eCommerce: Bringing Sexy Back to Retail

October 27, 2015

You’ve made the decision to take a leap: putting more of your focus to online sales – and why wouldn’t you? eCommerce as an industry grew 15% last year and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
You are facing dangerous fluctuations in foot traffic entering your doors. Each semester, 46% of students surveyed never set foot in their college bookstore or do not purchase anything.
Your website is in higher demand be it through your analytics or by the constant requests of your customers. You may even be suffering from revenue anemia and are undoubtedly concerned about your ability to stay on budget.

It’s time to push your website. Smart move.

Despite the endless sales sheets and simplistic communications, the art and science of selling products, online is never easy. At a minimum, it takes resources and budget to be good at this. Online is a playing field that spans the boundary of retail acumen and technical prowess, and frankly for all retailers, time and money are in short supply.

Every day, new start-ups and retail-driven technical teams are blurring the overlap between the in-store and online experience. “SaaS”, “APIs”, “PPC”, “integration”, and “Order Management” are a few of the buzz words these omni-channel worshipping technologists live and die by; they are foundations of successful eCommerce.

But once spoken, many retailers only hear “expensive”, “who am I going to hire to run it”, and “that’s my budget for the next five years!” which isn’t wrong to think. The excitement of new technology is always over-shadowed by the reality of what it takes to get it implemented, keep it working, and make perpetual improvements. As a retailer, your ability to support these eCommerce tools directly correlates to the value you gain from them. When the learning curve and support costs are high, it greatly diminishes the affect you were hoping to gain.

Successful eCommerce will always be a blend of traffic-driving initiatives and a solid customer experience. They work hand in hand but not necessarily with the same effect. A bad customer experience with your website with high traffic often still converts to sales, albeit a cringe-worthy low percentage of time. However, a really amazing customer experience with no traffic equals no sales.

The first way you can build that traffic is typically digital advertising in the form of “Pay-per-click”, product listing ads, and the broader display medium. The bulk of those offerings center on search engines to provide exposure. Approximately 62% of all US eCommerce sites are utilizing search engine focused, paid ads with a bidding system that quickly drives the cost of keywords to max budget. For example, the keyword ‘textbook’ during the back-to-school peak season is huge! Online retailers can expect this to go north of $25 per click. The competitive nature of battling for screen real estate on search engines and websites is becoming a requirement to not only grow sales but maintain them. Online ad spending in North America is growing 14% annually, it is expected to eclipse 30% of all advertising budgets. Prepare to manage the spend here.

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Another effective method to drive additional traffic to your site is through affiliate programs and similar marketplaces that have the ability to extend the reach of your brand and products. While their revenue sharing aspects and questionable “ownership” of the customer information remain an on-going concern for large retailers, small to medium sites can benefit from the quick boost in sales and exposure. But as with everything else eCommerce related, these require dedicated monitoring to optimize the gains and minimize negative perceptions. Reputation management takes on a new level of intensity when dealing with a partner driving a large portion of your annual sales. Also, operating in these affiliate marketing worlds can be daunting to those less educated in the nuance publisher-advertiser relationships.

Let’s say you are ready to master the world of eCommerce. As you scale out your offerings, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Know your customer and how they shop – through all channels/devices.
  • Understand Analytics. If you can’t you shouldn’t spend a dime in digital marketing.
  • Pick goals isolated to a specific traffic-driving initiative and get well-acquainted with how to measure its performance.
  • Research and model commission structures against forecasts and costs. Revenue sharing is a great way to keep partners aligned to your goals.
  • Be wary of vendors that suggest a hands-free, pay and forget approach to service; you will always need to be involved. From creative approval to reporting and analytics your over-watch keeps your omnichannel aligned.

All this to say that you made the right decision to ramp up your online presence. Evening out your reach will be profitable, but temper your expectations and be thoughtful of your strategic approach. Your spend and resource budgets can get away from you fast which is why our Managed eCommerce team spends so much time monitoring these items for dozens of our clients. Digital marketing initiatives require constant observation and optimization in order to deliver the necessary performance our customers demand.

While it isn’t easy to manage and optimize a website that is critical to your business, putting more of your emphasis on growing your online presence in turn boosts your sales. A more robust eCommerce presence lends options to your customers; options that equate to a preferred shopping experience. After all, convenience is determined by your customer, not your desire for them to use options convenient for you.

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