7 Reasons eCommerce Sites Fall Short

The brutal reality of eCommerce is that, without adequate attention to specific key metrics and adjusting appropriately, the vast majority of eCommerce sites will fail.

There are some eCommerce site failures that are largely due to situations outside of a merchant’s control (i.e., product demand, etc.). However, the ability to calibrate and roll with the punches is what draws the line in the sand between failing and not.

Here are 7 reasons eCommerce sites fall short of success, and how merchants can put themselves in the best position for success.

1. An Inadequate Investment of Capital

An eCommerce site is a business just like any other business; it will inevitably require periodical infusions of money. Although it is possible to open up an eCommerce site for a few hundred bucks, that doesn’t mean you’re in for some smooth sailing. Bootstrapping is often romanticized in the startup world, but eCommerce is an entirely different monster.

How will you get traffic to your site?

How will you build economies of scale to decrease your expenses?

What will you do if your drop-shipping supplier goes out of business?

These are all things that must be considered before entering the world of eCommerce.

2. Failure to Set Goals and KPIs

The appeal of entering the world of eCommerce, for many merchants, is that it doesn’t have many substantial high costs, like setting up a brick-and-mortar location does. Just because you are injecting money into your eCommerce site, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful in the long run.

Successful merchants are incredibly attentive and scrupulous to the ROI of all of their digital strategies. Countless eCommerce sites have been eventually shut down because their owner hasn’t been monitoring their digital strategy results due to neglect or simply not knowing how.

Sure, PPC seems like a phenomenal strategy to get a significant amount of traffic in a small period of time, but it only takes a few mismanaged steps and an early eCommerce site’s marketing budget could wither away.

This is why it’s important to know exactly what you’re signing up for and whether or not you can sustain your campaigns. Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) that track your campaigns and site’s performance are imperative to a site’s long-term success.

Another useful way to set goals is using the SMART methodology, where your goals are:

Specific: Be as specific as possible for the sake of clarity. 5,000 monthly sales is a better goal than “get more sales.”

Measurable: Can your goal be easily measured?

Achievable: Is this goal within reach? Can you realistically expect to hit 5,000 monthly sales?

Relevant: Is this goal relevant to your ultimate success? How so?

Time-Based: Setting time parameters helps to gauge the success or failure of your campaign or goal. “Hit 5,000 monthly sales by July 20th” will either be met or not met by July 20th. The next step is to evaluate why or why you didn’t meet it. What could you do to make it better or hit a similar goal in the future?

3. Failure to Plan for the Long-Term

Many eCommerce sites that fall short are usually the culmination of multiple misguided steps and digital marketing efforts.

Time and time again, beginners fall into the “monkey-bar” approach, where they shimmy from one strategy to another just to stay above ground. Rapidly shifting focus and strategy not only eliminates any potential momentum from a particular strategy, it also fails to build any retention with interested traffic.

Successful merchants are able to leverage multiple different digital marketing strategies in unison with each other and are able to create a powerful synergy that, ultimately, makes them more effective.

Situation A: Merchant A wants to promote his product, a Velcro running shoe. He spends his monthly marketing budget of $2,500 on targeted Facebook ads.

Situation B: Merchant B wants to promote an identical product. He spends $100 on a creating a power piece of content about “12 Benefits Velcro Running Shoes Have Over Regular Running Shoes.”

He integrates an email signup form (free) that entices readers with a “Guide to Running for Beginners eBook” ($400). He embeds a Facebook pixel (free) on his power page that will allow him to create a custom audience, as well as a link to his product.

Next, he spends $1,500 on targeted Facebook ads. To cap out his $2,500 marketing budget this month, he spends $250 on retargeting ads to reach people who clicked on his product page but didn’t check out and $250 on a custom audience similar to the one that landed on his power page.

Merchant A might be able to create a profit and a short-term buzz for the month, but he could potentially be leaving a lot on the table.

Merchant B, however, now has a valuable piece of content on his site that will start to be crawled by search engines, potentially shared by visitors, and he will collect emails. The Facebook pixel helps him to create a custom audience that mirrors the interested sub-group of people that clicked on his Facebook ad to better refine what he should target in his ads.

His $1,500 expenditure on Facebook ads helped to add some juice to the campaign, promote his content, build his brand, and, potentially, make some sales. The remaining $500 he spends on retargeting ads and custom audience ads gives him another opportunity to convert sales but, also, create another touchpoint or two for people to interact with his brand.

Both campaigns ultimately cost the same, but Merchant B is able to build retention in his marketing strategy, as well as power up his site for the long term.

4. Lack of Patience

Many digital marketing strategies take a substantial amount of time, and merchants that don’t have patience won’t get to see their hard work done on the front-end come to fruition.

Having an acute understanding of the timelines for the various digital marketing tools in your arsenal will help you to plan out your patience.

For example, if you are only just exploring a certain product niche and are likely going to iterate or pivot on your idea multiple times, it might not be a good idea to heavily invest in SEO. Search engine optimization is an extremely powerful strategy that, when done correctly, can turn on a substantial fire hose of consistent traffic. The timeline for it, however, ranges from weeks to even a few years.

Successful merchants who build strong domain authority sites that rank for high-value keywords in Google came into business with the understanding that their SEO efforts would take a substantial up-front investment of time and money, but, if planned correctly, it will be worth it.

5. Being a Small Fish in a Big Pond

There are certain eCommerce markets that may look lucrative, but which are so extremely saturated that it makes launching an eCommerce site inherently difficult.

Many of these markets are filled with hundreds of competitors selling virtually the same, and sometimes identical, product. The sheer amount of alternatives makes it difficult for newcomers to enter the market without spending a massive amount of effort and money to out-market their competition, and, even then, the profits just aren’t substantial enough to justify the effort.

Merchants that blindly go into overly commoditized markets are, essentially, signing up for a steep uphill vertical climb. The merchants that are able to scope out new markets with a steady growth in traffic and beat the competition will ultimately have a more pleasant business experience.

The key is to find the golden ratio between the amount of traffic and amount of competition and allow your creative, operational, and marketing prowess to carve out a territory for yourself and build enough of a brand and customer loyalty that new competition will have difficulty snatching out from under you.

6. Failing to Curb Shopping Cart Abandonment

In 2017, the average documented shopping cart abandonment rate was 69%. That means that, out of every four people, three are likely to leave before completing their transactions. Shopping cart abandonment wreaks havoc to the tune of billions of dollars for the eCommerce world every year. Not only are merchants missing out on potential revenue, their marketing campaigns automatically become more expensive at a lower conversion rate.

When it comes to curbing shopping cart abandonment, there is an offense and a defense.

The Offense: Shoppers will leave your check-out—now what? There are multiple strategies that can help you to get another crack at them.

1. One of the most effective is ad retargeting, which will kindly remind shoppers of your site on social media.

2. Creating user accounts on your site will help you to capture your visitor’s information, which will help for a variety of reasons. It will remove friction from future purchases, earn opt-ins for your email list should visitors choose to do so, and allow you to create specific triggered email campaigns to fight cart abandonment.

The Defense: While many shopping cart abandonments are due to users mindlessly scrolling to another tab and forgetting, there is a significant amount of purchase-ready shoppers who are deterred for other reasons.

1. How transparent is your site with its prices and fees? Once some shoppers see they have to pay for shipping or taxes, they are forced to add more purchasing consideration into their cognitive load.

2. Do you have a FAQ page that addresses common questions? It’s usually much easier for shoppers to find an alternative that addresses a specific qualm than emailing customer service.

7. Sub-Par Product Images and Descriptions

If your product images and descriptions don’t do a good job at describing what value your product provides, they are likely underperforming. Putting a subpar effort into product descriptions and images—two of the main things shoppers carefully look at before committing to purchase—will ultimately yield subpar results.

Building Descriptions That Speak to People: Writing a great description means being able to clearly communicate your product’s value without losing interest, all while building your brand’s unique tone and voice. Copywriting is an art in itself, and making the investment to hire or outsource your copywriting can make a substantial impact on your sales.

Taking Product Pictures That Put Your Best Face Forward: There are countless eCommerce sites that use the same identical stock image as their competitors and then wonder why they are losing sales. Merchants that are able to take custom high-quality product images, and even videos, are able to build a case for a much more valuable product than their competitors.

Final Thoughts

Keeping these 7 reasons eCommerce sites fall short in mind, you can now guard your eCommerce site against some of the most popular reasons these sites fail. The ability to build an entire business on a laptop anywhere in the world is enticing to thousands of merchants, but the amount of work and foresight that goes into the whole ordeal is often overlooked. Find yourself on the good side of eCommerce by vigilantly refining and benchmarking your eCommerce site.

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Ronald Dod

Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder at Visiture
Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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