In the world of electronic commerce I may have the best job possible.
After all, while company owners walk the tenuous New Economy tightrope, with their employees never sure about tomorrow, what I do is far less stressful. My job is to keep my eyes and ears open and try to put some perspective on Web merchandising and online transactions. (You’ll notice I did not use the word “spin.” I said “perspective.”)
What is most important in my line of work is to keep myself grounded and not allow myself to be overly impressed by mergers, acquisitions, alliances or even the highest profile commercial names coming into the game.
With all of that said, and a few years into this field now, here are the essential lessons I have learned about what it takes to stay solvent in the world of online selling.
So far we’ve learned that the public views online selling as a single entity, not as the sum of different parts. As a result, if one Web site makes a glaring mistake, it sullies the reputation of e-tailers overall. That goes for poor fulfillment, exposure of personal data or any of the other many errors e-tailers have already committed.
In the brick-and-mortar world, if Sears makes a mistake, Kmart is not generally harmed by it. Online, if Sears.com fails, Kmart affiliate BlueLight.com can suffer consequences.
This may explain why luxury e-tailers are still struggling. Since most Americans are not luxury consumers, the target audience is by definition way too limited.
Back To Basics
Additionally, what e-tailers have done strictly to stand out in the crowd often backfires on them. Consider:
Sometimes the act of giving away too much for nothing does nothing more than make the e-tailer look desperate.
Somehow, many e-tailers still have not taken this to heart, burying their return policies deep within the site and making customers jump through hoops to return merchandise. Further, while re-stocking fees may be necessary on some items, some e-tailers have tacked on fees for returns that are unnecessary and unreasonable.
Hats off to Amazon.com for 1-Click buying and the easiest return policy I’ve experienced. Simplicity sells. Complexity repels.
Safety and Familiarity
Online shoppers are still unconvinced of the viability of electronic buying. Too many still view it as a novelty act on the part of some renegade merchants. It is up to the e-commerce community to change this misconception, and the sure road to credibility has everything to do with making shoppers feel secure:
Shoppers are still having reservations about revealing their credit-card numbers online, largely for this reason. Some time ago, when Travelocity.com inadvertently revealed personal data of more than 50,000 customers, one wonders how much Expedia.com suffered for its rival’s negligence. Did I mention that we’re all in this together?
Right now, anything that goes a long way toward advancing the growth of online merchandising is critical. Which brings us to perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned so far.
That is, simply, never get too comfortable. Ask venerable brick-and-mortar retailers what they’ve learned over the years and they are likely to talk first about the importance of diligence. Likewise, ask any failed e-tailers about their biggest mistakes, and they are likely to talk first about becoming too comfortable too fast.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.