Consumer expectations have changed significantly in recent years; the advent of mobile, online and social channels have seen to that. Rakuten has grown from a niche e-commerce player to a global online marketplace in just 16 years. In that time we've learned a few things about how to ensure online success for retailers in an ever-competitive climate. Consider the following five steps:
Step 1: Reintroduce traditional customer service. Times have changed, and consumer expectations have changed along with them. The commoditization of online retail has almost come full circle. If you, the retailer, are looking to differentiate yourself from a competitor, competing purely on price is no longer enough. Lower your price and you might make today's sale, but cutting costs to make that bargain profitable is likely to affect more than just your bottom line. Delivery, packaging and quality are all likely to take a hit too, reducing your chances of making a sale with that customer again in the future. Price and convenience will always have a role, but there's so much more to selling effectively.
Step 2: Add a personal touch. The personal relationship is fundamental to successful engagement with a target audience. Consumers have moved beyond the "nameless/faceless" internet; they increasingly want to "lift the veil" and speak with the person behind the site or platform and understand the stories and motivations behind the business. Consumers today are ever more focused on customer service relationships, supporting small businesses and helping good causes where they can, and there's a definite trend towards individuals researching the background of businesses before deciding to spend with them.
Step 3: Build content as well as inventory. Some of the most successful e-commerce sites today don't appear to be selling anything at first glance. If you look at the success of Pinterest alone, you can see that overt selling is no longer a prerequisite to e-commerce success. Rich, detailed content is increasingly important not just in showcasing products and driving sales, but also in giving consumers a reason to keep coming back to you. If you provide all of the information they need, as well as valuable opinion about trends and purchasing decisions, a customer is going to come straight back to you next time they're searching for inspiration.