Are you struggling to get sales through your online store, or worried about setting one up? Although it may not seem like it, selling online can be just as difficult as selling through a bricks and mortar store.
You wouldn’t set up a physical store without a comprehensive marketing plan; an online store should be no different. To really come out on top in online retail, your overall strategy for finding and converting customers needs to extend beyond a buy now button. If you’re an online startups or SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) looking to expand into the digital realm, these tips could be of use.
Online retail strategies - the right SEO
You have a store, but are you generating traffic? SMEs making the move to online often neglect SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), and rely either on on costly Google Adwords, or on customers directly searching for their business name. Think of Google as a phone book, and SEO for your online store as dictating your position in that directory. If someone’s looking for what you offer, you want a full page at the front, not a footnote at the back.
The Iconic is a great example of an Australian business with outstanding SEO. Searching for ‘fashion Australia’, ‘online fashion’ or ‘clothes online’ in Google produces theiconic.com.au top listing results. These are extremely high competition keywords. For an online retailer only operating since 2011, to turn over $31 million in its second year alone against heavyweight rivals shows significant investment in not only paid advertising, but also organically generated interest through well-planned and refined SEO.
Online retail strategies – The right ‘reason’ to shop
You might find people are clicking through to your online retailer, but they aren’t buying. If you’ve set up sophisticated SEO that’s filtering the right people to your shop, and your social media and marketing is abuzz with interest, maybe you haven’t actually given these customers a reason to buy from you. The pool of comparable retailers that a customer can sift through online is enormous compared to physical stores.
You need to give people a reason out of all those myriad options to choose your online store above all others. Presentation is key - deliver all the important information immediately. If you offer free shipping, don’t let your buyers click all the way to the checkout before they discover this.
The website for the online pet-food store, Pet Circle, is an excellent example of how to immediately show what’s important to the user. Contact information, a search bar, critical information on free shipping and areas serviced, and a food-finding widget are all highly visible assets on the website that make the purchase process all the more easier for the customer.
Online retail strategies – The right social media strategy
A good social media strategy is the culmination of many different smaller efforts coming together as a whole. Good SEO techniques will help bring new customers to your virtual doorstep, but utilising the right social media strategies is what will keep them there and encourage their friends to come as well. Let’s have a look at an example of a company pushing social media about as hard as you can.
Evike is a US-based company who specialise in providing airsoft equipment and gear. For those unaware, airsoft is a sport with a large following in the US and other countries around the world. Participants use 1:1 scale replica firearms that shoot BB’s to play against each other in a manner similar to paintball. The sport has attracted a large number of loyal players, amongst them a number of popular YouTubers. In addition to their own, regularly updated YouTube page, Evike have reached out and use these popular online personalities via sponsorship to spruik their company. Not only that, but they have managed to inject their representatives regularly into the videos produced by these second parties.
The usual suite of social media sites haven’t been ignored either, with routinely active Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Instagram accounts updated consistently with fresh content.
Content includes videos and images of sponsored and hosted events to encourage their readers to go out and play more with their equipment, product showcases to entice them to upgrade or to get their hands on the new hot thing (with the added bonus of associating their brand with the names of other well known companies), and online competitions to keep the community engaged with the company directly.
By engaging their consumers aggressively and being a part of nearly every facet of the sport, Evike has managed to make themselves well known amongst its players, resulting in becoming a leading name in the market - a portion of this success could be attributed to the judicious and forceful integration of social media into their marketing campaigns.
Online retail strategies – The right products
Aggressive social media may carry a lot of weight, but it’s not always necessary to have a successful online shop. Sometimes it’s possible to be successful by driving social awareness of a superior and dominant product or service and excellent customer relations.
Compare the path chosen by Evike to that of Wacom. Wacom is the premier provider for graphics tablets and styluses in the world. Used by digital creative professionals in all visual industries, they are an extremely well known brand with an exceptional following. This feat has been accomplished despite a rather small social media presence.
Wacom’s success has been driven by two aspects, the first being social awareness. Anyone with even a passing interest in digital creativity will have heard of them. Artists routinely quote their name when asked what they used to create their masterpieces. The sheer ubiquity of Wacom has lead to their dominance over the market awareness of their target consumers.
The second aspect is excellence in their products. Their hardware is routinely praised for its reliability and precision. Their software is constantly updated to be compatible with the latest programs and operating systems whilst what few competitors they have suffer from questionable quality and compatibility issues from out of date software. It’s this excellence in what they sell that has led to that coveted target audience trust, which in turn has created overwhelming social awareness and soundly cemented their place in the culture of digital creativity.
Online retail strategies – The right testing
It is an exceptional rarity for the first plan to come to mind to be the best. No matter how much theoretical work you put into a strategy, there will always be room to improve, which is why it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. As soon as your marketing materials hit the web, test that they’re earning their keep. Sometimes it’ll be easy to see if something isn’t working, such as an abandoned Pinterest account that isn’t getting any traffic. Other times it’s much more subtle, such as the wording of the buy button, where renaming it from ‘buy now’ to ‘order here’ can increase or decrease the number of clicks received. If a call for action is going unanswered, it's worth your time and money to figure out why that is.
There are several ways of testing, but here are 2 that ought to get you started:
The first is A/B testing. A/B testing is simple in concept, but potent in practice. The premise is that you start with your initial state of A and then creating a slightly altered version of that state, B, and pit the two against each other to see which is most effective. If we were to use the button example from above, your initial ‘A’ state would be the words ‘buy now,’ while your ‘B’ state would have the words ‘order here.’ Then you’d simply see how people reacted to each. After a time, you would choose whichever one had the best results and then you would run another test to see if you could improve on your results further.
This leads into the idea of Conversion Rate Optimisation or CRO testing. This is similar to A/B testing in that you are looking to see what people do when they visit your site, and based on your analysis of their actions, trying to optimise your site to guide their choices toward what you want them to do..
By working with these two testing techniques and others, you can improve the efficiency of your website and retain both a greater number of people who enter your website, and improve the number of sales for your online store.
Online retail strategies – The right community
Once you have started to develop a community based around your company or product, you need it to grow. Like a gardener, you can’t force it to suddenly come into being, you need to foster an environment that allows people to express their interest in what you do and to build your business’s online presence naturally.
The most important thing to do to achieve this is prevent your community from becoming stagnant. Stagnation occurs when there is simply nothing to do or the number of new arrivals trickles away. Direction and strong marketing is needed to keep stagnation from occurring. As a company you need to interact with your audience to make it clear that you’re interested in their contribution, rather than a large number of Facebook likes and nothing else.
Black Milk is an excellent example of this. An exclusively online store of women’s clothes, it’s rise to prominence has been something of a mixture between the two extremes of Evike and Wacom. With unique clothing designs and encouraging extensive community interaction, Black Milk has become an enviable Australian success story.
Follow their example as a company by promoting discussion around news of recent developments within the company and out, on things that affect your audience. Host competitions with easily affordable prizes to maintain that critical social interaction. Feature images or stories of your product being used by the end consumer and respond to those features and questions asked. By keeping a healthy and active social life for the business, you will be able to attract new people to your social media outlets and retain those you attract.