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Studying the Business of Ecommerce

Posted on 1.23.2012

While it may not be the most optimistic news for brick-and-mortar stores, ecommerce companies and businesses with an ecommerce solution are, on average, doing very well. But in an industry pretty much dominated by a single company (guess who?), while also presenting a seemingly endless number of potential competitors, it can be hard to get started and find immediate success.

It can be easier, though, if you look at some of the most accomplished ecommerce brands and study their secrets. What have we learned so far?

Product Pages Take Precedent
I hope you didn’t spend a lot of time fretting over your home page, because studying ecommerce site analytics shows that the truth is that many visitors, even paying customers, will never see it.

The biggest reason is that Google and other search engines have become especially adept at finding the products most relevant to a user’s query. Consequently, users will usually just click on a result that leads them directly to a product page, where they will make their decision to purchase (or not). The site’s home page is never a factor.

Because of this, the design of product pages is significant. Consider including important information on these pages (and shopping cart pages) that would otherwise only appear on the home page, such as promotions/deals, company info, support, navigation, alternative product options and anything else you feel is valuable.

Button Design and Placement
When running an ecommerce site, one important but oft-overlooked key to success is the “Add to Cart” button and surrounding space. This little guy can make or break a sale, although the customer may not even realize it.

And unfortunately, there’s only one way to know just how effective your “Add to Cart” button actually is; by testing, testing and testing. Look at Amazon, whose buttons have been radically altered over the years as the company tries to determine what options drive the most conversions. Over the years, the Amazon button has evolved from a single button to a pair (for some time now, it has included a one-click shopping option, the bane of my bank account) and changed its position on the product page numerous times.

The changes are a result of rigorous testing to determine the button’s best location for visibility and ease-of-use for customers. Successful companies such as Amazon realize that even the most subtle differences such as “Add to Cart” button placement and design can have a huge impact on an ecommerce site’s effectiveness.

Everything is Social
Social is transforming the Web, and that goes for ecommerce as well. The newest trend is a combination of the two known as social commerce. This is kind of an all-encompassing term, covering both the idea of sharing reviews, ratings and general opinions about a brand, product or service on social media sites and the actual act of shopping on these social networks as in f-commerce (the buying and selling of goods through Facebook).

However, actually using social networks as a platform for transactions isn’t anywhere near fully conceived yet, and most social commerce still focuses on using the medium to monitor a brand’s online reputation and interact with consumers to help shape it. Studies have shown that many consumers (74 percent) rely on social networks to help them make purchasing decisions, and that products with higher ratings are 55 percent more likely to be purchased. Clearly, consumers put a lot of stock in the opinions of social media users when it comes to making shopping decisions, so the most successful ecommerce companies will be leveraging various social platforms.

The Importance of Retention
In the world of ecommerce, where a customer can switch “stores” with literally the click of a button, customer service and providing an exceptional experience are crucial to running a successful business. In this day and age, especially with the significance that consumers place on social media reviews and opinions, finding customers is a difficult job, so once you do get someone on board with your products or services, you need to work very hard to keep them. After all, the marketing cost required to find one new customer is six to seven times more than retaining a customer.

Customer retention is as easy as providing a great product/service, excellent customer experiences and helpful, relevant customer support. Ecommerce businesses who have retained as few as five percent of their customers have seen profit increases as high as 95 percent; probably because 61 percent of Americans have said that quality customer service is important to them in today’s economic environment, and they’ll spend up to nine percent more on companies that have provided them with such service.

Using advanced customer service solutions, such as a live chat feature, are great ways to provide such support and maintain a satisfied customer base. Brands can also take to social media, like Twitter, to hear customer issues and deal with them in an effective, timely manner.

A Globalized Industry
We live on a big planet, but thanks to the Internet, it’s getting a little smaller every day. Ecommerce, possibly more than any other e-industry, has seen and will see the most dramatic changes thanks to this newfound globalization.

Success in ecommerce will soon mean being able to reach and work with an audience that spans the world, which isn’t an easy feat. Among the many problems a company might have to deal with are the ability to provide a product/service internationally, language/currency barriers and customer support issues, specifically returns and refunds. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Globalizing an entire business is obviously more than an overnight project; it will take years, at best, for even an enterprise-level ecommerce company to be truly global. That being said, trends show an increasingly globalized economy in the near future, spurred largely by the growth of the Internet, and ecommerce will definitely play a major part.


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