Alibaba’s Tmall Global now features goods from 14,500 overseas brands, 80% of them selling in China for the first time.
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Quinn also says having customer service reps that understand and can help customers sort through products is important. “You have to make them feel confident that it is okay to ask a silly question and know that they’ll get help,” he says.
Look for thick skin
Afriel’s McDowell says getting the right customer service staff is critical. “If you hire outside talent, be careful of the type of personality their representatives have,” she says. “You need people with thick skin who won’t be too sensitive to dealing with difficult customers.”
When interviewing agents, look for people who have call center and customer service background, McDowell says. And since being able to understand and explain the company’s product line is essential, she suggests testing their ability in the interview. She suggests describing the product in detail and then question the interviewee in terms of their ability to comprehend what they have been told and spit back pertinent information.
Customer service has not been a big issue for TheTrackShack. Although the retailer uses an outside company to handle customer calls, because its product is instantly downloaded, it does not get the calls from customers wondering where their shipment is. That cuts down on the complaints and calls, Hansen says.
Shipping issues also provide learning opportunities for new companies. Goballzout.com found it was actually losing money on shipping at first because it was not estimating correctly the cost to ship product. The standard chart provided by UPS that lists weight and box size underestimates the actual cost to ship a product, Quinn says. He had to re-adjust all the shipping fees. Quinn suggests talking to retailers that have product of a similar size and weight to find out what they are paying before setting fees.
Afriel had other problems with shipping. While the company does both direct shipment and uses drop shipment, it was often difficult to track the status of product that was being drop shipped by suppliers. And there were other problems. “You need to make sure you have enough product on hand. Often you need multiple distributors for one product so that if one is out, you can call someone else. This is especially important around the holidays,” McDowell says.
A learning experience
Whether the issue is shipping, product availability, security or customer service, the issues are often more complex than what most new retailers realize. A lot of planning, thought and talking to others experienced in setting up e-commerce web sites is required before entrepreneurs can turn their ideas of something they want to sell into a successful business.
“At the beginning, everything appears to be a lot easier than the actual execution turns out to be,” says Goballzout.com’s Quinn. “It’s a huge learning experience.”
Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based freelance business writer.