3 Strategies to Supercharge Small Business Ecommerce

View of a blonde woman sitting down as she shops online for silver high heel sandals on a black mobile tablet.

E-commerce spending is reaching new heights, and small businesses that have invested in online strategies are reaping the benefits. According to research from Adobe Analytics, for example, online shoppers on Small Business Saturday spent $3.6B, marking 18% growth over 2018 and a new sales record for the day.

Keeping the sales momentum going in 2020 will take more creative strategies than ever—especially as more and more competing small businesses enter the e-comm ring this year. Consumers’ expectations in online shopping are already high (and only getting higher as more and more digital merchants vie for their attention and engagement).

If small businesses let their e-comm strategies get outdated, they risk losing share to peers who launch better sites and more customer-driven approaches from the start.

Here are some ways companies can supercharge their e-commerce efforts for stronger performance.

Prioritize Communication

As electronic transactions become preferable to both retail customers and business shoppers, e-commerce is gaining traction in areas like high fashion goods and large furniture or equipment buys (among so many others). But the standards for online shopping are different for these items compared to more commodity purchases.

Relationship-building is key. Communication drives trust between shoppers and stores, especially when the products being sold are highly expensive or important to customers. Small businesses may be able to boost digital engagement, sales, and other performance metrics by embracing tools that facilitate transparent interactions.

Examples include chat solutions, conversational emails, and social media strategies that help shoppers communicate directly with staff, in ways that rise to their needs.

These efforts can help buyers of high-price items feel more comfortable making purchases, and keep the business accountable to customers in the event any unexpected issues arise—helping build or reinforce trust in the customer relationship.

Rent the Runway CEO and founder Jennifer Hyman, for example, used Twitter to respond directly to unhappy customers during a delivery crisis last year. She credits the transparent way her company handled their issues as having “fostered even greater loyalty in most of our customers.”

Elevate Personalization and Loyalty

Rent the Runway and other subscription services earn customers’ loyalty by getting to know them exceptionally well, through the power of data, and using that knowledge to personalize their experience. Such strategies are hard to mimic for small businesses with much smaller digital footprints, but loyalty programs offer a way to collect information that can be usefully applied in personalization efforts.

Loyalty programs are known to drive repeat purchases and help change customer behavior, and they’re proving especially important to young consumers (who are naturally the ideal demographic to "hook" now and keep around long-term).

One study found twice as many millennials than baby boomers saying they were more likely to shop from stores where they are part of the loyalty program, for example. Another found that 87% of Gen Z consumers want ‘omnichannel’ loyalty programs that reward them for both digital and in-person activities.

The most important activities are purchases, but browser clicks and email engagement can be used to gain a sense of customer preferences – helping businesses make more targeted recommendations in-store, or deliver more tailored online experiences. (One beauty brand saw a 17.6% increase in mobile menu clicks, for example, after personalizing the menu based on users' past shopping behavior.)

Explore In-Store Activations

Loyalty programs that successfully integrate both online and in-store strategies support more effective e-commerce all-around.

Declining foot traffic doesn’t mean physical stores are becoming obsolete. E-comm and physical retail are simply growing more and more intertwined; consumers today want different experiences from stores than they used to, powered by more digital influences and information.

Weaving in-person with e-comm can boost performance on both sides. Small business can borrow some ideas on this front from startups and direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies, which often use creative in-store experiences to merchandise and market goods they primarily sell online. (Nowadays, even large, well-known brands are mimicking the "showroomy," tech-influenced in-store strategies of their digital-first competitors.)

Other retailers that bridge both physical and e-commerce are placing tight limits on customers’ ability to make online returns via mail. Their aim, in part, is to compel shoppers into stores for exchanges and additional purchases—helping lessen the back-end challenges of refunding digital purchases and restocking e-comm inventory. While risky, such efforts pay off when customers enjoy their experience in-store, which grows their relationship and connection to your business.

Ultimately, efforts that support communication, loyalty, and creative in-store strategies all serve to do the same thing: create stronger relationships between your company and your customers.

Those one-to-one relationships with customers as individuals can act as a foundation for a larger sense of community, too. The more actively you invest in using your e-commerce presence to drive engagement and connection, the greater advantage you gain over competing small businesses who have yet to launch integrated online-offline strategies.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, National Association, Member FDIC.