What is eCommerce marketing?
eCommerce is a general term describing the actions of buying and selling via the internet, which include the exchange of goods, services, and information. eCommerce marketing refers to all the promotional tactics a business uses in order to encourage these online transactions by driving traffic to online stores, converting traffic into paying customers and retaining those customers.
Any eCommerce marketing strategy should start by identifying the eCommerce Business Model your business belongs to. This has further implications on marketing channels, audience personas, value propositions and other areas of the digital marketing mix.
The main eCommerce Business Models are:
1. B2C – Business to consumer.
Anything you buy online as a consumer: clothing, furniture, food, entertainment, etc. is done as part of a B2C transaction. The decision-making process for a B2C purchase is typically short term so the acquisition period is swift, and customer resistance is normally low. The simplest example would be fashion stores, which either exist entirely online like NEXT or also exist in the physical world like Walmart online.
2. B2B – Business to business.
A business that sells its product/s or service/s to another business. The B2B model generally means a longer sales cycle, but a higher-order value. Any online business service fits this category (Drift - a conversational marketing platform for example)
3. C2B – Consumer to business.
When individuals sell goods and services to companies. For instance, a site that allows customers to post work they can provide and have businesses bid for the opportunity. Affiliate marketing services and social influencers can also be included in this category.
4. C2C – Consumer to consumer.
In this model, consumers exchange goods and services amongst themselves and typically make their money by charging transaction or listing fees. For example Craigslist and eBay.
There are additional eCommerce Business Models which have emerged with the continuous growth of eCommerce:
- D2C: Where brands sell directly to their consumers cutting out the distributor (and the overhead costs).
- White label: When a business applies its name and brand to a generic product purchased from a distributor.
- Private label: When a retailer hires a manufacturer to create a unique product for them to be sold exclusively
- Dropshipping: Marketing and selling of items fulfilled by a third party supplier (AliExpress for example)
- Subscription service: Monthly/ annual subscriptions now exist in virtually every industry as it offers high convenience, flexibility, and savings to customers.
eCommerce marketing strategy
After identifying the eCommerce business model as your baseline you can proceed to create an eCommerce marketing strategy which should include a well mapped out marketing plan, defined marketing channels, and a clear marketing funnel. Many business owners tend to skip or cut corners on this stage and end up blindly running a lot of ad campaigns, which produces a low return on their marketing budget and a big waste of money. This is just one of the mistakes eCommerce business owners often make.
eCommerce marketing strategy is different than “traditional” marketing strategy as the entire acquisition funnel occurs in the virtual and intangible space of the internet. Therefore instilling trust in potential buyers is a key element. Indeed, paying online has become more common and less of a deterrent, however, your online store still needs to be checkout friendly (UX, UI), offer assurances of secure payment and proof of product/service value.
eCommerce marketing plan
The first step of your eCommerce marketing plan should be to define your goals. Main eCommerce marketing goals are often website visitors at the top of the funnel, through MQL’s, SQL’s to customers at the bottom of the funnel.
Just as with any marketing strategy, competition analysis is mandatory. Not only is this a source of strategic information, but it also links in with your goals by providing benchmarks for them, which in turn can help you define your budget distribution.
Good customer segmentation will help improve your customer's online experience through personalization and will translate into your bottom line (your eCommerce goals).
Based on the nature of your business your e-commerce strategy should reflect the characteristics of your target audience. Given your initial traffic and customers, it is easy enough to aggregate and segment your audience based on the basics as a starting point:
- Demographic and geographic characteristics.
- Behavioral characteristics: distinguishing customers based on the way they respond to your e-commerce platform. (i.e purchasing timing and frequency, purchase value)
- Interests: Dividing prospects into meaningful groups based on the choices they make on your eCommerce website. (pages or products viewed)
Audience segmentation will allow you to better match your offering to your customer's needs (personalization). This can promote customer loyalty and retention, allowing you to upsell and grow your business even more. And once you identify what works and what doesn’t you can fine-tune your eCommerce marketing to attract new customers and feed into your business.
The eCommerce marketing mix
eCommerce digital marketing requires a specialized marketing mix in order to get buyers to go through your acquisition funnel (see below).
- User Experience & Design - mainly how easily and pleasantly visitors can complete an order. Browsing your website should be intuitive, with high web speed, interesting high-quality images, clear calls to action, and easy checkout.
- Content - has long been considered a cornerstone for digital marketing success. Good content helps “educate” your visitors and encourages them to buy.
- Search - This broad category includes SEO optimization, PPC, and remarketing which all rely on good content (see above) to fuel it. Good, unique and informative content, helps users find your website using search engines. PPC requires a keyword-rich ad copy in order to be cost-effective. Remarketing targets website visitors and nurtures them to return and complete their orders or complete another purchase.
- Social Media - relies on content as well. As a virtual extension of the known traditional Word-of-mouth marketing, social media has the potential to expand your reach efforts without additional costs, given that your content is share-worthy.
- Email - Is a key component in customer relationship cultivation. Keeping in touch with buyers builds loyalty and feeds into word-of-mouth, upselling and brand growth.
- PR and Publicity - Paid marketing efforts are at times needed to boost your brand’s reach when you need to increase traffic flow and kick your acquisition into gear.
- Brand - Your brand identity includes everything from your main value proposition to the color palette of your website. This feeds into user experience and design to increase recognition and differentiation.
- Other - Includes additional marketing efforts such as affiliate marketing which utilizes other websites’ reach to attract new buyers.
While the mix above is listed mostly by order of importance, the ability to cover all your bases is usually dependant on your budget restraints. However, the priority of each element can also shift based on the stage of your business’s life-cycle. If you are launching a new eCommerce website you will require more focus on PR and Publicity alongside SEO and Social Media initially. Down the road, Email will gain focus as you’ll want to nurture your buyers. And user experience might shrink in importance once you have a good lead flow going. So the main point here would be to adjust your eCommerce marketing mix as needed.
Must-have eCommerce marketing channels
After building your brand and website, you now want to generate a customer base and are wondering where to start. The following eCommerce marketing channels and strategic spending of your marketing budget can be narrowed down to the following marketing channels. Note that while the final attribution step of any channel to the actual sale completion might be clear, most customers have been nurtured through more than one eCommerce marketing channel.
- Email Marketing: The most cost-efficient marketing channel which targets customers directly.
- PPC (Google and Facebook Ads): This can be a highly targeted marketing channel when done professionally, whose only limitation is cost.
- SEO: The most powerful way to improve your eCommerce rankings in search engines and generate genuinely interested buyers.
- Content Marketing: An active blog, a podcast, downloadable resources and help articles are key content components to both drive your eCommerce website up the search engine results as well as to increase your social media sharing, brand awareness and feed into your PPC ads.
- Social media & Influencer marketing: It’s best to choose the right social platform to appear based on where your potential audience most commonly resides at the right point of readiness to take action. Clearly your would-be customers have a Facebook profile, but if you are an eCommerce B2B service, targeting a customer during his “out of office” hours won’t hit the mark. However, if you are selling t-shirts online, Facebook ads are a more suitable choice.
eCommerce marketing funnel
Most marketing funnels follow the same stages to get prospects from “strangers” to “loyal customers”. The transition from one stage of the flow to the next is facilitated by the content marketing channel mix.
Awareness - Buyers are interacting with your website (perhaps arriving there by Search) and your social media content. At this point, visitors are interested in what you have to offer but aren’t familiar with your brand. Your task is to educate them on the benefits of your brand and start building trust (hopefully also getting them into your email lists to further contact them).
Interest - Buyers at this point are considering your product or service a.k.a “warm leads”. They have recognized your solution to their needs, and your task is to keep them engaged by offering them to join your newsletter list, download a helpful freebie and/or join your social following. They are ripe to continue to the next part of the funnel.
Purchase - Buyers who are ready to complete a purchase. At this point, they are aware of your brand and how you solve their problem or answer their needs, and now need that nudge to convert to Customer. Your task is to make this transition easy with minimal friction points for your buyer to back down (easy and secure payment for instance). You can seal the deal with extra complimentary offers or first-time purchase discounts etc.
Repeat - Buyers who have completed a purchase are a great resource to nurture towards repeat purchasing (especially if they are pleased with you). Your task is to keep them happy and offer them additional purchases and incentives to become your brand’s advocates, further feeding potential new buyers into the top of your eCommerce acquisition funnel.
eCommerce marketing execution
Now that you have mapped out a clear eCommerce marketing strategy it’s time to put it into action. The question that arises is whether to go it alone “in-house” or outsource by hiring an eCommerce marketing agency. There are of course pros and cons to both.
The Pros of Having an In-house eCommerce Solution
Complete customization and control - Since you hold the reigns you know your marketing will remain focused and aligned with your business needs. After all, no one will know more than you what your business is about and what it needs.
Accessible manpower - Keeping things in-house means you have a dedicated employee or team executing and monitoring the process. And any issues, should they arise can be handled swiftly and on-premise.
Cost control - An outsourced agency usually has a higher price-tag attached to its services. This can be unattainable for small businesses or new brands who are not going to see an immediate return on such a large investment.
The Cons of In-house eCommerce
Time-consuming - In house marketing can be a large drain on a business’s limited time. Building your own in-house eCommerce solution and managing an online store requires development, tech support and more time spent that might be better allocated elsewhere towards improving your core business offering.
Lack of expertise - eCommerce is becoming increasingly complex, especially if you are expanding globally. Payment processing, taxes, shipping are all key areas that need to be properly managed. In fact, failing to do so can be detrimental to your business. So, if you do not have in-house expertise, you will need to put in the effort to hire someone.
The Pros of Outsourcing Your eCommerce Solution
Knowledge and experience - Outsourced eCommerce solution teams have accumulated useful experience that can help you achieve your revenue potential faster.
Time-saving - The flip side of the above mentioned. Hiring an external eCommerce enables you to launch an online store quickly without having to invest your own precious time to create your own solution.
Security solutions - large eCommerce platforms comply with payment and security standards providing customer trust on your behalf.
The Cons of Outsourced eCommerce
Hiring with confidence - The always existing uncertainty that you have made the right choice and that your new partner has the skills and technical capabilities to support your business needs and keep up with the latest eCommerce trends.
Budget constraints - It can be tricky to keep your eCommerce agency adhere to a limited budget. Concerns that you must share if you do decide to hire an outsourced team.
You’re not their priority - Agencies have more than just you as a client, so you should rightfully be concerned whether they are dedicating all their possible efforts to managing your account, especially if your budget is on the lower side, they might make more of an effort for higher paying customers.
5 eCommerce marketing hacks
eCommerce growth hacks have changed with the maturity of eCommerce platforms, new emerging social networks and changes to Google’s search algorithm. There are probably endless hacks to be found and to make things even more complicated these vary based on your eCommerce business model, your audience and product offering. Below are some of the most common eCommerce hacks:
1. Leverage the Power of Social Influence
Social proof plays a main role in the success of your e-commerce marketing strategy. Potential buyers rely heavily on the testimonials of others when approaching a purchasing decision. To achieve this make sure to generate plenty of customer testimonials, positive product reviews, and success stories. This should be placed throughout your store at strategic decision tipping points.
2. Keep improving - Continuously A/B Test Product Pages
eCommerce is extremely dynamic, and you should continuously check if modifications to layout, messaging, user experience, product placement, and other factors could influence your marketing KPI’s for the better.
3. Don’t forget about FOMO
Take advantage of a consumer psychological truth a.k.a “FOMO”. Fear of missing out is a primal instinct for buyers. Using motivators in content and CTA’s such as special conditional offers, limited time offers, limited edition products and bundles and more are proven sales tactics. Just be sure to base your FOMO offer on your users behavioral patterns and expectation, namely, you need to think about what will be considered a high-value offer in their mind and limit its access.
4. Retargeting/ Remarketing Campaigns
If at first you don’t succeed you must try again. Many times our potential buyers are not quite ready to complete a purchase, either because they are still unsure, don’t have time to complete payment just this very moment, still want to compare their options and dozens of other reasons. Therefore, you want to remain on their radar and present your offering encouraging them to return. Remind them of the items they were checking out, or remind them to finish purchasing their existing shopping cart item with retargeted Facebook ads. You can upsell with additional similar product offerings to what customers have purchased in the past on social media.
5. Include Comparison Guides for Similar Products
Help guide buyers toward your products by positioning them across competitive product, while highlighting your advantages. Of course, be sure to base these differentiating points on what your audience would consider “deal breakers”. These have a dual purpose as they are also good for SEO and PPC, possibly driving traffic that initially looked into your competition and then saw you as an alternative worth checking out.
eCommerce marketing strategy faces several challenges due to the fact that the entire acquisition process is done in a faceless virtual space. Online businesses must dedicate the necessary time and effort to build an online storefront that will support their business goals. This is done by paying attention to user experience, generating relevant and valuable content, website optimization, paid digital marketing campaigns and of course, unique brand messaging. A successful eCommerce marketing strategy is one that builds brand trust, loyalty, and digital ‘word-of-mouth’. You can choose to execute your eCommerce marketing plan in-house or by outsourcing based on budget and other current business needs, but never skip strategizing or you’ll be closing shop sooner rather than never.