Five e-commerce tips from industry experts

Last week’s e-Commerce Africa Confex held in Cape Town saw a number of experts share thoughts on growing an e-commerce company and the current online shopping landscape on the continent.

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As digital guru and group head of online at Woolworths, Nikki Cockcroft, puts it: “To the people who say you can’t make money in e-commerce – that’s absolute rubbish.”

However, at the heart of e-commerce success is customer service and retention, alongside a solid business plan and creative thinking.

Here are five interesting thoughts by industry professionals about starting, and growing, an e-commerce store.

1. Buyers want feedback on delivery

According to Justin Drennan, co-founder of online store, customers like free delivery, and they like real-time tracking of their orders.

“They want to know where their order is. You don’t even have to deliver on time as long as you give them feedback. People want you to communicate.”

2. Customer profiles: it’s about the ‘why’ and ‘what’

Maximilian Rast, chief marketing officer of fashion online retailer Zando, noted e-commerce companies typically invest in developing profiles of their customers to better understand who they are. However, while this understanding is important, Rast believes it is much less so than knowing what they buy online, and why. This can help with suggesting additional products.

“I can get much more valuable information seeing what products [a customer likes]… than the knowledge she is a 40-year-old woman who lives in the Eastern Cape and has an income of R30,000 (US$2,600) a month. That doesn’t really help me.”

3. Ask customers for feedback

During the conference, one audience member who owns an online shopping site shared how he struggles with customers who browse on the website, and then phone in to place their order instead of doing it online. He asked Dan Croxen-John, CEO of AWA digital, what to do about it.

The answer? Ask the customer why they aren’t using the online platform.

Asking for feedback is the best and fastest way of finding out what works and does not work, said Croxen-John. “It’s very simple… it is just common sense.”

4. Additional revenue with banner adverts

Looking to generate additional revenue on your e-commerce platform to help drive profits? Woolworths Online’s Cockcroft said why not sell banner adverts?

She explained when she first started shopping around for a provider of an ad service platform for Woolworths Online, it was met with disbelief.

“They could not work out why an e-commerce business would require an ad service platform. But let’s be honest; we are nearly as big as some of the top media sites in South Africa,” she noted.“[E-commerce companies] are their own platform.”

5. Packaging counts

The online kitchenware store Yuppiechef won Best e-Commerce Store at the South African e-Commerce Awards for five years in a row. Director Paul Galatis believes it has to do with their customer service, and putting in extra time, effort and creativity into making it better.

For example, every customer who places an order with Yuppiechef gets a personalised, handwritten thank you card. Yuppiechef has also invested in its packaging to make it “beautiful” for customers to receive and unwrap.

“If you can appreciate and feel someone has taken time and effort to make [the experience] a little bit better, there is a sense of generosity. And I believe that creates a connection with people,” concluded Galatis.