Breaking into e-commerce isn’t easy. It’s still a growing field, but there’s also a lot of competition in almost every conceivable niche. This is what makes e-commerce marketing all the more crucial.
A good e-commerce marketing strategy can be the difference between winning and losing. Between having a profitable business or sounding the retreat and filing for bankruptcy. In this article, we’ll talk about the 5 essential elements you need to make your e-commerce marketing strategy work.
1. Understand your buyers’ journey.
There is a process people go through before they give you their hard-earned cash in exchange for whatever you’re selling. This is what we call “the buyer’s journey”. It’s your client’s story. It’s how and why they ended up on your website. And it should be the backbone of your e-commerce marketing strategy.
Here’s how most online retailers think people buy from them. Person enters the product page and goes, “This is a jaw-droppingly awesome website. I’m going to buy all their stuff!” It seems ridiculous. Yet I’ve consulted enough struggling online retailers to know this is the case.
In reality, the buying process is much more complex. Consumers are more savvy than ever. They know what they want. They know how to search for it. And they know a good deal when they see one.
Many e-commerce store owners struggle because they don’t understand their buyers’ journey. If your online retail store is not doing so well, odds are you’re missing this piece of the puzzle.
How to define your buyer’s journey
Every buyer’s journey has three common elements:
- Awareness – people become aware of a problem or an opportunity. They also decide whether to act on it now. For example, your friend’s birthday is coming up and you want to get them a nice present. You know what you need to do and you know you need to do it now.
- Consideration – the problem or opportunity is clearly defined at this stage. Now it’s simply a matter of finding the right solution. In our example, your friend won’t shut up about losing their watch. So like any good friend, you’re going to get them a new one. You know what you want, you know your budget, and now it’s time to start browsing online.
- Decision – at this stage, people are ready to make a decision. To get back to the example, you’ve found three different watches in two websites. Now you start thinking about delivery costs, whether you trust the website or not, whether it looks like they can deliver, etc. You pick the one that seems like the best deal to you and move onto the shopping cart.
It’s important to understand all these complexities. This way, you will know how to attract people to your website during the awareness stage. How to show your site is trustworthy in the consideration stage. And how to make the purchase as painless as possible in the decision stage.
2. Establish a sales funnel.
When I first started in business, the idea of a sales funnel scared the hell out of me. It seemed so complicated and I wasn’t sure if there really was a benefit to it. From my perspective, it was just another level of corporate bullshit.
I was wrong. I’m rarely wrong, but I’m the first to admit it when it happens. Building a business without understanding your sales funnel is like trying to build a house of cards blindfolded. With one hand tied to your foot behind your back. While singing “Ode to joy” in German. You get the gist.
Lucky for me, I immediately rectified this mistake. A company that assists sales teams with analytics hired me to write articles for them. It was a great opportunity to learn from a knowledgeable source and provide value at the same time.
What is a sales funnel?
In human terms, a sales funnel is the process of guiding your customers through their buyer’s journey. I say “in human terms”, because salespeople have a language of their own.
I’ve already covered the buyer’s journey above. But that was understanding the client’s perspective. Your sales funnel takes that point of view and integrates into how you do things.
As I’ve said, the buyer’s journey is a critical component to most (if not all) e-commerce marketing strategies. But optimizing the process from your side of the aisle is just as important.
How to define your sales funnel
Different businesses define their sales funnel in various ways. For this article, I’m going to focus on online retail. So your sales funnel will probably look something like this:
- Top of the funnel – this corresponds to buyers who are in the awareness stage. At this stage of the funnel, you should focus your e-commerce marketing strategy around educating your customers. Content marketing is a great way to do that. At this stage, it’s all about helping them define the problem and demonstrating you have a solution. This is how you generate interest.
- Middle of the funnel – this stage is a transition from the awareness stage to the consideration stage. This is where your e-commerce website plays a huge role. A crappy-looking website can kill your business because it doesn’t inspire trust. Your website navigation, product descriptions, and product photos also play a critical role. People can’t physically examine the products, so great photos and product descriptions become the next best thing.
- Bottom of the funnel – the last stage is a transition from consideration to decision. People at this stage are ready to buy, so you need to optimize that process as much as possible. Remove all hurdles from their way. Make them see the benefit of shopping from you. Show them why buying from you is the only reasonable course of action.
If you’re not thinking about all of this, you need to start now. And you’ll see how much better your business will do.
Why is the sales funnel important?
Having a good understanding of your sales funnel can make or break your e-commerce marketing strategy. Analyzing the data and seeing where people drop off is invaluable to identifying problems with your business.
For example, you might be getting many visitors to your website. Thanks to analytics, you can see where they’re coming from. Let’s say, sponsored Facebook ads. Coolio. Now what? We look at the overall sales and we see no one is buying. So things fall apart somewhere along the way. But where?
And this is the exact question you can answer if you understand your sales funnel and buyer’s journey. You can look at your site’s bounce rate and realize people leave the moment they land on your product’s page. You probably have a problem with your design. Or your site is too slow. Or your prices are too high. This gives you a better idea where to tweak.
You might notice lots of people abandon carts. Why? Maybe your delivery charge is too steep. Or maybe you want them to make an account before the purchase. Or maybe your checkout button isn’t working.
Point is, if you understand your sales funnel, you can much better understand from where it leaks. Not much point in creating elaborate e-commerce marketing strategies if your site can’t sell an item to save your life.
3. Optimize your product descriptions.
Shuffling through product descriptions is my least favorite part of shopping online. Most of them read like they were written by J.J. Abrams – they’re poorly clumped together and they leave you with more questions than they answer. Since, as a user, I can’t physically interact with your wares, guess what I’m going to do. That’s right – I’m going to your competitor, who has better descriptions.
And if you think most of your clients aren’t doing the same, then you must be rolling in cash from all those sales you’re making. However, if no one is clicking the “Add to cart” button, keep reading. We’ll get you sorted.
Features vs. Benefits
Arguments about features vs. benefits make my head hurt (and I’ve had my fair share of those). Features are what your product does. Benefits are the way those features affect your customer.
For example, a cool workout t-shirt might be comfortable and moisture-absorbent. Those are features. When presented with features, the client can easily ask, “So what?” This is where benefits come in.
“You’re going to feel comfortable”, is not a benefit. This is what I’m paying for. Compare it to, “Our t-shirt is like a second skin, improving your performance and making you feel great while working out”. Or, “Forget you’re even wearing anything during those long runs”. Now I’m interested.
“Avoid embarrassing encounters around the water cooler thanks to our moisture-absorbent fabric.” I’m reaching for my credit card. See? This just works.
But there’s something else that’s going on here. Did you catch it? These benefits are optimized for the ideal customer persona. I already know what the people who would buy this t-shirt are looking for. Since it’s a workout t-shirt, it must be someone active. So I ask myself, “What challenges is this person facing at the gym?” And I give them the solutions they need in a way that connects with them.
Benefits allow you to directly address your customers’ pain points. Everyone yaps their mouth about features. Almost no one talks about benefits. That’s why marketing strategies that revolve around benefits usually win. And why benefits are an important part of product descriptions.
Caveat: the benefits must be real. If you tell me this t-shirt is moisture-absorbent and it doesn’t absorb my sweat like a ShamWow on steroids, I’m going to leave you a very nasty review.
Don’t go overboard with the keyword optimization. But you need to do some of it if you want to get that sweet, sweet organic traffic.
Be thorough in your item description. That should be more than enough optimize your listing.
Just to be sure you’re targeting the right keyword and do some keyword research beforehand. Figure out the exact way your customers are calling a certain product. There’s a difference between “running shoes” and “sneakers”, which is both queries give you different results. So do some keyword research and pay attention to your search console.
If none of this makes any sense to you, don’t worry. I can help.
I really, really wish I could skip this point. It should be common sense. But it’s not. There are so many online retail stores that offer next to no size guide, it’s ridiculous.
Oh, that shirt I like has all sizes from XS to XXXL? Great. Except, I’m size XXL in some brands, and an L in others. So how do I know which one I’m getting? Favomancy?
Make measurement easily available. XXL means nothing unless you add a rough estimate of the height, chest, and waist measurements that size represents.
The more visual information you can provide, the better. Product photos, model photos, lifestyle photos, videos – the more, the merrier. This is often one of the biggest e-commerce marketing fails. Many business owners just don’t understand how important product photography is.
Since people can’t physically interact with your product, you should at least accommodate their vision. Also, add the model’s measurements.
I know it’s not “politically correct”. I don’t care. It makes it so much easier to make a decision when buying clothes online, it’s unreal. I know my own measurements. When I see the model’s measurements, I can roughly figure out what size I should choose and how this thing is going to look on me.
Now here’s a little something that will give you an edge over the competition – use WebP format for your images. The quality will remain pretty much the same, but your site will load a lot faster.
4. Get your website in order.
Platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce made it easy to start an online business. Anyone with a credit card and an Internet connection can have their business up faster than you can say “market oversaturation”.
The barrier to entry has been wiped out of existence. And so far, things have been going pretty well. But as Amazon is taking the lion’s share of the e-commerce pie (and taking more and more), there is less pie for the rest of online retail stores. So getting your website in order and making it better than your competitors’ will be your winning strategy in the years to come. After all, your website is a platform for both e-commerce and digital marketing.
Most people are not designers so they can’t even appreciate what good design means. Which is the reason we have so many average-looking, mediocre e-commerce websites out into the wild. It’s easy to start an online store, slap the default theme on it and call it a day.
But here’s the thing – good web design is a form a signalling. It impresses people and tells them you’ve spent good money on your website. Which gets you a step closer to gaining their trust.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make it with theme website. But you need to make it unique in other ways (copy, photography, etc.) If you’re just starting out and you don’t have the funds for a unique website, you can invest in that later. You need to get the business side of things in order first. But bear in mind that you can increase your conversions with a unique web design.
Consumers today are savvy and getting savvier by the second. So being average and using stock themes will soon not be enough. You need to prepare for that inevitability. Because not putting in the effort (like everyone else) sends a signal to your customers – you either don’t care or you’re dodgy. Either way, that’s not the signal you want to send.
Finally, the lack of personalization prevents good branding. If you stick to stock themes, you’re not creating a long-term brand. And if you’re not doing that, then why should anyone trust you? You won’t be here tomorrow.
Think about it your site as a brick-and-mortar store. Now imagine you walk into a shop and it looks filthy. The plaster is crumbling. Half the lights don’t work. The shelves are empty. There are roaches everywhere, and three rats are fighting over a piece of ham-and-cheese sandwich in the corner. Be honest – would you shop there?
Of course, things are not as dramatic when you have a buggy website, but the effect is pretty similar. No one likes a buggy site. Most people won’t consciously know what’s wrong with the front-end development side. But if the shopping experience isn’t top notch, they won’t care. They’ll just leave. Which would further destroy your conversions. What’s the point of all those bloody e-commerce marketing strategies if you can’t sell anything?
Speed is good. Speed is just. Most importantly, speed is a direct ranking factor on Google and one of the most important issues you need to address if you want to increase your conversions.
Over 50% of visitors will not wait for your site to load for more than 3 seconds. Let me repeat that – if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load, more than half the people won’t wait for it. That number jumps to over 80% for 5 seconds. If you don’t think optimizing your speed is important, then you will lose. A lot.
Don’t forget mobile
To top it all off, most people access the Internet through their phones these days. Which means your site needs to be well optimized for mobile users.
It also means that your loading speed issues quadruple the moment someone’s not using a fast Internet connection. Your site needs to be as lightweight as possible to avoid those problems.
Look at the things you do from the perspective of mobile first. Does it look good on mobile? Now we can talk about desktop.
5. Optimize your checkout process.
Back in the day, when e-commerce was still young, there was an interesting idea floating around. If you make your customers work for the purchase, it will give you an air of exclusivity. Some bought into that narrative and put several hurdles in shoppers’ ways.
Even major retailers thought asking your customers to register before they can complete their purchase wasn’t a big deal. After all, it helps return shoppers and doesn’t ask much of first-time shoppers. Right?
The 300-million-dollar form
Turns out, asking your customers to register is a big deal, as one major retailer found out. One simple form stood between this store and what later turned out to be 300 million dollars in revenue.
Once customers filled their cart and clicked the checkout button, they were welcomed by a simple form. The form had two fields – email and password. It had two buttons – register or login. And there was a link for password reset. That’s it.
In theory, that shouldn’t have been a problem. In practice, data showed most people were frustrated by the field, regardless of whether they were a first time shopper or not.
First time shoppers remarked, “I’m not here for a long-term relationship. I just want to get my things and go.” The company asking them for information seemed like a trick to get their data and pester them with marketing later.
Registered users weren’t much happier. Besides, most people have more than one email, it’s not always easy to remember which email they used. So they ended up with several accounts and copious amounts of frustration.
The 300-million-dollar fix
The fix was simple. They removed the mandatory registration and placed the following message: “You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click Continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.”
That’s it. This little changed resulted in an increase in revenue amounting to 300 million dollars over a year’s time.
I know what you’re thinking, “This is an isolated case. My customers don’t mind registering.” If that’s what you think – you do you. You must be a really exclusive brand people are fawning over. And you must be pretty content with your sales numbers.
Simplify your checkout process
To everyone else – simplify your checkout process. Whatever marketing strategy you’re using, I can guarantee you there are very few instances where people would bother with mandatory registrations.
If your checkout process goes through different pages, then add a progress bar. Not knowing how far in the process they are is annoying, and you don’t want to annoy your customers.
Be clear about delivery costs
Delivery costs are one of the main factors that affect e-commerce sales negatively. This makes solving the logistical problem a top priority.
Be clear about the delivery costs. Have a system in place so customers can track the progress of their purchase at any moment. Use delivery services that do the same. This is very reassuring.
While we’re on the topic of deliveries, make sure your packaging is on point. People appreciate it. Especially if you add a little gift they weren’t expecting. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just something people would actually want.
Give benefits to registered users
Despite everything I’ve said so far, registrations can also be a powerful tool. If they’re properly implemented. Look at Amazon Prime.
I understand that you’re not Amazon and you don’t have their resources. That’s fine. As long as you can offer some tangible benefits to your registered users. Those will be your return customers. Treat them with respect.
Anything as simple as “free delivery” can be a coveted bonus to registered users. Or you can offer them monthly supply of your product if you’re selling consumables. Something along those lines. This will improve your conversion rates and make you popular with your clients.
A successful e-commerce marketing strategy isn’t easy to come up with. But knowing some of the crucial elements helps the process along.
At every stage, you should look at things from the perspective of your clients. How to make things easier, better, faster for your clients. Do that, and you will be successful.
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