Showtime for Holiday E-Commerce

A word to the CEOs, venture backers or board members of any dot-com companies teetering on the brink of collapse:

Please, do everything that you can — as long as it’s not at the expense of your customers — to keep your company up and running through the holidays. No one wants to find bankruptcy under their Christmas tree.

Glad tidings are needed for an e-commerce world that will be in the spotlight for the next four weeks like never before. So this message goes out to all corners of the online shopping world: You are on notice. You are being watched. Make this opportunity count.

Succeeding now could pave the way for many happy years ahead. Falling down badly could leave scars that never go away.

All Eyes on E-tail

Who’s watching e-commerce? Apart from the usual suspects — current and potential shoppers, stock analysts and private investors — U.S. government officials will have their ears perked up for complaints.

They’ve already warned e-tailers about keeping promises regarding on-time delivery. And as companies slapped with fines from last year know, they mean it.

Rest assured, however, that on the order fulfillment front as well as many others, it won’t be enough to simply meet expectations. Like a fast-growing company that turns in impressive earnings and revenue growth, only to see its stock price fall because expectations became so lofty, e-commerce has a high customer service bar to clear in order to impress.

Going the Extra Mile

If it’s going to dazzle the retail world, e-commerce is going to have do the little things right — every little thing.

Such as: actually stocking all items that are displayed or listed for sale on e-tail sites. Responding to customer e-mails or phone calls in a matter of minutes, not hours or days. Avoiding site downtime at all costs. Displaying privacy policies and assurances about credit card safety clearly and openly.

This holiday spectacular will have to individually acknowledge each and every shopper, with quick customer service response, an utter lack of shipping debacles and an overall air of professionalism. Please a customer in this environment and you score points for the entire online shopping world. Anger one and the reverberations will echo for a long time to come.

Bigger Picture

The numbers still matter, of course. Many analysts have predicted banner holiday revenues for online commerce — although some hedge on the issue of the Net’s net. While the early dollar returns are somewhat mixed, everyone agrees that it will be the next four weeks or so that matter most.

Call it an early test of the entire notion of profitability. Can e-tail grow sales without all the dot-com hype, the saturation of television advertising, the gaudy if misdirected publicity stunts and the steep discounts that drove so many dot-coms out of business before they even had a chance to prove their long-term fitness?

Quite a question, huh? Well, there’s more where that came from. Can e-tailers meet ever-rising demand? Will more new online shoppers take the plunge? Will experienced shoppers increase their Web spending?

E-Commerce Jeopardy

All these questions relate to the new e-commerce bottom line. E-tailers are expected to do more with less — less advertising and marketing and in many cases, shrunken workforces and tighter overall budgets.

The old dot-com questions are gone. Wondering how fast market share can be built, or how low prices have to be dropped to attract more Web traffic, or how big a chunk of a total venture placement can be spent on a single advertisement, is all a thing of past — thankfully.

What the new questions have in common is that they all get answered the same way: one customer at a time. As Amazon’s Delight-o-Meter whirls, as warehouses churn around the clock and as the sales numbers creep up toward and maybe even beyond the US$12 billion predictions, bear in mind that there has never been a time when it is more important and more critical to keep customers happy than right now.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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