E-commerce Failures Are Ok If You Learn Your Lessons

In the Rapidly Evolving Landscape, Ecommerce Failure Is Essential for Success

Ecommerce Failures
••• Ecommerce Failures. traffic_analyzer / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

Before you start reading this article, be warned; it is not an article about avoiding ecommerce failures. It is also not about common reasons why ecommerce businesses fail. Instead, it is about the importance (and I daresay the necessity) of failure in ecommerce. So, if you are expecting to read a new-age business article that glorifies failure, you are on the right page. Of course, I intend to have you convinced of my logic.

Failure Is Necessary

Frankly, now that you have read the headline, you can just navigate away from this page. That is all I am going to be talking about; if you want to succeed at ecommerce, failure is inevitable. And this is not one of those Who Moved My Cheese? or kind of messages. It is advice that is highly relevant to ecommerce startups.

The Ecommerce Environment Is Fluid -- Avoiding Failure Will Require the Highest Order of Risk Aversion

I do not like to fail. I do not want to fail. But just look at how fast things are changing in ecommerce. No one can have the kind of foresight required to set on a business course that can predict all that is changing in the environment. Here are a few of the things that are changing:


Policy makers are still trying to wrap their heads around this strange beast called ecommerce. There is no clarity, especially in legislation pertaining to jurisdiction and taxation.

For instance, there are many governments that would regard the location of your ecommerce business to be the same as the location of your hosting. There are some, such as the Texas legislature, that have proved wiser.


It was not too long ago that every piece of ecommerce website design advice would invariably mention that you should use small file sizes; otherwise, visitors would have to wait inordinately for your pages to load.

In principle, that is true even today, but the acceptable page sizes have shot up, owing to the massive upswing in bandwidth.

Not Just Ecommerce, Today it Is About: ScommerceFcommerce, Mcommerce, Tcommerce

Ok, ok, I agree that I seem to be simply spewing jargon here. But the fact that I have written at least one article on each of the above variants of ecommerce should make you suspect that ecommerce is no longer merely ecommerce.

Scommerce stands for social commerce. It is not an oft-used term, but it does reflect a tidal wave that is sweeping ecommerce. The amount of time that customers are spending on social sites makes it necessary for ecommerce businesses to set up shop on those very social destinations. A similar argument could be made about fcommerce (Facebook commerce: a special form of social commerce), mcommerce (commerce on mobile devices), and tcommerce (tablet commerce, a special form of mobile commerce).

The point here is not to make you aware of the latest variants of ecommerce. Instead, it is about encouraging you to be ready to have some of your plans fail in light of the shifting paradigms in the ecommerce space.

How to Succeed at Failing?

Ok, that was a pretty lame play of words.

But there are some invaluable points to keep in mind when you accept that failure in ecommerce is necessary for success.

  • Fail Fast: If nothing else, I hope that my arguments above convinced you that the ecommerce world moves fast. Slow failure will prevent you from being able to bounce back. When you are testing your hypothesis, it is best to set up your test cases to rapidly lead to a conclusion. Being slow should not sound like a virtue or seem like an indicator of being thorough.

  • Fail Cheap: I should probably have replaced the word "cheap" with "inexpensive." But without getting lost in semantics here, let me emphasize the need to test your hypothesis in a way that you can afford to fail. Maybe you are trying out a new form of marketing, a new top-level hire, or a new partnership. In all of these initiatives, it is necessary for you to be ready to fail. And that readiness must manifest in your ability to bounce back from that failure. And that will happen only if you can afford to fail.
  • But Learn Your Lessons: The point of this entire exercise is that you learn your lessons from failure.

Ok Class, Here Is a Quick Recap

  1. Realize that failure is necessary.
  2. Establish a hypothesis that can be tested.
  3. If your hypothesis fails, make sure it fails fast.
  4. If your hypothesis fails, make sure it fails cheap.
  5. Go to 1.