About Our Guest: Lucy Reed has been starting businesses since she was a kid, from the lemonade stand she opened in her parent’s driveway at age 10 to the dog walking business she started while in college. She created GigMine because she was inspired by the growth of the sharing economy and wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurial individuals like herself to find the gig opportunities in their areas.

Succeeding with an e-commerce business is challenging in ways that differ from traditional brick-and-mortar ventures. You have to attract customers without the benefit of drawing attention with a physical profile and find ways to separate your business from the competition. Outreach is an important part of any business; for an Internet-based venture it’s absolutely vital. There are a number of ways to differentiate yourself and generate the kind of customer loyalty that’s so important in an e-commerce context. Here are a few strategies that, done well, can give you a decided advantage.

Your website

A website is more than just a website when you’re trying to become an e-commerce success. It’s your store, the face and functionality of your entire business. It must be visually appealing, first and foremost. A sloppily laid out and poorly structured site will quickly lose the attention of someone who’s just clicking through trying to find something specific. Visitors get an impression literally in the blink of an eye – it only takes about 50 milliseconds for a prospective customer to develop an opinion about your online business. That’s less than a second to encourage a potential customer to do business with you, which makes a compelling website absolutely crucial.

Freebies & promos

There’s nothing quite like seeing the word “Free” on someone’s website, or reading about a two-for-one offer when you’ve found a shirt, dress or shoes that look great in your size. Customers have a powerful emotional connection to that delightful four-letter word that attracts and keeps them coming back for more. Free shipping is a very good way to drum up business. Consider offering free shipping as an introductory promotional offer when you launch your business, and make it a standing offer when someone spends $75 or more, for example. It can make you a more attractive option than many other online businesses.

Customer service

Few things alienate people like bad customer service. We all expect to be treated with respect, and we respond favorably when someone goes the extra mile, so make a point of responding to customer inquiries and complaints in a timely manner. Timeliness is absolutely critical – customers are liable to feel offended or put off when they don’t receive a prompt response. A research study by McKinsey showed that a vast majority (70 percent) of customers decide to purchase based on how well they think you’re treating them. That means it’s not your product or service so much as how you deal with people that really matters.

Growing Your Business

It’s important to keep improving and expanding your business so customers have the impression yours is a growing, successful business on the move. Enhancing your website is one way to give that impression, as is adding inventory, always an attention grabber for existing customers. For instance, selling wholesale allows clothing retailers to dropship enticing new styles, which keeps customers interested in new styles each season.

When additional funding becomes necessary, be prepared to research small business loans, ask loyal customers to invest in your plans (and reward them for doing so), or you could begin a crowdfunding initiative, all of which can be done conveniently online. The extra boost in capital can help push your business into new heights.

Social media

Social media is a terrific medium for engaging with customers and finding out what they want, what they’re not happy about, and for receiving and responding to complaints as well as compliments. Use social media as an ongoing, open channel to your clientele and for creating inroads with potential customers.

Enticing and delighting customers is necessary for building a strong e-business. That means building and maintaining an attractive and responsive website – the public’s window on your business and its primary means of communicating with you. Always stress good customer service by responding to customers’ wishes, suggestions and complaints in a timely manner. Overall, investing in your customers is investing in your business.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.

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