This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
After you have built your online store, the real work of growing your ecommerce business begins. 2022 is projected to be the first trillion-dollar year for online sales, so now is the time to optimize your store to capture new shoppers as ecommerce sales continue to make up a larger share of total retail sales.
Growing your ecommerce business requires driving traffic to your store, offering an improved customer experience, optimizing for conversions, updating your inventory, having a strong retention strategy, streamlining your fulfillment strategy for speed and cost-effectiveness, and providing top-notch customer service.
Here’s a detailed breakdown:
1. Bring Traffic to Your Store
Now that you have launched your online store, it’s time to bring in some sales. The main way to do that is to bring more traffic to your store. When you have a brick-and-mortar store, you benefit from foot traffic and passersby; with an online store, you must help customers find you.
Make Your Store SEO-Friendly
The key to generating traffic is search engine optimization (SEO)—working on search ranking improvement for terms (or keywords) that customers use to search for your kind of business. A widely reported statistic indicates that 93% of website traffic comes from a search engine, and HubSpot reports that 75% of people never go past the first page of search results.
One thing is clear—your store needs to show up on the first page of search results. Roughly 51% of shoppers say they use Google to research a purchase they plan to make online.
Here are some SEO tips for your store:
- Use the Google Keyword Planner tool to guide you to your product’s correct list of most relevant keywords.
- Optimize your product’s URL (example: https://www.yourstore.com/product-name) by making it short. Avoid using numbers like year or date.
- Use your product photos’ alt text to rank images in the image section of search engine results. Shopify has instructions for adding alt text to images.
It can be overwhelming to learn about SEO and keywords, especially if you are not tech-savvy. That’s why it is easier to go with ecommerce platforms that make SEO setup easy. Ecommerce platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce have built-in SEO tools that allow you to optimize individual product pages.
Your store is more likely to rank higher in search engine results by incorporating SEO keywords into your product titles and descriptions. This increased visibility leads to more site visits, increasing chances of more conversions as well.
If you’re unsure how to find SEO-friendly keywords or incorporate them into your store, check out this helpful guide on how to rank higher on Google.
Leverage Social Media Marketing
You’ll need to build brand awareness and excitement for your product to generate traffic to your store, and social media makes it easy for you. It’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to get the word out since it’s free. You also have the option to invest in paid advertising. Still, as long as you practice tried and tested social media marketing strategies, you will be able to generate buzz about your brand—and create traffic to your ecommerce website.
Here are some tips on how to market your store on social media:
- You don’t need just a social media account; you also need consistent, high-quality content, so develop a solid marketing plan. Without it, you won’t be able to take your online traffic to the next level. Use our social media marketing strategy template to help you get started.
- Once you know your target market, identify which platform your target audience is most active on. For example, Instagram is a popular choice for brands with the millennial population as their target audience, whereas TikTok is great for reaching Gen Z.
- Find out what your competition is doing and zoom in on high-performing content. You can then get ideas on how to position your brand and products in the social space.
- Use social media analytics to track the performance of your content placements. These will also help you strategize on paid ads and improve future promotions.
Did you know? Social media marketing drives online traffic to your store and helps you build a community for your customers since you can interact with them directly on various platforms. According to the 2021 Sprout Social Index, 91% of consumers visit the brand’s website or app, 89% buy from the brand, and 85% recommend the brand to a family or friend after following a brand on social media.
Over time, your efforts in building your social media community will pay off because it can be a space for your customers to ask questions, discover new products, learn your brand messaging, and even advocate for your business. Engage with your audience well, and you will see a healthy growth of your brand—not only in traffic—over time.
Think About Paid Advertising
If you have the budget to invest in paid advertising, it can be worth it. First, orient yourself about the costs of advertising on Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Second, if you have already searched for your store’s relevant keywords, you can use these keywords to redirect paid traffic to your online store too.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
A PPC campaign, like Google Ads, can help you appear at the top of search results without having to rank for them. PPC advertising is the process of creating paid ads that display alongside top search results based on keywords. It can be a smart short-term strategy for building brand awareness. See Shopify’s course on Google Ads for ecommerce for step-by-step instructions.
Facebook and Instagram Ads
Unlike PPC advertising, Facebook advertising doesn’t show up based on search results. Your ads show up on users’ feeds based on demographics and behaviors.
Before you start running ad campaigns on Facebook or Instagram (both owned by Facebook), you’ll need to set up a business account to sell on Facebook and sell on Instagram. This will give you access to Facebook’s Ads Manager to create posts and run campaigns for both platforms.
The Ads Manager will prompt you through the campaign creation process, and you can choose specific targeted outcomes, like driving traffic to your store or driving purchases directly from Instagram.
Find out which is best for your businesses: Google ads vs Facebook ads.
Use Analytics to Learn How Customers Find Your Store
Tools like Google Analytics track which channels your target customers are using most, so you can focus your marketing efforts on these platforms. For example, if you get a lot of traffic to your furniture store from a blog post about interior design and decorating, you should write more content on that topic. If your Facebook ads are converting more sales, investing in more advertising may be worth it.
To track seller activity better, make sure to do the following:
- Enable the enhanced ecommerce tracking feature for a wide range of insights on your seller activity when you set up Google Analytics with your store. If you use Shopify, review its step-by-step guide on setting up Google Analytics on its platform.
- Create our site’s specific conversion rate on Google Analytics to form data-driven insights on your key buyer groups.
2. Improve the On-Site Customer Experience
Once you generate traffic to your store, make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for and buy it. You can quickly tell if something isn’t adding up by checking your analytics. If your reports show a high number of people visiting your site and leaving without buying, your customer experience may be the reason.
Note: The average ecommerce conversion rate is below 3%—this is a good benchmark to start with. See how your site’s specific conversion rate compares to other sites in your product category to get a sense of how your store is performing.
The most common contributors to a lackluster online shopping website are speed, poor search functionality and product navigation, and a tedious or otherwise unsatisfactory checkout process.
Optimize Ecommerce Site Speed
A Skilled survey showed that almost half (47%) of customers expect your website to be finished loading within two seconds, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of smartphone users expect it to be finished loading within four seconds. As you can see, a second is crucial to an ecommerce business.
To optimize for speed:
- Use website performance tools to check your site speed.
- Use compressed images for your product photos. For example, Shopify recommends 2048×2048 resolution for product images to not distort image quality when a customer zooms in. However, multiple images for one product in that size can slow down a product page. In that case, 800×800 images work just fine.
- Go with ecommerce platforms that enable accelerated mobile pages (AMP). Google created AMP to speed up the mobile web by converting sections of your online store to AMP. It then indexes these pages to promote instant page load time, faster mobile page loads, and higher placements on mobile search results.
Improve Your Store’s Search and Navigation
SearchNode data shows that roughly 30% to 60% of all ecommerce revenue results from on-site searches. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you by improving product visibility.
There are a few ways to improve product visibility:
- Make your parent and subcategories prominent in your store pages.
- Have a particular category for new products, bestsellers, and sale items or special offers.
- Include a noticeable search bar. Make it better by having your search bar come with an autocomplete feature to make the search easier for customers.
- Have products and subcategories appear under several parent categories. A finding by Measuring Usability revealed that when an item of children’s furniture was included under different interlinked categories, the percentage of customers who successfully found the product increased from 29% to 74%.
Make Your Site Mobile-Responsive
A Statista study shows that for 2020, the number of smartphone users in the US was estimated to reach 294.15 million. Projections show that mobile ecommerce will account for 72.9% of global ecommerce in 2021. In the US, the number is lower—but still impressive—with 53.9% of online sales expected to be generated via mobile in 2021.
You must choose an ecommerce web builder that is mobile-optimized or select a mobile-responsive store theme. It can save you a great deal of time and stress to use a platform that responds well on mobile.
Some mobile-friendly features you need to look out for: responsive design, easy-to-read fonts, optimized images, text formatting, click-to-call option, and optimized buttons for touch screens.
3. Optimize for Conversions
Now that you have generated store traffic and improved your site’s navigation and product visibility, it’s time to make sure sales conversions happen. Shopping statistics show that shipping, additional fees, and taxes are the significant causes of shopping cart abandonment. To optimize sales conversions, consider doing the following:
Streamline Your Checkout Process
The checkout process is one of the biggest reasons for cart abandonment—most find that it’s too hard to navigate, lacks security seals, or asks for too much information. Simplify your checkout process by employing these best practices:
- Use a clean design on your checkout page
- Ask for essential information only
- Offer guest or express checkout
- Extend a range of payment methods
- Highlight options like free shipping and returns
- Make it easy to apply gift cards and discounts
- Add trust seals
- Give customers a clear path to support
The sample checkout page above illustrates an excellent example of a distraction-free checkout page. It offers an express checkout option right from the start, along with different payment options and a security seal of trusted payment channels. It only asks for essential information, such as a name and shipping address, and is transparent with taxes and shipping fees. Note that all of these can be done with very minimal clicks.
Offer a Personalized Customer Experience
According to GrowCode research, some 90% of customers are more likely to buy from an online store that provides personalized experiences. These can be achieved by simply displaying more products relevant to the customer.
- Set up product recommendations or favorites based on user behavior (like purchase or browsing history)
- Display products or campaigns based on user location
- Offer add-ons and related product sales during checkout or on product pages
- Upsell, cross-sell, and down-sell (during and after checkout)
Tip: Most ecommerce website builders like Shopify and BigCommerce offer third-party integrations to personalize the customer experience.
Build Buyer Trust With Product Reviews
Social proof in product reviews goes a long way to convince customers into buying a product. Product ratings boost your trust rating since customers rely on buyers’ feedback to assess product quality.
Here are some tips for using product reviews in your store:
- Indicate the average rating and number of reviews at the top of each product page and at the bottom, where you display the content of the reviews to increase the feedback’s visibility.
- Give buyers an incentive to leave a review by giving them a discount coupon that they can use on their next purchase once they leave a product review.
Enable Social Media & Marketplace Shopping
If you are active on social media, consider connecting your social media accounts to your store so that customers can buy directly from social media posts when they see something they like.
A few ways to do that are:
- Using a Square Online checkout link in your Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook post. You can direct customers to a simple checkout page so they can make purchases with a credit or debit card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay.
- Enabling Instagram Shoppable posts so that customers can make purchases right from their newsfeed without ever having to leave the app.
- Setting up a Facebook Shop by integrating your ecommerce store. You can keep tabs on inventory, purchases, and order fulfillment from your Shopify store and don’t have to monitor two website stores.
- Tapping into marketplaces since they provide a more extensive audience reach. Learn how to sell on Amazon, Walmart, and Etsy.
Product pricing is something you need to figure out early on in your ecommerce operations. Pricing and additional costs are also one of the most significant factors in shopping cart abandonment. If you know how to price your products competitively and are transparent about the additional fees involved in purchasing a product from your store, you will most likely be able to convert site visitors into customers.
Keep Shipping Costs as Low as Possible
Baymard Institute found that 50% of US consumers abandon items in their cart because of extra fees like shipping. Most large retailers like Amazon offer free shipping, so it has become an expectation for most consumers—and for small retailers, it can be a headache since shipping takes a considerable chunk in overhead costs. However, free shipping is undoubtedly doable—learn how to offer free shipping on your products.
Recover Abandoned Carts
Cart recovery should be a feature in your ecommerce platform. Setting up abandoned cart recovery emails helps you interact with customers who don’t place or finish their orders to lure them back. You can customize your emails, add schedule triggers, and add discount codes as a way of enticing customers back to your store.
One of Shopify’s biggest advantages is having an abandoned cart recovery feature available even on its Basic plan, which costs $29/month (other ecommerce platforms offer the feature in higher-priced tiers).
4. Update Inventory Frequently
Once you gain traction with sales, the next thing you need to be mindful of is keeping the right amount of inventory on hand. You want to organize inventory so that you can maintain products at levels that meet demand without over-purchasing—and to do that, you’d need a solid inventory management plan.
- Once you have your inventory management plan in place, perform regular counts to pinpoint and stop any shrinkage.
- Calculate your inventory carrying cost so that you can schedule restocking more efficiently.
- Use your ecommerce platform’s built-in analytics to get your store’s demand and forecast figures.
Part of your online store’s growth is expanding your product line, but you need to do this purposefully and cautiously. Conduct a feasibility study to identify which products can be added to your current line-up and whether it is profitable to expand or add an entirely new product line.
5. Have a Customer Retention Strategy
We’ve heard it before; it is less expensive to retain a customer than acquire a new one. Bain & Company and Harvard Business School have found that “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.”
It is crucial to develop customer retention strategies to drive growth to any business, but more so in retail. In the ecommerce industry, here are some tangible ideas to help you improve customer retention.
Encourage Customer Accounts
Guest or express checkouts convert more sales because of speed and convenience. However, encouraging buyers to create store user accounts allows you to learn about their purchasing habits, engage with them better through email marketing, and develop a personalized customer experience for them—all of which drives them to purchase again and again. You can incentivize guest shoppers to create accounts by offering a one-time coupon or gift-with-purchase.
Develop a Customer Loyalty Program
Loyalty programs are customer retention programs in disguise. It’s a proven method to increase customer purchase frequency because it can motivate customers to buy more to earn reward points. While this feature can be built-in or integrated as an app with ecommerce platforms, you still need to learn how to develop an effective and rewarding loyalty program.
Engage Customers by Email
Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to retain your customers. Think of it as your retention tool kit. Compared to social media marketing, email gets you nearly five times more buyers than other marketing channels.
Read our email marketing strategies for retailers to get tips on how to build and thoughtfully segment your list and leverage automation to achieve your goals.
6. Streamline Your Fulfillment Operations
Part of your online store’s growth is streamlining your fulfillment operations. You might need to consider going with a fulfillment center if you can no longer handle fulfilling orders for your customers (such as handling, packing, and shipping). Orient yourselves with order fulfillment costs and weigh whether fulfilling orders in-house or through a fulfillment center is better for your ecommerce operations.
For most small businesses, it might be counterproductive to try and do in-house fulfillment. It can get too expensive and too time-consuming. We generally recommend considering a fulfillment partner once you are consistently fulfilling more than 10 orders per day.
ShipBob, an all-in-one fulfillment solution, offers low rates, quick onboarding, and minimal startup costs, and it integrates with Shopify easily. If you go the hybrid fulfillment route, learn how to plan your warehouse layout for maximum efficiency.
Need extra fulfillment support for the holiday season? Most ecommerce retailers see a huge spike in orders from Black Friday through the end of the year. You may need extra hands getting your holiday orders packaged on time—some retailers opt to hire seasonal in-house employees for this. You can also take a hybrid fulfillment approach by partnering with a fulfillment company just for the season. Depending on where your business is located and where your customers are, this approach can also help reduce shipping times and costs.
7. Provide Excellent Customer Service
According to HubSpot research, 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service. Excellent customer support is key to retention, brand advocacy and, eventually, more growth.
Here are some ways you can achieve great customer service:
- Create a contact page on your website that has information on contacting your support team—a phone number, email address, and chat pop-up, if you have one.
- Add an FAQ page to help people get answers right away.
- Provide support at all stages of the shopping experience. For example, have hovering or pop-up boxes to general questions during purchasing.
- Make your customer support channels visible from every page in your online store.
- More customers have started to prefer live chat support to be able to get an answer right away. Install a chat feature on your website so you can monitor it throughout the day.
- Have a generous return and refund policy. It might be conceived as a loss at first. Still, suppose you demonstrate sincerity and make it easy for customers to get refunds and return items. In that case, you will most likely be keeping the customer from going to another store to purchase the same item.
To successfully grow and sustain your ecommerce business, you need to develop both short- and long-term plans. These involve incorporating analytics, crafting marketing strategies, improving and streamlining operations, enhancing your buyer’s shopping experience, and focusing on delivering excellent and prompt customer support.
It can be taxing to incorporate these into the business without adding on to your time and overhead expenses. Going with ecommerce platforms that provide built-in tools such as one-page checkouts, abandoned cart recovery, and third-party integrations make it easier for you to roll these enhancements out.
Shopify is our top pick for ecommerce platforms for small businesses. It provides you with tools to compete with ecommerce giants such as product reviews, live customer chat, and thousands of third-party integrations—and that’s just scratching the surface. With several pricing plans available, you can start a small online store and grow that to an ecommerce enterprise. Give Shopify’s 14-day free trial a run—no credit card required.