By Joselyn Biira Mwine
When starting an e-commerce brand, there are many things to consider that may not even be directly related to the core of your product. Logistics, marketing strategy, selling platform factors, and inventory management practices are just a few things you’ll need to master. The importance of getting these ideas right may seem obvious. But there is another equally important, often overlooked factor that may determine whether your brand sinks or swims—product quality.
It may seem like a no-brainer that the quality of the products you sell is a reflection of your brand as a whole. If you are in the market to sell cheap, fast-fashion, or items that can be used only a couple times, then break—okay. However, this may not be a very good long-term strategy if you are looking to become a significant sales channel. Nine times out of ten, selling quality products that are useful, and customers enjoy turns out to be more profitable. Keep in mind repeat sales are crucial for e-commerce. If you sell a product that is satisfactory to the buyer, they are more likely to buy from you again. Plus, they are also more likely to tell their friends and family creating free word of mouth advertising for your brand!
Firstly, it is important to actually define product quality in the eyes of the buyer.
What Does Quality Mean?
Longevity – how long a product will efficiently perform its function
Fulfilment of Needs – whether the product meets a specific need or solves a specific problem for the buyer
Cost vs. Need – cost of the product compared to how much the buyer actually needs or wants it
Security – safety level for using the product (i.e. if the buyer feels comfortable using it effectively)
Usability – the ease of use associated with the product
Efficiency – the ability of the product to save the buyer money, or streamline a process
Truly understanding what quality encapsulates to the buyer helps in actually meeting some, if not all of these goals in your product. Clarification on product quality also makes the rationale on why it is important to your customers and brand more digestible.
So, to what extent is product quality important to your customers, and in turn, your brand?
The purchasing process, or, formal decision-making process consumers go through when purchasing goods or services, involves many individual requirements for different products. Surprisingly, product quality tends to occupy a higher rank than even price! In fact, research has shown that consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for better quality. This shows that; 1) your product quality is absolutely impacting whether or not customers are making a purchase and, 2) choosing higher quality materials will not put you at a disadvantage for also having to charge higher prices.
What does this mean for you as a brand owner?
Overall, product quality is one of the main factors that run though a consumer’s mind before making a decision to buy. Think about it. When was the last time you purchased anything, (especially online) without thinking “How long is this going to last?” “Is this going to do the job I want it to?” Never. Whether you realize it or not, these decisions always impact whether consumers take the plunge to buy, or simply abandon their cart, and your products in it. Quality impacting the purchasing process is even more relevant for e-commerce where controlled exterior factors do not influence a consumer’s purchase.
When beginning your e-commerce venture it may seem tempting to purchase poor quality products that are less expensive to source. Especially since that tends to be the strategy for many business owners trying to jump on the gravy train. However, it is only going to cost you in the end. Imagine winding up with a high number of inventory that does not leave your warehouse. This is costly, and may lead to disappointment if that inventory has to be destroyed. Customer complaints, poor reviews, and return demands may also damage the brand’s reputation. Which arguably, is just as costly for your brand. As we now know, if your products are not measuring up to the customer’s standards, they will not even be a factor in the final stages of their buying decision. Period.
Your competition is always something you should keep in mind. They can be your greatest learning asset, but also a key factor in the reason your brand does not succeed. Product quality can vary slightly for similar products, which is understandable. But, if your brand consistently has the worst quality products, again, it will not matter how low your prices are. Your competition with higher quality will easily be able to capture any traffic you are seeking. This is particularly true for niche-specific companies that are focused on selling just a few specific products. Beating out the competition for those few products is essential for the overall success of your business. Rationally, the need to differentiate from the competition can even be done through better quality.
It is also important to recognize that you can compete on price or quality, but it is hard to do both. What is going to be more beneficial in the long run? Trying to compete based on price alone tends to create price wars which then lead to a race to the bottom. This benefits no one. Competing on quality is more ideal because it is a definitive factor you can control. Higher product quality is also a reassuring factor in the buyer’s decision to purchase. While price has an influence, it does not ease the buyer into the purchase the same way the guarantee the product will actually satisfy their need and last.
By doing the research and making the business decision to always choose the best products with the highest quality, your e-commerce brand will be positioned for greater long-term success.
Influencing a customer’s purchasing decision, and staying ahead of the competition are both excellent reasons to keep product quality high. However, another relevant justification is to maintain customer expectations. Consistency is key. If you begin your e-commerce business by sourcing good quality products to sell, you should remain doing so. Products that offer quality consistently meet or exceed customer expectations, and are viewed as good value for their money. Product quality may rank higher than price when it comes to the purchasing decision. Yet, buyers still want a good bang for their buck.
Product quality is initially appreciated by customers, who will then learn to actually expect the best. During this period, your customers are your greatest salesforce. Positive reviews, word-of-mouth marketing, and repeat sales occur when customers are on your brand’s side. However, after the expectation comes the demand. Once customers recognize a level of satisfaction, they will begin to demand it with every purchase. At that point, if you don’t deliver your customers will go elsewhere while dismantling any brand equity that had been built. Avoiding this is 100% your goal. It will always be less costly to maintain good relations with current customers, then to create loyalty with new ones.
Customer Loyalty and Retention
When your e-commerce brand provides quality products every single time, customer loyalty, and retention naturally occur. Customer loyalty, the result of consistently positive experiences with a product (or service) and customer retention, the ability for a company to maintain its customer base go hand in hand. If you create loyal customers, your retention rates will go up. In fact, your retention strategy should begin with generating customer loyalty. How is this done?
Well, beginning so by offering value in your quality products. Once humans make a decision or choice, they generally stick with it. Let that decision be that your product is the most suitable for them. Because of convenience and loyalty, customers usually stand by the decision they make, regardless of other more competitive choices. It is human nature to be comfortable and consistent with things you have done previously. Once loyalty is established, it is out of compulsion that customers will purchase from the same brand time and time again.
Maintaining a good brand reputation cannot be emphasized enough in e-commerce. Customers always will seek justification when making a purchase. In fact, more than 88% of online shoppers incorporate reviews into their purchase decision. Customers are looking for reviews to give them the information that brands might not be disclosing. “How did it work? Was it worth it? Should I buy it?” are all questions that consumers are looking for in product reviews. The worst thing that a consumer can read is that your product is defective, cheap, or not worth the money. Negative reviews immediately tarnish a brand’s reputation. Additionally, online sellers must institute measures to safeguard customers from poor quality goods. If a product gets too many negative reviews it should be removed.
Product quality and your company’s brand image are more closely linked than many sellers realize. Aside from product reviews, any poor testimonials are going on social media, being told to your customer’s friend, family, dentist, etc. Everyone is hearing about it. Poor product experiences are more often repeated by customers than good.
Preserve your brand’s reputation, and keep it favourable by taking as many precautions as possible. Choosing good quality products are a simple precaution e-commerce sellers can take to maintain a stable, longstanding positive brand reputation.
There are many circumstances that e-commerce sellers cannot control when it comes to selling a product online. However, product quality is not one of them. By making the active decision to start, stay, and end with good quality products, always, you are making the decision to let your brand flourish.
Not a single one of these determinants can be ignored if you want your e-commerce endeavour to be profitable. You may make money in the short term on cheap products but you will be kicked out in the long term. By selling quality goods, you are staking your piece of online real estate within your e-commerce platform. Businesses that work to truly understand and provide what a customer wants and needs in an honest way, have a far better likelihood of making it out on top in the end.
For as important product quality is to the prosperity of your brand, guarantee that you are taking the necessary business steps, as well as dealing with dependable sourcing options that set your e-commerce venture up for success.
The writer is the Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards