How independent retail can own the next decade of e-commerce
We sit at the crossroads of a major shift in retail. The long rise of mass-market offline stores has stopped, and the only unstoppable force is e-commerce. While the first decade of the Internet were the “Amazon years,” it is the unfolding e-commerce fragmentation that will be the story of the next ten years. Amazon will always get theirs, but the emerging winners will be the smaller brands who best adapt to the unique experience that e-commerce allows.
The rise of mass-market retail has been about convenience, broad selection and price. But online shoppers can open five browsers and shop just as broadly and easily as they would in a large department store. Sites with broad selection remain discovery engines for shoppers, but their marketing efforts through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are more powerful discovery vehicles because they tap into word-of-mouth marketing, and, as Seth Godin likes to say, “The Internet takes word-of-mouth and leverages it by a factor of 1,000…every single day.”
Independent retailers, well before the recent maker/artisan/crafted movement, were already the brands with unique products, stories and a special touch. But this growing movement, especially among 20-40 year old consumers, is giving them an even bigger opportunity.
These trends result in a “bubbling cocktail” that will dramatically change the retail landscape. In the world of e-commerce, brands should focus on consistent communication with customers, fans and followers to build a vibrant advocacy network. Following these simple e-commerce tips can help boost your online retail sales.
1. Tell Your Customer’s Story
In a recent interview with Venture Capitalist Hunter Walk, Lee Zalben of Peanut Butter & Co. discussed his formula for growing from one retail location into an e-commerce powerhouse. The cornerstone of his two-way communication with customers is recipes. His company creates its own content to market their peanut butter products, but it is the multiplication of these efforts through the creative recipes of customers that is the gas on the fire. Now, what’s so revolutionary about that – food + recipes?
Nothing. But the broader lesson is that any brand, in any industry is just an ingredient in their customers’ lives. Your product is an ingredient in the outfit recipe, the room recipe, or the morning routine recipe. Simply ask customers what “recipe” they are creating with your product. “Show us the room where you put our table,” or “Show us what you’re wearing our tie with.” People like to share, but they need a little encouragement. This is one of the most important e-commerce tips that retailers can follow for engagement.
2. Thank Yous and Check Ins
The “thank you” adds a personal touch to your brand to separate you from everyone else who is not doing it (especially mass-merchants). The “check-in”, however, can lead in many beneficial directions including by opening up a conversation with customers. Benefits include: a) heading off a complaint, b) getting specific product feedback, and c) facilitating sharing and referrals.
3. Take the Long View (by focusing on “micro-conversions”)
What does the long view mean in e-commerce? It means micro-conversions.
You certainly hope new visitors simply click on a product right away and become a customer. However, that only happens a few percent of the time. So rather than view shopping visits as 95% bad and 5% good, use micro-conversions to change your positive outcomes to 25% or maybe even 50%.
Your goal is to get permission from these new shoppers to talk to them in the future. The most common way is through email signups. Another popular way is to get visitors to follow you on social media. So make those things easy for them as they browse across your site. Also, make it easy for them to pin and share product images, your logo and your story. Lastly, let visitors create wishlists and make it really easy to give feedback or ask a question – more micro-conversions.
4. Segment and Experiment
Now that you have a growing audience who has granted you permission, it’s time to learn how to convert them into big buyers. The first thing to recognize is they are not a monolithic group. They are lots of mini-segments of tastes and styles and behavior. The trick is to split them up based on the behavior you’ve noticed from them into segments (there are tools for this). Then, it’s time to craft different communications for each one and test and measure, test more and measure more until you’ve found the secret sauce for each segment.
It takes a lot of work to get found in the crowded world of e-commerce, so once you get shoppers to your store, it’s critical to nurture them. Make efforts to invite them into your brand world in lighter ways rather than just trying to shove them down the purchase funnel. And once they become customers, engage with them regularly and mix their stories into your brand marketing.
Want more e-commerce tips? Attend the Independent Retailer Conference taking place inside ASD Market Week, in Las Vegas. Get your free ticket here and experience a merchandise trade show and retail education conference in one!
By Charles Valentine, Co-Founder, Lumiary.com
Lumiary helps independent retailers connect all of their sales and marketing channels, and generate insights based on best practices through an elegant, easy-to-use Software-as-a-Service platform.