Ecommerce – the selling of goods and services electronically (on the internet) has been a boon for both businesses and customers.The idea of never having to leave your house to shop for items that you can’t find locally is not only appealing, but during the pandemic we saw how it was critical. The result was that online shopping finally hit the pivotal point where there is no turning back. People now shop online as it gives them the opportunity to buy thingsĀ  they couldn’t otherwise get.

Sure, Amazon has been around for 25 years. And WebStores Ltd has been helping entrepreneurs create shopping cart websites that long as well. But what changed with the pandemic is attitude towards online sales – even people who previously didn’t shop online started buying with their laptops and cellphones.

As you might expect, I’ve been shopping online for 25 years. I have purchased items from small start-ups and from big boxes including Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot. I’ve purchased everything from digital downloadable products to hard goods and food. And here is what I’ve noticed: Amazon’s customer service is simply better than anyone else’s. That is the reason they are the number one ecommerce company and the reason why so many people start their online shopping searches at their site.

If you have a problem with something you purchased on Amazon, you can return it, no questions asked. The company selling through Amazon may not back up what they are selling, but Amazon does. And returns are easy – just get a QR code from them and take it into a Whole Foods or UPS Store without even having to package it back up or pay for shipping. The company was built on the concept that by providing exceptional customer service, you can cover a lot of mistakes. And this philosophy has created millions of loyal customers.

Of course not every company selling online follows Amazon’s example, and this has created “the Dark Side” of ecommerce. I recently ordered about $1000 worth of custom sweatshirts for a client from a supplier I had not used before, because they offered a specific style of sweatshirt I couldn’t find anywhere else. It took them over a month to make the sweatshirts. But they were really nice. Only problem was they got the order wrong. They didn’t print the quantities and sizes I ordered, so they threw in a couple of t-shirt instead. They told me they would correct this and send me the correct sizes within a week. Bottom line: I never got what I ordered and had to request a refund through my credit card company. Worse, they may have cost me a customer. Obviously, I won’t be doing business with that company again.

I never did find another company that had the exact sweatshirt my customer wanted, so I ended up going with a competitor that offered a lower quality product, but could at least get me the sizes needed. This wasn’t perfect either – they cost more, and the checkout process was terrible. I had to create an account, then verify my email before I could place an order. I had to save a credit card to my account before I could order. And I had to enter my address twice. Remember, you want to make it easy for someone to do business with you, so don’t make the checkout process a nightmare.

Of course this isn’t the only company where this has happened. I ordered two sets of ski pants for my son at Christmas from a company that produces the ski wear that he really likes. I ordered two pair because I wasn’t sure which size would fit him best, and the company said I could return the goods within 30 days for a full refund. You can probably guess what happened: it turns out the company didn’t really have a US office (they just rented a space in a building so the would have an address) but they actually drop shipped all their products from China. They were totally unresponsive and were never at their “office” to sign for the return. The pants ended up getting shipped back to us because no one was there to sign for them.

Of course, both of these incidents could have been solved just with proper communication. If the sweatshirt company couldn’t fulfill the order, they could have responded to my numerous emails and phone calls. The ski wear company could have done the same – answered their phone and email. Communication is a major key to success when selling online, and it is never a good idea to leave the customer stranded.

The other side of the equation is perfect either. I’ve sold things to customers who claim they never received their order, or that the order arrived damaged. People generate unwarranted charge backs, and as a business owner there is nothing you can do except absorb them. Consumers can leave negative reviews, even if they have never done business with you, that can damage your reputation.

Obviously ecommerce isn’t perfect. Shipping costs and credit card processing fees are an issue for both buyer and seller alike. Delivery times can be a detriment as well. And certainly supply chain issues remain a problem. But in most cases, the benefits still out weigh the bad. The good things about ecommerce such as reaching a much larger audience and being able to purchase items that would otherwise not be available at any time of the day or night from any location, have made it so that online shopping will remain the primary way most of use purchase goods going forward.

But it’s important to remember that behind every online transaction, there are real people involved. Communication is key when it comes to ecommerce, and it’s important to treat others with respect, especially when transacting business with others who can impact your sales.

In my book, “Amazon’s Dirty Little Secrets” I tell entrepreneurs that they should see what Amazon is doing right and copy them. This applies not only to their marketing methods but to their customer service. If you want to succeed in selling online, you have to create a reputation that is so stellar that you get customers bragging about their experience with you.