How to think about optimizing your online ecommerce store

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The proliferation of platforms like Shopify and distribution channels like Pinterest or Facebook have made it easier than ever to launch an ecommerce brand. But that’s a double-edged sword: it’s now harder than ever to differentiate one brand from the next. There’s an art to building a brand, and optimizing ecommerce in 2019 looks a whole lot different than it did in 2010.

Instead of trying to look for bleeding-edge technology to gain traction amid a sea of ecommerce brands, the right answer may be to even look backwards. Technology has leveled the distribution and growth game across all brands, and it now comes down to quality and execution. And in reality, quality and execution have always remained the same.

How to think about a truly personalized ecommerce brand

When you think of ‘personalization’ in 2019, you probably think about an overly-aggressive News Feed frantically trying to deliver targeted content that you can’t help but hit the Like button. And there’s some truth to that: technology has empowered these kinds of algorithms more than ever before. But leaning on data harder than any other technique has its own problems.

Instead, personalization needs mean something different to you other than optimizing for a news feed. You won’t win the algorithm game because you don’t have an army of thousands of engineers working on improving conversion by 0.1%. Instead, you need to be smart about recommendation by looking at the natural signals of your specific customer base. Every customer base will be different.

  • Be thoughtful about your recommendation engines. All clicks aren’t equal, and you have to design the problem before you can even begin to solve it. You don’t want to skip over some kind of recommendation tool, but you also need to think about what parameters you should be tracking in the first place. 
  • Curate your related products like a human. Someone buying a chair might not be interested in buying ten other chairs. But they might be interested in buying a cushion for their chairs. Try to build an extension of your brain into the way you connect your products.
  • Email with care. People may love real mail, but everyone hates email. Think about the difference between just a letter and a glossy magazine that shows up to upsell products. Your customers are probably used to spam, and you have to figure out how to stand out from that. You may already know enough about what they’ve done — like abandoned items in their carts — to figure out how to best get their attention.
  • Retargeting works for a reason. Don’t underestimate the basics. Use this as an opportunity to discover more about your customers in addition to trying to finally get them to click the “order now” button.
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Content is still king for ecommerce companies

Remember the glossy magazine/letter comparison? You probably have your own experience with that. And there’s a good chance you remember the name of the company that sent you the magazine (it’s probably CB2) compared to the company that just sent you a letter (unless they keep sending them).

Those magazines look beautiful because companies are ready to invest in them. Beyond just offering products, they’re trying to offer an experience to a potential customer. Think of it like a nudge, but one with gorgeous high-resolution images of products placed in some perfect orientation. That kind of marketing isn’t science — it’s art.

So as you start to build out your product catalogue and think about your online marketing campaigns, start with your content. Ask yourself the right questions What would look amazing on a Pinterest ad, compared to what might be best in an email marketing campaign? And then ensure everything looks as good as something you’d want to frame in your house.

  • Produce high-quality product content. You’re selling an experience, and not necessarily just a need. The best brands don’t just solve problems. They create their own memories. Keep everything — your photos, your videos, and so on — consistent and eye-popping, and always have someone looking over your shoulder to check your work.
  • Think about what your glossy magazine looks like in 2019. Could you build an augmented reality experience around your products? What about a 3D living room you can explore with new products? 
  • Answer every customer’s question. You might be selling the most beautiful couch on the planet, but you still want to notify your customer that your couch will fit in their room. Include every bit of information you think your customer might ask their friends when they’re considering a product.
  • Keep your copy clean. You aren’t trying to create award-winning literature, but you also want to ensure that your customers are having a great experience. Treat your website copy like it might end up on the front page of your favorite magazine. Invest heavily in keeping your product descriptions clean.
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Remember the power of the ecommerce product bundle

It’s never been easier to sign up for some new subscription product. If you wanted to, you could go online and get a big pile of cosmetics delivered to your door every month — and you can pick from many subscriptions for that. The problems of ecommerce logistics are so thoroughly solved that setting up a subscription service is no longer the grand feat that it once was.

Subscriptions are great because they offer customers an opportunity to get a taste of things before having to heavily invest in some product. They can get just enough they need for a month, and if they like it, they can keep going. There are lots of billion-dollar businesses built on the back of subscriptions — just look at Rent The Runway or Stitch Fix.

Subscriptions also offer an opportunity to surprise your customers. If you aren’t necessarily built on top of a single product, think about what kinds of clusters of products might work well in a kind of monthly grab-bag box. Ship it out and see what they like. Then, you’re back to the basics: listen to your customers, and refine your product from there.

Beyond that, subscriptions build up a kind of anticipation. If you’re doing your job well, your customers will probably always have the first Thursday of the month circled in their heads. Sure, you could potentially go and sign up for another box to arrive early — but where’s the fun in that?

Invest early in your ecommerce brand — and often

Differentiation amid that sea of ecommerce products requires heavily investing in your brand strategy — both in terms of time and money. If you’re just getting off the ground, you might have the time to be thoughtful about your approach and try new things. If you’ve already established a product-market fit, you might have the capital but not necessarily time to invest beyond working on your products.

Just like you’d hire an accounting firm to handle your expenses, you can also turn to a brand agency to help transform your store into a high-performing growth engine. Brand agencies agencies have been around just as long as accounting agencies or advertising agencies — it’s just the setting that’s changed. So you could look at firms like Pixel Union or other agencies that specialize in Shopify sellers.

The key takeaway, though, is that you’re going to be going up against fierce competition — no matter what kind of niche you’re entering. You could be trying to design bespoke beef jerky subscriptions for one set of tastes, and you’ll probably end up going up against multiple companies. You’ll still have to differentiate at a product level, but you’re going to have to sell the memory as well — and that’s just as much work.

Pixel Union is offering qualified Brex cardholders a free growth audit. Pixel Union will dive into your business and analytics, and provide a report with promising growth opportunities ($500 value). You can find the full details here

Photo credit: rupixen on Unsplash

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