How to fend off your online competitors

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Phil Rothwell is an ecommerce expert with more than 20 years’ experience helping retailers to sell online. He was there at the beginning of ecommerce and played a leading role in growing Actinic Software from dot com start-up to floatation on the London Stock Exchange

After the pandemic, life will largely return to normal. But some things are going to change in the long term.

We do not have ecommerce sales data for the UK in 2020 yet, but it has been forecast that sales will increase by 34.7% to £141 billion. More online customers are enabling the ecommerce sector to grow.

This is good news for online retailers, with one caveat; this market growth combined with increased unemployment, has led to increased competition. From March to July 2020, 315,000 companies were incorporated in the UK – 7% more than in the previous year.

The majority of the leads we generate are now from ecommerce start-ups.

There's never been a better time to sell online

I was there at the beginning of ecommerce in 1997 and one of the reasons my company was successful was we made it easy for retailers to setup an online business. All the same, if customers wanted a pixel perfect design, they had to pay a premium for it.

One of the things that has surprised me most over the last 3 years is how simple it has become to create a professional-looking website – especially when you start from scratch. Platforms like Shopify and Squarespace make it simple to build online businesses that look great and are easy to manage.

What would have been considered premium features five years ago are built-in, and technically challenging things such as payment processing, fraud mitigation, web hosting and security are all part of the service.

There has never been a better time to start an online business.

It is important to respond

This is good news to a new wave of entrepreneurs, who are keen to find ways of building their own business using drop-shipping or sourcing products from China. If you are one of them, we say go for it.

How concerned existing retailers need to be, depends on the nature of their business.

Those dependent on a continuous supply of new customers should be the most alert to this new competitive threat. Even if your business is well established your customers are going to be confronted with many alternative options.

Those who mainly service the needs of existing customers, can afford to be a little more relaxed; business inertia will protect you in the short term. But standing still is going backwards.

Remember your strengths

If you have been selling online for a while, then so long as you play to your strengths, you should be able to keep ahead of the game.

These are the ones to draw inspiration from:

Your expertise

It has always been hard setting up a new business and it still is. You need to be able to use a range of systems and understand the different marketing channels. These are not skills you can learn overnight.

Your experience

You have been there and done it. You know your market and you have a good feel for what works and what does not.

Your track record

There are a number of important benefits you get from being around for a while, these ones are especially important:

  • Google knows who you are and takes you more seriously.
  • You have a trading history and customer reviews.
  • People have heard of you.
  • You have more to invest. It may not be much, but its probably a lot more than the average start-up.

Your longevity

The majority of businesses go bust in the first five years of their existence. The fact you survived speaks volumes.

Actions speak louder than words

The most important thing these characteristics have in common is that they have to be earned over time. They are structural advantages that should enable you to keep your nose ahead of the competition.

But, to make the most of them you need a strategy, and you need technology.

Every web page, every promotion, every email needs to remind your customers of the reasons why you are better than your competitors and why those reasons are important to them.

Business needs to be conducted effectively, efficiently and automated where possible. Remember, Amazon describes itself as "a software company".

It’s not hard to do, but there is a lot of it and you need a broad range of commercial and technical skills. That’s the service we provide, so if you need some help give us a call.