— January 4, 2019
One of the main reasons why so many entrepreneurs are attracted to e-commerce is because of the freedom and flexibility it provides. You no longer have to be tied to a desk in an office to run a successful business; all you need is a laptop and a good internet connection.
In some cases, you never even have to physically touch or handle the products you are selling. Running a remote or automated online store only really requires that you set up a system to handle inventory, packaging, and shipping, along with a great website and an effective marketing program. Then, you can sit back and watch the sales start rolling in. Talk about freedom and flexibility!
However, the fact that this kind of business sounds a little too good to be true is because in most cases, it is. There is obviously a whole lot more to running an online business than meets the eye. Plus, setting up a remotely operated type of e-commerce business opens up many doors for disastrous and costly mistakes.
If you are considering launching a new remotely operated online business or you want to make your current e-commerce site more automated, there are three key things you need to consider before diving in.
1. What Features Are Necessary for Your Platform?
Obviously, your website is the core structure of your e-commerce business. If you are planning to turn your business into a more automated operation that requires little involvement from you as the business owner, then you will need to find a platform that includes specific features to support this.
One of the key functions that your website platform will need to provide is 24/7 live support so customers can receive assistance even when you are not available. This may either be provided by the platform itself or via plugin extension, but the important thing is that this feature is possible and easily integrated.
Did you know you could lose up to 77% of customers if you don’t offer live chat support?
That said, this function is an absolute necessity.
You will also want to use an e-commerce site that automates much of the follow-up communication with customers, such as sending out cart abandonment emails or re-targeting past customers to alert them of new merchandise.
And finally, an additional feature that your e-commerce platform should offer is an automated inventory management system. Most likely, you will need to be working with a dropshipper or third-party provider (which we will discuss next), so it is important that your site automatically reports orders and updates inventory on your website.
2. Which 3PL Provider Will You Partner With?
Partnering with a dropshipper or third-party logistics (3PL) provider is a key part to running a remote e-commerce business. However, finding a provider you can trust can be very difficult. You will need to find a dropshipping or 3PL partner that is efficient and reliable while still being cost-efficient.
There are some important things to take into consideration when you are trying to choose a 3PL provider.
First of all, you will want to take a look at the type of technology that a provider uses to manage inventory and shipping. Many 3PL providers are beginning to integrate IOT technology and Big Data for inventory forecasting to reduce the chances of running out of stock or over ordering items. Be sure to ask providers how they keep track of order and shipment fulfillment and whether or not they use real-time data for immediate feedback. This is a signal that they will likely be more efficient and cost-effective.
Secondly, you will want to determine the financial standing of the 3PL before going into any kind of partnership. This may require some digging, but do your best to investigate their past payment history and look for any signs of financial mismanagement. You may want to reach out to other businesses they work with (or have worked with in the past) to see whether they had any issues with billing.
Thirdly, you will need to clearly define all of your requirements and confirm that they can be fulfilled by your dropshipper or 3PL. Make sure that you have the answers to the questions that they will likely ask, such as the typical number of monthly orders, growth trajectory, and frequency of communication that will be expected. You will also want to be sure that the dropshipper or 3PL you work with has experience or connection with your business’s industry. This is especially important for international e-commerce; you won’t want to be dealing with logistical issues and import/export problems on your own.
3. What Kind of Additional Support Will You Need to Hire?
By running a more automated or remote e-commerce operation, you will need to give up some control of certain parts of the business to others. There will be areas that need more attention than you can provide, and you must be able to fulfill those needs.
Thankfully, most of these tasks can be easily outsourced through remote freelancers and support teams. There are plenty of remote support options that will take care of customer service issues. You can look into freelance marketers to create advertising content and run social pages and email campaigns. Nearly every department that is necessary for running a business can be outsourced as well, including accounting and IT support.
The key here is to be sure that outsourcing this additional support makes sense financially. Obviously, it is going to cost more to outsource these jobs than it would be to handle them yourself, but it will also free up more time and provide more freedom to pursue other opportunities. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons and determine which additional support systems are absolutely necessary and which ones you can go without.
We all dream of owning a business that makes money while we sleep, and running a successful e-commerce business can certainly be a vehicle to make this dream a reality. However, setting up this type of automated business does require strategy and planning to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Be sure that you take these questions and issues into consideration before you decide to take a step back and launch a remotely operated business. You want to be sure that your ducks are all in a row to keep things moving seamlessly – even when you are not around.