commerce

4 Categories of Common E-Commerce Missteps

Erich has more than 18 years experience as an award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager, and industry educator. He empowers decorators to do their best work and achieve a greater success. A current educator and long-time columnist, Erich takes every opportunity to provide value to the industry. Find more information on Erich and his publications here.

E-commerce has become familiar enough that we might as well drop the "e" and consider online sales to be a regular part of "conventional" commerce.

Even though much of our industry has made the jump to selling online, whether with individually customized decorated products or in branded company stores, we regularly make mistakes that limit our ability to serve our customers online.

As someone who has run and managed online stores for years, I decided to compile four main categories of these missteps on the path to e-commerce. 

LACKING RESPONSIVENESS

This may be the cardinal mistake all decorators make, no matter where they operate. Whatever the medium, you must respond to customers in a reasonable amount of time. If you can't respond quickly to an avenue of contact, you shouldn't operate there. In short, if you have no means or intention of being available via social media, you shouldn't work in that space. Conversely, if you know you must operate on social media to address your clientele, you must commit to regularly responding to messages there. Though you will miss communications and make mistakes, you must make responsiveness a priority. The longer you wait to contact a customer, whether for sales calls or service tickets, the more time they have to develop doubt or find another source for their information.

Responsiveness indicates to the customer that they matter. It sets the tone for the quality of your service and allows you to control the narrative of your interaction. Even when a response isn't everything a customer may want to hear, they would rather their concerns be quickly acknowledged than to remain unanswered. Don't let the possibility of an uncomfortable exchange delay your response.

LACKING CLARITY

It should be obvious why everything that a customer needs to successfully navigate your site, order products, and pay for their orders should be overtly stated and easy to understand. Proactively offering information about garment sizing, fit, and measurement methods, as well as store policies, is essential, but it is wasted if you don't do so in a clear, legible, and intelligible fashion.

Remember that your first goal is to establish trust through clear expectations and education. Terms and conditions shouldn't be seen merely as legal protection, even if that's how they'll be used as a last resort. The easier it is for your customer to see and understand terms, the less likely you'll have to refer to them later in a dispute.

BLAMING THE CUSTOMER

Though you may have heard that the customer is always right, it doesn't mean that the customer is infallible or that you must change your policy to match every customer's expectations. It doesn't mean that you default to placing blame on yourself or your company when problems arise, either.

Any interaction should start with the idea that the customer sincerely believes their position to be both rational and correct. It's like the logical Principle of Charity; you must assume in any argument that if you had the same experiences that your conversational partner has, you might well be making the same argument and believe as they do.

In the end, you may find yourself facing an unreasonable customer, but until that point, starting with this charity rather than blame allows you not only to see a customer's perspective but to question how they arrived at their assumptions and perhaps see what you might do to avoid future misunderstandings. There may be improvements you can make, either in the development of your site or in your contacts with customers, to guide them to factually correct, or better yet, mutually beneficial conclusions. Misunderstandings can be an opportunity for improvement, even when they initially feel like a problem.

OVERPROMISING

You must remain realistic with what you can offer your customers. When explaining expected shipping times, custom fee structures, the description of your product, your support hours, or anything else customer-facing, you must avoid promising more than you can offer. Though the natural thing to do may be to promise the moon, particularly when you're faced with an upset customer, rather than take a short-term approach to get the customer on your side, research your response and offer something within your power (and profit margin) to give.