The first purchase ever made online was a Sting album in 1994. At the time, finding, picking, and purchasing a product without seeing it in person was unheard of. Fast forward 30 years and just about every business interaction is, or can be, handled online. That goes for the exchange of money from customer to a business, emailed receipts, and delivery of the final product.
What is ecommerce?
Ecommerce, short for electronic commerce or internet commerce, is any and all commerce that happens online. Ecommerce business owners can even bypass a brick-and-mortar store and sell goods or services directly to their customers exclusively through their website. To put it simply, ecommerce allows any internet user to be a potential customer instead of catering only to customers that live in proximity to where you are.
Grow your ecommerce shop with these
11 Ecommerce tips for businesses
Ecommerce is now a necessary part of the retail experience. In 2021, ecommerce sales generated $4.2 trillion globally—only four countries (the US, China, Japan, and Germany) have an annual gross domestic product (GDP) that surpasses that amount. For anyone making a living selling goods online and trying to take a chunk out of those trillions, the competition can be stiff, but there are ways to stand out from the pack.
1. Prepare for some competition
Want to sell clothes, electronics, paint, books, or some kind of professional services? Gear up, because no matter what you’re selling, you’re going to have competition. The best way to stand out from competitors is to think strategically about your niche. Is it geographical and based on the region where you live? How are you going to cater to or speak to your target market? Once you figure out what defines your business and makes you different from everyone else, you can develop a business plan with clear milestones to execute your goals.
2. Don’t sleep on your website
Goldfish have a reputation for short attention spans but humans have even shorter attention spans. It takes an internet user less than half of a second to generate an opinion on an organization from its website. Even if you want your website to be more beautiful or have more functionality than your resources allow, put in the effort to make it clean, functional, and presentable. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be easy for a user to navigate so they can make their purchase.
3. Create a FAQ page for your “why”
As you plan out or update your website, include an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page. Depending on the product or service you’re selling or providing to a customer, this is where your why—as in, the reason you started your business in the first place—comes in. For example, if you sell fair trade scarves made by women in rural communities across the globe, this can be a space where you explain why you do what you do and what the larger context is around your business. An FAQ page can help automate the education behind the goods or services sold and save you time in the long run. Your FAQ page can answer basic customer service questions so you don’t always have to.
4. Be thoughtful in your email marketing strategies
Send out a weekly newsletter with information on sales, new content, or product drops. Your email marketing strategy doesn’t have to be fancy—and you can find freelance or contracted writing support if you know you’re not great at that task. But repeated communications via email to customers keeps you on their radar and may sway them to return for a purchase. Effective strategies include:
- Build out your email marketing list. Data can equal dollars, so create a landing pop-up on your website that offers customers—for example, 10% to 15% off of their purchase if they sign up for your email newsletter. If selling products or services in your local community, ask in-person customers to sign up for your newsletter for that same discount.
- Be authentic. If you want to have creative control over your email marketing, lean into your own voice (or your brand’s voice) with your customers. Your business should have a personality to it, and that personality starts with you.
- Keep an eye on open rates. As you start to send out email newsletters, pay attention to your open rates. Open rates show how many people on your mailing list are actually opening your marketing emails. You can easily compare open rates for different kinds of messages to get a sense of what people want to read—and what they don’t.
5. Build an ecommerce funnel
An ecommerce funnel represents the many stages of a customer’s journey on your website—how a customer goes from point A to point B or comes into contact with your site to make a purchase. The typical funnel is this: a customer lands on your website, signs up for your newsletter to get a discount, visits the website, builds a cart, then abandons their cart. You have an automatic alert sent to them if they abandon their cart, they place an order, you email them that an order has been received and shipped, and finally, you send them a survey about their experience.
This sales funnel guides a casual browser toward their final purchase through small nudges that you can automate on your website. A sales funnel has become the norm because it intertwines a solid user experience with consistent communication. Start your own by creating nudges for browsers and buyers alike, like abandoned cart notifications and final customer surveys.
6. Experiment with social media platforms
Some ecommerce businesses naturally take off on one social media platform over another. A business may have a lot of followers and engagement on Instagram and TikTok, but not much presence on Facebook. Still, a comprehensive social media strategy should be active on three to four platforms. This can be challenging, especially if you’re an avid user of Instagram and that platform results in more sales (then, you may not want to touch Facebook). You need to be active on several platforms because a competitor in your space may be researching their competition—like you. If you leave one channel open, they could swoop in and dominate your market on the platform you’re ignoring. When your business lives across a handful of digital spaces, customers can find you easily and you’re still in the game against your competitors.
7. Organically grow ad spend
Ad spend is the amount of money you spend on digital advertising each month. That advertising can take many different shapes, but the most common ads ecommerce retailers branch into are campaigns across social media channels. The pro of ads is they can capture the eyeballs of many different customers you may not otherwise be able to reach. However, just because you invest in ads doesn’t mean you will always get a return on your investment. Focus on working your ad spend up organically by investing more cash into them over time. That way, you can track what’s working and what isn’t.
8. Take notes on competitors
Assessing the competitive landscape doesn’t stop after launch. To understand other ecommerce brands, block out time on your calendar to study their websites, social media channels, and sales funnels. What are they doing that you appreciate from a user perspective? What strategies could you adopt for your own website? No one is barred from using similar—or the same—marketing strategies.
9. Tap alternative marketing tools
Did you know that one of the go-to tips for up-and-coming vloggers to grow a YouTube following is to showcase their expertise (in writing!) through online forums like Quora and Reddit? Branching out to share specialized knowledge on interpersonal forums could help connect you to other users who share the same interests and passions as you—plus, they might even become potential customers. Influencer culture has shown us that once people develop trust in your expertise, they’re more likely to spend their dollars with you.
10. Schedule product drops
If you know that new products tend to arrive midweek and you typically launch them on your website on Saturdays, build drops into your social media calendar. Write a blog post, create video content, or center this in your social media platforms for 24 to 48 hours leading up to the drop or special release. From there, keep your drops on a schedule. You want your customers to keep returning to your account page each Saturday, for example, when they know new products are released.
11. Play with promotion
No matter what type of promotion or discount you’re looking to run, create a sense of urgency around it. Add a timer to the banner of your website to alert customers your sale is only happening for a limited time, or launch a sale where the first hundred customers receive a special perk along with their discount. Be prepared for potential trial and error along the way. It’s important to piece together different combinations of discounts, social media platforms, and drops to see what times and dates customers bite.
What to consider when investing in ecommerce?
As you invest in your ecommerce sales strategies, keep your customer base in the forefront of your mind. What’s their age? Are they following trends? Are they more aligned with standalone hobbies, products, or industries? For example, if you’re selling essential oil diffusers at a higher price point than the rest of the market, you may piece together that your target market is in their 30s to 40s, a parent, and practices yoga. All of these facts can point you toward alternate avenues to reach your target demographic.
Another consideration is long-term goals, which can be assessed by asking key questions:
- Are you trying to create a business that will keep growing in the years to come and branch out into other products or services?
- Or, are you looking to get acquired one day?
The answer may help determine whether it’s worth starting with a small marketing budget and building out slowly, or investing more heavily over time.
Ecommerce tips FAQ
What makes an ecommerce website successful?
Refining a funnel approach takes a customer from a casual browsing experience to an active purchase with a delivered product or service. That means you have clear actions on your website—like abandoned cart reminders and surveys at the end of purchases—that ensure your customer is engaged throughout their online shopping experience.
What are the types of ecommerce businesses?
Ecommerce businesses are in the market of selling goods and services online through models like:
- Business to business (B2B). This is when an ecommerce website sells its product or service directly to another business.
- Business to consumer (B2C). The B2C model is based on a business selling products to a single end customer or consumer.
- Direct to consumer (DTC). This occurs when a manufacturer or wholesaler sells their product directly to a customer without distribution from retailers.
- Consumer to consumer (C2C). Under this model, one consumer sells products to another consumer, a common example of this is resale sites (like eBay).
- Consumer to business ecommerce (C2B). If you provide products or services to a business as a freelancer or contractor, this is the model that applies to you.
How do I keep customers coming back to my ecommerce store?
Create a firm, established schedule around your product drops. When you run sales on your website, create a sense of urgency around them. Even when you’re tempted to branch out and find more and more new customers, keep an eye on ways to have your existing customers come back, through initiatives like a loyalty program.