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The Ecommerce Retail Apocalypse Is Coming, What You Can Do About It
In my last column, I wrote about the retail apocalypse gripping the U.S., one that I predict will soon be bearing down on Canada.
Whether that happens in the next year, two or five, remains to be seen. But the most relevant statistical data, retail projections and anecdotal observations—only last month I shopped with my kids at an Express clothing store that no longer exists thanks to the chain pulling out of Canada, and let’s not forget the Target disaster—underscore the growing momentum behind the growth of e-commerce in this country at the expense of brick-and-mortar retail.
The option for small and medium-sized retailers in Canada is simple: start selling online now, or hand your market share directly to Amazon and other major e-commerce marketplaces.
Of course, that doesn’t need to happen. Retailers can compete in the digital realm if they carve out specific niches (e.g., selling unique products or services that no one else can provide) or filling gaps that behemoths such as Amazon can’t—by delivering a high-touch post-transaction service experience, for example, or turning an e-commerce enabled website into equal part transaction hub and information source for discerning and passionate customers.
Now, there’s a lot to think about when getting your website ready for the e-commerce prime time—let alone getting it to a point where you can keep pace of pull ahead of deeper-pocketed competitors—so I want to keep it simple. Here are five of the most important points to consider when developing and executing a comprehensive e-commerce plan for your retail business:
Talk to the experts—If you don’t already have an e-commerce strategy or a website that can handle online sales, it’s probably because you don’t fully appreciate the importance or value of selling online, and that’s OK. What’s not OK is assuming you have all the answers and know how to build a comprehensive strategy on your own. Work with an e-commerce consulting firm or platform provider than can help you develop a plan that makes sense for your business, while taking future growth plans into account. The last thing you want to do is invest heavily in an e-commerce system that becomes outdated in a year or two.
Don’t take a DIY approach—There are any number of software-as-a-service based e-commerce platforms available on the market. One of the most widely used is that of Ottawa-based Shopify.ca, but whatever platform you choose, remember that it almost always makes sense to use a pre-packaged system rather than trying to build one in-house. Speed is critical in today’s e-commerce environment, so taking months (perhaps even years) to build a platform from scratch makes no sense when software providers offer scalable solutions for far less than the cost of building a system in-house.
Use Google AdWords (wisely)—Advertising with Google AdWords is not only essential for retailers hoping to maximize online sales, but can also be highly cost-effective when done correctly. I’ll save a full tutorial on AdWord optimization for another column, but one important factor to consider is analyzing impression share data in your AdWords analytics dashboard to ensure your ads are being viewed as frequently as possible, and by the right people. If your campaigns are falling flat, review your AdWords campaign budgets (and be prepared to adjust them accordingly) and further optimize keywords to boost impression share to convert more traffic (meaning more of the customers who visit your website will eventually make a purchase). Bonus tip: don’t forget to use so-called ‘negatives’ when setting AdWords parameters to specify where you don’t want your ads to show up online. Doing so will help boost return on investment.
Upsell, down-sell and cross-sell—For all intents and purposes, your e-commerce enabled website is a storefront, only in a digital environment. Use it to listen to your clients and find ways to better understand their unique needs—specifically, how your company might be able to help solve their challenges. As such, your website should be focused on upselling when necessary (“Consider buying the professional version of our software for just $10 more per month because it has the extra features your business needs”), down-selling when it makes sense (“Take our brief customer survey so we can determine which of our solutions makes sense for your business”) and cross-selling when possible (“We see you just purchased our e-commerce software, but did you know we have a CRM solution, as well?”). Remember, any smart e-commerce strategy should be focused on one goal: boosting sales whenever possible.
Showcase your best products and services—Think about the last time you walked past a storefront in a shopping mall or on a high street. It probably featured some of that retailer’s most appealing products, showcasing their wares in an appealing way, right? Your website should do the same. Be sure to feature trending products, top sellers and recommended products in a prominent place on your website home page. Develop content that supports sales whenever possible (not necessarily pushing product, but helping address a customer’s challenges such as a blog on how best to use that item or how to maximize the ROI on a specific service investment) and help build brand trust and confidence with customers.
The retail apocalypse may be looming, but it doesn’t need to ruin the party for retailers like you. Fending off that impending online threat means being proactive and acting fast to preserve your bottom-line.
This article first appeared on the National Post.