Practical Ecommerce

Growing Pains

Being successful comes with its own problems. As your customer base grows and your orders come in higher volumes, you need to expand to carry on. Sooner or latter you need to recruit staff to help carry the workload. This is a massive step. No matter how much effort you put into selection inevitably you are not just recruiting a member of staff, you are starting a new relationship with a person. You can find yourself being the parent, counsellor, teacher and a whole lot else.

Once you have recruited a couple more, and expansion continues, a new problem arises. This is where many small business founder and collapse. Up until a certain size, most businesses operate on a principal that everyone does everything. That whatever needs doing just gets done. This is relatively easy to operate as there is a small team and everyone knows what is happening. If you are lucky with your team, everyone is “happy” to do the poor jobs just as much as the nice jobs. However once you reach a certain size, communication slips, and tasks get done differently and some get left undone. For a small business muddling through works, but once you get over a certain size it will cause problems. Things slip and eventually customer service slips.

When this happens the time has come to formalise processes and procedures. Ideally you document all the necessary tasks and then give responsibility to people to ensure that they are done. This is not an easy step, because of two main reasons. Firstly you have to delegate, you have to allow someone else to do a job, not interfere with them doing it, and you have to trust them. Secondly you have to standardise and document the tasks. This is not as easy as it sounds. Instead of just doing something, you have to work out what needs doing, how often it should be done, and then who is responsible for doing it, and who is responsible for checking its done.

This is a cultural change for the business. It moves away from a family business.

For Ecommerce there are some natural splits, although the actual tasks with each heading may differ due to the working practices and the systems you may have.

Order Management

This is not just the picking, packing and despatch, but could also include re-ordering and dealing with orders than cannot be fulfilled straight away.

Inventory Management

This can be a thankless task. In theory stock is booked when it arrives and checked out when it sells, and the stock levels in the inventory are accurate. In practice stock is not always booked in when it arrives, wrong things may occasionally get shipped and some things get stolen or damaged, so the stock levels are not necessarily always right. It can also be hard to pin down who is responsible for the errors when they slip in.

Purchasing

What new stock lines to try, what old stock to re-order, when to order.

Customer Service

Answering all customer questions, fixing all their problems, dealing with returns and faulty goods.

Updating the Catalogue

Adding new items for sale, reviewing prices and offers, taking off sold out lines.

Marketing and promotions

Advertising, press releases, newsletters, and much more.

There are certainly lots of other things that need doing, and not enough hours in a day for one person to control, let alone do. Its like growing up, playtime is over and the business has to enter the adult world.

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