By now, most merchants are aware of the exponential growth happening in retail e-commerce sales worldwide — data from Statista projects the ecommerce industry will have $6.5 trillion in sales globally by 2023. While these changes are happening worldwide, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the acceleration in online sales in Latin America alone.
Latin America is a region full of opportunities due to its economic growth. In fact, Latin America is one of the world’s fastest growing ecommerce markets. Added to this, ecommerce has had a considerable increase in the region due to COVID-19.
As Carlos Garcia Ottati, founder and CEO of Kavak stated for the Oxford Business Group:
“Quarantine and social distancing measures greatly accelerated the trust and adoption of digital platforms, helping Latin America catch up with more digitally mature markets like the U.S. or China.”
Latin America has been a well-kept secret among retail strategists for years. While eyes are often on Asia to appease Wall Street’s appetite for growth, brands have spent more than enough resources on penetrating markets like China to learn that it takes more than a strong product and consumer demand to succeed in a new overseas market.
The numbers are in, the leading ecommerce marketplace in the region, Mercado Libre, has experienced massive growth and are forecasted to account for 25% of all ecommerce sales in Latin America by the end of 2021. They maintain 132.5M unique active users, drawing the attention of sellers like you from around the world.
Together with BigCommerce, you can grow your business today by selling your products in Latin America, home to 635 million shoppers across 33 countries.
Mercado Libre: Your Latin America Entry Point
Success overseas mirrors your traditional equation of effort and reward. However, businesses are often challenged by the cultural nuances and operational differences involved in breaking into a new geography. While thorough analysis is required, one strategy you can employ to make things smooth is to leverage the leading marketplace channels in a given market. You want to ensure that your first and future customers have the best experience possible, which means working with a strong ecosystem they’re already familiar with.
As a leader in omnichannel ecommerce platforms, BigCommerce has naturally sought out and partnered with the number one marketplace in Latin America, Mercado Libre. BigCommerce is determined to expand their successful Channel Manager platform to ensure our existing merchants across the U.S. put their best foot forward as they build their loyal consumer base in the region.
As for Mercado Libre, this partnership is a huge opportunity to broaden its user base and reinstate their core objective: to democratize commerce, payments and money in Latin America.
What is Mercado Libre?
Mercado Libre (NASDAQ: MELI) is the number one ecommerce marketplace in Latin America. Its ecosystem offers a wide range of services, both to buyers and sellers, throughout the region such as:
- E-building solutions
How Mercado Libre Works with International Merchants
In order to simplify the process for international sellers, Mercado Libre launched their Global Selling Program, which allows U.S. sellers to showcase their products in Latin America. From one single account, international merchants are able to sell products in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Chile. One of the key benefits of this program is that sellers list and collect their orders in USD, without having to worry about local currency fluctuations.
Essentially, Mercado Libre is an experience that makes selling in Latin America as simple as selling within the U.S.
Why You Should Use Mercado Libre to Sell in Latin America
Let’s consider six reasons why BigCommerce has partnered with Mercado Libre to expand its merchants’ sales in Latin America — and why it makes sense for your business to seize this opportunity now.
1. Handle shipping and fulfillment seamlessly.
Mercado Envios is a logistics solution offered by Mercado Libre that sellers can use to ship orders to Latin America. It consists of two shipping methods: fulfillment and direct to consumers. Sellers are able to choose the one that fits best for their commercial operation and strategy.
This shipping solution takes the selling experience to another level. Sellers only have to send their products to Mercado libre’s fulfillment warehouses. From this point forward, Mercado Libre takes care of everything else — from storage and preparation to shipping on the same or next day.
Option 2: Direct to consumers
In this shipping solution, sellers are provided ready-to-print shipping labels and are responsible for sending their packages to Mercado Libre’s partner carriers (DHL, MailAmericas and Bringer).
2. Increase exposure with Product Ads.
This integrated advertising solution allows sellers to boost the visibility of their products. With Product Ads, sellers have the ability to hide, pause or activate campaigns, as well as set daily budgets. This platform works under a pay-per-click (PPC) model, meaning sellers only pay once users click on their ads.
3. Forget about local currency fluctuations.
In Mercado Libre, sellers list and collect in dollars. This means they don’t have to worry about local currency fluctuations since the platform automatically adjusts and updates prices for their buyers. This is a phenomenal feature that helps sellers to stay focused on selling rather than on price updates.
4. Grow with a leader in the region.
Mercado Libre has seen resounding success across Latin America. Since its inception in 1999, the ecommerce retailer has become the most valuable company in Latin America, surpassing other big players such as Petrobras (oil) and Itaú (banking). It’s also the number one ecommerce marketplace in Latin America.
5. Eliminate language barriers.
With Mercado Libre, sellers don’t have to worry about language barriers and content localization. The platform provides tools for sellers to handle all their processes in English. This includes automated translations for pre- and post-sale questions and claims.
6. Provide a better shopping experience.
One of the key differentiators of Mercado Libre is its reputation system, which is calculated based on the following metrics:
- The number of complaints a seller receives from their buyers
- The rate of cancelled orders by the seller
- The handling time
This simple yet powerful system allows sellers to identify and work on issues that affect their reputation, and ultimately offer a better shopping experience.
How to Register on Mercado Libre
Ready to get started? Expanding your growth in Latin America with Mercado Libre can be done with just a few simple steps. If you already have a BigCommerce store you can do this by connecting to Mercado Libre from within Channel Manager and completing your application to become a Mercado Libre Marketplace seller. Once approved, activate the CedCommerce integration, follow Mercado Libre’s onboarding steps and let the selling begin!
Find out more information and get started here.
Fashion is a fast-growing industry with new trends being introduced every year or even within a quarter. Apparel is the largest category in fashion ecommerce with a projected revenue of $684 billion by 2025. But in such a booming industry, you’re bound to also find booming competition. Your brand needs to really establish a strong identity to stand out in a saturated market.
In this article, we will provide you with the latest insights about the fashion industry today along with eight tips fashion brands can use to adopt a bold identity.
The Fashion Industry Today
The fashion industry has changed in enormous ways, starting from the mid-19th century when clothes were hand-made by tailors. As time went by, this process has become more automated and today’s fashionable items are often mass-produced. With the rise of mobile usage and the unexpected impacts of COVID-19, ecommerce has emerged as one of the main selling channels. Let’s dive deep into each movement to see the new opportunities as well as challenges that brands should pay attention to today.
1. The fashion industry has become more competitive.
Fashion businesses are growing across sectors — from local to global brands and from retailers to wholesalers. Not to mention the rise in second-hand thrifting stores that have become more popular with sustainability- and price-minded shoppers. As there are more players in the fashion industry, customers now have more options to choose from.
Such diverse business models have made the fashion industry more competitive. Without a doubt, innovation is needed to thrive in this fast-changing industry.
2. There has been a shift to online and mobile platforms.
When it comes to ecommerce in 2020, the fashion industry is a large B2C market segment. Due to COVID-19, many people are now avoiding shopping in-store and moving to ecommerce platforms. Scrolling through catalogs, choosing items and checking out online has become a new routine. Fashion brands are now finding ways to create an omnichannel shopping journey to gain customers on both online and offline platforms.
In addition, there has also been a strong shift to mobile platforms. According to a study by Google, 59% of shoppers stated that an option to shop on mobile is an important factor in choosing which brands they shop with. Many mobile apps have been developed to accommodate such a huge amount of potential users, such as Amazon or Shopee. Moreover, many larger businesses have also built their own native apps.
3. Customers are factoring sustainability and ethical sourcing into their purchase decisions.
Being one of the largest industries in the world, fashion faces a lot of criticism about sustainability and other ethical values. A report by UNECE shows that 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from the fashion industry. People have become more aware of the carbon footprint caused by clothing production and the poor working conditions in sweatshops. For these reasons, they are beginning to shop more responsibly and become pickier in choosing their favorite fashion brands.
How To Make Your Fashion Brand Stand Out?
Being flexible is important for retailers in any industry to adapt to new consumer behavior patterns. In the fashion industry, what should brands do to adjust to these transformations and stay on the cutting edge?
1. Clearly define target customers.
As fashion is a big industry, clearly defining your customer niche can help you to stay on the right track. You don’t want to run a clothing brand for middle-aged people, with a marketing plan that only reaches young adults.
Therefore, it is essential to understand the purpose of your brand. Is it meant to sell clothes for all age groups or just a specific subset of people? This applies to different customer groups based on their ages, genders, hobbies, etc. Determining your target helps you hone in on your unique selling point, which you can use to further make your brand stand out among others.
Keep in mind that this does not mean you must narrow down the target customers. A shop for all family members, for example, is not less competitive than other ones. In any case, brands should convey their message and principle to their targeted customers in the most effective way.
2. Allow shopping on multiple channels.
As mentioned above, the shift to ecommerce is one of the most notable trends in the fashion industry. However, customers are still increasingly shopping across multiple channels from mobile to in-store to social commerce and marketplaces. These changes in shopping behavior require fashion brands to meet customers wherever they’re shopping and allow them a seamless transition across channels. The combination of offline and online stores can help expand the customer base and increase brand influence. In addition to physical stores, you can consider running your website, building a social media account or making use of online marketplaces.
B-Wear Sportswear is an example of a successful shift from offline to online. Prior to 2018, B-Wear sold exclusively out of their physical stores. By expanding to ecommerce with BigCommerce, the company saw a 162% increase in revenue and 81% increase in site traffic.
Make sure to do research on the market and your target customers to see which platforms they prefer. For example, the social media platform of choice for shopping differs globally.
To manage the complexity of providing a holistic omnichannel experience, fashion retailers today are using multi-store management tools to keep everything running smoothly.
3. Create an omnichannel shopping experience.
As mentioned above, today’s fashion consumers have very unique shopping patterns cross-platform. They might do online window shopping or check the brand’s social media before actually completing their purchase at the store. Research by Google, Ipsos Media CT and Sterling Brands shows that up to 42% of shoppers still check online information while shopping in-store. Therefore, making sure to not only provide multiple channels but also a holistic omnichannel experience can help you stand out.
An omnichannel experience is composed of individual touchpoints across different shopping channels, which connect seamlessly with each other. For example, customers can buy online and go to an offline store to pick up the purchased item.
There are many tasks to build an omnichannel business, such as increasing the number of touchpoints and making sure you have inventory management. This process has become simplified with the latest technological developments. For example, a POS system with real-time synchronization can help connect multiple channels and provide real-time information about product availability. An example of an excellent POS for your fashion brand is ConnectPOS, which supports click-and-collect and mobile shopping experience with their PWA app.
4. Have a consistent brand image.
Ask yourself this question: Consider your brand as a person with a personality, what would you do to express yourself to other people?
For fashion brands, it is important to stick to a consistent image. For example, everyone knows Nike is specifically designed for athletes of all skill levels, while Gucci is associated with modernity and elegance. In addition to the target customers, fashion brands should determine which style they want to do. It can be an overarching style of the whole brand, or a specific look for a collection.
Having a consistent brand image is crucial to tell consumers that you are different from competitors. A report by Lucidpress shows that consistent presentation of a brand can increase revenue by 33%. Consistency should be maintained across multiple communication elements, such as using the same brand logo, presenting the same color palette or delivering consistent brand messages across different platforms. Over time, these elements will become more familiar with customers, thus building up a distinctive ‘look’ and ‘feel’ for your brand.
To maintain brand consistency, fashion companies should follow it inside out. This means that the brand image should be clear to both the public and its employees. Fashion stores often have a high level of interaction between staff and customers, such as when customers ask for sizes, colors or the staff’s advice while shopping. Therefore, it is important to train your staff about how they communicate with customers in both physical stores and online platforms according to the brand image.
5. Pay attention to social responsibility.
Consumers have been more educated about the social responsibility of fashion brands. From a report by PwC, 64% of customers stated that they decide to buy or boycott a brand based on its position on a social or political issue. In the fashion industry, these social responsibilities often include sustainability, ethics and social inclusivity.
The fashion industry, especially fast fashion, has faced a lot of pollution issues. The materials required to mass-produce clothes have been widely criticized, such as waste from garments and toxic chemicals to make fabric (e.g. sodium hydroxide).
Moreover, there are also issues with cheap labor. The Oxfam 2019 report shows that less than 1% of Bangladesh and Vietnamese garment workers were able to earn a living wage. For rapid production and competitive pricing, some fast fashion brands have been claimed to violate human rights in sweatshops, where workers have to work under poor conditions with harmful chemicals.
It is now clear that if you want to be bold in the fashion industry, your brand needs to fulfill the strictest standards of social responsibility. Not only the quality and clothing styles but also the social values matter. Take a look at Heist Studios and its sustainability strategy: “ We’ve also committed to all the tights that we bring out going forward being sustainable and slowly rolling into having only sustainable tights.”
Another tip for building a well-loved fashion brand is how it accommodates people of different sizes, shapes and races. Remember to consider diversity and social inclusivity, because they may distinguish your brand from others in the market.
6. Practice your core values.
86% of consumers say that authenticity is one of the most important factors that decide their favorite brands. Core values should be the center of every business activity, rather than just being something that is put on the ‘About us’ section. They should be what is truly important to your brand, instead of what you think people want to hear.
A fashion brand can win the heart of many customers if it knows how to practice its core values. For example, when you claim materials to be eco-friendly, make sure to do proper research and execute it in the production process.
Being authentic in what you say and do is key to building trust and maintaining loyal customers. It is the most sustainable way to grow a business over time.
7. Tell your brand story.
Another way to be creative is by telling a story via your fashion brand and making it personal. Storytelling can not only bring up emotions but also give meaning to the clothes or accessories you’re selling. If you have any personal motivation or particular mission behind your brand, share it with your customers (for an example of this, visit Natori). With the help of online platforms and visual elements, stories can be easily told in many different ways. In the long run, storytelling can enhance your relationship with customers and strengthen your brand image.
8. Don’t lose focus on product quality.
Before being ‘bold’, a brand must fulfill the basic requirements first. No matter how excellent you are in promoting your brand, it will do no good if the quality of clothing is not up to customer expectations. Don’t forget to carefully check the quality of your products from the earliest stage of production.
These basic requirements may include the ‘feel’ of materials, their durability, the threads or the origins of the manufacturers. Make sure you have the best quality possible within the price range that you offer. In the end, a big factor that makes your customers come back is their satisfaction with the products. While promotion can attract potential customers, product quality retains loyal ones.
Building an outstanding fashion brand requires a lot of effort and an insightful mind. Above all, the two biggest takeaways are making sure you are authentic in what you do and say, as well as incorporating technology/online platforms into the process. In such a fast-changing industry, we believe innovation is the key to success.
In the past, many B2B businesses have been slow to adopt ecommerce. One eMarker report forecasted that only 9% of total B2B US product sales occurred via an ecommerce website.
However, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for many B2Bs to accelerate their digital transformation. For instance, eMarker also reports that the average company revenue share driven by ecommerce before vs. during COVID-19 increased 23% on average.
Complex needs can turn into reservations about selling online or wariness about replatforming from a custom-built or monolithic solution.
But these fears don’t have to stand in the way of success. We’ve reached out to Lori McDonald, CEO at Brilliance Business Solutions, to help shed some light on how to find the right B2B ecommerce solution.
For those who have never had a B2B ecommerce solution, what are their main objections to selling online?
One reason, which is becoming less common now but I certainly still hear from B2B businesses, is that their customers don’t buy that way. Because products are really complex, people need to talk to a sales person — they’re not going to place an order online. I do think that rationale is changing.
Some other hurdles are the fear that ecommerce will compete with their sales team. Many manufacturers and distributors have built their business on their sales team. That has been their path to success, and they don’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize what’s working for them.
One other hurdle that exists is that oftentimes these organizations don’t have digital expertise internally. They’ve never had to sell online before and don’t have the past experience with B2B ecommerce software. From this perspective, there are certainly strategies, as well as ecommerce features and functionality, that can help make the transition easier.
What do you recommend they do to overcome these challenges so that they can start selling online?
What I recommend to organizations that have never sold online before is to get started selling something online. It might initially be a parts store, or you can find some segment of your products that you’re going to start selling. This will enable you to get some experience internally that you can learn from and continue to build upon.
And that’s one of the great things about BigCommerce’s B2B ecommerce solution. The platform enables you to get started and try some things out; then, scale your investment over time.
On a related note, sales team buy-in is so important. Some sales teams, or even owners, have the mindset that ecommerce means replacing salespeople or that you won’t need them anymore. That mindset is a myth. Ecommerce doesn’t replace salespeople. Done right, it supports them. Your salespeople are so important. An online store is a tool for your salespeople to help them do their job more easily and help them sell more.
How does BigCommerce’s B2B ecommerce software make it easy for those with less experience to get started?
There are numerous features and functionalities within the BigCommerce platform that can help mitigate some of the challenges of selling online for the first time.
For instance, contract pricing and custom pricing for customers has been a part of BigCommerce’s naitive functionality, even before B2B Edition. It’s really great because you can allow customers to log in and see a specific price that’s unique to them.
Thinking about your sales team and reinforcing that customer relationship, BigCommerce B2B Edition is helpful as multiple users can log in per account; sales people can set up quotes for customers or customers can request their own quotes and customers can purchase from a list.
Those are B2B ecommerce software features that support the customer’s relationship with sales and enable your ecommerce site to become an extension of your sales team.
For businesses already online but looking for a new B2B ecommerce solution, what do you recommend they prioritize?
Understanding the capabilities the platform has that align with strategies that are going to help you make more money. So if you think about your roadmap and what you want to accomplish in the B2B space — it may be that you want to enable punchout or leverage new email marketing capabilities — make sure you look for a platform that has connectors to other systems, which will make the process straightforward and less resource intensive.
Also, prioritize a B2B ecommerce solution that’s going to be easy for your marketers, salespeople and admins to use, without having to contact their IT team. I know many companies still use a legacy solution that may be custom built or homegrown. But the challenge is it’s often limited by what a marketer can edit and change in order to promote new products or accomplish other tasks quickly.
While you may have an internal development team, it’s much better to use them for some really great innovative new features that are going to improve the customer experience versus doing things that a platform could support your team in doing.
What do you see as the main values of multi-tenant SaaS over monolithic or legacy B2B ecommerce software?
Well, there’s a few things. First, low total cost of ownership. For instance, let’s say you want to add a new feature, or there’s a new browser version out that you need to support. With a legacy or custom-built solution, you might find yourself in a situation where you’re continuously spending your development resources to ensure that you’re supporting a new feature or browser version — or simply keeping the platform alive.
In my experience, we’ve had platforms that we worked with where merchants might spend $100,000 to get the site set up, and then spend $50,000 every time they wanted to upgrade — simply because it was just so customized. Instead, companies are better off spending their resources on innovative new features that can drive revenue.
The other reason I think that there’s a real benefit to multi-tenant SaaS comes back to the idea that ecommerce solutions like BigCommerce are continually adding new features, functionality and capabilities that organizations get to take advantage of without doing any additional development work on their part.
That’s not going to be true if you have a custom-built solution. And even in the case of other platforms on the market, if your development team or an outside development partner has to spend weeks or months working on the upgrade to benefit from the features, oftentimes you will not get to the latest version because of the costs involved.
How does Brilliance Business Solutions help companies make the transition from a legacy or custom-built platform to a SaaS B2B ecommerce solution?
One of the biggest challenges for many organizations that have a custom-built application or legacy solution is they don’t necessarily know all of the features and functionality they’ve built over time. Or they might know, but because it was customized progressively over time, they don’t have it well documented.
So what we do at Brilliance Business Solutions is bring in our team of business analysts and software architects who will help identify technical requirements, including ERP integrations and specific business rules, and then, we put together a technical plan that helps get merchants up to speed on their new B2B ecommerce solution — on time and on budget. We even have an on time and on budget guarantee.
It can be scary for organizations moving to something new, and for good reason. There’s anxiety around IT projects like this because there have been a lot of instances of them going awry. So knowing that you’ve had an entire team that has done this kind of work multiple times before builds confidence.
There’s been a lot of debate about headless as an option for B2B. What is your take? Do you think B2B ecommerce businesses want headless?
I think it really depends on the company. Headless commerce typically makes more sense for larger enterprises that have already made sizable investments in an enterprise CMS, and they don’t want to replace it; they just want to add commerce functionality into it.
So while there is a business case for headless, to me, the challenge is that it’s more expensive to implement. You lose some of the lower total cost of ownership benefits.
For organizations who have never done ecommerce before and they’re just getting started, assuming they’re less than a $500 million company, I don’t see a lot of people choosing to start with headless in that scenario. I think it’s usually the larger enterprises that have a system in place that they can’t replace, but they want to extend.
Get Start with a B2B Ecommerce Solution from BigCommerce
Ready to take the plunge and start selling online with a B2B ecommerce solution designed to set you up for success? Then, check out BigCommerce B2B Edition. You’ll find all the features you need to cut through complexities and make B2B selling simple.
Make it Big is back — with more ecommerce legends and global thought leaders than ever before.
Join us on September 14-15, 2021 for our fourth-annual ecommerce conference and learn how to exceed shopper expectations with actionable advice from the industry’s foremost experts.
What Is Make it Big?
Hosted by BigCommerce and sponsored by Google, Make it Big is a free two-day virtual event for entrepreneurs, retailers and ecommerce professionals looking to unlock their growth potential.
What Will You Learn?
At our 2021 Make it Big conference, our top-tier speakers will discuss today’s most relevant topics, from digital innovation and customer experience to emerging global markets and social commerce. You’ll get exclusive access to proven growth strategies and real-world success stories designed to help empower you to create ecommerce experiences that captivate and convert.
“Most people running six-figure commerce businesses, particularly ones who have stalled growth or slowed substantially, are looking for very tangible and actionable things they can do. BigCommerce has nailed it with this event.” – Jon Lott, CEO, Spearmint LOVE
Meet Our Lineup
Dive headfirst into exclusive content from our powerhouse lineup of renowned industry leaders like Mark Cuban, Ann Handley, Neil Patel, plus Justin Wang of LARQ, Chris Van Dusen of CBDistillery, and so many more.
You won’t want to miss this year’s keynote speakers:
Mark Cuban: Disruptive Innovation and Investing for Growth
Mark Cuban first appeared as a “Shark” on the ABC show Shark Tank in 2011, becoming the first ever to live Tweet a TV show. He’s been a star on the hit show ever since, and is an investor in an ever-growing portfolio of small businesses. In addition to Shark Tank, Cuban acquired the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, overseeing them compete in the franchise’s first NBA Finals in 2006 — and becoming NBA World Champions in 2011. They are currently listed as one of Forbes’ most valuable sports franchises.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once and then everyone can tell you that you are an overnight success.” – Mark Cuban
Don’t miss Mark’s keynote session on September 14, Disruptive Innovation and Investing for Growth, hosted by BigCommerce’s very own Chief Financial Officer, Robert Alvarez. In this session, learn about Mark’s entrepreneurial journey, shifting customer expectations and what goes into building a successful business.
Mary Ellen Coe and Bill Ready, Google: Harnessing the Power of AI to Sell More
As President of Google Customer Solutions, Mary Ellen Coe oversees the global ads business for mid and small businesses, serving millions of customers and thousands of partners worldwide. Her team helps businesses get online and grow, as well as the acquisition of new customers and channel partners for Google Ads and YouTube. Prior to joining Google in 2012, she was a Partner with McKinsey & Company leading Consumer Marketing and Sales in North America. She spent 11 years prior in marketing and brand strategy, helping leading brands expand their global reach. She currently resides in Los Altos Hills, California with her husband and two daughters.
As Google’s President of Commerce, Bill Ready is responsible for leading the vision, strategy and delivery of its commerce products. Prior to Google, Bill was Chief Operating Officer for PayPal, responsible for product, technology and engineering. He came to PayPal with the acquisition of Braintree in 2013, where, as CEO, he and his team helped build one of the most innovative and influential startups in the payments industry. Braintree developed industry-leading payment solutions that power businesses like Uber, Airbnb, Houzz and HotelTonight.
A veteran of the payments industry, he served as president of iPay Technologies in 2008, guiding the company through a period of rapid revenue and earnings growth and its sale to Jack Henry & Associates in 2010. He also worked as a strategy consultant for McKinsey & Company and was an early engineer at two other successful start-ups: emphesys (merged with Humana in 2001) and Netzee (IPO November 1999). Bill holds an MBA from Harvard Business School where he was an honors recipient and a bachelor’s degree in information systems and finance from the University of Louisville.
Join Mary Ellen and Bill’s keynote session, Harnessing the Power of AI to Sell More, on September 15, 2021. In this session, experts from BigCommerce and Google will discuss the state of digital shopping — including leading industry trends and the role data and AI technology play on the road to success. Discover how to harness your online strategy and create personalized shopping experiences, optimize operations and drive revenue growth.
Intense competition is driving rapid technological innovation in ecommerce. More and more brands are turning to cutting-edge tech to help them grow, evolve and aggressively pursue new customers.
One way brands are seeking to gain market share is by implementing headless ecommerce architectures. In a headless environment, the front-end presentation layer of an ecommerce store is decoupled from its back-end commerce layer. A headless architecture offers brands the freedom and agility necessary to deploy engaging front-end content and user experiences, without having to make significant changes to the back-end. This allows brands to quickly respond to shifting customer wants, needs, and desires to deploy front-end updates and changes that improve the overall shopping experience.
On paper, it may seem that a headless approach is more conducive to scrappy startups and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands — organizations that are flexible and nimble, and can quickly shift approaches to respond to customer behavior. However, numerous enterprise ecommerce companies are also reaping the benefits of a headless architecture.
Headless ecommerce setups are helping enterprises create more meaningful shopping experiences for their customers, build true omnichannel marketing and sales strategies, drive down customer acquisition costs and much more.
But what exactly does a headless ecommerce architecture look like? How does it differ from a traditional ecommerce setup? And what unique benefits does it offer enterprise ecommerce brands? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Headless Ecommerce?
In a headless ecommerce setup, the front-end presentation layer of an ecommerce system (“the head”) is decoupled from its back-end commerce engine. The presentation layer refers to all of the customer-facing elements that make up a brand’s ecommerce presence, like UX/UI, progressive web apps (PWAs), promotional content and more. front-ends are the gateways customers use to engage with and purchase products from a brand.
Severing the front-end presentation layer from the back-end commerce layer opens up numerous opportunities for brands. Front-end developers can focus exclusively on adjusting the presentation layer to improve customer experience without having to worry about making changes to the back-end code base.
This back-end, which handles things like inventory, order management, payment gateways and shipping, uses application programming interface (API) calls to communicate with the front-end. The front-end can then be retooled for multiple different touchpoints, like IoT devices, mobile and more via API calls.
How Does Enterprise Headless Ecommerce Differ from Traditional ECommerce?
Traditional ecommerce architectures are monolithic. Monolithic platforms act as pillars, meaning they incorporate multiple components into a single code base. Everything from the database layer to business logic runs on the same code.
In a monolithic architecture, the front-end presentation layer is inextricably linked to the back-end components. In ecommerce, these individual components typically include services like payment authorization and inventory management. When a brand deploys a monolithic ecommerce setup, all changes made to the presentation layer must be replicated across the entire architecture. Things like basic content tweaks and UX/UI changes—even putting up a promotion banner — require coordination between both front-end and back-end teams. This can mean significant development time and effort.
In traditional ecommerce setups, there is very little room for flexibility to ensure other content forms or channels can successfully integrate with the back-end commerce layer. Headless ecommerce architectures provide for true flexibility in commerce, helping brands deliver superior customer experiences across touchpoints.
Headless Ecommerce for the Enterprise
Because of their age and size, ecommerce enterprise companies are more likely to operate on legacy technologies — including monolithic architectures. Unfortunately, this means that making adjustments to improve efficiency in ecommerce and adapt to changing customer behavior can be difficult for enterprises — especially in an environment where staying competitive with more flexible startups is crucial.
Enterprise ecommerce businesses must be agile and responsive in order to remain competitive. But the reality is there are numerous factors that can prevent enterprises from being truly nimble and flexible. Whether it’s the burden of legacy technology, or the inefficiencies that come with layers of bureaucracy, enterprises face numerous challenges in driving ecommerce success. But if they’re willing to make the leap, enterprises can benefit immensely from a headless ecommerce approach. Let’s take a look at some of the key areas where headless ecommerce can benefit enterprises.
1. Omnichannel ecommerce.
Creating on-brand customer experiences across all consumer touchpoints is the backbone of omnichannel ecommerce. From social media ecommerce to voice assistants, customers are using multiple channels to purchase products. And with more and more enterprises seeking to meet customers on their terms, drive more organic traffic and replicate customer experience across multiple touchpoints, having a truly flexible ecommerce solution is extremely important.
This is where headless ecommerce truly shines. Because the front-end is separate from the back-end commerce layer, it’s easy to manage multiple different customer-facing touchpoints. Any interface customers use to purchase products can easily be hooked up to the commerce engine through API calls. And if any changes or modifications to these touchpoints are made, they can easily be implemented without having to overhaul the entire system.
Because of headless ecommerce’s inherent flexibility, enterprises can easily deploy true omnichannel sales and marketing strategies — something organizations with traditional, monolithic architectures cannot.
2. Data analysis.
Data enables better customer experiences. Full visibility into key data points helps ecommerce enterprises run more efficiently and drive more effective customer interactions. From bottom-of-the-funnel metrics like conversion rate to more advanced data points, enterprises crave full visibility into their ecommerce operations.
Due to its API-first nature, headless ecommerce architectures provide infinitely more opportunities to extract data. With each API call offering its own set of data, enterprises can glean valuable metrics — and insights — from each sales channel. This allows enterprises to put their entire ecommerce operation under a microscope, examining each channel for key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer engagement. This improved data visibility will help enterprises fully understand how customers engage with different channels and touchpoints — and how they can be modified or adjusted for superior experience and engagement.
Headless Means More Developer Freedom
From a development perspective, headless ecommerce offers the freedom to scale up or down as necessary, with minimal time and effort. Its API-first nature makes it easy to integrate technologies that would require significant development work in a monolithic environment. Need to implement a payments gateway that can support recurring payments across multiple front-ends? There’s an API for that. Want to create custom checkout processes for each of your sales channels? That’s easy.
In a headless setup, APIs act like building blocks, helping you to stand up a complete ecommerce environment without having to custom build components or commit to a singular codebase for disparate elements.
Headless ecommerce provides flexibility and convenience on the back-end development side, meaning enterprises can prevent and resolve common front-end issues more efficiently. Avoiding site outages and downtime becomes easier, as does the ability to implement new capabilities to easily respond to customer wants, needs and desires.
While headless ecommerce can be transformative for enterprises, it’s not ideal for all organizations. Many enterprise ecommerce organizations are resistant to relying on significant amounts of API calls to power their architectures — and instead prefer the stability that a traditional, monolithic setup provides. These same organizations also likely employ both front-end and back-end development teams that are closely entwined, meaning changes can be made relatively quickly and cheaply.
However, for enterprises looking to go all-in on omnichannel ecommerce, you’d be hard pressed to find a better solution. Headless ecommerce can help enterprises easily manage multiple sales channels and touchpoints, quickly deploy front-end updates, and prioritize the overall customer experience across their entire commerce footprint. Headless ecommerce is powering the next generation of cutting-edge online retailers. Maybe it’s time to consider getting on board.
These days we do pretty much everything on our phones. We chat with friends on our phones. We video conference our colleagues on our phones via team communication tools. We find our significant others on our phones. We bank on our phones, stream shows on our phones, and we certainly love to shop on our phones.
It’s hardly surprising – did you know that there are a staggering 5.27 billion unique mobile phone users in the world today? In fact, the number keeps growing at a rate of 1.9% per annum. Due to increasing mobile device use globally, more and more of us are choosing to shop from our mobile phones. That’s exactly why mobile ecommerce sites need to be mobile-first.
We live in a time of mobile communications. Whether it’s mobile call forwarding or mobile shopping, today, more than half of all internet traffic is online shopping from a mobile device. Yet, despite this fact, many ecommerce stores still practice desktop-first design with added mobile responsiveness tagged on as a side measure. If so many of us favor mobile devices shouldn’t ecommerce site design start using a mobile-first design model?
That’s the growing consensus amongst many of today’s industry leaders. In this article, we’re going to be discussing everything you need to know about mobile-first design and the seven reasons why every ecommerce site should be adopting this design model in 2021 and beyond.
We’ll be covering:
- What percentage of ecommerce is mobile?
- What is mobile-first?
- 7 reasons to consider mobile-first ecommerce site design
- Mobile-first ecommerce website best practices
What Percentage of Ecommerce is Mobile?
A growing number of ecommerce transactions are now happening in the palms of our hands. In 2019 mobile ecommerce (or M-Commerce for short) accounted for a significant 67.2% of global ecommerce sales. That’s the equivalent of 2.32 trillion dollars. In fact, by the end of 2021, it is expected that M-commerce will account for a staggering 72.9% of total retail ecommerce across the globe.
But how did this happen? The retail landscape well and truly changed with the rise of the smartphone. Mobile devices have turned ecommerce on its head. Our mobile phones impact not only our shopping behaviors, but our purchasing decisions, and even our brand loyalties. They have a direct impact on what products end up in our shopping cart at the end of the day.
In 2020, approximately 50.88% of all internet traffic globally could be traced back to mobile devices and smartphones. And the gap continues to grow. As of March 2021, mobile increased its market share worldwide to make up 54.22% of all internet traffic.
What is Mobile-First?
So, what exactly is the mobile-first concept? Mobile-first is a concept whereby websites are designed for smartphones first and then scaled up for use on desktops and laptops later.
In other words, web pages are written up in mobile-first CSS and mobile-first HTML coding languages to begin with. That means ecommerce sites can ensure they have beautiful and functional mobile sites that offer user-friendly browsing and payment for their customers.
Traditionally websites have been designed in the reverse direction – for desktop first.
But with mobile-first models, all the initial designing and prototyping is based on mobile functionality first. Larger screens are factored in afterwards. This helps deliver higher quality user experiences to mobile users than have previously been available.
This mobile-first approach forms part of a methodology known as progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement, as opposed to graceful degradation, proposes that instead of developing all features from the start, websites should be founded upon those features that can be supported by all browser versions. By contrast, a graceful degradation methodology would build an application upon a basis of full functionality then downgrade this enhanced version for different browser versions (e.g. old browsers or, in our case, mobile devices).
The latter method can often result in mobile sites that simply aren’t good enough. That’s why mobile-first designing is now transforming ecommerce with improved mobile experiences that support omnichannel sales. By focusing on mobile first, mobile shoppers benefit from exceptional designs and functionalities both on the small and the big screen.
Mobile-first vs. Mobile-friendly
It’s important to note that mobile-first design is not the same thing as mobile-friendly design. Mobile-friendly (also known as mobile-responsive design) does not start from the smartphone and scale up. In fact, it does the opposite.
Mobile-friendly designs are built on the graceful degradation model. Mobile-friendly designing involves scaling down desktop designs and adapting them for mobile screens. Whilst you might think that mobile-first and mobile-friendly sound not that dissimilar afterall, the end products can vary quite significantly
Mobile friendly designs might work on smartphones, but they are principally geared towards desktop use. The design must be compromised for the small screen. That means that the scaled down mobile version tends to be lower in quality, less intuitive, and usually offers an inferior user experience.
Mobile-first methods benefit online stores in particular, because they consider the needs of mobile users first, and design websites precisely for use on smartphones. Since that’s where most purchases take place, it makes a lot of sense to go mobile-first.
7 Reasons to Consider Mobile-First Ecommerce Site Design
Mobile first design boasts numerous benefits. It’s economical, responsive, and offers exceptional growth potential. Some might say that going mobile-first is the first step towards adopting a customer-first attitude. We all know that a good business is a customer-focussed business. So why aren’t we designing our sites with today’s customers in mind?
Since so many of our customers shop via mobile devices, a mobile-first approach is guaranteed to support increased conversions, and improved experiences. Still not convinced? Here are our top seven reasons to consider mobile-first Ecommerce site design in 2021.
1. Economical Website Design Strategy
Switching to mobile-first site design can save you both time and money. Why? Because mobile-first design is essentially a one-size-fits-all solution to great cross-platform user experiences. For example, instead of creating a beautiful website for desktop then having to adapt it heavily just so that it functions at a basic capacity on mobile, you’ll achieve a user-friendly site for all platforms first time around.
Furthermore, mobile-first design promises to be a great financial investment. We live in an undeniably mobile age where optimized mobile experiences are critical for success. Going mobile-first promises to increase client engagement, and extend your reach over a wider demographic. It is true that mobile-first strategies can be expensive in the short term. But the value added by truly great mobile functionality makes it a solid and cost-effective long-term investment.
2. Cross-platform Responsiveness
A mobile-first website will be compatible with a variety of different platforms. In today’s day and age that’s incredibly important. It means that your users can engage with site content, video marketing, and much more from whichever platform is most convenient to them at the time.
Most people access the internet from more than one device. For example, they might browse on their desktop then complete a payment later on their smartphone. In fact, one survey by GlobalWebIndex found that 95% of respondents used smartphones to access the internet, 93% used desktops, and 73% used tablets. With such high usage rates for all three devices, reliable cross-platform responsiveness is absolutely essential.
3. Better SEO with Mobile-First Indexing
Google has switched to mobile-first indexing. That means that Google uses the mobile version of your site when indexing and ranking content. If you’re already running a site on WordPress or Shopify, for example, Googlebot will now automatically use the mobile version of your site.
Any enterprise marketing agency will tell you, then, that designing mobile-first should be part of any comprehensive search engine optimization strategy. That’s ever more important since three out of every five searches now happen on mobile.
Smartphone usage is on the up and great mobile experiences are essential. By offering higher level mobile experiences, users are more likely to return to your site regularly, improving visibility, relevance, and reach both in the eye of the customer and the search engine.
4. Better Use of Content
Designing for mobile encourages content creators to be more concise – because who wants to be scrolling through pages and pages of lengthy information on a small screen? When sentences are kept short, content becomes more clear, concise, and easier for the reader to digest. Did you know that nearly half of users will stop using a website on a mobile device if they find the content to be useless or the layout overly complicated?
When we design for smaller screens first, we are forced to differentiate between content that is valuable and important, versus content that is glorified filler. When we do this, we also strengthen our brand messaging by picking out content that really tells the customers who we are, what we do, and why they should purchase from us. Remember, you can always scale up your content for the desktop site later on.
5. Add Value to Customer Experience
According to research conducted by PWC, 42% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. Today, going mobile-first could be the key to improving customer experiences. Mobile adoption has become a critical part of the customer experience and providing high quality mobile services is key to keeping customers happy.
A bad mobile experience speaks poorly of your brand. In fact, 50% of customers will stop visiting a website if it isn’t mobile friendly. So, what is the best way to add value to your business? By giving customers exactly what they want. Some of the most valuable features for M-commerce shoppers include:
- Product images
- Accurate product descriptions
- Personalized experiences
- Easy navigation
- Integration with retail locations
- Integration with social media
- Simple checkout process
- Multiple payment options
- Great customer service
- Security features
6. Higher Growth Potential
Ecommerce has boomed in recent years. But it’s now being taken over by M-commerce. We live in a mobile-first world, so it goes without saying that mobile-first design is the route to higher growth potential. Mobile is starting and ending more consumer journeys, and voice controlled devices are fast becoming a massive driver of sales. In fact, 40% of consumers now use voice technology to make online purchases.
M-commerce is now a major shopping channel. One-click payment options, social-media commerce, and soaring app usage are generating mobile growth potential. And thanks to improved mobile experiences, mobile-commerce is expected to increase in value from $128.4 billion 2019 to a staggering $418.9 billion by 2024 according to Business Insider.
7. Gather Insightful Customer Data
Last but not least, M-commerce is a great way to gather more customer data. The more data you collect, the more you can then use it to offer your customers exactly what they want and need. Collecting customer data improves shopping experiences in the long run. Plus, mobile data collection is a great way to expand your email and SMS marketing lists.
Mobile ecommerce can help companies gather data about user locations, shopping histories, particular interests or even social media profiles. And that, in turn, helps retailers deliver tailored brand messages to their customers and personalized user experiences.
Testing Mobile Commerce Sites
The benefits of a mobile-first approach are many. But when you choose to switch your design model to mobile-first design, it’s still important to conduct all the necessary testing before launching your new platform to paying customers. This will ensure that there are no glitches impacting your platforms user experience and functionality. Types of testing include:
1. Agile testing.
Agile testing is integrated directly into the developmental process. By conducting agile testing, you’ll troubleshoot any bugs or potential problems early and move your new platform forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.
2. Functional testing.
Complementary to this, functional testing focuses on usability and will help you identify whether your site actually works as you intended it to.
3. Manual testing.
When your new mobile site is nearing launch, manual testing is essential. What is manual testing? Manual testing is when human testers check out the quality of your site, and is great for optimizing your interface for real users.
4. Localization testing.
Just like functional testing, localization testing is designed to check if mobile apps and websites offer full functionality for their users. But localization testing zeros in on one particular location. This is especially useful if your site is targeting a particular region.
5. Automated QA testing.
Automated QA testing uses automated testing tools to run tests on your site during development. Unlike manual testing, QA testing relies on specialized tools and frameworks created by testers and tends to be more accurate and time-efficient.
Mobile-First Ecommerce Website Best Practices
1. Give UX the highest priority.
When it comes to M-commerce, UX (user experience) is super important. Complicated pages of content just won’t cut it when it comes to mobile. By offering customers a user-friendly experience, you’ll encourage revisits in the future. Failing to deliver on user experience can be costly and tend to drive away potential buyers, who will most likely seek out your competitors instead. To improve UX focus on simple designs, easy-to-read typefaces, interactive content, and mobile-friendly search functionalities.
Take a look at Skullcandy’s super simple user navigation template. An A+ for simple UX. The navigation bar is clear and concise, easy to read on mobile devices, and customer support is clearly signposted. Plus, there’s also the option for mobile-friendly search in case a user wants to navigate directly to a particular product or criteria.
2. Establish Visual Hierarchy
Visual hierarchy is simply the practice of arranging design elements according to their importance. By laying out visual elements and navigation icons strategically, designers can encourage users to use the website in the most optimal way and increase conversion rates.
That could mean highlighting a new offer or giving your brand’s social media platforms center stage. It can also mean avoiding unnecessary and distracting popups on your product pages. By contrast, when web pages lack intuitive design, users tend to become confused and quickly lose interest.
The main thing is to keep any important elements – from the checkout to the search bar – within easy reach. Smartphone users are often multitasking whilst using their devices. They could be waiting in line at a cafe, sitting in the parking lot, or waiting for the next train. That’s why it’s so important to establish visual hierarchy.
As a general rule, your mobile homepage should look a little something like this.
As you can see, primary functions are the most accessible, whilst secondary and tertiary functions are arranged around the margins.
Take a look at blissworld’s mobile website. The mobile interface establishes a very clear visual hierarchy by drawing attention to a new product range and clear CTA ( primary zone) under a simple header (secondary zone), and a free sample offer in the tertiary zone.
3. Keep the site simple.
Simple design is integral for UX. By simplifying designs, adapting images to prioritize load times, and removing excessively long content, you’ll be well on your way to improving your users’ experiences. Aim for a simple and intuitive homepage, product pages, and checkout process. An overly cluttered web page will drive customers away – 89% of people will shop with a competitor after a poor user experience.
The idea is to design primarily for responsiveness. That means being mindful of image sizes, content layout, and video content. Customers want product images but make sure that they are clearly visible on mobile. Ensure that content is arranged for mobile viewing, and ensure both image and video file sizes aren’t jeopardizing your load times. Every second counts in the fight against page abandonment.
Take water bottle retailers Larq, for example. Larq’s web designers have kept things super simple. The most prominent design element on the Larq mobile homepage is a killer USP (“60 seconds to pure water”) and corresponding call to action (CTA) (“Shop now”). Super simple, but super effective.
The Future of Design is Mobile-First
The future of web design isn’t on PC – it’s on your Androids and iPhones. Mobile-first design starts from the smartphone and scales up for the desktop. By flipping the traditional design process on its head, ecommerce merchants can feed into our mobile-first society and the changing consumer habits that are continuing to set a precedent for the future. Going mobile-first offers some tremendous benefits, from heightened customer experiences to increased growth potential. If you’re not already designing mobile-first, it’s time to make the switch.
No one can deny how big the ecommerce market is.Global ecommerce sales are projected to nearly double to $6.5 trillion by 2023. Its share of total retail sales is also growing, particularly in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
So we know the sector is massive, but how complicated is it? Surely it is just a simple matter of finding the product you want, buying it, then waiting for delivery. Or is there far more to the ecommerce customer journey? There are multiple factors, from lead times to customer service, that makes an ecommerce business a good ecommerce business (or not).
Modern business, especially ecommerce, is about identifying and utilizing the best tools available. And that covers everything from live video conference software to good CRM management systems.
Smaller businesses need to find such tools without breaking the bank. Fortunately, they can choose from the best free business apps that will provide great service without denting the budget. Having the ability to be agile and to adapt to changes can be a major positive for your business.
If you look at a successful online retailer such as Larq, you will see a well-constructed site that is easy to navigate and that also offers links to their various social media platforms. This is a good example of how an ecommerce site should look. It shows they have looked at the customer journey and optimized their site to make it a positive one.
You need to know each stage of that journey, how those stages affect customer experiences and their relationship with you, and how you can improve the journey at every level and customer touchpoint. Let’s look at how the customer journey unfolds and what factors of customer journey mapping that are important for you to understand.
What is the Ecommerce Customer Journey?
That quote about life from Ralph Waldo Emerson can also be applied to ecommerce businesses. While it is easy to think about the destination—that purchase arriving in the customer’s hands—it is also very much about the journey and what happens en route to that final destination. Just as with life’s journey, every stage of the ecommerce journey has its own features and qualities.
Our customers no longer buy just a product, they buy the whole experience of being a customer, they buy your brand qualities, your mission and values, and more. They buy into the ease of your processes, the information you provide, the convenience, the quality of your aftersales (and presales if needed) customer service. In short, they look at the whole package you offer.
We all do process mapping for our businesses as a matter of course, so we should be doing the same for the customer experience. You need to understand every aspect of how your business operates, from dealing with logistics to ensuring your customers are happy.
And do not be afraid to use shortcuts. The very reason tools such as templates are offered is to make it easier for you to conduct business. They can save you time and money and it can be easy to find one that suits you.
It is not only the price of something that matters to them, it is everything that surrounds it, including how they access your site or app (and how easy it is to use), how you communicate with them across different channels, possibly even using companies like Slack, and how quickly you respond to their inquiries. In short, it is about providing an ecommerce customer journey map that meets all of their needs.
Focus not only on your customers’ journeys, but also on their relationship with you; that’s important whether you are a small business or a large international one. Investing in customer relationship management (CRM) software is highly advised, especially when you have a multichannel or omnichannel business.
There are also other aspects to consider. Many people now ask ‘what is affiliate marketing’, as offered by MaxBounty, and what is its place in online retail? If you use a strategy such as affiliate marketing, then you need to make sure that a customer’s journey is consistent across all the options open to them. Whether they find you via your own channels or through an affiliate.
5 Stages of the Ecommerce Customer Journey
So we recognize that the customer journey is far more than a simple buying process. We also recognize that we need to know how to develop a successful ecommerce fulfillment strategy that helps us win and retain customers. Knowing the main stages of that journey is essential to both mapping it and ensuring that it is as optimized as possible.
And when a business operates across many channels (omnichannel or multichannel), you need to recognize that their journey may differ greatly depending on which channel they are using.
Every journey has a starting point, and in the ecommerce business, that starting point is awareness. This is the stage where the customer discovers your product/service and your brand. This is also where you discover how they found you. Did they find you via a search engine (thus validating your SEO strategy)? Did they see an ad on social media or in a more traditional medium?
You can not only see where they came from but also what behaviors they are showing once they have ‘arrived’. Do they look at particular landing pages that give you an idea of what products they are interested in? You could also describe this as the first learning stage; the customer is learning about your business and you are learning their preferences and needs.
In this stage, the customer begins to show real interest in particular products or services and move beyond general browsing. For example, with a cosmetics company such as Bliss World, they may start looking at the vegan skincare range, letting you see that this is their specific interest product-wise.
From your organization’s perspective, this stage of behavior allows you to analyze what works and what doesn’t. Those analytics can help you reduce bounce rates and encourage further investigation by the customer.
One of the magic words in ecommerce, but this stage is not always a guaranteed sale. In some cases, this stage can include those customers who have added a product to their cart (or to their wishlist) but have not yet proceeded to actually buying it. In most cases, though, we do consider this to be the stage at which a prospective customer becomes an actual customer who adds to your conversion rate.
It is at this stage that you as a business have to begin delivering on any promises you may have made to get the customer to this point. Part of that delivery is making sure all your processes, such as marketing, sales, customer service, etc., are aligned and are delivering the same message and quality of service.
Another of those magic words. Having a customer make a single purchase is satisfying, but having them return again and again to buy is even more satisfying. This means they are very happy with most or all aspects of their journey and experience to date. From this point they begin to exhibit brand loyalty and may always look at your site before others.
The thing for businesses to be aware of at this stage is that providing an excellent experience once is fairly easy, but providing it time and time again is where the challenge lies.
This stage is the Holy Grail of the customer journey but do not expect to achieve it with every customer. Most companies fall short at stage four, but those who do manage to retain customers are then hoping that those people become advocates and brand ambassadors with a high lifetime value. At this stage, your best customers are not only buying but interacting at a high level.
They will interact with you across most if not all of your touchpoints, such as your homepage, any blogs, social media, etc. More importantly (from your marketing perspective), they will be sharing information that you post on their own platforms and will actively advocate and talk about your products/services. That can also include recommending you to people and writing reviews.
Building an Ecommerce Customer Journey Map
An ecommerce customer journey map is a visualization of all the potential experiences a customer may have with your organization. Such a map also highlights the sequences those experiences are most likely to occur in. It can allow you as a business to identify strengths and weaknesses, and thus make improvements where needed.
That customer journey may consist of all the stages we previously listed or they may only cover some of them, if customers do not move to later stages. What you need to focus on is that a customer journey map will show you all the possible permutations of what the customer experiences, whether only one or two stages or all five.
How Do You Build Ecommerce Customer Journey Maps?
Being able to map the customer journey offers many benefits, but if you have never undertaken this exercise before, where do you start? What things do you need to consider before starting?
The first important thing to note is that you need your map to be from the customer’s perspective. So, detach yourself from your professional role and start the process as if you were an everyday customer. This can also help you understand the overall customer persona.
To do so, pick a product or service your company offers. Use various terms on search engines to see what results come up. Read any associated material including reviews, articles, and blogs. Then visit your actual site to view the product there. Take notes on how the various customer touchpoints felt and how the experience of visiting the site unfolded.
Put together a focus group that consists of your main demographic targets. Ideally, they will not know what company or brand has formed this group. Pick one of your products or services and ask the focus group to find and buy that item online. Observe and record how they find the item, what paths they take, and what outcomes unfold.
Once the focus group has finished their exercise, take the results and compare them with your experience from part one. By analyzing the two exercises, you can see if you and your customers think in the same way, and will also have a wider overview of touchpoints and interactions.
You now have a better overview of how customers interact with your business and how the various touchpoints perform. You now need to understand what those various actions mean in terms of engagement strategy. Did any touchpoint perform particularly badly? By analyzing the information you have collected, you can see what action you need to take next.
Your aim is to have your ecommerce site performing at an optimum level at every touchpoint you (and your customers) have identified. Those touchpoints can range from your own site to your social media platforms to search engine rankings. They can also include independent touchpoints such as review sites.
4. Goals and pain.
You now have some of the foundations of your customer journey map in place. But it is more than just identifying the touchpoints and engagements you have observed. You also need to understand the goals of the customer and the pain points they experience. It can help greatly if you list some of the insights gained from your observation and data collection:
- Goals. What is the customer’s ultimate goal(s)? What is it they want to achieve?
- Emotional response. What parts of the process make the customer happy? Or what elements make them unhappy or frustrated?
- Pain points. What things cause issues for the customer and would they like to see improved?
You should now have enough (likely a lot) of information that tells you what the customer experiences. The problem is that this information is not easy to digest, so you want to simplify it and create a visual that is easy to look at and understand. How you format it will depend very much on your own specific business model.
You may decide to create more than one visual, especially when you are a larger company and may have different teams working on different areas. For example, if you have a dedicated social media team, you may decide to create a journey map that particularly pertains to social media touchpoints, pain points, experiences, etc.
Why is the Customer Journey Important?
Do you really need to make a customer journey map? What benefits does it bring you? Knowing why it is important is as crucial as understanding the whole process itself. There are many reasons why it is not only important, but should be an integral part of your ecommerce business.
- Efficiency. It can help you streamline the customer experience and journey by identifying if there are too many steps or touchpoints between the customer starting their journey and ending it.
- Effectiveness. Does the required journey make sense to your customers? Acknowledging that we all do things differently, from how we search to how we navigate a site, creating a process that has a general effectiveness for most is a major benefit of a customer journey map.
- Understanding. Knowing and understanding your customers, how they think, what they need, what they like and don’t like, is another crucial factor in determining how to create the best possible customer journey. In fact, this is an area where many organizations fail as they focus more on creating the perfect journey for them, rather than their customers.
- Setting goals. A good customer journey map can help you identify and set better and more realistic goals. The combination of a human perspective and the hard data you have collected ensures you are more in touch with what makes your business thrive and grow. It also helps you monitor and tweak in real time as you move forward.
- Planning. Every business has one eye on the future; new products and services, expansion, etc. Having an accurate customer journey map, and understanding it, means that you can more accurately focus on those future events.
- Reducing pain. Pain points are the bane of any online stores and can lose you customers if not identified and remedied. You may be surprised by how many pain points exist once you have completed your journey map. Once you have identified them, you can take action to remove them or to reduce their effects.
How Ecommerce Stores Can Improve Their Customer Journey
For companies looking closely at their customers’ journeys for the first time, it can sometimes be daunting when flaws and gaps are identified that are having a very real effect on your business. Mapping the customer journey is one thing, but knowing how you can act on the data you have identified and improving the customer journey and experience is another.
1. Create touchpoints at every stage.
Anywhere a customer interacts with your brand is a touchpoint. Seeing an ad, visiting your site, looking at independent reviews, contacting your business to find store locations, and finally making a purchase. All of these are touchpoints. Going back to the five stages of the customer journey we discussed earlier, you need to have touchpoints for each stage.
Each touchpoint serves a purpose and plays its part in optimizing the overall customer journey. So each touchpoint you create has to fulfil its specific purpose (ad attracting interest, checkout process quick and uncomplicated, etc.) Ensuring you have multiple touchpoints that fit their respective stages and work properly is essential.
2. Optimize your website for every device.
It is worth remembering that around half of all internet traffic originates from mobile devices. So if your website performs poorly when accessed from a mobile device, you are in effect alienating half your potential customer base. Optimization is key to offering a good experience to all.
It can help to look at great websites that are well optimized, such as Skullcandy, so you can see what is needed. The screenshot below shows how well you can view their products from a mobile device, making online shopping easier for customers.
And there are a few factors to take into consideration when optimizing your site:
- Test your site. Knowing your site works well on mobile devices is absolutely crucial. You can do this manually at first simply by accessing your site via several different devices. Look especially at loading times and how the site looks on a small screen. For more in-depth testing, use Google’s free testing tool.
- Web host. Make sure your web host offers the speed and resources required to make your site fast and responsive. A slow and unresponsive home page and website will put customers off. You also want a host that guarantees the minimum of downtime.
- Apps. Consider launching an app to complement your website. They are not as expensive as you think and they can help boost both sales and engagement.
3. Use proactive customer support.
Don’t wait for problems to happen and for customers to contact you. Anticipate the problems or questions most likely to occur and provide answers and solutions that will keep your customers happy. Offering proactive customer support has a number of benefits.
- Better customer retention rates. Being proactive means you’re more likely to have happy, loyal customers.
- Less calls to your support team. By solving problems proactively, customers can see the solutions themselves and thus will make less calls to you, freeing up your team to deal with more complicated queries and also reducing waiting times.
- More first time customers. People talk about the good service they receive and that includes proactive support. When satisfied customers share their experiences, that can lead to new first-time customers.
- Increased productivity. Proactivity means better communication. And that means your team has more time to listen to and help customers who call and to collect more information and data.
- Communication. You are probably already using video and messaging collaboration tools for sales teams, so why not ensure you also have great tools to communicate with customers. Chatbots and AI are great ways of proactively helping your customers find information.
4. Personalization is key.
It is neither a secret nor a surprise that people like a personal touch, and that is true whether in ‘real life’ or in online shopping and ecommerce marketing. That means going beyond using their name (which you can do with website automation or in marketing emails) and also recognizing their particular interests and buying habits.
Using tactics such as dynamic content marketing, which can customize content according to buying preferences, location, age, gender, etc., means you are offering a personalized approach that can lead to increased sales and better customer retention. Automation and analytics can be the two drivers when it comes to personalizing the customer journey, so use them wisely.
Smaller businesses may feel they could be overwhelmed by these demands, but with so much technology and automation available on a budget, it is not that difficult to do. There are many mobile apps for small business owners that can help with factors such as communications and social media posting, so see what tools can both help you and save money that may be spent elsewhere.
5. Gather data as much as possible and be flexible.
Data is not a one off exercise. Collect as much data as possible in the early stages, but keep collecting it always. Collect data not only on customer behavior and the customer lifecycle, but also general info via surveys, polls, etc. on your social media platforms and via email. The data you collect is a hugely important resource and offers you several benefits and potential uses.
And it is, of course, not just about collecting data, but about analyzing it and interpreting it efficiently. Consider using one of the many tools, such as Google Analytics, to help you with this. Identify what metrics, such as KPIs, matter most to you. A good KPI helps show your business is healthy.
Data is not just a collection of information, it offers tangible benefits that can help your business grow by developing strategies for the future.
- Understand the market. Collecting and analyzing consumer data helps you understand how your ideal customers behave online. It helps define and segment particular demographics, understand better what customers want, and see ways to improve the overall experience throughout the customer lifecycle.
- Expand your database. The more information you have on customers, the bigger, and more efficient, your database is. And with detailed data, you can segment your customers (and potential customers) into groups that make more personalized strategies, such as dynamic content marketing, easier to achieve.
A larger database allows you to use a variety of strategies. For example, instant messaging can be a great way to boost your ecommerce sales.
- Better marketing. By constantly collecting data, you get better insights into which of your marketing strategies and campaigns have worked well. The more data you have, the easier it is to identify which sorts of campaigns are best, and what platforms reach more of your ideal customer base and generate more leads.
Those campaigns could be via social media or you could identify what sort of email campaigns best drive sales.
Customer relationship management is perhaps one of the most important factors for ecommerce businesses to consider and it is worth investing in good CRM software to help with this. You may understand the customer journey, but managing that journey on an ongoing basis is a big task.
Aim to be consistent and to ensure you provide the same positive customer experience throughout every journey. Your online store has to be as accessible and helpful as any physical store would be. And that applies to every channel, platform, and touchpoint where your customers interact with you.
Ecommerce businesses range from massive multinational corporations to small solo entrepreneurs. Customers range from occasional purchasers of low value items to regular buyers of high value goods. No matter who you are or who they are, you should be aiming for parity so that every journey and experience is positive.
In 1982, Late Night with David Letterman premiered. Sci-fi classic ET was released. Doctors performed the first implant of an artificial heat.
And that same year the ecommerce timeline began with the debut of the Boston Computer Exchange, one of the first ecommerce platforms.
It was a big year.
Flashing forward almost 40 years, it’s impossible to imagine a time when ecommerce wasn’t around. Children of the 90s are blissfully unaware of life without buying and selling over the internet.
But technology has advanced considerably since Boston Computer Exchange’s bulletin-board-based ecommerce system. Where this method of client interaction sufficed at ecommerce’s inception, consumer needs have shifted too. Customer service is now at the very center of online shopping. This encompasses everything from making purchases to resolving issues while maintaining a seamless experience across different channels.
Aspect’s 2020 Consumer Index Report found that six out of ten customers do more business with companies that provide good customer service. That’s where omnichannel customer service comes in.
Omnichannel customer service can accelerate sales for your business. Read on to find out how.
What Is Omnichannel Customer Service?
An omnichannel strategy recognizes the various platforms and devices a customer may use to interact with a business. A business then applies this knowledge to create a unified shopping experience and consistent messaging across each channel. Core channels include mobile, email, SMS, social media, instant messaging and in-person.
According to Aspect, when it comes to personalized service, consumers value channel choice three times more than an agent knowing their name and history, with 46% of consumers rating this as the most crucial part of their shopping experience. Thus your business needs to be everywhere your customers shop.
1. Omnichannel customer service definition.
Ecommerce marketplaces have been on the rise since the mid-90s, with the launch of giants such as Amazon and eBay. And since then, different models of ecommerce have emerged. Whether your ecommerce business framework operates DTC (direct-to-consumer) or B2B (business-to-business or wholesale), customer service is a significant consideration.
When different channels align in an omnichannel model, consistent support is delivered as well as a unified brand experience. It should seem as though the business is running as a single channel, delivering an equally high-quality and uniform customer experience across all platforms.
Research by McKinsey shows that more than half of customers engage with three to five channels during each journey they take toward making a purchase or resolving a request. Also, the average customer attempting to book a single reservation for accommodation online switches nearly six times between websites and mobile channels.
Regardless of how or where a consumer makes contact, they should have access to an integrated experience across touchpoints. Implementing an omnichannel strategy enables organizations to understand the customer lifecycle better. It also helps them deliver personalized support.
2. Omnichannel customer advantages.
Unifying channels ensures cohesion regardless of which touchpoints the customer uses. Omnichannel customer service allows customers to get in touch whenever, wherever and however they want. Convenient, right?
An omnichannel strategy solves the issue of long customer service wait times and the accompanying feelings of frustration and despair. How? Omnichannel support means interconnectivity throughout digital channels and customer conversations. This affords your team immediate access to information provided to your business by customers across all platforms and allows you to resolve issues far more efficiently, reducing wait times.
What’s more, omnichannel platforms have built-in tools to speed up queues. They provide assistance to customer service reps via canned responses, internal knowledge bases and keyboard shortcuts. These features free up your agents to resolve more challenging issues.
Let’s take another example. You want to purchase a LARQ water bottle, but you have a question about which one is most suitable for you. LARQ’s employment of an FAQ section enables customers to answer their own questions. And they can do so easily via mobile devices or desktops. More on this later.
3. Omnichannel vs. multichannel customer service.
Implementing omnichannel customer service necessitates a multichannel ecommerce approach. As we have established, omnichannel customer service connects all channels and focuses on the entire customer service experience so that the customer can enjoy a seamless journey across all channels.
Multichannel customer service centers on the customer’s individual experiences across each channel. It concentrates on optimizing by touchpoint rather than the entire experience. Organizations use various online and offline channels. Online customer service includes email and instant messaging, where offline support takes place by phone and face-to-face.
4. Why omnichannel customer service is important for ecommerce.
Omnichannel support is essential for ecommerce for several reasons. Today’s online shoppers are busy and time-strapped. They seek convenience and consistency. Omnichannel customer service offers just that – these are the fundamental tenets the approach is built upon.
Furthermore, the customer-centric strategy and interconnected channels allow you to develop a single, holistic view of each customer, regardless of the number of channels they use. Based on that, you can personalize and optimize interactions across all platforms.
Now more than ever before, customers expect speedy resolutions to their issues. And they also want to expend minimal effort fixing them. Omnichannel support offers customer service teams the context of customer interactions with your business across platforms. This enables your team to come up with the ideal solutions.
Agents have access to multiple relevant applications without having to take the time to seek them out. This provides an overview of the customer based on the current conversation. Having access to this broad picture makes it easier and quicker to find an appropriate solution for your customer.
An omnichannel strategy can help your business thrive by allowing you access automatically to several data sources. Understanding each touchpoint and how they work together develops your awareness of the customer journey. To complete the circle, this then helps you improve your omnichannel marketing.
What’s more, a top-notch omnichannel customer experience can lead to word-of-mouth marketing. In turn, your sales increase.
How Omnichannel Customer Service Can Increase Sales
As we just mentioned, a first-rate omnichannel customer experience can increase your sales. Why? Because a happy customer is more likely to be a return customer.
Let’s delve into that a bit more.
1. It meets the customers in their preferred channel.
By understanding your customers’ preferred channels, you know where best to reach them. Gather data and analyze customer behavior to build a picture of which channels they use most often.
Ask yourself, do your customers have an online presence? Do they use review sites to make decisions? Do they have pre-sale questions, and if so, where do they ask them?
Cater to target audiences by focusing on their preferred channels. For example, baby boomers (aged 55-73) prefer to communicate via email instead of over instant messenger. Whereas Generation Z (aged 9-23) tends to find an optimized mobile experience more convenient.
By answering these questions, you’re aware of the channels to focus on. You can work on making these particularly efficient. But remember, this is an ongoing process – customer preferences may change over time.
2. It improves response time across the board.
Empowered customers want speedy responses to queries. On average, 79% of customers expect a response to social media posts within 24 hours. And 39% of social media users expect a reply within 60 minutes.
What’s more, research shows 25% of millennials expect a response within 10 minutes of sending a social media customer query before they start to feel like they’ve been put in a silo.
Consider utilizing autoresponders and categorizing your customer support tickets based on issue type and urgency to facilitate faster response times. You may also choose to employ an interactive voice response (IVR) phone system to support self-service call segmentation and routing.
Live chat should be considered, too. It’s the ideal solution to combat customer impatience. The tool significantly reduces customer queue time by providing real-time support. By receiving instant engagement, customer satisfaction increases.
Other omnichannel methods to speed up response time include implementing contact center and customer service software and SaaS. These types of software integrate all channels. For instance, with customer service software, a pop-up with all the customer’s details and contact history displays as soon as an agent answers a call. Offering self-service options such as discussion boards also helps.
Using contact center software makes it easier for customer service agents to keep track of customer concerns. For example, a customer may call, text, leave social media comments across their customer lifecycle. Less time is wasted if a comprehensive history is easily retrievable.
An omnichannel approach that speeds up response time across all channels makes your customers feel that they’ve been prioritized.
Other ways to streamline your business may include improving your checkout system. You may also consider inventory forecasting and supply chain management via cloud technology.
3. It allows hyper-personalized engagement with customers.
Omnichannel customer support helps you gain customer insights. Consumer journey maps and their previous interactions with your business can be used to personalize future interactions. That way, you meet or even exceed expectations.
A Gartner survey shows companies risk losing 38% of customers because of inadequate personalization efforts.
When the customer experience improves, your business sees better conversions. Customer loyalty improves, too. Over time, these positive factors boost sales and revenue.
Let’s say your ecommerce business employs fulfillment by amazon. This involves Amazon managing the picking, packing and shipping of orders on your behalf. To gain complete control over your customer service and provide a genuinely bespoke service (as well as picking, packing, selecting and keeping inventory of specific SKUs, shipping, and returns), you may want to consider switching to fulfillment by merchant.
4. It empowers customers with control.
By offering your customers self-service options as part of your omnichannel strategy, you pass the control to them. Self-service portals provide customers with instant access to problem-solving info. They don’t have to wait for an answer.
You expand their knowledge base, meaning they may not need to contact you in the future if a similar issue arises. Greater control equates to increased satisfaction.
5. It offers a mobile-friendly service.
A core part of an omnichannel strategy is providing a mobile-friendly service. This is critical to customers. In fact, in 2021, global mobile ecommerce sales are expected to be worth $3.56 trillion. To facilitate an accessible mobile service, consider building a BigCommerce ecommerce store with mobile-ready storefront templates.
Research shows that 90% of consumers have encountered a poor experience seeking support via mobile devices. Long load times, incorrect displays, tricky navigation and unhelpful search results can lose clients. Is your website optimized for mobile use? Test it out yourself and see how you fare.
How to Build an Omnichannel Customer Service Strategy
We now know what omnichannel customer service is, why it’s so critical and how it can increase sales. The next thing to think about is building the strategy itself. There are a handful of things to consider:
1. Understand the customer expectations.
We’ve talked about meeting or even exceeding customer expectations. But how will you know if you’ve done that? Every customer will likely have their own unique benchmark.
To get to grips with customer expectations, you need to understand their journey and the entire customer lifecycle. When you engage with clients and make an effort to understand them, you can deliver a more personalized experience.
By understanding how your customers interact with your business across each channel, you can optimize your processes.
For example, you have developed a quality product and are deciding on a retail vs wholesale strategy. You may choose retail over wholesale because it gives you the ability to offer a more personalized experience. You can specifically target a tailored consumer base. As the retailer, you’re able personally to select the channels you target to reach your customers.
2. Identify the channels to use.
Your business has a specific target audience. Let’s take Revelry as a case study. It has a clear target audience of brides. To offer a first-rate customer experience, it offers a home try-on facility for busy brides.
Skullcandy targets the outdoor action sports demographic such as snowboarders and skateboarders. Their target market is primarily millennials, so leveraging social commerce has been a big priority. Their platform integrates easily with Facebook and Instagram, providing additional valuable sales channels.
Within your target audience, try to discover their needs. Identify their preferred channels for interacting with you. Pay attention to your various channels and offer consistent customer service across them.
As well as this reactive approach, think about being proactive, too. For example, don’t just have a presence via the channels you know your target audience uses. Instead, consider new platforms to reach potential customers.
And within your current customer base, keep on top of trends. If your target audience values social media the most highly as a channel, be sure to keep up with its new features
3. Invest in customer service technology.
Your ecommerce business will likely already make use of CRM technology. An omnichannel strategy will boost an already powerful CRM. How? Omnichannel tools support data gathering. That gives your team customizable access to relevant customer information. Such tools also reduce turnaround times and help you track how the customer interacts with your brand at each step of their journey
Aside from CRM, there’s a lot of innovation in the technology arena. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software, automation processes can relieve sales pain points. This is commonly seen in the use of chatbots, for example.
What’s more, with the progress of video, real-time messaging and self-service, customer service is evolving.
Technology helps customer-facing professionals do their jobs more efficiently. Over the next decade or so, it’s likely the following technologies will change the future of customer service:
- Face-to-face video communication. This is on the rise, with eye contact a powerful communication tool. Businesses using video voicemail applications or video conferencing are setting the pace.
- Real-time messaging. Customers expect you always to be online. Many customers prefer to interact using instant chat rather than email or phone calls.
- Remote work. Rather than being confined to call centers, customer service reps will have the tools to work from anywhere.
- Bots and AI. These will help customer service agents, not replace them. And bots can be available when you aren’t – like when your customer service team is asleep. Bots improve self-service for customers and reduce costs for you. As this technology advances, bots will become increasingly capable of answering repetitive questions. That leaves reps to concentrate on questions requiring judgment.
Omnichannel strategies should make the most of these technologies. By doing so, you create a harmonious and uniform user experience for customers and consistent messaging.
4. Upskill your customer service team.
With the rise of AI, less complicated problems will be solved by service technology. But that doesn’t mean human customer service teams will be a thing of the past. Instead, upskill them to improve their product knowledge and ability to solve more complex problems.
Other essential training areas include communication skills and support etiquette. You must ensure you upskill your team to solve issues across all channels consistently.
By upskilling, your reps provide a more personalized experience. That means the customer experience improves. An upskilled customer service team also allows your product experts to spend more time innovating. That’s because they spend less time carrying out customer-facing duties.
Moving from a multichannel to an omnichannel approach is all about putting your customers first. It’s also about offering them a high-quality user experience at every point in their purchasing cycle. As part of this, an upskilled customer service team is critical.
5. Create a Self-Service Option.
Increasingly, ecommerce businesses recognize the benefits of reliable self-service options. Not only do they improve brand image, but they also keep you ahead of the technology curve.
Options range from tutorials and manuals to videos, as well as the previously mentioned FAQs.
Self-service portals allow personalization and save you resources. For example, agent productivity improves because support tickets reduce.
Furthermore, customer service costs fall. If customers find out answers on their own, support requirements drop. It also helps strengthen your brand reputation when customers have positive self-service interactions.
6. Ensure customer data security.
With more touchpoints comes increased data security considerations. But don’t let that put you off. Customers expect and trust that their security info is secure as they hop from each device. With proper processes in place as part of your strategy, that will be the case, and their data will be safe.
Consider implementing multi-factor security verification. Options include text messages and Google authenticator. Providing a consistent login experience is vital, too.
7. Map out the entire customer journey.
As businesses adopt new technologies, these should be analyzed. That data can be used to map the customer journey.
By doing this, you gain insights into previous customer interactions. For example, you can see conversation history and whether a customer has interacted with chatbots, via phone calls or SMS. If customers prefer to use text messages to communicate, you know that’s an area to concentrate on and improve.
Armed with that info, you can be proactive and deliver streamlined support via the preferred channels.
Omnichannel Customer Service Best Practices
Once you’ve built your omnichannel customer service strategy, you need to optimize it and make it as effective as possible. But first, there are some best practices to keep in mind.
1. Offer mobile-based service.
Creating an attention-grabbing yet functional mobile app is a must and should be part of your omnichannel campaign. It provides a fluid experience and takes the customer on a journey, from welcoming new customers and keeping them engaged to converting satisfied users into advocates. Indeed, as of 2020, mobile traffic accounted for 52% of all online traffic, and this is continuing to grow.
It would therefore be a tremendous ecommerce mistake not to equip your site with mobile compatibility. Your application should offer personalized service while maintaining the brand message. Be sure all customer support and solutions pages are mobile-friendly. Also, ensure website engagement strategies focus on mobile optimization when designing your website.
Behind the scenes, monitor and track in-app behavior. This data offers invaluable customer insight. It will enable you to understand individual pain points and preferences.
2. Be available 24/7.
Chatbots are an excellent way to facilitate round-the-clock support. A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers as a human would. A form of AI in messaging apps, it adds convenience for customers by being available 24/7.
Whatever the time of day and wherever in the world customers are located, they can receive support.
3. Always have FAQs.
A frequently asked questions page empowers your customers to find answers quickly and for themselves. The workload of your customer support team thereby reduces, freeing them up to concentrate on other facets of their role.
An excellent FAQ page is conversational, doesn’t skip the basics, answers questions directly and is easy to navigate.
You may also want to create (digital/online) brochures to provide customers with a greater knowledge base.
4. Automate workflows.
Hybrid support between humans and AIs is the new era of customer service. But it’s about striking a balance. Automate repetitive tasks, but leave more complex queries to humans. Automatic data processing would be particularly instrumental in organizing customer information and other tedious tasks like handling your inventory on balance sheet.
Learn the pros and cons of automation and decide the best way to integrate it into workflows. For instance, use chatbots at the primary stage and switch to human support for more complex conversations. Using a chatbot helps with customer engagement. Chatbots can answer simple queries and do some of the groundwork instead of your agents.
5. Gather customer feedback and behavior data.
By gathering feedback and data, you can analyze how your omnichannel customer service strategy is performing. Essential customer service KPIs and metrics used by businesses to monitor customer service are:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS). This measures customer experience and indicates how likely a customer is to recommend you to family and friends.
- Retention Rate. This helps find out whether customers are satisfied with your service and will keep buying from you.
- Number of touchpoints. This indicates the total number of touchpoints a customer uses to get the solution to their problem.
By measuring customer service, you know where you’re falling short and can do something to fix it. In turn, this enhances team performance and customer satisfaction.
An omnichannel approach syncs your communication channels, allowing your team and customers to work consistently between them. It’s an increasingly popular strategy.
A streamlined and cohesive service quality impacts revenue. It’s no wonder all enterprises are investing in providing omnichannel customer service. Travel, banking, telecoms, healthcare: You name it; every sector is pumping dollars and expertise into it.
The demand for an omnichannel customer approach is amplified by the need for a perfect customer service experience. You should adhere to best practices to reach such levels of perfection. These include automation, 24/7 availability and first-rate mobile service. Combined, these will accelerate sales – the aim of any ecommerce business.
Remember the days in the not-too-distant past when subscriptions just meant gym memberships and newspaper deliveries? Today, there’s a subscription for pretty much every occasion. In fact, if you wanted to, you could easily fill your entire day with subscriptions from start to finish. The coffee you drink, the clothes and makeup you wear, the software you use, the meals you make and beverages you drink, the shows you stream—all of these and more can be delivered straight to your door on a recurring basis.
From SaaS companies to subscription boxes, the subscription ecommerce market is experiencing monumental growth — and it shows no sign of slowing down.
ReCharge’s latest State of Subscription Commerce Report found that more subscription stores joined the market than ever before, with 90% year-over-year subscriber growth.
With subscriptions, one-time purchases turn into repeat sales. In other words, transactions turn into relationships. Your business has the opportunity to get to know your most loyal customers over time, honing your offerings to meet them where they are. Through delivery skips, product swaps, cross-sells, upsells and more, the flexibility and customization power of subscriptions delivers enormous benefits for both customers and merchants.
Considering offering subscriptions for your brand? Let’s dive into the world of repeat purchases and explore the ways you can meet your subscribers where they are with this offering.
What is an Ecommerce Subscription Service?
Brands are looking to explore providing recurring options to their customers in exchange for higher lifetime value (LTV) and decreased churn. Where in the past, one-time purchases meant shorter relationships with customers and harder work at a return purchase, today, subscriptions offer brands the opportunity to engage with their customers on a longer, more predictable basis.
So, what exactly is an ecommerce subscription? When companies collect recurring payments for products or services they offer on a set, repeating cadence, they’re providing a subscription service. When those products or services are sold online, they’re ecommerce subscription services.
Subscription services can encompass many different product categories, from the most popular (i.e. food and beverage subscription box services) to novelty items like hobby boxes and everything in between.
The Three Types of Ecommerce Subscriptions
Ecommerce subscriptions generally fall into one of three categories: replenishment subscriptions, curation subscriptions (aka “subscribe-and-save”) and access subscriptions. Let’s take a closer look into each to explore their differences in product focus, as well as their benefits for both merchants and customers.
1. Replenishment subscriptions.
Making up 32% of the overall subscription market, replenishment subscriptions refer to products that are used on a regular basis. Think deodorants, laundry detergents and protein shakes — Dollar Shave Club is a great example. These subscription boxes lean on the convenience of regular delivery for customers, providing them with their favorite products just as they’re just about to run out. Also referred to as “subscribe-and-save” (think Amazon’s option), these subscriptions often give discounts to customers who elect to receive the product more than once on a regular cadence.
2. Curation subscriptions.
The most popular subscription type, coming in at 55% in popularity, curation subscriptions were some of the first to market in the recurring subscription world — and they’ve only gained in popularity over the last decade. A curation subscription focuses on boxes of curated products shipped directly to consumers. Product types can vary within a box, or stick to a theme, such as international snacks, meal kits or skincare products. Popular examples of this subscription type include Birchbox and Blue Apron.
3. Access subscriptions.
Access is most commonly used to offer membership or availability to special benefits, content or discounts — for example, streaming services like Netflix. As things like connected hardware and community growth become more popular, utilizing access subscription services is becoming more and more attractive to merchants.
Benefits of Running a Subscription Service
Now that we’ve dug into the types of subscriptions you can offer, let’s explore what these offerings could mean for your business. Recurring revenue, increased acquisition and retention, easier and more accurate forecasting and building a community of brand advocates — all of these and more are possible with intentional subscription offerings.
1. Increase acquisition.
Research shows that new customers are joining the subscription space at unprecedented rates. ReCharge’s latest State of Subscription Commerce report, which studied physical subscriptions, found that from 2019 to 2020 there was an average of 90% growth in subscribers across all verticals. By their very nature, ecommerce subscriptions have many value-drivers that attract new customers, including financial incentives, convenience and novelty or entertainment.
Due to their unique ability to foster customer relationships with the recurring nature of their offerings, ecommerce subscriptions have unique opportunities to increase their acquisitions. Those with strong subscriber communities can leverage positive reviews, engagement on social media and even influencer content to reach new customers and encourage signups. And because these companies are able to study their subscribers’ behavior over time through analytics and market research, they have the opportunity to more effectively target their acquisition efforts for potential customers.
2. Increase retention.
As subscriber growth increased in 2020, so did lifetime value. The State of Subscription Commerce report saw an average LTV growth of 11% in 2020. In other words, subscription customers are spending more over their use of the service before they cancel.
A major opportunity for online stores to increase loyalty and boost retention lies in their customization. According to a McKinsey study, 28% of curation and access subscribers said that the most important reason for staying with a subscription was having a personalized experience. This can include everything from customization of product choices (such as swapping out one product for another or adding a one-time add-on purchase to a subscription) to communication preferences (such as having the option to enable SMS notifications) to frequency of purchases (such as giving options for different frequencies of deliveries or allowing options to skip deliveries). Empowering subscribers to manage their own subscription and customize it to fit their lifestyle increases trust in the business and keeps those customers around longer.
3. Make forecasting easier.
The recurring nature of subscription payments offers enormous benefits not only for customers, but also for merchants. Aspects of the subscription business model like vaulted payment information and scheduled orders create a predictable revenue stream. This has the potential to make forecasting easier and more accurate, and in turn benefits aspects of the business like inventory and supply chain management management.
This recurring nature also means that subscriptions are a valuable tool for tracking product performance and customer behavior over time. If subscription brands are intentional about their data and analytics, they can hone their KPIs over time to reach consumers even more effectively.
4. Build a stronger brand community.
Due to their ability to track customer behavior and product performance over time and their variety of touchpoints to interact with their customers, subscription businesses are uniquely poised to create strong brand communities. This type of engagement offers many benefits for subscriptions that can ultimately help scale the brand. Brands can attract new customers through current community members who leave positive reviews and engage with the brand on social media. These not only foster brand loyalty and increasing lifetime value, but also create valuable feedback loops to improve subscription product offerings. And, when brands interact with community members who engage on social media, they send a signal that they are present and able to deliver a strong customer support experience.
Possible Challenges to Creating an Ecommerce Subscription Service
What are some of the hurdles of running an ecommerce subscription service? For many businesses, the main pain point is shifting from a transactional business model to a relational commerce model. Offering an ecommerce subscription means recalibrating your business processes to embrace this shift.
1. Transitioning to relational commerce business processes.
With a transactional ecommerce store, your main focus is attracting customers and getting a sale, then moving on to the next customer.
With a subscription model and relational commerce, you don’t focus on one and done conversions. Merchants retain subscribers by forming a bond and sense of community around their products, which boosts brand loyalty and drives repeat purchases.
Subscribers are more loyal to strong brands whose offerings align with their personal values. When you can build a brand community around your subscription offerings and create an engaged group of customers, that’s the sweet spot.
2. Lack of differentiation from other subscription services.
Why should future customers sign up for your subscription plan? What differentiates you from your competitors or incentives consumers to become subscribers? These are the main things subscription merchants need to think about to have success.
Differentiation and diversification are key to standing out in a saturated market. Being smaller or just starting out allows you to be more agile and embrace innovation. Successful merchants are able to utilize their data to understand their customers, form a plan of action and meet customers where they are and where they’re going.
Tips for Running the Best Ecommerce Subscription Service
No matter your industry or focus, there are few key themes for setting up your ecommerce subscription service for success. The bottom line: Get to know your customers as deeply as you possibly can, track your learnings over time and pivot your offerings to meet customers’ needs. The more seamless you can make your user experience, the happier — and more loyal — your customers will be.
1. Track KPIs and data.
It’s easy to make assumptions about your customers and their spending habits, but if you’re not using data to back up those beliefs, you’re willfully stumbling around in the dark. Properly tracking the right data is often the lifeblood of thriving subscription ecommerce platforms. Important metrics to consider are customer churn rate, customer acquisition costs (CAC), average order value (AOV) and your customer lifetime value (LTV) or average customer value.
Due to their recurring nature, subscriptions grant merchants an incredible opportunity to collect data about their consumers, which can be harnessed for more in depth personalization (think personalized recommendations, offers or discounts).
2. Make sure you have the right ecommerce platform.
BigCommerce. Shopify. Woocommerce Subscriptions. Subbly. Different ecommerce platforms are better suited for different needs — but with so many different options to choose from, it can be hard to decipher which would best serve your subscription platform.
Are you looking to run a fairly basic monthly subscription box offering? Are you looking for a niche custom headless build? Or are you looking to implement an omnichannel business model, where customers are getting the same, high-quality brand experience whether they are purchasing off your website, social media or in a brick-and-mortar store? What will your pricing model be? What payment gateways will you be using? What will your transaction fees be from your ecommerce platform? What does the subscription management experience look like?
These are important questions to answer when running a subscription-based business. You need to find the ecommerce solution that works best for you and various platforms are better suited for different needs. For example, for merchants who want to offer an omnichannel business model, BigCommerce is an ideal platform. Their documented four pillars of omnichannel success (sales channels, marketing and advertising, operations and fulfillment) allow you to meet your customers where they are.
Do your research before committing to a subscription ecommerce platform and find the one that best suits the needs of your business.
3. Incentivize autopayments and auto renewals.
Subscriptions are ideal for businesses because of the predictive nature of their recurring payments. Making those repeat orders as frictionless as possible is beneficial to both merchants and subscribers, and ensuring customers can make repeat orders on-site benefits your engagement and SEO.
Incentivizing autopayments for your subscriptions provides the customer with convenience and allows the business to more accurately forecast future revenue. You can incentivize subscription products and autopayments over one-time purchases with discounts or bundle deals.
Auto renewals, on the other hand, can be a very valuable retention strategy. Losing a loyal customer because their credit card expired or because they forgot to renew their subscription products is a devastating outcome.
Letting customers know of the various payment options and incentivizing subscription plans that include auto renewals saves your business hardship down the road. Smart businesses also know to notify their customers before their subscription renews. If you want to keep customers in your subscription program and preserve a positive brand affinity (and avoid a headache for your customer support team), notify your customers in advance of any charges going on their account.
Including options to skip a delivery or swap a product is equally as important in these notification emails. Data shows that subscribers who take skip or swap actions stay around for more than twice as many subscription periods as unengaged customers.
4. Make sure the subscriptions align with business goals.
Subscriptions in the ecommerce world are skyrocketing in popularity right now, and they aren’t showing signs of showing down. But starting a subscription business on a whim is no guarantee of success.
Make sure that your subscription offerings align with your business goals long term. Will you dedicate the services and tools necessary for your subscription business to thrive? Are your products optimized for subscriptions, or are they too niche to be ordered on a recurring basis?
In the right hands and supported with the right resources, subscription platforms are a revenue generating machine. Just make sure the business is providing the right services for that machine to be well-oiled.
Key Examples of Ecommerce Subscription Merchants
It’s clear that subscription businesses can take endless forms, and offer enormous potential for both businesses and consumers. Now, let’s dive into a few key examples of merchants that are raising the bar with their recurring product offerings.
WebEyeCare is a contact lens and prescription eyeglasses seller that offers consumers a variety of different brand options. Their subscription service falls under the subscribe-and-save model, offering a discount on all recurring orders. However, it also contains some elements of access subscription, as subscribers have access to a dedicated customer service representative.
2. Pure Canna Box.
Pure Canna Box is a curation subscription service that delivers an assortment of customized, all-natural CBD products on a monthly cadence. Items in each delivery are personalized based on an initial quiz that takes customers’ preferences into account, such as their frequency and preferred method of consuming CBD and any allergies.
3. First Aid Beauty.
First Aid Beauty is a skincare brand geared for sensitive skin that offers its products in both major retailers such as Sephora, Ulta and JCPenny and on its own ecommerce site. It offers its products on both a one-time purchase option and a 15% off, subscribe-and-save option for recurring orders, in addition to other benefits such as free shipping and four free samples with every order.
Key Takeaways for Businesses
When considering how to build thoughtful subscriptions for your business, remember: relationships build over time. Keeping your customers around longer all depends on how well you’re able to learn from those customers and listen to their needs, pivoting to meet them where they are with a seamless customer experience and flexible, customizable offerings. The results — increased customer satisfaction, average order value, lifetime value and more — speak for themselves.
Santa Monica Seafood was officially founded back in 1939 on the Santa Monica Pier. One or two things have changed over the years. They still offer the highest quality and selection of seafood to restaurants and customers at their two Southern California retail locations. However, now customers nationwide can experience their lobster tails, swordfish and more through their Dock Direct online store.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people worldwide, affecting everything from their jobs and social lives to how they shop and where they eat. Overnight many of the restaurants the seafood brand company supplied were shuttered. At the same time, those restaurants’ former customers were missing the seafood dishes they formerly enjoyed. The direct-to-consumer business exploded as people decided to try cooking their favorites for themselves.
Fishing for the Right Fit
As Santa Monica started to investigate expanding their direct-to-consumer ecommerce business, they knew they needed to continue to prioritize their customers and give them the best possible experience. They also knew, as they were still figuring out how this new customer base was shopping, they would need a flexible site that would let them make changes quickly.
As Alfredo Chavez, Director of Ecommerce at Santa Monica Seafood, explains: “We had a deep relationship with our customers we wanted to continue. The amount of flexibility that was offered by the platform was key to us because we didn’t know exactly what our direct-to-consumer offering was going to look like. We had some broad strokes. But we didn’t know, for example, that it’s very important to customers that they be able to choose the shipping date. And we didn’t know if they would prefer to choose the species or have it pre-selected because buying fish was new to them.”
They considered Magento and Shopify Plus before settling on BigCommerce. Khai Vuong, Director of IT for Santa Monica Seafood, explains: “We wanted to get into a platform that would allow us to grow to thousands, and potentially millions, of transactions per month. So that’s why we started the journey, looking at multiple solutions out there. BigCommerce strikes the perfect middle ground between the large, complex solutions, such as Magento, and a smaller, more agile but restrictive solution, such as Shopify.”
Magento was quickly removed from the options because of the high development costs. “Magento would require more from the IT team to maintain. The security implications, the patching and some of the support on creating content on our web store, maintaining some of the marketing campaign, we considered all of that,” says Vuong.
Chavez explains why BigCommerce ultimately won out over Shopify: “Once we started really digging in and talking to our developers as well, BigCommerce became the easiest choice. It offered the most flexibility, both in terms of programmatically and how easy it was to make adjustments.” Chavez appreciates that his team can easily make adjustments to themes as needed.
A Site That Works for Everyone
The flexibility was incredibly important because it allowed Santa Monica Seafood to make a site that worked both for developers on the backend and the marketing team on the frontend.
“One of the advantages of BigCommerce that really stood out is the Page Builder widget,” says Vuong. “That allows our creative director to not only create the store, but also to maintain the content of the store without involvement from IT. That is absolutely crucial for us, as we go through the pandemic and approach the migration of our entire business over to a new ERP system. The IT team really needs to focus on the ERP side.”
Speaking from the marketing side Chavez adds: “I have all the freedom to do whatever I want to build this up. With a tool like BigCommerce, it’s easy. So, I never worry about, ‘How do I do that? How do I put a banner up? How do I end this promotion or start a promotion? How do I offer a buy-one-get-one-free [offer]?’ All that stuff is just built in. Once you’ve used it once, that’s it. You’ve learned it. It’s like a bicycle, you’re not going to forget how to do it.”
Santa Monica Seafood leverages headless commerce — that is using a separate frontend and BigCommerce for ecommerce on the backend — to provide even greater flexibility. Vuong explains: “The headless commerce aspect allows us to get a store up and running quickly, capitalize on the market that was out there and start broadcasting our presence out to our consumers. But it allows us the flexibility and the power to grow into something vastly larger than what we even had in mind when we started out.”
Giving Customers What They Want
Adaptability has been incredibly important as Santa Monica Seafood has explored new markets and new customer bases. Chavez has been able to experiment to explore ways to improve the conversion rate and give customers what they want.
“When I started running Google ads, I was getting a good amount of traffic, but I was getting very low conversions,” says Chavez. “I went in. I changed some verbiage. I added a first purchase coupon of 10%, all on my own, and my conversion rate went up. The customer needs a little bit of incentive to complete that purchase. We can do that.”
But not all customers were coming through Google Ads, so Chavez made sure to address all touchpoints to leave no customer behind. “We added the 10% to a banner on the landing page and as a coupon when you sign up for the newsletter. At every step of the way, it was easy to communicate to my customers, because BigCommerce has the tools. We also enjoy the seamless integration with Klaviyo to work the offer into our email flows. So every chance I get, we provide a possibility for a customer to know about that first 10% coupon.”
The company is also listening to its customers when it comes to feedback. Some didn’t like that they were using styrofoam packaging, so they shifted to curbside recyclable packaging. Another way they’re addressing their DTC customers’ needs is by adapting the fulfillment process to address all preferences. For example, when customers wanted a curbside pickup option from their two retail locations, they were able to add that easily. They’re also using ReCharge, which integrates with BigCommerce, to create a subscription plan so customers can set up recurring deliveries.
Teach a Man to (Cook) Fish
One more way Santa Monica Seafood supports their new customer base is by providing content in the form of recipes to help shoppers master cooking their favorite dishes and explore new ways to enjoy seafood.
“The BigCommerce blog allows us to very easily create and maintain recipes, which is very important to drive customer engagement and also purchases, by giving customers ideas on what they could make with our products. It was a must-have feature during our product selection phase, and we love the current implementation of it in BigCommerce,” says Vuong.
From the marketing side, Chavez enjoys how easy the process is: “I can throw recipes up there at a moment’s notice, or on a consistent basis, and not have to worry too much about how to build the content out and what I want it to look like.”
Never Stop Experimenting
While Santa Monica Seafood has now built a beautiful site with an exciting new customer base, they can’t rest on their laurels. Things are constantly changing, and so too must the site adapt to keep up.
“Since restaurants started opening back up at the end of February, what was working isn’t working anymore,” says Chavez. “My traffic started to dip. And my ad words budget had to be adjusted. It was a direct correlation from opening up, to losing traffic, to then having to adjust how I sell products. For example, I was selling more crab legs and lobster tails when restaurants were closed. Now that they’re open, I’m more focused on everyday items like wild-caught fish, salmon, wild-caught halibut, things you might prepare on a Tuesday night, instead of something that you miss from a Saturday evening dinner at your favorite restaurant.” Being able to pivot quickly to adapt to changing customer behavior has been an important piece of Santa Monica Seafood’s strategy.
Every business has their unique challenges. Santa Monica Seafood solved theirs by finding an ecommerce platform that supports their need for flexibility so they can continue to adapt as they explore new audiences. On BigCommerce, they can add new fulfillment methods, quickly spin up new content or promotions and not affect their backend development work.
Some of the challenges they experienced mirror the pain points of other enterprise businesses as they seek to adapt to a changing retail landscape. From paying too much for tech to overreliance on developers, you can explore some of the biggest challenges experienced by ecommerce businesses today — and how they’re solving them — in this data-driven report from Digital Commerce 360.
Is your business growth being constrained by these pain points? Get the full report here to find out.