75% of all startups fail. 90% of all products fail.
These grim numbers thrown up in a Mashable study reveal the harsh reality of the startup dream. There is no question that eCommerce is booming (the global B2C eCommerce sales market is predicted to grow to USD 4.2 trillion by 2020). Yet, the challenges for startup entrepreneurs who are aspiring for a share of the online shopper's and angel investor's wallets are expanding in tandem: identifying a niche in a competitive space, customer acquisition and retention, logistics and supply chain management, customer service, resource crunch, and of course, funding (to name a few).
Derived from the term 'growth hacker' that was coined by entrepreneur, angel investor and startup advisor Sean Ellis in 2010, 'growth hacking' has come to be understood as an activity that links product and business level understanding to implement steps that boost online, technology-driven business.
In a fiercely competitive sector, where deploying a robust marketing strategy and delivering exemplary end-to-end customer experience is paramount, eCommerce businesses must focus on certain growth hacks to succeed. This is also important in a scenario where a nascent startup has fewer resources at its disposal and must optimize them for brand-building work.
One of the key growth hacks for a fledgling startup would be outsourcing tasks that are necessary for its success, but not mandatory to be performed in-house. These would be activities that involve a large volume of repetitive work, which are capable of being executed with efficiency by providing clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) to an external specialist. Outsourcing provides a host of benefits, which include resource cost savings, allocation of internal resources to mission-critical work such as co-coordinating logistics and branding, process efficiencies by leveraging the expertise of a specialist, and so on.
Product information management (or product data management, as it is also known) is a herculean operation that goes on continuously. E-commerce businesses survive on the accuracy of their product data.
Any errors in representation would not be easily forgiven by customers who complete checkout. According to a survey by eCommerce insights solution provider Clavis Insight, only 36% of products across 10 eCommerce sites passed all tests related to completeness, accuracy, and presentation of information.
For an eCommerce startup, it is imperative that product data is constantly updated and any new specifications are uploaded on a timely basis. Pricing, discounts, and shipping information need to be up-to-date to boost shopper satisfaction with the website. Product descriptions need to be unique and not just copied and pasted from the manufacturer's website to ensure a high search engine ranking. Images need to be tagged as well so that a user's search pulls in all the relevant information correctly. Additionally, catalog information must be consistent in both print and digital versions, and this task must be given priority.
Outsourcing product information management puts extra hands to work on this mammoth task. As long as an SOP can be established for the job and the Content Management System (CMS) is user-friendly, any data entry, data validation, or data cleansing operation can be outsourced.
An eCommerce business may be driven by technology, but that does not take away the need for creating a human interface through in-demand customer service channels. For instance, eCommerce retailer Zappos is renowned for its customer service. The brand displays its toll-free number prominently on its website, encourages shoppers to call in anytime, and is responsive on social media as well, often giving out USD 50 coupons as a means of placating irate customers.
Nowadays, customers are looking to connect with a brand via whichever medium is closest at hand – dialing the number, shooting off an email, clicking on the live chat button, sending an SMS, posting on social media, etc.
Additionally, the geographical footprint of an eCommerce business typically widens beyond the region in which the organization is headquartered. This opens up the requirement for customer service that caters to shoppers in different time zones, or even after business hours. At sale time or during the holiday or festive season, the number of queries coming in on customer service channels will spike, sometimes even beyond expectations.
E-commerce startup brands need to offer customers all options when it comes to customer service, but they certainly do not need to invest in the resources to manage this activity internally. Outsourcing customer service across all available channels of communication is a decision that will greatly benefit an eCommerce start-up. This will also help you in scaling your customer service operation as required. Contact center technology can be leveraged and metrics can be put in place to ensure that customer service is being delivered as per the business requirement.
As customer orders come streaming in, their management becomes critical. Order management activities span a host of functions from the front end to the back end. At the customer service front end, assisting shoppers through order placement involves query resolution, giving quotes, order taking, complaint resolution, managing requests for refunds, providing status updates, collections, and more.
At the back end, order management is a task that encompasses back-office processes such as order validation, customer information data entry, customer database management, order cancellation management, routing orders to the concerned department, etc. Finance and accounting related tasks include invoice processing, Accounts Receivable processing, and so on.
Outsourcing order management ensures that there is a dedicated team working on this critical aspect of your operations. With streamlined order management, shoppers will be attended to via live chat or phone, their orders will be delivered on time, there will be no glitches in collection or refunds, and the order database will be updated correctly at all times. All this without internal employees having to divert their attention from their existing focus areas.
Images play an important role in eCommerce sites, by providing customers with visual cues about what the product looks like, as well as contributing to the aesthetics of the web page. Visually appealing images are critical to promoting the reputation and perception of the eCommerce website. For instance, eCommerce giant Amazon has specific instructions about its image requirements: the product should fill 85% of the frame, be on a pure white background, must be professionally lit, have realistic colors and smooth edges, etc.
The task of photo editing is not a small one by any means – even if the startup starts small, the number of images would be in the hundreds and this would gradually increase to the thousands as the spread across product categories expands. Image clipping to place the product on a white background (as is usually the standard) and enhancing the color balance of the product are tasks that require specialized photo editing skills.
Outsourcing photo editing will facilitate the process of getting the best quality images up on the website, as fast as possible. Images that require clipping, enhancement, color correction, and resizing to thumbnail or enlarged view can be outsourced. The in-house creative team can then only focus on product photography.
So much of the eCommerce website's functionality depends on server and website maintenance. This is particularly important at the time when a sale is announced or during peak shopping season when the incoming traffic to the website may spike, breaking its functionality. In 2014, the Black Friday shopping rush brought down the websites of major eCommerce players such as Curry's, Tesco, John Lewis, Best Buy, and others.
On an ongoing basis, eCommerce startups need to pay attention to certain maintenance tasks to keep the website up and running as far as possible. These activities need to be ramped up in the run-up to a sale or major shopping period. These important tasks include SQL database checks, performance tuning, back up creation, updating plugins, patches and WordPress, security checks, updating and rectifying HTML web pages, modifying content, adding or removing pages, layout, and coding changes, and testing website forms and checkout. Additionally, server maintenance tasks that need to be given some priority include checking the hosting space, the website bandwidth, and platform infrastructure.
Outsourcing website and server maintenance will give access to support staff who will take up the responsibility of determining that the eCommerce portal can handle any demands that are placed on it by the success of the marketing strategy, and customers will be a satisfied lot regarding their user experience.
There are two aspects of the help desk or technical support for eCommerce businesses. The first one is more likely in the startup stage, and that is when customers need technical support for their purchases or potential purchases. This is particularly applicable for startups that sell technology-based products.
The other scenario arises when the startup begins to expand and the number of internal resources increases. Then, these employees would possibly need IT support from time to time for any issues that crop up related to the technical infrastructure of the organization. At such a time, a help desk, manned by ISO 20000 and ITIL certified professionals, would streamline incident management, minimize downtime, and optimize productivity for the business.
These days, help desk support is commonly split into 4 levels: Level 0 deals with self-service or automated solutions; Level 1 provides basic troubleshooting and issue resolution and takes care of ticket raising for the next two levels; Level 2 deals with escalated issues dealing with installation, repair, configuration issues, etc.; Level 3 is the highest level of expertise available within the enterprise and answers queries related to infrastructure, server, data center, etc.
Outsourcing the help desk or technical support enables the queries of customers to be satisfied in a responsive manner. In case the matter needs to be escalated to the next level of support, a ticket can be raised for the issue and the follow-up. Outsourcing minimizes the number of expert-level technical support agents that an eCommerce startup needs to employ within its own premises, and hence, creates a systematized workflow for problem resolution.
For any online business, it is critical to first understand the customer profile and what constitutes good web traffic for it. Public Relations (PR), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), social media marketing, blogging, content syndication, email marketing, video marketing, display advertising and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising need to be leveraged in a balanced and strategic manner to spread awareness about your website, as well as retarget existing customers.
Along with traffic acquisition activities, eCommerce businesses must also look into important metrics that will help direct the digital marketing effort better. These metrics include goal completion rates, sessions, bounce rate, pages/session, % new sessions, time on site, landing page conversion rates, important ratios such as traffic to lead ratio, lead to customer ratio, and more.
Outsourcing aspects of digital marketing will give internal employees the bandwidth to focus on core branding and marketing activities. The internal team can manage the outsourced work through dashboards, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and regular meetings conducted over the phone or video chat.
According to analytics platform RJ Metrics, top-performing eCommerce businesses reach revenue of over USD 600,000 by their sixth month of operation. With its multitude of benefits, which include a 30-40% cost savings, outsourcing is a surefire growth hack that can enable eCommerce startups that are determined to succeed to attain these numbers and make a mark.