6 Things That Take Your E-commerce Store from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’

Starting an e-commerce store today is not a huge deal. Topped with a good idea, even a basic website can transform into an e-commerce store in no time with a simple shopping cart plugin like ours.

Trouble is, there are millions of such e-commerce stores out there on the internet that set up shop and hope to win wallet-share on a wing and a prayer. My bet is that your store is a lot more valuable to you to leave outcomes like success, failure or mind-blowing popularity in the hands of pure chance.

So what would you do to take that e-commerce store of yours from good to great? Here’s what.

1. A Pleasure to Use, Not Easy to Use

Don’t you hate having to hunt through umpteen different aisles to get that one thing you came to pick up at your local supermarket? The feeling of being completely at sea when hunting for your desired products is by no means restricted to the physical world.

I can recount numerous instances where sifting through an e-commerce store in pursuit of that elusive item has left me tearing my hair out.

Spare your users this agony by building an online store that is easy to use. Why easy, build one that is a pleasure to use. Some key aspects to cover when working on improving usability are:

  • Simple and intuitive product categories
  • Navigation that is easy to follow and follows from the product categories
  • Appealing, yet not overwhelming website design with ample white space
  • Beautiful images that help users experience the product even when they’re unable to touch and feel it
  • Support multiple languages, currencies based on the geographical areas that your site services
  • Pages that load fast and are compatible with various browser types to make the entire shopping experience smooth flowing

Invest some time and effort into A/B testing every feature of your website that your user interacts with – the product categories, site navigation, the checkout process, post purchase service levels. A disappointment in even a single aspect of usability has the potential to ruin the overall user experience – something that a great e-commerce store will never tolerate.

2. Being House-Proud

Classical romance demands grand gestures that sweep ones partner off their feet to establish your affection for them. Many brands go ahead and implement such grand gestures every now and then to remind customers how important they are to them.

The WestJet Christmas MiracleThe WestJet Christmas Miracle

However, everyday lives cannot be filled with grand gestures. Everyday special demands paying attention to the little things. Turn to the oft-ignored but strangely powerful little things that populate your website and turn them into unexpected spots of joy that leave customers coming back for more.

Work on your web copy. Instead of writing your own website copy or getting it done in-house to cut costs; get a real professional to write your copy. Smart, sharp copy doesn’t simply tell customers about your business; it holds a conversation with them.

If copy is important, micro copy is equally vital. Micro copy refers to those little instructions in tiny font that you see on web pages that offer you real-time advice on what to do next. Microcopy tends to be contextual and often witty. Thoughtful, well written microcopy not just saves a customer time when they’re filling up a web form, it also offers a wonderful piece of whimsy that brings out your brand’s personality.

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Choose to go ad less across the site to improve your users’ experience? Highlight this benefit to your users so they are aware of your gesture on their behalf. Is users’ privacy a driving concern for you? Are you taking all possible measure to protect it? Inform them about it and win them over with your user friendly policies.

Small things are remembered long after the initial excitement of those grand gestures wears off. Aim at being spectacularly memorable, mere spectacular is for also-rans.

3. Giving Customers a Voice

User generated content like product reviews on e-commerce sites, helps in making the content on each product page richer and more useful to other readers. Top online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Old Navy, and others actively solicit user reviews and include them in their product pages.

This practice has the added benefit of having Google’s blessing. You see, user generated content like reviews are correlated with increase in click-through rates. Further, Google’s local updates are known to factor these in while ranking pages in their search results. So content about your brand by third parties that you did not have to pay for, pretty much translates into a vote of confidence for your brand, hence improving your SEO ratings. This comes as no surprise if you think of it, but it has to be mentioned as a key reason to promote user generated content, nonetheless.

Understandably, users tend to give more credence to the real experiences of fellow consumers to the advertising magic that brands try to pull off. This explains the popularity of social review apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Giving Customers a Voice

According to a study by Bazaar Voice, 51% of Americans trust user generated content over other sources of brand information. This need for validation from other users is even stronger for certain types of purchases like major electronics purchases (44%), cars (40%) and hotel bookings (39%).

4. Being a Part of Something Bigger Than You

It’s easy to offer users a couple of coupons or special discounts and buy their loyalty, however fleeting that will be. A great brand on the other hand, inspires customers to buy from them whether or not there are discounts thrown in. What’s more, these are brands that make customers feel good for buying from them.

They do this by aligning themselves with goals that are loftier than mere bottom line numbers. When users know that your brand stands for something that is altruistic and close to their hearts, they’re not just loyal to you, they become brand evangelists for you.

A great example for this is TOMS Shoes.

TOMS Shoes was founded on the principle of ‘One for One’ where each pair of shoes bought by a customer would be matched by another pair of shoes donated to a needy child in developing countries like Argentina, Ethiopia, Haiti and others.

TOMS Shoes

This ‘business with a purpose’ was lapped up eagerly by young consumers who looked at shopping from TOMS as their contribution to a better world. It also helped that TOMS has some pretty cool shoes to go with the promise of doing good for the needy.

The support from their users is amply demonstrated by their annual ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event where millions of TOMS customers from around the world spend a day without shoes to raise awareness for the millions of under privileged children who live without shoes every day of their lives.

5. Staying Top of Mind, without Stalking Customers

No brand can hope to have a loyal fan following if their users don’t even remember them after one purchase. Most brands spend millions of dollars in advertising, sales promotions, one-on-one events with customers, celebrity endorsements and more; to remain relevant and memorable to their target audience.

Spending pots of money is not a problem if you are a Coke or Samsung or McDonald’s. Smaller folks like you and I need to get creative to stay on top of users’ minds. Digital media and big data have combined to ensure that we don’t have reason to despair.

Use the biggest asset that your website generates on a daily basis – big data – to help you build brand recall and brand preference among your users. Based on users’ actions on your site, create segments and target each user segment with communication that is relevant to them. Email marketing is a perfect tool for reaching out to various customer segments with tailored messages at zero cost. The great thing about email marketing is, that it offers the highest conversion rates among all other digital marketing tools available – paid or otherwise.

Another tool that you can employ easily without burning a huge hole in your pockets is social media. Pick social networks that matter to your target audience and post content on these networks that your users will appreciate. Top of mind recall does not mean salesy content that pushes your product down people’s throats and timelines. It is content that they willingly seek out.

The same goes for your website blog. Make your readers actually seek out content on your blog, instead of force feeding them promotional content that they’re naturally blind to anyway. Here are some great examples of content marketing by brands that manage superb top of mind brand recall without talking about their business much.

6. Remembering Customers without Sales on Your Mind

Just as it is important to maintain top of mind brand recall among your target audience, it is even more critical to let your customers know that they mean more to you than mere sales.

Building a real relationship with your customers helps in sales not just today or tomorrow, but for years to come.

Invest in building a relationship marketing program where the basic aim of your communication is to become your customer’s friend and not con them into buying your next product. People trust their friends, not pushy salesmen out to close a deal.

Reach out to customers when they least expect it. Birthday greetings are standard by now. Keep in touch with your customers for events like their first anniversary of shopping on your site or celebrate the 5th purchase made by them on your site with a special gesture and so on.

Even a simple ‘Missing You’ note tells the user that you’re thinking of them and they’re not just another customer for you.

Remembering customers without sales

Another way of reaching out without being promotional, is by being actually useful to your customers. Remind them of things that matter to them, for example if a customer has bought one pack of sanitary napkins from your store, you obviously know that she will be needing another pack around the same time, next month. Proactively send out an email reminding your user that she might be out of stock and might want to stock up in time.

Over to You

Thankfully, by now the clunky websites of the nineties have been left behind in the last century and most websites are decent, if not pretty good in terms of their usability. But then again, how many of us remember every single site that we shopped on, ever? Unless it offered something truly outstanding, most e-commerce sites just blend into each other.

Don’t let your online store be yet another statistic. Invest in some (if not every single one) of these little gestures and ensure that your brand remains memorable long after that first purchase.

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So How Much Does Social Media REALLY Matter to Your E-Commerce Site?

Did you check your Facebook profile today? Chance are you did. And multiple times, at that. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American spends over 40 minutes per day on Facebook.

If you work backwards on Facebook’s claim of having over 128 million daily users; it means that over 40% of all Americans check their Facebook account on a daily basis.

These numbers are not just about American attitudes to social media, they are a reflection of the global addiction to social media that we have witnessed in the last few years.

If users are on social media, it follows that marketers won’t be very far behind. It’s no wonder then that social media has steadily gained a progressively bigger share of the marketing budgets of brands worldwide.

Projected share of social media in marketing budgetsProjected share of social media in marketing budgets

Trouble is, social media does not seem to be living up to all it’s been hyped to be. The last touch attribution numbers – conversions by folks who came directly from social media onto your site – remains miserably low. Low enough that questions are being raised about the ROI of social media expenditure and the sustainability of social media marketing.

Data from Monetate’s Quarterly E-commerce Report for Q2 2014, shows that the total traffic that can be directly attributed to social media is a meagre 2.3%. Conversions, obviously are even lower.

Website Visits and traffic

Black Friday – the annual shopping bonanza that all retailers await for the whole year brought in record breaking numbers for e-commerce sites last year – $1.2 billion in sales to be precise. However, even during a ‘made for shopping’ holiday like Black Friday, social media accounted for just 0.34% of all online sales.

If a medium offers a business just 2.3% of the total traffic that it gets from all sources, and an even tinier share of conversions; does it really deserve a 9% share and going forward, a 21% share of overall marketing budgets?

Social Media Is NOT a Last Touch Medium

The short answer to that question is, YES.

Let’s now look at the long version of the answer. All the grouses about how social media has not performed to its potential come from people who are getting a very fundamental thing about social media completely wrong. Social media is NOT a last touch medium, it is an influencer medium.

Users are NOT going to go from a social media post you made about creative crafting ideas to buying a couple of boxes of colored glitter. What that post about creative crafting does instead, is give the user ideas about what to do the next time they want to work on a craft project, what tools to use, which products work best and so on. So the next time that user wants to create a model airplane, they will know where to go to buy their glue sticks and glitter pens.

Social media is your build up to the sale and not your salesman.

So what do you do to ensure that this medium that takes up swathes of your users’ time and attention on a daily basis contributes to your business meaningfully? How do you move out of the trap of looking at last-touch attribution figures for social media and writing it off as a failed marketing tool?

You do that by leveraging the things that social media DOES do well. Here’s a rundown of the various things that social media DOES offer without a shadow of doubt – things that once employed effectively by your business can only help in growing it to the next level.

1. Understand your audience

As we saw earlier, social media is the place your users spend a significant chunk of their time on. With 4 out of 5 Americans now active on social media, this platform is a treasure trove of user data, if only you take the time to look and learn. Social media tells you a ton of things about your audience – where they live, how old they are, how educated they are, what they like to do for fun, places that they frequent, brands that they identify themselves with and more. Each of these factors combine to paint a composite user profile that you can use as a guideline while marketing to them.

With insights like these, your business won’t end up making gaffes like selling spare parts for a Lamborghini to a Ford user.

2. Target Your Audience Clearly

So we saw how social media can tell you who your users are. Now take a look at social media from another perspective.

Social media is the only marketing platform that tells you exactly where to spend your marketing dollars, so you don’t waste them on people who will not respond to your communication. On social media, you have the option of laser-targeting only and only those individuals who fit the right age, sex, location, interests and activity profile that you have created for your ideal customers.

This prevents spillage of your budgets on non-responsive audiences, it improves the efficacy of your messaging among your real target audience and reduces the overall budgets you would need to achieve a particular result by streamlining your marketing.

3. Engagement

Users like, follow or share data from a brand only when it resonates with them and speaks to them in language that they identify with. Once you hit upon this magic formula for your posts, nothing stops users from sharing it with their friends and family and taking your content viral.

Some of the key things that ensure your users are engaged (and by extension, ready to spread your word of mouth for free!) include:

  • Your content matches their areas of interest
  • What you’re saying is very different from what they see other brands say
  • Your content tells them about something they did not know about before
  • Your content is exciting / funny
  • Sharing your content with their friends will portray your users as smart and cool, earning them brownie points from their peers.

Remember, the deeper your engagement levels are with your users, the easier it will be to convince them about the merits of your brand and products. In other words, building an engaged user base is basically the process of priming your users to become customers of your product.

4. Trust

Users log primarily on to social media to connect with their friends and family, not to follow brands or organizations. This primary function that social media has of being a social connector, means that users set a lot of store by what their friends and family have to say about various matters – political issues, environmental stands, entertainment gossip and brand endorsements.

A study of over 25,000 online consumers by Nielsen as part of their Global Online Survey showed that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from their friends.

By building a positive, credible brand image for your business with your fans and followers, you are in turn creating brand ambassadors who have the power to influence their peers to a level that your marketing messages can never hope to achieve.

Solicit reviews of your products from existing customers on social media to get the benefit of virality and being seen by their friends and family. Use social proof like the number of fans you have or the number of positive reviews that your product got or the number of times people shared your blog post on social media as tools that help potential customers make up their minds and enable conversions.

5. Top of Mind Recall

For a radio ad to stick in a user’s mind, you need at least nine repetitions per day. That figure is similar for television. For any business to be able to afford that kind of airtime all year round, is an incredibly expensive affair, to say the least.

Social media solves this problem by offering itself up as a near-free platform to reach out to your users. With the right kind of organic posts, your brand can reach out to users multiple times every single day, every day of the year at no extra cost. This is an opportunity that no business, especially cash strapped small businesses, can afford to ignore.

Dig into your analytics and determine the times of day when your users are active on social media. Use social media as a completely free reminder medium with regular posts at these times in the day. Paid ads on social media too work best when they are targeted at the right times of day and on the right days of the week.

6. Inspire Your Users

As discussed earlier, do not look at social media as a salesman with revenue targets on his head. Instead, view this wonderful medium as your online brochure that users can browse through at their leisure to get ideas on what to buy and where to buy it from.

I am not endorsing salesy posts that say “Here’s my product, it’s so great, buy it now!”. What a smart social media marketer would do instead is to SHOW the users the various ways your product can be beneficial to them. Show them various use cases for your product. Highlight real-life stories of customers who have used your products and the pleasant experiences that THEY had.

Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or even Facebook lend themselves beautifully to creating look-books or design guides that tempt users to check out your wares, instead of simply pushing percentage-off offers down the throats of unwilling and uninformed users.

7. Make Life Easier for Them (Social Login)

One of the cardinal requirements of a good business is to make life easier for your users. Does your website force users to create a username and password as a pre-requisite for transactions? Do users have to remember these username-password combinations each time they revisit your website? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these two questions, you’re creating a wall between your website and its users.

Social media helps knock down this wall with the help of a social login. By allowing users to log into your website using their social media accounts, you are taking away the friction of creating a new account from scratch and remembering the password attached to that account for future visits.

Research by Monetate shows that users spend 127% more time on websites that allow social logins than those that don’t. It further goes on to say that 64% of users are more likely to return to a site that remembers them without the need for them to create a fresh username and password.

There’s yet another benefit that social logins offer you on a direct level. Users that sign on with social media accounts agree to share the data from their social media accounts with you in exchange for the convenience of a social login. This is invaluable data that you can access directly in your inbox, without even going to social media and digging around for details.

Invest in a social login, it will only help your cause with your target audience.

8. SEO

This is much debated, but now well established benefit that social media offers businesses, both big and small.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and without a doubt, Google+ help in backing up all the other ranking signals that your page has and help in making the final cut in where your page ranks in a particular search. Let’s understand with an example.

Let’s say I search for ‘Pizza places in Birmingham’ on Google. If a friend of mine on Google+ has left behind a +1 or a positive review about ABC Pizzas located in Birmingham, then all other factors remaining constant, ABC Pizzas will get a bump up in their search rankings compared to other pizza places. The simple reason here is relevancy. Google assumes that since this is a place recommended by MY friend, it would be more interesting to me, than a place that is rated highly by a bunch of strangers.

Searching for people on Google or Bing, typically pulls up their social profiles – another indicator of how search engines DO give points to social signals, much as they would like to confuse and confound marketers everywhere.

Conclusion

Social media may not fit into clear silos of ‘lead generator’, ‘lead nurturer’, ‘awareness creator’ or ‘last mile converter’ that we are used to for other marketing platforms that we use. To truly benefit from social media, you need to understand what social media brings to the table and maximize it for all that its worth.

Consider social media as an enabler for your sales, instead of a deal-maker and you’ll be surprised with the results that you see.

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