The digital push and the Coronavirus pandemic have given a new impetus to one of the sales tools par excellence: e-commerce. Already able to catalyse the interest of millions of users, today more than ever e-commerce is an essential mean both to retain customers and to expand one’s reach. It works well for both B2B and B2C; both for big brands and start-ups. In this article, we retrace the steps that led to the consecration of e-commerce in the digital sales scenario, focusing on the characteristics that a successful e-commerce must have and on how to set up an e-commerce marketing strategy.
In recent years, e-commerce has experienced exponential growth. Surely, we will have read or heard this phrase a million times but it’s a fact: the pandemic has given the definitive impetus to what was already destined to establish itself as the sales tool par excellence.
And the numbers confirm it: the latest data from Global Web Index tell us that 90.4% of internet users visited an e-commerce site in the previous month and 76.8% of them made a purchase.
So, although e-commerce has evolved over time – with increasingly cutting-edge animations, product previews and visualization dynamics – and although success varies from sector to sector and is – like everything else – subjected to fluctuations determined by contingent situations (see the collapse of the Travel, Mobility & Accommodation sector due to Covid-19), we can say with certainty that e-commerce has become an essential tool for most of those who want to sell, both in B2B and B2C.
Table of contents
A bit of history and curiosities
Crazy but true, the first e-commerce was created in the early 1970s by some Stanford University students to organize a marijuana trade with other MIT students.
Since then, various companies have implemented the first forms of online commerce for the sale of goods, and in 1995, Amazon and ebay were founded, the latter being the first online auction site that supports trade between people.
In 2001, after only six years of existence, ebay had the largest user base in the world of any other e-commerce, and the following year it acquired PayPal for 1.5 billion dollars.
In 2014, projections of the US e-commerce market and online retail sales reached $ 294 billion, an increase of 12% compared to 2013 and 9% of all retail sales. In the same year, an initial public offering of Alibaba Group shares on the New York Stock Exchange raised $ 25 billion, giving the company a market value of $ 231 billion. To date, the largest IPO (Initial Public Offering) in history.
In 2015, Amazon accounted for more than half of all e-commerce growth.
This brings us to 2017, the year in which global e-commerce trading generated $ 29.267 trillion, of which $ 25.516 trillion for B2B transactions and $ 3.851 trillion for B2C ones.
The advent of new technologies such as 3D – which has made the visualization of products less static – augmented reality – which has made it possible to view products directly in the environment for which they are intended or on ourselves – or advanced filtration systems – which make product search even faster and more user-friendly – has collaborated to make e-commerce a resounding success and often the preferred purchasing channel for most.
What an e-commerce must have
At this point, we should have grasped the potential that e-commerce offers to anyone who wants to sell products online.
However, to have a successful e-commerce it is not enough to go online. We must keep in mind some features that can make our e-commerce attractive and functional for our audience. Let’s see them.
If the rule of usability applies to all online sites, perhaps for e-commerce sites it acquires an even greater value: people not only have to find the necessary information on the products they are evaluating, the shipping methods, costs, etc.; they must also be certain that the purchase procedure and the communication of sensitive data are managed in the most transparent way possible.
All this is possible by presenting an intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface, and comprehensive information, ensuring the right page loading speed and reliable data and payment management and protection systems.
Not only that: 4.3 billion users access the internet from mobile devices. Basically over 90% of all internet users. This means that the quality of mobile navigation is an essential factor and it goes without saying that a neglected mobile version of our e-commerce will result in a huge loss of traffic.
To learn more about how to improve a website’s usability, you can check our dedicated article.
2. High-quality videos and images
Buying online means not being able to touch the product you are buying. The task of those who manage an e-commerce is to make up for the lack of a real-life experience, using technology to make the shopping experience as complete as possible. This means presenting the products in such a way that potential buyers can verify all the characteristics and quality. It is therefore not surprising that e-commerce sites like asos exploit not only high-quality images, which highlight even the smallest details, but also videos that show the garment worn.
Other e-commerce companies have gone even further, taking advantage of the aforementioned augmented reality and 3D technologies to make product visualization even more real.
Whatever the extent of our technological investment, the important thing is to ensure that the user is able to appreciate a product and its features at 360 degrees, through multimedia tools and high-quality descriptions.
Very often, before booking a restaurant or a hotel room, we read the reviews to find out what other people think about it. It is a fairly common attitude: as we have seen when talking about viral marketing, many of the decisions we make are influenced by other people, even unconsciously.
According to a brightlocal survey, 92% of users are less likely to rely on a certain business in case of negative reviews. At the same time, in the presence of positive reviews, 94% of shoppers are more likely to consider the business legit. Not only that, 79% of respondents said they trust online reviews as much as the advice of friends and family. Therefore, social influence is a factor that can determine the success of our products and it is a weapon that must be wielded well.
In the e-commerce sector, it is clear that product reviews play a fundamental role. Encouraging them can give the user the image of a solid, serious and above all attentive to customer needs brand. And let’s not be afraid of negative reviews: not only can they help us identify critical issues that we did not know about but, paradoxically, businesses that do not have negative reviews are seen as “censored” and, consequently, shoppers may think that positive reviews are actually fake.
4. FAQs section
Online shopping, especially when it comes to high value products, requires a relationship of trust between buyer and seller which, unlike physical stores, must be built virtually. One of the methods to convey this trust and resulting as an honest and transparent brand, is to create a section that hosts the so-called Frequently Asked Questions, that is, questions that a potential buyer could ask about our products, shipping and payment, our return policy, the processing of sensitive data but also, more simply, how to recover a forgotten password.
The rise in online transactions has also resulted in an increase in cyberattacks. In light of this and of the growing privacy concerns, it is clear that online sellers need to protect shoppers’ information and take the necessary steps to ensure privacy.
6. Advanced payment options
Customers’ needs change quickly also when it comes to payments. More often than not, classic payment methods such as bank transfers, direct debit or credit cards are available alongside the so-called e-wallets, the most famous example of which is probably PayPal. But PayPal, founded in 1999, has been joined by other services such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Amazon Pay.
Combining classic payment methods with more advanced options can help us win the trust of the most tech-savvy as well as provide users with more options.
How to set up an e-commerce strategy
Now that we’ve seen some important features that every e-commerce should have, let’s move on to how to build a promotion and communication strategy for our e-commerce.
As this is in fact a website, many of the tips you find in the articles published so far on the blog are also applicable to the e-commerce world. In fact, to grow an e-commerce we can (and must) draw on various branches of marketing: from SEO to content marketing, up to social media marketing and e-mail marketing.
But let’s brush up on some specific tips that are especially useful.
Find your target
One of the first things to do when you want to launch your online business is to understand who your audience is and identify its needs.
Who are the potential buyers of our e-commerce? What need are they trying to meet? Which of my products best meets this need? Why should the buyer rely on my service?
There does not have to be a single answer to these questions, on the contrary: it is likely that our target is made up of different kinds of personas, with different needs, which can be met with different products. The important thing is to identify all the buyer personas, that is, all the potential categories of buyers, in order to set up a communication strategy capable of capturing their attention.
TO LEARN MORE: Defining the target through the buyer personas
Create a funnel
The funnel is a path that a potentially interested person takes to purchase a product. In fact, the purchase does not always take place in a linear manner. Sometimes the user puts items in the cart without completing the order or exits the page without completing the payment. Our task in imagining and implementing the sales funnel is precisely to understand how to intercept our audience, identify where the potential buyer could leave the purchase process and think about how to bring them back to the site to make them complete the order.
There are various versions of the stages that make up a sales funnel. We offer you one that includes the purchase phase and the moments before and after it.
1. Awareness: the potential lead comes into contact with our brand, perhaps through our social channels or the marketing campaigns we have implemented. This is the quintessential stage of lead generation.
2. Consideration: at this stage the lead knows our brand but wants to learn more about our offer. We must therefore grow the relationship with the lead, demonstrating reliability and authority (reviews, comprehensive product descriptions and an effective communication will help us achieving this). It is at this stage that the lead should transform into a prospect, thus moving from a potential interest to a concrete interest.
4. Intent: as the word itself suggests, this phase is affected by our prospect’s intention to purchase the product. The intention can be understood, for example, when a product is placed inside the cart.
5. Purchase: this is the stage of the funnel that transforms the potential buyer into a real customer. A positive experience at this stage can generate referrals which, in turn, will enter the funnel.
6. Retention: the funnel does not end with the purchase, as our goal should be to get the customer to buy our products again. This phase is therefore important to build loyalty through, for instance, dedicated offers, loyalty programs, personalized e-mails or recommendations of other products based on the orders already made.
As anticipated, it can happen that during one of these phases the lead exits the funnel. It is our job to try to bring it back into the funnel through retargeting operations or with strategies aimed at enticing people to buy. For example, if in the Intent phase a product is placed in the cart without being purchased, we can schedule an automatic email, after a few days, inviting that person to complete the order, perhaps offering a small discount. In the Consideration phase, as well, we can take advantage of email marketing to suggest once again the products consulted by the prospect, perhaps suggesting also other related products. The key is to customize the communication based on the actual interest of the potential buyer and plan everything in advance in order to create automation at the marketing level.
Optimizing our website for search engines is essential to anyone who wishes to drive traffic to their site. Usability itself – mentioned at the beginning of the article among the characteristics that our e-commerce must have – plays a fundamental role in SEO.
The useful tips we mentioned in our article dedicated to SEO always apply, but in this context, I would like to focus on two practices in particular: keyword research and image optimization.
Let’s start with researching keywords relevant to our business to use in the most strategic places, such as product names and descriptions.
To find the most suitable keywords for us we can first do a Google search, putting ourselves in the shoes of our potential buyers, as well as observing which words our competitors are using. We must also keep in mind two factors when choosing keywords: the traffic volume they generate and their ranking difficulty, that is, the difficulty of obtaining a good ranking within the SERP with those keywords. In fact, a keyword that generates a lot of traffic will certainly be more competitive. Consequently, it will also be more difficult to rank among the top results in the SERP for that word. What affects the ranking of our site with respect to a keyword is also our domain authority, that is, the relevance of our site with respect to a particular sector: the higher our domain authority, the more chance we will have to rank within the first results with high-traffic volume keywords. To increase the domain authority, we will have to take great care of our SEO strategy and do link building.
However, keyword research should not be reduced to choosing the keywords that generate the highest traffic volume. In fact, it is better to make a choice based on relevance and move towards the so-called long-tail keywords, therefore keywords made of three or more terms that actually hide a much higher commercial intent. In fact, it is likely that those looking for “women’s running shoes” have a very specific and perhaps more urgent need than a more generic “women’s shoes”.
Images hide an opportunity that many ignore: much like content, they are indexed by search engines and, according to Jumpshot and Moz, Google Images holds a share of about 26% of the searches performed on Google.
Therefore, optimizing the images of the products on our e-commerce, as well as the descriptions of the products themselves, can help us generate more traffic.
So, let’s remember to use descriptive names and alternative text for our images. Let’s also implement structured data markup in order to make Google understand the product image and its alt attributes more accurately.
Do content curation
Product pages, insights and blog posts, FAQs, images, videos, graphics but also social posts, newsletters, advertising campaigns: all the content present in our e-commerce and also that around it must be optimized and treated according to the tone of voice and image of the brand.
Without doing content curation, we will hardly be able to give all the information that our potential buyers need and build the image of a reliable and authoritative brand, neither in the eyes of our audience nor in those of search engines. This is even more true if we have decided to implement an Education section or a blog: both tools are very useful (also in terms of ranking) but they require strategy and continuity.
To help us coordinate the team and therefore set up an effective content marketing strategy, we can make use of an editorial calendar that brings together content ideas and that helps us understanding how to craft each post for each platform, assigning roles and functions, and coordinating the team.
Build your social media presence
E-commerce is certainly the most important touchpoint for those who want to sell online but it is not the only one. If, in fact, we have decided to be present on social channels, we will have to supervise them and take them into account in our communication strategy.
Creating social channels (and therefore a social media marketing strategy) and connecting them to our e-commerce increases our credibility and provides us with additional promotion methods. In fact, in addition to organic or paid content, we can take advantage of, for example, Lives to make product demos, influencers or shoppable posts to sell directly on Instagram. We can also offer customer support via Messenger, Twitter or WhatsApp.
All this will convey the image of a brand that is active and attentive to the needs of its customers.
Exploit e-mail marketing
One of the most effective, popular and cheapest digital tools to stay in touch with your audience is e-mail marketing, and this also applies to e-commerce.
We can, in fact, take advantage of this tool not only to present offers, promotions and information in general but also – as we have already mentioned – to bring our prospects back into the sales funnel, if they abandon the cart before purchasing, or to suggest other products related to those already purchased.
Therefore, considering that usually e-commerce processes rely on emails exchange (just think of order confirmations, shipment information, customer assistance, etc.), we can use this means also for promotion and retargeting.
Create special offers
Customers love to be pampered while potential customers appreciate receiving purchase incentives. The special offers serve precisely to satisfy both needs.
Whether they are specific to a list of contacts with certain characteristics, or for a certain type of product, or whether they are linked to particular events, special offers should be limited, precisely to create that sense of urgency that can lead to purchase. To promote our offers, we can take advantage of the communication channels in place (social networks, newsletters, SMS). We can also create a special section on our site that lists all the offers in progress (this also helps with SEO) or take advantage of the site header to immediately attract the attention on the current offer.
We have thus come to the end of this article, which lists some of the most common strategies and best practices for promoting an e-commerce, which we hope will be useful to anyone who is approaching this multifaceted and complicated world, but full of opportunities for both small and big brands.
What other advice would you give to those who are approaching the e-commerce world right now? Let us know with a comment and contact us for any other information!