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5 Missteps to Avoid in Online Sales

Practices that will do everything but keep your customers happy

No doubt about it, selling online is work. It’s a lot of work. Some days you’re in a happy rhythm, while other days you may feel as if you’ve fallen out of step.

Although ups and downs are to be expected, it’s important you keep a watchful eye on your overall performance and style. It’s possible—some say probable—that you could unwittingly adopt unsavory approaches and attitudes in your work.

Here are the five most fatal offenses committed by sellers who might temporarily forget the core tenet of online success: customer service and satisfaction. Learn how to detect these missteps, and how to avoid them, on your path to sustained profits.

1. Ignoring your customers

Have you ever walked up to a “customer service” desk only to be summarily ignored by the representative asleep on the other side of the counter? In the online world, that experience can be even more annoying to buyers who inquire about what they’ve won at auction, the status of a payment they’ve sent or the whereabouts of an item they’re waiting to receive.

Online customers need fast information and solid assurance. If you leave such inquiries unanswered for any extended period of time, you’ll find your customers will be leaving you.

Be sure to keep every customer’s transaction fully in your attention until you’re sure they’re satisfied with their goods

Help your customers avoid the stress and frustration of being ignored by establishing a daily habit of answering queries as the first order of business. Give your customers quick and informative responses to their e-mails, assuring them you’re a reliable seller, one they can trust. Then, go to the extra effort to be proactive in your customer communications, providing them status of their transactions and shipments before they ask. Sellers who ignore this all-important interactivity with their customers are those who might be going out of business in the very near future.

2. Being ‘too busy’ to complete a transaction in a timely manner

Some sellers have shown they’re quite effective and industrious when listing items for sale and collecting money during a transaction. After the item has shipped, however, these sellers are sometimes off to court the next paying customer, forgetting the one they’ve just served.

The problem here is that the previous customer’s transaction isn’t truly complete until they have received the goods for which they’ve paid. And what if there’s a problem with the merchandise they’ve received, or if their overall satisfaction is waning?

Be sure to keep every customer’s transaction fully in your attention until you’re sure they’re satisfied with their goods. If you’re a seller who’s too busy to see each transaction through to full completion, you’re in danger of losing more business in the long run. Buyers who feel neglected in this manner are likely to never return for another purchase, and may post public feedback (as in eBay’s Feedback Forum) to warn others of a seller that suddenly goes silent after the money has been collected.

3. Being erratic in your policies and procedures

Every seller has the right to set sales terms and conditions as they see fit. However, customers can become disgruntled if a seller advertises a friendly sales policy only to tighten it or otherwise change it after the sale has been made.

In the auction realm, escalated shipping costs that were never fully disclosed at the time of bidding are a critical offense to avoid. Similarly, a change to payment methods accepted or delivery times is also viewed as an unwelcome bait-and-switch turnabout.

As a seller, be sure to stay true to the word of your stated policies, largely since many bidders and buyers use those terms to decide whether they’ll buy from you or from your competitor. If you do need to change your policies, do so before you offer an item to potential customers. This way, there won’t be any unwanted surprises.

No matter what, maintain your outward image of being in control and ready to happily serve your customers

4. Being grouchy

Are you having a bad day? Well, to be quite candid, who cares? Your customers certainly won’t be in any mood for an encounter with a bad-tempered seller.

Situations may irk you, stress might challenge you, and some customers will try your patience to the very end. But, no matter what, you must maintain your outward image of being in control and ready to happily serve your customers. If you don’t, your customers will sneer at you and may decide to buy from another seller.

While it’s perfectly understandable (and even expected) that the online sales business will wear you thin at times, keep all of that to yourself, never letting your customers feel the brunt of your bad day. Use form responses and a well-managed and repeatable process to cover for you when you’re simply not able to smile. Your shoppers will never know the difference, and you’ll be much happier, too, when the tough times subside and you’re still entertaining a very satisfied customer base.

5. Being a cyber-pest

Now, while you’re encouraged to maintain good interactivity with your customers during and after a sale, try to avoid overdoing it. Follow up after each sale, of course, but don’t harass a buyer day after day until you receive their payment. Ask someone to post positive feedback for you but don’t overwhelm them with a deluge of demands, insisting they comply. Let your past customers know what’s next up for sale or bid, but leave it at that.

And, by all means, be sure to give them the easy way to tell you they no longer wish to receive e-mail messages from you. It’s one thing to be interactive with your customers but entirely different—and unacceptable—to be virtually hyperactive.

While this list of five online selling offenses may seem a bit extreme in some cases, the facts stand that these are the sorts of missteps that have been reported by weary buyers who are looking for a better shopping experience.

Take steps to regularly check your methods and ensure you don’t unwittingly adopt any of these undesirable styles in your business. And, when you do, you might find that you’re the breath of fresh air an online buyer is looking for.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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