Ecommerce Marketing & Customer Experience: 15 Strategies Top Online Stores Are Using
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E-commerce has woven itself into the very fabric of our lives. Not only do retail giants like Amazon ship products to millions of customers every day, but customers also purchase an endless array of goods from thousands of smaller eCommerce sellers – all from the comfort of home.
As with most things on the interwebs, eCommerce is a rapidly changing industry. In this article, we’ll look at trends from 2018 and how eCommerce stores can capitalize on these trends to achieve growth in 2019.
According to Internet Retailer’s 2018 Digital Marketing Survey, three-quarters of online retailers are investing in social media advertising. With organic social media reach continues to fall (Buffer data shows a 50% drop over 18 months), marketers usually need to rely on paid efforts to gain significant social media exposure. This trend is likely to continue or intensify as Facebook faces pressure to reduce the amount of harmful and commercial content on its platform.
Here is a few effective tactics e-commerce marketers can use:
- Boost posts to “get the ball rolling” with social shares and engagement. Start by targeting people who like your page and subscribe to your email newsletter.
- Use email and cookie-based remarketing to advertise new/additional products to existing customers.
- Use cookie-based retargeting to show dynamic ads to website visitors who didn’t purchase.
- Create a lookalike audience to advertise to customers similar to your existing customer base.
- Understand your ideal customer and target them via interests, demographics, and other targeting options Facebook provides.
If you’re only targeting customers in your country, you’re only targeting a tiny percentage of all your potential customers across the globe. That means you’re missing out on a massive piece of the market! For example, the United States is a vast eCommerce retailer market, totaling over $ 0 billion in online revenue. But that’s only 18% of the worldwide market, meaning that a retailer focusing exclusively on the US market is ignoring 82% of the global eCommerce market!
Data from the E-commerce Fuel 2018 report shows that growth and profit margins are also more favorable in some markets. With the proliferation of fulfillment centers with services targeted at small businesses, opening up a shipping center to serve new needs is easier than ever.
Switch all web pages to HTTPS
For many years, most eCommerce websites just used HTTPS on the shopping cart and checkout pages while leaving the rest of the pages on HTTP. Several factors have changed this trend, and a Sectigo Store study shows that 93% of top retailers now force HTTPS on their websites. Here’s why that’s a good idea:
- Customers have become accustomed to checking the URL for HTTPS before shopping online.
- Google Chrome and Firefox have shown “Not Secure” warnings on HTTP URLs.
- Forcing HTTPS protects login forms and other sensitive data.
- Google gives a small rankings boost to URLs that use HTTPS.
- HTTP/2 (which requires HTTPS) enables faster page load times.
When switching from HTTP to HTTPS, set up permanent (301) redirects for each HTTP URL to the same page on HTTPS.
Offer live chat support.
While email support tickets are super-fast compared to old-fashioned mail, they’re glacial compared to the communication methods today’s customers are most accustomed to text messages, chats, video hangouts, etc. Retailers have responded to customer expectations by offering live chat support: 53% of top eCommerce stores now offer live chat support.
- Keep your conversations staffed for fast response times. A 5-minute response may be significant for email tickets, but live chat is unacceptably slow. Here are a few tips for eCommerce sites implementing live chat:
- Ensure your status messages are accurate. Publish your live chat support hours and ensure that your live chat software accurately reflects whether there are agents online or not. Few things are as frustrating as sending a message on live chat only to get no response and be left wondering if there’s anyone online.
Be available by phone, too.
Live chat is great, but sometimes customers want to speak directly with a customer service representative. Contrary to many people’s impersonal perception of eCommerce stores, phone support has become very common, with 99 of the top 100 stores offering phone support.
Like with chat, it’s essential to publish your support hours and be there when you say you will be.
SEO is the #1 traffic source
Social media and influencer marketing seem to grab a lot of the headlines these days, but it’s still organic search that’s driving the lion’s share of traffic and revenue for eCommerce websites:
- The 2018 study from Sectigo Store (linked to above) places search traffic at 44% for the top 100 sites.
- ECommerce Fuel (also previously referenced) shows SEO drives 51% of traffic for eCommerce websites.
If you’re looking for SEO ideas for your eCommerce store, I wrote a guide for WishPond on 20 eCommerce SEO Tips for a Search Engine Friendly Storefront – it includes most of my favorite SEO tactics I’ve used over the years.
Paid traffic is #2
Organic is the largest traffic source, but paid traffic (search ads, display ads, etc.) isn’t far behind. Data from e-commerce Fuel puts paid traffic at approximately 30% of all eCommerce site visitors.
Is your company maximizing your paid advertising opportunities? Here are a few tips to help you find more revenue opportunities:
- Manage and optimize your ad campaigns primarily based on ROAS or ROI, not based on cost per conversion (aka CPA) or cost per click.
- Make sure you’re using retargeting/remarketing ads to keep your products in front of your customers and website visitors.
- If you haven’t already, try lookalike audiences – these are highly effective for many eCommerce stores.
- Test social media advertising (we also covered this one in a separate section).
Amazon is making an offer you can’t refuse
Amazon is slowly but surely taking over the world of internet retail. Amazon has a 44% share of the US eCommerce market, and Ecommerce Fuel’s survey data (linked to above) shows that Amazon’s share as an eCommerce channel is growing:
So what should small businesses do?
If you can’t beat them, join them! Small businesses can tap into Amazon’s power by listing their products for sale in the Amazon marketplace. US eCommerce sites report getting 29% of their revenue via Amazon.
But here’s how to make a better offer than Amazon
Amazon’s not all sunshine and roses, though. As their market share grows, so do frustrations and complaints. Plus, it’s not great for any business to become overly reliant on a single channel. That’s why eCommerce stores should focus on simultaneously beating AND joining Amazon.
Sell on Amazon, but also focus on differentiating your store to attract customers off Amazon. The key is to offer customers something they can’t get via Amazon, such as:
- In-depth content like ebooks, training courses, certifications, etc.
- Customized products (for example: letting the customer monogram their name, customize colors, upload photos, etc.).
- Better customer service, like live chat support from industry/product experts.
- Loss-leaders – if you’re good at upselling and cross-selling, you can offer a product at a meager price, knowing you’ll make your profit on the back end.
- Complex or non-physical products Amazon can’t handle well, such as business software, vacation packages, custom-made furniture, and everything in between!
Make a real commitment to customer security and privacy.
Slowly but surely, the winds have shifted direction: consumers and governments are becoming increasingly aware of cyber security and privacy issues. GDPR (and the $57 million OK Google was slapped with) is just one example of this trend. It’s a trend that businesses can’t afford to ignore: 66% of customers are willing to walk away from a company if their private data is disclosed or breached.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Communicate clearly and prominently to customers how you treat the information they give you. What parties do you share it with? How do you keep it secure?
- Implement security controls and preventative measures across all of your systems. This includes comprehensive anti-virus software on all employee computers, a web application firewall on your site server, and minimum password requirements on all customer accounts.
- Consider cyber risk insurance that covers you (and your customers) in case of any loss.
- If you don’t already have a cybersecurity plan, consider asking your IT or engineering department to review the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and create a plan to implement it within your business.
What is the “right” price for shipping? Free
Shipping costs money. (It’s easy to see why – FedEx alone has 650 airplanes delivering freight daily.) Yet customers are increasingly expecting free shipping. The Sectigo study (linked to above) found that 68% of top internet retailers now offer free shipping. This means that businesses must build shipping costs into the sale price of their products.
The good news? Most eCommerce stores have a minimum purchase required for customers to qualify for free shipping (which makes it easier for retailers to include shipping costs in their product prices.) The average store requires at least $50 to qualify for free shipping.
In addition, customers expect to be able to return unsatisfied products. Return policies vary, but the typical (median) store gives customers up to 45 days to return products.
Increase your conversion rates
Approximately 97% of eCommerce site visitors leave without making a purchase. Why? There can be many reasons: comparison shopping, not being ready to buy, choosing a competitor’s product, etc.
There’s a clear takeaway for eCommerce businesses: getting more of the 97% to purchase gives you a significant advantage over your competitors. A higher conversion rate means your business is more profitable…so you can spend more money on ad campaigns…which means you drive more sales…which translates to more profits… it’s an upward spiral of success!
Here are a few tips for increasing your e-commerce conversion rate:
- Test all the time. Always have A/B or multi-variate tests running on your site, helping you learn more about your customers and what offers best entice them to purchase.
- Install a heat map and use tracking software on your website – this can help you pinpoint areas where users are frustrated and identify high-impact regions to implement new messaging.
- Get serious about pricing. Find the optimal price point that maximizes profits and sales.
- Communicate the offer more effectively. Many A/B testers get caught up focusing on small things like testing a green button vs. a red button. Instead, start by focusing on tests that do one of two things:
- Make the user want what you’re offering more
- It makes it easier for the user to complete the purchase
Email marketing is the highest ROI channel
SEO may be the most significant traffic source, but eCommerce marketers report (by a wide margin) that email is the most profitable. Here are a few tips to maximize email marketing for your company:
- Track everything: sends, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, bounces, purchases, revenue, etc. This seems essential, but it never ceases to amaze me how many companies are using email marketing systems that don’t have full tracking. If you can’t see what’s happening, you can’t effectively manage it.
- Use marketing automation to send more targeted emails. For example, you could send customers who purchase a printer a coupon for 10% off ink refills 90 days after their printer purchase.
- Focus on offers. Most eCommerce marketers find that offers (such as sales, price drops, and coupons) are their most effective email creatives for driving revenue.
- Fun, educational, and exciting content in the form of videos, ebooks, and blog posts is a great place to start. Don’t forget to add non-commercial value, also. This varies by industry, but many audiences appreciate it when you give them something without trying to sell them anything.
Invest in kick-ass content
As the saying goes, “Content is King.” Or, to be more accurate, GREAT content is king.
With the rise of content marketing and the proliferation of blogs and social media, the internet is awash with thousands of articles, memes, videos, and tweets on nearly any topic imaginable. If you want to stand out in this sea of content, you need to create truly exceptional content.
Aim to create content that does these things better than competing content pieces:
- Capture the user’s attention (whether on Google search, scrolling through Facebook, or browsing Reddit).
- Provides value by helping the customer more effectively solve whatever problem they’re facing (even if the “problem” is something as mundane as “it’s 10 PM and I’m bored”).
- Guides the user towards an action that helps the user and benefits your business (download an ebook about the issue they’re facing, purchase a product that solves their problem, etc.)
Here’s the million-dollar question you can use to evaluate any piece of content: does this content do a better job giving the user what they want/need than any other similar pieces available on the internet? If you can honestly answer “yes, ” your content is positioned for exceptional success!
Don’t forget influencer marketing.
It may not be quite as big as search yet, but influencer marketing is another crucial tactic many eCommerce sites use successfully. Influencer marketing can be beneficial for products people enjoy talking about – travel, fashion, sports, tech gadgets, etc. (If you sell nuts and bolts, it’ll be a bit tougher to make influencer marketing work for you.) One-half of internet retailers plan to use influencer marketing in 2019 to promote their products.
About The Author: Adam Thompson has been in digital marketing for 16 years. He’s currently the Director Of Digital Marketing at SectigoStore.com, an industry-leading provider of SSL certificates and eCommerce security. When he’s not playing with 1s and 0s, you’ll likely find him enjoying the outdoors along the gulf coast of sunny Florida.