Business > Merchant Voice

Mistakes I Wish I Had Never Made

We all know the saying, “If I knew then what I know now, I’d be much better off”. I was thinking about that the other day and decided to put together a list of mistakes I’ve made during my e-commerce life. I had to shorten the list to just 6 items because there’s only so much room on the Internet.

Mistake #6: Automatically adding customers to your email list. This may seem like a no-brainer today, but when I started out, I assumed that customers would absolutely love to hear from me. So, I setup my site to auto-enroll customers into my email list. I received a few angry emails from people, but didn’t think it was statistically significant. This all changed when my legitimate emails were being blocked by major ISPs because I had received so many spam reports. Doh!

Fix: Use double opt-in mailing list providers such as Aweber. Your emails have a much better chance of making it to their recipient and the people on your list actually want to receive your communications.

Mistake #5: Running sales. Your “once-in-a-lifetime” sales event can easily become a quarterly event and then a monthly event and soon a daily event. I got into a habit of running weekly sales. Sales spiked every Friday, but it didn’t create a net gain because of dips on other days. Your prices should already be competitive. All sales do is encourage customers to wait to buy the next time you’re running a sale.

Fix: A better option is to simply lower the price without flagging it as “On Sale”. As a small business, you cannot, by definition, compete on price alone. So, don’t even bother starting with sales. It won’t end well.

Mistake #4: Obsessing over conversion rates. I used to be obsessed with my site’s conversion rate. We’ve all heard the sales pitch: Increase your conversion rate by just 10% and your profit will skyrocket. This is true. However, this assumes that you haven’t done the major things to your site that can have a profound impact on your CR (like listing your phone number, displaying a secure checkout badge, and having straight-forward navigation). What the conversion rate experts fail to tell you is that tiny tweaks to your site design aren’t going to have a major impact on a small business website. The reality is that the products you’re selling are typically more niche, so consumers aren’t quite as “flighty” as someone comparing mass market toys on Amazon and Toys ‘R Us.

Fix: Instead of running time-consuming tests comparing shades of green on your “Add to Cart” button, spend that time finding the next great killer product for your website. Remember, the only number that truly matters is the one in your bank account.

Mistake #3: Drop shipping. I despise drop shipping. You lose control over an essential part of the sales cycle. You can’t guarantee when a product will ship. You can’t guarantee that the correct product will be sent to the customer. And you can’t ensure that a customer’s entire order arrives all at the same time. I did a bit of drop shipping for about 6 months and was about to rip my hair out. It’s a nightmare and no way to grow your business.

Fix: Avoid drop shipping like the plague.

Mistake #2: Failing to thoroughly test a product. In the early days of my website, I would sometimes purchase a new product without testing it significantly. This came back to bite us in the butt a few times. For instance, we’d be shooting a video for a product only to realize that it didn’t work like it was supposed to and we’d have to return the item. This wasted a ton of time and effort. In another instance, we tested a product, but only one sample. It took a few months for us to realize that the item had a 10% defect rate. Another waste of time, money, and effort.

Fix: Get a sample of a product. If anything seems even slightly “off”, ask for another sample or don’t sell the product. It isn’t worth your time to deal with a product of less-than-stellar quality.

Mistake #1: Not getting a transactional email service provider sooner. The most important emails you send are your order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails. If customers don’t receive these emails, they don’t think their order went through. We use Google Apps because it allows us to use Gmail with our custom domain name. The problem, however, is that Google Apps customers can only send up to 2,000 emails per day. If you want to send out more than that, you’re out of luck with Gmail.

Fix: Get a transactional email provider such as Sendgrid. This is perfect for order confirmation emails, shipping confirmation emails, back-in-stock emails, etc. I feel much better knowing that all of the automated emails we send are going to make it to their destination extremely quickly.

Jamie Salvatori
Jamie Salvatori
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