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4 Keys to E-Commerce Success and How to Achieve Them

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: May 7, 2018
Image credit: mangpor2004/Shutterstock

The growth of e-commerce presents a wonderful opportunity for businesses to reach a potentially limitless audience, but it can be tricky to stand out. Here's four major keys to e-commerce success, with examples of online businesses demonstrating them superbly.

The growth of e-commerce presents a wonderful opportunity for businesses to reach a potentially limitless audience, but with so many competitors trying to tempt their audience onto their websites, it can be tricky to stand out.

With an intelligent marketing strategy, it is possible to thrive in the online retail space. Below are four major keys to e-commerce success, with examples of online businesses demonstrating them superbly.

1. Find a niche that no-one else serves

A recent survey by Fortune Magazine suggested that the main reason startups fail is due to a lack of market need for their product. Another common reason is that the market is already over-served.

The key to success is to serve a niche that large retailers and your immediate competitors do not. Either the products or the target audience you sell them to needs to be unique. If you can find this distinctive gap in the market, your customers might forgive any small flaws in your business model.

Fourteen-year-old website Cottageandbungalow.com is a perfect example of finding success through serving a ultra-specific niche. The business sells custom furniture to the upscale coastal homeowner. The furniture is custom-made in the customer's color of choice, sometimes with over 40 color options.   

Because of the deep levels of customization, Cottageandbungalow.com caters to an audience that Amazon, Wayfair or larger furniture retailers cannot serve. It can take months for the business to deliver a finished product to customers, but the product is so unique that there are enough patient customers for the business model to work. Other categories like lighting, rugs, pillows, bedding, home decor and art galleries are available to round out the core furniture business and to help the customer create an elegant coastal lifestyle. [Looking for e-commerce software? View our recommendations on our best picks page.]

2. Focus on what you’re good at

Once you’ve found your gap in the market and achieved considerable success from serving that market, it can be tempting to branch out into other areas and try to dominate a different set of competitors.

This can be a gamble though. Just because you’re considered a reliable brand in one sphere doesn’t mean customers will automatically be queuing up to invest in a completely different product or service from you. Often, this can result in business owners taking their eyes off the ball that brought their original success. In this scenario, it’s easy to end up as the jack of all trades and the master of none.

Companyfolders.com is an example of a business that has succeeded by focusing on a  narrow speciality. This company serves a niche of customized presentation folders. With 110-plus styles, these folders act as a luxury gift box for presentations. You can buy customized binders and as an alternative, but this is the only product range that the business focuses on.

Vladimir Gendleman, the founder and CEO of the business, has revealed that customers often ask about the other products that they could be capable of producing, but he attributes his success to the discipline of staying focused on dominating the niche they’ve already found. Their energy is focused improving their folder offering, rather than increasing their range of products.

3. Make the experience as similar to offline shopping as possible

One of the biggest disadvantages of e-commerce, especially for buyers of high-end products, is that the exposure to the product before buying is unlikely to be as good as visiting a store. It is advantageous for retailers of all sizes to recreate an offline shopping experience as best as they can.

Bavarian Clockworks does this brilliantly. All products on the website have high-resolution pictures taken from different angles. Free shipping is offered on all products, as is a price-match guarantee.

This strategy will do a lot to earn customers’ trust and remove hesitation at the point of sale. Even if the price is not the lowest on the market, it’s likely this high level of trust will push customers towards this website above those of its competitors anyway.

4. Create a fascinating brand

The best way to stand out from the huge number of competitors trying to tempt your customers onto their website is to develop a fascinating brand with a strong community spirit.

Fashion brand One Tribe Apparel have effectively used several marketing techniques to create a cohesive brand story with a strong narrative round it. Across their website and social media channels is a rich framework of photos that serve to teleport the viewer to their home base of Thailand. Their engagement with customers on social media is textbook, while there is a lot of messaging around the local elephant rescue charity they support, too.

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