Why read this? : Dealing with e-Commerce issues is a big part of running an online store. The post-launch period can be especially tough. We share 3 of the most common e-Commerce issues you’ll face in the first few months. Learn how to overcome challenges like slow sales, task prioritisation and building an e-Commerce culture. Read this to keep your D2C “baby” on the right track.
Setting up your own online store is like your business having a new baby. You conceive the idea to sell online. It grows in the belly of your business.
You plan and prepare for the “birth”. Except with your online store, it’s a business model, not a birth plan.
In the run-up to your “due date”, things get hectic. You’re cranky and stressed. You just want it out there, and not having to carry it all yourself.
Then the big day happens. It’s no longer living inside your business. It’s live and ready for the world to see it. And that’s when things get really interesting. Because life changes once your online store is born.
After your store is born
You launch your store with a plan on how to manage it. You’ve thought about how to “feed” it with customers using your brand activation. How to track its development by capturing relevant marketing data. You’ve got long-term plans to make it thrive by optimising your team, systems and processes.
Short-term though, everything won’t go to plan. Every new online store always has some sorts of e-Commerce issues to deal with.
So, think of this article as a quick “new parent” guide for online store owners. A quick way to help you through some of the more common stresses in that post launch period. We’ll focus on 3 of the most challenging e-Commerce issues you can face :-
- Sales are below forecast.
- Task prioritisation – you don’t know where to focus.
- Getting your e-Commerce culture going.
Sales are below forecast
There’s a famous Mike Tyson quote, that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Looking at how your online sales compare to the forecast in your plan can feel like getting punched in the face. Repeatedly.
Because chances are, you’ll have been too optimistic in how much you’ll sell in the first few months.
This optimism bias is very common in D2C. Most new online stores underestimate how long it takes to get customers to start buying.
Why does it happen? Well, you want to present your business model in the best possible light. Even if it’s one of the simpler models like print on demand or marketplaces, you don’t want to give critics ammunition. Not everyone’s a fan of e-Commerce. You don’t want to give them opportunities to point out things which might go wrong. So you put forward your most positive view.
You wouldn’t launch it if you didn’t believe in it. That optimism tells you customers are going to love it too. But it also hides the fact that most customers take time to change their behaviours. That means it takes longer than you’d think for them to start shopping in your store.
That optimism creates some e-Commerce issues for you. It’s tough when you undersell. All those negative numbers on your marketing dashboard. And a queue of all those people who put up barriers to you launching in the first place ready to say “I told you it wouldn’t work”.
Give your customers time to get to know your store
By the time the store launches, you’re very familiar with how it works. What it does. What the benefits are. That’s why you’re optimistic about it.
But you need to give your customers time to get to that same level of familiarity. For a new store website, everything is new for the customer. Unfamiliar. And unfamiliar things take time to get used to.
The first day they see the site is when it goes live. Customers aren’t sitting around waiting for you to launch your store.
They’re probably already buying elsewhere. They need good reason to switch that behaviour. They need time to process what the benefits are.
It helps if your store’s positioning brings something new and different. Online exclusives or services the customer can’t get anywhere else, for example. Those might help you with initial sales. But by and large, most customers are slow to try out new online stores. You need to give them time to get used to the idea.
Take a long-term view
That means sales in the first few months will likely be below forecast. You need a plan to deal with that.
The key here is to talk about the long-term. Online sales are always hard to predict in the first few months. It gets clearer with time.
Be patient and give customers the time to get to know you. Help them feel they can trust your offer. That trust takes time to build. But once you get it, it pays off long-term with more loyal customers. If your store’s good enough, customers will come.
It might be weeks before you get your first sale. Our first store only took 25 orders in the first 3 months. But by month 12, it was taking over 2,000 orders a month. (see our e-Commerce profit and loss case study for more on this).
Forecast accuracy improves over time
But now your store’s live, you’re learning more about the market. More knowledge of what’s really going on with customers. Your forecast and profit and loss gets more accurate because of this new learning.
Well-established online stores can have a forecast accuracy of over 99%. You won’t get near that in the first few months. But get the right data in your marketing dashboard and you’ll see your forecast accuracy get better over time.
Protect the ugly baby
Of course, for some of those critics who put up initial barriers to launch, this might not be enough. They’ll probably still point fingers at the low sales and say it’s not working.
You need to try to keep these people away from the store as much as you can. They won’t be a good influence on the team. They’re bad for morale. Work out how to protect the store from these idea killers.
You could do worse than learn from the way Pixar protect their early creative ideas. They call it “protecting their ugly babies”.
Pixar recognise no new idea starts perfectly. Ideas just don’t work like that. They usually start ugly. Ideas takes time to evolve and grow. They’re crafted. No-one gets to kill an idea until it’s had time to develop.
Accountable and empowered
Of course, someone has to be accountable for the store’s performance.
You spent time and money on it, you want to see a return. Someone has to make sure it all works.
But to do that, the person leading the store needs to be empowered.
You don’t want people who don’t understand how it works chipping in from the sidelines. That’s unhelpful and gets in the way. It causes stress and impacts the team’s performance. You need supportive people who understand you’re creating new capabilities and a different e-Commerce culture. Keep the unaccountable ones as far away from D2C as you can.
Track progress against your long-term milestones
You set KPIs in your pre-launch plan and track them in your dashboard. But what do you do if you miss them by 1%? 10% 50%?
That’s up to the accountable and empowered store leader to fix. But you need to give them enough time and the right resources. Enough media budget to help pull customers in, for example. Access to the right expertise to fix customer experience issues.
The store leader needs to define and show progress against long-term milestones. You need at least a year and likely more to know if you’re going to succeed. A few months isn’t enough.
These milestones signal if you’re on track. And if you’re off track, they signal what you need to fix. You need to work out how far off track you’re prepared to let your online store go. Worst case, is you can’t fix it and you need to set up an exit plan. But most sales and forecast related e-Commerce issues you can normally fix in a relatively short time.
Task prioritisation - you don't know where to focus
Next on the list of e-Commerce issues you face post-launch is how you manage and keep track of tasks.
There’s a clear set of tasks you need to do before you launch (see our D2C store launch project dashboard for example).
You can be flexible in how and when you do them, because the store isn’t open yet. No customers to deal with. No competitors to respond to.
But once your online store opens, it’s open all the time. You’ve got customers and competitors to deal with. Life gets more chaotic.
With immediate problems to solve and more pressure to make short-term operational decisions, it’s easy to lose track of your priorities in this unpredictable situation.
Plan for unpredictability
So how do you deal with that? Well, it sounds contradictory, but you need to plan for unpredictability.
If you expect things to be unpredictable, you cope with it much better when the unexpected happens.
So, block out some time before the launch for a “what if” scenario planning session.
Use idea generation techniques to imagine the best and worst things that could happen to your store.
How likely are these things? What would the impact be if they happened? How would you tackle them if they did happen? Examples include :-
- Bad weather affects deliveries.
- You sell more than expected and run out of stock.
- A competitor launches a rival service and undercuts you.
- The warehouse catches fire.
- Your product makes someone ill.
- Your customer data gets hacked.
- A retailer complains you’re now a competitor, and threatens to delist you.
You don’t need full plans for these scenarios. But a few bullet-points with headline actions will give you a head start if these things happen. You’re not starting from scratch. You’ve already got some solutions lined up. You’re at least partially prepared for the unpredictable.
Plan for predictability
This unpredictability plan should sit alongside your actual D2C operation plan. The one you set out before the launch of the store.
You go with that plan until something unpredictable happens, and then you adapt.
You operational plan is more specific. It covers specific tasks.
When they need to be done and how long they take. How much they’ll cost. Who’s going to do them. And how you’ll know if they’ve been done properly.
This plan needs to help you flex your resources to meet peaks and troughs in demand.
It should be able to pull in more resources when you oversell, and divert resources elsewhere it you undersell. Consider hiring temporary workers into customer service or warehousing teams if demand takes off for example. Or boosting your digital media and optimising the website if sales are slower than expected.
You don’t want that.
Use backlogs to help manage resources
What you do want is to have control over how you prioritise tasks and resources. A backlog system is a great way to do this.A backlog is a prioritised list of all the jobs to be done. It’s often used in agile methodology (see our marketing technology and innovation guides for more on this).
You review the list every 2 weeks and pick out which jobs to focus in the next 2 weeks. (often called a “sprint” period). The tasks usually focus on improving functionality, design or the overall store experience.
The list can include :-
- ideas from the pre-launch phase you put on hold.
- unpredicted problems now that customers are interacting with your store.
- new ideas from customer feedback since you launched.
On-going new news for customers
Working your way through a steady stream of upgrades creates on-going “news” for customers.
Upgrades and new content builds customer confidence and boosts your SEO ranking.
You keep your store feeling fresh.
For longer-term store planning you should also set up an activity calendar.
Check your legal obligations
When you start selling direct, don’t forget you have legal obligations.
For example, with digital data you need to maintain privacy and follow anti-spam rules.
You also need to make sure you follow the relevant laws on shopper rights in your country.
Getting your e-Commerce culture going
Culture is “how thing get done” in your business.
It has many aspects such as people, values and systems as we cover elsewhere.
But in the D2C post-launch period, a key area to prioritise is leadership, and how you apply it to encourage a test and learn approach.
Test and learn tells the team you expect e-Commerce issues to happen.
Short-term failures are OK, because what you learn from them is how you find long-term successes.
You make it clear you see the store as a work in progress. It’s about continually improving the customer experience. You test things out to see how you can make life better for customers. You fix and learn from e-Commerce issues, so your store gets a little better every day. That’s what test and learn’s all about.
Get into the habit of asking customers for feedback. Ask them to rate the service on the site or give reviews. Test new experiences with them to see how they react.
If they’ve signed up to your CRM program, incentivise them to give feedback when they contact you.
Keep an eye on the competitor response. What can you learn from them to make your experience better?
Map out the process of how an order goes through your business. Look for ways to make each step better.
e.g. what has to happen on the site? what details do you receive? who receives them? what do they do with them? how do they handle unusual orders? what needs to happen for the order dispatched? how is the payment confirmed? etc
The fewer steps you need to manage an order, the more efficient your store will be. And the happier customers will be.
Conclusion - Handling e-Commerce issues post-launch
The first few months in an online store’s life can be difficult. The most common e-Commerce issues post launch of a new online store relate to performance, tasks and culture.
Performance is hard because it’s hard to forecast accurately at the start.
But if you undersell against your forecast, it upsets people. In particular the ones who didn’t support the plan in the first place. You need to educate them that it takes time to establish an online store.
You learn as you go. Every improvement you make increases your chances of growing your sales, and sales will come eventually if you do the right things.
Task prioritisation can be hard too. All you can do is try to plan for the unpredictable. Have a list of “what if” scenarios and plan for how you’d tackle them. Use a backlog list and an activity calendar to manage your resources around peaks and troughs in demand.
Finally, get your e-Commerce culture going as fast as you can. Use your leadership skills to encourage a test and learn approach.
This helps you work through all the other e-Commerce issues you’ll run into. It helps you understand your customers better, to know what they need and how to serve them. Knowing that is what helps you make sure your store thrives in the long-term.
To learn more about e-Commerce issues, check out our managing an online store guide or our build your e-Commerce knowledge article. Or contact us directly if you’ve got e-Commerce issues you need help with.