailers need to at least match the fraudsters’ sense of purpose by having a person, team or partner dedicated to managing fraud.
From there, he says, fraud teams need to focus on sifting through good and bad orders quickly. In the era of Amazon, consumers are accustomed to fast delivery. Delays damage the customer experience you’ve worked so hard to create.
Signifyd is among the fraud protection companies that rely on machine learning to process a vast number of orders almost instantaneously. The more troublesome orders are flagged and reviewed by humans with the same emphasis on speed and accuracy.
Guaranteed fraud protection battles false declines
The model, which is built around Guaranteed Fraud Protection, provides another advantage: Helping merchants get a handle on the costly problem of false declines. The term “false declines” refers to those orders that are not shipped because they appear fraudulent, even though they were actually placed by a legitimate, paying customer.
Hadsock says he prefers the term “insult rate” to false declines.
“When you think about it,” he says,”there is no better way to frustrate a customer and turn him or her against you than by taking them all the way through the purchasing process only to tell them that they’re not getting their stuff.”
In fact, Hadsock says, a study by Javelin Advisory Services found that nearly a third of shoppers whose orders are denied never visit the retailer who declined them again. So, not only do you lose the sale, you also lose a customer for good.
But the Guaranteed Fraud Protection model, which makes merchants financially whole for approved orders that turn out to be fraudulent, turns the world of false declines upside down. The model thrives on risk. By shipping some orders that appear to be fraudulent, fraud protection companies are able to feed their machine-learning models valuable information about the state of fraud.
If an apparently fraudulent order is shipped and it turns out to be legitimate, the merchant makes a sale and the machine learns that what was thought to be fraud isn’t fraud. If the order is in fact fraudulent, the merchant is protected by the financial guarantee and the machine receives valuable reinforcement about what fraud looks like.
“For us,” Hadsock says, “shipping those potentially bad orders is just another form of R&D spending.”
Photo by iStock
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.