The E-Commerce Column

Most Expensive Mistakes Your Online Store Is Probably Making Already

Don't Leave Money on the Table

If you look up this topic, you’ll no doubt come up with a lot of the standard fare, such as not marketing, not having a content plan, not having a fast website, and so on.  These are “table steaks” as they say.  (I don’t know who they are, so feel free to comment below to let us know.)  If you’re not already doing the obvious stuff, then the things in this article won’t be of much help to you – do both.  We spend a lot of time with our clients and this article contains the most common things that we’ve found that e-commerce companies are missing that have an enormous impact.  That impact could be instantly increasing sales, dramatically lowering costs, or preventing unnecessary lawsuits and/or costly customer returns and social media rants.  As they also say, don’t leave money on the table.

Usability Testing

This is something your technical team has already done, and if your design team is any good at their job, they’ve already thought through good and bad usability scenarios before telling developers how to build your store.  We have no doubt about that.  What’s often missed though is getting real customer feedback.  Have you taken these designs to outsiders and gotten their feedback, then run that back to your team?  Once your store was launched or close enough for testing, have you done actual usability testing?  The latter question is hands down the most important one.  It’s absolutely critical that you get usability testing feedback from your target customer audience. 

It’s far too easy and very inexpensive to get usability testing done today.  There are several services that can help you do this, such as  I’ve personally used this service in the past, and the insights we gained from this were things that couldn’t have gotten any other way.  In no time at all, you’ll have targeted customer feedback – real data – that you can act on.  You should do this no less than every 1-2 years.  Your customer’s expectations change over time, and this is the only way you’ll know when change is necessary again.

Secret Shopping

No one knows better than you how your store should run.  You likely have several people taking care of things for you, and they may have several doing things for them.  Once you’re this far removed, it’s difficult to truly know what the end result is for your customers.  This is especially true if you physically ship products.  Do some secret shopping yourself.  Buy your own products, and take notes.  Don’t worry, you can always return it later.  (Right?)  Inspect each step of the process and take notes.  Does this match your company’s brand?  Is this how you expect the process to be?  Were there any unnecessary steps or delays?  How was the product delivery and/or packaging?  Was the experience one that you think customers would repeat just to have it again?  Take notes, and then act on them.  You should do this at least once a year.

Measurable Marketing Plan

You’re probably doing some kind of marketing already.  If you’re not, stop everything, and start.  Marketing is almost the only way to continue gain customers and grow your business.  There are a seemingly endless number of ways that you can market your e-commerce store, and none of them are wrong.  Well, not in theory.  That’s what this is about.  Whatever marketing you choose to do, you must be diligent that it’s something you can measure.  If you can’t in some way associate specific sales with specific marketing channels, then you’re almost wasting money.  Not only should you be able to determine how each sale was made, but you need to be able to measure marketing in general.  If you can’t measure the marketing you’re doing, how can you say for sure that it’s seeing progress?  If you can’t look at the marketing numbers and instantly see trends and growth, why are you spending your money there? 

Whatever you do with measuring your marketing progress, review it at least once a month and be sure that you’re not measuring by the wrong numbers.  Those are called vanity metrics.  For example, while overall site traffic is great, that alone doesn’t mean that anything about your marketing and sales is going well.

Cost Per Sale Auditing

Assuming you have some measurable marketing in place, you can also calculate the cost per sale.  For each dollar a customer spends in your store, are you really making a profit, or is your marketing and overhead eating up the profits?  You should be able to look at each product in your store and know exactly how much profit that product is bringing to the store.  This will mean that you’ll need to calculate everything else you’re doing, such as cost per hour for fulfillment, order processing, customer service, marketing, and so on.  This should be a repeatable process, and you should recalculate your cost per sale no less than once a year, but I’d suggest at least twice annually.

Manually Processing Orders

This is by far one of the most costly things that any store does.  How much is your time or the time of your e-commerce team worth?  How much time does it take them to process any specific order?  How much time is that over the course of the year, and how much is that costing you?  Chances are that you’ll find that the cost of order processing over the course of the year far outpaces the cost of automating order processing.  There are few stores out there that need to actually process their orders manually.

Order Auditing

Again we’ll assume that you’re following the advice above, and you’ve automated your orders.  However, this advice still applies even if you don’t.  You should regularly be randomly selecting a large handful of orders and having them audited.  You need to look for any inconsistencies that could potentially be costing you or your customers money.  Were there any issues logged for payment, and if so, why?  Are the tax calculations correct?  Was the price of shipping correct as well?  How long did it take for the order to be marked as complete after it was originally placed?  This is necessary quality control that could potentially save you from some embarrassing and perhaps costly customer complaints.

About the Author

Will StrohlWill Strohl

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