Barriers to growth and how to overcome them

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover content team
7 min read
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Startups are still hampering their chances of success by ignoring the basics. Here's an overview of obstacles that e-commerce businesses need to overcome, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes.

It’s tempting to think that an awesome product, buckets of self-belief and dawn-to-dusk toil are enough to set your virtual cash registers on fire.

But you’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs struggle to get past the startup stage. Here are six of the most common obstacles that can inhibit growth in the world of e-commerce.

1. Not doing the groundwork

You’ve come up with a great product that’s going to enrich the lives of millions. Before you run the mega-bucks ad campaign, the least you can do is make sure your idea wasn’t invented years ago 1.

It’s unique? That’s good, but now you have to do more in-depth research about your likely customers 2: who and where they are, what they’d be prepared to pay for your product, what they currently use instead, how they’re likely to perceive your brand and message, how you’ll cope with unexpectedly high demand …. 

You may have a gut feeling your product is right. Your partner thinks so too. But jumping right in on the basis of a feeling is about the biggest mistake an online entrepreneur can make and a major reason why up to 80%  of new businesses fail within the first 18 months 3.

2. Assuming that customers will rush to your store

They won’t. You have to generate the traffic, which means using some or all of SEO, PPC, email, social, display ads, retargeting, mobile, shopping engines and more.

It’s also important to get the message right for each channel. What works well on Instagram may not resonate with Twitter audiences, and a completely different approach will undoubtedly be needed for email marketing.

Next, you want to convert them into paying customers. Read our article on the reasons people abandon their shopping carts, and how to fix them. Finally, remember that your best customers are generally your existing customers, so develop a marketing program aimed at securing repeat custom from satisfied shoppers.

3. Not choosing the right people

E-commerce is no different to any other endeavor, in that the people you bring into your company are either going to be in tune with what you’re doing and will help you realize your goals or, well, they won’t.

We’ve put together a dedicated e-commerce hiring guide elsewhere on this site. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Businesswoman looking at two other business women

4. Failing to get the words right

As an e-commerce business owner, communication is at the heart of everything you do. Every word that is on, comes from, or is related to your website, has to work to help your business succeed.

Emails must be persuasive, social content engaging, product descriptions compelling. Don’t ignore the minutiae: the buttons, captions, links and calls to action are what you’re depending on to turn browsers into shoppers. It helps to think about what you call yourself too. A name like justpizzas.com might suit your business now but will prove to be a liability if the market shifts towards tacos.

Think you can let your guard down on forums and social media? Not a chance. These are hothouses for misunderstandings and PR disasters, and many a brand’s attempts at humor or topicality on social media have backfired massively.

The desire to fire and forget on Twitter is super strong but you should resist total spontaneity. Instead, take a few deep breaths while you double- or even triple-check before publishing or scheduling content. And although the times we live in are making it possible to mine a rich seam of material, it may be best to steer clear of politics ….

Page from a dictionary showing the definition of 'focus'

5. Ignoring people on the move

The way things were: people might browse on their smartphones and tablets but they do their buying on a desktop.

The way things are: people browse and buy on whatever is close at hand.

The latest figures show that visits to retail websites via mobile devices have overtaken desktop traffic for the first time, with smartphones and tablets accounting for more than 26% of conversions 4. That figure is headed in one direction only.

So having your online store optimized for mobile is increasingly important. So, too, is creating a superior mobile experience for your customers – 46% of mobile shoppers will abandon a website if it doesn’t load within 20 seconds, while 16% won’t give it more than five seconds before looking elsewhere.

People queuing at a coffee and food counter

6. Not recognizing the value of social proof

There are two restaurants. One is chock-full, with a small line of people waiting for a table. Except for a few staff milling around, the other place is deserted. Which restaurant is more likely to get your custom?

That’s the power of social proof. Knowing that other people have bought and are satisfied with your products gives new customers the confidence to try it for themselves. They can find this proof anywhere – on your website, on third-party review platforms, in blog posts or on Twitter 5 – the important thing is that it’s there to be found. If you don’t leverage the power of social proof, you’re likely to turn away the 47% of consumers who check reviews while on a brand’s website, before adding anything to their cart.

The importance of social proof, along with ways to strengthen customers’ trust in your brand, is covered in this article.

So far, so solvable. All these largely domestic difficulties can be overcome with modest amounts of effort and/or investment. But what if you have global ambitions? Retailers contemplating cross-border e-commerce have to face a daunting array of obstacles that can easily trip up the unwary or ill prepared.

1. https://www.inc.com/john-boitnott/6-ways-to-help-your-product-stand-out-in-a-crowded-market.html

2. https://cmgpartners.com/blog/what-is-customer-analysis/

3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2018/10/25/what-percentage-of-small-businesses-fail-and-how-can-you-avoid-being-one-of-them/#4ca1566b43b5

4. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/se/Documents/consumer-business/uk-cb-consumer-review-edition-5130620.pdf

5. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-marketing-strategy/