Business > Merchant Voice

12 tips to address declining ecommerce revenue

For many online retailers, business conditions are tough. What do you do when your sales are dropping and you can’t work out how to reverse the slide? Here are 12 ideas to help.

1. Solicit Feedback from Customers

Useful feedback from customers not only helps your business. It also makes excellent copy for search engines, especially when the customers use descriptive, search-friendly terms. These terms appear in search results and if you include the customer’s full name and location, it can be found by local customers; some of them may even recognize the person providing the testimonial. This may make them feel confident enough to buy from you for the first time.

2. Refresh your Copy

Have a fresh look at your product descriptions. If you saw the product for the first time, would it appeal to you? What would overcome your resistance? Would it make sense? Has something new happened since your product was first launched, such you’ve won an award, made a how-to video, received television and radio coverage, or reached a milestone in customer usage (“over 10,000 happy customers”)? If you have resellers, they are all-too-likely to copy your copy so you need fresh material so as not to be penalized by Google.

3. Upgrade your Images

If you’ve used the same photos for the last few years, chances are your products are looking a bit tired. Perhaps all that’s needed is some Photoshopping? You could test-swap your main hero photo for another shot to provide a different angle — literally. There are many photographers who specialize in providing inexpensive product photography. Or you could inspire your best customers to photo themselves using your product to win a year’s supply of product in a competition, for example.

4. Upgrade your SEO

Potential customers may not know about your products simply because they do not come up on Google. Hundreds, if not thousands of online retailers, myself included, have been impacted badly by Google’s frequent algorithm changes. See the excellent articles written by Practical Ecommerce’s Jill Kocher on how to address this.

Another thing that may well help your search engine optimization is broadening your social media reach. Pinterest is a popular medium for image-heavy products. Those that have fascinating, even controversial facts, may do better on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Products that include a how-to aspect can explode in popularity using YouTube. You can outsource regular social media updates to offshore workers from oDesk (a marketplace for freelancers) and the like, for a few hundred dollars or less per month.

6. Bundle It

If you sell items that are a natural match such as battery chargers and smartphones, or candles and votive holders, bundling is all too easy. But what about if your products are essentially standalone, one-time purchases? Use the old “Spend over $X” promotion and people will find something else to add to their cart. They may have a friend who’s also looking for an outdoor shed, need another sofa for their office at work, or have a string of weddings to attend for which they need multiple gifts.

7. Contact your Drop Shippers

If you already have drop shippers that represent your product and accept orders — but keep no stock — contact them. Depending on how much money you need to get in the door, you could offer them a higher margin, such as 35 per cent instead of 20 per cent, or let them know the new price is (temporarily) much lower, if they promote your product.

8. Run a Group Buying deal

While less popular than their heyday around 2010, there are still hundreds of group buying websites seeking deals for their customers. I have used these as a consumer (many times) and as a supplier (once). If you can provide the stock promptly to the customers redeeming the deal, and a hefty discount (usually at least 50 per cent), you may receive half that (25 per cent of the original price) after fees to the deal provider. You may also grow your business with additional customers, but do accept that most of these will only respond to further discount deals.

9. Find a Wholesaler

If you sell products that are essentially commodities, you should easily find a wholesaler who will buy (some of) your inventory. You may only just cover your costs, but it’s better than having it sit there, gathering dust, making no money at all. Can’t think of a potential wholesaler? They’re your competitors, selling similar stock. Even if you make unique, personalized items, they might be very happy to take them off your hands for a good price. Alternatively, check if you can sell them back to the manufacturer.

10. Organize Public Relations and Publicity

Good public relations can launch you in front of hundreds of thousands of potential customers. You can use free PR services such as PRLog, pay-by-project firms or commission firms ranging in size from boutique to multinational. Television exposure is gold, but can be hard to obtain. Writing your own press releases can be free, but you’re unlikely to have the right contacts — or the most influential ones. Magazine articles can take anywhere from six weeks to five months to appear: can you wait that long to make more sales? Competitions create awareness about your website and your products, but the participants rarely turn into ongoing customers.

11. Call a Business Specialist

Consider retaining a marketing expert, a retail specialist, or a business coach. Many of them may see obvious problems that are preventing consumers from buying your products. These specialists could make a big difference, but they could cost hundreds, if not (tens of) thousands of dollars and may take longer than you can afford for their recommended changes to make a difference to your bottom line.

12. Sell your Business

The most drastic option, if you can’t reverse your sales decline, is to sell your website. You can read the excellent articles by Manny Shah on the preparation required to sell your online business. As he so rightly points out, too many owners try to sell when it is simply too late to do so successfully. That said, even a declining business, if it’s in a niche, can still sell, although rarely for the price you want.

Elizabeth Hollingsworth
Elizabeth Hollingsworth
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