When you’re a small retailer venturing into the online space, the idea of competing against e-commerce giants can be a daunting prospect. The numbers alone tell the story of the competitive space:
- In 2017, the global retail e-commerce market hit $2.3 trillion in sales and is projected to exceed $4.5 trillion in 2021.
- Also in 2017, U.S. shoppers spent a record-breaking $5 billion online on Black Friday.
- More than 12 percent of the 100,000 highest-traffic websites are e-commerce.
With their shoestring budgets, small businesses have to work harder at attracting, converting and retaining customers if they even want a shot in the game.
As the old adage goes: “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
Retailers that fail to invest in marketing risk neglecting their customers and worse, miss out on building customer engagement and long-lasting customer loyalty.
By deploying the right marketing strategies to differentiate your brand in the crowded e-commerce space, you’ll find that it’s entirely possible to successfully compete to attract new customers and drive sales.
In this article, we’ll share strategies from e-commerce experts and hear how small retailers on a budget were able to drive awareness to their e-commerce stores to boost sales.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Create a Personalized Customer Experience With Recommendations
- Build Your Email List and Market It At Every Occasion
- Share Product Reviews & Testimonials to Build Trust
- Turn Around Abandoned Carts With Discounts
4 Marketing Strategies to Drive E-commerce Sales
Engaging your audience through marketing requires knowing who your buyers are (as we have detailed in the buyer persona and journey in part one of this series).
Only when you’ve understood the motivations of your customers can you then effectively reach your audience with a variety of targeted marketing tactics that will convert them into paying customers.
It is worth noting that e-commerce marketing is a constant and iterative process that is too wide-ranging to distill into a bag of tricks. The strategies below serve as a helpful starting point and are by no means exhaustive. The goal is to set you on the right path toward attracting customers and generating sales for your business.
1. Create a Personalized Customer Experience with Recommendations
When you walk into a brick and mortar store, what catches your attention? Very likely it’s how the store engages your interest, if employees ask what you’re looking for and whether your needs are met. Now, re-imagine how you can take that same experience to your online customers from start to finish.
How you can deliver that: Each customer’s buyer journey is different. Having an online store that makes personalized product recommendations to customers is a sure bet to not only completing a purchase, but also increasing your average order value and conversion rates.
According to Vanhishikha Bhargava, growth marketer at Exit Bee, you can think of it this way:
“Take into account how you stroll into a store and are looking through some products. You could get overwhelmed by the choices offered or simply get confused about what you should buy, and that’s when a salesperson strolls in to offer help. A simple interaction of him asking ‘if you need any help’ actually helps you make an informed choice, find the exact product you’re looking for and even make a purchase.”
One way you can do that is by making product recommendations similar to what ASOS does below. Is your customer browsing slim fit jeans? If so, recommend similar jeans in the category by having a “you may also like” section at the bottom while ensuring that “recently viewed” items are still within sight.
ASOS uses cross-selling product recommendations as well as recently viewed items to guide visitors into making a purchase (Source)
2. Build Your Email List and Market It At Every Occasion
If creating an email list wasn’t already top of your must-do list, it should be. Email has emerged as the channel generating the highest ROI for marketers. For every $1 spent, email marketing generates $38 in ROI, according to a VentureBeat report.
Need more reasons?
- Sixty percent of people say that receiving special offers is the top reason they subscribe to an email list.
- Seventy percent of people make use of discounts from an email.
When it comes to driving sales and ROI for small retailers, email marketing has demonstrated that it is, without a doubt, one of the most effective marketing channels.
There are two ways in which you can implement email marketing for your e-commerce store. The first is to target existing customers (if you already have a list), and the second is to create an entirely new list.
Marketing to existing customers is important for customer retention as loyal customers are already familiar with your brand and are also more likely to generate more revenue when they visit your site.
How you can deliver that: Timing is everything. There are many occasions for sending emails your subscribers will actually appreciate. A good time to send the first email is when a customer has just signed up. You’re fresh in their minds and they’re probably looking to buy.
These emails have one of the highest open rates. According to studies, subscribers who receive welcome emails are 33 percent more likely to engage long term with a brand and are more likely to make a purchase.
A “you’re part of the club now” welcome email from society6 and a 10 percent off coupon to entice a customer to make their next purchase (Source)
Don’t forget to also take advantage of special occasions such as your customers’ birthdays and other special days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Christmas season is the biggest of them all. E-commerce sales between November and December make up almost one quarter of total annual sales, with a significant chunk of that coming from email promotions.
If you don’t already have an email list, here are a few tips to do so–and do it well. Remember, without a clean and deliverable email list, you won’t be able to effectively reach customers with exclusive sales and discounts to drive sales so you’ll want to make sure you get this right.
- Ask everywhere: Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to collect an email address. That means in store when you’re cashing out a customer, a customer call or the checkout page of your website.
- Avoid being overly self-promotional: When you’re sending out emails to your list, you want to avoid sounding overly salesy. Email marketing is not an invitation to barge into the inbox of a customer with lengthy and self-promotional emails, says Syed Irfan Ajmal, digital marketer and columnist at Ridester, an online ride-sharing resource company.
Instead, first introduce yourself with shorter emails. “Share short snippets of information and build the relationship slowly,” he says. “Treat their inbox as you would like others to treat yours.”
Next, provide customers with some form of value. “Customers in today’s digital age don’t want to be sold until you have really earned their attention, interest and trust. Work on educating them first,” says Ajmal. It could be something as simple as a recent blog post or webinar you’ve hosted.
- Offer giveaways or promotions: You can entice customers with a product giveaway and have them enter their email addresses for a chance to win. Or create a promotional pop-up as an incentive for shoppers to sign up for your mailing list as Kate Spade’s online store demonstrates below.
A pop-up box to join a mailing list is activated on Kate Spade’s front page, including a discount and free shipping (Source)
“Tell them why,” says Keith Reinhardt, marketing manager at FreshAddress, a company which helps businesses maintain email lists. “This is a value exchange, so be sure to clearly explain what you will deliver,” he adds.
- Check for errors: “There’s price tag attached to every email address on your list. That means you’re burning money every time you collect incorrect information,” says Reinhardt. Watch out for typos such as “gmial.com.” Providing a confirmation page or ensuring customers type in their emails twice can go a long way to ensuring they’re entering the correct information.
3. Share Product Reviews & Testimonials to Build Trust
Product reviews and testimonials are the best forms of “social proof” that persuade people to buy. Online reviews can address any doubts potential customers may have about your product and be the tipping point they need. Here are other compelling reasons as to why online reviews are crucial for generating sales:
- Sixty-three percent of online shoppers are more likely to purchase from a store that has reviews.
- You can increase your e-commerce conversion rates by up to 76 percent by adding product reviews to your store.
Simply put, online reviews provide real value for consumers and are essential in the buying process.
How you can deliver that: While many online stores already have a dedicated reviews page, Stuart Ridge, chief marketing officer of VitaMedica, calls for small retailers to take it one step further by incorporating them throughout the sales journey on your online store.
“Highlight review excerpts on your homepage, category pages and even on the sales cart and checkout pages to affirm customers in their purchasing decision right to the end of their buyer’s journey. Including customer reviews throughout the sales journey builds continual trust in your brand and product.”
STUART RIDGE, CMO, VitaMedica
Vintage Teaworks, an e-commerce website that sells handcrafted tea blends, does a great job of showcasing its reviews by featuring a floating product reviews button across every page.
Vintage Teaworks features a floating product reviews button on the bottom left of their entire store that buyers can scroll through (Source)
Besides building confidence, Ridge says online reviews and testimonials also hold immense SEO value, as they increase the amount of content on your page, as well as the probability that you’re hitting crucial keywords.
4. Turn Around Abandoned Carts With Discounts
Imagine you’re walking into a department store–you start filling up on your cart, only to be distracted by a puppy in a panda outfit. You follow the puppy out of the store, forgetting all about the cart you had left behind.
While this scenario is unlikely to happen in the real world, this happens all the time in online retail. Consumers add items into their carts, only to be distracted and never return.
Shopping cart abandonment is one of the biggest challenges for small online retailers to overcome. According to our research, a staggering 86 percent of shoppers have abandoned online shopping carts in the past year. Think about that. That means you’re missing out on potentially up to two-thirds of sales.
How you can deliver that: In one word, discounts. When asked what would make them revisit the online store to purchase their abandoned items, a resounding 76 percent of consumers in our survey agreed that promotions or discounts would do the trick.
One way you can do that is through reminder emails. As seen in the email from furnishing store Hayneedle, you can send shoppers a reminder the next day offering to sweeten the deal.
Hayneedle sends customers a follow-up email offering a discount after spending a certain amount (Source)
Jeff Moriarty, marketing manager at jewelry company Moriarty’s Gem Art, has found that sending about three follow-up emails after visitors abandon their carts works well. He decided to take it a step further—after realizing that he may still be missing some visitors—by implementing Facebook Messenger.
Visitors who link their online account with Facebook will receive a message from Moriarty’s Gem Art about their abandoned cart and while Moriarty admits that it doesn’t generate as much sales as emails, “it brings in way more sales than the cost to implement it.”
The results? Moriarty has seen about five new sales generated per week from the abandoned cart emails and up to four sales per week generated with its Facebook Messenger abandonment notification.
“Don’t leave money on the table by not contacting your visitors in more ways than just email and try implementing Facebook Messenger as soon as possible,” says Moriarty.
Three Takeaways for Increasing E-commerce Sales
We’ve armed you with a handful of marketing tactics to grow sales for your online store. Before you go, here’s a summary of the key takeaways:
- You have distinct advantages over the big chains. As a small business, you have the ability to build genuine relationships with your customers by bringing a more personal touch to your customer service. Focus on those relationships—you’ll find that long-lasting relationships can be the most essential part of your growth.
- You must know your customer. Customers expect you to know what they want and how they want it. Demonstrate that and you’ll gain a legion of loyal customers which can determine your profitability. The more loyal a customer is, the more they will spend on future purchases.
- Think like the customer. Focus on making it easy for shoppers to find what they were looking for. Provide them with a shopping experience that’s tailored to what they’re searching for. The more relevant offers you present to your shoppers, the higher the chances will be that they’ll buy.
- If you’re looking for a POS system with customer management and reporting capabilities, answer a few questions and speak to our expert advisors who will provide free advice on the systems that are best suited for your small business.
- Looking for an email marketing system to increase your sales? Check out user scores and reviews of the list of email marketing systems here.