Common traits of successful online businesses

Compared with a brick-and-mortar operation, setting up an online business seems easy. But according to some sources, about 90 percent of online businesses fail in their first year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a better prognosis, finding that about 20 percent of small businesses fail in the first year (although that includes brick-and-mortar as well as online businesses). Nevertheless, no one wants their business to be a statistic.

Fortunately, there’s a lot to learn from businesses that have lasted long past their first year. Successful online businesses share several common traits that you can emulate as you build your own enterprise. Learning from the success, and the mistakes, can guide you through that tough first year and show you how to gain recognition and market share.

A strong customer focus

Focus on the customer is the most significant trait that successful online businesses share. They don’t just respond to customer feedback to improve their products and services; they actively solicit feedback, asking customers what they liked, and what they didn’t, to guide product improvement.

For example, Jones Soda isn’t a strictly online business, but the company actively seeks out feedback from its customers. The company’s flavor ideas, packaging, and even messaging come directly from customers, which allows Jones Soda to occupy a niche in the otherwise commoditized soda marketplace.

Superb customer service

Not surprisingly, a strong customer focus results in superior customer service. Successful businesses, online and off, take care of their customers, including those who are a little difficult.

These businesses know that retaining a customer is much less expensive than replacing a customer they have lost, and that 32 percent of customers will stop doing business with a brand after just one bad customer service experience.

They make it easy for customers to contact them, whether it’s through a web form or a live chat feature, and they respond promptly. Even if the live chat feature isn’t really live (and is just a form that goes to your customer service team), it assures the customer that you’re always available to answer questions.

Speedy response time

Whether it’s fulfilling orders or responding to customers, speedy response time is a big factor in the success of an online business. In a world where Amazon Prime promises same-day delivery, and social media messaging encourages instantaneous responses, companies need to fulfill orders in the time they promise. Your goal is to respond to customers as quickly as possible, certainly in less than 24 hours.

A responsive website

Online purchases made via smartphones are expected to add up to more than $345 billion in the United States in 2021 alone, more than double the $148 billion in 2018. If your online business doesn’t have a mobile-friendly site, that’s a lot of money you’re leaving on the table.

Successful online businesses have responsive websites that look good on both desktop computers and smartphones. Nearly every website builder allows you to do this. When building your site, make sure you choose a theme that has mobile responsive design.

Enticing product photography and descriptions

If you’re selling merchandise online, your products need to pop off the page, so never skimp on product photos. Hire a professional photographer. Your customers can’t touch or feel your products, so give them a clear vision of what they’re buying through the photos on your site.

Equally important are product descriptions that both accurately describe what you’re selling and attract the attention of search engines. These blurbs must include the basics, but don’t miss the chance to speak in your brand “voice,” like how ModCloth uses puns and whimsical phrases to describe different clothing items.

The ability to change course

Sometimes, after an online business launches, it becomes clear that the business needs to shift focus. If you’re collecting customer feedback and paying attention to what customers need, you’re in a better position to change course, make more sales, and ultimately succeed.

For example, you might start off with an online boutique to sell assorted weightlifting accessories, like wrist wraps and lifting belts. However, your customers may be requesting the wrist wraps in custom fabric patterns. The smart move is to view that as an opportunity to expand your offerings to give the customers what they want.

Your products and services are important to the success of your online business, but listening to customers and responding to what they tell you is ultimately what will bring you success. The companies that succeed put their customers first, respond quickly, have a website that makes it easy to order, describe their products well, and are willing to pivot.

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