5 Key Strategies For Keeping Your eCommerce Business Competitive

Technology is fantastic. Alongside the internet, advances in the power and usability of software are empowering smaller merchants to compete with their larger competitors and even the big box retailers like Amazon and Walmart. 

While these technological innovations are paradigm shifting, alone they’re not enough. In order to compete with larger retailers, you need to pair your technology with business best practices. If you’re just getting started online, you can consider this a primer for setting up your business and marketing. If you’re already selling online, you can use this article to double check your operations and make sure you’re set up for success. 

One caveat for this article: we’ll assume you’ve already identified and sourced the products you’ll sell and we won’t cover any of the legal paperwork you’ll need to file to incorporate your business. Now, let’s get started with these five eCommerce strategies.

1. Create a Stable Web Presence 

If you want to compete as a business, you need to have a stable web presence. The internet is now central to almost everything we do. Without a website, potential customers won’t take you seriously. It’ll also be difficult for them to discover you even exist. 

The good news is that most eCommerce platforms will give you a huge head start in this area. For the sake of simplicity and convenience, we recommend choosing a SaaS/hosted platform over an open source one.

When thinking about your web presence you will want to tick off all of these mandatory boxes: 

  • Speed – You want your website to load quickly. Shoppers are intolerant of slow websites. 
  • Stability – If your website goes down, shoppers will be unable to buy from you and they’ll begin to lose trust in your brand.
  • Clean navigation – don’t overwhelm shoppers with too many navigation options.  
  • Layered navigation/faceted search – This design element makes it easy for shoppers to filter down a large list of products to find exactly what they want, increasing your conversion rate.  
  • Checkout – ensure your checkout is hosted on your domain and not a subdomain set up by your eCommerce platform. This eliminates the confusion that’s created when shoppers are redirected to a different domain, preventing abandoned carts. 
  • Mobile-optimized – Ensure your site is optimized for mobile shoppers.
  • Memberships – If you’re a member of a professional organization like the Better Business Bureau, consider placing their badge or logo in the footer of your site to build trust.

2. Maintain a Regular Social Media Presence

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s where people go to converse, find interesting articles, discover new products, identify trends and generally spend time online. To maximize the exposure your business receives and connect with shoppers on their level, you’ll want to invest time in building a social media presence. 

Here are some general tips to get you started: 

  • You don’t have to be active on every social media platform. Instead, find out where your potential customers like to hang out online and build a presence there. 
  • Understand that every social media platform is different. Tailor what you share to the platform. On Twitter you might share links to articles and short updates. On Facebook, visual content tends to be more popular. The same goes for Instagram. Pinterest has a big DIY element to it, so share “how to” content there. 
  • Most of the content you share shouldn’t be self-promotional. Treat it like a cocktail party. Do people like those who talk about themselves all of the time? You’re on social media to build relationships. The selling comes once those relationships are established.  
  • Monitor social media and join in the community and conversation that already exists instead of trying to build your own from scratch. 
  • A third-party social media management tool like HootSuite, SproutSocial or Buffer can help you be more efficient on social media by allowing you to monitor multiple platforms and streams, track your mentions and schedule messages to publish in the future. 

3. Cultivate Positive Customer Reviews 

BizRate Insights found that 91% of customers read at least one review before making a purchase. If you want your business to be as successful as possible, you’ll need to do everything you can to persuade customers to leave reviews. Sending customers a coupon in exchange for a review is oftentimes an effective incentive. 

You’ll also want to position the reviews prominently on your site. You could put them on individual product pages or on your homepage. It really depends on your goals. Most ecommerce platforms have built-in tools for publishing reviews, but if you want additional flexibility, consider an app like Yotpo. It will help you generate more reviews, make it easy to publish them on your site and even includes features that will help you use reviews to improve your SEO. 

Once you have a solid number of reviews on your site, you can consider branching out onto other review platforms like Yelp. This is particularly important if you run a brick and mortar store alongside your online store.

4. Use a Simple But Effective Marketing Strategy

Whether you have experience with it or not, a successful business needs marketing. Don’t worry though. Marketing doesn’t have to be hard or extremely sophisticated. Along with social media, the average merchant will get the most bang for their buck by focusing on a few main channels: 

  • Content Marketing and SEO 
  • Email Marketing 
  • Retargeting/Remarketing 

Content Marketing and SEO 

Today’s shopper does extensive research before making a purchase. They’ll consult online reviews, social media, personal contacts, articles and blog posts to learn all they can before buying. Content marketing is essentially the process of creating content that helps a shopper make a buying decision and ultimately select your business as the place they buy. Your content goals should be to develop trust by demonstrating your subject matter expertise. Help a shopper recognize they have a problem or need and over time position yourself as the right place to solve the challenge or fulfill the need.

For most businesses, blogging is the best way to get started. Commit to a posting schedule that you can keep and create a calendar of post ideas. Between one and three posts a week is a good place to start. The overarching rule you’ll want to follow is spend more time educating vs. selling. It’s fine to promote yourself from time to time, but the balance of posts should be unbiased. Here are a few example topics to get your creative juices flowing:

  • A clothing store could create a Fall fashion guide
  • A B2B autoparts company could write about the benefits of regular preventative maintenance
  • A food store could share recipes that feature a few of the products they sell

Once you’ve started publishing content, you’ll want to promote it. Here are some quick ideas:

  • Share it over social media 
  • Send it out your email list 
  • Connect with influencers in your industry and persuade them to share your content 
  • Promote it with inexpensive social ads 

Content marketing is also a great way to improve the SEO of your store, which will help shoppers find you through search engines. To get the most SEO benefit from your content, you will want to include relevant keywords in your post. You’ll also want to create the best content possible. Great content gets shared and linked to. These links are called backlinks and Google prioritizes them when determining search rankings for a website.  

Email Marketing 

Email marketing has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. Research from Litmus found that email returns $36 for every $1 spent. Based on this figure, we recommend prioritizing email in your marketing strategy. 

The first thing you’ll want to do is sign up for a good email marketing platform – we recommend MailChimp. After that, you’ll want to bucket your email marketing into two programs: 

List Building

To start building your list, you’ll want to add sign up forms to your site and your blog. These forms should integrate with your email platform. You can also integrate a tool like SumoMe to your site. This will allow you to add email subscription pop ups and a variety of other email sign up forms on your site.

Once your sign up forms are set up, you will want to drive traffic to your site. This is where promoting your content and SEO will come into play. These efforts should be bringing potential customers to your site and blog posts. Most of these people will leave without buying anything, but if you can collect their email address, you can continue marketing to them through email. 

Great content will earn you email subscribers. You can also offer a coupon or other incentive to encourage subscriptions. 

Email Campaigns

Segmentation is the best place to start your email campaigns. Segmentation is basically the process of splitting up your email list along common criteria. Basic segmentation might look like: 

  • Subscribers that haven’t bought from you 
  • Subscriber that have bought from you 

From there you can further refine by buying recency: 

  • Subscribers that purchased in the last month 
  • Subscribers that haven’t purchased for the last three months 

As you can see, you can get very sophisticated with segmentation depending on how much data you collect. Once your list is segmented, you will want to send each segment a unique email. The goal is to make your emails as relevant to the recipients as possible.

Here are a few example campaigns to get you started: 

Newsletter 

This is a general purpose campaign that can go out to your whole list. You can send it on whatever schedule you’d like, but we recommend weekly at most and monthly at a minimum. Your newsletter emails will likely be a collection of different content and promotions you’re currently running. The goal is to stay top of mind with your subscribers, building a relationship with them and encouraging purchases. 

A sample newsletter email might include a few blog posts, some Instagram photos, a curated selection of links from third-party publications, updates on new products and a coupon. 

Abandoned Cart Emails 

These emails will be sent to people that add something to their cart, but leave the site before purchasing. A good best practice is to send them a coupon to persuade them to make a purchase. 

Subscriber Email 

These emails are sent to people that have subscribed to your blog. Typically you’ll want to send them your latest post(s), but you could also include a selection of links from third party publications. Normally the goal of these emails is to nurture the subscriber into trusting your business over time. Eventually it will be appropriate to send them a promotional email in order to persuade them to make a purchase. 

Product Recommendations 

These emails will be sent to existing customers. Each email will feature one or more products recommendations that are based on an individual’s past purchase behavior. You can do this manually if you have a small catalog, but if you have a larger one it makes sense to automate this process with an app like Nosto.

Promotional Emails 

These emails are typically announcing time-bound sales you’re currently running. You’ve almost certainly encountered these in your own shopping experiences. Quick examples include holiday sales or back to school sales. 

Retargeting/Remarketing

Retargeting is a great way to get started with advertising. The general idea is that when someone visits your site and views a category or product page, but leaves without buying anything, you show them ads that feature the exact product(s) they were looking at. Since these people have already visited your site and are familiar with our brand, retargeting is usually the best performing and most cost effective form of advertising. 

You can set up retargeting to work with a variety of different platforms like Google and Facebook. For the sake of simplicity and effectiveness, we recommend starting with Facebook as there’s a good chance that upwards of 90% of your potential customers are using the platform on at least a weekly basis. 

We won’t go into the specifics of setting up remarketing, because doing so thoroughly would require several dedicated posts. However, here some resources that will get you started with both Facebook and Google: 

5. Investigate Third Party Apps and Services 

No eCommerce platform has all of the functionality a business needs to run efficiently and effectively. You also need to look at third party apps and services that you might need. It should be noted that each of these apps should help you run your business more efficiently, enabling you to be more productive and handle a high volume of orders and customers. If an app or service doesn’t fulfill those criteria, you should think twice about adding it to your store. 

Here are a few examples of commonly used categories of apps you’ll want to look at: 

  • Email marketing platforms 
  • Shipping management solutions 
  • Marketplace (Amazon, eBay, Etsy) Integrators 
  • Inventory Management Tools 
  • Point of Sale 
  • Accounting Software 

Stay Competitive with Powerful eCommerce Strategies

This post certainly doesn’t cover every aspect of running an online store, but with hard work, focus and attention to detail, the above eCommerce strategies should set your online store up for success. Like anything in business, it pays to take an iterative approach. Test a few of the ideas to start, measure their performance, make adjustments and repeat this process until you’re seeing the results you want.

If you’re ready to migrate to a powerful B2B eCommerce solution, Zoey’s here to help, and can be another powerful eCommerce strategy by having the best omnichannel tools for selling to your buyers, in-person or online. Click the button below to set up a conversation with our team:

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