The ten tenets of a successful e-commerce venture

This article outlines 10 tenets that set a successful venture apart from the rest, based on a set of attributes that are consistent across successful companies.
Arun Nair - Author

The growth in e-commerce ventures over the past few years have seen a resurgence. Some equate this resurgence to the days of the dot-com boom, which eventually went bust. However, this time these ventures are here to stay, because this time the scenario is different; an Internet aware (mature) audience, substantially better bandwidth and a healthy cash flow for e-ventures.

It is no wonder then that every organisation worth it's while is rushing in for a piece of the action. Some have transformed or extended their business online, while others have created their niche.

But, for every successful venture there are a thousand (if not more) failed ones. I've compiled a list of 10 tenets that set a successful venture apart from the rest, based on a set of attributes that are consistent across these companies.

1. Powerful Product or Service Proposition In the clutter of e-commerce offerings, it is important to have a unique product or service proposition that stands out. If your offering isn't unique, you can get around it by offering an extensive, comprehensive array of the product.

For e.g. when Flipkart started, they weren't the first book e-tailer in India, there were 20 others; however they made up for their late entrance by offering every other book under the sun. You were more likely to find a book of your choice on Flipkart than with the others and this was partially the reason why they cracked the market while others were left wanting.

2. Top Class Supply Chain At the heart of an e-commerce venture is a robust supply chain, ensuring the shortest time between purchase and delivery. Often the whole experience of transacting online is tainted because of delayed delivery. Horror stories of deliveries that get lost or damaged in transit can have damaging consequences.

On the other hand products that get delivered ahead of schedule can fuel more repeat sales. According to one report, efficiency in the supply chain can have a more than a linear impact on revenue.

3. Fantastic Customer Service Don't just be good at customer service, be obsessed with it! In an era when customer loyalty is hard to get, good isn't good enough.

Go that extra mile to create delightful experiences for your customers, surprise them with a service that they would least expect and you have a customer for life. For instance, the legendary customer service by Zappos, Rackspace (Fanatical Support is what they call their level of customer service) have made them darlings of their customers.

4. Investment in Technology Infrastructure Plan well and invest in the right technology, because it will save you a lot of headache in time to come (most CEOs and CTOs will agree on this, and I speak from personal experience).

To start with, opt for a reliable hosting provider that can scale up to your business requirements, seamlessly augmenting bandwidth and hardware as you grow. Also insist on high uptime, over 99% uptime, guaranteeing that your website is available without outage. Invest in the right application server, database server and middle-ware to guarantee glitch free, peak performance irrespective of the load on the system.

5. Know Your Customer A deeper understanding of your customers' preferences is essential if businesses are to forge a deeper bond with their customers. Successful e-commerce ventures have got that right and can even preempt choices. Invest in a good CRM tool that seamlessly integrates with the website, capturing vital intelligence about the customer at every stage. There are two fold benefits to this - gain invaluable information about customer preferences, purchase pattern and raise the average revenue per customer (as a result of inducing more purchases).

6. Intuitive, User-friendly Website This is absolutely hygiene, and must happen without exception. The essential elements of your store must be available within 2 clicks, and everything else that is important within 3 clicks. You don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to designing a good user interface, because you can build upon the best practices of some of the most popular e-commerce websites.

7. Loyalty Programs Reward customers for their purchases and you will have the easiest means to retain the loyalty of your customers. Make your loyalty program amongst the best by being innovative, introduce tiered loyalty programs and reward your top purchasing customers with better offers and premium services.

8. Affiliate Marketing Besides rewarding customers for their loyalty, reward referral sales by implementing an effective affiliate marketing system. Apart from adding another channel to your sales, the affiliate program is also a great way to promote your products and services across the web. The best example of an affiliate system is the Amazon Associates program (incidentally they were the first to start affiliate marketing on the web), that contributes roughly 30% to Amazon sales!

9. Word of Mouth Marketing If you get all the above elements right, good publicity will follow. Put your efforts into PR, social media, foster a community of fans, seed conversations and interest for your website. Let good word of mouth be the engine of promotion, and the results will be like nothing you've imagined. Also, stay away from conventional marketing or advertising in the early days of the venture, not just because it's expensive, but because its less effective (and archaic).

10. Likeable Name This may sound silly, but a simple, likeable name for your website can go a long way. Stick to names that are less than 10 characters, bi-syllables and unique, for this will ensure better recall. Some examples of this theory include names like Zappos, Amazon, Myntra, Jabong, Flipkart etc. And for God's sake, avoid names that sound like you've been hit on the head!

To conclude, if you run an e-commerce company or are planning to start one, don't just treat these as 10 tenets but follow them as 10 commandments and you will see the difference.