Top 5: what are the biggest challenges facing online sellers?

What are the biggest challenges facing online sellers? 

Competition can be healthy, but not at the expense of lost sales. Here, we look at the biggest challenges facing online sellers and how to avoid them.

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The past few years have been an increase in online sellers, particularly following the pandemic. So what are the biggest challenges facing online sellers and what can they do about them?

Standing out from other sellers 

As it’s so quick and easy to set up a store, more and more people are selling on online marketplaces. While the Covid-19 pandemic shifted so many people’s shopping habits online, e-commerce marketplaces remain increasingly appealing and lucrative for sellers, with growing numbers finding they can run their business through online marketplaces alone.  

There are currently almost 2 million sellers actively selling on Amazon marketplace. That’s a lot of competition. Whether you’re selling on Amazon, Etsy, eBay or a combination of marketplaces, your offering needs to stand out now more than ever.  

Optimising your images can help you stand out in the search results and convert customers. While the marketplace will usually have certain rules for images, eg Amazon says the main image needs to be on a white background, you can still create stand-out images within these constraints. Make sure your images are clear, high-definition photos that show off your products from all angles. If applicable, include images of someone using your product to help customers understand exactly what they’re getting and reduce returns. Unless you’re on a tight budget it’s worth using a professional product photographer, especially as you may see a good return on this investment.  

Optimise your descriptions, too. As well as accurately describing your product with details like dimensions and materials, tell your customers what it will do for them. Lead with the benefits and the difference owning your product will make rather than just focusing on the features.  

Finding your market

It can be challenging to find a market for your product. Depending on your niche, the major marketplaces may not be the best fit. Many sellers operate on a few channels such as Amazon in the UK, France and Germany, but also on Cdiscount, Priceminister, Otto, Lazada – and in the US Newegg and Walmart to boost their sales. 

If you currently only sell in the UK, see if expanding to international marketplaces could boost your sales. Do your research, too. As well as looking at the most popular e-commerce marketplaces, look at their top performing categories to see which will be the best fit. The best platform to sell online will be the one that can provide a significant base of customers actively looking for your product.

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Getting people to your products 

Marketplaces have become de facto shopping search engines. It’s therefore vital you optimise your listings for discoverability. Do your keyword research. This could be as simple as typing your product name into Amazon and seeing what associated keywords it suggests. For example, if you sell jeans, Amazon might suggest "ethical jeans" or "high-waisted jeans". You can also analyse your competitors' websites to see the keywords they’re using.  

If you’re seeing a high bounce rate once people arrive at your product page, check you’re directing people to the most relevant product for the search term and not dispersing potential customers with product overlap. For example, if you sell Nike trainers you might want to create a men's and women’s trainers landing page then direct them to your specific brands from there.

Reviews 

Whether it’s Facebook Marketplace or Etsy, reviews can play an integral part in a buyer’s purchasing decisions. As buyers rely so heavily on positive reviews, it can be a challenge when you’re new to an online marketplace and haven’t had the chance to gain many reviews. Likewise, negative reviews can have a big impact and put off potential buyers. 

For new Amazon sellers, the problem of establishing any sort of presence through feedback is a challenge as stricter rules have been introduced. Online sellers can’t offer third parties money, discounts or other rewards for reviews.  

So how do you overcome this and build up a good reputation? It may seem pushy, but a simple way is to ask for reviews. You can do this in a polite, appropriate way by, for example, asking for feedback at the bottom of an order confirmation email. If the marketplace allows you to personalise these emails, all the better as you can ask the customer to share their thoughts about the exact product they purchased.

Staying profitable 

There are a range of factors currently driving down prices on online marketplaces including: 

  • Sellers from far and wide are selling products into western markets, saturating the market 
  • Once a product becomes popular, there will be more sellers around the world starting to sell it and it soon becomes a pricing war  
  • Fluctuating delivery costs

As a UK SME there isn’t always a simple solution to combat low prices as your competition can be major companies or even the marketplace itself, as with Amazon’s own-brand products. Challenges like customers’ high expectations in terms of delivery time but an unwillingness to pay the price for it are an ongoing issue. 

Hedging your currency transfers from the marketplace can be one way to help you maintain a profitable margin. For example, with a forward contract you can lock in an exchange rate over a set period of time on a predetermined volume of currency. You’ll know exactly what exchange rate you’re getting, so you can be smarter and more competitive with your forward planning. Find out how forward contracts work with WorldFirst.

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Jason Kaye
Experience: 10 years writing within the e-commerce, finance and tech landscapes
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