In this industry, we often discuss marketing strategies and sales tactics as if investing enough in the right strategies can make any business successful. The reality is less optimistic. Nine out of 10 startups fail, and in many cases that is because the concept was flawed from the start.
Below are four warning signs that your e-commerce idea needs to be retooled in order to be successful in the long run. This isn't to say that your brand is doomed to failure if you have already picked up and starting running with one of these ideas, but if these signs sound familiar, now would be a good time to start considering a pivot.
1. "E-commerce marketplace" is your brand's only identity.
The most successful e-commerce sites are retailers and marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. Naturally, anybody who wants to make it big selling products online has their eyes on these companies and is paying close attention to what they do.
But no modern e-commerce site will be successful if they merely try to replicate what these sites have done. We're not saying that you can't compete with and outperform these three industry giants in certain areas of the market, but merely being a marketplace for shoppers to find products isn't how you are going to do that.
To find success, you need something to differentiate your brand from the big three. Remember that Amazon's brand initially focused on being the place to buy books, eBay was the place to auction and bid, and Etsy was a place for one-of-a-kind products made by creative craftspeople. These brands were successful because they had a starting point that differentiated them from "generic retailer #2387."
For an idea of how important this is, consider the case of Susty Party. Susty Party makes environmentally friendly, responsibly made disposable tableware. But this wasn't immediately clear from their original homepage. Changing the homepage to clarify this differentiating factor led to a 250 percent increase in conversions.
To be successful, a differentiating factor needs to be meaningful and significant. It can't be "we're Amazon, but our site design is more visually appealing." A lot of e-commerce sites think they can find success with an approach like that, and most of them end up barely eking out an existence or failing.
2. You have a boilerplate lead capturing strategy.
The digital marketing industry is a very open space, with many firms and publications offering up great advice to the industry at large about how to capture leads. This is a great thing, and not inherently problematic.
Problems do start to show up, however, when generic advice isn't tailored to your business. This is an especially big problem for e-commerce brands since most lead-capturing advice is published by bloggers who sell their own products, marketers for B2B companies, and of course marketing firms that are promoting themselves.
The lead capturing strategies that work for these businesses are often quite different from the ones that work for e-commerce sites.
You're probably familiar with what these boilerplate lead capturing strategies look like. They are typically built around lead magnets such as e-books or whitepapers.
There's nothing inherently wrong with these lead capturing strategies, and e-commerce brands certainly can put them to use. But this inbound marketing industry standard was really developed with bloggers and B2B brands in mind. While we've already pointed out that you shouldn't copy Amazon, eBay or Etsy, the fact that none of them place much stake in a lead capturing strategy like this is telling.
Tactics built with the e-commerce industry in mind focus more on lead capture during checkout, coupons, and deals. For an example of this in action, consider this case study about Rad Power Bikes: After introducing a pop-up asking visitors to sign up for email updates about sales, promos and new products, it was able to increase email captures by 302 percent.
To build your strategy from the ground up, you need to develop a strategy designed to capture various types of leads, each of them demanding a different approach. This includes everything from top of funnel leads with an interest in topics or subcultures related to your business, to consumers looking for a solution to their problems that your products could play a part in.
And, of course, capitalizing on previous buyers is paramount.
Don't misunderstand. We encourage you to use as many tactics and strategic elements you come across as possible, as long as they are developed and honed with your brand and target audience in mind.
3. You have a generic selling strategy.
The generic selling strategy is one of landing pages, AdWords and conversion rate optimization tactics. While these are useful tools, they don't form the basis of a strategy. As you develop your selling strategy, your brand, unique selling proposition and target audience should factor into your approach. Take these points into consideration:
- Are there selling strategies that wouldn't be a good fit for your brand's image? For example, paid ads for a tech-savvy brand, or publishing articles on industry websites when you are marketing yourself as fresh, fun and youthful.
- Are there strategies that play directly into your unique selling proposition? For example, an "environmentally conscious eBay" could sponsor environmental events and charities, start petitions, and publish guest editorials on environmental sites.
- Are there specific places your target audiences spend time online? Specific interests they have that you can play into? Subcultural signifiers and symbols you can play with?
Asking questions like these will help you develop a selling strategy that goes above and beyond the generic, leading to improved results.
4. There's no personalization.
Personalization is so built into the modern digital landscape that most consumers will be disappointed or uninterested if their shopping experience lacks it. Recommendations based on their buying history, in relation to the buying history of others, have become an industry standard. In fact, 77 percent of consumers told Forrester that they have chosen, recommended or paid more for brands that offer personalization, and 35 percent of Amazon's sales are the result of its product recommendation engines.
While personalization doesn't necessarily need to be built in from the very beginning, it's important to ensure that you don't scale in a way that would make incorporating personalization more difficult in the future. In depth, user-specific analytics data should be collected from as early on in the process as possible. Even if you aren't using this data to make personalized recommendations yet, it's important that this data is available for later use.
The following data should be collected and associated with users as early on as possible:
- Pages visited
- Traffic sources
- Purchase data
- Searches performed
- Emails opened
- Email lists subscribed to
- Lead magnets downloaded
Using this data, you can identify trends that can later be used to personalize product recommendations.
Bear in mind that personalization isn't just about product recommendations. Other possibilities include personalized special offers; calls to action that are specific to the user's place in the funnel; shipping rates by location, localized currency and units; and preserving user filters during browsing.
Successful e-commerce businesses have a unique brand identity, a lead capturing strategy built around that brand, sales approaches tailored to their audiences, and a growth strategy that accounts for audience personalization.
If these elements are missing from your business idea, start thinking about ways to incorporate them, to carve out your space in the market, and to find long-term success.