What SMBs need to do next about e-commerce

Direct-to-consumer sales have taken off for many businesses. If you’re a small or medium-sized business, though, your next e-commerce moves may make the difference between being a continued success or the next Sears, says Mike Stefaniak, partner at Hanson Dodge.

People are buying online — a lot. That’s no revelation. Businesses that ratcheted up their e-commerce investments during the pandemic, or simply fortified their e-commerce capabilities, have increased online sales, gained new customers and learned valuable lessons along the way.

If you’re a small or medium-sized business looking to improve e-commerce performance, consider these do’s and don’ts as you plot your next moves:

Don’t try to discount your way forward

Discounts are the catnip of e-commerce. They deliver short-term euphoria via revenue and net new customers. They can also be addictive for brands and consumers alike. Over time, online discounts devalue brands by training consumers — including brand loyalists — to wait for the next sale before purchasing. The net? Use discounts sparingly and strategically.

Don’t ignore the early stages of the customer journey

Marketers are under immense pressure to drive online sales. But focusing budgets exclusively on conversions is rarely a sustainable strategy. Winning e-commerce brands invest throughout the customer’s entire journey. That includes awareness-oriented campaigns that introduce the brand to new prospects in a way that builds credibility and intent — and ensures new consumers are continually added to the remarketing pool. Think Away luggage or Harry’s line of grooming products. Both invest significantly in brand-building—including storytelling content aimed at connecting with consumers, rather than just selling to them.

Don’t let the market control your pricing

Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) is a must—particularly if your products are also available via third parties like Amazon. Absent MAP, it’s easy for authorized and unauthorized resellers alike to use low pricing to capture your traffic and revenue opportunities. In the end, you may still move product. But, you forego the extra margin you’d enjoy by selling direct, as well as ownership of valuable end customer data.

Do leverage a full set of levers

More levers to pull means more leverage to drive results. Effective e-commerce programs blend email, paid and organic search, paid social, PLAs, programmatic, affiliate, remarketing and more. That gives you the flexibility to shift budgets to those tactics that are driving quality traffic and conversions. Case in point? Paid social. In spite of major brands boycotting social media advertising, Facebook’s ad revenue actually increased 10% in the first three weeks of July over the same period last year. Clearly, social media advertising is working for many brands.

Do look at KPIs beyond revenue

Sure, sales are the ultimate measure of e-commerce performance. But a hyper-focus on revenue can lead you to mistakenly conclude that your awareness-building advertising isn’t doing its job. Try comparing ad impressions to branded organic search impressions — and/or to Google Trends data for your three highest performing brand terms. As impressions increase, do you see a lift in those other metrics? If so, that correlation may indicate your awareness campaigns are succeeding despite what your daily revenue numbers tell you.

Do test new bells and whistles

Now is the time to broaden your e-commerce capabilities. Doing so can unlock new gains and improve your competitive posture. To wit: check out Instagram’s new ‘Shop‘ tab. Content is curated based on users’ behavior. Seamless integration with PayPal makes for a fast and easy buying experience. Well worth a look.

While e-commerce business is booming today, SMBs selling direct to consumers can’t be complacent. The competition for online revenue is fiercer than ever. And depending on how the pandemic plays out, consumer spending power could change dramatically in either direction.

Making the right moves today—including planning for what’s ahead—can mean the difference between being a success or being the next Sears.

Mike Stefaniak is chief strategy officer and partner at Hanson Dodge, an award-winning, fully integrated, digital advertising agency.

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