What's the biggest e-commerce mistake?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

CONTENDER
Sameer Shamsuddin
VP of product man­agement at GSI,
works with more than 85 brand retailers

The best e-commerce site feature varies by site. I firmly believe that there is no one silver bullet. But I feel strongly that everyone overlooks ana­lytics reporting. This is not something that directly impacts the consumer ex­perience, but it's something that should inform all of your marketing decisions.

Many people don't invest the time in understanding what consumers are doing on their site, or they don't spend the time using the reporting tools to understand how the consumers are engaging with the site.

All other typical site problems, from cart abandonment to low registration rates, can be gleaned by paying attention to the metrics available in the reports.

There are features on sites that I look at and think are the most valuable. For example, reporting, search, having great product description and imagery. Those are things that can't be done just once and end up with cash flowing through your door.

Search is something especially that's a constant investment, Am I looking at my data? Do I understand what people are searching for? How am I meeting their search queries? If I don't carry what they are looking for do I offer them alternatives? Am I giving them ways to filter their results?

All of this requires ongoing main­tenance activities that you have to engage in on a day-to-day basis. It is the same thing with product descrip­tions and images.

There is a tremendous amount of work that you have to do in order to make your site successful over time.

CONTENDER
Jerry Sparger
partner at Selling Up, president of Global Business Solutions
Author of many stud­ies on e-commerce

The biggest mistake that online re­tailers can make is failing to tie real-time inventory availability and order status to the order entry system. Without this information, retailers accept orders and make delivery commitments without knowing if they have inventory to fulfill the order. Customers have no way of knowing the status of their order with­out human intervention.

Repeat business and a reputation for good service is important to keeping an e-commerce business alive. If you cannot meet your commitments, cus­tomers will not come back, and word of your poor fulfillment practices will get out. People just won't do business with anyone who does not meet their commitments, regardless of price or product selection. This is especially true of Internet retailers because there is no physical location for recourse.

Cross-selling becomes even more problematic. If you cross-sell something you don't have in stock, you frustrate your customer. Also, with inventory tied in, you can set up rules to auto­matically cross sell an item if one is out of stock. Say I want to buy a blue rug, which you normally sell, but are out of. You could set up the e-commerce engine to cross sell to a light green one, or offer to notify the customer as soon as the blue one came in, their choice.

Unfortunately, there's no quick fix, because you need some form of data entry that is electronically tied to the Web site. Many companies have barcoding or RFID software to manage their warehouses. This can be easily tied into the order entry system.


THE DECISION

Knockout
Not providing a product that's been ordered or not correctly sending your customer to what they are looking for has the same end result: a lost sale and a bad image of the site. Sparger refreshingly reminds us that product fulfillment and inventory are a marketer's issue. Everyone with a Web site knows that analytics are crucial, but it is important to remember marketing is about communication between the company and its customers.

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