eCommerce Insiders

5 Ecommerce Lessons from Asian Food Retailers

Walking through a city like Hong Kong, you can’t help but be amazed at the sheer number of restaurants and small stores.

There’s just so many options that you wonder how they are all able to stay in business with so much competition.

Let’s take a look at a few things that every small retailer could learn from the Asian food market. (A weird approach, I know, but bear with me.)

Forget About the Competition and Worry About What Makes You Special

The quickest thing Asian food stores realize is that they aren’t offering a unique product. There are other stores selling the same products (usually right next to them!), so they need start thinking about what else makes them different.

This shift in thinking is important because sometimes we spend too much time worrying about competitors and what they do. We should still spend time thinking how we can target a niche of customers and how our products will help them.

This focus on what makes us special will leads us to several different forks in the road. We could be different by offering a better customer service or by offering only the highest quality product (even if its more expensive). There’s different options but choosing one and sticking it to it is the tough part. We get driven to chase the latest shiny object even if our current situation is working well.

Focusing on what makes us special also gives us time to build trust among potential customers. In Hong Kong, you can see 10 different stores selling the same product but you will have instant reactions to things within each store that will affect your decision to shop there. The cleanliness of the store, the perceived friendliness of the store owner and the freshness of the product are the few things that will stand out.

What kind of reaction do potential customers have when they visit your online store for the first time? Focus on communicating those things that make you special on the first impression and win more sales.

Leveraging the Human Touch

The human touch of each store is incredibly powerful Asia. The stores tends to be small and you can’t avoid the staff, which is usually the store owner. You want to buy from people you like, especially when you’re interacting with them on a regular basis. Being personable and friendly goes a long way in winning long time customers.

In online stores, we sometimes tend to forget about the human people that run these stores. Our about pages contain some generic text about who we are and what we stand for but they don’t offer a personable human face to our customers.

We need to put the faces and names of the people that run our stores front and center in these pages. Help your customers feel better about choosing to do business with you. Our customers should be able to visit an online store and know who runs it and why they do it.

This last point, the “why”, is one that deserves some explanation. Asian food stores can usually get away with the answer of “I do this as a living” but we shouldn’t settle for that answer. We should develop a compelling reason as to why we spend so much time running our online stores. This compelling story should reflect who we are and the kind of company we are looking to build. After all, we could be spending our time doing other things instead of running an online store.

Quality Over Everything

For Asian food stores, quality is king. While some stores may offer expensive options, you can’t get away with offering lower quality products for very long. Your customers will realize this and simply start shopping at the store next door. Soon, you will be out of business. There’s a certain kind of respect that store owners have for their customers and this is reflected in the quality of the products they offer.

Online stores face the same issues. There are so many products out there that we simply can’t get away with cutting corners when creating our products. Bad products can go viral, destroying businesses overnight. For smaller stores, this might simply mean a drop in traffic and eventually the need to close your doors. Always offer the best quality products possible.

At the same time, you should also spend some time improving the little details around the main product. The wrapping of packaging of the product, what comes inside the box, and the information customers receive when they purchase something from you are all small details.

But these small details start to add up, either for good or for bad, in your customers’ minds. Make sure that your customers love shopping with you from the product page, all the way to the package delivered to their home.

Word of Mouth is Your Life Blood

Asian food stores tend to be a central part of communities, where local restaurants buy their products, which are then served to the people living in the community. Word of mouth for these stores travels quickly through the buildings and streets of their neighbourhoods – so they can’t risk creating a bad reputation among their community.

For online stores, word of mouth travels quickly through social media and other online channels. It can be hard to take control of this conversation, but we can try to make sure we aren’t doing anything that could become negative. We can also help promote positive comments about our products through the use of reviews, which are incredibly important for online shoppers.

We can also make it easy for our customers to click a couple of buttons to share our products and their experiences through social media. Look into offering rewards that will promote word of mouth through social media. These rewards could be coupons or discounts that your customers earn when they tweet or share something on Facebook.

Haggling and Offering Value

Haggling is a common dance that happens between Asian food stores and their customers. Foreigners tend to be confused by this, since haggling isn’t common back in the West. But it is something that might help you understand ecommerce better.

At its core, a haggler is someone working to get the best value out of their product. We can also see how store owners have thought deeply about what value they are offering to their community, and even tourists. They aren’t thinking of their margins, instead simply focusing on how this will make your life easier and what that is worth to you.

This is commonly known as value-based pricing and its an important concept to grasp for online retailers. In short, value is derived from what customers are getting from your products and not from your margins on said products. Just like Asian store owners, you need to understand the role that your products will have in the life of your customers and then work like a great salesman to communicate this.

It’s sometimes useful to step into another culture and see how they do business to realize what things we might be missing in our online stores. Do you have any interesting experiences when visiting other cultures that changed your opinion on how you run your online store? Let me know in the comments

Ruben Ugarte is a Web Analytics Consultant who has helped companies of all sizes grow through the use of analytics. If you have any questions around how you can use analytics or even how to use tools like Mixpanel or Segment, get in touch with him!

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