The 5 Challenges of E-Commerce for Small Businesses

As the founder and CEO of a provider of shopping carts for small businesses, I am in a privileged position to witness and analyze cases of success and failure in the implementation of e-commerce sites on a regular basis.Based on my experience, I have been able to identify five challenges applicable to most cases. Store owners can usually arrive at the same conclusions through trial and error, but in e-commerce the long way is always the expensive way. The best option is then to learn from the success of other on-line stores.1. Your potential customers DO NOT trust your siteThe Internet allows mom-and-pop websites to look just as good -maybe even better- than the websites of large corporations. All potential customers are well aware of this and they will be unimpressed by a sophisticated layout and a professional logo. Potential customers DO NOT trust the site they have just arrived at, and it must be your conscious decision to do what it takes to make them change their minds. Start by displaying a physical address, a telephone number, and a list of people behind the site. Consider joining forces with other websites that will create legitimacy for your own. If you can get your suppliers and distributors to mention you on their websites, this will surely make your business appear more trustworthy. Join a best practices organization such as the Better Business Bureau, or a privacy certification program such as Truste. Encourage and provide the means for your customers to review your products or services under their name and company. Publish success stories, always making sure the author is clearly identified. And most importantly: answer all pre-sales questions fully and in a timely manner. Many potential customers will contact you with very basic questions, or for information already provided in your FAQ section, just to test your company’s responsiveness. Allocate the necessary resources to assure quick, personalized and courteous responses to all pre-sales inquiries.2. Your products or services WILL NOT sell themselvesAn alarming number of e-commerce store owners believe in the following equation blindly:Traffic + Good Prices = SalesUnfortunately, the reality is much more complex than that. Your products or services WILL NOT sell themselves. Even if you have a significant number of visitors and the lowest price, potential customers may choose to purchase elsewhere on the web. Why is that? Maybe other sites have invested more resources to showcase the same product. Make sure your shopping cart allows you to present products and services like you want them to be seen. If you need five images per item, a long description including HTML formatting, multiple categories, external links and reviews, adapt the application to suit your needs rather than adapting your business to the limitations of the shopping cart. Also, add your own unique text to the standard product descriptions provided by the manufacturer or supplier. If you feel you don’t have the skills to create attractive descriptions for your products, hire a writer you can afford at Guru. Make an effort to get the lowest possible shipping rates or offer free shipping, and publish rates along with shipping delays before the customer checks out. Displaying your products and services fully and thoroughly, investing time and efforts, will help the products on your website outshine the same products offered elsewhere on the web, boost your reliability, and rank your website in search engines.3. The urge to purchase DOES NOT last longEven if a potential customer finds your site, comes to trust your business, and feels compelled to purchase your products or hire your services, that urge DOES NOT last long. Therefore, your website must be designed to let it flow and enjoy it while it lasts. The information required at each step, and the number of steps proper, must be as little and as few as possible. If you sell downloadable software, prompting for a shipping address is definitely a waste of precious time. The shopping cart you have purchased may boast thousands of features, but one of the few features which will truly make a difference in terms of sales is a short and simple checkout. Even if you have already invested in a design or in a shopping cart program with an inconvenient checkout, weigh in the revenue you are missing out on due to a bad decision when you set up your business. Don’t hesitate to switch providers. When you do, remember that the ideal checkout that will make the most of customers’ urge to buy is one where the process is complete with three screens: product view, input of customer and payment information, and confirmation. The simpler, the better. If you have no choice but to present a more complex process, make sure it is not too removed from the ideal three-step model.4. Customers DO NOT favor stores which are too standardMany small stores don’t have a budget to hire a consultant that will devise a custom strategy, so they settle for standard tools. Instead of hiring a web designer, they purchase a template. Instead of purchasing an exclusive template, they purchase a shared template that can be seen everywhere on the web. Instead of developing a custom e-commerce application, or customizing an existing one, they use a standard e-commerce service provided by the hosting company. A direct consequence is that potential customers perceive a lack of commitment by the company to adapt standard tools and create a unique purchasing experience. Therefore, the relationship of trust is not created and the urge to buy is hampered. This means it is crucial to adapt standard tools: the look of the shopping cart should match the overall look of the site, and the functionality must be in line with store requirements (going back to the example above, stores selling digital goods must not prompt for shipping information or quote shipping rates). If you lack the necessary resources, hire a programmer or designer at Rentacoder. There you can post your job and available budget, and receive bids by programmers willing to take up your project.5. Your small e-commerce site WILL NOT go unnoticed by hackersEven if you have overcome the difficulties of setting up your site and you are happy with your sales, there may still be trouble ahead: e-commerce sites are one of the favorite targets of hackers. If you think your site is not relevant enough to catch their attention, you are wrong, and this way of thinking will not help you prepare to face related risks. All e-commerce sites, even those which sell one product a week, are the target of multiple attacks. Some attacks are not successful at all, others have some level of success, and others are so successful that the consequences for the owner of the store can be devastating. The main purpose of hackers is to get customer information and credit card data, redirect payments, and obtain products free of charge or at a lower price. If a hacker steals your customer database and sells it to spammers, the reputation of your site will be ruined. Not to mention what will happen if the hacker commits fraud with the credit card data. Hackers who attack e-commerce sites randomly usually don’t take the time to devise specific ways to intrude. They simply determine which shopping cart and payment method are used, they try to access with default passwords, they look for databases in their standard locations, and they try to intrude the database by means of a common attack known as SQL Injection. If their attempts are not fruitful, they just move on to the next potential victim. So, in terms of security it is not absolutely necessary to have a big budget and hire an expert, either. The key lies in your attitude: define complex passwords, customize your shopping cart installation (change the location of the control panel, change passwords, change the location of the database), and check that the versions of the software you use for your web server, FTP server, database and shopping cart don’t have any known and patched vulnerabilities. Last but not least: keep informed; stay in touch with software vendors and visit websites where security issues are reported, such as NewOrder. This will minimize the chances that security in your site is compromised, and you will be able to focus on your real target: selling more and selling better.That is all. I hope you find The 5 Challenges of E-Commerce for Small Businesses beneficial for your business.Good luck and happy selling,Roni Alhadeff,
Founder of Comersus

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