I met this man, who was in his late 50s, accidentally while visiting San Francisco. It turned out that he is a super experienced ecommerce professional who owns now 19 online stores across the US and 6 stores in the UK.
We agreed on taking a pizza at his favorite restaurant at Stockton Street and discussing e-commerce.
Unfortunately, his only wish was that he would remain nameless for any articles. I accepted this condition. However, what he taught me changed everything and it was worth it. Visualize everything below in quotes from my Evernote:
Listen to your customers
Young merchants like you often ask me about the key ingredients to grow a successful ecommerce business. And while I can go deep into the details, my answer is simple but powerful:
You can always work on your conversion rate from a website funnel improvement perspective, invest in customer acquisition, expand abroad, etc.
But the first key thing you must ask yourself is: from a customer point of view, what’s blocking me from doubling my business in the next 30 days? How could each customer spend more? How do I retain customers? What could lead customer who don’t buy to buy?
And the only way to answer these questions is direct customer listening.
To better understand how to proceed, ask your customers for feedback, read their emails and complaints, and listen to their calls with support. I bet you’ll learn a lot by listening to why they don’t purchase, and where your service or products can and should be improved. Spending a full day digging into all this will be one of the smartest moves to make.
When I was starting my first two online stores, I was spending a full day every week listening to our customers. I couldn’t even imagine that they interact with our store so differently and have different needs than we imagined. That gave us perspective on improving our business.
I was doing it for a first 2 years and developed two sustainable and predictable ecommerce stores with a monthly traffic of about 320k and a monthly turnover of about $520k. Moreover, customer retention was and still is outstanding.
Right now, when I own 25 ecommerce businesses, each has a general manager who still spends a full day on “Customer Listening” (yes we call it like that) every week and send me brief one-page reports with insights. I keep myself up to date with the latest customer trends, needs and customers’ behavior, which helps me to make important strategic decisions for all of my businesses.
Don’t be stupid. It takes time.
Don’t think that I made no mistakes. Although now I own 25 ecommerce businesses, 4 failed in the last 10 years, and I feel that one of those 25 will go bankrupt in the next 6 months. And failure is a normal thing in business, as long as you learn from it and don’t repeat the same mistakes.
Don’t be stupid and never expect to go viral. Out of thousands of attempts, only a few succeed like Dollar Shave Club video which usually inspires all of you.
We tried it often with the help of super creative and experienced marketers and press; we even hit 1 million views on Youtube with one of our “viral” videos, but the ROI was negative. We spent much time and money on it and it gave just a one-time effect. Sustainable and predictable user acquisition channels are the key, not some stupid growth hacks.
Create a story around your brand
You’ll never win against Amazon if you try to compete with it. Instead of competing with Amazon, I always create a story around one theme of products with no more than 5 product categories.
When you have a story and position all of your stores to your target audience like that, you can raise your prices and retain customers much more easily.
Customers are more likely to buy from a “small” store that gives advice, a personal touch, personal offers and makes sure your product is carefully selected and dispatched even if it costs more than at giants like Amazon.
Moreover, when you open new product categories and create a new store, you are getting multiple revenue streams, which diversifies risk and makes you more wealthy in time.
By the way, we party and have fun often. And there are 2 benefits of partying often:
1. The staff is happier, more loyal and simply having fun and enjoying the life.
2. We make many pictures and work with social media and show our community we care about our products, that we know well our product category, and we personally use our products.
I just didn’t mention that our parties are themed by every product category.
E.g. one of my stores are selling camping and traveling equipment, so every quarter, we are taking an adventurous trip in the mountains, a picnic on the beach or camping somewhere in the forests. After the event, we post a couple of blog posts and share the pictures every month. That gives us incredible storytelling and keeps warm relationships with our customers and social media followers.
By the time we finished our delicious pizzas, ordered Italian takeaway cappuccinos and said our goodbyes, he was happy to share his advice with me but didn’t believe it could make any impact on other ecommerce fellows. I disagreed with him and said that this might help many ecommerce people.
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