by Mike Ricotta - December 20, 2018
Anyone who tells you that there is a one-size-fits-all formula for digital strategy is over-simplifying the planning and process of the e-commerce marketplace. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly cross-over metrics and strategies that can be applied universally to a wide variety of e-commerce business types. Social media is a perfect example of a universal element that will appear in the digital toolbox of many different business types. However, social media strategy and performance indicators for a trendy apparel website will differ greatly from that of a veterinary clinic.
The specific elements of a business’s digital or e-commerce strategy will differ based on many factors. An effective digital strategy must consider all of the unique characteristics and goals of individual businesses. In order to develop a comprehensive digital strategy for a business, you must first have a strong understanding of all channel analytics and how they relate to one another. Consider, for example, a business that maintains a B2B digital channel, a B2C business channel, and an Amazon channel that falls somewhere in-between. A successful digital strategy would not only consider each channels analytics but also how individual channel strategies would likely affect the other channels.
The purpose of this post is to examine the components of an effective digital strategy for a new, stand-alone, e-commerce (B2C) business. This business model, although very simple, presents many challenges in terms of digital strategy. Let’s assume that there is enough working capital to support the infrastructure of this business but not a lot of discretionary funds to support a large marketing budget. The goal is to demonstrate good, cost-effective organic growth to drive revenue that will, at a later date in the business development cycle, be returned into the marketing budget to drive second stage growth. Once sufficient revenue is being generated to drive more marketing, the digital strategy will change for this business. The following 4 steps are designed to address the first stage digital strategy for this business.
Step One – Launch a Good Website
Build and launch a good, functional website. Although this step seems obvious, you would be surprised how many would be e-commerce business owners get completely stuck on this step. Think about the language – a good, functional website, that’s all, nothing more. We are not seeking a pixel perfect, best in show, award-winning website, that will come later. The two most important things about this first iteration of the website are ease of navigation and transactionality. Simply put, can customers find what they are looking for and can they easily pay for products. All of the beautiful branded content, imagery, and videos can wait for now.
There is a very real condition known as fear of going live. However, it is important to launch quickly with a good, functional website for two reasons. First of all, there are potential customers at any given time searching online for your products and finding your soon-to-be competition. If you have delayed the launch to work a little more on design, you have just handed your competition a golden opportunity to convert these new customers into return customers and eventually a lifetime customers. Although we as business owners may not realize it, customers are rarely critical of the design of the websites they use to purchase the things they want. Amazon is living proof of this concept. Most of the time customers want in and out with their order confirmation email in hand. You could have 10 new loyal customers during the time it takes to approve your design updates and publish your site. Instead, you launched on time with a good and functional site and have established communication with these individuals, you have collected contact information and purchase history data, and they are in your customer lifecycle. There will always be time to update your designs in the future. Remember there is no such thing as a finished website. Every site evolves and changes.
Second, it is important for the various search engines to begin the process of indexing your website as soon as possible. A history of website traffic, content updates, new products, inbound and outbound links all give you credibility with search engines and will begin the ongoing process of ranking your website against your competition. No one is really sure how often Google will crawl a website, indexing all new content. Estimates range anywhere from 7 days to 4 weeks. One thing we do know is that the more a site changes, the more likely Google is to index the site. So, making daily content updates, product updates, and image updates will encourage regular indexing or your website. This works out well because if you launched your website in a timely fashion, you will probably be making content, product, and image updates during the post-launch near-term.
You can use all-in-one- cloud-hosted website solutions that are very inexpensive and require little or no coding or design experience. I recommend researching Shopify, WordPress, and Big Commerce to see which model fits your business the best.
Step Two – Optimize Packaging and Shipping
Shipping materials and shipping costs may be one of the greatest challenges to e-commerce business today. The growth of e-commerce has outpaced the advance of shipping technology and carrier services. In the business of e-commerce, the shipping process will represent a loss or a break-even proposition at best. For this reason, it is very important to spend the time and energy making your shipping operations as cost-effective as possible.
Let’s start with shipping and packaging materials. Every e-commerce business is going to have different materials requirements based on the nature of their products. Shipping t-shirts is completely different from shipping glass jars of honey. A simple plastic mailing pouch is perfect for t-shirts but the honey requires other considerations. Anytime you ship glass you must package to prevent breakage. The reality of breakage during shipping is that 95% of the time, the business owner eats both the cost of the product and the shipping fees required to reship the replacement package. It is possible to file a damage claim to your carrier but this process is cumbersome and claims are rarely approved for reimbursement.
Spend some time researching packaging materials and cost. Does it make sense to spend a little extra on materials in order to prevent breakage? Can you buy in bulk to reduce per unit cost? Is there a more cost-effective fill material for your packages? These questions are worth answering because shipping is not about losing money it’s really about losing less money.
The second part of the shipping equation is the carrier. Spend time analyzing all available carrier rates and zones. What are the volume pricing thresholds? How are the fees determined? How will the costs of shipping be covered? Is it possible to compare live shipping rates for several carriers in real time? These are all very important questions because unless your product is small and lightweight, you will probably lose money to your preferred carrier. Below are a few shipping scenario options;
The bottom line is to make your process as efficient and cost-effective as humanly possible. You can do the math for yourself. Would you rather have a 4% conversion rate and a shipping loss or a 1% conversion rate and a break even or 5% profit on your shipping cost? Read Capterra’s review of the best shipping software for 2018.
Step Three – Optimize for Mobile
2018 e-commerce data reveals that 50% of all purchases took place on either a tablet or a mobile device. Mobile sales have been growing steadily since responsive technology was mainstreamed in 2012. In 2015 Google released Mobilegeddon, a tactic boosting the ratings of mobile-friendly websites making it nearly impossible for older web technology to rank in search. This move basically forced responsive web design on all e-commerce stores. Today responsive web design is the norm but it is still important to continually optimize for mobile devices. Below is a quick hit list for mobile optimization;
Step Four – Begin Executing A Thoughtful Email Marketing Strategy
Until now, everything you have done has either been operational or technical. Now that you have a sound e-commerce foundation, it’s time to begin marketing. Email marketing is the most cost-effective way to increase your e-commerce sales and website traffic. Your website probably has a sign-up form field in the footer or maybe in the header, so you probably already have an email marketing list in the works. If so it’s time to test the water. Once you have 25 or more emails in your marketing database you should attempt to connect with a sale or a shipping offer. It is very important to never become satisfied with the size of your email list. Do something every day to grow this list. Email marketing is a long-term marketing strategy so don’t get frustrated if you don’t see instant revenue spikes from your email promotions.
There are many strategies to grow your email list. Below are a few easy and cost-efficient methods;
The great thing about starting small is that email marketing is free or quite inexpensive. Most email service providers off a free plan until your list exceeds a certain number or your monthly sending exceeds a certain volume. Eventually, as your email database grows, you should see approximately 20% of your annual revenue come from email campaigns (at minimum). My favorite email service provider for businesses of all sizes is MailChimp. MailChimp offers plenty of automation tools, segmentation tools, and decent campaign reporting. The platform is very user-friendly and can be mastered in a couple of days. Plus MailChimp definitely gives you the most bang for your buck!
This is just the beginning! These four steps should take no longer than a couple of months with the exception of email marketing which will be ongoing across the lifetime of your business. Be sure and check out the follow-up to the article Digital Strategy from Scratch Part 2 which will complete the start-up phase of your new, stand-alone, e-commerce (B2B) business.