Analysts expect e-commerce to continue to gain a larger share of total retail sales. According to Forrester projections, online sales in the U.S. will grow from approximately $294 billion in 2014 to $414 billion in 2018. This strong growth trend presents an amazing opportunity to online merchants, but the competition is also becoming more intense.
As competition levels increase, e-commerce retailers must find new ways to engage customers and drive sales. Price and product mix are important, but the ability to build lasting customer relationships is the key to finding and sustaining success online. Here are three tips ecommerce merchants can use to supercharge online sales:
- Proactively manage the marketing funnel. To achieve sustained e-commerce success, it’s important to influence the customer journey at every point. That means being conscious of how customers form opinions about companies and products, display interest before buying, and move down the marketing funnel to the point of purchase. Proactively managing the marketing funnel requires a continuous effort; reliance on seasonal sales campaigns alone isn’t nearly as effective. Instead, merchants should create a long-term strategy, building the brand and influencing opinions at every point along the customer journey. This approach sets the company up for success during sales campaigns and promotions.
- Use social media to engage customers. Consumers today use the web as a research tool, learning more about the products they’re interested in before they make a purchase. Social media platforms can be an excellent way to engage customers online, providing a venue for e-commerce merchants to deliver relevant information and build the brand image over time. But first, the company has to entice prospective customers to like its page on Facebook, or follow the business on Instagram or Twitter. The best way to do that is to offer something of value in exchange for the contact. And once a customer follows the company, e-commerce marketers should continue to deliver value via social media platforms, engaging prospects with information they can use, not just sales pitches.
- Offer financial incentives to transform prospects into customers. Too many e-commerce retailers seem to believe the entire marketing process consists of offering financial incentives in the form of sales promotions, but in a well-designed e-commerce strategy, delivering a monetary motivation is the culmination of a long-term plan. In this context, the prospective customer has a relationship with the company built over time. Ideally, prior customer outreach would include brand-building messages, social media connections, and an ongoing flow of information that builds and strengthens the relationship before the merchant offers a financial incentive. In this scenario, the response rate should reflect a more mature merchant-customer relationship.
The good news for e-commerce merchants is that the sector continues to capture a greater share of total retail sales every year. Even customers who plan to eventually purchase a product in a brick-and-mortar store are increasingly likely to do research online prior to making a purchase. But the bad news is that competitive pressures are increasing, not only from pure e-commerce businesses, but also from the online operations of traditional stores that enter the market with enormous budgets, pricing smaller operations out.
It’s a challenging and complex retail ecosystem, but merchants who manage the marketing funnel proactively can tilt the playing field in their favor. By realizing that the customer journey provides multiple opportunities to make a connection, and designing a long-term strategy that builds awareness and trust over time, e-commerce merchants can compete and win.
David Varnai is the marketing manager at Zenni Optical, an e-commerce eyewear provider. He is an e-commerce professional who is passionate about technology and marketing.