Seeing your sales volume increase is a good thing. Not only are you making more money, but you are also gaining loyal customers, which are pushing you in the direction of running your ecommerce store full-time.
However, with growth come a few issues that you'll need to stay on top of if you want your upswing to be as successful as possible. This is where the term "scaling your business" comes from - your online store needs to be able to easily scale to the size of your customer base without damaging your margins and procedures.
Let's take a look at a few ways you can scale your store to meet the demands of your growing business
Increase customer support
I recently wrote a post for the Doba Blog on customer service trends in 2016, and how important exceptional customer service is for any online store looking to move up in the world.
This will be one of the first, and most important, areas for you to scale when your store begins to experience serious growth.
Your mind might jump right to offering in-bound phone support - which isn't a bad idea - but if you're still working a day job in addition to running your ecommerce store, how are you going to manage and afford quality phone support?
Consider the following example from a post Andrew Youderian wrote for Ecommerce Fuel:
"When I started my first store, Right Channel, I loudly advertised my phone number and personally answered every call that I received. And it was terrific! I learned a tremendous amount about my customers’ needs and problems, and really grew to understand the market and products. Plus, my customers received top-notch personalized service, which helped build my store’s reputation.
"As time wore on, however, I started to reconsider phone support for all of the reasons listed above – especially when I realized that the vast majority of my revenue (85%+) was being generated via orders placed online.
"By deciding to stop accepting phone calls, I lost less than 15% of my revenue and freed up a substantial amount of time to market the business and better serve existing customers. It was a classic 80/20 scenario and was a much more scalable model for my then-solo operation."
The last part that Youderian mentions is key - it was a "Much more scalable model for my then-solo operation."
Now, if you're doing enough business to where you can hire a few reps to handle calls, and you feel call support would benefit your customers, then by all means do so. If your growth isn't at that level yet, then don't feel like you're missing out on a huge opportunity to bring in customers you could otherwise be grabbing if only you had the time or money to provide in-bound phone support.
Youderian tackled that exact predicament further on in his post:
"I don’t think customer support can be defined with something as narrow as offering phone support. To me, great customer service means offering a quality product and solving problems quickly for the customers you’ve chosen to do business with.
"While I decided not to offer broad in-bound phone support, I was focusing on other areas to make sure I was offering quality support. Things like sending out free replacements for defective items, upgrading packages to express shipment and quickly replying to emails. I was intentionally choosing not to do business with a small segment of my customers (those who needed to call in), but was making sure to offer top-notch support in all other areas of the business."
As you can see, in-bound phone support won't make-or-break your business - but the overall customer support experience will.
How exactly do you scale your customer support?
I recommend reading through this post from GrooveHQ. There's a lot of great information included, but I've summarized the main points below:
- Empower your team:If you hire any part-time help, or have some existing employees, you need to give them all the resources possible to efficiently help your customers.
- Document your most critical processes:If your store's staff consists of just you and one other person, then you can you can easily document your store’s most critical processes.
- Automate repeating tasks:This is pretty self-explanatory. Automating emails that say, "We received your email and are looking into your question/concern immediately" can go a long way in saving you both time and money.
- Make your support emails searchable:If you find yourself answering the same support questions time and time again, add a page to your site where those questions can be addressed via a simple topic search.
As your store grows, it's only natural that your inventory will do the same. You'll need a way to manage your growing inventory, especially if you sell in other marketplaces other than your own store.
Michael Jackness, owner of IceWraps, wrote a post for BigCommerce detailing how he was able to scale IceWraps from a near-bankrupt company into a profitable business in a very short amount of time.
One of the issues Jackness faced was inventory management. Specifically, he needed a way to keep his inventory totals current across his BigCommerce, Amazon, and eBay stores.
"After just over a month of evaluating about seven packages, I ended up with Stitch Labs. It’s a bit pricey at $199 a month, but without it I would be totally screwed. As a side note, this interfaces with Ship Station for shipping management and I recently switched to Xero for accounting."
Jackness was able to find a solution that worked for his company, and while $199/month may be a bit too pricey for some of you, there are cheaper options that exist. A Google search for "cheap inventory management software" brings up a plethora of options to choose from.
You'll obviously have to spend some time evaluating options, weighing prices, and seeing which systems fit best with your existing platforms, but the research will be well worth it. Seamless inventory integration will eliminate a lot of issues as your store continues to grow.
Prepare for the increased traffic
As your sales increase, traffic to your online store should do the same. You need to be prepared to handle these traffic spikes, otherwise, you risk your site crashing - and that's the last thing you want to have happen.
It can be relatively easy to predict traffic spikes for the holiday shopping season and other times of the year based on your industry. For example, an online store selling school supplies will expect to see a spike in traffic in August, whereas a jewelry retailer will likely expect spikes around Valentine's and Mother's Day.
But what about those traffic spikes you can't predict? Say you have an uber-successful marketing campaign that brings in more traffic than you expected it to. You'll want your site to handle all that extra traffic without a hiccup.
As I've mentioned previously on this blog, I do some marketing consulting work for a Colorado-based startup. Some of our marketing campaigns have been duds. Others have performed adequately enough, while one brought in enough traffic to the site that we were in fact seeing serious delays in page load time. That led to high bounce rates and customer frustration.
Needless to say, we learned from that experience and upgraded our server capacity. This is exactly what you need to when you begin scaling your store.
All-in-one platforms like BigCommerce offer services that will help you handle increased traffic, as does every other major ecommerce platform. If you're currently hosting your store on your own servers (or ones you pay for) you may want to consider getting more space, or if it's cheaper, migrating your site to an all-in-one ecommerce platform to gain access to their server space.
Make your mobile site super-friendly
Almost every website built today is responsive for mobile devices. This is due largely to Google's penalization of sites that aren't optimized for mobile in their latest algorithm update, as well as the rise in the use of mobile device for online shopping.
Mobile retail sales are expected to surpass $31 billion this year. If you want a slice of that pie as your store grows, you have to have a great mobile site.
Again, this is another instance where using an all-in-once ecommerce platform can be beneficial, since their site templates are built to be responsive, not to mention editing the HTML and CSS of the sites is simple for those with that skillset.
Regardless of how you go about it, you need to create the best mobile experience you can. Next to customer service, this might be the most important part of your store to focus on when it comes to scaling your ecommerce business.
This obviously isn't a comprehensive list of everything that'll need doing when it comes time to scale your store, but these four areas are great places to start. Also, they're some of the most important parts of your ecommerce store experience, and if you don't scale these four aspects properly, the rest of your scaling efforts won't be nearly as effective as they could be.
Photo courtesy Ken Teegardin.