You’ve chosen the best products for your customers, you’re spending top dollar for advertising and your customer service works great. Yet something seems to be missing. Your online store does not yet stand out. Let see how you can use content marketing for ecommerce to leverage your audience and earn sales.
Content marketing for ecommerce is a really vast area and means a lot of things for many people. For me, content marketing is educating your potential buyers on topics you are passionate about. For example – I am passionate about ecommerce. I love how it helps small businesses connect with their potential customers and how it’s made the world better. What are YOU passionate about?
Content marketing is about your shop’s personality. It’s about standing out and standing up for something. It’s your story to the world. It’s how you guide your community toward a better future by selling the products you care about.
So let’s have a look at five ways to build great content for your online store:
1. Your story is a great content marketing for ecommerce strategy
What do you do when you meet someone? You try to look as interesting, smart and great looking as possible. You wouldn’t just go ahead and show them your ID card and recite a bunch of boring facts about you.
You tell a story. Your content marketing starts with your story.
Ecommerce sites all have a story. At some point someone thought – hey, I can do better than my competitors or hey – I can make some money selling the products I like. They decided to stand for something. Yet most of the times they miss the opportunity to show this. They get lost in boring and useless “About us” statements that fail to transmit anything else then the fact that someone bothered to fill in some words on that page.
Other companies make it personal, no matter their size. They tell everyone what they stand for and why should you choose them. Meet WarbyParker:
Warby Parker decided they would have none of that boring “About us” corporate double talk. No sir. They went on and shared everything the company stands for. The history, their social responsibility program, even why they’re named Warby Parker (Turns out they’ve named the company from two characters in a Jack Kerouac book).
The point: tell a story, not just a few facts about the company. After all, your customers are people, not robots. The best content marketing for people starts with stories.
2. Help your customers connect and share “How To” do it
You’re selling lots and lots of products. That means you should be some kind of expert on how they could be used. Some of your customers might be as well. Here’s another content marketing strategy for ecommerce:
Tell people how to use your products. or ask them how they use it.
Take Sephora for example: As their online sales grew intensively, they’ve built a special community gallery page. They engage their community and allow them to show case how they use their products.
Even the products have their own how to’s and user submitted gallery
The point: make your customers understand how to use the product and engage them through content. Otherwise – ask them how they use it.
3. Earn your media. Own your media. Have a voice.
You know who’s the best at saying great things about you? That’s right. You.
Don’t rely on others to say great things about your products. You know they’re great. Otherwise – why would you sell them?
Build a magazine for your niche and stick to it. Explain what your customer should do to look better, feel better, spend better. After all, you have already picked those “whats”. The times where media was owned by large corporations and they alone could make or break your business – those times are gone.
Go ahead and build a blog that is interesting and informative for your community. It doesn’t have to be just about your products. Great content marketing for ecommerce enriches your customers’ lives with great ideas.
Here’s an example on how to be a better you by BetterSelf, an ecommerce business that sells physical tools for productivity:
The point: start writing and earn media instead of paying for it. It’s a great way to share insights with your customers and build relationships.
4. Enage your audience with (live) video
One of the fastest trends in video, in the past year, is live shopping. This trend combines entertainment and shopping to create a shopping experience that is previously unheard of.
In this scenario a live shopping assistant can engage and sell to their audience in real time. It creates a feeling of fun and generates loads of sales.
But it doesn’t have to be live video. BirchBox uses YouTube to generate awareness and keep its community together with its makeup and beauty channel.
Here’s how they use video in their content marketing for ecommerce practice:
eCommerce has really picked up pace and helped by recent events in the world is on its way to dominating retail. Needless to say, many companies jump the ecommerce wagon. Some are internet savvy, some are retailers with many years of experience or, in the most fortunate case, both. Few of them really know which are the most important factors in ecommerce.
The main reason ecommerce is still a pretty damn hard thing to do is it takes a lot of know-how regarding both commerce and the internet. When starting or expanding an ecommerce operation you will be faced with decision regarding management and sales platform, marketing (“do I do Social Media, should I go for Search Marketing or maybe Affiliate marketing?”) but also more real-world issues such as “What are the products I will be selling?”, “How do I store these products?” or “How is my product going to reach my client?”.
While there are many, many variables and data you will be faced with, you still need to keep an overview on the most important factors that will make your ecommerce business successful or not. Here are the 7 most important factors in ecommerce:
Choice of Products and Product Display
Search (yes, search)
As you notice I have not mentioned marketing. Marketing makes a difference when all those above are working well together. That is not to say marketing is not important. It is. Unfortunately marketing cannot save you when your store isn’t performing its base functions.
Further on, keep in mind that as an eCommerce company you are first and foremost a technology company. If you are a classic retailer this part will be the hardest thing to wrap your head around. You use technology to deliver products at the best price and with the best customer care possible. As such you need to stay constantly focused on market changes (your product market) and technology changes (think how important search engines are for online-first businesses) and adapt those changes to your 7 pillars of ecommerce excellence, as follows:
1. Choosing the Product Range and Product Display
What makes Amazon such a great business? One might argue things like “Wide variety of products”, “Great prices”, “Fast delivery” or “Great customer experience”. All these, and probably more, are true. All these make Amazon the leader in US’ largest online retailers but I would like you to focus on the following screen:
What you see there is my recent history on Amazon (I am quite fond of eCommerce, as you’ve probably noticed). Now if you would be Amazon you could basically market anything to anyone (well, almost anything to almost anyone). Why? You can show your customer a version of your product choice based on his or her particular interest, particular history of browsing and buying.
So with Amazon basically each customer gets his or her own version of the store.
But you are not Amazon. You don’t have the same product choice, the same data, the same infrastructure. You will need to create a specific product choice and focus on your specific niche.
Ex.: Say customer X wants to buy a computer. Where would he go? Probably to an IT related online store. Say he needs to buy a mouse after he bought the computer. He would, if the first shopping experience was good, go to the same place and make an additional purchase.
If you are not Amazon you will need to make a clear choice regarding your product range. You cannot be a fashion retailer and also deliver groceries. It just doesn’t makes sense. It doesn’t make sense business wise and it doesn’t make any sense for your customer.
After you have chosen your product range you will need to expand it. Say you started by selling clothes. There are a few product categories that would go great with that type of products:
Once you got that settled you will notice that there are specific ways you will need to display your product. As a fashion retailer you will need models and show your customers how those clothes would look on them. Such a choice of display won’t make too much sense if you would be selling, say, laptops. No one actually cares how they look when typing, unless they own a Mac and they are typing in a Starbucks.
2. Stocks Availability
Picture this: you are shopping in your favourite brick and mortar store. You’ve just tried on a couple of jackets and you’ve found that one, great looking, discounted, jacket. You have it in your hands. You have the money. You head over to the cash register and take out your credit card. Surprisingly, even though you’ve spent the last 20 minutes searching for it, trying it on and then deciding to purchase it, the item is not actually in stock.
That is not very nice, isn’t it?
Customers feel tricked when they try to purchase something that is not actually in stock. That usually happens when your warehouse stocks system aren’t synced with your ecommerce site or you’re running a dropshipping online store without any inventory. It’s really frustrating and you need to make sure that never happens to your customers.
Key take away: Keep your stocks updated real time.
Pricing – how do you do it? Do you just go ahead for the smallest price possible? Should you rather adjust your price according to the market and the other competitors?
Pricing should take you in the shortest time to a profitable operation. The pricing operation is mostly an internal decision (the price should first depend on your OWN resources and costs) while still trying to keep up with the market. Here are several things you should consider while looking at your pricing options:
You will probably not turn a profit from the start. As such – focus on creating a competitive price that will, at some point help you turn profitable.
DO NOT go for the lowest price on the market. Try to earn customers by offering discounts, vouchers, having a great customer care and a great product range. Anything but the lowest price. That is always an unsuccessful choice. Of course – you will get a couple of customers but these are not really the customers you are looking for. Plus a low price usually means a very low profit or loss. It’s better to have a slow but steady increase in customer base than a fast increase that will, in time, bankrupt your business.
Keep in mind the operational costs. While most startups focus on technology and marketing costs, they usually overlook many operational costs such as staff, warehousing, shipment and others.
Think highest possible price instead lowest possible price. Keep in mind that you are not your marketing. While you may want to be seen as a low pricing company you need to maximize your profit. Find the best balance between profit and managing to stay competitive in the market.
Shipping is one of the most important factors in ecommerce. Doh! It is, for best or for worse – the most important physical contact your customer has with your company, unless you also have brick-and-mortar stores. You should make the best of it.
Here are some ways of making a great impression with shipment:
Treat the delivery box as the most important part of your visual and physical identity. Because it is. Have a look in the right hand area at this ASOS box. It has a clean, functional design, it’s beautiful and people love receiving it. The experience is close to receiving a gift, as most have already paid for their purchases. Don’t spoil the experience.
One size shipping DOES NOT fit all. Adjust your shipping model to your market. If you are delivering groceries people will expect them as soon as possible (usually within 24 hrs) and are willing to pay to get this. If you are a discount shop people are willing to wait a little bit longer as long as they know they get a better deal.
If possible – offer free returns. It’s great when trying to build trust. People will think the pros and cons of buying from your web store and a free return is a great incentive.
5. Customer care
This is one of the most important factors in ecommerce. It helps build a strong, reliable eCommerce brand and, unfortunately, one of the hardest to manage.
While CRM (customer relationship management) systems and technologies have improved greatly, most of what your customers would call customer care still relies on people answering calls, people delivering merchandise, people in charge of packaging. People, people, people. Customer care is about bringing the right kind of people on board, making sure they understand what makes your company great and making sure they always do their best in handling customer needs.
It’s a hard thing to build. Good customer care is subjective. However, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances at keeping your customers happy and returning:
Build a culture around your customers. Make sure that anyone involved in your ecommerce operation knows how important it is to keep customers happy. After all, it’s not like jobs depend on it. Oh, wait. They do.
Make sure you track your customers purchase history and make this purchase history as clear as possible to your call center operators. You won’t be able to attain a perfect score. Just don’t ruin your best customers’ experience.
Don’t judge your customers. There are no “dumb questions”. There are no calls that take too long. After all, if Zappos can handle a 9 hours and 37 minutes phone call, you can spend a few extra minutes with those who buy your products.
In the end customer care is actually treating your customers friendly, polite and helpful. If you can manage that , you will build a great shopping experience.
6. Search – one of the most important factors in ecommerce
While it could be a little awkward to add search, basically a ubiquitous and often overlooked eCommerce feature, it actually is one of the most important factors in ecommerce. It helps your customer reach its desired product as fast as possible, without hassle.
How many items are listed on Amazon? Millions. There are so many products that Amazon decided that it didn’t need just a search engine “feature”, but a search engine program. At launch A9, Amazon’s Search platform, was rumoured to be a competitor to Google but it turns out Amazon just wants to guide its customers as efficient as possible to the products they are looking for. Now it’s an integral part of Amazon’s echosystem, integrating everything from product search to visual search, being even integrated within Alexa.
Companies such as Algolia have sprung up and quickly bloomed with the demand for search engines in ecommerce sites.
Don’t underestimate the importance of search. We live in a search-engine era where we need to find what we are looking for in matters of seconds. If your search feature doesn’t do that, maybe its time to work a little bit more on that.
Remember: as an eCommerce company, you are a technology company. I will say it again. You are a technology company. Get used to it. Now – as any technology company, you need not only keep up with market developments such as mobile commerce or social commerce, you need to lead the way.
These are the top 7 most important factors in ecommerce. They will make or break your ecommerce company. Focus and improve each one of them but remember that commerce has always been about a) delivering products, b) at a great price, c) before and better than anyone else. It still is. We’ve just added a layer of technology on top of it.
Brick and mortar stores are facing increasing competition from online stores. One of the biggest challenges: customers are testing or trying on the merchandise in store and buying it online, cheaper. With increasing pressure from ecommerce, traditional retailers need to know what is showrooming and how they can benefit from it.
What is Showrooming?
Simply put Showrooming is the practice of checking merchandise in store and purchasing it online, usually cheaper. Although the practice has been around ever since online stores became competitive in terms of prices, things started moving a faster and faster. In 2020, the trend became even more prevalent, with store closures and more effective ecommerce stores. Customers can go to the closest store, try the product they want to purchase and then research prices online.
That’s obviously frustrating for store owners. They setup the shop, pay invoices for rent, pay checks only to find customers passing through the store, checking out the merchandise and then buying it elsewhere. Shoppers, on the other hand, don’t really care if the store makes any money or not. They want to try the product (check!) and then purchase it at the lowest price (check!).
When it comes to it, companies such as Amazon, Net-A-Porter or eBay, mostly online operations, are of course benefiting and even encouraging the trend. On the other hand traditionally offline retailers frown upon, helplessly, and look for ways to counteract Showrooming.
There is great reason to do so as 69% shoppers look online for better prices and 47% look for free shipping, when checking products in-store.
There are ways for brick and mortar retailers to fight these trends at least in the short run, by:
offering to price match their online competitors
increase customer retention by creating loyalty programs
develop online operations to increase market reach and decrease product costs, therefore harnessing the Showrooming trend
If you’re a classic retailer you should note that these are only temporary solutions because…
Showrooming will eventually turn stores into showrooms
On the long run physical stores, in their current format, will probably become obsolete. Here’s a few things that might lead to that:
newer consumers value experiences and much more than they value the goods and the prices;
stores will transform their function from sales to display-and-engage, driving brand awareness and loyalty;
online stores will open physical presences and will start leveraging their assets, like more effective use of technology and supply chains;
consumerism will be replaced by a hybrid form of community driven commerce, where goods are re-wearable, sustainable and help local economies.
There will be no “brick and mortar”-only retailers
Retailers tend to focus on the practice of showrooming, but there’s a larger picture of a rapidly changing reality. It’s not this practice they should be focusing on but rather the changing landscape of multichannel shopping. There is nothing mystic about online retail’s rise: it’s just that customers get more products for less money.
Expensive operations as brick and mortar stores, hardly manageable teams that usually harm retailers’ brands and many, many other overheads all add up to a tectonic shift in traditional commerce. Brick and mortar only retailers are a thing of the past. They can ignore the trends, they can fight them but sooner or later they too will be transformed, just like the traditional media juggernaut.
Ecommerce cuts out the middle men
As far as historical records go, commerce has been a traditionally multi-level industry. There were those that produced the goods, the big buyers, the carriers, the retailers, the marketers, all adding up to the costs. When globalisation came into effect that became even more so.
Say you wanted to develop and sell a computer. You had those handling raw materials, processing them, the assembly line, the shipping company, transport, distributers, retailers. Not to mention everyone in R&D, accounting and all those other XXI century white collar jobs. Just a glance shows a very, very long line between development and actually delivering the product to its end user.
All along this line, everyone adds costs. In the end the one that pays for these costs is the consumer.
You think that’s just a timely thing? Here’s a list of startups that are slashing merciless through middle men with the power of ecommerce:
Founders of Warby Parker showed they can slash prices on premium eyewear by cutting out designers, brands, wholesalers and retailers. From just 1% online buy rate for glasses they now expect the industry to deliver almost 15% in the next year. They managed to do that by letting customers receive home 5 pairs, for 5 days, so people can try them on, ask their friends what they think about them and than return 4 back without any charge.
Seasonal collections? Screw that, Crane & Canopy releases new high quality duvets each week based on Pinterest and social media trends. They do that by connecting premium factories to end buyers. They cut out the wholesalers, retailers and premium designers.
Similarly, Bonobos started when Stanford B-School students Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn decided they want to start a new business, met with a taylor and figured they can make affordable fitted clothing for men. Soon enough they were raising $16.5 million in venture capital and the business really took off.
These are rather small startups but if you remember no more than 30 years ago – there was no Apple. 15 years ago – there was no Amazon. 10 years ago we had no Facebook. Personal computing and music, books, communication and media – all industries that had been radically and irreversibly been changed by these rather young companies, driven by the amazing change the Internet is.
We now know retail is changing. With it – our whole society. The outcome is hard to predict but the signs are here. Small and mundane as it might seem, showrooming is one of those signs.
It’s not easy connecting all your sales channels. Making sure that brick and mortar stores, the online store, live shopping channels and others are all in sync can become complicated. Retailers need to get all departments, all sales channels, suppliers and fulfilment operations on the same page. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the top software vendors in omnichannel commerce – to help you skip the software sourcing part.
It’s not an easy task to connect an omnichannel software vendor to existing systems. Fortunately, some companies are really good at it. Others – just good at saying they are.
And here come the knights in shiny digital armor to rescue the day. The following 5 vendors have built omnichannel retail capabilities ready to be plugged into existing retail ecosystems. They are now the go-to elite for large retailers in need of upgrading their IT infrastructure.
5. Kibo – unified commerce.
Number 5 on our top software vendors in omnichannel list is Kibo. In 2015 former Shopatron became Kibo. The company now sports an API-first, microservices based platform that enables B2B and B2C ecommerce as well as order management, inventory systems and point of sale solutions.
The company was founded in September 2000 by Ed Stevens and Sean Collier. Since then, it has evolved into an integrated SaaS platform that connects offline and online orders management, making it easier for customers to purchase from retailers.
The company offers specific omnichannel solutions, most important being:
ship from store
Shopatron targets midsize retailers and its main benefit is the advanced order routing. The platform combines online and offline sales and claims inventory visibility across channels.
great fit for midsize companies
developer friendly and easily integrate-able due to its API-first architecture
headless commerce structure – enables building disconnected systems on existing software structure
good fit for larger retailers that look for a quick roll-out for the solutions listed above
can connect multiple sales channels and direct orders to the right fulfilment point
works for both B2B and B2C commerce
reduced costs and quick roll out
implementations can become costly due to development costs
backend can seem outdated or complicated
analytics may not be its strong point
4. NetSuite Suite commerce
NetSuite was already rocking a great SaaS ERP product and a fully flavored ecommerce solution when it acquired OrderMotion in 2013. Now the company can provide inventory management across channels, a single customer view, business intelligence data and omnichannel order management. In the past years the product has made the company one of the top software vendors in omnichannel with its SuiteCommerce collection of products.
NetSuite started as NetLedger, envisioned as an online accounting tool, that later turned to an wider array of company management tools.
Prior to its Oracle acquisition, Netsuite was very active in acquiring companies itself. In 2013 it acquired Retail Anywhere, a POS solutions company that became its POS commerce solution. In 2014 it acquired both Venda, an ecommerce SaaS company, and eBizNet Solutions, a company focused on WMS (warehouse management system) solutions.
Netsuite has decided omnichannel is a perfect mix when it connects companies focused o separate blocks in the retail chain.
Extensive know how of retail operations management
Integrated SaaS solutions
Great record of acquisitions
Single view of customer across channels
Multi-channel channel inventory view and order management
Extensive list of customers, a lot of them enterprise Oracle customers
NetSuite is “broadly focused”: its solutions work with healthcare, finance, manufacturing and many, many others. That leaves little room for actual retail innovation
The solution is targeted at enterprise customers or midsized to large companies, a lot of them Oracle customers
Complicated to operate and train staff on
Complex pricing and licensing structure
3. New in the top software vendors for omnichannel: VTEX
VTEX was nowhere to be seen on this list 5 years ago. The company started in Brasil as an ecommerce company catering to the local market. It’s innovative technology caught the attention of Walmart as it entered the Brasil retail market. They’ve created a solid presence for the company in the country and expanded regionally in LATAM.
Companies such as Sony, Samsung, Adidas and many others has chosen VTEX as their B2C and B2B multi-channel software suppier.
From all the other companies on this list VTEX is the best in many fields, chief of which is its modern infrastructure, matched only by the likes of Shopify, which is more aimed towards ecommerce rather than multi channel sales.
Great user experience
Headless, API-based ecommerce
Apps marketplace and third party developers
Great developer support
Fast time to market implementations
Not much customisation can be done on the core platform. It’s a multi-tennant cloud platform.
The platform can be sometimes slow
2. SAP Commerce
SAP commerce was once a thriving, innovative company called Hybris. Afterwards SAP purchased it and there’s almost no way to find out how you can implement the software. Just trolling. The solution is good and it used to be number one on this list. Not anymore.
This omnichannel solution is scalable and built on a modern and flexible architecture, that allows interaction with all interfaces. Its order management solution, inventory and commerce application are built to work together seamless and easily connect with other systems.
SAP commerce’s solutions work both B2B and B2C and can handle inputs from multiple inventory sources and outputs on multiple sales channels. Moreover, the solution features a central content management system that enables retailers to push content across a multitude of interfaces.
fully integrated solutions
works B2B and B2C
supports multiple interfaces
works online, offline and on multiple other channels
flexible enough to work with open source technologies
training may be expensive
professionals able to implement and train are hard to find, due to an increase of platform demand
customization and setup can be time and resource consuming
it’s part of SAP
1. Shopify Plus
Shopify is an amazing company and its communication, style, products and company culture really stand out. It used to be the small kid on the block but now, in term of product, market reach and its huge growth in 2020 it really shines.
It makes sense that its core enterprise product can work on multiple channels. It’s incredibly stable as an ecommerce platform, migration is extremely fast, works as a point of sale solution and you can integrate all logistics on it. Plus, it comes with the experience of having more stores on its platform than any other company.
Shopify Plus takes the crown on my list of top vendors for omnichannel software, 5 years after it was not even included here. Kudos, Shopify.
So that’s it – these are the best of breed. Of course, there are more out there that deliver great products and I could name Intershop or SalesForce Cloud . They, however are less inclined to omnichannel or have a really new found love for omnichannel retail. The vendors mentioned above are leading the pack in omnichannel retail implementation, especially for large customers.
There’s quite some things you will need when starting a store. One of them is a brand for your online shop. Have you thought about ecommerce branding? If so, read on as there’s some great tips to help you build your brand.
What is ecommerce branding?
What is a brand? Is it a name? Is it a nice logo that people like and recognize?
I will not get academic on you and I will try to cut beyond all the buzzwords you might encounter when building your brand.
Your brand is all those mentioned above and more. The name, the logo, the colors and everything else is there to remind your customers of how much they like you and why. The brand is that feeling you get when you think of someone. You don’t know whether it’s the clothes, the color of their hair, their personality or anything else. You just feel in some particular way about that person. That’s the brand. The way people feel about your company.
Now, to build a brand you need some special ingredients. Some are easy to come by and some are harder. However, once you got that main ingredient on the table, the others will be easier to implement. Here they are, ordered by their importance:
This is “who” your company is. You have to decide right from the start what type of personality you will be showing to the world, as part of your ecommerce branding. Are you young and enthusiastic or maybe mature and conservative?
What does your company stand for, except for … you know … selling stuff? What is your purpose for being in the market? You have to answer these questions and maybe more to find out what is the right personality for your brand. Remember – people will most likely never meet you or any of your team members in person so you have to focus on sending out the right message in the digital world.
One of the best use cases of building a great brand personality is Warby Parker. The company designs, manufactures and sells beautiful eyewear at an affordable price. Not only that but sales fuel its humanitarian efforts in providing developing countries with quality eyewear and means for individuals to self-sustain.
They have an extensive section in telling people WHO Warby Parker is and why they’re a great fit for society. Branding goes beyond just commercial info and showcasing the products. It creates an image and a personality. This way customers can have the feeling of actually interacting with a real person. A great one, that is.
Shakespeare said “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. Things are what they are. The names are secondary. Once you know what your online store stands for, once you know what your brand’s personality is, you can put a name on it.
For example, Jeff Bezos named its famous company Amazon because Amazon is the largest river by drainage. He envisioned the largest store in the world right from the beginning and named it accordingly.
The name you will be choosing is extremely important. Out of all the other components in building an online store brand, this one is the one most likely to turn into a real asset. Your brand personality may change, so could colors, shapes and slogans. But your name has to stay the same. The reason is the Internet is built this way. Web pages get bookmarked, indexed and remembered by their name.
Amazon for example changed its personality and graphic cues throughout its history. But the name stayed the same. So did all other brands that managed to catch the customer’s attention, especially when it comes to ecommerce branding.
When choosing a name for your online store do check for available:
domain names (preferably a dot com domain – they are still most likely to catch on)
social media accounts (check for the chosen name on twitter/facebook/instagram etc. Not all may be available but try to register your brand on the most important social networks)
mobile apps (check to see if any app using the name you’ve covered is published on either iOS, Android or Windows mobile. The world is mobile so your brand should be too.)
any other areas where your brand could be present and there is a potential brand conflict
3. Ecommerce branding: Visual identity
Once you’ve designed and presented your online store’s personality, you need to code this personality through visual cues.
The brain perceives images faster than sound and letters. Images deliver powerful messages almost instantly whereas sound and text take longer to be perceived.
That’s why companies compact their messages in some iconic combinations of symbols, colors and letters: logos. The logo is the basis to building your store’s visual identity and ecommerce branding. We use symbols because our brains are wired to connect shapes to meaning. Color is usually added to further identify a given company. For example you probably don’t remember what’s the exact shape of the Coca-Cola logo, but you do remember the red-white combination.
Once the basics of visual identity (shapes and colors) are set, more elements are usually added to the list of brand identifiers:
company fonts (used in graphic design)
secondary colors (a special color palette used separately from those in the logo)
imagery (the types of images used to convey marketing messages)
Once the visual identity is set, it will be communicated through a brand manual, or brand usage guidelines collection. You can have a look at Amazon’s brand manual here to get a feeling of what you can incorporate in your visual identity.
4. Ecommerce branding implementation
Once you’ve got all those above ready, you can begin expanding your brand to other areas. There are two large areas your brand needs to shine in, and they are independent from one another:
1. Within the company: what does your brand mean for your team? What is the message you are sending to your employees? For example Zappos strongly supports handling customer service in the best way possible. Zappos customer service went so far as to register a 9h and 37 minutes call with a customer that needed support on choosing the right shoes.
The brand can be implemented within the company through signage (remember the large company logos in call-centers or warehouses), company communication but mostly through the culture the company will build.
2. Outside the company: Your brand will meet your customers. There are some very important touch points you will need to keep in check and see how the customer perceives your online store:
Your call-center support: this is the voice of your company. It needs to reflect your brand’s personality and keep customers happy and coming back.
The package: the way your package looks and feels is a great way to showcase your brand and build an emotional connection to the customer receiving and opening the package.
Your web-store: we will get into more detail about the way your web store reflects your brand but rest assured: this is the place your customers will be spending the most time on so you need to make it yours. The webstore needs to reflects your brand personality and your visual identity.
Social media: your personality and visual identity will go beyond your online store. The most common areas you will need to be present are social media outlets. For example check out these companies shining on Instagram.
(Examples of Amazon using its brand on different supports)
These are the building blocks for your ecommerce branding. Start small but start with the basics and build a brand for you and your online store. It really pays off in the long run.
Ecommerce sales strategy for beginners is a must. Even if it sounds a bit daunting at first it’s a must have if you are planning on stepping up your sales in 2021.
Maybe you’ve just set up your online store or you have some traction already but you know there’s room for improvement. I’ll help you understand how you can extend your online sales with additional channels and strategies you haven’t thought of.
Let’s dive in with a favourite topic of mine:
Using new Sales Channels in your ecommerce Sales Strategy
First of all – what is a sales channel? Simply put: any method of getting products to the market so customers can purchase them. For example, your online store is a sales channel. It showcases products, it tells their price and allows customers to purchase the products.
Let’s assume that by now you have already started your online shop. Ecommerce strategy for beginner tip no.1: start an online store 🙂 . Alright, that was obvious.
The web store is up and running and customers start showing up. But the web store should not be your only sales channel. Your customers are real human beings with all sorts of habits. One day they’re browsing your store, the next they’re hanging out on Facebook and meanwhile they search product info on their mobile phone. You should be there also.
Start a live shopping session. Maybe add your products to a Facebook store. You could build a mobile app that engages customers outside your store and collects orders.
It’s not just online, either. Offline engagement shouldn’t be a taboo either. Maybe a brick and mortar showroom for your main products is not cost – effective. Especially during a global pandemic. But you could set up a pop-up shop occasionally, following health protocols and engaging your fans.
There are numerous ways you can add sales channels to increase your market reach and some are really easy to set up. Others are a bit more complicated but in the end it’s mostly about your product, your brand and of course your budget. Let’s see which are the most popular sales channels and how you could benefit from them.
Live shopping has taken the world by storm. It’s engaging, fun, allows you to connect to your fans and has conversion rates of up to 9%. It’s one of the most effective ways you can use to improve your conversion rate while also improving customer experience.
The basic concept is that you start a live video stream and present and sell products to your customers. They are watching you either on their favourite social media or on your website (this can be done with a live commerce software). They interact with you by asking questions or chatting with one another. Through these interactions you get a sense of what the market actually needs and wants from you.
This is a great ecommerce sales channel for both beginning ecommerce startups as well as big retailers. In China, for example, it’s so big that some live shopping assistants can sell up to $140 million worth of merchandise a day during live shows.
Out of all the sales channels you may choose there’s really just two that really fit together with your online store. One is live shopping, presented above. The other one is the call centre, which can be as simple as a phone line for customers that need more info on products. But it can also be much more than that.
(Zappos’ call center is legendary and effective. It’s both a sales and support channel.)
It can just as well be a full fledged business operation with live assistants answering calls and helping customers choose the right product, handling orders and managing complaints. It can also mean people calling prospects or indecisive potential customers or just plain cold calling sales leads. Or sending them personalized SMS’s. No matter the choices you will be making, the phone is a great connection to the customer and you should build a smooth phone support operation.
You could ask – isn’t social media more about marketing and communication, connecting and understanding your customer? Yes it is but it can work just as great as a sales channel.
For example – Facebook is betting big on ecommerce, Twitter used to test ecommerce options (they’ve since dropped it) and YouTube partnered with QVC to set up live shopping. Pinterest is huge for ecommerce and their users spend 50% more than other users on online shopping. That is great news as Pinterest is more efficient into turning views to sales than any other social network. It works awesome for industries such as travel, home-deco and fashion.
What is the device you think customers use the most throughout the day? It’s the smartphone. Mobile usage has gone through the roof lately and it’s bound to continue.
So you want to be close to your customers. Mobile apps provide a special sales channel, one that’s personal and it makes impulse buying all the more attractive.
How do you add a mobile sales channel?
There’s an app for that. Actually more:
Shopgate makes it possible to turn your store into an app. It connects with Magento, Shopify, Prestashop and other ecommerce platforms to enable store owners to build mobile apps. It works on both iOS and Android operating systems and provides support for both smartphones and tablets. It also allows you to set up online to offline processes such as order online, pick up in store.
Shoutem is not built specifically for eCommerce but among others it supports building mobile apps for your Shopify store. The interface is quite simple and doesn’t offer many options but it gets the job done if you happen to be a Shopify user.
Give mobile apps for your store a try. The more smartphones become a part of our daily lives, the more we will use them. Your store can benefit from it.
So that’s that for mobile sales strategy for ecommerce beginners. Let’s step up your game with …
I know. The physical stores are dead and all. Except they’re not. People still like to see and feel products.
Pop up shops are temporarily stores, in the real world, where online store owners can showcase their products and interact with their customers. The pop-up shop sales channel has really taken off (with a bit of sudden drop during the pandemic but don’t mind that). Store owners have started adopting this online-offline connection. It’s effective, doesn’t tie you to a long, fixed cost and it allows you to get an upper hand, especially if you have a great personality. Which I bet you do.
(Adidas pop-up shop. Not exactly low-budget but hey – one can dream, right?)
Setting up a pop-up shop is a personal choice but works great if it’s posted either in a high-traffic area (such as a popular shopping center) or at an industry event. For example you could set up a pop-up shop at a home-deco event if you are a store selling home decorations. It is a great way to interact with customers and get feedback on your merchandise.
Companies such as Storefront help shop owners find retail space temporarily by connecting them with retail space owners. To help online stores they’ve put together an ebook that is free for download. I encourage you to have a look at it as it explains the main steps in setting up (pup-up) shop.
Last but definitely not least – the marketplaces. Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Sears, Buy.Com, NewEgg.com and more. You name them. They provide lots of options to lots of users and chances are your next customers are there shopping right now. Now more than ever as many buyers are flocking to the online marketplaces to discover things they cannot buy in store anymore.
( Ebay – the original online marketplace )
Online marketplaces are key to ecommerce strategy for beginners. The reason marketplaces are the last on potential sales channels is because I want to emphasise just how important they are. Just like the “old” shopping centers, customers go to marketplaces because diversity means options and options mean they can find what they are looking for.
Diversity drives customers. It drives sales. So you want to be there but plan ahead before you dive in.
As an online store start-up you should be looking for as much exposure as you can get but still try to focus on the right marketplace. Amazon and Ebay key parts of the ecommerce strategy for beginners but before you join them, ask yourself:
are these marketplaces right for me? Not all that’s great is great for you. Just because they have traffic, that doesn’t mean you will get traffic and if you do, you don’t know whether that traffic will turn to sales. The most important aspects you should be looking for are exposure and sales.
can my product be found? expect to have competition. If you are among the few selling the product AND your product is popular, then the answer is YES, the product will be found by the customer. If your product is also sold by hundreds of other sellers, there are thin chances you will be the one showcasing the product. Part of your ecommerce sales strategy should be to make your product stand out. That means – make it look special and attractive through copy, media and of course, price.
will my product be purchased? If you have indeed managed to get customers to have a look at what you are offering, you must also get them to buy. Most important things are the way you showcase the product to create urgency and scarcity. Think of this in terms of sales strategy: “A beautiful hand-crafted lamp” is … meh. “A beautiful hand-crafted lamp in LIMITED offer” creates the feeling of scarcity and therefore urgency in purchase decision. P.S. – just to seal the deal – add a sprinkle of affordability (“just $49.50“).
do customers trust me? Marketplaces usually have some sort of peer-review mechanism. Customers can review sellers according to their fairness. Your reviews are your digital reputation. Positive reviews mean more sales, negative reviews can mean NO sales. So try to be as fair, effective and open with your customers.
Handling orders from marketplaces.
Part of the ecommerce sales strategy for beginners is making sure you can receive and fulfil orders. Listing your products on all marketplaces can seem like the right choice but it’s usually not. Each marketplace is a sales channel itself. You should be sticking to those that work for you and improve your experience there. Until your business is large enough to allow you to handle orders from more marketplaces, focus on fulfilling orders effective and quickly.
Most marketplaces offer some form of integration with your existing store and you should use those. If not native, there should be some plugins or products that make integration possible.
Product information should be going out of your online store and orders should be synced with your order management system. This way, the order management team can have a single point of entry for orders instead of getting lost in a dozen of order management systems scattered throughout the marketplaces you are using.
The big ones will get bigger
Marketplace orders will continue to be a large part of your business. You can be sure this is a cornerstone of ecommerce strategy for beginners. Marketplaces will become so large in the future that they will dwarf those from your online store. The reason is people tend to gather and shop where they will find diverse products and retailers. Just like in the real world. Online is even more so – marketplaces get even more traffic from search engines, have more money to spend on ads and are better at keeping customers returning.
Connecting sales channels – a key part of ecommerce strategy for beginners
Each sales channel you will be adding will bring you more exposure and more sales if handled correctly. The sales channels I’ve described so far are the most popular ones right now. But they are not the only ones. As technology evolves, so will commerce. Live shopping didn’t register as a trend until two years ago. New channels will pop-up and some I haven’t mentioned here will probably increase in importance.
Think about the impact Internet of Things will have. Maybe in the future the greatest sales channel for groceries will be smart appliances. Think of a refrigerator than can place orders for customers when it’s depleted. It sure is going to be an interesting challenge to integrate those in a sales channels mix.
Marketing – used by many, done by few, deeply understood by very, very few. You need to incorporate marketing and especially digital marketing in your ecommerce sales strategy, even if you are a beginner.
Marketing means first of all communication. Talking, showing, describing products to the people most likely to buy it.
It’s that simple. The basics need to be simple.
If you are going to survive as an online store owner, you need to keep your marketing basics simple. You have a product. Hopefully a great one. There are people who want to buy that product. Most don’t know they want to buy it from you. You need to show them why they should buy the product you’re selling. You need to show them why they should buy it from you. And then, if everything I’ve shown you so far has been decently implemented, just let them buy it.
Everything else is gimmicks. If you’ve got the basics right, everything else will fall into place.
Ecommerce sales strategy for beginners: find the right market
To get people to buy your product, you need to know who these people are, what they want and how they act. Most likely not everybody will want your product. But if you’ve done even a bit of ecommerce sales strategy for beginners, you will be in the upper percentile in your market.
Yup, your customers are “the target”. Why is it called that, you ask? Well, because your communication targets them. Until the internet became the norm and we’ve started gathering more data than we can handle on customers, we used to define them through demographics. That means basic info on consumers. Age, sex, marital status, location, education … this kind of data.
( Pictured here: advertising in the 60s – the Mad Men show. Not pictured here: Google algorythms and tabacco advertising ban )
These targeting methods were made popular when mass marketing was just blooming, in the days of TV, print and outdoor ads made by the likes of Mad Men. When you ran your ad in the magazine or on national TV, you needed to know who’s going to use your product, make sure you understand their psychology and shout from the top of your lungs how cool the product is. Once the ad was approved, there was no going back. Advertising agencies would research, create and test the ad before the campaign was launched because there was no way you could change, tweak or even pull back a campaign in real time.
So demographics were the bread and butter when you would push your message to the market. But the Internet changed that into …
Ecommerce sales strategy for beginners: Targeting behaviours
Basically, if you were a mid-class urban wife with no college education in the 60’s there were slim chances you would receive ads trying to sell you repair tools for your car. Even if you were actually a mechanic. The same would hold true if you were a man and would be looking for a sewing machine to fulfil your lifelong passion of becoming a fashion designer.
You would have to find those products yourself. We’ve come a long way and thankfully, we now have the freedom to fix our own cars and sew our pants, no matter the gender. Note: we should make this better.
Big changes in sales and marketing strategies started being needed when contextual marketing (the ads you see when searching on Google), interactive advertising or behavioural marketing hit the … shelves (?).
The last one, behavioural marketing, is probably the single most important aspect in online retailing. Technology now personalizes marketing and responds to customer behaviour.
For example Amazon’s recommended products (“See what others have purchased”) is a form of behavioural marketing that is based on a complex research on previous customers behaviour before they purchased something. Simply put, when people would purchase something, their interaction trail (the products they’ve seen so far) becomes an indication that people taking the same or similar steps would most likely purchase similar products. This is called a recommender system (or recommender engine). It’s kind of a big thing in our world today.
The ads you see on Google feature a similar concept. They are shown as to answer your needs. Some ads respond better than others at what you are looking for and thus have a better chance of getting clicked. Google trusts this system so much that they invoice advertising on clicks, rather than how many people have viewed the ad.
In terms of sales and marketing strategy we went from effectively targeting people to targeting people’s behaviour. Still, demographics and customer profiles are very important and a lot of what you will be doing is to try to guess customer responses based on demographics assumptions. Such assumptions might mean you will favour ladies over men if you are selling women’s clothing (doh!) or rather more complex assumptions such as “Men over 32, employed and married are more likely to buy a family car”.
Indifferently of your assumptions, test them and always quantify your results with …
How to use analytics software in your ecommerce sales strategy?
Here you go … numbers. Charts. Estimates. Hope Miss N., your math teacher, was your favourite back in school, because this is going to be damn complex. Nah, just kidding. Most analytics software is pretty much plug and play and the numbers and charts I mentioned are usually generated on the fly and in such a manner you can easily understand.
You can’t have marketing without analytics and research. Fortunately, it is a lot easier now for a small online store than it was 40 years ago for the largest companies in the world. What is not so fortunate is that it’s easier for everybody so you’ll have to dive deep and understand what your analytics are saying. So will the competition.
Once you have installed Google Analytics or one of these other ecommerce analytics software, you will probably dive in and see what your customers are doing. What you will want to look for is patterns that lead to increased sales. Patterns are key in ecommerce sales strategy for beginners (and advanced) retailers. Special products, a certain type of copy, products featuring media versus those that don’t have media. Look for what makes your sales increase.
Targeting, knowing, marketing – the most important ecommerce marketing strategies for your online store
So you know the target, you have the analytics figures, now it’s time for the actual marketing. The web is full of resources to fine tune your online marketing understanding. I will show you which are the most effective ways of marketing so you will have a bird’s eye view on what makes an online store sell.
Search Marketing: SEO
As a startup there are really little things you can do better with smaller budgets than writing quality content and optimizing for search engines. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a really large concept and many people earn their living through SEO services. You will probably ask a SEO expert to help you find the perfect balance so your store will show up in search engine results. But before you do that, have a look at the basics. These are the things you will need to keep in check so Google will bring the right customers to your store:
content: write great and extensive content. For humans. Describe your product like you would want it described for yourself. Don’t do “keyword spamming” which is the result of cramming keywords in your description so more people would find you. It just doesn’t work that way.
code: your ecommerce store is visible on customers’ browsers thanks to programming languages that output information in the way we are accustomed to. Search engines index this information and if you are to have your store indexed properly, you need the right code. If you are not technically savvy, better call someone who knows what they are doing.
links: get other (relevant) websites to post links to your store. This must count as number one when it comes to SEO in any ecommerce sales strategy for beginners. Links are the key for search engines (aham…aham…Google) to rank your website.
Ask your customers to leave you their email address so you can update them on news and offers. This is a great way to get people right back on your store.
But don’t annoy them and don’t do spam! Everybody hates unsolicited email. Make sure your customers give you their permission to send them emails. You can use apps such as Mailchimp or CampaignMonitor to save customers’ emails and then send them newsletters.
Social media marketing
Where would you go if you were to market a product? The answer is fairly simple: where people gather and interact. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest are now used by billions of people. That’s where your online store should be.
Just like interacting with friends, some things work better than others. Here are some tips on how to use social media to interact with potential and existing customers:
listen first, talk later: social media is a great place to gather insights on your market, your products and even your brand. Some of those insights may not be friendly but you should pay attention to them nevertheless.
focus on building strong bonds rather than gathering masses: it’s just like with your friends. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 or 10 000 friends. What matters is how strong your connection with said friends are. And probably you will not reaaaaly have 10 000 real friends. It’s better to have few, engaged fans rather than many fans that do not relate to your brand or product.
find the influencers: some people wield more influence than others in their social circle. And they somehow do it naturally. You should get close to these people, develop relationships with them, show them your products and share content they might find interesting.
provide value, not sales pitches: yes, your products are great but don’t bore people with constant product sales. Provide content. If you sell hats, show fans their history, tell them about the manufacturing precess, showcase famous hats. Make it interesting and valuable.
be patient and constant: don’t tweet 40 times one day and than stop for a month because no one followed or retweeted you. Social media success takes time, patience and constant effort.
If your social media strategy is not going the way you’d want it to, there are always the ads. Most social networks provide ways for you to get closer to your potential customers, faster. Most people call them ads . Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – they all provide advertiser with the possibility of engaging fans through ads.
And speaking of ads, one of the most effective way of advertising your store and products is …
Using paid search as key driver in ecommerce sales strategy for beginners
Remember those Google ads I’ve mentioned earlier? That is Google AdWords, a very effective form of advertising that places ads on search results, ads that are directly related to your search.
For example, if you were to search for “cars”, you will be shown the natural search results AND special search ads. These ads are fuelled by advertisers that pay each time someone clicks one of their ads.
You can be one of those advertisers. By carefully analysing traffic and allocating search ad budget, you can determine with high accuracy the number of clicks you need to convert visitors to buyers. Because search ads are contextual, this means you can optimise your ads in such a way that only those interested in purchasing your product might click it.
However, paid search campaigns are usually better managed by professionals. Even though you might spend a little extra for someone to handle your ads, just leave it to the professional.
And one more thing: Google is not the only one providing the option for paid search ads. Bing does it and so does Amazon.
Performance – well that sounds nice. What is it?
Performance marketing is a broad term that means advertisers pay a fee depending on how well an action is performed. This action can mean showing an ad a certain number of times or making that ad transform into a special action. The standard actions you might want to encourage are:
downloading a certain file (say a product catalog )
showing interest in a product (the user becomes a lead)
buying a product
And because marketing people happen to love acronyms, you might find the info above coded in three-letter words:
CPM means Cost Per Mille (that’s Latin for thousand) – one thousands being the standard minimal block of ad views you can purchase to show an ad.
CPA means Cost Per Action – the generic code for any action you might define with those selling the ad space. It is used for sales and therefore sometimes referred to as Cost per Acquisition.
CPC means Cost Per Click – the cost you will be paying whenever someone clicks on your ads
CPL means Cost Per Lead – the cost paid whenever a visitor shows interest in your product
Performance marketing is sometimes used interchangeably with affiliate marketing. That is more of a misconception, as affiliate marketing, though popular, is a subset of performance marketing. It works as a shared revenue deal, where the retailer shares a portion of the revenue with the publisher (the one displaying the ad), whenever advertising turns into purchases.
Which are the major affiliate marketing sites?
Affiliate marketing is a very important part of any ecommerce sales strategy for beginners. Affiliate ads are ran through affiliate marketing services. These cover three very important aspects: they connect advertisers to publishers, they make sure all sales are registered and attributed to the right publisher and they handle transactions between advertisers and publishers.
If you decide to go along the affiliate marketing path, here are the most important affiliate networks that can help you sell your products:
CJ Affiliate (formerly Conversion Junction) is the global leader in pay for performance programs. It is the home to many publishers that can help you run your ads.
Rakuten Advertising is the big contender to CJ Affiliate and a fast growing one.
ShareASale is a great affiliate marketing resource for retailers. Slightly smaller as it may be, it is still very effective.
ClickBank works great for entrepreneurs and content creators. It is effective and easy to use.
2Checkout is another fast growing performance marketing company that’s focused on software and digital products.
Using Comparison Shopping Engines to get in front of your customers
A great way to get your product out there is to place it in comparison shopping engine. These applications gather information from more online stores and show potential customers what is the best way to shop in terms of pricing.
It basically works for those that are price competitive so before you join such a program, make sure your prices are aligned with the market.
(Shopzilla is one of the most popular comparison shopping engines)
Most comparison shopping engines are CPC based and you will pay anytime people click your products, arriving at your web store. The top four most popular are Google Shopping, Shopzilla, Shopping.com and Pricegrabber. Getting listed can draw targeted traffic and can mean a very scalable way of converting traffic to sales.
Other marketing options
So there you have it – these are the most effective ways you can market your new online store. This is the start of creating an amazing ecommerce sales strategy for beginners. But don’t stop here, don’t settle. Marketing in the digital world is usually a matter of imagination. Be curious and try new things that might be fit for your online store.
For example you can attract relevant bloggers to mention your store and review the products. You can put out press releases and talk to the media. You can run contests and sweepstakes to increase reach and turn fans into loyal customers. Once you have the basics up and running, you will be ready to add more and more marketing options to your online store.
Testing and optimising your ecommerce sales strategy for beginners
Remember: your work is never done. If you want to keep your customers happy and sales growing, you need to constantly optimise and tweak your store. To do so you can run tests that determine what works and what does not. When testing you will be looking for either errors, bottlenecks or usability issues. Do so through:
Functional testing: test your store’s functions. The navigation, user account, user login and others. Each needs to be thoroughly tested and improved
Process testing: we are talking business processes here. These are things like managing orders, fulfillment, shipping or warehouse management. If your company process don’t run smooth, customers get their orders delayed, mixed or canceled.
SEO testing: as I’ve mentioned previously, search engines will always be a very important factor in driving traffic to your online store. Check to see how you stand against competitors and against previous positioning.
Mystery shopping: put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see how’s everything going. Place an order and see how operators behave, how long does it take for the order to arrive and more. You might find some interesting things there.
Hot areas testing: some parts of your shop are more important than others. You can improve conversion rate through a careful inspection and recurrent A/B testing of what you could call “hot areas”:
Forms requiring customer input
Customer journey maps
A great way to see how customers interact with your company is using customer journey maps that help improve customer experience. These “maps” show your existing sales channels and how customers interact with them. Customers may find you on social media, browse products on the web store and place orders through the phone. This is a customer journey map.
When these journey maps get too complex you have to constantly test and look for signs of problems of sources of frustrations for your customers. It may be a poorly designed checkout cart or the voice of your phone operators. By understanding your target customers and their journey maps you can have a guide to testing what works and what doesn’t on your store.
Testing means improving and you should strive to make your store better and better. Little improvements and constant focus on making the customer experience better turns your store into a success. So keep testing :).
This is your basic ecommerce sales strategy for beginners
Wow! If you’ve managed to get this far I believe you are ready to start your own store. Give yourself a pat on the back for having the patience to get through all this data. It’s not easy, I know, but it is a lot easier than just starting a store and then figuring it all out along the way.
I am more than happy if I’ve managed to help you on your path to becoming an ecommerce entrepreneur. If this guide was useful to you, please refer it to someone else who may be in the need for know-how.
You’ve taken a large step ahead to running your own business and online store. You may be anxious and a bit scared but rest assured. So was Jeff Bezos when he started Amazon. Knowledge, hard work, innovation and persistence will get you far. Have a safe trip in reaching out for your dream!
“Bitcoin doesn’t matter” is quite a statement when the price jumped from $37k to $44k in one week. But hear me out.
I see three things that are governing our society. It’s been the same for the whole recorded history.
This things are power, debt and value.
Power is what a nation state uses to coerce its citizens into following (fair or unfair) rules. It keeps the world in a relatively ordered state. It comes in the shape of laws and regulations, police or military action, institutions.
Debt is arguably the single biggest driver of how the economy shapes the society. It’s not the money, it’s debt. Debt owed to your bank, your government, your peers. It comes in many shapes or forms. You might find it in concepts as credit, duty, return on investment, even money.
Value is what us humans provide to other humans. It’s the product of our creativity and labour. It comes in the shape of the products, services and culture we’ve built for one another.
Power, debt and value are quantified in many ways. Usually, one is quantified in the form of another. Power earned can be exchanged for units of debt (money). Debt can be covered in units of value.
Rather recently, with the downfall of monarchy and rise of the bourgeois, value provided could be transformed into power, to a certain degree.
Power, debt and value are the concepts we all share and trade. It doesn’t matter if we quantify them in dollars, yens, favours, goats or bitcoin. What matters between all of us is how much of these things we are worth.
Power is a vague and hard to define term. However, this scene in Game of Thrones might help:
What you can see above is an example of what has ruled our world for a long time. It still does. Power in the form of expressed or implied violence. Either through direct speech, as Cersei states above, institutions (“of power”) or geopolitical relations.
For a long time I believed in the idea that money emerged as a means to trade goods. When we think of the inception of money we often picture some middle ages worker, maybe a blacksmith or a shoemaker, trading goods with a farmer. One awkward negotiation might appear – how many goat skins is a pair of boots worth?
The shoemaker and the farmer go back and forth about the parity between goat skins and boots. They might settle it but what happens when a third variable enters? Like a sword made by the blacksmith. What’s the parity between swords, shoes and goat skins? What happens when you add hundreds or thousands of other wares?
Well – here’s a bright idea if you’re a 19th century economist in the British empire: people found a common denominator and traded in that. Like … gold. Or coins.
But it seems that’s not the case. In his brilliant book Debt – the first 5000 years, the late anthropologist David Graeber argues debt came long before money. Debt and credit units were the first forms of “money”. Debt made and destroyed empires, brought us slavery in its many miserable shapes.
Graeber argued we live in a world that is still ridden with indebted serfs in developing and developed countries, who’s main reason of getting up in the morning and doing a job they may hate is a form of implied or express debt and society’s pressure to fulfil this debt.
However you feel about power and debt, they have indeed shaped our society. For most of our recorded history, they were the only tools you could control the world around you. They were also restricted to a select few. The nobles, the bankers, the priests.
Then came the Magna Carta outlining a world where everyone played by almost the same rules. It started as a way of making peace between an unpopular king and his barons. Still a pretty elitist thing. But it spread to include the masses and lead to the wonderful place in history we are living in now: the democracy.
The industrial revolution and protection of intellectual property handed even more rights to everyday folks that were unlucky enough to not be nobles.
You could have an idea that improved the lives of others, put it into reality and build yourself a better life than all your ancestors.
This lead to inventions, and industrial age and the rise of those that could bring better goods and services to their fellow citizens. It helped build capitalistic enterprises where the one creating value could be in no connection with networks of power or debt. It still relied on them but they were not prerequisites.
We then ended up with computers, the internet and AI and spaceships built by people that couldn’t chop off your head. These people called entrepreneurs rely on debt to finance their ideas rather than using it as an instrument of control. Because now, the value you provide to the world really matters.
There’s many ways you could define Bitcoin – a social perspective, an economic one, a political one. My favourite is that it is a decentralised quantifier of value.
My early childhood was spent in a communist regime, in the Eastern block of Europe. At that moment owning one dollar meant you were prone to investigation by the institutions of power of the state. Why do you have a foreign currency? Are you trying to topple our glorious economy by undermining our glorious currency? Do you not think our glorious nation is the best ever?
But the regime failed. It was not toppled. It just failed. It couldn’t provide enough value for its citizens. Its “value” was fake. It was worth whatever the central authority said it was worth. And this was bad. No central authority should tell you how much your work is worth, right?
Enter the mystical figure of Satoshi Nakamoto. Legend has it he (or she) came down from the bits and data heaven and handed us the secret to decentralised transactions. Bitcoin. The more people used it, the more valuable it was. No one controlled it, except if they owned 50% of the computing power that managed the system. Which was technically impossible.
Why bitcoin doesn’t matter?
Today, blockchain(s) hold hundreds of billions in value. They’re the next big thing. They will change the world. Those that don’t own bitcoin will starve and die a slow and painful death.
Except they wont.
Because they don’t hold formalised power. They don’t handle debt. However, they do store value.
This is what matters. If Bitcoin, or any other blockchain based currency will rule the world one day, that’s a good thing. But it probably won’t change how much power you hold, how your debt is handled and how much value you put in the world.
If you provide value, this can easily be translated into any currency.
If you own or owe debt, this will still be expressed in some form of currency. Centralised or decentralised.
The marketplace has been a very influential social and economic construct for a very, very long time. It has been a central concept to commerce all over the world since the dawn of man kind. In time, the marketplace has been refined and evolved to include ever more complex structures. During the past century it morphed from temporarily trade gatherings to large permanent structures such as shopping malls and eventually it evolved into what we now know as the online marketplace. Now – it’s evolving into something else: the functional marketplace.
Simply put a functional marketplace is a combination between a marketplace and software tools that help buyers and/or sellers.
2021 update: I wrote this in 2015 and now it seems the model is spreading across multiple industries. Several examples of (newer) companies employing the functional marketplace model are Airbnb, Peloton (yes, really) or the Adobe Ecosystem, through its creative outlets (such as Behance).
Ebay, Alibaba, Etsy, Amazon and others have one thing in common – they get sellers and buyers in one place. These online marketplaces are fuelled by a business model that has seen a steep increase and proved excellent in the past years. But now, it’s time for the next step:
Functional Marketplace connecting buyers, sellers with useful tools
I believe the times they are a-changin’, like Dylan would chant. The Online Marketplace is not enough any more. The markets demand something more.
That something is the Functional Online Marketplace, a virtual hub that combines the features of a marketplace (buyers and sellers, reputation management, transaction handling) with functions that improve the lives of either sellers or buyers.
The Functional Online Marketplace goes beyond just letting online retailers and buyers trade. It helps the seller run its business better and the buyer benefit more from the product purchased.
And some of the biggest tech companies we know have created this type of Functional Marketplaces. We’ve used them and most customers love them. We just didn’t put a name on it. Have a look at some examples:
The Apple Ecosystem
Steve Jobs envisioned the PC as a digital hub, a central unit that connects the user’s digital activity. From email to web surfing, from music to pictures and more. It then proceeded to create this vision and along the way he built much more.
By launching the iPod and then the iPhone, Apple moved the digital hub inside the consumer’s pocket. With such a valuable real-estate in the reach they’ve had to build a system that shipped music, video and applications from third parties to these devices.
The iTunes Store and the AppStore were born. Apple built the platform to consume apps, the place where customers could download these apps, empowered developers to build these apps but did something else too.
It built Xcode (the development tool for iOS developers), it launched Objective C and than Swift (the programming languages used to build apps) and helped developers create useful apps.
Apple went beyond the marketplace paradigm. Yes, it allowed media and software consumers to meet developers but it also created the platform where they could be consumed and the tools to build them. It built an extraordinarily effective Functional Marketplace.
But Apple is not the only one …
Uber is an extraordinary successful company that connects freelance drivers to those in need of their services. It connects buyers to sellers. It is technically a digital marketplace. And more.
First of all Uber empowered a set of freelancers that didn’t know they’ve actually had a market. The driver app allows drivers to see potential riders and provides GPS-linked functionality inside a simple mobile device.
The functional side of Uber not only improves the way sellers (drivers) provide their services but actually it makes it possible.
For customers, the app makes hailing a driver an easy task, it allows direct payment on mobile phone and brings the comfort previously unattainable. The functional marketplace at its best.
Google – the biggest functional marketplace
Google is many things. Search giant, mail provider, mobile os developer and genetics researcher among others. But at its core, the business model is quite simple: Get people to pay for ads. Show ads to customers. Make people click on said ads.
Advertising accounts for 89.5% of Google’s total revenue so it’s safe to say that ads are its bread and butter.
To achieve these levels of revenue Google has to place together “The Sellers” (Advertisers) and “The Buyers” (Customers clicking on ads). Though customers don’t technically buy on Google, those that generate the company’s revenue end up as leads or buyers on advertisers’ websites.
To do this, Google built its ad market on top of its primarily function: Search. Users searching for information of interest are effectively buyers in the Google functional marketplace.
The marketplace, therefore provides functional support to buyers. The search, Gmail, Android – are all basically functions that lock in the ad-clicker and in turn generate revenue through these types of transactions.
These are just three functional marketplaces examples but they illustrate the concept. To be successful, a newly established marketplace has to provide more than just a connection between buyers and sellers. It needs to provide function beyond the commercial. By improving the lives of buyers and sellers beyond the commercial, Functional Marketplaces provide the type of lock-in and effectiveness previous models don’t.
For a very long time, retailers used a linear approach to the supply chain. It meant that products moved in just one direction. Products would move between the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the retailer and onto the sales channel. This sales channel meant the brick and mortar store, in all its variations, for a very long time. Now it’s time to build a supply chain for multichannel retail.
Listen to this article below or continue reading:
With the internet revolution came the concept of eCommerce, where customers would place the orders on an internet store front and they would receive it at home. Medium and large retailers used the same method of silo-management to the online store.
The “silo” approach meant that each new sales channel would be treated as a separate silo, independent from the other stores. Basically the in-store operations were one thing, the ecommerce operations a totally different thing. Ideally – there was no connection between them.
But this doesn’t work. The fact is that there are very few exclusive online shoppers. People like to spend time in stores, touching merchandise, they spend time on social media, get informed, place calls to ask for info and generally live in a complex world that mixes online and offline experiences.
Your customers deserve a multichannel supply channel
Customers demand new options from retailers, things such as “buy online, pick-up in store”, “order in store, receive at home” – things one might note are common sense.
If you want to build a supply chain for multichannel retail, you need to step up your game. And it’s not just marketing. Customers demand a real change in the way they are engaged. Companies such as Macy’s have invested in creating experiences that handle multiple journey maps for their customers and the results are satisfying.
To make this work retailers adopt a thing called omnichannel supply chain. This is a supply chain built for in store and online commerce, as well as other channels (social media, live shopping etc.) .
The biggest difference between this type of approach and the previous is the fact that it is omni-directional. Whereas the classic supply chain was mostly linear, flowing from one place (manufacturer) to the other (customer), the omnichannel supply chain moves products across multiple sales channels.
How can I build a supply chain for multichannel retail?
Here’s some tips:
make inventory transparent across all sales channels (online, in-store, warehouses, suppliers and others)
clearly understand what is your customer journey (ex.: customer places a call in the call center, gets informed, places the order online, picks and pays for the order in a brick and mortar store)
You are an ecommerce professional, you are receiving orders from customers and you want to understand how to better fulfill orders. This guide is all about ecommerce fulfillment.
Let’s get started:
What is ecommerce fulfillment?
Good question! Although the term fulfillment is used quite a lot, not everyone has a clear grasp on the whole idea. I mean – why fulfillment? Well, it’s actually a pretty simple concept. Order fulfillment for ecommerce is anything that has to do with fulfilling your promise to the customer. That promise is you’re going to ship the products they’ve purchased, those products are going to be in good condition and they will arrive as soon as possible.
Ecommerce fulfillment also covers the reverse process (also called reverse logistics). That means getting merchandise back from the customer. That type of operations happen:
in case of a package return
when the customer refused the package
the shipping company was not able to deliver the goods
So basically when your ecommerce business is fulfilling an order, it is actually making good on its promise to deliver merchandise in the best way possible. Although the concept is not that really hard to grasp, making it happen is a little bit more complicated. No worries, I’ll walk you through the process.
In order to make sure your ecommerce fulfillment operations work perfectly, you’ll have to look for the answer to four very important questions:
am I moving the goods in the most effective way? This is a question you will always have to be answering to. The answer is usually no. If you have answered yes too many times – you are not really trying that hard. The truth is ecommerce fulfillment operations are evolving very, very fast and there is probably always something you can do better.
am I always shipping the right products? You have to understand that sometimes you will not be shipping the right products. Yup – that’s a fact. It may happen when you’re using a drop-shipping service or when your team is overwhelmed with the number of orders (say during the holidays). You have to minimize these type of mistakes and always strive to improve on the way you do business.
is my team working in sync or are there any communication or operational bottlenecks? Your ecommerce business will not always run smooth. The most common reasons are either the team is not communicating properly or the IT systems are not fully connected (say your order management and inventory management tools are not synced). You have to stay alert and solve these type of issues as soon as possible.
is my ecomerrce fulfillment scalable? You won’t need to ask yourself this question in the first days but eventually you will have to check if your operations are ready to scale if you’re successful. To do so – try wondering what will happen if all of a sudden you were to receive each day ten times as much orders as you’re expecting right now. How about if your sales were to increase one hundred or one thousand times? Would you be ready? How would you manage this change?
The 5 steps in ecommerce fulfillment
Fulfillment is probably the most complex and tedious part of ecommerce. It is also the one thing that is the least talked about in terms of ecommerce. It’s not flashy and it’s not cool. It’s complex, involves a lot of tweaking and a lot of work to getting it right. While most ecommerce guides will point out to the importance of picking the right shade of orange for the “Buy now” button, few will speak of how important fulfillment is.
Just to get a glimpse of how important fulfillment is – think of your car. While having the right color and the right type of leather is important, the car won’t start without an engine. Fulfillment is the engine that keeps ecommerce going.
There are just five basic steps in fulfilling ecommerce orders. Four of them are mandatory and one is optional. Hopefully you will cover this last step as few times as possible. These five very important steps are:
Receiving the orders
Receiving the products
Processing the order
Shipping the ordered products
Handling order returns
Overview of the Ecommerce Fulfillment Process (including returns)
1. Ecommerce fulfillment: Receiving the orders
Customers will place the orders through one of your sales channels. It may be your online store, on the phone or through a mobile application or a pop-up store.
There is a great variety of order management software out there. What matters from a ecommerce fulfillment standpoint is what the order info should contain. Here is the minimal information you will be needing:
who is handling this order (who will be managing the order and who will actually be picking and packing the products)
the customer info – usually name, address, whether the customer is a person or a company, whether the customer has already purchased from your store before
special discounts or shipping conditions – this may happen when the customer has used a voucher or a special promotion and is entitled to a smaller shipping fee, a gift or a bonus product.
order info – total cost, estimated shipping cost, whether the order is prepaid or paid on delivery, and where you will be shipping the products from (either internally from your warehouse or from a drop shipper)
Most of the time, you will be receiving more info from your order management tool but these are the essential blocks of information to keep in mind.
2. Ecommerce fulfillment:Receiving the products
Before moving on to the actual order fulfillment bullet points I have to make a point. You don’t HAVE to fulfill the orders yourself. Some companies outsource their fulfillment to other companies. My advice is you should keep most of your fulfillment operations within your company. You won’t be able to ship products across the globe but you can pick, pack and carefully wrap orders for your customers, especially if you are a growing ecommerce business.
When medium and large online stores are fighting each other over consumer mind share, we only see the marketing and superficial aspect of this battles. But the fact is, underneath all this visible struggles, the real battles are won in the warehouse. Your real chance for success stands in picking, packing and shipping the right products, within the timeframe you’ve promised.
It may seem hard to handle ecommerce fulfillment operations and it sure is. But because it is hard, you have to master it before the competition does. Walmart and Amazon, two of the largest retailers in the world, have also two of the best supply chains in the world. It’s not that these companies have developed spectacular fulfillment operations because of their huge sales but the other way around.
Glad we’ve got that out of the way. Now – what’s the best way you can receive products in your inventory?
It all starts with an order to your supplier. It is usually called a “Purchase Order” as you are placing an order to purchase products. We will assume that you have already set up an agreement with your suppliers and they will ship the products. You will probably pay as you place your order, when the order arrives or at a given time after the order has arrived, if you have agreed as such with your supplier.
How to check the products received from my supplier?
Once the products have arrived at your warehouse you will need to:
verify their integrity – check whether the goods are damaged and if so return those that are damaged
count the number of products – check if the supplier has indeed shipped the correct number of products
check if the product cost is the one agreed upon – if you have agreed to either pay on delivery or at a given deadline you will probably receive an invoice with individual costs split. Check to see whether these costs are those you have agreed upon when placing the order
add the product SKU’s to your inventory management – Standard Keeping Unit or simply SKU is what retailers use to define unique types of products that can be sold. They are used to track goods movement through inventory. The SKU is not to be confused with the product model no, although this can be included. The SKU code is formed using product characteristics (such as manufacturer, size, color etc.) and it is usually used as a barcode or QR code so it can be tracked easily using bar code readers.
add bar codes corespondent to the SKU’s you’ve just issued for the products. You can do this using special bar code printers and special stickers that will be attached to the product package.
once the product is received and marked it will be sent to your storage unit (or warehouse) where it will be placed in a way that it can later be easily picked and packed.
( Basic check list when receiving products from the supplier )
Placing the products in the inventory is a very important part in receiving the products. The better you keep track of where the products are, the less time and effort you will need when picking and packing the products.
How should I store products for ecommerce fulfillment?
When placing the products in storage you need to keep in mind some very important aspects:
not all products are equal: products should be placed according to how popular you expect them to be. Some products will be sold faster and they need to be easier to reach. Either closer to the packing unit or lower on the shelves so they can be easily picked.
however, all products have to have their position in stock clearly assigned and saved. Each SKU should have a clear position in the warehouse. You will probably develop your own warehouse numbering system but you will probably have to add things such as aisles, sections, levels and positions to keep product identification easy and scalable.
Hopefully at this point you have managed to get the products in your inventory, they are correctly marked and stored and you are ready to pick said products for the orders you are going to be shipping.
3. Ecommerce fulfillment: Processing the orders
Once you have the products in the inventory and orders are coming in, it’s time to process these orders.
Order processing is split between four main areas:
movement to appropriate shipping station
What is the best way to pick products from inventory
Picking is probably the most time consuming part of order processing. It also gets a lot more complicated as your business grows and it may be prone to errors. Having more products in your inventory will increase the complexity of picking the right products in the fastest way possible.
If you’ve managed to place the products in the right spots (as stated in the step above – receiving products) your chances of correctly processing orders increase big time. The reason is it will be easier for picking staff to move fast through the aisles and pick the right products.
How does product picking work?
To have a streamlined picking process that works just as well with 10 orders per day or 1000 orders per day you have to decrease the chances for errors. To do so, your picking staff will cycle through these steps:
Receive a pick list – the pick list is a … well … list of items to be picked from the inventory. It may vary depending on how you run your fulfillment operations and what kind of software you are using but it usually contains:
Product location (section A, aisle 3, level 3 etc.)
Product code (usually the SKU)
Quantity to be picked
Product description and image (for quicker identification)
Barcode (usually used to confirm product picking directly into the inventory management system)
Create the optimum route to pick products: usually picking staff will collect more orders to improve efficiency and gather all the products in one trip. This route is usually generated by the inventory management software based upon the warehouse layout.
Pick products and place them either in separate bins based on ordered items or a general items to be sorted later at quality control or packing stations.
Bring products to the Packing Station, where they will be sorted, placed into the right packages, and so on.
( A basic example for a picking list )
How to pack ecommerce orders?
Packing is the next step in the fulfillment operation. Once the products have been picked from the corresponding aisle, shelf or bin, they are sent to the packing station where they will be split into orders and prepared for shipping.
The packing operation is usually split into these further steps:
Choosing the right package – depending on the products shipped, they will be placed into special packages, according to specific needs. For example a wine bottle will be shipped in a different package than say, a dress or a cardigan.
Scanning and marking the package – after the products are placed into the right package, products are usually marked with specific documents, usually used by the shipping company so their transport progres can be tracked. They are also scanned so the inventory management software will register said products as getting ready for shipment.
Adding invoices, product slips or other documents and / or marketing prints – this step includes placing needed orders information or documents (warranty certificate or invoice), as well as marketing materials that should reach the customer (say a discount voucher or a bonus product).
Preparing the package for quality control and shipping
Quality control for ecommerce fulfillment
Once the products are placed in the right package, a quality control station will check for any errors that may happen.
Quality control personnel will usually check for one of the following errors that may appear:
Wrong products: products may sometimes get mixed or the wrong information has been sent somewhere along the order management process. The most important aspect is that quality control will make sure the customer gets what he or she ordered.
Wrong address / customer: sometimes orders get mixed and orders are sent to the wrong customers.
Wrong payment information: there is a multitude of payment options and you do not want to ask your customer to pay something that was already paid for.
Shipping options: maybe the customer opted for a quick delivery option. Quality control needs to make sure the product gets to the customer in the specified time frame. Another shipping mistake happens when online stores work with multiple shipping partners (say one for internal shipping and one for overseas shipping). It is important for the order to be routed to the right shipping partner to avoid delays or extra costs.
Specific order information: quality control also needs to check for specific demands such as gift wrapping or a specific timeframe to be shipped at.
4. Ecommerce fulfillment: Shipping orders
Once the products have been picked, packed and quality control made sure there were no errors in the order management process, the package is ready for shipping.
Online stores usually partner with one or more shipping companies to deliver the goods. The shipping station will check the package weight and direct it to the right shipping partner.
Most shipping companies will provide you with a general framework on how to handle packing and preparing for shipping. Here are the most popular ones:
Oh, returns – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Just kidding. A clear and friendly return policy is what sets the likes of Zappos.com apart from the competition. They will let you return the products you’ve purchased within 365 days, free of charge and as their return centers will check the products you will be credited within 7 days with the money you’ve spent.
Ecommerce customers love a great return policy and you need to be ready to handle one. The logistics involved in such a return process are usually dubbed reverse logistics. This means you will reverse the steps mentioned above.
Basically you will unship the products, unpack, unpick and un-order everything.
If you offer free shipping, you will have to handle the shipping costs from the customer to your return center (for small and medium companies, the return centers are the same as the fulfillment facilities).
Now, the big problem when getting information on handling returns is that most of the resources out there are either
irrelevant (usually stating how important return policies are or how to market your return policy) or
boring (usually a bunch of text mixed by logistics experts that have no need to explain how reverse logistics work)
What will follow will hopefully be a bit more relevant and a bit less boring. The big idea you have to keep in mind is returns are the reverse process of everything you have read so far.
You will have to tailor the following concepts to your specific company structure, accounting, IT systems and processes.
That being said there are three main areas you need to focus:
1. Getting the products from the customer and into your fulfillment center.
There are usually three main options to do this:
using your shipping partner: most shipping companies offer return services. What they will do is go to the customer, pick up the package and send it back to you. Either you or the customer have to pay for these services. Companies offering free returns also include a special options for customers to use within a certain timeframe, in order to ship products back. This is usually a special voucher the shipping company will then use to charge you instead of the customer.
using your own network of brick and mortar stores: if you also have a network of stores (either classic or pop-up stores) you can direct the customers to these stores to save on shipping costs
2. Getting the products back into inventory
Once the products are back at the fulfillment center you will have to get them back into inventory. The process is similar to what you would do if you were to receive goods from your supplier. The main differences are:
in terms of accounting this operation will be treated differently
products need to be checked for damage or missing items
instead of paying your supplier, you will either credit the customer
3. Returning payments to the customers
Once the products have been checked and returned to the inventory, you will need to issue a refund to the customer and inform said customer of these changes.
And … that’s it.
It may seem complicated right now but keep in mind that thousands of online store owners are doing all these things. Now that you’ve got the basics, you will be able to deal with most of the operation challenges you will face. If there is anything else you need to know – just ask in the comments sections bellow.