E-commerce has transformed the way people shop and how businesses do business. With the power of e-commerce, businesses can sell more, reach a broader audience, and provide a seamless online shopping experience for their customers.
The accessibility and convenience brought about by e-commerce is an excellent way for businesses of all sizes to grow beyond their physical locations for further success.
In this article, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about e-commerce to help you get started and successfully sell goods online.
- What is E-commerce?
- A Brief History of E-commerce
- The Importance of E-commerce for Businesses and Consumers
- E-commerce Market Overview
- E-commerce Trends
- E-commerce Design
- E-commerce Optimization
- Building an Effective E-commerce Website
- E-commerce Marketing Strategies
- E-commerce Mistakes to Avoid
- Useful E-commerce Tools
What is E-commerce?
E-commerce (Electronic Commerce) refers to the use of platforms that facilitate the buying and selling of products online. This involves exchanging digital funds and data to conduct business transactions.
Although the most well-known example of e-commerce is online shopping, like Amazon and Alibaba, e-commerce can also refer to other types of online activities, like online auctions, online ticketing, and payment gateways.
One of the top reasons why businesses gravitate towards e-commerce is because it provides a wider reach than a physical location. Thanks to this digital innovation, people can shop online from just about anywhere while businesses get to reduce operational costs and generate more revenue.
A Brief History of E-commerce
The development of e-commerce has come a long way, from the simple concept of buying and selling to a digital shopping experience. It took its time to gradually evolve and get to where it is now:
- 1960: The origin of e-commerce can be credited to the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) in the 1960s. This replaced mail and fax through digital transfer, eliminating the need for human intervention.
- 1972: Stanford students reportedly sold cannabis to MIT students through an Arpanet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) account – an early form of the internet.
- 1979: Michael Aldrich, an English inventor, introduced electronic shopping by connecting a modified TV to a transaction-processing computer through a telephone line.
- 1990: Tim Berners Lee and Robert Cailiau built a hypertext project named WorldWideWeb, which eventually became a service on the internet.
- 1994: The first true e-commerce transaction occurred. Dan Kohn, a 21-year old entrepreneur, ran a website called NetMarket and sold a Sting CD through the website usin a credit card protected by encryption technology..
- 1995: Amazon launched as an e-commerce platform for books. AuctionWeb (now known as eBay) also entered the market, with online auctions as its primary focus.
- 1998: PayPal was introduced as a money transfer tool, making global e-commerce possible.
- 1999: Zappos and Victoria’s Secret entered the online shopping scene. Alibaba launched.
- 2001: Amazon launched their first mobile site.
- 2004: Additional security for online transactions was set up with the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council.
Fast forward to today, we can clearly see the growth in online marketplaces with Amazon and Alibaba being two of the biggest players in the e-commerce industry. Additionally, the massive global adoption of mobile devices has driven m-commerce to the forefront of importance for retailers.
Read more: The Past, Present, and Future of E-commerce
Types of E-Commerce Business Models
Business-to-consumer is the most common type of business model, and it’s typically what people think of when you say e-commerce. This is a traditional business model where businesses sell goods to customers. Since it’s in the e-commerce space, the buying and selling of prducts happen online instead of in a physical store.
An example of a B2C e-commerce business model is Amazon, an internet-based online retailer (the world’s largest) that offers goods from books, side tables, tech gadgets, and anything you can imagine.
A B2B model is where a business markets its products or services to another business. The buyer can be the end-user or resell the goods to their customers. For example, companies can sell a service that can help other companies sell their products to customers, or businesses can sell their wholesale goods for a small business to resell.
The transactions in this model take a longer sales cycle, but it is known for high order values and quantities.
Alibaba is one of the largest online e-commerce companies considered a B2B e-commerce platform. Its wide product range allows small businesses to source their goods or supplies from manufacturers, connecting buyers and suppliers from different parts of the world in one marketplace.
The rise of e-commerce platforms enabled consumers (smaller businesses or hobbyists) to directly sell goods to other consumers, which is what a C2C model is. Third-party websites or marketplaces, such as Etsy, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace, serve as a venue for the transactions between buyers and sellers.
Another popular example of a C2C e-commerce platform is Craigslist, a website that lets users post classified ads to sell their goods or services.
The consumer-to-business model allows individuals to offer their products or services to businesses. Freelancer websites and other online marketplaces for services are platforms that allow this business model.
Fiverr is an online freelance marketplace for services that connect individuals and businesses. It allows individuals (sellers) to list their “gigs” or services and companies or other individuals to purchase gigs. Buyers can also post a listing for specific services.
The Importance of E-commerce for Businesses and Consumers
Eliminates geographical restrictions
Physical stores are limited by their location and area they can service, while an e-commerce website allows anyone around the world to shop with you as long as they have an internet connection. Of course, this still depends on how far you’re willing to deliver your products and services, but with an e-commerce site, the world is your oyster.
Remain open 24/7
Unlike a physical store, e-commerce websites can operate through night and day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You’re always open, making your business’ products/services more accessible to customers.
One of the major advantages of e-commerce is the decreased operational costs compared to a brick and mortar store. You won’t have to worry about the overhead costs of real estate and the corresponding costs of having a physical location. Furthermore, you can invest in a web-based operations management system to automate your supply chain and reduce inventory costs.
Better customer experience
Customers no longer have to search aisle per aisle or store per store when they’re looking for a particular product online. With an e-commerce site, they can simply type what they’re looking for into a search box and find their desired product instantly. Just one of the many conveniences when it comes to shopping online.
Customized and targeted marketing and communication
E-commerce websites can remember a customer’s online behavior and other relevant data using cookies (subjected to the customer’s agreement). Merchants can then use this information to show more relevant listings or improve ad targeting across multiple platforms.
Building an Effective E-commerce Website
Choose an e-commerce platform
You need to select a reliable e-commerce platform to conduct your business. This refers to the software you’ll use to operate, manage, and sell your products from your website. An e-commerce platform also allows you to work on the front-end and back-end of your online store.
Below are some of the platforms you can look into to create your website:
- Dedicated e-commerce platforms
These are e-commerce solutions that provide convenient features, such as secure payments, email marketing, and multichannel sales support. These functionalities allow you to expand your online store easily.
Dedicated e-commerce platforms come at a cost, but they’re the best way to quickly roll out a complete e-commerce website. Some of the dedicated e-commerce platforms you can check out are Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento.
- Website builders with ecommerce features
If you already have a website, you can add an online sales functionality when you get an e-commerce plan. Website builders like Wix, SquareSpace, and Weebly offer this plan.
Creating a website from scratch takes a lot of work and brainstorming. Moreover, it may not be the most cost-effective option if you plan to grow bigger in the future.
- Ecommerce plugins for WordPress
WordPress makes it possible for many businesses to build anything online—it can be an affordable e-commerce platform option. You can add an online store feature to a WordPress site at no cost using plugins like WooCommerce and WP EasyCart. Additionally, make sure to get quality Woocommerce hosting for overall website security.
Take note that using a plugin isn’t the best choice if you’re planning to establish and expand a legitimate business.
Design your e-commerce website
You’ll want to make sure that your visitors have a good user experience across all devices while being secure and responsive. Be sure to choose the right Content Management System (CMS) that’s compatible with the e-commerce features you want to use. Additionally, find one that offers a UI and functionality that you’re comfortable with.
Add e-commerce features
At this point, you’ll want to decide on what e-commerce features you want your store to have, like product listings, shopping carts, and customer service portals. Find a reliable payment gateway partner, and when it comes to payment options, select the methods that would best serve your business and its customers.
Optimize for conversions
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is essential for boosting your online conversions, sales, and business growth. Two key ways to get insights for optimization are A/B testing and multivariate testing. You can test different elements on your site, such as your web copy, layout, design, headline, images, and more, uncovering the best mix of page elements that drive users to convert.
Market your business
Much like any other website, you need to market your e-commerce store to gain exposure. You can dive into content marketing, social media, pay-per-click (PPC), or even collaborate with relevant influencers to boost your online visibility. Whatever marketing channels you decide to go with, be sure to continuously measure, evaluate, and improve your strategies to maximize your chances of success.
As the proverb goes, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Without a solid e-commerce marketing strategy in place, you won’t see the desired results and growth you expect with your e-commerce website or platform. You need a strong marketing plan to drive online sales.
Read more: Building an Effective E-commerce Store
Planning Your E-Commerce Marketing Strategy
Set your goals
You need to identify your goals to help you devise effective campaigns and see if they’re working. For the same, make an executive summary template that covers all bases to help your store launch and work, as smoothly as possible. Define your key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor your growth and sales, see if your campaigns are working, and find areas for improvement. Some important KPIs you should track include the following:
- Conversion rate: This is the number of visitors that take an action on your website (i.e., inquiry, subscription, account creation, sale, etc.).
- Average order value: The average amount of money customers spend per transaction.
- Cart abandonment rate: The number of shoppers who add items to their cart but abandon them before completing the checkout process.
Determine your target audience
To tap on your ideal customers, you need to know who they are. Do market research, analyze your customer base, and create personas to help you narrow your target audience.
If you don’t identify your target customers, you’re likely to fail to connect with them and address their pain points. In addition, your content efforts won’t be as effective as you desire since you don’t know who your ideal audience is; hence, you don’t know the correct language to use.
Analyze the competitors
You learn a lot by observing your competitors, precisely their strengths and weaknesses. With the data, you get to see where they excel and the potential opportunities you can work on, motivating you to make better marketing decisions.
How do your competitors price their products? How do they market them? Doing a competitive analysis can help you determine your business’s unique value proposition and create a more effective marketing and sales strategy.
Create buyer personas
Once you determine your target audience, you should create buyer personas for every segment to help you better understand the interests, preferences, needs, pain points, and wants of your ideal customers. This should guide you in creating campaigns that call on their specific desires.
For example, if your company sells classic men’s grooming products, you can create a buyer persona named Henry, a yuppie male who is into the old-school dapper aesthetic. From their, you can tailor your messaging and advertisements to suit the tastes of “Henry” – the personification of your target market.
Map the customer journey
The customer journey is the stages customers go through when interacting with your online store, from being made aware of your products to completing a transaction.
Outlining the customer journey allows you to find out what motivates them to buy or take any action on your e-commerce website and the difficulties they come across during the whole buying experience.
Track, Analyze, and Improve
As with brick and mortar businesses, it’s essential that you strategically monitor, review, and adjust processes to understand and serve your customers better. Check your web analytics to see how users behave on your website, who they are, what motivates them to purchase, and so on. These numbers should tell you where to focus your attention for improvement (e.g., shopping cart remarketing, improving site speed, etc.).
Digital Marketing for E-commerce
Email marketing is a personal marketing channel you can use to engage with your customers after they sign-up, create an account, or when they purchased from your store. Through email marketing, you can promote new products, alert customers of discounts or exclusive offers, and send them abandoned cart emails to entice them to check their cart and complete their purchase.
When doing email marketing, make sure to segment your list to create more personalized messages for your different customers. You can start with this strategy by using an email marketing platform like MailChimp.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
No matter the size of your business, you need an SEO strategy for three reasons:
- To help your target audience find you.
- To grow your bottom line even with limited resources.
- To build your authority and credibility for long-term success—prompting customers to check your store and make repeat purchases.
SEO work is not easy, so you’ll need a skilled team to help you develop a good marketing strategy. Generally, you’ll want to focus on conducting keyword research, enhancing your site architecture, and improving your on-page SEO for product and category pages.
Also known as Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing is a technique where you’ll let people find your brand, and not the other way around. This is done by creating valuable content like blog posts and videos that help answer your target audience’s questions. By delighting your audience with helpful content, it will help form long-term relationships with them and even convert some of them into paying customers.
Apart from blog posts and videos, you can run a series of social media or email campaigns to lead them wherever they are in the buying process.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is a fantastic tool for promoting your content, products, deals and promotions, and supplementing other marketing strategies. It can also drive more people to check out your business, increasing user engagement and attracting more sales.
A type of social media worth considering is influencer marketing. It’s a powerful strategy that can help brands increase brand awareness, reach more customers, and build social proof to gain your target audience’s trust.
Paid Search Advertising
Paid search advertising, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, for e-commerce is a quick and easy advertising strategy to promote your brand and goods. You can bid on ad placements on search engines, so you get to be the first result users see when they type in a relevant search query.
PPC ads also pop up on social media platforms and other websites, targeting your ideal customers to increase traffic and generate more sales as these customers are those closest to the conversion stage.
Read more: Marketing Tips to Boost E-commerce Sales
Useful E-Commerce Tools
- Website tools – These are tools that you can use to help set up and manage your e-commerce website’s look, feel, and function. Popular platforms include Shopify and BigCommerce, while those on a budget might opt for a free option like PrestaShop.
- Marketing tools – These tools that help boost online visibility and turn leads into customers. Google Ads can help you run targeted online advertising campaigns, while tools like Hootsuite and NapoleonCat can help automate your social media marketing campaigns.
- Competitor analysis tools – It’s important to know what your competitors are up to, and e-commerce is no exception. Tools like SEMRush and Wiser help you find out about their strategies as well as performance, so you can identify opportunities to gain an advantage.
- Business tools – Tools that will help you manage the daily operations, logistics, and finances of your online store. It can be difficult managing new projects, inventories, shipping and logistics, and finances and accounting all at once, but the right productivity tools and accounting software can make the job a lot less stressful.
- Analytics tools – They’ll tell you what’s working, what’s not working, and which areas you need to improve to boost your sales. This is an essential part of optimization and these tools will help you make the most of every dollar you spend.
6 E-commerce SEO Best Practices
Use important keywords
Inserting more relevant keywords can help your product pages and important content pieces to rank higher on search engines.
You can use keyword research or keyword planner tools to identify related and long-tail keywords users are searching for, so you can produce relevant content about them.
Optimize on-page SEO
The areas that need to be optimized most for e-commerce websites are the product pages and images. Ensure your product pages capture users and encourage them to take action by doing the following:
- Including high-quality images with alt tags.
- Inserting keyword-rich descriptions.
- Adding calls to action (CTAs).
- Creating a detailed page that contains all the necessary information about the product.
- Using canonical tags to link similar category products.
Write high-quality product reviews
Many consumers rely on reviews when it comes to their purchasing decision. You can encourage high-quality and real reviews from real customers by setting up an email reminder that asks customers to leave a review on your site.
Moreover, you can use schema markup, a unique code that allows search engines to better understand your page content, to help search engines show more informative descriptions (in this case, reviews) to searchers.
Use an easy-to-understand structure
An e-commerce website design that has poor site navigation will hurt your business—it will drive away customers and make it difficult for search engines to crawl your site. Here are some fast tips for building an e-commerce website with an excellent site structure:
- Build a user-friendly, simple, and scalable site.
- Use the right keywords to set up relevant page URLs and subdirectories.
- Ensure getting to and from another page doesn’t take more clicks than necessary.
- Optimize internal linking, especially to your major category pages.
Reduce page load speed
On the technical side, make sure to find ways to enhance your website speed. About 70% of customers say page speed affects their purchasing decision when browsing an online retailer. You can use a page speed analytics tool to see how much you need to increase page speed.
Some of the things you can explore to improve speed are doing back-end fixes, performing speed audits, optimizing media files, and removing unnecessary add-ons or plugins.
Avoid alphabet-soup URLs
Randomly generated letters as URLs are impossible to recall for users. Moreover, URL structures inform Google what the different pages on a website are about and how they link to one another, so it’s crucial to take a minute to personalize the URL of your web pages. This will help it easier for search engine bots to crawl and index your pages and present them to relevant search queries.
E-commerce Mistakes to Avoid
Building an e-commerce website that generates sales can be a challenge, but a fulfilling one when you manage to get it right. Learn from the mistakes of others and steer clear of these common e-commerce blunders:
Read more: E-commerce Mistakes to Avoid
Optimize Your Best Chances at E-commerce Success
Understanding how the e-commerce space is set up can help steer your plan for growth in the right direction and position yourself in front of the right market. Once you know the right marketing strategies and e-commerce best practices, you can be more confident about your e-commerce website.
If you’re in need of setting up your e-commerce site for your business, it’s best to work with a full-service digital marketing agency like Spiralytics to get the job done right. Get in touch with us to start building your e-commerce site.
The e-commerce world can be tricky, but with the right approach, you can give your online store the best chances at success. If you’d like help managing or growing your online store, be sure to contact the e-commerce experts at Spiralytics!