The e-commerce industry has grown over the past decade. Businesses of all sizes from start-ups to huge enterprises in different industries now feel the need to put their businesses online because it’s where most people – your audience – can be found today.
The way we live is slowly changing and businesses have to continuously adapt to shifts in the economy, new buyer behaviour, new marketing channels, new technologies and more. Not to mention, compete on a worldwide arena. It’s a much bigger playing field, and with the new normal, more hurdles keep on emerging.
Even before the huge culture shift, businesses have been found to struggle. Studies show that 20 percent of small businesses fail in the first year, then comes the five-year test where 50 percent of small businesses have been shown to shut down. It doesn’t end there because they have to overcome the 10-year mark where 70 percent of small business owners fail.
So, what are the challenges that these businesses failed to overcome that e-commerce businesses today are also experiencing? How can they combat these hurdles?
1. Business uncertainty
If you have already made the decision to operate your business online, then you’ve taken a huge step in the right direction but that’s only the beginning. With every industry being affected by change, businesses have yet to navigate the market and reroute their strategy.
The capability to predict consumer behaviour, market trends and form an effective business strategy is invaluable in today’s shifting economic climate.
As a CEO or a business owner, you have to pull in the resources that will allow you to come up with the best options and make the right decisions.
Plan ahead and plan for future scenarios. Not just one, but for multiple levels of challenges. For example, a competitor suddenly matched with the services you’re offering and is even implementing the same marketing strategies. What would you do in this situation?
In this case, you should have a plan to emerge as the better brand. This plan calls for you to innovate, and come up with something new, whether it’s a new product, service, promotion or marketing strategy.
Another instance is when it comes to the disruption of the economy and people’s way of life. Bill Gates nailed this scenario in his 2015 Ted Talk. He forecasted a future where a pandemic will cause a shift in the way people will be living their daily lives. If this were the case, what would you do? Big companies have the ability to make strategic investments early so they’ll have the resources that will allow them to lie low and wait until the economy becomes stable. After that, they can then form a proper strategy that fits a recovering economy.
If need be, you can seek outside help or bring in consultants who possess the experience and knowledge that can help pull your business in the right direction during uncertain times.
Note that there will always be one thing that won’t change and that’s customer experience. Customer experience will always be the differentiating factor between you and competitors so put your customers at the center of every decision you make.
2. An understanding of the target market
It’s understandable that everyone’s decision-making process has shifted and will continue to do so in the future. At the moment, the way people think and act is not how it used to be, that includes your target audience and how they see your products or services.
This understanding will have you delve deeper into your target market’s psychographics. You need to keep this in mind since your business strategy will depend on your customers. Psychographics are people's attitude, lifestyle, personalities, interest and values. With the change in the environment and economy, chances are, they have changed too. Pay attention so that during these times, you can design your product, offers, ads, content, and market position with the aim to connect with them.
While gathering demographics data can easily be done through tools like Google Analytics, psychographics data requires more time. Here’s are some ways how you can get information about your target market’s psychographic profile:
- Customer Interview
- Customer Surveys
- Social Media Analytics
- Gathering data by reviewing clients’ social media posts, online reviews or testimonials.
3. Financial management
E-commerce is indeed a great way to cut down costs compared to managing an offline store, but this benefit is sometimes disrupted when a business owner isn’t too savvy with financial management. Let’s face it, a lot of business owners are visionaries, they are idea-people who see the big picture, but some aren’t too particular with cash flow, financing and cost reduction. The impact of poor financial management can lead to overspending, larger debt and bankruptcy.
Planning ahead is the best solution to effectively regulate your finances. It will help you anticipate future roadblocks and prepare funding for them (ex. If expansion is at the top of our priority list, you can plan on bringing in investors at a point where you think your business is capable of presenting a complete business and marketing framework)
It is also best to study your business operations thoroughly. This means knowing how cash flows from the point where your company provides a product or service, to how much you spend on marketing, to making a sale to your customer, up until the point where the customer makes the payment, and the process starts again.
Determine how your cash is moving through this cycle so that you can control and manage efficiently.
You have to be thorough with your finances, if you think you need assistance, it’s best to work with a trusted financial adviser or hire a business manager who can oversee the financial condition of your business.
4. Recruiting the right talent
One of the major problems business owners are facing today is working with the right talent. Research shows that 73 percent of applicants now are just passive job seekers, and that each vacancy can cost a company £400 a day. This means that you can be risking quality and resources by hiring the wrong talent. Hiring is more challenging now because most candidates fall short in these important characteristics:
For your e-commerce business, the key players you have to look for are:
- Sales team
- Digital marketing team
- SEO specialist
- Web developer
Evaluate whether you need the talent in-house or if it’s better to outsource it to a third party provider.
Understand that there will be instances where you’ll have to bring in outside assistance for your business. Whether it’s to develop a strategy or deliver a service that requires added expenses like hardware, tools and software. There are specialists and experts who can deliver services or tasks that are vital for your business’ development. If this sounds like a great strategy for you, then look into agencies offering outsourcing services who you can consult with and who can evaluate the needs of your business.
One common question that frequently comes up is ‘What are outsourcing and offshoring?’ as there are business owners who misunderstand these two terms.
Outsourcing is a method of hiring a third-party vendor for a certain task or service. This has been practiced by companies of all sizes for many years. An example would be if a company hired a digital marketing agency for their web design services, may it be for a one time service or for a long term contract.
Offshoring has the same concept as outsourcing, the main difference is that offshoring is outsourcing done from one country to another. To be precise, offshoring is obtaining products or service from another country. A good example would be Apple buying some of their parts from Samsung, a company located in South Korea which is 6,600 miles away from the United States.
The gist here is that outsourcing or offshoring allows a business to provide their customers with the right products or services that are demanded from them.
In talent recruitment, countries in Asia like the Philippines, are becoming a hotspot for offshoring not just for BPO but KPO as well. Aside from language not being a hindrance in communication, they have an excellent skill pool when it comes to web development, digital marketing and SEO – all of which are essential to the success of your e-commerce business.
5. Lacking the right digital marketing strategy
As of the first quarter of 2020, Facebook alone has totalled 2.6 billion monthly active users, meanwhile a 2019 study indicated that search traffic has generated 65 percent of total e-commerce sessions. These numbers tell us one thing: An effective digital strategy has never been more important today.
The world is going digital and yet many companies still haven’t put emphasis on their online presence, moreover, haven’t started developing a solid marketing strategy.
If you’re using digital media without a strategic approach, then you might miss out on opportunities.
The keyword here is ‘opportunity’. Sure, the unpredictability of the marketplace and the downward shift in the economic climate leaves much to be desired. However, there are opportunities for business growth if you know where to look, and based on buyer behaviour – that opportunity is online.
Coming up with the right digital marketing strategy for your business will be a challenge itself. If it were easy, everyone would be just as easily successful.
- Define your value proposition. Define your brand and think about how it will look in your online campaigns.
- Determine your buyer personas. These are your ideal customers. Create a realistic character of who you plan to market your products and services to. Remember to be as detailed as possible.
- Know your buyer’s journey. The buyer’s journey is essentially the cycle from when a user becomes aware that your product is needed, up until the point where your product gets discovered and eventually purchased. Map out the buyer’s journey so you know where to meet your target audience. This will allow you to build a more effective digital marketing strategy.
- Determine the ultimate goal of your digital marketing campaign. Visualize the campaign with the end in mind. What do you want to achieve? How do you plan to achieve it? How will it affect your business? Be sure to set measurable goals and always have a deadline or a timeline for the deliverables.
- Pick the digital marketing platform you’re going to use. Whether it’s social media, email, SEO, PPC or a website, you have to pick the ones where your audience can be found. You can’t cast a net in an area with no fish in it and expect to catch something. Determine where you can best get your leads and map out your strategy from there.
- Monitor your results. Measuring your results are crucial because they let you know if your digital marketing efforts are taking effect or not. If they are successful, the data will show you which areas are optimised and for what specific purpose. However, if they are not effective, data report will let you know which areas you need to improve. Use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to keep track on the effectiveness of your strategies.
Another solution is to outsource your digital marketing services to agencies or freelancers. Again, outsourcing is a common business practice not only for start-ups and small business but also for major corporations as well. An example would be Apple offshore outsourcing to South Korea for their OLED panels which happens to be Samsung’s specialty.
You have to be open to adapting new processes in order to provide the best to your customers. Outsourcing or offshoring can be an option, if you find a partner agency who can understand your brand and vision really well. Check their body of work, research about their previous clients, and talk to them. If you see that they are the professionals you’re looking for, the ones who can get you to where you want to go, then that’s who you want to work with.
6. Lack of technical knowledge in website optimisation
No matter the size of a business, lack of knowledge in website optimisation can be a risk factor. Some entrepreneurs are new to the concept of putting their business online or just discovered that putting up an e-commerce website is a great way to increase revenue and get leads -- so they do it. Without diving deeper into the process. A common misconception for many (may it be a small or large company) is that creating or buying a website is all it takes for their business to skyrocket online. That is not the case.
Consider this, Google alone accumulates an estimate of 2.5 trillion searches a year, and on the first page of organic search, the first five results already account for 67% of all clicks. To put it bluntly, even if there are trillions of searches happening, it won’t matter much if your website doesn’t appear on the first page when a user types a keyword that connects to your business.
Lack of knowledge in website optimisation or search engine optimisation can lead to:
- People not finding your website
- People not motivated or encouraged to come back to your website
- Search engines like Google not being able to read and crawl your website correctly
- Competitors taking advantage of your website (ex. Negative SEO can be done on your site)
There are SEO hacks you can do on your own, but now that the internet is becoming a major playing field for businesses of all sizes, you want professional work to be done on your website. No matter the industry, whether it’s a pharmaceutical company, a dental clinic, a sports house, a real estate agency or you’re offering legal services, you can always look for a digital marketing company where you can also outsource SEO services to fit your requirements.
The search industry will continue to evolve, as long as search engines like Google exist and continue to update their algorithm. With the relevance of search to your business, it goes without saying that your SEO strategy needs to be modified and upgraded as well. Even the most experienced SEO professionals need to be alert and be in the best shape, to be able to keep up.
Practicing SEO is like working out, stop and it will slow down. Make it a regimen to update and enhance your SEO efforts and you’ll see it will definitely help you get ahead..
7. Customer Loyalty
Customers reflect your business performance. Everything that has to do with your clients from how many you have, their attitude towards your store and their loyalty, all speak about your business.
Unlike in a physical store, ‘buyer and seller’ don’t really see each other when doing transactions online. This makes building trust and loyalty a challenge – though not impossible.
This is where customer loyalty programs and customer service come into play. Customer loyalty programs will provide your customers with incentives so if they’re repeat customers, these are a reward for them for coming back and supporting your brand, and if they are not repeat customers, loyalty programs will be the incentive and motivation for them to return and make frequent purchases.
Customer service is an important aspect in earning your customers’ trust and loyalty because a good customer support shows them that you care above and beyond just making a sale or closing a deal. Start by being transparent. Put your address and contact information where they can see them. Answer their calls and respond to their emails. Add a live chat on your website so that they know they can contact you at all times.
8. Adapting and planning
Adapting to trends and being flexible enough to incorporate new methods in planning are also major challenges businesses face, whether it’s e-commerce or otherwise. It’s a common habit to be set on your ways and not let go of things that have worked for you in the past. Keep in mind, the strategy that worked for your business for so long, might not be the strategy that will work for you now.
There’s a limit to process efficiency and that is reflected in the face of innovation.
What this means is that when a business gets too attached to an effective process, there’s a chance that it fails to embrace change, fold in the face of challenges or close its doors to new opportunities.
Be conscious about the change in conditions and know when it is time to adapt a new method that will help you gain advantage in the market. Next is to revisit your plans and strategy, see what’s working and what needs to be revamped.
As with the changing trends, it’s normal for strategies to develop as well, this includes development in technology, processes and techniques. Seeking assistance from an outside provider can go beyond just accomplishing tasks and services, you can gain some new knowledge from these experts as well.
Success isn't easy but it's worth it
Your business could be facing one or more of these challenges and as a leader an added challenge would be balancing priorities. You have to balance your goals, your people, clients, processes and business development. You don’t have to do it alone. If there are services that need specialised skills to be fulfilled then hire people who can do the legwork for you.
As a business owner, the ultimate goal is to give your clients the best customer experience you can provide.
These business challenges might twist and knock you around but overcoming these hurdles is part of company growth, they present an avenue for new learning, even an opportunity for expansion.