Ecommerce is nearly a $1 trillion industry, but believe it or not, there's still room for growth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 7 percent of retail sales are completed on the Internet today.
So how can your ecommerce enterprise capitalize on the opportunity provided by the undeniable shift occurring from bricks to clicks? Start hacking.... growth hacking.
By nearly every measure, the ecommerce industry is excelling. Monetate's recent Ecommerce Quarterly report reveals that there are year-over-year increases in conversion rates (11 percent), revenue per session (47 percent) and average order value (33 percent) - despite year-over-year declines in traffic (-17 percent) and page views (-23 percent). Internet retailers increasingly recognize the need to liberally (and regularly) invest in improving their digital presence, and are leveraging the latest technology, engaging in the most edgy marketing tactics and conducting incredibly detailed data analysis to raise awareness, deepen engagement and sell products. It is called growth hacking and it is changing how ecommerce enterprises operate.
There are approximately 110,000 ecommerce websites generating revenue of "meaningful scale" on the Internet today according to a recent study from RJ Metrics. The enterprises that find a way to increase and improve their retail footprint in the digital world will be those prepared for the next great evolution of ecommerce - whatever it may be. In this edition of Website Magazine, readers will discover some of the most interesting tools, technologies and techniques for hacking their way to a successful, future-proof ecommerce business.
As you may be aware, growth hacking is most often used to describe the low-cost but innovative techniques employed by "lean" startups. It has not been very well defined on the whole (meaning different things to different enterprises and 'Net professionals), but growth hackers are essentially those that take advantage of any means available in order to maximize growth. Growth hacking is not exclusive to startups - or at least it doesn't need to be - any retailer can hack their way to a more profitable retail presence on the Web. Here's how:
+ Dropbox acquired Predictive Edge, an A/B testing service for merchants to personalize ecommerce offerings.
+ Twitter acquired mobile advertising technology firm Tap Commerce, which focuses on mobile app retargeting.
+ Ibotta, a retail shopping app, received $20 million in funding to scale its mobile loyalty platform.
MAKE THE PLATFORM PRIORITY ONE
There is no shortage of platforms from which Internet retailers can select to power their ecommerce enterprises. If retailers want to grow sales, the system they use must be a near perfect fit - for both their employees and consumers.
To guide retailers' selection of this important component in a brand's retail success, Website Magazine has assembled a quick guide to selecting an ecommerce platform that is "hack-worthy" at wsm.co/qgecomm.
In the past few years, of course, no ecommerce platform has captured the attention of more Internet retailers than Magento. The primary reason for its success (Magento now powers upward of 30 percent of all ecommerce sites listed in the Alexa top 1 million) according to Ben Pressley, Magento's worldwide head of sales, is its total cost of ownership and unique flexibility. That flexibility, manifested in its Magento Connect community, is arguably the key differentiator as retailers gain access to a variety of added functionality not built into the product's core - from back and front-end features, to marketing tools for email, search and even social.
There are well over 1 billion people on Facebook and nearly 500 million tweets sent each day, so why aren't brands (merchants specifically) getting more out of their investment in social media? Perhaps it is a failure of strategy; where the focus has been more on selling and awareness than what it should be for - support.
A recent infographic (wsm.co/socialcare14) from The Website Marketing Group indicated that almost 40 percent of customers already use social for customer service. What's more, companies realize that it is important to support their customers through social channels, with 68 percent indicating it is a necessary service channel, 55 percent feeling social is a competitive differentiator and 35 percent saying the risk of negative sentiment going viral can be reduced with social. Sounds like a growth hacking opportunity if ever there was one.
Ecommerce merchants may have it the hardest when it comes to social media involvement as today's available tools don't really cater to the needs of the modern Internet retailer. Fortunately, that's changing. For example, the release of a new app from Springbot for Hootsuite users was built with Magento merchants exclusively in mind. Now available in the social media management platform's App Directory, the new Springbot application provides suggested content ideas (based on analysis of store data), multiple store/social streams in one dashboard, as well as revenue attribution by channel (in addition to scheduling and monitoring of social accounts).
"Nearly seven out of 10 customers are completing their purchases online, which means e-merchants must monitor online interactions closely to ensure rapid, efficient response," said Don Baron, director of business development, Hootsuite. "The new Springbot App for Hootsuite streamlines marketing efforts and overall management by uncovering the social data that matters most, directly from the Hootsuite dashboard."
Video commerce solution Artifi recently introduced the availability of an extension that provides a way for retailers using Magento (the Enterprise Edition) to integrate video into their users' Web shopping experience, offering one-click video publishing to product pages, custom video galleries and YouTube channels.
Social isn't just about Facebook and Twitter of course; there are other networks that some progressive merchants are using to make the most of their investment. There are several interesting solutions for Facebook-owned Instagram, including 10sec, which can turn an Instagram account into an online store in less than a minute in most cases. Just take a photo of an item with Instagram, use the hashtag "#10sec," add the price (including shipping) in the caption area and post. Customers can then purchase the item (or make an offer at a lower price) and credit card payments will be processed through the system.
10sec is clearly not the only way to process payments through Instagram; InstaOrders is another solution to facilitate ecommerce purchases through that system. While it does not manage payment transactions like 10Sec, online merchants can still collect payments through PayPal or another gateway.
To turn social followers into regular Web buyers however, merchants need to focus on removing the doubt in shoppers' minds.
Online postage provider Endicia has launched a new Pay-on-Use returns offering that lets retailers avoid paying pre-paid postage for customer return labels that aren't used. Learn more at wsm.co/payonuse.
THE ROLE OF TRUST
In many ways online shopping experienced a hit as a result of the numerous security breaches in the past few years with big-name companies - and merchants are scrambling to control a potentially disastrous situation.
A USA TODAY survey found that almost a quarter of Americans have at least temporarily stopped buying online because of security concerns - the most notable breaches recognized being those at eBay and Target. A full 24 percent of those surveyed said they stopped buying anything online (in the weeks following the Target breach) because they were concerned about the safety of information they might have to enter. What's more, 56 said they had cut back on the number of Internet sites they used in general and were only going to large, well-known companies they were confident were safe.
One of the ways that merchants have combatted the trust issue in the past is to publish badges which indicate their trustworthiness to visiting consumers. Yahoo recently announced a new Live Store badge program which aims to let merchants showcase their achievements, inspire shopper confidence and promote their most popular products with dynamic badges they can post to their websites. The program is similar to other trust-boosting services, and is meant to introduce online retailers to Yahoo's recently rebranded Live Web Insights ecommerce analytics service (a renamed and updated version of the Lexity Web Insights application that Yahoo acquired in July 2013).
There are numerous opportunities to hack the "trust" element in the pursuit of 'Net success - check out a few other methods to instill trust and boost confidence, including fostering social referrals, video reviews and more at wsm.co/6trustboosts - but none more so than delivering an experience custom to the end-user.
Trust is but one of the many factors that influence the purchase decisions of consumers. Other influential elements include pricing and shipping information that is clearly stated, a credible-appearing website, search functions, reviews and testimonials, live chat and access to social networks. If you are seeking something actionable however, personalization technologies are the virtual holy grail of available methods to hack one's way toward satisfying the expectations of the modern consumer and grow a business, as today's shopper is unique and increasingly expectant of a "personalized" service.
What personalization services provide is the ability to use information culled from the visitor experience as those users arrive and interact with a website. Predictive analytics service Reflektion for example, which just raised $8 million in Series B funding led by Intel capital and Nike, is able to take personalization a few digital steps further than many merchants ever imagined.
Google recently announced the beta launch of Enhanced Ecommerce for Google Analytics, a revamp of its system which aims to provide insights into pre-purchase shopping behavior and into product performance. With retailers reporting average on-site conversion rates of around 2.7 percent, even a small improvement can have a big impact on sales. Take a guided virtual tour through the system at wsm.co/eecommtour.
The platform detects trends and predicts in real-time (based on the evaluation of millions of attributes) what each customer is likely to buy next, enabling companies to drive significantly higher sales and customer engagement. Its cloud-based applications apply patented machine-learning algorithms and technology that reduce computational overhead, providing immediate modeling at the individual level for real-time recommendations, visual site-search, responsive messaging, dynamic discounting and mobile optimization. As such, its ecommerce customers have achieved dramatic increases in sales conversion rates and customer acquisitions, especially with non-registered guests and anonymous visitors.
Personalization, of course, is a broad term to describe the technologies and tools that can be used to deepen engagement - there are many creative technologies and deployments in the digital space today. SLI Systems, for example, recently announced its new Dynamic Product Banners feature, which automatically displays merchandising banners on ecommerce product pages with items related to visitors' current Web search phrases.
A recent SDL study reveals that millennial consumers don't care about where they are or what device they are on when interacting with a brand. Fifty-eight percent of respondents say they expect to engage with a company whenever they choose and via whichever channel they select.
Retailers' website visitors (arriving from organic search or paid ads) are shown products related to their original search intent. The product, according to SLI-Systems' Tim Callahan, reduces bounce rates and customers experiencing conversion rate increases of 9-14 percent.
"Now, more than ever, the product page is becoming the entry into our site. Given the growing popularity of Product Listing Ads, customers are landing on product pages via short-tail terms," said Glenn Edelman, vice president of marketing at Wine Enthusiast. "SLI's Dynamic Product Banners allow us to show a full catalog of products on the detail page above the fold, allowing customers to see related products they may want to purchase."
Product customization is another area of personalization of immense significance to the future of retail. Take Artifi as an example of a company poised to disrupt the Internet retail landscape. The SaaS-based customization engine (launched at IRCE in June 2014) - which works on both desktops and mobile devices - helps businesses deliver a better experience by allowing merchants to empower their customers through product customization. In doing so, merchants have a better chance at improving site engagement metrics and increasing conversion rates. Additionally, Artifi integrates with ecommerce platforms like Demandware, Magento and more.
No serious merchant today dismisses the role that mobile devices play in the success of their enterprise. Increasingly, delivering the optimal experience is falling on the virtual shoulders of hosting and infrastructure providers such as Rackspace. The company recently announced that mobile commerce platform mShopper is using its dedicated managed cloud services.
Rackspace provides mShopper with global load balancing, firewalls and security features, additional app servers and a better disaster recovery solution. Increased performance capabilities also allows mShopper to improve its industry-leading load times, one of the company's most critical key performance indicators for mobile conversions and sales. According to mShopper, since migrating to Rackspace, the mShopper load time on mobile devices has dropped more than 30 percent to 3.5 seconds or less. If you want to hack your way to ecommerce success, focus on delivering a quality mobile experience.
"When 61 percent of your prospects will leave a site if it's not optimized for mobile, having a piecemeal, poorly thought out mobile experience is no longer an option," said mShopper CEO David Gould. "Rackspace provides us with the best-fit infrastructure to optimize performance, along with Fanatical Support that allows us to focus less on managing our cloud infrastructure and more on our core business."
Marin Software, recently announced support for Google Shopping Campaigns, the new version of Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for retailers, making it the only independent digital marketing platform to offer an automated campaign creation, inventory management and feed management solution for Shopping Campaigns.
There's no shortage of opportunities for ecommerce merchants to grow their digital retail enterprises - and it often starts by looking outside of their home country.
Cloud-based multi-channel ecommerce solution GoECart recently announced a partnership with Bongo International that will enable merchants to sell both internationally and domestically. Bongo International developed a pre-built integration between Bongo's Checkout International Business Solution and GoECart which will enable merchants to implement its International Fulfillment solution and accept international transactions from more than 220 countries without having to manage the challenges so often associated with cross-border commerce. Every international order gets shipped to one of Bongo's U.S. destinations where it is processed for export abroad.
The partnership expands GoECart's cross-channel fulfillment capabilities and features, which include ship-from-warehouse, ship-from-store, in-store pickup and vendor drop-ship functionalities. The GoECart solution also supports integration with leading carriers including UPS, FedEx, Endicia (USPS) and CanadaPost for shipping rate calculation, service selection and manifest label generation.
Shipping is, of course, only one aspect of expanding internationally - handling payments is another, and some big names have the opportunity in their sights. PayPal (and parent company eBay) has rolled out a new site called PassPort which aims to provide merchants with statistics and information on selling internationally.
Payments are another challenge faced today by merchants seeking to expand their digital footprint, and online retailers are now actively seeking platforms that help them do just that. Open source ecommerce software PrestaShop, which powers nearly 200 merchants, recently expanded its partnership with payment provider Authorize.net that will allow PrestaShop merchants with an Authorize.net account to process payments in multiple currencies.
"With multiple currency payment processing, we are breaking down the barriers of internationalization. As ecommerce trends shift toward globalization, this is an important tool for taking that crucial first step," said Christopher Machin, partner manager at PrestaShop.
To hack their way to ecommerce success, merchants will need the most powerful and innovative payment services, but they'll also need a good handle on the optimal markets to enter.
In July, India proposed allowing foreign retailers, who manufacture products in the country, to sell via ecommerce platforms - a giant step toward liberalizing foreign investment in the country's $13 billion ecommerce sector. The move will likely immediately benefit retailers such as Nike and others who currently sell online in India but only through local franchises or through licensing agents. The proposal, presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as part of his federal budget for the fiscal year through March 2015, will also end the ambiguity around who can sell their products using online platforms.
Visa recently partnered with Borderfree, a provider of international, cross-border ecommerce solutions, to offer customers in the Middle East (including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and others) special promotions from retailers in the U.S.
Start Ecommerce Growth Hacking
Growth hacking is a creative way to explain the means by which Web workers can improve the online experience for their brands and their customers. There are a near endless supply of solutions and techniques to employ, but the only way to future proof your enterprise is to start. What are you waiting for? Let's get hacking!
Discover new ways to accelerate your digital success every day at wsm.co/netfeatures.