Ecommerce 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, customers purchase an endless array of good 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.
Embrace social media advertising
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 continuing to fall (data from Buffer 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 negative and commercial content on their platform.
Here are 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/or who are subscribed 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 very 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 huge piece of the market! For example, the United States is a huge market for ecommerce retailers – totaling over $500 billion in online revenue. But that’s only 18% of the worldwide market, meaning that a retailer that focuses exclusively on the US market is ignoring 82% of the global ecommerce market!
Data from the Ecommerce Fuel 2018 report shows that growth and profit margins are more favorable in some markets also. With the proliferation of fulfillment centers with services targeted at small businesses, it’s easier than ever to open up a shipping center to start serving new markets.
Switch all webpages 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 started showing “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 making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, be sure to 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: in fact, 53% of top ecommerce stores now offer live chat support.
A few tips for ecommerce sites implementing live chat:
- Keep your chats staffed for fast response times. A 5 minute response may be considered great for email tickets, but it’s unacceptably slow for 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 actually online.
Be available by phone, too
Live chat is great, but sometimes customers want to speak directly with a customer service representative. Contrary to the impersonal perception many people have about ecommerce stores, phone support has become very common with 99 of the top 100 stores offering phone support.
Just like with chat, it’s important to publish your support hours and then 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 Ecommerce 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 a great idea for any business to become overly reliant on a single channel. That’s why I recommend 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 a photo, etc.).
- Better customer service, such as live chat support from industry/product experts.
- Loss-leaders – if you’re really good at upselling and crossselling, you can offer a product a very low 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 fine 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 everything from comprehensive anti-virus software on all employee computers to a web application firewall on your site server to 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 in place, consider asking your IT or engineering department to review the NIST Cybersecurity framework and create a plan to implement it within your business.
The “right” price for shipping? Free
Shipping costs money. (It’s easy to see why – Fedex alone has 650 airplanes delivering freight every day.) 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 need to 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 a lot easier for retailers to include shipping costs in their product prices.) The average store requires a purchase of at least $50 to quality for free shipping.
In addition, customers expect to be able to return products they’re not satisfied with. Return policies vary quite a bit, 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 a myriad of different reasons: comparison shopping, not ready to buy, chose a competitors’ product, etc.
There’s a very simple takeaway for ecommerce businesses: getting more of the 97% to purchase gives you a major 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 heat map and user tracking software on your website – this can help you pinpoint areas where users are frustrated, as well as identify high impact areas 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
- Makes it easier for the user to complete the purchase
Email marketing is the highest ROI channel
SEO may be the largest 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 basic, 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.
- 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. Fun, educational, and interesting content in the form of videos, ebooks, and blog posts is a great place to start.
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:
- Captures the user’s attention (whether they’re 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 10PM and I’m bored”).
- Guides the user towards an action that helps the user and is beneficial to 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 at giving the user what they want/need than any other similar pieces available on the internet. If you can honestly answer “yes” then 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 key tactic many ecommerce sites are using successfully. One-half of internet retailers plan to use influencer marketing in 2019 to promote their products. Influencer marketing can be especially useful for products that 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.)
About The Author: Adam Thompson has been in the digital marketing world for 16 years. He’s currently 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’re likely to find him enjoying the outdoors along the gulf coast of sunny Florida.