Ecommerce is a fiercely competitive space to operate in. Thanks to the number of new tools and information that are made available each year, it’s never been easier to launch an ecommerce business. As more and more business owners continue to spin up brands and sell products that serve the same audience as you, it’s essential that you develop and put strategies in place that allow you to compete.
To continue building a sustainable and profitable ecommerce business in 2018, you need to spend time thinking about what you’re going to do differently this year, what you’re going to scale back, and what you’re going to double down on in order to attract, convert, and keep new customers over the next 12 months.
Here are 7 tips that will help you effectively differentiate from competitors and boost customer loyalty in the year ahead:
1. Know What Makes You Different
The best way to differentiate from other ecommerce competitors in your product category and industry is to understand what it is that makes you, your company, and your products different. In order to decide whether or not to buy products from you, your prospective customers want to understand what makes your business and brand better than all the others out there. You can get at the heart of what makes your brand and products different from all the rest by thinking through the following questions:
- What is your brand story? Why did you create your business? What problems are you trying to solve, and why did you choose to sell the products you’re selling?
- What is your company mission? What are the values that help guide the work you and your team does each day?
- Who are your customers? What type of person are you trying to reach with your products?
- What makes your products different than the products your competitors are selling? What makes them better? Why do people prefer yours over the ones your competitors sell?
- If your products are extremely similar to the ones your competitors are selling, what else are you doing or could you do to stand out? What kind of added value could you be bringing that you know your competitors aren’t (packaging, customer support, customer delight, community, etc.)?
- What do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand, online store, and products for the first time? How is this customer experience strategy different or better than what they might experience when they interact with your competitors?
- How are your products made, stored, and delivered?
- What are the specific reasons that your loyal customers give for buying your products instead of products from your competitors? How can you help prospective customers better understand those reasons?
Knowing answers to these questions can help you create the right messages on your website and in your paid advertising campaigns.
ACTIONABLE TIP: If you have a good grasp on what makes you different from competitors, consider creating a comparison chart or comparison landing page on your website. Instead of making your prospective customers waste time evaluating the options on their own, provide and package the information for them. Use the answers you came up with from the questions above to create compelling messaging and call-to-actions that you can incorporate into your landing page and comparison charts.
2. Build Trust with an Email Series
To boost more customer loyalty in 2018, you need to focus on creating and executing strategies that allow you to build trust and nurture authentic relationships with people. As an ecommerce business owner, your job isn’t merely to sell products—it’s to act as a resource and a trusted voice that people can turn to when they need help.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing on this blog about the value of content marketing, and I believe it’s still going to be hugely important in 2018. But I also think in order to see the ROI you’ve seen in past years, you’re going to have to start doing more than just publishing fresh, original content on a blog.
As more of your competitors launch blogs and hire writers to help them produce and share helpful content, it will become harder and harder to use your blog as a tool for attracting and building trust with prospective customers. These days, everyone has a blog and everyone publishes fairly decent content—so what can you do stand out?
To differentiate and position your company as one that provides more value and help than any others in the market, turn to email marketing in 2018. Specifically, I want to encourage you to create a topic-focused educational email series that interested future customers can only access if they subscribe to your list.
For example, if you sell running shoes, create a 10-part educational email series that offers running tips from professional athletes or seasoned marathon runners. If you sell cooking utensils, create a 10-part educational email series that offers tips on how to optimize grocery shopping.
The goal here is to create and offer content to people that they can’t get anywhere else. By providing this content in emails, you’re able to communicate with and nurture your prospects in a more personal and direct manner.
ACTIONABLE TIP: Think about the pain points your customers have and the questions they ask you most. Review blog and social analytics to see what content has been performing the best in the last few months. Think of the relationships you can leverage to create compelling content that people won’t be able to resist. Then decide on a topic, build an outline for your educational email series, work through the content creation, and build out the campaign in your email marketing platform. Promote the series across all your marketing channels and throughout your website. Help website visitors and prospective customers understand that you’re going the extra mile to help them solve their problems and answer their questions.
3. Create a Place for Your Community to Connect
In 2017, more ecommerce brands leveraged Facebook Groups as a way to foster community with their audience than ever before. These days, online consumers don’t just want to buy products—they want to be part of a movement. They want to connect with other people who are just like them, and loyal to the products and brands that they’re loyal to.
In an effort to meet this growing demand for more community among their customers, brands have started creating and managing closed Facebook Groups in addition to Facebook business pages.
Online consumers then use these Facebook Groups to ask questions about products, buy/sell/trade products, meet and nurture relationships with like-minded people, provide feedback on products and experiences relating to the business, and freely discuss other topics that align with their interests, hobbies, passions, etc.
In some cases, ecommerce brands will even allow a few loyal customers to manage and moderate these groups and set community guidelines, which promotes and allows for a truly authentic community experience and safe space to interact for members of the group.
Want to see an example, check out this Facebook group from Wildbird. It was created by the founder of the ring sling brand, and gives people the opportunity to connect with each other after becoming customers.
ACTIONABLE TIP: Create a Facebook Group for your ecommerce brand. Remember: the purpose of the group is not to sell your products. It also shouldn’t act as a replacement for a Facebook page. It’s simply a place for like-minded people to go to chat about your products, meet other people, share their experiences, and get answers to their questions (or provide answers to someone else’s question). Ready to get started? Leverage this helpful guide from Buffer.
4. Provide Unmatched Customer Service
You might find that you have ecommerce competitors who sell very similar or identical products from you. In situations like these, differentiation might seem like a real challenge—but there’s actually quite a lot you can do to stand out from the crowd.
For example, although you might sell the same products as another ecommerce brand, your customer service priorities and reputation could be vastly different from the company you’re competing against.
As an ecommerce business owner, it’s your job to help prospective customers feel confident that they will be getting a vastly better customer service experience than they would get from any of your competitors. Doing so will not only result in more sales, it can help with things like customer loyalty, AOV, and repeat purchases.
But how do you ensure that you’re providing an unmatched customer service experience for your audience? Here are a few tips:
- Make it easy for people to contact you. Realize that people have different communication preferences when it comes to needing to reach out for help. Some might prefer to call you, some might want to send an email, some might prefer messaging you on Facebook or posting a question on your Facebook page or sending you a tweet, and others might prefer talking to you in real-time through live chat. Give your audience lots of communication options, and make those options easy to find on your website.
- Make your policies known. Don’t leave anything up to the imagination for customers in terms of shipping policies, return policies, delivery expectations, or anything else that may impact the experience they have after purchasing a product from you. Post your policies in an easy-to-find place on your website, and refer to them throughout the checkout process.
- Use tools that allow you to scale efforts. Don’t try to manage customer support manually or by yourself. Adopt customer support tools that will allow you to easily scale, and start using them well before you need them.
- Get regular feedback from customers. Regularly go out of your way to ask your new and loyal customers for feedback on their experience buying from your ecommerce store and receiving their products. Find out where the gaps are and how you can improve customer support and experience going forward.
- Delight customers. Go out of your way to show customers how much you appreciate them by sending them handwritten thank you cards, personalized thank you videos, gift cards, exclusive promotions, surprise presents on their birthdays, etc. Want to learn more about the value of customer delight and read through more ideas? Explore this blog post.
ACTIONABLE TIP: Review the bulleted list from above and evaluate your current customer support strategy and initiatives. Are there areas that can be improved? Create a game plan, set deadlines, and loop in key stakeholders that you’ll need in order to achieve your goals.
5. Promote Experiences
I’ve written about this in blog posts, but I want to focus on it again here: in order to attract more customers and drive more sales in 2018, you need to focus less on selling your products and more on how your products relate and contribute to the experiences that people ultimately want to have.
Think about Nike, for example. At the end of the day, the company sells shoes and other athletic gear. But they’ve built a massive and loyal following by focusing less on what their products are, and more on what their products can help you achieve (win the game, get healthier, meet your fitness goals, run longer, run faster, etc).
Think about the experiences that your target audience cares most about, and how your products impact those experiences.
Another brand that can illustrate this concept that I’ve shared before on this blog is Herschel Supply Co. To differentiate from other competitors in the high-end bag and backpack industry, they feature amazing stories and photographs from customers who travel all around the world with their products. Their goal is ultimately to get you to associate travel with the Herschel bag so that the next time you plan a trip, you purchase a bag from them before you leave.
ACTIONABLE TIP: Think about how your customers use your products and why. What settings do your products appear in? What experiences do they help promote? When you have your answers to these questions, think about how you can highlight these types of experiences in your marketing material. Your goal should be to align with your target audience on a more personal level, and convince them that you’re not just trying to sell them a product—you’re trying to support the experiences you know they are interested in having.
6. Give Customers a Reason to Brag About You
If you’ve been struggling to differentiate from competitors—or help your target audience understand what makes you different, you might just need to spend more time doing things that give your customers a specific reason to brag about you. This is a pretty wide open recommendation because what you focus on will ultimately depend on what you sell and who your customers are, but here are a few ideas that you might be able to use to get your audience talking more about you:
- Support a cause. Consider donating a portion of your proceeds to a charity, nonprofit, or cause that aligns with your products or your customer base. Show people that you aren’t just in it for the money—that you’re willing and interested in helping make the world a better place.
- Collaborate with another brand. Partner up with a like-minded brand that you know your customers would be excited about. Collaborate on a limited product or a bundled product idea.
- Share more stories. Give your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your operation. Don’t just be a no-name company that has no personality or human component. Help your prospective customers understand who the people behind your business are, how your products are made, what’s in store for the future, etc.
- Delight with packaging. Go the extra mile when it comes to the unboxing experience you provide to your customers. Don’t just send your products in utility boxes. If you have the budget, create something truly unique and memorable when it comes to your product packaging and any marketing material you include within.
- Ask. Finally, go out of your way to ask your customers for help spreading the word about your business and products. Include messages in order confirmation emails and delivery confirmation emails that invite people to share the news with their friends on social media. Include marketing material within your packages that encourage customers to share photos of their product on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using a specific hashtag.
ACTIONABLE TIP: Pick one of the ideas from above and move forward with it!
7. Test Something New
Finally, test something new this year that you’ve never tried before in order to grab the attention of people within your target audience. Not sure where to start? Focus on something that none of your competitors are doing (or doing very well)! Here are a few simple ideas:
- Do Facebook Live videos every week that allow you to interact with your community in real-time.
- Try launching a temporary pop-up shop in a city where you know you have a lot of existing and loyal customers.
- Create a podcast and talk about topics that relate to your product category, industry, and the audience you serve. Interview customers, influencers, and other entrepreneurs with products that align with yours.
- Hire infleuncers to help spread the word about your brand and products.
Actionable Tip: Get out of your comfort zone and try something new this year. Think of a marketing campaign or idea that you think would get your brand a lot of buzz and attention. Set a budget, create a timeline, then execute. Try to be creative with this one!
Over to You
What else are you doing to differentiate from competitors this year? Share your ideas and strategies in the comments below.