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Top 3 Mistakes Online Retailers Make and How to Avoid Them

May 30, 2012 By John Lawson
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In its most basic definition, e-commerce is "the process of selling stuff online." That sounds simple enough, right? But how exactly does that work? An e-commerce marketer has many balls in the air at any given time and juggling them all can be time consuming. What are some of the common pitfalls that you should avoid in your retail business? Let's take a look at three of them as well as how you can easily implement solutions for them. 

Mistake No. 1: Striving for Perfection
Are you waiting until your blog, website and product ads are "perfect" before you launch them? Well, that means you have a good chance of either never launching them at all or delaying so long that someone else beats you to the punch and scoops your market out from under you.

Microsoft — and pretty much every other software company — does it all the time. It launches products and software that wouldn't hold up to your standards of perfection. If "good enough" is good enough for billionaire Bill Gates, it should be good enough for you and me.

However, do keep in mind that there's a fine balance between releasing something that's not ready and releasing something that looks good but is a little rough around the edges. 

Mistake No. 2: Not Defining Your Unique Selling Proposition
The web is filled with products, which means you often have to compete (aggressively, at that) for consumer attention on web shopping search portals, on marketplaces like eBay and, and even on comparison shopping engines like If you're selling a product that's branded and widely available, don't be shocked if the world isn't rushing to your door, even if you have the lowest market price. It's OK to source a product that's similar to a competitor's, but you absolutely need to put your own spin on it, adding value over what your competitor is offering.

Here are some ideas you can use to sell a "me too" product to help it stand on its own:

  • Deliver it faster. Check out your competitor's shipping policy; if it promises shipping in seven days, offer shipping in five days or, better yet, three days.
  • Make it easier. Does your checkout page require customers to complete multiple steps (10 or more) to place an order? If so, streamline your checkout process to three steps or less.
  • Make it bigger. Does your competitor sell a single item? Find out if you can sell a three-pack or six-pack.
  • Make it more expensive. This may sound counterintuitive, but it works. Some consumers want "the best" and will go for the more expensive option automatically. If you can back your higher price tag with greater value, you'll pull in people looking for the Rolls Royce.

There's really no excuse for creating a copycat product ad. Put your individual stamp on a product and you'll find that you can reach buyers your competitors are missing. 

Mistake No. 3: Treating Customers as if They're Expendable
One of the great benefits of selling online is that you have access to over a billion people. Yes, BILLION. When you think of what fraction of the total internet population you need to convert to customers to make a living online, it's miniscule — a fraction of a fraction of a percent!

The problem with dealing with numbers that large is that you can view any one particular customer as unimportant. You might think, "Well, it doesn't matter if so-and-so is unhappy because there are 999,999,999 other people I can sell to." In a way, that's true. But in an even more important way, it's not.

When online retailers treat their customers as if they're expendable (i.e., easily replaced), they lose something valuable — the trust of their market.

No matter how big the numbers are, the online world can also be a very small place, especially if you're focused on a particular niche. The time it takes for a bad reputation to be propagated is only a matter of seconds via feedback, reviews, Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs and other social media vehicles. It can take years to create a good reputation, but it can be destroyed in minutes.

The same is true for your e-commerce business. If you treat your customers like they're easily replaceable, you'll soon find that you're the one who's easily replaceable. Pay attention to them. Read their emails. Respond to their questions, even if you've answered the same question 10 times before and it's plainly stated on your FAQ page. Treat them like gold, because that's what they are. 

Addressing these three key issues in your business can increase both productivity and customer affinity. Take measures to do what 98 percent of your competitors don't do and you'll be way ahead of the pack.

Want more helpful e-commerce tips? Join John Lawson at the Conversion Conference -Chicago on June 25-26. Save $100 off any pass when you register with Retail Online Integration's exclusive discount code ROI or click here to register on the conference's website.

John Lawson is the CEO of 3rd Power Outlet and the founder of the award-winning e-commerce blog ColderICE. John can be reached at


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