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Hi there, I'm David Wagoner, CMO and co-founder of P3 Media, and today I'm going to lay out P3’s top five proven ecommerce strategies to build a stronger online business.
But before I dive into the strategies that will help you to win the eCommerce arms race, I’m making a few assumptions about your business:
One, you already have your fundamentals in place: you have a good website, you’re building community through content, you’re investing in creative.
And two, you already have a product that people want to buy. This article is not a “how to” on strategies to find product market fit, i.e. the zero to one stage of entrepreneurship, but rather a guide on how to accelerate your growth, i.e. the 1 to 100 stage.
That's you, right? Great. Then let's dive in.
In 2020, we saw ten years of ecommerce growth in less than a quarter. Now that 2021 is well underway, customers expect more from online retailers than ever before: More convenience. More personalized experiences. More sustainable practices.
Brands that position themselves to meet these demands today will grow by leaps and bounds this year. Here's are 5 things you need to do to get your share of the pie.
1. FOCUS OBSESSIVELY ON YOUR MOBILE EXPERIENCE
Way too often, I go to a website with a great desktop experience and then when I visit them on mobile it’s like they forgot people use phones. And that’s a huge problem, because increasingly, online shoppers are browsing with their phones exclusively.
Even before the pandemic, you could expect around 50% of your traffic to come from mobile. And since the beginning of the COVID 19 lockdowns over a year ago, the global shift toward mobile browsing & shopping has only accelerated. According to data from Statista, almost 73% of total ecommerce sales will be made on mobile devices by the end of 2021.
In other words, going mobile-first is no longer about improving accessibility, or even about enlarging the tech-savvy audience share you can attract from social media. It’s about maximizing your profits, period. And unless you’re willing to miss out on 73% of your potential sales, designing for the mobile experience is essential.
But how do you create the best mobile experience for your audience? Every merchant will need to make unique decisions to fit their audience’s preferences, but these are the three most important factors you need to consider:
First, remember that simplicity is key. With a mobile device you’re working with limited real estate. You want to pack as much relevant info on your page as possible without overwhelming your customers. Be reductionist in this exercise and leave all the unnecessary elements on the cutting room floor.
Think about the thumb. Take out your phone, scroll around a bit and see where your thumb feels the most comfortable. If you’re stretching to the far corners of your screen to get to critical information besides the navigation menu, then your mobile experience could probably use some work. Put your critical clickable content in thumb-friendly zones.
Second, optimize your mobile site speed. In eCommerce, the longer your customers have to wait for your site to load, the more likely they are to leave. In fact, for every second longer than average your store spends loading, you lose an additional 11% of your site visitors.
By the same token, every incremental improvement to your site speed will create an improvement in your conversion rate. This phenomenon is even more pronounced on mobile, where the average web page takes 88% longer to load than on desktop.
You might expect that this issue will take care of itself as technology improves and average wait times go down. But in reality, what we’ve seen is that as technology gets faster, consumers’ expectations increase and their attention spans decrease.
Think about how long you were willing to wait for a YouTube video to load on your Iphone in 2008. Think about how long you’d be willing to wait for that same video today.
That’s why you always want your load times to be lower than the average, whatever that happens to be. We like to look at “speed index” for this metric, because speed index gives us perceived load times, which is what matters from a user experience standpoint.
In 2021, you want to achieve a speed index average better than 4.8 seconds on desktop and 11.8 seconds on mobile. If your site doesn’t hit these benchmarks, try using responsive images to cut down actual load times, or techniques like lazy loading to reduce perceived load times.
Third, Invest in a friction-free cart experience with convenient payment options for your mobile shoppers. Shop (formerly Shopify Pay), Apple Pay, and Amazon Pay are all great ways to help facilitate mobile transactions quickly. They’re built to integrate seamlessly with most major eCommerce platforms, and partnering with these household names imbues your checkout experience with instant credibility. We’ll discuss this more later, but remember that in eCommerce, more trust equals more transactions and fewer abandoned carts.
As a bonus while we’re discussing payments, remember that with online checkout, the biggest pain point for your customers, the one that leads to the most abandoned transactions, isn’t cart friction. It’s price point.
That’s why if you’re a merchant selling higher priced goods, or if you operate a store that tends to generate higher-than-average cart values, you should consider offering a pay over time solution at checkout like Quadpay or Afterpay.
These services enable your customers to pay for your goods in installments without applying for financing, and we’ve seen them improve conversion rates for our clients overnight.
2. Offer Flexible Fulfilment Options
Over the past year, global consumers have demonstrated a massive appetite for safer and more convenient fulfilment options. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen a 500% year over year increase in Buy Online Pick Up In Store usage alone. While this may feel like old news at this point, in eCommerce, where convenience drives the majority of shopping behavior, the ability to offer fast, flexible fulfillment has always been a huge competitive differentiator.
Prime 2-Day shipping is probably the best example of this to date. And when you consider the dominance of Prime, one fact becomes crystal clear: If you aren’t offering your customers the most convenient fulfillment options, you’re sending sales to someone who is.
Offering Buy Online Pick Up In Store and other blended checkout options can also benefit your bottom line in a big way. Before the pandemic, Bizrate Insights found that up to 79% of consumers were making additional in store purchases when retrieving their BOPIS orders, and returning orders fulfilled via BOPIS at significantly lower rates.
And, unlike traditional online orders, BOPIS orders cost merchants nothing to ship. Cost efficient fulfillment is an easy way to generate more sales and more profit per sale, and anyone who has the capability to implement it should.
Once the pandemic has fully subsided, we’ll see some shopping behaviors revert to old patterns. But history shows that online shoppers are unlikely to give up conveniences that speed up checkout and fulfillment once they’re socialized to use them.
Think about it, do you ever even blink when entering your credit card info to make a purchase anymore? That’s why if you are not already doing so, now is the time to integrate additional blended checkout options like:
And to build any other creative solutions that will help you meet your particular customers where they are.
3. HYPER-PERSONALIZE YOUR CUSTOMER JOURNEY USING AI
A new study from Juniper Research projects that global retailer spending on AI will reach 7.3 billion dollars a year by 2022, up from an estimated $2 billion in 2018. Why? Your long-term profits depend on customer retention, and you retain more customers when you serve them better, more relevant experiences. AI is the key to fully personalizing the customer experience and strengthening customer relationships at scale.
What’s more, you don’t have to wait for the next big breakthrough in tech to get started. There’s already an impressive array of tools for every budget that you can use to create personalized customer journeys–from lightweight plug and play apps to sophisticated AI-powered enterprise level software.
These tools are often designed to help brands bridge the gap between the online and in-store experiences, which has become particularly important since COVID-19 has made in-person shopping difficult or impossible for most people. If you’re new to the concept of personalization, you can get started with these 5 foundational tactics:
First, level up your email automation program with product recommendations based on purchase intent data. This can take the form of suggesting new products to customers, price drop emails triggered by abandoned checkouts, back in stock emails, and many other strategic communications to engage your customers. Depending on your budget, eCommerce-focused ESP’s like Klaviyo and smart CRM's like Bluecore offer the best solutions for building and tracking AI-fueled automations.
Second, add personalized product recommendations to your site to improve your customer experience and net you more conversions. Smart product recommendations help your customers discover relevant products without having to search for them. Plus, using machine learning tools like the Shopify Recommendations API, you can sit back and let your customers teach your site which products to recommend. That means you spend less time merchandizing and more time making money. Which is what we in the business call a win-win.
Third, employ predictive search. Predictive search bars fill out a dropdown menu with suggested searches while the user types, drawing from a combination of past behavior and user intent to serve suggestions that speed up the time between discovery and purchase. This is a particularly important feature for brands with higher SKU counts or lots of product variety to incorporate.
Fourth, build yourself a product quiz. Product quizzes are a great way to engage customers over their major pain points and demonstrate how your product can help to solve them. They can also educate customers about how to use your products, and make them feel like true stakeholders in the purchase journey.
Quizzes are a particularly effective tool if you sell a lot of similar products with different use cases, like shampoo, which can be formulated for a variety of hair types. Plus, a properly coded quiz will help you gather relevant information from your customers like demographic info, shopping intent, location, and other 1st and 3rd party data points. You can use this data to learn useful insights about your customers and market to them in real time, like we do in this hair care quiz we built for Fekkai.
For this product quiz, we use 3rd party location and weather pattern data to generate product recommendations that account for environmental factors like humidity. This helps Fekkai’s customers find the product bundle that’s best for their individual hair type and environment, instantly solving a pain point that would normally require the customer to perform time-consuming research. And whenever you solve a pain point for your customers, you increase the likelihood of a sale.
Finally, for product verticals that require more education to sell, like technology, automobiles, and high-end jewelry, we recommend exploring ways to bring your high-touch sales experience to the palm of your customers’ hands. This can take the shape of live chat, personal shopping or virtual consultations via Zoom. You can automate some or all of your chat-based interactions with customers using smart help desk platforms like Gorgias, Zendesk, and Octane AI.
4. ELEVATE YOUR DESIGN TO CREATE AN IMMERSIVE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
In the context of eCommerce, there is design that elevates your brand visually and there is design that drives sales. For this discussion I am going to focus on design that drives sales, because we see a lot of creative out there that looks amazing but clearly doesn’t take into consideration how customers actually want to use websites–i.e. shops that look great but don’t work well.
When designing for eCommerce, we start by empathizing with our customers. That means putting ourselves in their shoes to build a product that will anticipate their needs and, at its core, solve a problem that they have. And whether they realize it or not, the biggest problem most customers have to overcome when shopping a new website is trust.
Think about it. To create a sale in the real world, you only need to demonstrate that your product is worth the money. Online, you also have to demonstrate that you can deliver exactly what you say you will, when you say you will, and that you’ll keep all your customer’s data secure in the process. And that’s why we want to weave as much trust as possible into the fabric of our design.
There are many basic web design elements that foster trust -- like high quality photography & video content, relevant trust badges, and a secure checkout experience. But when it comes to building brand affinity, your audience is your greatest asset.
Simply put, people listen to other people more than they listen to brands. That’s why if you want to turn trust into a sales tool, you have to use social proof. Participatory features like product reviews, testimonials, and refer-a-friend programs can all help you leverage your existing audience to build more trust with first-time shoppers by helping you build a chorus of real evangelists for your products and services.
But my number one suggestion for leveraging social proof, and I can’t stress this enough, is this: Get as much User Generated Content as you can. UGC is one of the most effective and cost effective tools you can use to give your next campaign additional lift. According to Stackla, 79% of consumers say that UGC is critical to making a purchase decision, and UGC has been shown to be up to 9.8X more impactful on purchase choices than influencer content.
At P3, we see ad campaigns using UGC photo or video regularly outperform our clients’ professional marketing assets on Facebook, Instagram, Google and TikTok. Tap into your audience to generate UGC that you can deploy as site creative or to fuel your online marketing, and watch your sales soar.
If you’re already leveraging social proof and the personalization features we discussed earlier, consider further enhancing your customer experience by investing in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. This stuff felt pretty futuristic not too long ago, but with accelerated adoption in the social media space, we’re starting to see a spillover effect into ecommerce.
AR and VR can be great practical tools to help customers experience the essence of your products at home. Augmented reality is especially well suited for showcasing products that need a try-on or require thoughtful decision-making like sunglasses and interior decorating goods. For example, P3 recently used a tool called Primer to integrate AR rendering functionality for one of our interior design clients, Hygge & West. This tool gives mobile shoppers the ability to preview wallpaper on their own walls before buying, which is super fun, but more importantly, super useful.
Using AR, Hygge & West’s customers can now make more informed choices about their next interior decorating project before they buy. And that additional convenience won’t just keep satisfied customers coming back for more, it will reduce Hygge & West's losses from return and restocking costs over the long term.
Finally, get creative with your use of tactile tech. Phygital tools like 3D printing can change the face of your business depending on your industry. Online jewelers like Brilliance 3D-print and mail facsimiles of their rings, so customers can easily try the company’s designs for fit and style at home. Better sizing and tactical experience leads to fewer returns and exchanges. That’s a big deal in every industry, but especially if you sell big-ticket items that routinely run into the 5-figure range.
5. ESTABLISH A CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY PLAN
If you’ve never heard of Corporate Social Responsibility, it’s an unsexy name for an extraordinarily powerful business model that creates massive brand affinity and fuels sustainable growth over the long term.
In a nutshell, CSR is a self-regulating business model that empowers companies to operate in ways that enhance society and the environment in the ordinary course of business. Companies that practice CSR take control of their impact on a particular aspect of society, and become socially accountable to themselves, their stakeholders, and the public. If you’re wondering why you’d ever sign up to be accountable to so many groups, my answer is: in the eyes of your customers, you already are. CSR will give you a way to make good on that accountability, and make it work for you.
Two things before we dive in:
1. This one is mainly for brands interested in creating long term growth within North American and European markets. The advice I’m about to give may still be relevant to you even if you operate outside of those markets, but our research on CSR primarily considers demographic trends in North America and Western Europe.
2. CSR is not a growth hack. It’s a long term growth play that pays the largest dividends when you incorporate it into your brand’s DNA. In that way, you can almost think of CSR as investing your money in a stock market index fund. It doesn’t feel glamorous, but if you stick with it, over time you’ll out-earn most people who focused on quick schemes to build profit.
With those caveats out of the way, I’m here to tell you that CSR isn’t just good for the world, it’s extremely good for business.
In fact, in North America, high-purpose companies whose business models call for sustained action on social issues: make more money, create more loyal customers, and have seen over twice the growth of low-purpose brands over the last decade. And that’s not my opinion. These are findings from a landmark, 10-year study conducted by Gallup.
And here’s something that wasn’t in the Gallup study: Over the next decade, this trend is going to grow even more pronounced. That’s because the growth of high-purpose brands is being driven by millennials and centennials–in other words, the generation that has the most purchasing power today, and the generation that will have the most purchasing power tomorrow.
Millennials and centennials care about the ethics of consumption more than any generation before them, and their buying behavior reflects their values. We can observe this in the success of trendsetting one-for-one brands like Toms, Bombas, and Warby Parker, but also in the rise of inclusive fashion brands like Aerie, and the growing popularity of carbon offset shipping through tools like Ecocart.
If you want to engage and retain the largest share of consumers from this segment, you need to align with the causes and initiatives that your stakeholders care about.
Start by actively engaging your customers and community to learn about the issues that matter to them most. Send them an email survey, add a post-purchase questionnaire to your checkout. Heck, invite feedback on the hero image of your website. Just remember, when you ask your stakeholders how you could be doing more, you’re signaling to them that engaging with your company is a pathway to supporting their own values. So be sincere, be direct, and take their feedback seriously.
Once you understand the key issues that your stakeholders care about most, we recommend that you look for ways to align with them that feel organic to your brand, and that you will be able to support sustainably through your share of voice, energy, and capital.
Of course you can design your own CSR initiatives from scratch, but there are other thoughtful avenues that involve less heavy lifting on your part. One way to quickly shape a CSR program is to hook up with a non-profit organization already doing good work in your target area. They’ll know the landscape, and they’ll be able to put your resources to good use from day one.
Another way to kickstart your CSR program, and one of our preferred methods, is to plug your brand into a vetted, readymade corporate program. For example, there’s an organization called 1% For The Planet that collects 1% of profits from participating brands and distributes them to grassroots environmental organizations doing essential advocacy work.
Programs like 1% are great because they’re substantive, self-regulating, and highly marketable. That makes them a perfect fit for brands that want to change their ecological impact, or that cater to an environmentally conscious audience.
At P3, we’ve seen the long term benefits of good-fit CSR firsthand. In 2015, our client SeaVees signed on with 1%. SeaVees is a west coast brand whose customers tend to be younger people who spend a lot of time outdoors, and from day one the response from this group has been extraordinarily positive.
In the years since signing on with 1%, SeaVees has seen the same sizable bump in sales and engagement that so-called “purpose-driven” brands enjoy over low purpose brands. They’re helping to make real change, and making real profits while doing it. You could be too.
However you ultimately decide to build your CSR program, keep this one caveat in mind: CSR is about making sustained, conscientious, public-facing actions over time. Whatever initiative or cause you decide to enfold into your brand, do it from the heart, and do it continuously and sustainably.
Firing off an opportunistic tweet or making a one-time donation won’t cut it. In fact, one-off actions could even land you in hot water. People are smart and they have a strong BS meter. Plus, with social media they have the bull horn to call you out loudly and publicly. So steer clear of cynicism, and CSR will help you unlock a more profitable future.
For a more in-depth guide to CSR that covers common pitfalls and essential, actionable tips, read our Free White Paper.
That’s it! Those are P3’s top 5 actionable tips to grow your ecommerce business in 2021. To recap, if you want to position your online business to maximize revenue and engagement in 2021, you need to:
1. Focus obsessively on optimizing your mobile experience
2. Offer flexible fulfillment options
3. Personalize your customer journey with AI & other tools
4. Elevate your design to create the richest possible shopping experience, and
5. Establish a relevant, credible CSR Program
Good luck, and don’t delay. There’s never been a better time to get growing than right now.