We gathered a panel of experts - 25 of the world's brightest ecommerce minds - and asked them this question: "What growth strategy would you recommend for 2016 that you've never shared with anyone?"
Be Seen Where It Matters Most
The perception is changing in the retail industry today. Retailers used to see Amazon as the big bad wolf. But with Amazon earning 41% of all online search traffic, the industry is now moving to an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude. Retailers looking to grow in 2016 must adapt to this new perception – because it’s true. You need to have your products, or some of your products, on Amazon. You need them to be discoverable in that marketplace – or else you are losing out on a massive amount of sales potential. The same is true for other marketplaces like eBay and Rakuten. We are moving away from silo-ed commerce in which you either sold online, in marketplaces or via brick-and-mortar. Today, the most successful retailers are selling in all channels – and are early adopters of emerging channels like social commerce and Jet.com. Anyone looking for massive growth this year needs to reconsider their current channel strategy and figure out how to begin implementing more holistic discoverability potential for consumers with their products. The place that starts is on Amazon.
Empower Your Evangelists
Put together a street team or make it really easy for evangelists of your brand to promote your product. When customers buy your product or leave positive feedback, offer them the opportunity to make a commission for every customer they bring in. It's really easy to offer a customer a discount or gift card for referring a friend, but it's much more effective to pay people who bring you customers. Provide your evangelists the tools and resources to make promoting your brand easier: give away T-shirts with your logo and URL, create easy to share Tweetable links, and provide them with marketing materials such as banners. Give your most loyal customers your newest products for free for them to try and share with their friends and community.
Get Back to the Basics
As we enter 2016, we see a continued trend for rapidly growing multi-channel merchants to “get back to the basics”. More sizeable merchants are realizing that selling online is a volume game, and due to the competitive landscape, they need to gain their edge through aggressive pricing combined with more efficient operations than their competitors.
Focusing on a solid systems foundation upon which they can scale, and minimizing wasted time from a lack of system integrations, becomes critically important. More integrated systems on a scalable platform equals the ability to grow without needing as many people, which adds up to better bottom-line margins.
Let Your Competitors Do the Work for You
The one growth strategy I've been keeping to myself which I'll be utilizing much more in 2016 is using tools like SEMrush to uncover my competitors top performing content and products. With that knowledge, you can add same/similar products to your product mix and create better content that you know is already ranking and performing well for your competitors. Let you're competitors do all the hard work for you in 2016.
Create Question Answering Content
Whether you're selling spare car parts or matcha tea, potential buyers in your niche are asking search engines and forums lots and lots of questions. An often overlooked strategy is to create blog posts that teach your audience things they want to learn about your industry.
Open New Channels of Demand
If sales through your current channels like Amazon and eBay plateau or begin to drop off, a great way to jump start your business is to open up new channels like Sears and Rakuten. And using tools like AutoMCF that create automatic fulfillment orders from your Amazon FBA inventory will eliminate the need for individual product shipping. This way you can grow your business without having to hire additional employees or pay for extra storage.
Rethink Your Email Marketing Strategy
Many ecommerce entrepreneurs are making a big mistake by ignoring the power of email marketing. They think email is "dead." It's not. When it comes to customer acquisition, email is 40X more effective than Facebook and Twitter... COMBINED!
Even if you barely know what you’re doing, you can see a 40:1 ROI with email. If you aren't using email to automate the process of "winning over" your prospects and earning their lifetime trust and loyalty then you are missing out on what I call "the greatest mass communication business tool invented by man."
Your most powerful business asset is a large list of people who can't wait to hear from you. You want them eager to see what you are up to next and ready to "jump" at the same time! Email makes that possible more than any other platform. Bottom line: if you follow business experts who say "email is irrelevant," you're following the wrong experts!
Get Approved for Merchant-Fulfilled Prime
For sellers that get approved for Amazon's Merchant-Fulfilled Prime program, there will likely be several positive ramifications to growth over the next two years. These include easier ability to expand into multi-channels (due to not having to separate FBA inventory into Amazon fulfillment centers), and most likely being able to get items readied for same-day delivery or even Amazon Prime Now, when those programs most likely are soon made available to third-party sellers. Multi-channel sales expansion offers more sales stability through long-term growth, while Amazon Prime Now and same-day delivery offer step-wise short-term growth opportunities for an Amazon seller based in a large urban location.
Identify and Profile Your Best Customers
Most business owners don't realize that only a small number of their customers drive their business. It's the 80/20 rule for customers - 20% drive 80% of the revenue. So if you want to leverage your time and marketing dollars, you should identify and profile these 20%. What makes them similar? What products do they buy? What marketing channels create them? Then build your business around them. It's called Customer Value Optimization and it works.
Use the Most Influential of Your Highest Value Customers to Acquire New Ones
Identify your highest value customers in a bid to encouraging them to becoming advocates for additional acquisition of new customers through word of mouth or referral marketing. Using an RFM analysis will help you identify your highest value customers i.e. ‘Recency' - most recent purchases, ‘Frequency' - number of repeat purchases and 'Monetary analysis' - average order value analysis and total spend analysis over the specific period of time.
Within this group of high value customers, there will be a sub-set of social media influencers as demonstrated by their Klout scores and social following. Get in touch with this group of influencers in a bid to work on special promotional campaigns that drive in additional customers from their audience and followers. Use the most influential of your highest value customers to build your brand and acquire new customers in 2016.
Follow Your Metrics
Start being data driven! Most small businesses work by hunch, never measuring key metrics like traffic and conversion rates.
Treat your marketplace listings as a process rather a one time creation. Continually measure your conversion rates and optimize your listings. For example, you can get a lot of valuable information by just listening to your customers’ messages. If a customer asks a question it means the info is not clearly conveyed on the listing. Revise it and watch your conversion rates improve!
Analyze SKUs for Maximum Profit
Retail margins are slim, so it’s imperative for online merchants to ensure they know which items should be sold where, and the exact profit margin they’re making at the SKU (individual item) level. For instance, depending on volume and profitability, certain SKUs should only be sold on your website. Sellers should routinely do a cost analysis of each of their individual SKUs to be sure they’re not selling products they are actually losing money on!
Grow From the Inside Out
A common strategy for growing a multichannel ecommerce business is to add more products and sales channels. That can work, but do you really need more complexity and admin in your business? Instead, look within to find growth. Are there product lines you can drop to free up warehouse space? Can you work harder to increase volumes for your best lines, then use that to push for higher discounts from your suppliers? Sometimes growth comes from optimizing what you have rather than reaching further out.
Have One-On-One Conversations
Emerging AI (Artificial Intelligence) software will help position some ecommerce stores above the competition. Internet retailers who can inexpensively engage in a one-on-one dialogue with each one of their potential customers simultaneously (giving them the impression they're chatting with a real person live) will dramatically improve their cart metrics.
Create a Memorable Brand Experience
2016 will become the pinnacle of private label selling on Amazon. It's no longer a new concept and the waves of sellers have filled-in most of the low hanging fruit. To remain competitive as a seller on Amazon with a private label strategy, sellers will need to dial-up their marketing skills by offering more value than the competition through creative bundling, value-added packaging and a focus on the entire "Brand Experience" from start to finish. Time to get your marketing hats on and turn up the volume!
Run Facebook Lead Ads
Facebook advertising will be a game changer in online marketing, but not just any old Facebook ads. Facebook lead ads is one of the secrets to success in 2016. No more sending users to a landing page and hope they give you their email. Facebook lead ads users can give you their email (usually in exchange for a freebie or discount code) right from Facebook with the click of a button. This allows internet marketers to build an email list for a tenth of what it used to cost.
Build Lasting Relationships With Customers
Don't just get personal with customers, let them get personal with YOU! Sharing relatable interests can go a long way in building a real relationship. That means getting involved in online groups and communities on a personal level. Post as yourself, and avoid hyping your business other than in signatures for online forums, or when asked for detailed information or legitimate examples. Be sure your online profiles include your title, company name and link to the appropriate website. People who like what you have to say may review your profile or contact you privately and, in turn, learn about your store. Make sure you understand each group's policies - you don't want to be blocked for "selling" in your posts. The ultimate goal is to be a respected participant or authority on specific topics.
Make Room for Dinner
The trend I see emerging and that excites me the most is the growth of the grocery and gourmet food categories. If these products are not something you have explored in the past, I would strongly recommend you see how this product category might fit into your current business model.
Profit From Second-Party Data
Second party data partnerships are going to be huge! "Second party data" is essentially someone's else first-party data - their customer or subscriber list, for example. When trusted partners allow access to each other's data, it is high-quality, exclusive info that can help them get in front of a larger audience. It also becomes an additional revenue stream for data providers.
Deliver Valuable Info to Prospects
Create a landing page that asks visitors to subscribe in exchange for an incentive. The incentive should be really good - probably a combination of a discount code and a free resource like an ebook or email course related to your product. Once the visitor has signed up, send them a series of emails that provides tons of useful, free information about a hobby or activity related to your product.
Don't try to sell your product until you've established yourself as a quality source of info and your readers are in the habit of reading your emails. Then start mentioning your products when they're relevant to what you're talking about. You can also include special offers like sales and other promotions.
The key is to give visitors a good reason to join your list, and then build a relationship with them over time.
Optimize for Conversions
My focus for 2016 is improving conversions. This is an often overlooked strategy, as we tend to focus on things like creating content, driving traffic and paid campaigns. But without spending any more money on traffic, or devoting any more time creating content, we can get big gains in sales by focusing on optimizing conversions.
Most ecommerce websites have tons of low hanging fruit when it comes to conversions. Focus on making small, incremental changes that optimize the user experience, and watch your sales climb!
Don't Overlook the Obvious
People are always looking for the hottest-selling items on eBay. If that’s what you’re after, there are online tools to help you find that information. However, great opportunities exist for selling items you're passionate about… like from your hobbies and interests. These may not be the hottest items, but they can often still be very profitable.
Always be writing down products which come to mind and then research them to see how many times they sell per month, how much they sell for on average, and how much you can buy them for in China. Stay alert and do your research and you’ll always have something profitable to sell.
I would strongly suggest looking at Snapchat. Definitely not for all brands… but if you're selling to younger millennials, Snapchat as a channel for growth is an absolutely huge opportunity!
Leverage Amazon's Advantage
Get your products on Amazon FBA. The marketplace is huge and Amazon's customers are just waiting to buy things. Ride the coattails of Amazon's trust, traffic, and fulfillment. The only catch? You'll need to develop some awesome products of your own because wholesaling or dropshipping won't work as well.
Ask for Feedback
Master the art of asking for feedback. Subtlety, clever wordsmithing, and timing can have a big impact on review results and overall customer retention.