Given the growth of online commerce, we explain the different types of e-commerce and the practical digital marketing tools you can use to create and optimise a quality e-commerce business.
The e-commerce market
The news has proven it: the health crisis and the prolonged lockdown period have increased online sales to a level never seen before in Belgium. In addition, this unprecedented situation has required companies to show a great deal of resilience and creativity, notably by creating online stores to counter the closure of physical outlets.
This phenomenon has grafted itself onto a market which was already expanding quickly. Although less fond of it than their European neighbours, Belgians are also becoming very good e-commerce customers. This is a real windfall for Belgian websites which are set to gain market share in the coming years.
Designing your e-commerce business
Before getting down to the practical aspects of launching your e-commerce business, it’s essential that you first define your needs, target, products for sale, business identity, and strategic limitations: in other words, the “why” of your product or service.
Everything that comes afterwards will depend on this and help your company be successful. A prior market study is highly recommended.
Soft delivery logistics
Have you thought about how you deliver your products to reduce the environmental impact of your business? Some companies in Brussels offer bike delivery, even for heavy loads (using cargo bikes), or "logistics hubs", to optimise the delivery of several types of product in the same area.
It’s important to remember that digital is not an end in itself, but rather a means to reach goals, in this case sales. This is much more relevant for e-commerce.
The different types of e-commerce
Creating an online store can be tackled in two ways. It can be done with a CMS (Content Management system) such as Prestashop, Woocommerce, Magento, Shopify, Wix, etc.) or customised via a web agency or a developer.
The CMS is available on the Cloud (SaaS mode without access to the code), or from a hosting company (PaaS mode with access to the code). Some hosters offer specialised services and support for certain CMS. You can choose one or the other solution depending on your budget, your technical expertise and your needs.
You will have to add extensions (plugins) to the sales site for the payment system, deliveries, invoice generation, inventory management, promotional coupons and codes, multiple languages, security and an SEO tool like Yoast.
Social networks can also be a good channel that will help you sell, but to a lesser extent. Social networks like Instagram and Facebook have stores that can be synchronised with your online store. However, the conversion rate is low compared to an e-commerce site. They won’t support your business, but can complement it nicely. Don’t think of them as your main sales channel, but rather as an additional resource which can provide a very positive return and as another aspect of your company.
Virtual catalogues are also a simple and quick way to offer your products or services without investing in a full-blown e-commerce site. The company can also provide a PDF or Word document that lists products and services as well as prices. This document can be posted on Facebook or sent by e-mail. Customers order by telephone or via e-mail. That’s all it takes.
You can create an online form very easily via Google Forms, Typeform, etc. The link to the form is available via e-mail, newsletter, on Facebook, or on Instagram and makes ordering easy for customers. For its part, the business is certain to receive completed and centralised forms which will make it easy to plan orders and pick-up/delivery.
Define a digital marketing strategy for your e-commerce
When your e-commerce site is ready, you’ll have to set up a digital marketing strategy to reach your sales targets.
Your digital marketing shouldn’t be linear or exclusive. E-commerce requires a far-reaching strategic vision that resembles the solar system where satellite planets attach themselves to the central node, the online store.
The marketing strategy must be specifically designed for e-commerce (compared to other sales channels). It must also be defined based on your business sector, your entrepreneurial identity, the products and services you sell, the competition and the financial and human resources at your disposal.
An effective digital marketing strategy must:
- Objectively summarise your services and products offering.
- Study the positioning of your products and services on the market.
- Analyse the profile of your consumers and of your competition.
- Design a marketing plan and list the strategies you’ll need to make it work.
- Decide how you’ll measure and assess results.
There are many, very professional, digital agencies that can help you tailor your strategy.
One indispensable measurement tool is Google Analytics, which provides detailed information about the traffic on your website and will help you develop and adjust your digital marketing.
Optimise your e-commerce with three levers
The design of an e-commerce website is never done. It’s essential to maintain it. Updates are required to both content and form as well as to implement your digital marketing via three essential levers.
By comparison, a physical store can never stop working on its layout, its display window, its restocking, its decoration or its maintenance. The physical store must advertise, draw in passers-by, do targeted marketing, etc. The same holds true for an e-commerce site.
In addition, e-commerce negates the human aspect of sales which means that it’s crucial to reintroduce this aspect via special actions that improve the user experience. Let’s take a look:
1. Increase the number of visits to your e-commerce website
To sell via an e-commerce website, you have to have customers, so you have to draw people to your site. The goal is to increase the traffic on your site (number of visits), to convince users to stay as long as possible (bounce rate) and to convert visitors into customers (conversion rate).
An organic search will help you achieve this by working on your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This is the set of techniques used to optimise a website’s positioning on the results pages of search engines, the most popular of which is Google.
These techniques, based on a well-thought-out choice of keywords, well-constructed URL links and quality content (photos and text) increase the quality of the website and its visibility in search engines. Customers who meet your target audience requirements will be naturally directed to your website during their digital travels.
It is said that a site is optimised or well-positioned when it is positioned toward the top of the engine’s search results.
There are several free tools available to help you find the best keywords for your segment: Answer the public and Google Trends, or simply type in the Google search bar and suggestions will appear based on the most frequent searches via Google Suggest.
It is also recommended that you register your e-commerce website with Google My Business which creates a free profile of your business. Its purpose is to provide company owners with more control over what appears in search results. The Google My Business profile appears in the Google Maps service and in the Google search results, in a special format during searches for local businesses. You can add practical information including opening hours as well as visuals.
Another way to attract visitors to your site is to advertise on social networks. For example, you can boost your postings on Facebook and Instagram by targeting a specific population or by setting up acquisition or conversion campaigns via Business Manager. The adverts will be judiciously positioned to increase traffic and your website’s visibility. In addition to advertising, social networks provide an important relay for your e-commerce business which it’s important to develop. so/node/15496.
Building partnerships with influencers will also increase your e-business’ name recognition and enable you to run targeted promotional actions like special codes or contests to increase traffic on your site.
2. Pay attention to design and the user experience
The challenge in the digital world is to reintroduce the human touch into the process. Customer loyalty and a better user experience should be your primary goals.
The design of your e-commerce site must be carefully thought out based on your customer’s future experience and to make buying easy. The site must be easy to use and its design used only to improve its ergonomics. Your motto should be “Simpler is better”.
The three-click rule should apply to access products and information. It’s also important to design your website to ensure that it is set up for mobile telephone functionality. A well-designed, clean, clear and ergonomic website puts people at ease!
Other, more practical incentives will also facilitate the purchase process. They include free delivery, free returns and promotional codes with a first purchase. Don’t hesitate to highlight your homepage in your communications!
3. Create a bond with customers
The last lever you should work on is creating a bond with your customers. In a physical shop, visitors appreciate a friendly salesperson, the welcome, courteous and personalised service. This is how shops earn their customers’ loyalty. The same holds true for e-commerce.
It’s possible to take care of your contacts with customers in the digital world with thoughtful purchase confirmation e-mails, by sending a post-purchase satisfaction e-mail shortly afterwards. You can also automate an e-mail offer to help people who abandoned their basket without completing their purchase.
E-mailings are also an excellent way to keep customers informed. Mailchimp is a good example of a complete and easy-to-use e-mailing tool, but there are many others. You can inform customers about new products, news, present the company, its founders, its values and its history. They can be used to announce private and special sales, exclusive promotional codes, and more. You can also send out a satisfaction survey or announce a contest.
Lastly, you can ask your customers to give a testimonial about their sales experience either on your website or on the social networks or ask them to rate your company on Google Business. All of these small actions will build long-lasting connections with your customers and confirm the name recognition of your e-commerce business.
One common e-commerce myth is that it’s an easy solution, that all good products sell themselves, that name recognition is viral, that a website will do the trick and that it will require little human and financial investment.
E-commerce is merely a special sales channel that has its own advantages and disadvantages. It requires a real digital strategy with a financial investment and lots of work.
Good preparation and a complete business plan which includes all of the above will ensure the successful launch and growth of your e-commerce business.