The US e-commerce market continues to maintain a healthy growth rate. Smartphones, tablets and other portable devices give consumers easy access to purchase online at their convenience. According to Business Insider, the total retail market is inching forward, but e-commerce sales are soaring year over year with a 15.7% growth rate in 2016.
In-store retailers are now battling challenges such as “showrooming” — where consumers view products in a traditional brick and mortar retail store or other offline setting, and then buy it online, sometimes at a lower price. For e-commerce this poses a huge opportunity, however the barriers to entry for online businesses are greater as competition increases.
For small businesses managing online stores, in order to remain relevant and successful, the key is to implement focused strategies that ultimately drive sales and customer satisfaction. So where should small business e-commerce retailers be focusing their efforts for the future?
Mobile – leading the way!
Consumers can now shop anywhere and anytime across smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. In 2016, 19% percent of the U.S. retail sales market came from mobile devices. Small business e-commerce retailers are called to adopt mobile (if they haven’t already) as an integral part of their sales strategy. At a base level websites should be optimized for mobile with a clear, intuitive purchase path across smartphones and tablets.
Increased mobile traffic is a major opportunity for retailers because mobile enables more frequent contact with the shopper than stores and desktop computers. A positive user experience from product research through the online purchase process is critical. Using technology like buy buttons and one-step checkout will also help increase conversion rates.
Curated Content and Personalization
A common challenge for e-commerce retailers has been to match the right products to the right customer. The future of e-commerce for small business sees personalization and curated content as key to gaining a competitive advantage.
Amazon championed personalization when they began filtering and recommending products based on what customers had previously purchased. Today other leading e-commerce retailers have adopted similar strategies transforming the standard catalog-like nature of e-commerce websites into premium, personalized experiences that encourage purchases.
A great example is Net-a-Porter’s digital magazine, The Edit. Curated by its top fashion editors and stylists, each installment features products that can be purchased directly from the magazine, creating a seamless path to purchase. Based on its success, The Edit has been extended to a print edition where every product within the magazine can be purchased via QR codes.
E-commerce small businesses are now called to see how they can use curated content proactively to enhance their customers’ experience online. Effective implementation not only encourages sales, but also builds loyalty by giving customers a reason to return.
As it becomes easier for new e-commerce retailers to get started, and with such increased competition, customer service and satisfaction are key to differentiation.
E-commerce retailers should focus on their end-to-end order management processes and ways to enhance their customers' experience. Free shipping, extended returns periods, online order tracking, SMS status updates, alternative delivery methods, free returns and 24/7 support via email, phone and live chat to name a few.
Loyalty programs are used to drive customer retention. Retailers can offer gift cards and rewards for frequent spending, encouraging customers to return to shop in the future. Leading brands have embraced gamification as part of rewarding points to further enhance the customer experience.
In particular, emerging technologies such as QR codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) are bridging online and offline retail. NFC, for example, can be used in two ways: to drive users on the street to your online store or a particular online promotion (via scanning a physical chip) and alternatively, to allow customers to access more information about products in-store.
As technology progresses rapidly, e-commerce small businesses must stay relevant. The current trends are focused on the customers experience. As Deborah Schultz puts it — “technology changes, humans don’t.” Ultimately it’s about creating a holistic approach to e-commerce that sees all your marketing channels working together seamlessly to drive purchases and build customer loyalty. Positive experiences will ensure your brand stands out from competition and that customers return again and again.