Many business owners and sales managers are scrambling to sell their products online. However, in your rush to unlock the marketing power of e-commerce, it is equally prudent to pay attention to the potential problems of Internet selling. By thoroughly examining the disadvantages, you will be positioned to successfully meet these challenges and increase your sales.
Resistance to Online Payment
You should start by accepting that you will not always be able to satisfy every single customer when it comes to online payments. But with credit card data thefts making regular news, you should devote plenty of attention to how you will address online payment skepticism. One approach is for your business to be willing to take payment information over the phone rather than forcing customers to enter credit card numbers on your site. You can also accept checks and other non-electronic forms of payment such as money orders. Another winning strategy is to make clear that your site does not store credit card information after the sale is completed.
Impersonal Customer Service
An e-commerce site will always have an impersonal quality to it, because a real person is not able to provide a free sample or greet your customer walking through your online door. Many sites have addressed this challenge by offering the ability to chat online with a sales representative — video chats add yet another visual touch with an extra element of personal service. Another promising approach is to provide a phone number to facilitate a personalized conversation.
Legal Guidelines Vary
With online selling, you will periodically be confronted by the need to decide where your products can be purchased and shipped to because of varying legal requirements. Each state can have a different approach to collecting sales tax, and shipping costs can also vary based on location. Because regulations and laws can vary so widely from one state to another, one of your best strategies for dealing with this potential disadvantage is to have a detailed discussion with a lawyer knowledgeable in the subject.
Duplicate Content and Copying
If you develop a successful online store, the easy and anonymous access to online sites means that there is always the potential for unscrupulous parties to steal your ideas and content. Copyright and patent laws are one legal recourse. Depending on how exposed your business is to this potential disadvantage, extra vigilance might be necessary.
Absence of Key Buying Senses
The inability of your customers to touch and smell your product can inhibit some purchases. For example, some customers want to be able to try on clothes to be sure of a proper fit. One strategy for minimizing this disadvantage is to offer a generous return policy. Another approach is to provide an abundance of information — weight, length, height and other relevant data. For example, some online clothing retailers provide detailed data about size variations and adjustments based on customer waist and shoulder measurements.
Technical Issues Such as Downtime
Internet website outages are the equivalent of losing power in a traditional physical store. Establishing and operating an e-commerce site involves specialized technical skills, but many of these tasks are similar to maintaining inventory records and processing sales in a brick-and-mortar environment. Nevertheless, you should anticipate the need for some technical expertise to overcome this potential problem area. As online security risks evolve, you will need to adjust quickly if you want to maintain a positive online business reputation.
Stephen Bush is based in Ohio and has been a business finance consultant and writer for more than 30 years. Bush obtained a Master of Business Administration in management and finance at the University of California, Los Angeles.