The online retail industry is constantly evolving. With the growth of omnichannel retail and marketing, this evolution is blurring the lines between digitally-native and traditional retail. This is especially true for DTC subscription brands, which have seen massive shifts in what success looks like for these businesses.
Each year, brands like GE and Nike are investing more in e-commerce to try and capitalize on the success of younger digitally-native vertical brands (DNVB). Conversely, DNVB companies – recognizing the need to expand into the physical world to drive growth – are extending their presence with pop-up shops, wholesale partnerships, and brick and mortar expansion.
Customers are presented with more practical, applicable features to create smoother shopping journeys, and as a result, they are buying more. It is estimated that there will be close to 2 billion digital buyers by the end of 2019. There are guaranteed customers out there, and the competition for them remains just as fierce. There are an estimated 12 to 24 million active e-commerce stores, and that list continues to grow each day.
But the secret to success isn't just e-commerce - brands need to adapt traditional retail practices to generate revenue. It's also extremely important for brands to keep new retail trends under scrutiny so you can reflect on the impact it will have on the immediate and long-term sustainability of your business.
But how do you ensure that your brand survives the exciting innovating tidal wave? What components of your online e-commerce business do you need to keep a close eye on to maximize your chances of survival?
In this article, we cover six hand-picked focus points that you should pay attention to so you can structure your brand for sustained growth in the coming years.
Expectations of an E-Commerce Customer in 2019
As you innovate, shoppers become accustomed to new, ever-more comfortable services and offerings. Problems that were considered irrelevant five years ago could now cost you thousands of monthly sales if you don't get the elements of ecommerce right. Here are some of the new standard expectations that most e-commerce shoppers now have for an online store deemed “fit to consume from.”
Fast & Reliable Shipping Options
People want to receive their orders safely, and they want it done quickly. Competition between marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart are making free two-day or same-day shipping commonplace for shoppers. It is estimated that there are nearly 100 million Amazon Prime members in the United States alone.
E-commerce giants like Amazon set the bar high, and brands that want to meet this customer expectation need to provide fast shipping it in a smart and cost-efficient way to remain profitable. And by fast, we do not mean your standard three-to-five day delivery; we are talking same-day delivery as an absolute minimum.
Intuitive Product Search and Categorization
Most online shoppers don't have the time to spend hours looking for a product. They need you to provide the correct tools to cut down their search time, to make the shipping experience as seamless as possible.
The only way a shopper will find what they want efficiently is if your search and filtering mechanisms are crisp. With an optimized search-functionality and a meticulous product categorization design, your customers can find their desired items with minimal trouble.
Innovative online stores are boasting features like pre-purchase product visualization and customization with AR, in-depth product comparisons (Amazon), and a steady stream of up-to-date social validation to foster trust and loyalty.
6 Focus Points To Keep Your E-Commerce Brand Ahead of the Curve
Before we introduce the focus points, you need to understand the core pillars of smooth user experiences:
- Pleasing aesthetics
- Simple, intuitive navigation
- A fast website
- Engaging, snappy, and practical content
Without these essentials in place, the following tips won’t live up to their potential.
Partnerships With Other E-Commerce Businesses
It’s easy to think of your brand as an independent business, driving revenue on the merits of your product and marketing. But partnering with similar, non-competitive e-commerce businesses can be an innovative way to support each other’s growth.
For example, Lululemon has long-held partnerships with yoga studios both as a wholesale channel but also as a knowledge resource. Now, several Lululemon flagship stores feature yoga and meditation studios within them to foster the yogi culture they serve.
So how do you identify a business partner and the terms of your partnership? Profitable partnerships can range from trading a piece of complementary technology in exchange for something the other business needs, all the way up to fully-fledged mergers. Software trading has become the ultimate profitable B2B partnership approach, and we can see this by observing the vast number of cross-product integrations available in the e-commerce market alone.
Other partnerships may include product, inventory, and management related re-organization and sharing, but it all depends on the business’ collective needs. Stay open to exploring new partnerships styles, and you’ll find yourself engaged in mutually beneficial ventures with like-minded teams.
When looking for another business to partner with, pay attention to the overall tone and message their brand represents. Partnership compatibility has many layers, and branding can be a powerful indicator. Your brand should fully resonate with the values of your partner brands.
What you have, another may need, and vice-versa. A smart partnership may be the ticket to the future prosperity and survival of your e-commerce business.
Adhering to Google’s Guidelines
Defy Google, and you risk not being seen. All online businesses that want to be found by new customers depend on Google SEO performance.
SEO practices are fluid and evolve on the go. Google regularly releases updates to its algorithm. As of recently, Google launched the AMP project - it stands for the Advanced Mobile Pages project. They claim that the technology allows you to create pages that load in less than one second and consume significantly less data than conventional infrastructures. Google’s AMP project is part of its collective SEO blueprint, and neither should be ignored.
When we’re talking SEO, we’re also talking about mobile. More than 80% of Americans shop online, and more than half of them have made online purchases on mobile devices. Any e-commerce website without a functional mobile website or application is losing business, so your e-commerce SEO strategy has to include mobile. The future isn't any different. Platforms are slowly expanding from desktop and mobile to the likes of AR and VR, something which Google is already exploring.
Smart Shopping and Dynamic Targeting
Smart shopping, retargeting, and dynamic content allows you to feed some of your business’ data to Google’s machine learning algorithm in exchange for cross-platform smart-advertising.
Not only will Google’s smart shopping campaign pick and mix demographics for you, but it will present prospective customers with entirely bespoke product advertisements based on their personal preference.
Many e-commerce businesses now lean on Google’s dynamic search ads to introduce dynamic targeting into their marketing arsenal. As advertising costs continue to rise, more efficient methods need to be adopted to acquire customers and drive sales. Using precise methods of marketing leads to quality exposure, making dynamic targeting a great opportunity to acquire long-term customers for your e-commerce business.
Lateral Market Movement
A truly opportunistic business is alert for openings in previously untouched segments of the market, even if it seems entirely out of scope. Building your business plan with malleability in mind will allow you to seize these market openings in the future.
A great example of lateral market movement is Gymshark, a lifestyle brand. The company started out selling fitness apparel and has now announced plans to open a gigantic luxury health club. Bear in mind that Gymshark is a clothing brand, but despite their niche, they saw an opportunity in another segment of the market and made it fit within the overall culture of their already successful brand. Quip, another digitally-native dental brand, recently launched dental insurance in New York City.
E-commerce store operators are often stuck for ideas on this front, but the options are limitless. Start factoring in the flexibility for deviating market opportunities as a key survival tactic for the future.
Scalable Administrative Infrastructure
Prevent additional workload and expenses when you have smart technology at your disposal. Extensiv is a great example of resourceful technology that enables a “god-mode” overview of your e-commerce business.
"You wake up in the morning, you look at your dashboard, and you know everything that's happening, and you know what you need to do, what's an action item, how many orders are coming in. We always joked about having a "god mode," and that's like our "god mode" to look at the whole company and everything that's happening." - Bryson Smith, Operations Manager, NOMAD
By collating business data through an integration system, you spend less time organizing your efforts and more time analyzing ecommerce metrics. Evaluating this data will help you find more opportunities to improve your marketing, operations, and inventory management strategy.
The future of e-commerce lies in automation that creates room for operational optimization. An e-commerce business that wants to scale for years will need to invest in software that allows the accumulation of data in one place.
Have a Brand-First Approach
Alongside a great product range and delicate user experience (UX), the main focus of any e-commerce business should be to have a brand-first approach. Without your brand, you lose your identity. No matter what changes you introduce to your business, it’s important to be dynamic with your branding. Just like personal relationships, customer-to-brand relationships require constant engagement to remain strong.
Branding starts from the first moment of exposure, all the way through the sales, purchase, and re-engagement process. Any opportunity for branding must be within sensible legal and industry limits.
In a recent discussion on the future of e-commerce, Marco Marandiz, a DTC Strategist from 2PM, voiced his opinion on the matter of brand-first:
"It's important to think 'brand first' and 'brand vs. every touchpoint you have with your customer.' From the top of funnel awareness through remarketing, retargeting, email campaigns, your packaging, all of this needs to be taken into account. And just because you don't have the resources to spend on it right now, it doesn't mean you can't focus on it at all or let it go by the wayside, after the business is up and running."
As always, there are dozens of aspects to focus on for future survival. In innovative spaces like e-commerce, the key is in prioritizing and consistency.