Online shopping isn’t going anywhere. The amount people spent shopping online grew to $2 trillion (yes, trillion) worldwide in 2022. But that doesn’t mean every ecommerce store is getting an equal bump in sales. If you want a piece of that pie, you need to know how to start your own store and check out tips for how to grow an ecommerce business.
We’ve gathered tips and strategies from entrepreneurs and the owners of successful ecommerce stores who’ve been there and done it before to help give you a leg up on your competition.
We’ve pared their learnings into 11 strategies for 2023, including:
- Get to know your customers
- Build a better ecommerce marketing strategy
- Expand into new markets
- Put your email list to good use
- Increase sales online with excellent customer service
- Search for new suppliers
- Reduce operating costs
- Make your company mobile-friendly
- Show off your successes
- A/B test your marketing and sales strategies
- Keep your loyal customers happy
Now let’s turn a profit, shall we?
1. Get To Know Your Customers
Market research is one of the best ways to differentiate your ecommerce business from your competitors. When you understand a customer on a deep level, you’ll have a better understanding of their needs, their buying habits, how they prefer to pay, and how they want you to communicate with them.
Market research should be an ongoing project. Here are some ways to continue learning more about your customers:
- After a customer makes a purchase or interacts with your customer service team, create a survey to collect feedback on their experience.
- When they sign up for an account, ask them about their communication preferences, so you know what kinds of emails or text messages they’re most likely to engage with.
- Check public resources available in your country for demographic information you can use to tailor your branding.
- Create a loyalty program that sends surveys or invites customers to evaluate products in exchange for discounts or exclusive offers.
- Consider employing a research firm to learn more about brand awareness. Brand awareness research can show you how effective your efforts have been and where you may be falling short.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“Take advantage of customer behavior analysis tools such as Google Analytics or other market research methods like surveys or interviews with customers to gain more insight into consumer preferences in order maximize revenue potentials.” - Carlos Barros - Director of Marketing at Epos Now
This kind of research will help your business make better choices about the products you offer, how you market your business, and how you build your brand by better aligning with what your customers are buying and the kinds of businesses they are buying from.
2. Build a Better Ecommerce Marketing Strategy
The most important part of growing an online business through marketing is to build a marketing strategy that will resonate with potential customers. Performing market research, including surveying your existing customers, can point you toward the platforms that will be most effective.
Here’s how to start building a marketing plan:
- Establish your goals. Do you want to increase traffic to your website, grow your followers on social media, or increase sales?
- Decide who you’re marketing to. Pick an existing segment of your customer base or go after one you haven’t reached yet.
- Perform a competitor analysis. Examine what others in your industry are doing to look for ways to compete.
- Determine your pricing. Pricing your products during a marketing push doesn’t mean lowering them to unsustainable levels. Instead, consider competing with other businesses in your field by lowering prices or explaining why your products cost more.
- Choose your channels. There are more avenues for marketing than ever before. Digital channels include paid ads, content marketing, social media ads, and video ads. More traditional channels include print (newspapers and magazines), television, and radio.
- Set a budget. Deciding on a budget will give you a timeline for when a campaign begins and ends and helps stop costs from spiraling out of control.
- Build and implement. Start building the marketing materials yourself or with help from a marketing agency and start the campaign.
- Analyze the results. After a campaign has ended, gather feedback from customers and the data gathered from the channels you used to see just how successful the campaign was. Use that information to inform the next marketing push.
Your marketing needs may be more or less intensive, but taking all of the above factors into account can help you maximize your time and monetary investment.
3. Expand Into New Markets
The idea of expanding into new markets — whether that means opening a new physical store or expanding the reach of your ecommerce shop by shipping to new countries — might seem daunting, especially if your online store is relatively new. But not doing it could mean you’re leaving money on the table.
Three markets to consider expanding to, if you haven’t yet:
- International markets: While there is a myriad of factors to consider before trying to open up shop internationally, the expansion of international shipping options means that you can test out another market before making a larger commitment. For example, if you’re a company in the United States, you could try shipping to one country in Europe before trying to ship to every country in Europe.
- Online marketplaces: Amazon, Google Shopping, and other online marketplaces are so large you can’t ignore them. There are several ways to sell your products on Amazon. You can sell and ship directly through Amazon or work with a third party to manage a separate inventory of products for sale through the online giant. Many ecommerce platforms include Google Shopping integration.
- Brick-and-mortar locations: If your brand has grown to the point where it has tons of visibility and sales, opening a physical location may be a good way to expand your reach. Examine other ecommerce businesses that have made the leap and deeply research local markets to see if it would work.
If you have the ability, expanding into multiple new markets could transform your brand into a household name. Make sure you learn as much as you can from each expansion and apply the lessons to other markets.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“Expanding into a foreign country can be challenging and requires careful strategic planning. Business owners should consider the cost-benefit of these decisions, research relevant markets, and regulations, and identify appropriate payment systems before taking this step.”— Don’t Do It Yourself
4. Put Your Email List to Good Use
Even though email may seem to be falling out of fashion, the truth is that it’s still a powerful and fast way for you to communicate with customers (as long as they aren’t being marked as spam). A recent study found that a majority of consumers (57%-79% depending on generation) prefer contact from brands to come through email.
The shotgun approach of sending all emails to all subscribers just doesn’t work. What will make an email strategy successful is building campaigns based on what your customers are actually interested in? For example, if your store sells men’s and women’s clothing and a customer has only purchased women’s clothing, sending an email about the newest line of men’s slacks probably won’t result in a sale.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“Segment your email list for more tailored messaging. For example, divide your list into different segments based on factors like demographics, past purchase behavior, and interests. This will allow you to send targeted emails that are more likely to resonate with each segment and build customer loyalty.”— Sebastian Cruz Couture
If your email list isn’t segmented, start by sending out a survey to your subscribers to find some demographic information, learn what they want from you, and how often they want these emails. With that information in hand, you can start building out different email lists based on customer profiles.
5. Increase Sales Online With Excellent Customer Service
Think about the last great experience you had with a company’s customer service team. You’ve probably gone back to them or recommended them to people, right? Now think about the last bad customer service interaction you suffered through. Even if that company had a better product or service than its competitors, you’ll probably think twice before going back.
The lesson here is pretty clear: Customer service can have an oversized impact on your bottom line. Investing in improving your customer service can pay off big — and it doesn’t need to be a huge expense.
Here are a few steps you can take to improve customer service:
- Require extra training for your employees
- Implement follow-up surveys to rate customer satisfaction
- Provide self-service resources like chatbots and knowledge bases
Making even the smallest adjustments to customer service could make all the difference in turning a potential customer into a loyal one.
6. Search for New Suppliers
Looking for new suppliers isn’t fast or easy, but it can pay off big. A study from IBM found that nearly 70% of outgoing revenue goes to goods and services. Start your search with a little market research to see which companies are out there and how much they charge for products or components. Reach out to a few of them to learn about any volume discounts or other special offers you may be able to take advantage of.
You might also consider looking for suppliers in other countries. There are some important factors to consider when looking overseas, including:
- International suppliers may lower your costs dramatically.
- Ordering from overseas may increase your lead time, so factor that in as you weigh your options. Overlapping between domestic and international suppliers can help prevent any disruptions.
- Importing goods from China or another country can lower your costs, but make sure you’re following any and all import laws.
Reevaluate your supply needs as the market shifts in order to limit the amount you spend. This can also help you prevent any hiccups in your production or sales by finding more reliable suppliers.
7. Reduce Operating Costs
Even the smallest and most efficient businesses can have waste. If you’ve recently expanded your offerings or it’s been a while since you did a deep dive on your expenses, taking some time to look at where your money is going could save you some cash now and in the future.
- Looking for new suppliers is one way to keep more money in your pocket.
- Look for automatable processes. With the variety and power of new AI-powered technology, many of the things you used to do manually can be automated.
From smart chatbots that can answer most customer questions and then correctly route them to the right people, to helpdesk ticketing systems, product management, and accounting software that can track orders and inventory across multiple platforms, using the right ecommerce software can keep costs down.
8. Make Your Company Mobile-Friendly
Considering 59% of online traffic now comes from mobile devices, your site and your ecommerce store need to be as mobile-friendly as possible. Luckily, there are a lot of tools to make that happen.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“You need to implement responsive design on your website. Do quality assurance checks to guarantee that links can be quickly clicked, that content shows properly, and that the page can be easily scrolled.” — Joy Organics.
If you’re on one of the more popular ecommerce platforms, chances are your store is already optimized for mobile.
For safe measure, we recommend verifying that these elements on product pages are in check:
- Are the images the right size?
- Can I read everything on the page?
- Is it easy to add something to the cart?
- Do all of the links work?
- Are social share buttons working?
Test your site on phones and tablets to ensure everything works properly and looks good. As mobile ecommerce becomes more and more important to consumers, updating and refreshing your store so it’s usable on these devices will pay off.
9. Show Off Your Successes
Collecting reviews and feedback and then highlighting those wins in marketing materials and product listings is an excellent method for gaining the trust of new customers. By putting the things other shoppers have said front and center, you’re demonstrating faith in your products while also connecting to prospective customers who are looking for social proof that your company is the right choice.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“When it comes to encouraging customers to leave good reviews via social media, it helps to highlight your customer. We like to repost picture and video reviews from happy customers via social media, as we find doing this encourages other customers to share their experience as well.” — StickerYou
If you aren’t collecting reviews and ratings for the products on your site, start doing so. You can get these reviews and ratings by:
- Sending automated emails asking for reviews after a certain period of time
- Posting on social media asking for buyers to give feedback in an online form
- Scraping other review sites to see what people are saying about you and show off those wins
If you start digging and find a lot of reviews that are raising the same concerns, use that information to make changes to what or how you sell. Learning from your mistakes goes a long way toward establishing credibility and showing customers that you’re listening to and addressing their concerns.
10. A/B Test Your Marketing and Sales Strategies
There’s no single way to market or sell a product or service. Segmenting your customer base and personalizing marketing content is the first step toward a better strategy, but it needs to be tested.
By designing several strategies and testing them independently, you’ll develop a more complete profile of your customers and learn what parts of your marketing and sales strategies are going to scale and have a positive impact on your bottom line. Here’s what a few examples of A/B testing might look like:
- If you’re marketing a single product, create two sets of marketing materials. One should focus on the features of the product that set it apart from the competition. The other should focus on providing social proof of the effectiveness of the product by including customer reviews and testimonials.
- If your email list and your social media followers are roughly equal, you can test reach by offering discounts in a social post and in an email. Each should have a different discount code so you can track which channel is driving more sales.
- Create multiple product pages for the same product that look different and feature different content. Run targeted ads for a segment of your target market for a set period of time for one version, and then repeat it for the other version to see which one customer prefer.
Don’t be afraid to get creative when A/B testing. Trying something wildly different (like offering products through social livestreams) from what you normally do may give you insight into what your customers want that you didn’t have before.
Successful Entrepreneur Quick Tip
“To get the most out of your tests, it’s important to focus on variables that are likely to have a significant impact on conversions. This can include things like page layout, copy, images, colors, and calls to action.” — iHeartRaves.
11. Keep Your Loyal Customers Happy
Improving customer retention is about meeting their needs better than anyone else can. Offering better support, competitive prices, and the highest quality products is vital to maintaining customer loyalty, but there are other ways to show existing customers you care, like providing:
- Early access to sales
- Chances to try new products before anyone else
Showing your appreciation to loyal customers can go a long way in establishing a solid customer base for years to come.
If these ideas for how to grow an ecommerce business have you interested in extending your reach into foreign markets like Hong Kong, make sure to research local regulations and requirements first. Depending on where you want to expand, you may need to apply for a business license or bank account in those countries.
What ecommerce business is most profitable?
There are several types of ecommerce businesses that are most profitable, including:
- Beauty products
- Homemade items, including toys and jewelry
- Subscription boxes
- Online learning
- Pet products
But it’s important to remember that what is profitable today may not be profitable in the near future.
How can I promote my ecommerce business?
How do I increase ecommerce sales?
What are common factors of successful ecommerce businesses?