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by Chris Malta & Robin Cowie
You may already feel the pressure of the present recession. The costs of living are rising, and consumers are beginning to pull back. Many online sellers are worried that the sluggish market will have a negative impact on their eBiz sales. However, Forrester Research indicates that, not only is eCommerce flourishing despite these negative conditions, but it will continue its strong upward trajectory throughout the year and into the foreseeable future.
Many Internet retailers are actually experiencing an up-tick in sales over this same quarter last year. Shawna Fennell, owner of 1Choice4YourStore.com, states, “I’m going into our Yahoo stores, and I’m thinking ‘Where’s the recession?’ You don’t see it unless you go into the local mall and there’s nobody there.”
Andreas Georgio, of AndreasInc.com, agrees. States Georgio, “[The recession] isn’t affecting me at all. Actually, my business has doubled almost every year since I started.”
An Upward Outlook
According to Forrester Research’s February 2008 teleconference, “The Outlook for U.S. eCommerce in 2008 and Beyond”, online sales are projected to see more than 130 billion dollars of growth over the next 4 years, climbing from an already-impressive 204 billion dollars this year to almost 335 billion dollars in 2012.
In spite of sagging offline retail sales, online sales are growing at a rapid clip. Forrester lists a number of key factors contributing to this shopping-channel shift: a desire to avoid lines, ease of comparison research, the ability to find niche merchandise, and convenience are drawing more consumers online.
Their research also identifies several significant traits of frequent online buyers that make them unlikely to cut back on their shopping in the near future. Typically, online buyers are in a higher income bracket than average consumers and are more optimistic about their financial futures. They also tend to be less affected by short-term economic slowdowns.
For your online business, this is great news. But even in a recession-proof marketplace, success is not a given. To maximize your conversion and build repeat business, you still have to deliver the positive shopping experience your customers crave. That means addressing issues that could keep them from coming back and shopping with you again.
Forrester Research offers insight into several operational issues that online shoppers cite as most distressing:
• Shipping charges. The most common issue that buyers complained of was higher-than-expected shipping prices. Shipping charges are unavoidable when you sell online, but you’ll do yourself a great favor by not padding them to boost your profits. Also, never inflate your shipping charges to offer lower product prices. Even if your shoppers don’t abandon their carts altogether, they’ll at least be unpleasantly surprised and unlikely to return.
• Back-orders. Another major complaint was out-of-stock products. Part of good customer service is constantly keeping an eye on your stock levels, as well as your supplier’s stock levels. Some supplier websites will give you the ability to monitor stock levels. With others, you may need to call from time to time.
Watching your wholesaler’s inventory is especially vital if you use drop shipping, because other sellers are also tapping into their inventory. When you notice your supplier is almost out of a product, you should consider pulling it from your eStore until they replenish. You should also order several of your fastest-moving products, as back-ups. In the event that you accidentally sell a back-ordered item, you’ll still be able to fill your customer order.
It’s a great time to be an e-tailer and it’s only going to get better. But your eBiz won’t just succeed automatically. You have to create customer satisfaction and loyalty by focusing on the basic operational issues that affect your customers. By doing that, you’re positioning your online business to thrive, regardless of the slow economy.
The eCommerce growth facts and figures in this article were derived from Forrester Research’s February 20, 2008 teleconference, “The Outlook for U.S. eCommerce in 2008 and Beyond”, presented by principal analyst Sucharita Mulpuru and Forrester Research’s May 28, 2008 webinar, “The State and Future of eCommerce”, presented by research director and vice president, Carrie Johnson.
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