Potential customers come to our offices all the time and ask “if I start an ecommerce site how will I compete against the larger competitors?” As one can imagine, big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have loads of marketing dollars to spend. Our job is to often set realistic expectations, but our job is to also have answers to this question. Below are the key things our customers are doing to compete.
1.Treat Your Customers Just a Little Better than the Competition. If you are a store that specializes in products for Babies, for example, you can create resources such as checklists, tip guides, a glossary of terms, and many other useful articles where Target and Wal-Mart do not deeply focus. Make sure parents and grandparents have a place to ask questions, and get answers. Ask your customers what they would like your site to have, so to improve their experience. Ask them what products are their favorites and what you can offer that they have trouble finding other places. If you can, offer a better shipping and return policy, or offer additional shipping options to give users more flexibility than they have at other stores. You can also add a “reorder tool” to make reordering the same products over and over again easier.
2. Create Interesting Content. The more descriptive and keyword rich you make your product descriptions, blog posts, company “about us” content, and resource page content the higher your site will climb in search engine results. This is a fact. Google likes content, especially content other people value. Other bloggers, and websites/people will repost and share your content. Write keyword rich descriptions, take great product photos and blog post photos, create videos and add them to a YouTube Channel as well as embed them on your website, and add new categories, pages, and blog content regularly. Create a memorable shopping experience and users will come back. Make part of that experience be “this site has great information” and the search engines will drive new customers to your site.
3. Consider Product Data Carefully and Don’t Skip Details. To understand how databases work, imagine an Microsoft Excel file where at the top of column contains a data set like name, price, color, and then all of the products are listed below, in row fashion, where each column is populated with the correct piece of information for that product (sizes available, product name, colors available, etc.). For example the first row might be a shirt product and will have “Prada Dress Shirt” in the product name column, “$199.00” in the price column and “Blue, Green, Black” in the color column. As mentioned above, if you want customers to be able to search and sort by designer or manufacturer, you’ll also need a column for “Designer” or “Manufacturer” and also have that designer name in the row with the product (ex: “Prada”). This would then allow a customer to search for “Prada” only products and the website would look for all rows that have “Prada” in the “Designer” column. The more extensive your database, and the better the sort options are for users (the ability to sort by blue, green or black…or if a TV 36”, 46”, 55”) the better your conversions will be. Users will find exactly what they want and not have to sort through what they don’t want. Further, search engines can pick up on all of this data. The more you have, as long as it is organized correctly for their standards (call us for more details), the more favorable you will appear to search engines and thus show higher in the rankings. With more data we can also make more pages (like a brands pages) for each brand, or even a completely different category structure for a different type of shopper (perhaps wholesalers).
4. Market to People who Want to Hear from You. You have to get the word out. This is not the movie Field of Dreams where “if you build it, they will come.” Send out an email newsletter, post on your social media outlets like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and others. Reach out to customers directly on their pages, send out coupon codes to people who have added items into a wish list but have not purchased, and create relationships with other sites who will share their customers with you if you share your customers with them. Remember, people receive emails and see tons of content in their social feeds every day. Provide them with an incentive to see you. A funny piece of content, a coupon for first time buyers, or an exclusive offer can go a long way. One big tip is to reach out to popular blogs in your field. Offer them a big discount to shop on your site and post their experience on their blog. These audience introductions/endorsements are incredibly valuable.
5. Create a Rewards Program and Offer Coupon Codes to Customers. Give people reason to continue to buy their products through you by making their experience simple. If your ecommerce system allows, enable, or build in a rewards system (points system) and don’t forget send coupons out regularly to people who have bought from your store. If you add a rewards system to your site, users will receive points for every purchase and you can set the value of each point. Magento (our favorite ecommerce platform) has a module for Rewards Points and our experience tells us any open source ecommerce system allows us to add a system like this in.
6. Find a Few “Stand Out” Products. We suggest that you find some products that the big box stores don’t carry. You can find these products by first asking your customers what they would like you to carry. Further, go to trade shows to find some new to market products. You may be able to offer vendors unique opportunities to sell their products online if they do not sell online or cannot offer an experience as good as yours. In many cases these vendors are just finishing development and do not sell online themselves. This is an opportunity to be one of a manufacturers first vendors and if successful can lead to the most favorable rate ongoing. You may also be able to work out exclusive deals. Last, note that big box stores only sell a portion of a brands entire line in their store (and even in their online store. Home Depot may not sell every single Makita Drill. You may be able to find uncommon products these big box stores don’t carry. Although the sales volume will not be high, the return will be there if you do not have to stock all of their products. Many companies will set you up on a drop ship account.
7. Meet Fulfillment Expectations You are only as good as your word. If you break promises people will not trust you, and will not look to depend on you in the future. If you make promises and guarantees for shipping and price matching, keep them. If you don’t, customers will not return. Make sure automatic notification emails go out to confirm an order, when you ship an order, and when the order is complete. Add a tracking code when you ship the order and send it to the client. If you miss a delivery date send an apology and a coupon code. When you do this, and customers are expecting this communication, you can then slip in “how are we doing?” emails to get real feedback from clients who are willing to share how you can better serve them. Send out a coupon when they fill out these survey’s too!
8. Answer Your Phones. Make sure people can find your customer service phone number, but more importantly make sure someone answers the phone if someone calls. Your customer service representatives should be educated on products, delivery lead times, inventory levels, and company information such as length of time in business, locations, etc.
9. Make Your Website Fast. Believe it or not, the faster your website moves the more sales you will get, and Google like this so you will get more traffic if you have problems and then improve speed. Google favors sites that load and move fast so they will put favor over your site in search engines, given all other attributes being equal when being compared to a competitor. On the conversion front, it’s just obvious users enjoy a fast experience. Data proves that when users realize little or no delay they are more confident the site is coded in a secure manner, and by professionals. Last thing, if your coders say that the site speed is not a coding issue, they may be right. Check your hosting account as well. One factor may be an inadequate server your website is sitting on.
10. Make Wise Investments. Be careful when considering holding inventory. If the margins are not much better, see if you can drop ship with your manufacturers/vendors/distributors so you are not left cash strapped. Your most expensive investments should be in marketing and getting the word out. This includes spending to, if you have to, create interesting content and videos that will get picked up by other outlets, and that your customers will also value.
If you want to learn more about any of these ideas, or want to learn about ecommerce in general, please call ATAK Interactive at 310.526.7493 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are based in Los Angeles, California.