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Editor’s Question: What are your top tips for an SME on its e-commerce journey?

Editor’s Question: What are your top tips for an SME on its e-commerce journey?

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Not many SMEs will be successful if they don’t have an effective website and a seamless way to sell their products, craft or trade. Selling products online needn’t be an arduous task, especially with the amount of software and IT specialists available to help to make it a smooth experience.

Customers’ attention spans are short. They want a website to be easy to navigate quickly – if any part of the process is slow, then it is likely that the business will lose that customer to a competitor. So how can SMEs make sure their e-commerce is efficient and accessible? Three experts offer their top tips for an SME starting out on its e-commerce journey.

Vivek Aswani, Chief Commercial Officer at Rimm Sustainability, spoke about how SMEs can incorporate sustainability into their plans. He said: “In my opinion, having sustainable products are not driven solely by packaging or fair trade but rather through the entire organisation’s operational outlook. It is at the ethos of the companies where true sustainability comes out.”

He also highlighted how companies need to be transparent with their customers and highlight their sustainable credentials. 

Lenny Nash, CEO, Visualsoft, discusses the areas that SMEs need to look at to ensure the whole e-commerce journey goes well. He said: “To maximise the return from social channels, ideally the business should have a strategy that underpins its approach to creating and sharing content. If they’re serious about boosting sales via socials, get in expert help to take profiles to new heights.”

He also spoke about logistics, customer experience, quick delivery and easy checkout.

Matthew Trattles, VP of SMB Revenue, Auctane, ShipStation’s parent company, speaks about how SMEs need to understand the behaviours of online shoppers, understand supplier scalability and have resilient shipping functionality in place.

He said: “Be aware of how much a supplier will be able to source – and their own plans and intentions for scalability of their operations – and have strategies in place to augment your access to needed components when the demand arises.”

E-commerce today is an essential part of almost every business and cannot be ignored. But as the experts outline, it needn’t be a daunting one. There just needs to be an effective strategy in place.

Vivek Aswani, Chief Commercial Officer at Rimm Sustainability:

Most SMEs think of sustainability on a product level and particularly when it comes to e-commerce it is about how they can position their product as sustainably as possible to their consumers.

Although products are the main way in which consumers and companies interact, having a sustainable product is not solely dependent on product itself. Yes, it is important to think about eco-friendly packaging or figuring out strategies for green shipping, but sustainability is just as much about your organisation as it is about your products. It is much wider than just reducing your single use plastic or using eco-friendly ingredients, although these are very important. In today’s time, consumers are hyper-aware; they have more information at their fingertips to understand products, research ingredients and compare against competition. This can be a double-edged sword for a lot of young SMEs as they need to find competitive advantages in their product offering but need to be aware of misinformation or greenwashing. Something that is unfortunately common in today’s world as one specific ingredient or packaging type is now being marketed as a green product.

In my opinion, having sustainable products are not driven solely by packaging or fair trade but rather through the entire organisation’s operational outlook. It is at the ethos of the companies where true sustainability comes out.

Some of the key strategies that SMEs can adopt within their operations are supply chain management – look at reducing and communicating your Scope 3, investigate local suppliers to reduce transportation costs and emissions, understand that suppliers are an extension of your own business. Another approach is around operational sustainability. Look at your energy efficiency within your operations, implement waste reduction measures, consider green shipping options such as consolidated shipping, incentivise customers to choose more eco-friendly shipping options or package products together to reduce individual packaging. Carbon offsetting is also a great strategy to mitigate emissions you cannot completely remove from your business operations; this can also be baked into pricing models that customers can opt in for as well.

Even with adopting the right strategies SMEs need to be able to effectively communicate all the good they do to their customers. Being compliant is important and meeting new regulations standards are critical to Business Continuity but transparency with customers is even more critical. Share with your customers your initiatives, share the challenges, show the improvements you are trying to make on a yearly basis. It builds trust, which is maybe the strongest currency for growth and sustainability reporting is a great way to start building that trust with customers.

Lenny Nash, CEO, Visualsoft:

Many shoppers research retailers via their social channels to get a feel for their brand and make sure they’re legitimate before they commit to an order. That means that it’s important to ensure that Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook pages are up to date and feature the most relevant and recent information. Every channel should send a unified brand message to shoppers and potential customers and are evenly updated with the brands’ latest news, product ranges and promotions. Social media has evolved in recent years to bridge the gap between researching and buying, so companies must assess whether they’re making the most of each channel and look at what selling opportunities each platform can currently offer to their brand. To maximise the return from social channels, ideally the business should have a strategy that underpins its approach to creating and sharing content. If they’re serious about boosting sales via socials, get in expert help to take profiles to new heights.

Logistics

Ensuring seamless integration and consistency across all customer touchpoints is crucial for providing a unified and satisfactory customer experience. And user experience is everything. Retailers should conduct rigorous testing to see what the customer is experiencing and collect and analyse data to see where the drop off and conversion points are and how they can be improved. Offer cross location logistics – so someone can buy online and pick up in store etc.

Customer experience

Eighty-three pecent of customers rank excellent support as a top priority, following price and product. Tech is great, but there’s a continuous need for a personal touch in customer interactions but every person has unique preferences when reaching out for help, from live chat to email, phone, or even social media. Offering a variety of support channels reduces the likelihood of bottlenecks. If one method becomes swamped, customers can easily switch to another avenue to address their concerns.

Chatbots can tackle commonly asked questions, and AI can be used to tailor responses, ensuring they’re as personalised as possible.  

Blazing fast

Delays of more than two seconds can cause a retailer to lose half their customers. In 2023, slow websites are unacceptable. Brands should optimise their file sizes and update their websites to prevent customer losses from frustration. Work with experts to ensure that your videos and content is ready when needed.

Easy checkout

Checkouts must be seamless and offer the payment methods customers prefer given that nine in 10 (86%) will abandon a transaction if their chosen method isn’t available. Build consumer confidence by offering a range of payment methods, including buy now, pay later in the current financial climate. Insufficient payment options can deter shoppers. Consider partnering with solutions like VS Pay to support varied payment methods, and wallet options like Apple Pay and Google Pay streamline the process, reducing friction. Of course, security is essential, and brands must ensure top-tier security measures to protect both themselves and their customers from fraud.

Matthew Trattles, VP of SMB Revenue, Auctane, ShipStation’s parent company:

For SMEs starting out their e-commerce journey, in order to not only survive but to successfully grow their business, they need to understand the behaviours of online shoppers, understand supplier scalability and have resilient shipping functionality in place that not only attracts consumers but turns them into repeat customers.

Understand different customer behaviour and buying habits

Who is your ideal customer? Are you selling to a specific generation i.e. Gen Z or Boomers or do your products appeal to a whole spectrum of shoppers? Different generations tend to have very different online shopping behaviours, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For example, our recent report found that digital native (people under 45) shop very differently from digital adopters (over the age of 45). Digital natives tend to shop earlier for Christmas and shop more during promotional events, whereas digital adopters will shop around for value and budget through self-imposed spending limits.

Once you understand the buying behaviours of your customers, you begin to personalise your online store and marketing efforts to ensure you’re getting your products in front of the right people at the right time.

Understand the scalability of suppliers

The world of suppliers can often seem daunting to navigate but it’s more important that you do.

It’s a major hindrance that SMEs often don’t think about it until a potential bottleneck is already upon them. So, you’ve got a list of suppliers who deliver on time, who you align with ethically, who share data and who offer great rates for the supplies you need to build your business. Everything is going swimmingly as your business begins to boom, and everyone in the supply chain is excited for the growth. Until… one of those suppliers can no longer provide what you need at a fast enough rate at the volume your business requires.

Be aware of how much a supplier will be able to source – and their own plans and intentions for scalability of their operations – and have strategies in place to augment your access to needed components when the demand arises.

Have resilient fulfilment and shipping platform in place

So you’re getting orders through the door but how can you make sure you’re able to deliver to your customers in a way that meets their expectations?

Picking, packing and shipping are no different than any other system. Having ways and platforms such as ShipStation in place to mitigate errors in the logistics process will go a long way to help instil continued customer trust. This may include things like negotiating discounts with carriers, automatically generating accurate shipping labels and implementing custom-branded tracking options. Even if everything goes right at every other step of the process – if your customer doesn’t receive the right product, receives a broken product, or receives no product at all (or a very late product) – then all the extra time spent on good products and services at prior stages is largely mitigated and customer still walk away with some degree of satisfaction. 

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