For growing brands, nothing is as important as establishing long-term health. With U.S. ecommerce sales predicted to surpass $480 billion by 2018, it’s no surprise entrepreneurs across all industries are flocking online to earn a piece of this growing business.
Establishing a company is just the first critical step in earning ecommerce success. To secure lasting financial security and develop lifetime customer loyalty, emerging brands must implement the four pillars that define online sales — production, operations, marketing and hiring. Like the four chambers of the human heart, these key business areas keep blood flow steady throughout an ecommerce company. When one quadrant collapses, the entire system crumbles.
However, as thriving ecommerce brands are proving, when these four business-critical operations work together, they have the power to propel growing companies toward massive success. While emerging brands must balance growth strategies with staying true to original company visions as to not ostracize existing customers, they can make changes over time to scale their operations and systems at pace with evolving consumer demands and expectations.
Production presents emerging brands with many variables during periods of quick growth. For example, an online retailer may go from carrying one or two products to multiple lines in a variety of sizes and colors. The sheer variety of product opportunities can make it challenging for companies to conceptualize and master production needs.
Meeting expanding production demands is certainly a learning curve, but the smartest brands will use sales data and expert advice to avoid being completely overrun. The former allows brands to leverage past purchasing trends to intelligently guide future production efforts. For example, an online retailer can reconcile last year’s holiday sales data with upcoming seasonal product trends to generate a well-rounded demand forecast. With this knowledge, the retailer can prepare its inventory management strategy and scale production efforts accordingly.
The latter offers emerging brands something they can never get alone — experience. Asking for help may seem rudimentary, but getting real-world tips from companies and entrepreneurs who have already scaled is a great way to overcome production unknowns and better please shoppers in the future.
If production growth inspires customers to purchase more, operations ensure a happy sales experience and that shoppers will buy again.
Operations center on two features — tools and transparency. Tools, such as advanced supply chain systems and fulfillment technologies, equip emerging brands with the flexibility to meet changing production needs as they occur. For instance, leading fulfillment tools can report SKU velocities with guaranteed accuracy, meaning brands can adjust operations in real time and never let an order fall behind. This degree of adaptability in the warehouse is crucial for driving customer satisfaction.
Additionally, to keep shoppers happy, brands have to establish clear operational transparency with consumers, no matter how big their business becomes. As operations scale upwards, customers should never feel like an afterthought and deserve to know where their orders stand every step of the way. Just as tools can boost customer satisfaction by getting orders out on time, transparency efforts like package tracking and delivery notifications can keep shoppers happy by making them feel like a valuable part of the fulfillment process.
As growing brands divvy their marketing budgets across traditional avenues like TV and print, they should also consider offline branding options like premium packaging. In tandem with production and operation improvements, personalized packaging can further elevate fulfillment responsibilities and engage customers, new and old alike.
For example, a branded note or box with a company logo and colors are smart investments to improve how shoppers interact with their orders, and therefor bolster the overall customer experience. A branded packaging experience like this is very memorable and can encourage shoppers to purchase from online retailers again.
Premium packaging can help ecommerce brands earn new business, too. Thirty-nine percent of online shoppers have shared a product image or video on social media, which is a channel many of today’s shoppers turn to for product research. Likewise, 40 percent of online shoppers say branded packaging makes them more likely to recommend a product to friends — a major boost to critical word-of-mouth marketing efforts. Many shoppers are even willing to share packaging feedback via social or a customer survey, and brands can leverage this pool of information to improve their packaging solutions over time and ensure marketing dollars are well-spent.
Finally, an emerging brand’s ability to execute scaled production, operation and marketing strategies goes hand-in-hand with its hiring practices. Hiring is tricky, however, because it’s difficult to forecast employee needs in the months to come, as even minor shifts in sales or competitors can impact your trajectory and day-to-day operations.
To not get ahead of themselves, quickly growing brands should focus on finding a few high-quality employees rather than many substandard ones. High-quality employees will likely stay with a business long-term, and will come to understand much better the company they work for. This increased knowledge equips team members with the flexibility to address changing customer demands and business needs.
When building out a team this way, it’s extra important to keep long-term employees happy or risk losing their wealth of experience. Even something as simple as inviting one to lunch can make him or her feel like a valued part of the team and encourage that employee to stick around.
Mastering these four areas alone is a tall task for even the savviest brands, and emerging online businesses would be smart to partner with a trusted ecommerce fulfillment partner to manage a wide variety of company needs. Fulfillment companies have experience in areas like production, operations, marketing and hiring — as well as across many other common business practices — and their industry knowledge can help companies find efficiencies and develop a business strategy that engages shoppers and keeps emerging brands’ bottom lines growing.
Maria Haggerty is CEO of Dotcom Distribution