We hope the last two articles looking at common mistakes have helped you reconsider some of your practices and approaches to your business. The wisdom shared by the many e-commerce merchants we spoke with is bound to resonate in one way or another.
Now, it's time to look at what you do after the sale, and how you handle your customers once you've gotten them to make a purchase with you. We'll look at three basic areas of concern: shipping, packing and customer service.
Free or drastically reduced shipping
It is indisputable that items listed with free or reduced shipping rates sell better than items that include shipping fees. Yet, so many sellers still refuse to offer free or inexpensive shipping. Jordan Malik of jordansautoaccessories notes how unwilling eBay sellers can be to budge on this detail.
"It seems that [shipping rates] is their attempt to fatten their bottom line in lieu of raising the selling price and providing free shipping," he says.
Increase the item's price to help cover your costs, but make sure shipping is 'free' from your customers' side of the sale
"Customers have come to expect bargain-rate, fast shipping, but I suspect many sellers are too reluctant to conform." It's true, over the years, eBay sellers have come to compete not only with each other, but with the countless online shopping destinations now alive and vibrant on the Web.
You may not like it, but those are the facts. Jordan's recommendation is to increase the item's price to help cover your costs, but make sure shipping is "free" from your customers' side of the sale.
Packages sure to please
We may never convince everyone who sells online to give free shipping a try. We've been beating this drum for quite some time, and those who are willing to risk it will, while those who are not willing won't.
So as not to belabor the point, let's look at other mistakes sellers make when they send their items out to their customers. "Not including a packing slip," says Robert Manigold of that1otherdude. It can be hard to believe there are still people packing and shipping without this basic item, but it still happens. Manigold learned from his own first-hand experience. "It almost cost me several hundred dollars," he confesses.
Manigold tells us that he'd sold phones to a representative of a company that bought many phones from many sources. He realized his lapse when the customer was trying to determine which phones Manigold had sent him in a package with no packing slip. It all worked out in the end, but the lesson could have been much more costly.
Even if you would never consider shipping an item without a packing slip, there are still many opportunities for doing more than just the basics when it comes to the one and only tangible way you can "reach out" to your customers.
A branding opportunity
"Many sellers do not take full advantage of the branding/marketing opportunity eBay gives you," says Patrick Barnhill of specialistID.com. "Every order is a chance to market your company, so don't just print out the stock eBay label and packing slip and call it quits."
If you have your own business logo imprinted on your cartons, packing slips and receipts, you're going to make a more professional impression on your customers
Barnhill recommends dropping some candy into the package or a coupon for the next purchase. You'll be the best one to judge what little treat your customer might like to have, based on the items that you sell and the people who buy them.
Chris Taylor, who operates a Meetup group of more than 800 eBay sellers in the San Francisco area, agrees. He says so many sellers miss a branding and marketing opportunity by not personalizing the packages they send out to their customers.
It's tempting, for example, to reuse shipping containers, but if you have your own business logo imprinted on your cartons, packing slips and receipts, you're going to make a more professional impression on your customers. Couple that with a coupon, and you've given your customer an incentive to remember your business and shop again.
Taylor also recommends making a customer list and marketing your items to that list. No one wants to be spammed after making an online purchase, but if you keep your updates infrequent, relevant and brief, and include an opt-out link, many of your customers won't mind hearing from you. After all, they've already proven they have an affinity for your business, because they've bought products from you.
Even if you don't ever use your customer list for direct marketing appeals, keeping this list can help you view your business in a broader scope. You'll see where your customers come from, how frequently they buy from you, and what items seem to move quickly. It's valuable information that's free and easy to gather.
They're customers, not enemies
In the many years we've been writing about e-commerce, we've probably addressed the issue of customer service more than any other. It is a favorite topic of ours, that's true, but it's also an evergreen subject and one area of business where sellers continue to make mistakes. No matter how carefully you list your items, take your photos, or explain your shipping and return policies, you will confront customer service issues.
Chris Taylor responds succinctly when we ask him for the biggest customer service mistake he sees. "Not taking emotional responses out of business decisions," he says.
Yes, some customers turn out to be jerks, but it's better to spend your energies on pleasing the ones who aren't than it is to try to win a jerk contest in a public forum
"He who loses his cool loses the disagreement" is a motto that applies to every customer service interaction you will make. Sometimes a legitimate customer concern can seem antagonistic, even if the person expressing it doesn't mean it to sound that way.
Online communication is full of potential pitfalls, and we've all sent emails we've come to regret. Maybe your customer is sounding defensive because he's been burned before by a seller who isn't as honorable as you are. If you put your dukes up at first response, you may find you've overstepped when all is said and done. Then who looks bad?
Eventually, someone will flame you in feedback, and you'll want to blow your stack. That's understandable. But, if you do, you will not only escalate the issue with this one customer, but you'll leave a trail behind you that makes anyone who checks your feedback wary to do business with you in the future. Sure, you may momentarily feel a little better, but ultimately you'll feel the pain of having shot yourself in the foot.
Words to live by
You're not responding to an angry negative comment for the kook who left it. You're responding to that comment for every other person in the e-commerce world who may be considering giving you a try. If you keep that in mind, you'll go a long way toward dealing with a single angry customer and proving yourself to be a trusted and worthy businessperson.
We'll let you in on a little secret. We agree with you that customers who bring angry accusations to what may be simple mistakes are jerks and should be banished from e-commerce forever. Does that help you feel better? It's true that some customers turn out to be jerks. It's much better to spend your energies on pleasing the many more customers who aren't than it is to try to win a jerk contest in a public forum.
Now that we've looked at three different areas of eBay mistakes, we hope we've given you some things to consider. If you see yourself having made some of these mistakes, you're in good company. Mistakes are valuable learning tools, and only turn bad if you keep making the same ones.
Want to read this series again? Learn about the business mistakes sellers make in Part 1, and listing mistakes to avoid in Part 2.