One superstore in particular, Walmart, has dominated recent news cycles with big move after big move. Over the past few years, Walmart has recognized the importance of a powerful ecommerce presence and has been positioning itself ever since to dramatically increase its online sales.
“the deal builds on Walmart’s strong e-commerce foundation and is intended to help accelerate growth and deliver a seamless shopping experience for customers.”
In other words, Walmart was going all in on ecommerce.
This shift in focus comes as no big surprise. Even months later, general concern over Walmart’s weaker ecommerce performance in comparison to Amazon’s has made headlines. In February, Warren Buffet’s firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc. drastically decreased their investments in Walmart citing their lagging ecommerce presence as one of the primary reasons.
Walmart has made other moves recently to better position itself to outperform struggling commerce titans, recently massively expanding their online grocery service and acquiring Moosejaw, an online sporting good retailer.
With all this action one thing is more clear than ever: the battle field of the future is ecommerce. Stores like Walmart and Target are looking to muscle further into the space, begging the question:
What happens to the rest of the market?
The ecommerce industry is incredibly diverse. It includes stores ranging from Amazon and Walmart all the way to early start up coffee shops and candlemakers. The vast majority of ecommerce stores have little to nothing in common with brands like Walmart and simply can’t match the resources of the giants moving into the space. Multi billion dollar companies understandably have the budget to easily outspend startups and mid market stores alike.
So how do stores who aren’t Walmart or Target continue to grow when the giants in the space are focusing their efforts increasingly on ecommerce?
We've prepared 3 guiding principles to help you succeed in ecommerce and make sure you keep your piece of the ecommerce pie (and maybe even grab seconds!)
1. Highlight what makes you unique
When people make the jump into ecommerce, they’re always focused on trying to sell a unique product. Almost too focused on selling a unique product. Nearly every checklist for ecommerce business owners we’ve looked at online includes some kind of reference to selling a product that your customers can’t get from Walmart or Amazon.
There’s a lot of validity to this. If you can think of something so unique that no one else sells something similar online, more power to you!
Unfortunately the reality for a lot of store owners is that the growth of ecommerce has made finding a truly unique product nearly impossible.
Few things short of Handerpants, a store that literally sells tidy whities for your hands, operate without competitors that sell similar products. Consider this: a set that allows you to play golf on the toilet sounds unique, right? Shockingly a quick google search reveals several competitors vying for their share of the toilet golf market.
Fortunately for aspiring entrepreneurs there are many ways to establish an identity that customers can relate to and get behind besides selling an entirely unique product. The key is to go above and beyond in any category. That category can literally be whatever you want it to be, just consider what you want your customers to remember you by.
Do you want to be that fun quirky store that makes customers laugh? Send your products with a goofy photo or include a funny meme in your emails. Want to be the merchant that always puts the customer first? Diligently ask for feedback on products and experiences and let your customers know when you've taken their advice. Or maybe you want to be remembered as the adorable store that makes customers feel loved? Include a free puppy sticker in your packages or link to a cute video in your emails.
Giving your store an identity will inherently make your customers remember you. They'll remember the time you made them feel like more than just a shopper, bring your store up in conversations with friends about great customer experiences, or even post a picture of something your store did for them on social media.
2. Make sure customers know there’s a person behind your website
People generally respond well to other people. Humanizing your brand can give your customers an extra reason to fall in love with your store, and stay away from competitors. You can emphasize that human element in several ways but here are the two most effective in our experience.
Develop an identify for your store. This can happen through email marketing, social media, or through letters in products to merchants. Adopt a particular tone in your messaging, respond frequently, and let your best customers know that you know who they are and you appreciate what they're doing for your store. The more important your customers feel the more they'll give back to your store and personalization is a great way to show your customers that they matter.
Content Fitting your Brand
Building out a blog has countless benefits for your store. These benefits are well established, but its worth taking a moment to step back and make sure your blog is producing the right kind of content. Reevaluate exactly how you want to be remembered by your customers and ensure that your blog posts fit in with that theme. A brand selling fitness supplements is going to take a different tone than a cosmetics brand. Even within the same industry your store's identity could call for an entirely different style of content, so be sure your content contributes to that identify.
3. Keep the customers you’ve gained
One common key behind these principles is that they all tie back to appealing to your customers, giving them a great experience, and bringing them back to your store. No young ecommerce store is going to be able to bring in new customers at the rate of Walmart or Target; the marketing and promotion costs are simply too high.
Nurturing and maintaining your share of the ecommerce market hinges on building a base of loyal repeat customers.
Crafting the ideal customer experience is a crucial first step. Use a loyalty program to round out that customer experience, or provide additional incentives to bring back loyal customers to your store.
Whether or not a customer is loyal will boil down to how they view a particular brand and a loyalty program can become an important boost to how a customer views your brand. Customers who feel valued by a brand will value the brand itself. It’s human nature. There have actually been numerous studies on this phenomenon of "reciprocal liking" and many brands are already putting this research to use.
Take, Allies of Skin, a merchant selling adaptogenic skincare products. Adaptogenic skincare is a relatively new industry and Allies of Skin does not see many direct competitors but they’ve still taken the time to fully invest in making sure their customer experience is unique. Allies of skin has implemented a rewards program through Swell, titled “Allies Underground”, that incentivizes loyalty and makes customers feel more attached to the brand.
Allies of Skin chose to build their rewards page into their customer account page further integrating their rewards program with their brand as a whole. The account page was renamed “Allies Underground" and is dedicated entirely to their rewards program. Customers can interact with the program on that page itself without the need for a separate popup or modal.
The program focuses in on boosting reviews and referrals, both great tools to highlight what’s important to the Allies of skin brand. The website emphasizes customers buying in to the Allies of Skin mission, which is heavily bolstered by both reviews and referrals.
Not only are customers owners of an Allies of Skin product, they’re also allies to the “underground” movement behind adaptogenic skin care. The store clearly outlines their philosophies and the adaptogenic skincare movement on their website through an "About us" page that is one of the two most prominent links on their website.
This gives customers reason to really get behind the store and its mission. Customers that have bought into your brand and become “allies” become exponentially more valuable to you. They are far more likely to refer friends, write glowing reviews, and purchase frequently. The more of these loyal “allies” you collect, the better off your brand will be.
Ingrain these principles in your store’s behavior and you will have built a solid foundation to help your store survive in an increasingly competitive market. Realistically seeing the right results from these habits may take some time, but fortunately there’s no rush.
Even with superstores pushing into ecommerce, smaller stores are not yet at an increased risk of being crowded out.
According to eMarketer, ecommerce is the only trillion-dollar industry that is still growing at a double digit percentage yearly and the ceiling is still far out of sight. Currently, the US Census Bureau estimates that only 7% of retail sales occur via the internet.
While that 7% continues to grow and grow, use these principles to set up the right foundation so that no matter what the ecommerce landscape looks like you’ll be able to succeed in ecommerce and keep your piece of the pie.