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Ecommerce success is first and foremost about offering a great product. Ecommerce marketing is much easier when the product sells itself.
But even if you’re selling steroids to professional cyclists, there are some historical learnings and best practices that may increase your odds of online selling success.
My business partner and I grew our ecommerce startup to a couple million in revenue. I’ll share with you some of the tricks I learned from our success (and equally common: our failures).
And I’ll highlight some of the best growth tips I’ve learned from the playbooks of companies like Harry’s Razors, NastyGal, Dolls Kill, Casper, Warby Parker, Everlane and more.
But before you read this manual, one disclaimer: don’t forget to 1) make an amazing product and 2) take the time to interview and understand your customer.
If you want the full scoop on Everlane’s growth read here.
Table of Contents
Your Ecommerce Website
Before we talk about ecommerce marketing, we should talk about the optimal ecommerce website.
Have you ever been on a website and couldn’t find what you were looking for? Or just browsed and left, without ever considering a purchase? Even if you have a best-in-class experience, the average ecommerce site has just a 1-2% conversion rate. That means, at best 98% of people will leave your site without purchasing!
So the first thing you can do to dominate ecommerce is create a useable site optimized for conversion.
There is no magic formula to creating a high converting, perfect ecommerce site.
However, there are some very simple do’s and don’ts that are easy rules of thumb.
Do use a simple navigation bar and website layout that allow users to find what they’re looking for quickly. Everlane’s website has always done this well. When in doubt — simpler is better.
Don’t mess with the checkout experience. Have you noticed how nearly all checkout experiences, from Amazon and Etsy to almost every online store are basically the same? When it comes to users’ money, familiarity is best. Even in a best case scenario, there is a 68.9% average cart abandonment rate. Don’t mess with the experience. Keep it familiar!
Do use professional photography. Companies like Pixc specialize in ecommerce photography and will make your website feel clean and professional. Better yet, find a local photographer looking to earn a few bucks.
Don’t forget to tell every single person in your network about your store. Every visit, share, “like,” and backlink is another opportunity for someone in your network (or your network’s network!) to engage with your brand. Learn about the importance of your network in launching an ecommerce business here.
Do sell internationally. I regret not selling internationally at BeGood. In fact, we turned away hundreds of customers who bothered to write in over the years asking us to ship internationally. We thought international shipping was an added distraction, but in hindsight it was missed revenue.
Sucharitu Mulpuru of Forrester Research is a believer in ecommerce international shipping. He says this about the wildly successful, outrageous ecommerce brand, Dolls Kill:
“I think these businesses are highly international and very social in nature. I look at the fashion and wonder who wears this stuff — not anyone I know. But I think it’s people most of us don’t know because they’re in Brazil, Australia and other [big] places for club wear.”
Doll’s Kill definitely is a niche business, but don’t laugh – at one point it was San Francisco’s fastest growing business, notching $15 million in revenue in 2015. Today, their revenue is estimated to be over $50 million.
Don’t skip out on a product story. Make an “about us” page that is brand-defining, interesting, eye-catching, sincere and humanizing. Every sale you make is carefully considered and your customers need to know there’s a human on the other side of the interweb with a real product and a real story to tell.
Jack Erwin starts its email automation campaign (the first email every email registration gets) with a summary of its “about us” page + some beautiful photography.
Do use a software like Shopify for your ecommerce store. There’s a reason Shopify has a market capitalization of nearly $150 billion — they commoditized ecommerce software. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel and engineer your own custom website. Take a look at some incredible ecommerce stores built on Shopify.
Do invest in customer support. Treat your customers like gold. Reach out to them to surprise and delight, use live chat, and do anything you can to make your customers happy. 80% of people stop doing business with a company because of poor customer support. In a competitive, expensive advertising landscape, you can’t afford to lose customers because of something so silly.
The Advantages of Ecommerce: Email Marketing
Before the internet enabled us to shop online, people would bounce in and out of stores to buy clothing, personal items, books, food and C.D.s. Shoppers were basically anonymous to store owner. That is to say — the owner had no way to communicate with his/her customers about new inventory or sales.
As an ecommerce marketer, we have the distinct advantage of being able to seamlessly collect email addresses on our websites. Like it or not, email marketing can drive about 25% of ecommerce revenue according to this source.
At my company BeGood, email drove 21% of our business.
When you begin selling online, begin collecting email addresses! It’s great for ecommerce retention. Email communication is basically free. If you have a user’s email address, even if they don’t make a purchase on their first visit to your website you will have more opportunities to convert them later.
If your ecommerce store is built on Shopify, a similar tool, Welcome Header Bar can be installed right from the Shopify App store.
In either case, your goal should be to collect as many email addresses you can without harming the customer experience. Once you have email addresses, you should start communicating with your customers in a professional way — Mailchimp is the easiest software to do this with. Mailchimp’s simple drag-and-drop editor helps marketers make cutesie email campaigns quickly and intuitively. Plus, the basic plan is free.
Starting email collection and marketing right away is one of the best things you can do to set your ecommerce store up for success. Ecommerce marketing boiled down, is about acquiring users for cheap and converting them at a profitable clip.
Choose an email marketing software solution here.
If You’re Bootstrapped, Start with Cheap Marketing
Ecommerce marketing is all about making more money than you spend. When you’re just setting out to market your ecommerce store, there are low cost ways to garner website visitors and purchases.
Guerilla marketing is creative, cheap marketing that is unconventional and sometimes even viral. For instance, Chubbies built an incredibly robust Tailgate Tour, in which they gave out freebies and tailgated with college kids, building a cult following around their weekend-ready shorts.
- Go to trade shows and open your business up to wholesale in scenarios where you can cut a deal with nice margins (50%+ for wholesale).
- Do affiliate marketing or blogger outreach and execute smart PR strategies.
- SEO for ecommerce businesses is another favorite tactic of mine. If you can execute a smart SEO strategy, you can drive customers to your site via Google search for free.
- Remarketing is usually a pretty cheap way to drive customer acquisition — you cookie your site’s visitors and serve them ads via Facebook and Google to keep them engaged and drive sales. Also try platforms like Criteo, which is remarketing on steroids.
- Because of rising ad costs, it’s difficult, but not impossible to make Facebook Ads and Google Ads work for your business. If you plan correctly and think logically about your product and how it maps to these channels, you can make it work!
Optimize Your Product Pages and Photos
You may hear people in the startup world telling you to “a/b test all the time!” That sounds really nice, but you don’t have time to tweak and play with every part of your online store.
The most important pages on your website are the pages you sell on – your product pages. It would be very smart to a/b test these pages. Use a simple, free tool like Google Optimize to create several variants of the appearance of these pages. You will likely find winning combinations, which afford a more optimal purchasing experience, thus earning your business more money.
Now defunct NastyGal frequently a/b tested its photography, often seeing sales increases of 400%+ when they a/b tested product photos.
Optimize for Repeat Business
Dollar Shave Club is a subscription razor company that has done so well that it recently sold for $1 billion to Unilever. 81% of Dollar Shave Club’s customers repeat purchase.
This is remarkable, especially when you consider that the average ecommerce repeat rate is 20% (though I’ve seen a few different figures).
Dollar Shave Club built repeat business right into its subscription razor company. They make it incredibly easy for customers to buy from them once and then fill up on more razor blades over the years. You should make repeat purchasing on your website similarly easy.
Why? Because lifetime value is the most important metric in all of business.
Always use email marketing to alert your customers of new product releases or “back-in-stock” notifications. Both of these will increase your repeat rate.
Include something clever in the box you ship that may entice customers to purchase from you again. Warby Parker once included a make-your-own paper snowman kit in its holiday packages. If you want simpler – offer a coupon code for your customers’ next purchase. Mail order companies have been doing this for years.
Inject subscription purchases whenever possible. There’s a reason that many of the most successful ecommerce businesses are subscription services similar Dollar Shave Club’s monthly razor subscription – every customer acquired is very valuable. If you ever find opportunities to make some or all of your business subscription, I would recommend doing so.
Make Your Best Customers Happy
Simply, your best customers should be treated like gold. Your top 1% of ecommerce customers spend 30x more than the average customer.
At BeGood, we liked to delight our best customers with out-of-the-blue emails, special discounts and we even asked them to help us decide which styles to produce.
Who doesn’t appreciate the warm fuzzies that come with amazing customer service?
Ecommerce marketing hasn’t changed a ton in the last few years. New channels have emerged — like Snapchat, TikTok, and influencer marketing — but the fact remains that a great product and a few best practices will sell itself.
When it comes to marketing your ecommerce business, remember to focus on a few things:
- A simple website and checkout experience
- Repeat rate and lifetime value of your customer via great customer service, live chat, and surprise and delight moments
- Cheap channels like SEO, affiliate, and remarketing
- Email marketing
The equation isn’t so difficult. Follow these rules and you too can reach your next revenue target. If you’re having trouble, shoot me an email ([email protected]). I try and respond to all messages within a few days.