Written by: David Campbell from ClickDesk
With Google now selling Android phones from its first physical storefront and Amazon talking up its ideas for a new type of physical storefront, it’s time to ask a question too seldom asked: What is truly unique about eCommerce? What sets eCommerce apart not just from brick-and-mortar stores, but from other online businesses?
It’s no secret that eCommerce stores have learned from their brick-and-mortar relatives about sales, marketing and customer service “best practices.” In many ways, eCommerce is the clearest example of the digitization or virtualization of entire industries, with websites replicating effective physical shopping experiences as closely as possible. In addition, helpdesk ticketing and real-time customer service–now standard practices for almost every online business, including SaaS companies and other cloud-based products–have evolved directly from eCommerce customer growth strategies, which in turn grew out of age-old techniques for brick-and-mortar customer success.
At the same time, thinking about eCommerce as simply the online version of a brick-and-mortar store can be damaging to online stores looking for a steady increase in conversions and retention. While many successful business practices have transferred directly from brick-and-mortar stores to eCommerce sites, the most successful eCommerce businesses know that it’s essential to look at eCommerce as a unique type of business–not just a website that sells products, not just the marketing arm of a brick-and-mortar location. Here are five sales, marketing and customer service techniques that could hurt a traditional storefront but can lead to awesome successes for online stores of any size and shape.
The great promise of eCommerce was that it could make every customer experience as intimate and personalized as possible so that every shopper gets a “luxury” experience, but the industry too often confuses personalized service with overselling, rather than getting to know their customers first, then building a brand around them, and then upselling. If a customer service rep were to ask to see pictures of a shopper’s kids wearing their new purchase in a brick-and-mortar store, they would probably be fired on the spot, but with social media and real-time plugins on eCommerce sites, you can actually build a relationship with your customers and provide them with a more meaningful experience. From Instagram marketing to user-generated photo contests, the possibilities are endless for oversharing that actually gets results.
Have you ever walked into a brick-and-mortar store, handed them your credit card, written down your address, and said, “Send me something, at least once a month”? Of course not! But in eCommerce subscriptions are more than just a trend–they provide consistent, predictable revenue streams. Cosmetics-subscription service Ipsy is now valued at over $500 million, and it’s hardly the only such service.
The market is becoming inundated with “personalized” shopping subscription services because consumers now expect personalized service online, and for this service to translate into surprises in the mail, even if this means that they return some of the products while keeping others in the monthly bundle. If you do start a subscription service, give it some time to take off. Add a “wish list” feature to your eCommerce site to make it easy for shoppers to save products, then send them personalized coupons for those exact products.
- Chasing Down Shoppers in the Parking Lot
From supermarkets to luxury boutiques, sales staff at brick-and-mortar stores are very unlikely to chase you down in the parking lot unless you’ve left something in the store by accident. The opposite is true with eCommerce. Over 60% of online shopping carts are abandoned before purchase, but there are a ton of apps and techniques to help combat cart abandonment. As a marketing consultant, I’ve heard too many times from eCommerce managers who think that cart abandonment popups and email follow-ups are “too pushy” or “wouldn’t get results.” This is brick-and-mortar thinking. Turn it into digital thinking and you’ll start to see dramatically more conversions.
Aside from the occasional self-service checkout in large retail stores these days (and have you noticed how those self-checkout stands are starting to be staffed by store employees now, too?), customers in a brick-and-mortar stores seldom encounter robots. If they did see a robot in the aisle or delivering a coupon to their door, they would likely run for cover.
With eCommerce, sales and marketing automation is a lifesaver, essentially giving business owners the ability to hire “robots” to learn customer names, interests and behavior, and keep them engaged with personalized conversations and targeted discounts. Unlike earlier, enterprise-level automation products that demanded an entire IT team to operate, the new generation of marketing automation apps includes many that are literally as easy to use as sending an email.
We see this every day at ClickDesk, since our live chat app is not only a popular customer service plugin for eCommerce sites using platforms like Magento and Shopify, but integrates with email marketing automation tools like GetResponse and ConstantContact, as well as full-cycle sales and marketing automation apps like Agile CRM. By connecting all these apps, our eCommerce customers are able not only to only increase conversions with personalized customer experiences, they’re also able to turn support sessions–such as when a customer has an issue or a complaint–into bigger sales. Rather than just trying to save the sale, as is often the case when a customer returns to a brick-and-mortar store with an issue, they’re able to upsell and create dedicated product evangelists. This is possible because the best sales and marketing automation apps don’t just respond to customer behavior, they track it.
- Low Inventory
Imagine that you walk into a physical storefront like a pet supply store looking for an everyday supply such as dog food, only to discover that the aisles are full of nothing but pictures of dog food bags, with no actual physical products around. Fluffy will be very disappointed! (And very hungry!) This point might generate some controversy, but it’s a seldom spoken secret in the eCommerce industry that it’s possible and sometimes highly effective to list products that aren’t yet in inventory or perhaps don’t even exist yet. This is especially true for small eCommerce stores just starting out or larger stores testing a new product line. Then when a product starts selling, you can ramp up production and perhaps make the product a featured one on your eCommerce site.
This type of crowd sourcing and real-time product testing would be the complete downfall of a traditional store, but with eCommerce it can be a healthy way to build your business the way that lean startups do, scaling in real time and focusing on product development in direct response to customer interest and feedback. Just make sure you’re ready to produce the product once an online shopper purchases it, and set a maximum buy quantity if you’ll only be able to obtain or produce a limited batch of the product.
Those are just five practices that can help an eCommerce site succeed, but I encourage you to do your own research and think outside of the box when it comes to the best growth hacking techniques for your particular online store. Every eCommerce business is unique, but we all share the same goal: growing sustainably for years to come.