Does E-Commerce Need a Rebrand?

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Geoff Alexander, VP of digital & e-commerce, Vocus
Geoff Alexander, VP of digital & e-commerce, Vocus

The term e-commerce has become synonymous with making purchases online, yet having an e-commerce strategy does not necessarily mean you need to have a shopping cart on your website. Some marketers mistakenly dismiss formulating an e-commerce plan because customers can't make purchases online; however, companies should have a strategy for creating and facilitating the online experiences of their customers—even when the actual purchasing happens offline.

Far too many businesses approach e-commerce with tactics and technical solutions in mind. Creating positive e-commerce relationships is much bigger than checkout flows, product videos, and free shipping. Rather, it's about getting some fundamentals down: having the right strategy, understanding your users, and building long-term relationships. 

Creating a strategy

Company websites often feature videos, testimonials, immersive graphics, polls, chat, and more, all designed to build engagement through the user experience and peak visitors' interest. However, facing challenges such as decreased time and patience from potential customers, some find these extras extraneous. That's why it is critical for marketers to include e-commerce within their strategy.

One of the first things to consider when developing an e-commerce strategy is how you'll measure success. This includes getting basic insights into how potential customers are directed to and spend time on the site. However, to have a complete e-commerce strategy, measurement is just the beginning.

Enter the visitor-to-action ratio (VTA). The VTA is a set of unique interaction points between your brand and your potential customers that can help you better target and engage with potential leads. These interaction points are the specific activities each brand defines as desirable.

VTA is more comprehensive than the conventional engagement items, such as cart activity or lead form submission. Rather, VTA is the aggregate of all actions that allow you to further your relationship with a prospect and set the stage for success—both near- and long-term. This could include engaging with the chat function; signing up for a newsletter, discounts, or webinar; watching a series of videos; or following you on various social networks.

By taking a look at the points where a customer has interacted with your website, the marketing team will have a better understanding of what activities are more successful. They can also better determine how to approach potential customers offline to finalize a sale, and to make the buying experience a positive one.

Another consideration is customers' time and patience, especially during a sign-up process. Customers don't want to fill out long forms when signing up for a trial, so instead consider what information you absolutely need in the near term. This allows you to begin engagement with the customer, rather than burden the user with “nice to have” data that can be collected in a well-planned nurturing fashion. Additionally, explore whether third-party data appending and registration services can provide valuable prospect/user data.

Going mobile

According to a Coda Research Consultancy Report, mobile commerce sales could reach $23.8 billion by 2015. In today's market it's clear that e-commerce strategies must address those customers interacting on their mobile devices. Most marketers know to optimize their website for mobile devices, but what happens after customers land on your mobile site? If certain sign-up pages or check out flows aren't optimized for mobile devices, then there's a great potential to lose a lead and decrease conversion—impacting both immediate and longer-term revenue opportunities. 

To foster a relationship from their mobile site, marketers should consider a separate mobile e-commerce plan that would help meet specific metrics, and ensure the mobile user's experience is relevant and optimized. It's important to let prospects discover your brand wherever they are, but recognize they may not be able to fully experience a company's offering until they're accessing it through more “stationary” means. Therefore the mobile commerce plan could include mobile-specific content that provides a better experience now, and the potential for follow-up later.

Building lasting connections

Critical to any e-commerce strategy is creating an environment where sustained customer and prospect relationships take place. Thoughtful and relevant communications are pivotal, and marketers should carefully leverage the information that will provide meaningful post-visit nurturing opportunities. 

Marketing clearly has a greater need for customer and visitor data than ever before, and the myriad of data sources will continue to rise as the portfolio of digital experiences and measurable touchpoints increases. Savvy companies harness this information and provide relevant on-site or post-site communications geared at continuously connecting and laying the foundation for lasting relationships. Specifically, relationships that will lead to opportunities for further brand exploration, sampling, and revenue. 

Marketers need to do something meaningful with customer and visitor data. Go beyond collecting data for the sake of KPIs. Collect data because it allows for intelligent conversations—both on and offline.  Too often marketers collect data from online programs but do not sufficiently use it to impact tactics and optimize connections. Abandoned shopping carts have been a known issue for more than 15 years. Yet how many marketers actively use the information to reach out and either close the sale or offer to help?   

E-commerce is so much more than just purchasing clothing and apps online. Smart e-commerce players will focus on connections, not coupons, to build lasting relationships. It's about creating tailored experiences for customers and visitors and fostering positive long-term interactions. That's why marketers must update their e-commerce strategies today.

Geoff Alexander is vice president, digital and ecommerce at Vocus.

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