E-commerce, the buying and selling of services and products via the internet, has exploded from its humble beginnings in the universities of the early 1970s to revolutionize how everyone conducts business in the modern world. E-commerce is about more than just shopping for various sundries online. It's a new frontier for entrepreneurship that can take many forms, such as B2B sales or services like education and food delivery. Whatever shape the market for your business may take, here are a few ways that your enterprise can connect and grow.
Modernize Your Customer Service
When most people think of customer service, the first thing that comes to mind is a cubicle-filled call center. Those still have their place, but the progress of digital technology offers multiple options for addressing customer concerns. The most prominent of these new tools is the chatbot. You might be asking "What is a chatbot?" It's a fully-automated virtual assistant powered by an artificial intelligence (AI) program. Only a decade or so ago, chatbots lacked the sophistication to tackle complex inquiries from consumers. Now, advancements in natural language processing have resulted in virtual assistants with simulated personalities and the ability to respond to questions almost as well as a live operator. They also have the advantage of being available 24/7, and because of this are rapidly becoming a customer service staple.
Leverage the Power of Social Media
Possibly the most crucial key to e-commerce marketing success is maintaining a social media presence. That presence has to be kept up across multiple platforms, and those platforms should be chosen with an eye towards the market. If you're selling a physical product with visual appeal, use sites like Pinterest and Instagram that are specifically image-based. If you're the owner of a business, make sure that you have a professional LinkedIn page with plenty of links to your business. Keep your content relevant and fresh, with regular updates to all of your sites.
Social media platforms can also serve as a quick way for people interested in your offerings to reach out to your business directly or indirectly. This is a good time to talk about building communities. Social media marketing is about much more than advertising. When people join your pages, they're doing so alongside others who are making a statement about what they purchase. Think about that. People often build collective identities around brands that they enjoy. Bringing people together in this way cultivates a deeper brand loyalty and brings you closer to the people you mean to serve with your business.
Do Your Research
You'll never connect with your customers unless you know them. The process of market research can be qualitative or quantitative, and it should eventually be both. On the qualitative end, it's a good idea to get feedback in informal settings in order to gauge the emotional impact of your business. Actual focus groups where someone from your company asks for feedback can be useful, but an even better idea is to leave the comments section on your webpage open and then view both the positive and negative feedback as data that you can use to get the pulse of the public. More concrete information can be garnered via online surveys either posted on your page or emailed to customers. Don't skimp on demographic research either. If you're marketing locally, figure out if your product appeals to local interests. If you're selling solar panels, for example, take a look at how your county polls on climate change issues. If your operation is global, keep up to date with the cultural trends that are shaping consumer desire.
Promote a Culture of Authenticity
It's more important than ever that your business has a vision. Consumers these days are expressing deep concern about the blurring of lines between truth and opinion. In addition, a Cohn & Wolfe survey found that almost 9 out of 10 customers would actively reward a brand that they perceive as authentic. Authenticity, of course, means different things to different people, but savvy consumers know spin when they hear it. You have to prove to your customers that your organization is about something more than profit. There has to be an overarching vision, embraced by everyone who works for your company, that showcases exactly how your services can positively impact the lives of consumers.
Engage in E-mail Marketing
Email marketing campaigns sound far less effective than they actually are. In truth, email marketing has a massive return on investment (ROI). A major study only a few years ago showed that for every $1 spent on an email marketing campaign, the ROI was a stunning $38. One reason for this is that email marketing is inexpensive to implement. You need no more infrastructure than a computer and list of leads. This is where you should apply that market research. Target the campaign wisely, and advertise to people who you have reason to suspect will want to buy what you're selling. Remember to keep in touch with previous customers this way too. Reach out when you're offering a new deal, special or service. In other words, assume customers will forget about you and make sure that they don't.
Use Pretail Strategies
Pretail is the new term for a category of e-commerce whereby interest is built in a product through pre-launch marketing and collecting limited-quantity signups of buyers. Doing this builds buzz and anticipation around a new product or service on a personal level by proactively creating a fan base for it. One of the most successful applications of this strategy was the pre-sale of the Oculus Rift VR gaming headset which was funded via Kickstarter. It may feel like you're hard-selling your product, but really you're just turning it from an inert object into a cultural phenomenon, which is what marketing is all about.
E-commerce is a constantly evolving and growing network of business practices. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, entrepreneurs have the challenge of keeping pace with these changes. However, they also have the opportunity to use these new techniques and technologies to better connect with their customers and prosper.