Posted on May 31, 2017
Filed Under (Ecommerce) by jennifer

Experts in online sales and marketing share their tips regarding how startups and smaller ecommerce sites can compete with larger businesses – and use their size to their advantage.

With ecommerce and mobile commerce booming, many would-be entrepreneurs, as well as owners of small brick-and-mortar stores, have set up shop online. But competition in cyberspace can be brutal. So what can small and/or new online businesses do to attract eyeballs (and sales) and beat out their much larger (and better bankrolled) competition? Here are 11 suggestions.

1. Choose your ecommerce software/platform wisely.

“SMBs should do their research when choosing the software on which they build their ecommerce store,” says Jason Woosley, senior vice president, Product & Technology, Magento Commerce. Instead of automatically picking the cheapest, most basic option, new ecommerce business owners should “consider platforms that are scalable for future growth…, offer security measures and are equipped with marketing and analytics tools. The key is to identify the business’s unique goals and select the… software [or platform] that enables both immediate and long-term growth.”

2. Make your branding stand out (unique).

“The first and foremost thing to [help you] stand out from competitors is to have an original and unique brand identity,” says Daniel Shane, a branding expert at LogoOrbit. This should start with your logo and include your website and how you “represent your business visually.”

3. Use original photos and content.

Don’t use stock images, or product images supplied by the manufacturer. Instead, “take professional photos and edit them so that they are visually appealing and clearly highlight the item for sale,” says Gwen Schlefer, PR manager, Bonanza. “There are tons of free tools to help elevate photos to a professional selling level. Gimp has a massive suite of tools to help with all your editing needs and the Background Burner is a powerful tool that removes all background imagery in order to only display the foreground object.”

Similarly, when writing product descriptions, don’t cut and paste the manufacturer’s copy. Instead, write fresh, original copy to describe products – and try to update copy regularly.

4. Feature user-generated content.

“Ask [customers] for images and videos [of themselves using your product] and display them on product and category pages,” says Theresa O’Neil, senior vice president, Marketing, PowerReviews. “Eighty-eight percent of consumers specifically look for visuals, such as photos or videos submitted by other consumers, prior to making a purchase.”

5. Make your site search-engine friendly (SEO).

“To stay on top of your competitors as an ecommerce business, you need to have a strong SEO strategy,” says Matt Franks, managing director, Dreambooth. “Optimize all your website’s pages with relevant keywords. Give your products detailed descriptions, which include keywords – [and] have a detailed description of your company on [your] Home page, which explains who you are and what you do.”

6. Have a mobile version of your site.

“If brands aren’t focused on mobile optimization, they’re already losing,” says Ed Burek, director of Solutions Marketing, SiteSpect. “Mobile continues to play a key role in online shoppers’ journeys. For [small] ecommerce businesses looking to provide a compelling customer experience, they need to [think about] the… way consumers browse and make purchases” and ensure they’re meeting customers where they shop.

7. Use marketplaces in addition to a standalone website.

“All merchants have a desire to increase conversion, but the goal is unattainable if you can’t drive traffic to your site,” explains Deniz Ibrahim, a product marketing principal at BigCommerce. “The most successful understand that consumers aren’t inherently going to visit a website they have no experience with. As a result, they work to drive higher brand awareness by putting products in all the places their customers make shopping decisions.”

That’s why “55 percent of product searches today start on Amazon,” he says. “Listing on Amazon doesn’t hurt your brand, but rather opens it up to a huge opportunity. The same goes for eBay, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Giving your customer as many opportunities to interact with your brand (consistently) in a channel they are comfortable with only serves to build a stronger connection, and, in turn, drive traffic.”

That’s why new ecommerce businesses “should consider an online marketplace,” says Marshal Kushniruk, executive vice president, Avalara. “Etsy and Amazon are the best known ecommerce platforms, but there are other online marketplaces to consider, such as Bonanza, Jet, Overstock and even niche marketplaces.

“Platforms that already attract a solid or targeted customer base may enable smaller businesses to bring their products to market faster and reach new customers more easily,” he explains. “These platforms may also help smaller companies solve, or guide them through, many of the complex legal and technology issues small businesses face – such as managing digital payment options, sales tax management… and more.”

8. Make customers feel special by providing superior customer service and support.

“One of the biggest advantages of being a small retailer is the ability to connect with your customers in a way that a big box retailer like Target, Walmart or even Amazon never could,” says Ibrahim. “For them, the 1:1 connection simply can’t be replicated at scale, giving you an opportunity to connect in a personalized way.

“The simple act of engaging with your customers via social media channels and responding to messages, or leaving a handwritten note in product packaging, can create a lot of added value for the customer,” he explains. “People want to interact with other people, so humanizing the brand provides a leg up in the crowded ecommerce environment.”

Similarly, provide customers with multiple methods to contact your business should they have any questions about your products or service pre- or post-sale. And be sure you staff your customer service and support areas with people familiar with your products or service who can quickly respond to customer queries, whether they come in via phone, text, email or social media.

9. Keep the checkout process seamless and quick.

“When an online shopper is ready to buy, a simple checkout experience is crucial,” says Jamie Domenici, vice president of SMB Marketing, Salesforce. “Companies must keep it linear and move customers toward completing a purchase. For example, avoid asking shoppers to create an account when they are confirming their order. Minimizing the amount of work they have to do can help ensure shoppers won’t abandon their cart.”

“Shoppers expect ultimate convenience, and any small annoyance, like needing to re-enter a billing address or clicking between keyboards on a mobile device, [can] lead them to just give up,” adds Andy Barker, senior director, Strategy & Growth, Global Payments, Magento Commerce. So make paying simple – and mobile friendly.

“There’s an abundance of emerging convenience-first-based payment methods, from Apple Pay to PayPal [and] Venmo,” he explains. “So SMBs [can find the] solutions that best suits their customers, [which] can be the difference between a sale made and a sale lost.”

10. Connect with influencers.

“Connecting with experts and influencers within your specific field is important for staying relevant in the market,” says Jenni Macleod, brand awareness manager at Love Crafts. “At Love Knitting and Love Crochet we love connecting and collaborating with knitting and crochet designers, [which] adds value to our content and user experience.”

11. Reward customers for shopping with you.

“The single most important thing a business can do to stand out from the competition is to implement a strong rewards program,” says Alex Keats, customer loyalty specialist, Sweet Tooth. “In an environment where the boundaries of competition are becoming lower and lower, retaining your customers and keeping them loyal is becoming more and more important.”

According to Sweet Tooth’s research, retailers that run a customer rewards program enjoy much higher revenue than competitors who aren’t rewarding customer loyalty. “As ecommerce continues to evolve and brands struggle to differentiate themselves, it will become imperative to show your customers appreciation by rewarding their loyalty with a rewards program.”

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