The hardest part about launching an ecommerce business is … what? Developing your products? Building your website? Inventory management? Order fulfillment? Everybody loves your products, so getting customers to buy them is the easy part, right?
While it might be true that your products are irresistible, customer acquisition isn’t as easy as it looks. Before they can buy your product, potential customers need to hear about it — and often! They need to be able to find it when they’re doing research or actually thinking about buying it, and they need to be convinced that it’s worth the money (including the shipping costs, tax, import duties, etc.).
Finally, you may make the sale, but to seal the deal and retain the customer you also need to deliver on their expectations. What expectations, you ask? Well, maybe it’s nothing more than getting your great product at a low price. Conversely, maybe they’re hoping for a luxurious unboxing experience that reflects your brand (and the amount they spent for it). It goes without saying (or does it?) that the correct product needs to be in the box, it needs to be delivered on time, they need to like it, and (if it’s apparel) it needs to fit! Btw, did you get them to sign up for emails or texts?
Yes, customer acquisition is tough, but without it your business is doomed. So, today we’re going to give you some helpful tips on how to acquire new customers, build a loyal customer base, and keep your customers coming back. Let’s get started!
Three Steps to Customer Acquisition
Much attention is given to the ubiquitous customer sales funnel. You know the one. It looks like a funnel, starts at the top with awareness of your brand, moves to consideration as the customer narrows down their options, and ends with the decision to buy.
As an ecommerce business, (or any kind of business really) your task is to shepherd potential customers from step to step on this journey. There are a myriad of strategies and tactics to take at each step, but if you look at it from the ecommerce merchant’s POV, there are three basic steps to customer acquisition.
1. Traffic: attracting visitors to your website or shopping platform(s).
2. Conversion: turning browsers into buyers.
3. Retention: driving repeat purchases.
(Okay, technically customer retention is a whole different animal from customer acquisition, but, if it’s done right, it can snowball into its own customer acquisition strategy. More on that later.) Let’s look closer at each of these steps and what you can do to turn browsers into repeat purchasers.
1. Building Traffic
To bring traffic to your website or shopping platform, you first have to build awareness. To build awareness, you have to execute a marketing plan. To build a solid marketing plan, you need to understand your target customers and where to reach them. It all starts with understanding your customers.
- Define your customers. Create target personas, identified by common characteristics that will allow you to segment them into groups that you can more easily reach. These characteristics might include simple demographic information, such as age, gender, and income range. They might also include psychographic information, such as whether they’re early adaptors or followers, their values, lifestyle, motivations, opinions, habits or activities that align with your brand.
- Identify the marketing channels that will help you reach the customer segments you’re targeting. These might include social media channels, email lists, digital display ads and pay-per-click ads, influencers and affiliate marketers, podcasts, YouTube videos, local events, and traditional media such as television and streaming services, radio, print and outdoor. Start by researching the places where your competitors are advertising. Prioritize channels that attract quality (the right kinds of visitors) over quantity (huge numbers of uninterested visitors).
- Embrace a multichannel sales strategy. In other words, enable your customers to purchase your products (not just see them) in the places they’re already hanging out, such as TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook.
- Write a marketing plan and budget that allows you to create an impact in each marketing channel you decide to use. Make sure that everything a potential customer might see communicates your value proposition, that is, the unique value you bring to your ecommerce niche.
- Establish benchmarks for current performance and goals, and set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will help you track results. Make sure you’re tracking the sources of traffic to your website, or consider rolling out your plan in segments, so you can tell which channels perform best. Keep in mind that performance may vary based on promotion or time of year, so use the same promotion across all channels, and compare numbers to the previous year’s performance whenever possible.
- Increase organic (free) traffic with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your product descriptions and general website content, paying close attention to keywords that potential customers are likely to use when searching for your products. This helps your products rank higher on search engine results pages.
- Create interesting, helpful web content that draws potential customers in. Content might be anything from a blog (like this one), to a compelling video that features your product in action. It might be an enticing promotion, a podcast, case study or infographic. Well-written and thoughtful content should attract more engaged consumers, as well as help you rank higher for your targeted SEO keywords.
Now that you’ve got people coming to your website or shopping platform, how do you increase the odds that they’re going to buy something? Here are a few best practices to follow to increase your conversion rate.
- Optimize your shopping platform and mobile app so they’re easy to read and navigate no matter what device a shopper is using. The good news is that today’s pre-built shopping platforms provide templates that are already optimized for user experience.
- Match landing-page content to advertising content. When a consumer clicks on a link or digital ad on Facebook, do they see what the ad promised? If your ad shows a beautiful sweater or promotes a big sale but the landing page doesn’t, they may not dig further. A high bounce rate usually indicates a mismatch between what they expected and what they got, or that your marketing plan is attracting the wrong type of shopper.
- Optimize page load times, particularly on mobile, and particularly on your home page, login page, checkout page, and product listing pages where multiple photos are loading at the same time. A 2022 Portent study shows that the first 5 seconds of load time have the greatest impact on ecommerce conversion rates. The highest average ecommerce conversion rates occur when load time is less than 2 seconds, and drop off dramatically with each additional second. To make matters worse, load times for mobile web pages are much slower than for desktops. In 2023, the average page load time on a desktop is 2.5 seconds, but 8.6 seconds on mobile. Google Consumer Insights found that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load. 64% of all online retail traffic comes from mobile, yet conversion rates on mobile are only half that of desktop.
- Optimize product photography. It should be well-lit, show the product from all sides, show true colors, include a close-up when fabric or texture is important, and show the product in an environment that reveals its scale.
- Write thorough product descriptions that include every itsy bit of information a potential customer might want to know about your product. Follow that with the same information in bullet form, for those in a hurry. Include SEO keywords in both, as well as in the product name/title. Note that we said “thorough” descriptions not “fictitious” descriptions. The number one reason for customer churn is lying about a product’s performance.
- Don’t complicate your website navigation with unnecessary or confusing product segmentation. Keep main navigation choices simple, particularly on mobile. Tops. Bottoms. Men’s. Women’s. You get the idea.
- Optimize your search function, so people don’t need to know the style or product number to find the product. Thorough product descriptions will help, because a good search function will globally scan text on your site. If someone is searching for the red sweater they saw in your ad, they should be able to search for “red sweater” and find the product.
- Close the sale with social proof. Social proof is “evidence” that a product works or is worthy of a purchase because lots of other people say it is. Social proof might come in the form of reviews, product ratings, case studies, celebrity endorsements, or likes/followers and user-generated content on social media. 91% of shoppers read at least one review before making a purchase. If you’re resistant to putting reviews or ratings on your products because you’re worried about exposing your business to negative reviews, then you’ve got a bigger problem.
If you think all of that customer acquisition stuff sounds expensive, you’re right, it is. That’s why customer retention is equally important. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to foster an existing customer than to find a new one. Here are some fun facts for you:
- Selling to a preexisting customer has a success rate of 60 to 70%, as opposed to a rate of 5 to 20% for a new customer.
- Customer retention grows lifetime value (LTV). Repeat customers will make repeat purchases and have a tendency to spend more per order. A Bain & Company study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that repeat customers spend more than twice as much in months 24-36 of their relationship than they do in the first 6 months.
- Customer retention yields a higher return on investment (ROI). That same study showed that increasing customer retention rates by 5% has the ability to increase profits by 25 to 95%.
- Customer retention is a reliable way to measure your company’s mission. Trust isn’t built overnight. If a customer is loyal, it means they have found a quality brand that provides tangible value to others. The instant gratification of getting a new customer is like eating a sugar-coated donut, while gaining a repeat customer is like going on a high-protein diet.
- Customer retention can lead to customer acquisition. Word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing strategies out there, and happy customers are highly likely to spread the gospel. The Bain & Company study showed that more than half of eBay’s customers are referrals.
Once you get these customers, how do you retain them? Here are some of the best practices for customer retention.
- Track customer retention with the same fervor that you track customer acquisition. A shocking 44% of businesses fail to track customer retention at all. When you see how much of your business comes from repeat customers, you’ll understand why it’s important to identify those customers and treat them like the rock stars they are.
- Don’t bungle the fulfillment piece. You’ve worked so hard to acquire this customer, but a late, incorrect or damaged delivery can lose them forever. Make sure your fulfillment company is up to the task. A modernized third-party logistics and fulfillment partner is every bit as dedicated to customer retention as you are. Their business depends on making yours look good! And they have the technology and automation to help your business scale.
- Improve customer service. 96% of buyers mention customer service as the primary reason for their loyalty.
- Develop a mobile app. According to a Synchrony Digital Study, 63% of the U.S. population (and 81% of millennials) have downloaded a retailer app. While most did so in order to get a coupon or discount, 50% also made one or more purchases in the app.
- Engage with customers. Let them know you value their opinions and use their feedback to improve your products, webstore, and service. If they’re unsubscribing or haven’t purchased in a while, ask them why before they go using an exit intent popup.
- Use transactional post-purchase emails to encourage email signups for tracking purposes, and to talk about the benefits of being a customer, such as fabulous customer service, warranty programs or loyalty programs.
- Implement a loyalty program. 64% of loyalty program participants shop more frequently and spend more to boost their loyalty points.
- Utilize web retargeting ads for customer retention instead of the same general awareness advertising that you use for customer acquisition.
- Take advantage of the communication methods your customers have agreed to share with you. Those who have signed up for emails and texts or downloaded your mobile app should be treated to exclusive offers and content.
- Keep your eye on the ball. Just because you have a lot of customers doesn’t mean you won’t lose them to a lower-priced competitor or an easier-to-use website.
You Can Do This!
We don’t have to tell you that a strong customer acquisition strategy is essential to a growing ecommerce business. Nor can we tell you the perfect strategies and tactics for your unique business. But we hope we’ve given you a place to start, and few ideas to mull over.
The good news is that you don’t have to accomplish all of this at once. Focus on one or two marketing channels at a time. Remember to track those KPIs, give it time, and switch things up if you’re not getting the results you need. To increase conversion, do your homework to figure out where the pain points are, and start with the tactics that will generate the biggest returns. Lastly, don’t ignore customer retention! It deserves its own strategy and its own marketing plan.
Need any help with fulfilling all those orders? Contact us! We’re here to help your ecommerce business grow.