With large portions of the population shifting their buying habits to a predominantly online model, for retailers, a sound e-commerce marketing strategy is no longer a luxury: it’s a must.
As we enter into yet another month of uncertainty and flux in the marketing world due to the ebbs and flows of COVID-19, one thing has become increasingly clear: the predictability of consumer buying patterns has disappeared. Historically “stable” patterns of consumption have (d)evolved over the last few months, and no single aspect of marketing has seen a greater shift in consumer behavior than e-commerce.
The COVID-19 Catalyst
As recently as last year, some retailers still enjoyed a significant percentage of sales that came from face-to-face transactions in brick-and-mortar environments. Sure they had an e-commerce “component,” but they looked at that as more of an augmentation to their overall revenue generation strategy. Of course, that model has been upended. But we aren’t here to discuss COVID-19-specific strategies; we’re here to talk about winning e-commerce marketing strategies. You see while COVID-19 may have been the catalyst, changes to how we do business were well on their way. COVID-19 just sped the pace.
With large portions of the population shifting their buying habits to a predominantly online model, for retailers, a sound e-commerce marketing strategy is no longer a luxury: it’s a must. Retailers who have long-standing, bulletproof, consumer-centric e-commerce experiences already in place are making the most of this “new normal.” And has already been widely reported, many of these new patterns are here to stay.
What is an E-Commerce Marketing Strategy?
So what does e-commerce marketing even mean, and what do you need to deploy a winning e-commerce strategy? Well, before we dive into those questions, it helps to start off with some context. Let’s see what e-commerce marketing looks like today by starting with where it was in the past.
Previously, once you built your e-commerce site, you:
- Sent an email blast to all of our lists
- Let everyone on your social media channels know you are open for business
- Set about getting yourself on the right track from an SEO point of view, ranking for relevant keywords
If that sounds surprisingly similar to today’s current e-commerce strategy, well, you aren’t wrong, but you are missing out on a lot of marketing opportunities, opportunities that separate e-commerce marketing strategies that just get by versus ones that enhance your e-commerce sales in tangible, measurable, and most of all meaningful ways.
Understanding the New Norm
One thing to consider in this “new normal” as it pertains to e-commerce is that many of the concessions that have come about due to COVID-19 are not going away once the virus has been neutralized. Free delivery, useful online support (not severely hampered chatbots that send you to a generic “contact us” page), AR-supported product interactions, realtime inventories, free and simple return policies – all of these have been greatly amplified as the world at large turns their shopping habits from in-person, brick-and-mortar affairs to largely online, remote buying. These concessions are already being taken for granted as the new way to conduct business online, and will be duly noticed in the minds of your customers should they disappear or cease to be as functional in the future.
Components to Consider
Today’s internet technology provides a multitude of tools and avenues by which to maximize your e-commerce initiatives… but are you tapping into them? When planning your e-commerce marketing plan, here are some components to consider:
Your customers may have a preference, but not all of your customers share that preference, so you need to be present in the platforms your customer base prefers. Careful and thorough research can yield surprising insights for how to target your consumers, and what sort of content you should be promoting to support your goods and services. Are you selling a technical, high-ticket B2B solution? Odds are your prime hunting grounds will include the likes of LinkedIn and perhaps Twitter. Goods and services that benefit from a visual component shine on platforms like Instagram. You get the idea. Doing this sort of groundwork early on can save countless hours of wasted effort and resources establishing a digital presence where your target audience cannot be found in any significant numbers.
Ever looked at something online, then closed that browser tab only to see an ad for the exact same item on a seemingly unrelated page just days (or even hours) later? That’s the beauty of retargeting. By leveraging the abilities of the Google Display Network (GDN), you can keep your organization in the conversation long after your (potential) consumer has left. Additionally, you can conquest those who are considering your competition – a key demographic within your consumer base as they may still be in the decision-making phase and may not have even considered your version of whatever they were looking for until they were served a targeted, relevant ad. Caveat: you better be relevant. Keep your parameters tight and make sure your landing pages are relevant to your ad copy, as well as the goods and services your audience was searching for. If not, they’ll associate your brand with annoyance, inconvenience, and a general waste of time.
Just as successful brick-and-mortar stores of the past captured larger consumer bases by branching out into new markets and locations, you need to adopt the same strategy in the digital world.
For example, which is a more effective, closed-loop buying experience — serving an ad/post on Instagram with a single click to buy button that takes the user to your Instagram store, or adding a link in your bio that takes them to a product landing page?
Taking the time and resources to deploy and manage multiple digital storefronts can pay off immensely because it places the transaction component closer to your audience. Social Media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have their own storefront solutions, but you can also establish a presence on Amazon and tap into the power of the world’s largest online retailer.
Okay, so these aren’t specific to e-commerce, but incentives have always been a strong influencer in what direction consumers will lean when all other things are equal. The issue now becomes how you tie these in for your e-commerce initiatives. Redemption codes in exchange for email addresses, discounts for bundled purchases, targeted upsell programs that show what you can gain for just a few dollars more, etc. Threading these types of incentives – judiciously – throughout your customer’s journey can reap rewards at the transactional level, but also act as strong motivators for conversion.
Remove the Hurdles
Remove as many hurdles as you can when it comes to getting from an initial touchpoint, be that a social post, a paid ad, or an email – one click should get them to the product page.
If hurdles are an integral part of the process at hand, sometimes rearranging where the hurdle is located can make a huge difference for conversion. For example, say you’re looking for a primary care physician online, which requires that you supply quite a bit of data to a form. Required form fields often equal high abandonment rates. So how do we overcome this hurdle? Well, ZocDoc’s portal has a clever solution. They find the doctors first and serve those results to you. They know that once you’ve decided on a doctor, filling out form fields won’t feel as cumbersome. Paying attention to where you place the hurdles can sometimes make all the difference.
Create your own tie-ins. From Red Bull to Mercedes-Benz, people want to see their potential purchases and/or favorite brands in various forms of context. Highly technical B2B products are hugely augmented with rock-solid case studies that demonstrate exactly what you stand to gain by employing their products and services. Immersive video typically commands the loudest voice in the room when it comes to consumer goods, especially “lifestyle” brands. But don’t discount long-form blog posts, tweets, Instagram posts (see every fashion brand ever), and other forms of content that can showcase a product in the most flattering light. Employing a robust content strategy not only ups your SERP rankings, but also lifts your brand image, and brings new potential customers into the conversation – it can be one of your best sales reps out there. This brings us to your best digital sales rep…
Email is Your Best Sales Rep
The humble email is still one of the best delivery vehicles for all of your e-commerce marketing efforts. From “welcome” emails that bring with them entire catalogs of goods and services, to drip campaigns that can keep your customers in the conversation long after other platforms have failed, a strong email strategy can do more to retain, upsell, and convert one-time buyers into multiple transaction customers. Less overtly marketing-driven emails are still great opportunities to reach out to your customers, from emails triggered by cart abandon events to receipts, these all represent opportunities to further promote your goods and services.
Reviews – Good and Not So Good
Everyone loves glowing reviews and loathes those bad ones. But it’s all in how you look at it. For one thing, your consumers are savvy enough to know when your organization has 135 5-star reviews and only 135 5-star reviews, that something isn’t right. But when a bad review comes in, this is your time to shine as an organization, as a problem solver. The most successful companies use these opportunities to reach out to their less-than-satisfied customers and do whatever they can to make it right. When a customer feels that they are taken care of, that they are viewed as more than a sale, they give you that thing no amount of marketing can guarantee: trust. Take advantage of these opportunities to not only solve the problem but also to explore how other products and services you offer can enhance this customer’s experience with your band. These are some of your best chances for long-term customer retention.
Are You Ready?
As we’ve learned, there are tons of marketing avenues to consider when supporting your organization’s e-commerce efforts, and this article covers the most popular ones on a very cursory level. And things are in an unprecedented state of flux right now, so organizations of all shapes and sizes are adapting their current e-commerce marketing efforts to match the ever-evolving habits and preferences of their customers.
If you’d like to tap into a resource that has been a trusted partner for e-commerce initiatives across multiple industries with proven track records and results that keep our clients coming back for more, feel free to drop us a line. We can connect with you to address your specific needs, discuss ones you may not be aware of, and formulate a sound, attainable strategy that can amplify your e-commerce solutions to be more effective, more automated, and ultimately more profitable.