We are often wrongly told about the big companies of today were the first movers into their markets almost a generation ago. Amazon and eBay were essentially the first in their markets. People use that fact as a stick to beat entrepreneurs who express the desire to enter crowded markets. They forget Google wasn’t the first search engine. Now it’s the best (OK, it’s the most popular in most markets).
A decade and a half ago I bought media from the likes of AOL, Lycos, MSN, Yahoo! and AltaVista, and they were terrible to do business with. Most offered an average service to users and were difficult to work with as a customer. It wasn’t a surprise that a new up-start, in the shape of Google, had the desire to take on the Goliaths of the search industry and ultimately put them into a decade-long tailspin.
Crowded Means Nothing!
Today, the internet allows people to start hugely successful businesses from their spare rooms. Firebox was the first real online gifts business that was started with next to no budget from a less than inspiring Cardiff residence. As they grew they got more media attention, and with attention came those wishing to have a slice of their pie. Over the last fifteen years there must have been thousands of gifts retailers come and go in the UK. Most flounder, but a handful succeed. Those that are successful realise that just because a market is crowded, it doesn’t mean an approach, a way of doing business, a culture has already been exploited. Firebox was fresh and funky. They gave away sweets with every order. IWOOT and PrezzyBox were eventually born and spent many a year snapping at Firebox’s heals. Today they’re profitable and growing entities. What they realised is they have to have their own unique style, brand approach to customers and fairly narrow target audience. They also focused on getting popular products to consumers quickly and accurately – they are in the pleasure business.
I Wanted It Yesterday!
The crux of delivering happiness through eCommerce is having an excellent supply chain. How you cope with the large swings of customer demand and expense is vital. If you’ve got products that people want at the price you are charging then you just have to get it to them quickly – very quickly. Amazon has invested tens of millions facilitating the expedient fulfilment of orders. They’re looking at same day and evening deliveries, they want your impulsive or planned purchase to be satiated as quickly as possible to you can get your next fix sooner. You can seemingly order at 7pm at night and have whatever you ordered the following day. Next allow you to order at 10pm and get your skinny jeans, shiny shoes or watch the following day. Prestat offer same day delivery on flowers and chocolate in London. Well-run companies have a strong focus on fulfilling orders quickly and accurately.
How Do Your Customers Live Their Lives?
However, eCommerce is not only about immediacy, but also convenience. Our sister company Parcel Monkey has launched a ByBox service which allows retailers to enter parcels into the courier network and have consumers pick them up via the use of highly-sophisticated, secure courier parcel delivery lockers. Amazon has also launched their own locker delivery system whilst other carriers are pushing into the ‘self-service’ delivery market.
If you were looking to offer customers what they want when it comes to immediacy, what should you be looking at?
Test Your Fulfilment Processes
We suggest that you anonymously test your own fulfilment service. If you’re not the one doing the picking, packing and shipping of orders and know how long it takes for orders to reach their destinations and in what state they arrive, you really should find out.
Where Does Your Money Go?
Find out exactly how much it costs you, over a given week, to fulfil all the orders. Find out the total costs for all your fulfilment overheads, and device that figure by the number of orders fulfilled. Make sure you include all human costs, utilities, rent, postal charges, your software costs and even janitorial. If this figure shocks you in comparison to the rate you charge customers for P&P then you need to do something about it.
Drop-Shipping, No More, Please!
Have a look at your supply costs. Establish for yourself if drop-shipping really is the panacea to that many fulfilment ills that so many claim, or if there are other ways to streamline your operations? We would, of course, view our own system as one way to get your products to your customers quickly and easily – but it is true, if you outsource parts of your operations to companies built specifically to make them more efficient then you and your customers will benefit.
Streamline, Outsource, Be Clever
The idea is that if you connect your ecommerce system up to Cloud Fulfilment you will no longer be required to manage each step in the fulfilment process. Orders are taken by your website, the details passed to our safe and secure systems. The warehouse pickers are then instructed where to locate your products and how to pack them. The system will also comply with your delivery rules and get the order shipped.
What Did You Say?
There are a number of industry commentators who passionately comment on the power of social media – it’s nothing new. You should be testing your company’s response to online criticism (and praise); It is easy to spot anger directed specifically at one of your social media accounts. Posts on your Facebook page and tweets to your official accounts are difficult to miss. But do you know when people don’t consciously ‘tag’ you into their rage? Tweets which mention your company name but which aren’t sent to illicit a response should be monitored (we love Hootsuite for this). Forum posts, blog comments and Google+ should also be kept an eye on as any negativity can directly influence your bottom line through negative PR and indirectly via SEO. Disappointed customers who feel listened to and valued can be so positively powerful to your company. These people should be encouraged to join your tribe and become voluntary customer evangelists.
So, if you’re entering a crowded market you need to make sure you are the best at:
- Offering niche products customers want;
- Taps into your target audience’s ethos;
- Getting the right products to customers quickly;
- Listen to, respond to and enthuse disappointed customers.
If you can get manage those three tasks then everything else you do will be so much easier.
Image © Kate Ter Haar