Surprise Success: What to Do When Sales Go Through the Roof

Part 4: Going Big: Preparing to Grow Your E-Commerce Startup.

Success is a good thing. Sometimes, however, surges in orders and sales cause headaches for e-commerce companies.

The key is to expect the unexpected. Planning ahead can help ensure that sales spikes are handled as smoothly as possible.

“It’s never too early to start planning for growth,” said Marg Hyland, founder ofPegeen.

“Make sure your server can handle 10 times the traffic, that you are in an area where the rents are reasonable. You need to be prepared,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Know Your Busy Times

Many companies can predict when their busy periods will be, allowing them to plan ahead.

“Holidays are busy periods for Sugarloom,” said Nitya Gulati, the CEO ofSugarloom Cosmetics.

“It’s all hands on deck during the holidays to get all the lovely packages and gifts to customers doorsteps seamlessly. We make sure to stock up on all the packaging supplies and stay in constant communication with the local post office to avoid any last-minute hiccups,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Think about the holidays that are specific to your business, and plan for increased sales around those times.

“Our busiest season is Christmas. We also see a large take around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day,” noted Mary Babiez, president ofThoughtful Presence.

“Although our historical data is only a few years, we plan based on the previous one to two years of sales, and combine that with industry data,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

In addition to holidays, evenings and weekends can be a surge time for some businesses.

“It’s always busy, but even more so when people have time, [such as] holidays, evenings and weekends,” said Kelly Fallis, CEO ofRemote Stylist.

“We’re in the business of saving people time, so we don’t do anything differently to prepare. We’re always ready,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Planning for busy times isn’t an exact science, but it’s worth doing the best you can with the information that’s available.

“Planning can be difficult, since each year can be very different, but we always have a backup,” said Babiez of Thoughtful Presence. “So if data says we need only two part-timers at Christmas and 10 cases of x inventory, I make sure I have a plan for four part-timers and the ability to receive 10 more cases if needed. You always have to think ahead and have plans laid out for the alternative path.”

The key with planning ahead is to try to imagine all possible scenarios, get prepared to face them, then monitor and evaluate your responses.

“Whether you are a solopreneur or have a small team, have brainstorming sessions to map out various scenarios with a plan of action for each,” said Babiez.

“Constant daily monitoring of your business, your sales and your Web traffic is essential to staying ahead of the curve. You can have the plans in place, but if you’re not constantly monitoring, you may not know when is the right time to act. Staying aware, staying on top of your business, and always having a plan are mission critical,” she added.

Get Your System Ready

One thing e-commerce businesses can do to prepare for sales surges is to make sure their ordering and fulfillment system is up to date, customer friendly, and able to handle the inevitable boom times.

“Our stylists pick their favorites all the time,” said Remote Stylist’s Fallis. They “could be seasonal or theme-related, but, long story short, people loving buying what others think is cool. When this happens on our site, we see surges. The handling doesn’t require anything different from an operational perspective, but stock is sometimes an issue.”

Making sure stock is available, or that customers are aware when it isn’t, is vital to a successful strategy.

“We have a double checkout that prevents actually taking the funds until a real live person at Remote Stylist has verified that the manufacturer can actually fulfill the order,” noted Fallis. Not being able to fulfill an order “not only provides disappointment but having to refund credit cards and causing shoppers to have to endure additional fees.”

Streamlining and automating systems can take time away from other areas of the business, but it’s worth the investment in the long run.

“We saw future problems early on and literally took a pause on the sales side to resolve them so we could grow in the future,” said Fallis. “Many wouldn’t stop the sales train to do this, but it worked better for us, as we ship in two countries and never have one repeat order that’s the same, nor [do we] ship from or to the same destination every time.”

Focus on Customer Service

Companies can lose sight of individual customers during a sales rush, but providing excellent customer service is vital during such periods.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the bigger picture,” said Sugarloom Cosmetics’ Gulati. “Focus on shorter goals that help to fulfill the overall purpose of the company. Consistent, quality customer service is key. Keep open communication with the customers about the expected shipping timeline to avoid any confusion and earn a loyal happy customer.”

Above all, make sure your business has in place strategies to help owners and employees cope with the stress of success.

“While success and expansion are very exciting, they can also be stressful. At times, customer relations can start to wane,” said Donovan Janus, CEO of17hats.

Companies should manage client and project tasks so they know where they are in the workflow and don’t miss a beat, he said.

Freelance writer Vivian Wagner has wide-ranging interests, from technology and business to music and motorcycles. She writes features regularly for ECT News Network, and her work has also appeared in American Profile, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many other publications. For more about her, visit her website. You can also connect with Vivian on Google+.

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