Retail, in general, is a roller coaster of an industry. Everyone knows that many retail businesses hit “black” due to holiday shopping trends — there’s a reason the day after Thanksgiving was initially called Black Friday. Depending on your niche, you might experience a different fluctuation; maybe people are more likely to buy something from your business during the spring or summer months, for example.
And retail sales rise and fall on both bigger and smaller trends, too. A look at retail sales in the U.S. over the past eight years shows a steady increase — as expected in any somewhat healthy economy — until 2020.
Suddenly, the forecast is around $50 billion short of the previous year due to COVID-19. After 2020, the forecast begins to climb again each year.
Fads, seasons, local events or tourism, and new products on the market are all things that can impact the scope of your sales, whether you’re a physical store, ecommerce store, or both. Launches and growth can also affect your revenue and sales.
Luckily, the right tools and strategies can help your business become consistent, increasing your sales and revenue as much as possible within the greater picture of trends. Some of those tools include creating and maintaining a robust ecommerce store and investing in online marketing. Discover how to boost your online sales with proven tips and tools in four categories of marketing strategies below.
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4 Categories of Strategies for Increasing Ecommerce Sales
You have many options to increase sales and support stability as you ride the online retail roller-coaster. Most of them fall into one of several main categories. This article concentrates on four common categories that can help you scale your online store and increase ecommerce sales. Here is an overview of each of the strategies that we will cover in more detail later.
1. Site experience strategies.
Customer experience is important. Around a third of customers just need one bad experience to write your brand off, and a whopping 92% said they wouldn’t keep buying from a company after two or three bad experiences. Ensure consumers have a good experience on your ecommerce site by paying attention to important factors, such as page design, quality images, easy-to-use customer service options, simple shopping cart procedures, and strong site architecture.
For example, Clarks offers a brand-appropriate, friendly, and visually pleasing site from the moment you land on the homepage. Attention to these types of details really makes a difference in ecommerce sales numbers.
2. Website traffic strategies.
A website traffic strategy refers to the efforts that help drive new customers to your online store. They include many efforts, such as search engine optimization, PPC and other ads, and starting a blog to publish long-form content and expand your reach. In short, these are all the organic and paid methods by which you ensure people can find you online and at the right time in their buying journeys.
3. Email marketing strategies.
Other than your website, your email list is one of the few ecommerce marketing tools you have control over. For example, you don’t own the content on social pages and have very limited control over search engine rankings. That makes email marketing an important method to cultivate, as you’ll have access to consumers even if other doors are closed to you. Plus, email drives a lot of ROI — close to 60% of marketers say it’s the marketing tool with the biggest return for them.
4. Social Strategies.
Just because you don’t own social platforms doesn’t mean you can’t put them to work for you. Social media is where many people spend much of their online time, so it’s important to position yourself to meet consumers where they are. Social strategies include using these platforms to communicate with consumers, post advertisements, partner with influencers, and even drive sales.
Ecommerce Site Experience Strategies
People care about how your site functions and looks, and you should care about what they think. Customer experience on your site can lead to conversions or not. For example, consider the fact that most people will wait a maximum of 6 to 10 seconds for a page to load before abandoning your site; a 1-second delay can reduce your conversion rate by 7%. It might not sound like much, but if you’re making $10,000 a day, a 1-second delay can drop your ecommerce sales by more than a quarter-million dollars per year.
But page speed is only one aspect of customer experience. In addition to ensuring your ecommerce site is speedy, consider adopting some of these other tips.
1. High-quality product photos.
Whether people choose to shop online or are forced to go a digital route due to limited local resources or a pandemic, they still want their shopping experience to work for them. In most cases, that means being able to see the product in as realistic and high-quality a representation as possible. Adding photos to your product pages that helps a person understand the exact nature — the color, size, and features — of a product is important.
Consider the extensive product pages from BigCommerce client Hush Puppies. Consumers can view shoes in large, detailed photographs. There are also multiple images to provide a look at the footwear from every angle as well as close-ups of important details.
Some tips for using photographs and images to increase online sales include:
- Hiring a professional photographer: Yes, smartphones take high-quality images now, and you might even have an aspiring photographer on your staff. If that’s the case, let them take control of your brand Instagram stories for a day or two. But leave the ecommerce site pics to the pros. Professional product photographers have the equipment, the knowledge, and the skill to display your items in the best possible light for consumers.
- Offer close-ups of the product: The ante on user experience is always upped when consumers can interact with product information. Make it possible for them to zoom in or tap through images with different angles so they can get a full appreciation for the product. Close-ups are especially important when the product has unique details buyers might want to get a look at.
- Run photos through an editor: Add borders, enhance lighting, and place products against backgrounds that help tell the story of the item or its use. Just make sure you don’t edit out colors or other important features.
2. Simple checkout process.
According to Statista, cart abandonment rates ranged from 67% to 96%, depending on the industry, for the month of March 2020.
Ecommerce stores in the fashion industry, for example, experienced cart abandonment 90% of the time.
That means the majority of potential customers are walking away before they make a purchase, but after they put something in the cart. Common reasons people abandon carts include complex checkout processes, surprise shipping costs or other fees, and an inability to use the payment method they prefer.
Here are some things you can do to simplify the checkout process.
- Make sure checkout is on a single page: Use embedded forms to allow someone to move from one piece of the checkout to another without having to move back and forth between pages.
- Offer guest checkout: Don’t make someone create an account just to buy something from you. They may not want an account, not want to divulge that much information, or not have time right now to do so. It’s also a good idea to limit what you ask for in your checkout processes. People are understandably wary of sharing information online, so only require the information you must have to fulfill an order.
- Autofill addresses: Use automations and database information to prefill data fields, such as a consumer’s address, if they’re a returning customer. Anything you can do to make it less work to make a purchase can increase online sales.
- Remove any pop-ups or distractions: Get rid of anything on the page that could annoy potential customers or distract them from entering payment and completing the process. Shopping carts and checkout pages aren’t ideal locations for ads, pop-ups, or interactive elements that aren’t related to the task at hand.
Review the streamlined, distraction-free checkout page at Firewire Surfboards to look at a great page designed to reduce cart abandonment.
When you’re considering your checkout pages, make sure they work on mobile devices, too. In fact, take time to ensure your entire ecommerce site performs well on mobile. More people use mobile devices than desktop computers or laptops to browse the internet, and that includes shopping online, so without viable responsive design, you’re missing out on a lot of customers.
3. Make the most out of customer reviews.
What if the product doesn’t live up to the description? What if the money spent is wasted? Is this really the right toy/shirt/kitchen gadget for the needs at hand? These are just some of the questions that can keep shoppers from making a purchase on your page. After all, they can’t touch the product to find out for themselves, and you’re admittedly a bit biased.
What both new and existing customers can do is find out what other people think of the product. Around 75% of consumers don’t trust advertising. But the majority do trust online reviews — or at least the overall consensus of online reviews. Consumers want to see at least 40 or so reviews before they trust the average rating on a product.
Display customer reviews right on the product pages to help boost conversion rates. You can put a couple of testimonials or quotes from reviews on the page, but don’t forget that the total number of reviews and the average star rating is typically what is most important to potential customers.
Check out the way Ivory places the star rating, number of reviews, and links to reviews in a key location on its pages. Consumers can even hover over the rating to see how the numbers break down.
4. Boost trust on your site.
Ensuring customers have access to what others are saying about your service or products isn’t the only way to boost trust. You can also use other on-site tactics to help consumers trust you and thus increase ecommerce sales.
You want to increase trust at every possible stage in your funnel. For example, make sure you’re as authentic and consistent on social media as you can be. Wherever you show up online, be appropriately transparent, too. That can mean doing the work to make sure the keywords you’re targeting with online content actually lines up with the user intent, but it can also mean being present on your site to assist new and existing customers.
Here are a few other great ways to boost trust on your site to increase ecommerce sales:
- Add live chat: Consumers want to know that the brands they do business with will be responsive when the need arises. Adding live chat to your site makes it clear you’re the kind of ecommerce store that answers when called upon. Plus, live chat is something that people really appreciate. According to Econsultancy, live chat has a 73% customer satisfaction rating. That’s higher than either the email or phone customer service score. Taking care of your customer’s needs immediately on-site is a great way to increase online sales.
- Use trust badges: Are you a Better Business Bureau member in good standing? Do you have the seal of approval from an important industry organization? Whatever your ecommerce business’s claim to fame is, if there’s a badge for it, don’t forget to display it on your site. Even if you’re not sure, consumers will know exactly what the badges are, displaying them can help improve the impression that your brand is official or trustworthy. For example, Bliss has small badges on its ecommerce store footer to ensure customers that products are free from parabens and made with cruelty-free processes. Rosenthal uses badges to illustrate payment methods, shipping methods, site security, and manufacturer partnerships.
5. Use personalization.
A Monetate survey asked businesses whether personalization was a critical factor in their success, and 94% of respondents said yes. That’s not surprising, considering most consumers are fully enmeshed in a Netflix culture that serves up constant suggestions based on past purchases and other behavior.
Personalization is a great way to increase sales on your ecommerce platform for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that you care about the consumer and want to develop a long relationship with them, and that builds trust. Second, it cuts through the noise to provide the consumer with the most likely product that will persuade them to make a purchase.
Here are a few tips for getting more personal with your marketing for ecommerce:
- Display recently viewed items: You don’t have to get so technical with your ecommerce store sales to increase them. Simply showing people items they recently viewed can help them remember what they were interested in or give them a second chance to make a purchase. Since it takes a couple of touchpoints for a person to pull the trigger on making a purchase, this can help you get to that level with a consumer while they browse your site.
- Provide personalized products based on location. Another way to increase store sales is to use geolocation to personalize what you offer. For example, if you know a person is shopping from a Gulf Coast area during hurricane season and you sell supplies relevant to threatening weather, you could put those items front-and-center. Alternatively, if you sell large items that are expensive to ship, you could offer free shipping only to people within your own delivery area.
Site Traffic Strategies
Before you can worry about customer experience in your ecommerce store, though, you have to have a marketing strategy to get people there. That’s where site traffic strategies come in. There are numerous ways to do this, but two of the most common and cost-effective are detailed below.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It refers to the efforts on and off your site that help you rank high enough in search results for people to find you when they conduct relevant queries. Since around 85% of people start their shopping journey in Google and other search engines, this is simply not a step you can afford to skip for marketing in ecommerce. If you’re not showing in the search engines, you’re simply not going to be making the kind of sales numbers you want for an online store.
Here are a few tips for creating strong SEO:
- Use long-tail keywords: Long-tail keywords don’t have the highest search volumes. They tend to be niche, but that makes them more likely to convert. For example, “shirts” is a high-volume keyword. People could search for this keyword for all types of reasons, such as designs or printers. However, “red women’s long-sleeve cotton shirt” is very specific. Chances are, someone looking for this keyword has an intent to purchase just such an item. By putting long-tail keywords in your product names, descriptions, and meta tags, you help increase sales.
- Create blog content: The more relevant, high-quality, and helpful content you have on your pages, the better your SEO is likely to be. This type of content also helps create authority and trust in your brand, which can increase sales. One of the best ways to add this type of content to your pages is by consistently blogging. Well-written, interesting blogs also increase your chances of getting backlinks from other sites, which can drive your page traffic, too.
- Identify website errors: Errors on your site don’t just impact consumers. They can also reduce search engine bot capability to crawl and index your pages correctly, driving down your page rank. And Google will penalize you for some errors, such as duplicate content, because it sees this as the mark of a low-quality page. Take time to remove or fix broken links and redirects, ensure all your content is unique, and update problematic images with higher-quality ones that load quickly.
2. Remarketing campaigns.
While it sounds like it might annoy people, carefully targeted remarketing can actually be helpful for consumers. It reminds them they wanted to make a purchase and may even remind them where they were looking after they have forgotten.
Email Marketing Strategies
The average ROI for email marketing gets talked about a lot because it’s generally an epic number. According to Hubspot, one of the latest numbers for average email marketing ROI in 2020 is 3,800%. That’s right: $38 for every $1 you spend.
Before you can engage in this lucrative marketing strategy, though, you have to ensure you’ve built a healthy email list. Some tips for encouraging sign-ups include:
- Offering something of value in exchange for the email address. For example, give away a free e-book download, or offer a 10% off or free shipping coupon for all new subscribers to your email list.
- Making it easy to sign up. Place a sign-up form box on all your web pages so people can easily enter their email address.
- Promoting your newsletters via other channels, including social media and your blog, so people know they’re missing valuable content if they don’t sign up.
Once you do have a robust email list, put it to work with some of the tips below.
1. Send welcome emails.
As soon as someone signs up for your email list, send a welcome email. This is a personal touch that can result in some immediate sales and also sets the stage for a positive relationship with your customer.
- Timing is everything: Run some tests to find out what works best for your business and target audience. Find a time period that’s far enough from the original sign-up, so your welcome email is a friendly reminder — but not so far that the consumer forgot they signed up to begin with. That’s the path to a quick unsubscribe!
- Your subject is key: Keep your subject line punchy, active, and interesting. But don’t be vague or so quirky that the person doesn’t know what on earth is going on with your email.
- Tell people what you want them to do: Your marketing emails should have a call to action. Let consumers know what they can do next to interact with you or make a purchase and provide them a link so they don’t have to do a lot of work to follow up.
2. Follow up for abandoned carts.
You already saw that abandoned carts account for a huge portion of online carts. But you can turn that large percentage into an opportunity with cart abandonment emails. These are messages that remind people they were shopping for something on your site, and tactfully suggest that they might want to complete the sales process.
- Be specific: Tell the reader exactly what they left in their cart and why it might be urgent to finalize the purchase now. For example, maybe you only have two of those items left, the price is going up tomorrow, or they need to order today to ensure shipping by a certain date.
- Offer an incentive: In some cases, people may be mulling over the purchase still, not ready to finish the sales process because they’re still thinking about the price. An incentive can help them act more quickly; you might offer 10% off, free shipping, or a BOGO deal if they make a purchase the same day they receive the email.
3. Upsell in your emails.
Good sales strategies typically include an upsell somewhere. Emails can be a great place to do this. If someone has purchased a product, you can send emails that offer accessories or relevant items. If someone has left an item in their cart, you can send an email that explains how another item might be a better deal or more to their liking.
Millions of people flock to social media on a daily basis. They talk to friends, catch up on the news, and get product recommendations from brands all within their favorite apps. The average user spends more than two hours a day on social media — and around half of that time is spent on these apps.
Ecommerce companies that want to drive up sales numbers simply have to consider how to use social media to their advantage. Here are just a few strategies you might try.
1. Partner with influencers.
Close to a third of people who are influenced online and make a purchase, point to celebrities and other social influences as the force that swayed them. While confidence in celebrity endorsements has waned in recent years, due in part to a growing number of scandals among those populations, organic influencers still have a lot to offer.
These are people with strong voices and loyal followings who are organically part of the communities they represent. If you can get these people to talk about your ecommerce company, you can typically see increasing sales numbers. Here are just two ways to get influencers to speak up about your products.
- Ask them to review your products: Provide a free product and ask the influencer to review it and include it in their social posts. This increases awareness of your product.
- Offer discount codes through them: Provide a discount code specific to the influencer that their followers can use to save money on your goods and services. This is a great way to ensure the promotion of your brand because it gives the influencer something valuable they can share. That makes them more valuable to their following, so it’s a win-win proposition.
2. Use social media for customer service.
These platforms offer a great opportunity for customer service. The customers are there already, and there are powerful built-in chat functions you can leverage. Find ways not just to connect with customers on platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but to have your staff answer questions, respond to concerns, and even help manage orders.
Things to Consider for Effectively Scaling Ecommerce Sales
Before you start investing in some of these ecommerce sales and marketing strategies, make sure you are ready for the potential influx of new customers. Here are a few things you should consider to ensure you can effectively scale your sales.
1. You’ll need to invest in technology.
Test your platform to ensure it can handle increased traffic and orders. Find potential bottlenecks and ask yourself and your staff whether you can invest in technology to automate or quicken those processes. Using technology to standardize, automate, and strengthen all the most important functions for your site — include shopping cards, payment processes, and integrations between front and back systems — ensures you’re ready to scale.
2. Should establish standardized processes.
It’s not enough to make sure technology is in place. Everyone in your organization needs to know what they are responsible for, how to make the technology work correctly, and how to address various customer service issues as they arise. From order taking and inventory management to shipping and returns, make sure you have a standardized process for everything.
3. Always measure.
Finally, ensure you have a way to capture and understand the analytics related to your business. If you don’t know what your sales numbers are today, how can you know if your marketing efforts improved them? While retail certainly does exist in an organic ebb and flow, you also need to be aware of how your traffic, conversion, and sales figures are trending. If the numbers are unexpectedly low, you may need to investigate to find problematic areas you can address so you can continue to scale.
Ecommerce isn’t always easy. It comes with many of the same challenges that traditional retail does. But when you’re prepared to do the work and show up consistently and appropriately in marketing, you can increase sales over time and grow your business.
Originally published Jan 13, 2021, updated May 22, 2021