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8 epic e-commerce failures: Don’t repeat their mistakes

There are many ways to screw up your e-commerce business. Here are eight types of failures that have caused pain, embarrassment or nightmares for entrepreneurs and online customers throughout the years. Which one would you be most likely to make? Hopefully none of them.

The strategy failure: Boo hoo, where are the customers?

The scenario: Boo.com was one of the most talked-about companies during the dot-com era. The vision was to become the largest online brand-name sports e-retailer around the world, targeting young, wealthy and fashionable people aged 18 to 24. The company shelled out $135 million of venture capital in just 18 months and had plenty to show for it. They set up customised websites for multiple European countries and currencies, developed state-of-the-art 3D animation technology for displaying spinning product images, and created a virtual shopping assistant, Miss Boo. But all of this innovation came at a price: only 1-2 percent of internet users at that time had the bandwidth needed to enjoy the animations. On launch day on 3rd November 1999 around 50,000 unique visitors showed up, and just 4 in 1,000 placed orders (a 0.25% conversion rate). One reviewer said: “Eighty-one minutes to pay too much money for a pair of shoes that I am still going to have to wait a week to get?”

The moral of the story: High costs + low sales => Bankruptcy

The keyword failure: How about going on holiday with this cruise ship?

The scenario: When the cruise ship Costa Concordia was wrecked off the coast of Isola del Giglio in Italy in 2012, this 29-second YouTube video from the event was getting lots of attention. Whether the ad at the bottom of the video was successful, we don’t know. Probably not.

The moral of the story: Be sure to keep your negative keywords updated in your social media targeting. Keep track of current events to make sure your ads won’t get attention for all the wrong reasons.

The factory failure: Who would be most upset – merchant or customer?

The scenario: We all have stories of expectations not being met, don’t we? But this bad? If Apple products are at one end of the quality scale, this is on the other. Imagine being the brand manager or the quality manager who received this disaster from the factory – or worse, directly from a customer. How would you react?

The moral of the story: This example illustrates how you can’t take anything for granted. You need to ensure quality all the way, from the start of the relationship where you discuss expectations with your suppliers, through to implementing continuous quality checks and systems. Clearly define what is considered a successful delivery and what is not good enough, and don’t be afraid to state the obvious.

The automation failure: How much did this ad cost?

The scenario: Tick, tick, tick… we don’t know how long this ad from American clothing and accessories retailer Gap was up and running, but the costs probably clocked up at a higher rate than conversions.

The moral of the story: Automation is one of the fundamentals of scaling an e-commerce business, and Google Ads can bring in leads to you 24/7. Depending on your business model the ROI can be great. It’s a dream, some say. You just set it, then forget it. It’s like a piano that plays itself. But hey, did you set it right? And are you sure it’s a good song playing? Always keep your eyes on the stats to discover where things are going wrong and need to be corrected.

The instruction failure: This came as a surprise – in the worst way possible

The scenario: Everything was meant to be a surprise for her mom. Instead, Holly Golightly got the wrong kind of surprise when her delivery instruction – to have the party supplies she ordered sent in a plain box to keep the contents secret – was printed on the box, destroying her Mother’s Day plans.

The moral of the story: Could this happen to you as well? Is it clear to your customers how these kinds of special instructions will be carried out?

The product description failure: Wow, look at that cool Dinosaur pillow! Oh, wait…

The scenario: If your sinister intent is to deceive your customers, this is a good way to go about it (not a strategy we recommend). Let’s hope his is actually just a case of poor communication. Any reasonable human being would believe they’re ordering a dinosaur-shaped pillow, a perfect birthday gift for any kid. Imagine the disappointment, then, when what turns up is a pillowcase printed with a picture of a kid enjoying the dinosaur pillow you wanted. Which is just weird, you have to agree.

The moral of the story: If you want to sleep well at night (whatever kind of pillow you use), don’t deceive your customers. Otherwise, you’ll have nightmares of a tyrannosaurus rex gobbling up your e-commerce business for dinner.

The substitution failure: Who wouldn’t love these “flowers”?

The scenario: You receive an order for an item that is out of stock. What do you do? One popular solution – and not always a bad one – is to substitute the item for something similar or better to keep the customer happy. Again, that’s something similar or better. We don’t know what Sainsbury’s – the second largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom – was thinking here, but someone made the decision to replace a bunch of flowers named “Sainsbury’s spring show” with “Sainsbury’s spring onions bunch”. Similar in name, not so similar in nature.

The moral of the story: Before substituting anything, ask yourself: “Is the customer likely to be happy with this substitution?”

The naming failure: These guys had to change their domain name

The scenario: Data company Dickson wanted to set up an online store. Innocently, they chose the domain www.dicksonweb.com. Turns out they should have run the idea past someone with a dirtier mind since this domain gave many people the wrong idea about their business. Penisland.com suffered from the same problem. Dickson – a legitimate company offering products for collecting data – is now found at www.dicksondata.com.

The moral of the story: Test your naming ideas. Not only domain name ideas, but also names for products, concepts and packages. Ask yourself (and other people): Can this be misinterpreted?