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E-Commerce Beyond the Cart

Posted on 6.26.2011

Consumer Acquisition and Customer Retention

Much is made of e-commerce shopping cart optimization, and for good reason. The better the cart, the more products a business can sell. But the cart is all but useless without consumers to fill it. That’s where acquisition (getting customers to the cart) and retention (keeping them coming back) comes into play.

There are as many ways to acquire and keep customers as there are products in a typical merchant’s catalog. Tried and true methods still work — such as search engine optimization, affiliate programs and performance-based advertising. But the true ecommerce professional always has an eye out for unique methods to drive new visits, too. Here, we present a few techniques that might make sense for your business to improve the quality and volume of acquisition campaigns now and into the future for greater sales. And they all start before a consumer ever visits the shopping cart.

Historically, one of the top acquisition strategies for e-commerce retailers has been paid search. That’s largely still the case. But the methods used to acquire those prospects via search are becoming more advanced and more profitable.

Mercent Retail Paid Search, for example, offers a way for merchants to get the most out of search campaigns, making sure customer acquisition is a measured, high-return endeavor. Search, however, happens everywhere.

E-TIP: Twitter’s recent string of acquisitions has turned heads in the Web business world. It appears that Twitter is becoming more than just a way to broadcast random thoughts but rather a legitimate business tool and search platform. Read Website Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Twitter Optimization.

“What we have been investing in heavily of late, are the broader volume channels for online advertising; most notably paid search as well as emerging advertising opportunities for retail e-commerce companies in social and mobile,” says Mercent CEO, Eric Best. “It’s not necessarily a given that the transaction is going to occur on the merchant’s website. You have PayPal, eBay’s new shopping cart (which is going to launch in July), you have Amazon Cart and now Google Wallet, of course. So, the landscape is increasingly complex for a retail merchant who’s trying to capture 100 percent of their addressable market.”

Mercent’s new system, unveiled in early June, takes product data from a merchant’s catalog including real-time inventory, pricing and profitability data to create unique, product-specific advertisements on a growing network of advertising and shopping channels. They range from Amazon and eBay to comparison shopping engines and affiliate networks. Using Mercent, retailers can also set time-sensitive, specific campaigns based on seasonality, for example. Using proprietary analytics, merchants can select top-performing keywords and ads for specific periods of time with particular products and schedule those ads accordingly.

Mercent also features the ability to integrate a merchant’s inventory and data with Facebook storefronts to ensure the customer experience with the brand is consistent across channels. Mobile too, is supported, through a growing network of mobile shopping apps — important in an environment where consumers have more opportunities to compare e-commerce storefront destinations with their brick-and-mortar counterparts, through sites like Google product search and other local shopping platforms.


Almighty Email

Email remains one of the best tools for every e-commerce merchant in both customer acquisition and consumer retention. It is a direct line of communication — whether selling products, making announcements or resolving problems — and it goes everywhere, including the increasingly important mobile and social channels. With today’s ability to fine-tune email for every demographic and the availability of deep analytics integration for the very best optimization strategies, email should be a major part of your strategies beyond the cart.

However, many merchants find themselves eschewing email for more trendy techniques, such as social media. A study* by email marketing and automation firm Silverpop found that brands’ email subscribers outnumber their Facebook Likes by an average ratio of 70-1, and Twitter followers by an average of 90-1. Despite this, just 10 percent of marketers include an email opt-in mechanism on their Facebook pages. Only 38 percent said they plan to add email to those pages, and 22 percent said they have no plans to do so.


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This lack of channel integration forces merchants to make choices as to where to expend their efforts. In reality, they should be working together to create a more holistic experience for the consumer. Social pages should include email signup forms or links, and emails should include the option to share the message via social media — basically a standard in most email service providers’ current offerings.

Acquiring customers through email can be accomplished by making offers, such as ‘sign up for our email newsletter and receive 10 percent off your first purchase’. Other techniques are to offer loyalty programs, early bird discounts, product tutorials, whitepapers and more, only to email subscribers.

Once an email list is built and segmented, it’s time to work on retention.

Email newsletters can be sent regularly and include new products, limited-time offers, cross-sell opportunities and special interest stories about your business, a recent customer success story or industry news.

Integrate email lists with your CRM systems to find customers who have seemingly abandoned your business. Send them personalized emails inviting them back with a special offer.

Ask for feedback by running a poll or asking questions about your customers’ overall experience with your business. People are eager to share their feelings and you can learn a great deal about how your brand is perceived.

Email has several inherent advantages over other acquisition and retention strategies. Namely, email is actionable, trackable and infinitely customizable. It remains the most direct way to interact with prospects and current customers.


Google Commerce Search: In one respect, online shoppers behave just like their counterparts in the brick-and-mortar world. They browse. Online, that means site search. Therefore, acquiring a customer might just come down to their ability to find what they want on your site. If your site search is not what it should be, consider using Google Commerce Search. Read more...


Creating Social Synergy

When thinking about acquiring more prospects and customers, the premise is quite simple: Go where the people are. These days, that means social media outlets. While the social site of choice might vary according to your industry, the goal for every merchant is the same: ensure social media participation is supporting the business’ core objectives.

Acquiring customers through social media can take many forms. Perhaps due to the novelty of it all, social media advertising still sees excellent click-through rates. Consider running advertisements that serve a very specific purpose such as brand loyalty (‘Like’ our Facebook page); a contest (sign up for our email list for a chance to win); or a direct sale (click to receive 10 percent off this item).

Social media is also a powerful tool to retain customers. Increasingly, consumers are turning to social media as a way to reach out to businesses, ask questions and get problems resolved. The key to successful retention with social media is by taking a listen-and-respond approach. Ask consumers what they want from your business and do your best to accommodate or, at the very least, offer solid explanations as to why particular requests might not be feasible. Run polls and solicit feedback about products and services. Most important, respond to customer issues quickly and justly. Fair or not, consumers expect responses from businesses and, mostly not fairly, they expect special consideration for reaching out. If they don’t get what they want, chances are good that grievances will be aired publicly. And remember, just because you don’t have an active profile on a social site doesn’t mean your businesses isn’t being discussed there.

The ultimate measure of social media success is when every social effort supports the business as a whole. Customer questions can be directed to the corresponding FAQ on the business’ website, Likes or follows can be incentivized with special offers, or new products can be announced and featured with a video, for example.

Some businesses are even taking the cart to social, quite literally. Facebook commerce (F-commerce) is gaining momentum and several large brands are already selling products through the site, including Delta, where travelers can book flights directly on Facebook. Several providers offer the ability to build stores and carts on Facebook including Social eCart, Payvment, ShopTab and Voiyk.


Connecting with Live Chat

Actively communicating with consumers on-site is one way businesses can improve both acquisition and retention, across the board. Increasingly, live chat is helping websites provide a personalized experience for consumers while moving them closer to making a purchase and ensuring they come back.

Bold Software, a provider of live chat software, recently concluded their “Effectiveness of Live Chat Technology — 2011 Edition” study** and the results suggest consumers are finding great value with websites’ live chat offerings. The great news is that live chat users (‘chatters’) are prime prospects for merchants.

According to the study, active chatters are aged 31-50, have considerably higher household income than average, are more likely to be college educated and spend more money online per year than other groups of shoppers. Of those who prefer live chat, 61 percent say they are more likely to purchase because of the presence of live chat.

So what does it take to make chat effective for your website? First, know what consumers want from live chat then make sure your staff is well-trained on those subjects — such as pricing, shipping information, guarantees and return policies and inquiries regarding purchases already made and/or support.

According to Bold Software’s study, 77 percent of chatters use the service because, “I get my questions answered immediately.” And the top factors determining successful chats are “Product/service knowledge of agent” (96 percent); “Chatting with a real person” (95 percent); and “Speed of agent response” (91 percent).


Everywhere But the Website: Are consumers actively shopping for your products offsite? You bet. Demandware, a leader in on-demand e-commerce recently released results from a survey that shows just how far and wide consumers are willing to go – and just how crucial it is for merchants to look beyond the cart. Read more...

When it comes to customer acquisition, live chat can help businesses capitalize on consumers’ impulses. That one burning question before a purchase can be answered immediately, before the customer is forced to click through several pages or send an email, and therefore have time to reconsider the purchase. Plus, live chat might be the final push a consumer needs to declare their loyalty to your business — knowing they always have support available is a powerful incentive. Live chat also offers personalization and topquality customer service (if executed properly), two very important factors of retention.

In light of Bold Software’s findings, you might wonder why consumers don’t use live chat more. The top reason non-chatters have not engaged in a live chat session is that sites where they shop simply don’t offer the service. That presents a great opportunity for retailers to get a jump on the competition.


Attribution Modeling

The practice of attribution modeling — examining the attributes of website visits based on channel, message and medium, and the actions taken after arrival — can be a great benefit to those focusing on acquisition and retention. By assigning value to each visitor type, we can better plan content creation and delivery, advertising and marketing campaigns for the highest possible return; whether that be the best way to acquire a customer or retain a new one.

For example, a user visiting your website via a paid search ad might be closer to making a purchase than another user visiting through an organic search result. The former user might respond best to a page offering a discount, while an organic searcher might want more information about the product. Each method will get the appropriate user closer to the end goal.

“Modeling is a way to say: What was it that caused a successful interaction?” says Andrea Fishman, VP of Global Strategy, BGT Partners. “The tough part is there are lots of different things that influence an interaction. So before even doing attribution modeling, you need to have everything else working really well. Make sure you have a good, usable site, you’re doing A/B testing and your content is in place, for example.”

Fishman also notes that as your website changes or you introduce new pages and campaigns, attribution models must change, too. She likens it to SEO, in that it’s an ongoing process.


Beyond Analytics with iPerceptions: To help with a website redesign, Alan Etkin, project and web analytics manager for British Columbia Institute of Technology chose to enlist iPerceptions and their 4Q Suite. In short, 4Q allows website owners to survey their audiences (as a whole or segmented) after a website visit, about anything – from overall satisfaction to usability and task completion. Read more... 

“The biggest advantage for a merchant is in understanding what is contributing most to the success of a campaign or the user experience. If you’re able to see that a campaign type, offer or advertising channel is driving the most success, it can really help with your investment mix.”

When it comes to retention, we can apply attribution models to better serve customers after the purchase. “If you learn that people who share a link tend to be frequent buyers, then you can start using attribution modeling to improve retention and repeat buying,” says Fishman.

Using attribution modeling, we can discover what channels or campaigns encourage the most repeat visits or purchases, then tailor content to those users — incentive to share links to product pages, for example.

There are some vendors who offer attribution modeling software, such as Coremetrics and iCrossing. However, even creating specific landing pages tied to website analytics then directing traffic from specific channels and campaigns to those pages can reveal some very actionable data.


Move Beyond the Cart

Focusing your attention on what happens within the e-commerce shopping cart is important, but equally so are the acquisition and retention strategies in place — particularly for those selling goods and services on the Web.

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