When Setting E-Commerce Priorities, Look Close to Home
In the fast-moving and ferociously competitive world of e-commerce, the pressure on small to midsized merchants to stay one step ahead of their often-larger rivals can be intense. However, much like the runner who loses momentum at a key moment by looking over his shoulder, worrying about what the other guy is up to isn’t always the best way to stay ahead of the pack.
As global e-commerce takes a larger slice of the retail pie every year — passing $1.3 trillion last year, or nearly 6 percent of total global sales, according to eMarketer — the number of merchants trying to sell online and number of firms advising them how to do so are proliferating.
We at MarketLive are big believers in the importance of tracking and understanding key industry trends. However, we also know that merchants can be driven to distraction if they spend too much time trying to match competitors’ tactics, chase the latest futuristic technology, or glean insights from an ocean of often irrelevant data.
Deliberative, strategic thinking and prioritization of initiatives are often more important to success than scrambling to build a presence on every new social media site that pops up. Therefore, we advise merchants to tune out the hype, focus on relevant data and pursue online initiatives tailored to their own unique business needs.
A Couple Things to Ignore
- Don’t copy the competition. Knowing what your competitors are offering shoppers is one thing, but slavishly trying to replicate those efforts is something else entirely. For one, it’s a recipe for chaos. There are so many new entrants in the field experimenting with novel approaches to selling online that copying competitors’ initiatives is just asking for trouble. For another, unless you’ve got some pretty good sources, there’s usually no way to tell if the features of a competitor’s site are actually delivering desired results. There’s also no guarantee that what works for one retailer in a sector will work for another. Most retailers are in business because they offer products or locations or purchasing experiences that distinguish them from their competitors. Copy others and risk losing what makes your brand unique.
- Don’t try to be everywhere. Think of how much effort brick-and-mortar retailers put into deciding where to open new locations. They study demographics, income levels, traffic patterns, and perform elaborate cost-per-square-foot analyses before setting up shop anywhere. Now think about how much analysis retailers put into pursuing consumers on the social media site du jour. Sure, the investment may be less, but the analysis of whether it’s worthwhile should be no less robust. If you’ve been in business for years or decades and you’re setting up shop on social media sites that have been around for mere months, what are the chances your customers are hanging out there?
A better approach to prioritizing initiatives, especially with the crucial holiday season fast approaching, is to focus relentlessly on your existing customers and how to serve them better with the website, staff and initiatives you already have in place. In other words, get your house in order before building an addition.
Consider these close-to-home approaches before launching off into uncharted territory:
1. Mine site data before big data. The amount of data available to online merchants today is staggering, and quite frankly, overwhelming to many. Data streams from the devices consumers use to shop, the social outlets where they discuss brand reputation, and new technologies capturing and quantifying offline activities all give merchants plenty of numbers at their fingertips.
Fully 85 percent of merchants say they’re unable to extract full value from the data they already have, and 62 percent report being overwhelmed by that data, according to a recent Econsultancy survey.
However, drilling down on site data can yield a gold mine of actionable information on what shoppers seek and where sites need further improvement. Are customers finding what they’re searching for? Is your mobile site performing differently than your desktop site, and if so why? Where are shoppers hesitating, and why?
2. Ask store staff about online content gaps. A digitally integrated brick-and-mortar store may hold great promise for engaging shoppers with new technologies like beacons, facial recognition and dynamic shelf tags, but when it comes to firsthand experience of online/offline brand interactions, store associates can be a wealth of information. Not only can store associates help shoppers navigate online resources and complete transactions, but they can gauge consumer sentiment and identify gaps in brand content, whether for products or services such as in-store pickup or ship-to-store. Merchants should find the means to tap these valuable front-line information sources and act on their recommendations.
3. Welcome input from existing customers and social followers. Merchants truly committed to deepening their relationships with their customers should think of them as a resource when it comes to ideas about how to better meet their needs. Forget pop-up surveys asking them to rate their experiences with your brand on a scale of one to 10. Genuinely ask shoppers for feedback. What could have made their shopping experience just a little bit more enjoyable? They’ve spent a lot of time on your site and know how you compare to other merchants out there. Ask them them how you’re doing and what else they would like to see from you. They’ll appreciate being asked, and you might just get some unexpected — and relevant — answers.
Merchants can sometimes learn a great deal by examining the sites of online competitors and considering the opinions of industry experts. It can also leave them spinning their wheels. At the end of the day, the priorities merchants set for their e-commerce operations need to match their own unique business needs, and identifying those priorities often begins right at home.
Ken Burke is the founder and CEO of MarketLive, an e-commerce software provider. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.