11 Ecommerce Obstacles Every Seller Faces (and How to Get Past Them)

Ecommerce may be the future of commerce, but it’s still fraught with challenges. If you want to be successful selling products or services online, it’s important to prepare yourself for the inevitable challenges every seller will face. That’s why we’ve put together this list of common ecommerce obstacles: to help you look ahead and protect your business.

The purpose of this article isn’t to scare you. We certainly don’t want to make you abandon the industry and your business model. But it helps to know the challenges most ecommerce entrepreneurs face so you 1) don’t think you’re alone, and 2) have solutions ready.

Let’s jump into the common challenges. We’ll explain what you can expect and how to overcome each.

1. Poor Identify Verification

When you make an online sale, there’s no perfect way to verify that the person making the purchase is actually the cardholder. Fraudulent transactions happen all the time. Losses from online fraud will reach $48 billion by 2023.

Verify your customers’ information as thoroughly as you can. Look out for signs of suspicious activity. Use your credit card gateway or processor’s tools to identify and respond to fraud (like Stripe’s Radar fraud detection, for instance). Don’t be afraid to call your customers for more information if you think their transaction doesn’t look legitimate.

2. Few Positive Reviews

People rely on online reviews more than ever. Before they purchase, buyers want to know that other people approve of your products and services.

88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as they would trust an in-person recommendation. Most people consult reviews early in their buying process, before they request specific information or sit for demonstrations.

Ecommerce obstacles

If you don’t have any reviews from past customers, new customers won’t have the information they need to make smart buying decisions.

How do you get reviews? Ask for them! Prompt your customers to give reviews. Offer free products and services for a review (just don’t demand a positive review – ask them for any review).

3. Competing on Price

When sales are low, it’s tempting to lower your prices or offer discounts and coupons to get some money in the door, especially if you sell in a crowded market. It works in the short term, but too much of it can devalue your products and services.

Instead of charging less, find ways to create more value so your products and services seem like great deals. Ask yourself how you can better serve your customers’ needs. Alternatively, you could focus on serving an underserved niche that’s happy to pay higher prices.

4. New Laws or Regulations

At some point, the government or a regulatory agency will force a change on your business. The change could make your life easier… or a lot harder. In either case, you’ll end up changing something about the way you conduct business, whether that has to do with how you treat employees and customers, or how you pay your taxes.

There’s no way to avoid this obstacle. Instead, keep abreast of changes to your industry so you have as much warning as possible. Last-minute changes are expensive, but the government rarely does anything quickly. With enough notice, you can avoid a lot of the expense of becoming compliant.

5. Data Breaches

We’re all more sensitive than ever when it comes to our personal data – especially our payment information. It seems like every week we read about another data breach from a retailer. Your customers may think, “If big companies like Target and eBay can lose track of my data, surely that small seller can too.”

It’s important to take your customers’ data seriously, even if you don’t hold much of it. Even simple data points like their names and addresses can be used to exploit them if a hacker were to acquire it. Take precautions to keep it safe from malicious parties and never give it out without their permission.

6. Retaining Customers

It’s no secret that it is cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one. And yet, most online businesses spend a disproportionate amount of time and money on customer acquisition. They don’t take aggressive steps to engage the customers they already have.

Ecommerce obstacles

Ask yourself how you can convince your past customers to buy again. What products or programs can you create that will keep them engaged? Do they want content, training, or advice? Do they want product support or mentorship?

7. Returns and Refunds

Returns and refunds are especially problematic when you sell online. It’s hard to prove if a customer never received their order, if it was truly damaged when they opened the box, or if they genuinely aren’t satisfied with their purchase. Like every online seller, you’ve surely processed a refund just to avoid the bad review, even though you knew it was a valid sale.

There are two ways to get past this obstacle: First, create policies and procedures to protect yourself as much as possible. For instance, you might make the customer agree to a phone interview to explain why they weren’t satisfied with your coaching session (to deter scammers).

Second, calculate your average loss for people who abuse your generosity. Build that cost into your prices to make up for your loss.

8. Handling Harsh Feedback

Customers give feedback all the time. Sometimes they aren’t polite about it (“this course was worthless!”), but other times they can be quite constructive.

Your job is to take their feedback seriously, but not personally. Look for the deeper meaning behind each review, comment, or complaint. Ask yourself why the customer didn’t get the result they expected and how you can change your products or marketing to fix it.

9. Product/Service Errors and Updates

At some point, you’ll release a product with an error or problem that requires an update. Maybe there’s a mistake in your eBook, a blooper in a video, or some outdated advice in your consulting package. Hopefully, you’ll identify the problem yourself, but there’s a good chance you learn about it from one of your customers who isn’t happy with their purchase.

There’s only one way to fix this kind of obstacle: Own it. Notify your customers of the problem and how you’ll fix it. If the problem had a big impact on their life (maybe you gave bad advice that cost them money), consult legal help.

10. Overwhelmed with Work

Running an online business is simpler than running a brick-and-mortar operation, but it’s still easy to become overwhelmed with work and neglect key parts of your business. For instance, many entrepreneurs fail to market their business during the hustle-and-bustle of serving customers. When a dry spell comes along, they’re forced to scramble to keep money coming in.

How do you conquer an overwhelming workload?

  • Automate as much as possible. Many apps and tools integrate together on their own. Use Zapier to make two apps work together that inherently don’t.
  • Hire someone to handle tasks you don’t have time for. You don’t need a full-time employee. There are plenty of digital workers who will take a part-time gig.
  • Create processes to streamline repeated tasks, especially if you give those tasks to someone else. This is also a good time to really think about how you work and whether there are any inefficiencies.
  • Outsource functions to vendors. For instance, let someone else manage your books, run your paid ads, or maintain your website.

11. New Player in the Market

You spend a lot of time establishing yourself in your market, learning your competitors and how to be different. So it’s exceedingly frustrating when a new person or company starts offering similar products and services, especially if their wares are suspiciously similar to your own.

It’s even worse when an existing player from another market slides into yours, like when that digital agency starts offering consulting, or when the consultant releases an online course. They can carve out market share right away because they already have a foundation of trust and credibility.

How do you survive new competitors? Innovate. Don’t sit around and wait for them to take your customers. Find ways to differentiate yourself from the new player. Most importantly, learn from the new player. Ask yourself what it is that makes them successful.

Look to the Future

We know preparing yourself for tomorrow’s problems is daunting when today’s problems demand your attention right now. You don’t need a perfect solution in place for each of the challenges we listed above, but we implore you to think about them now so you know how to respond when they become unavoidable. In the long run, foresight can help you resolve these challenges before they occur.