Two women in a retail store

eCommerce Marketing 101

Monday, March 14, 2022

If you’ve started – or even just considered starting – an ecommerce business in the last five or so years, you may have run into a cynic or two who’ve told you you’re playing a losing game. How could you possibly compete with Amazon and the other big box stores of the world? Those household-name players that offer free two-day shipping, free returns and a lightning-fast checkout experience?

We know how: Through a stellar ecommerce marketing plan. With that, plus marketing automation tools and a clean, organized, fast-loading website, you’ll be on your way to acquiring, upselling and retaining new customers in less time than it takes the naysayers’ Prime packages to arrive.

We’re going to break down just what goes into a fantastic ecommerce marketing strategy by answering these FAQs.

  1. What is ecommerce marketing?
  2. How is ecommerce marketing different from traditional marketing?
  3. What does ecommerce marketing do?
  4. What are the most effective methods of ecommerce marketing?

What is ecommerce marketing?

eCommerce marketing is any digital marketing that drives traffic and sales to an online commerce business. It may promote a specific product, category or collection, or its goal may be general brand awareness.

Shopping an ecommerce store

How is ecommerce marketing different from traditional marketing?

Social media and other ecommerce marketing channels let us target very specific audiences and create highly personalized messaging. These marketing technology advancements also now encourage one-to-one online interactions between business and consumer.

Social media and other ecommerce marketing channels let us target very specific audiences and create highly personalized messaging.

How many times have you browsed in a physical store only to go on Instagram and spot an ad for the very item you were just looking at? You can thank targeted social media marketing for that. And if you have questions, it doesn’t matter that you’ve already left the store: You can reach the brand directly through a quick comment or direct message.

Before you know it, you’re adding the item to your cart and checking out within a matter of seconds. On paper, it’s not very different from the experience you would have had in the brick and mortar.

Traditional marketing, on the other hand, is a one-way conversation in most cases. You may receive a retailer’s catalog, watch their TV commercial or listen to a podcast interview with a designer. These are forms of traditional marketing.

But don’t automatically assume that they’re ineffective — just different in that they don’t come from a digital channel that would allow you to click through and immediately purchase the exact item you were just shown or heard about. This difference, however, means that traditional marketing lends itself to a longer sales cycle. And because it requires the extra effort of going online and searching for the item, shoppers may not have the motivation to do so until they’ve seen the same brand advertisement a few different times.

What does ecommerce marketing do?

Drives website traffic

The main goal of ecommerce marketing efforts is to drive traffic to the retailer’s website. The best ecommerce marketing makes it extremely easy for consumers to find their way there. You should include clickable links in your copy as much as possible, but if that’s not an option – in the case of Instagram, for example – highlight the URL prominently in your bio. More on this later.

Drives online sales, orders, and leads

Website traffic isn’t worth much if it doesn’t turn into revenue. Sometimes, one visit alone is enough to capture a shopper’s lasting attention and turn them into a customer (especially if you have an attractive, optimized and organized website). Others may need an extra push. We’ll chat about how things like retargeting ads and reengagement emails can turn browsers into buyers.

Introduces small businesses to new audiences

They don’t call it the World Wide Web for nothing — the internet is a tangled web of people who are constantly telling others what they’re eating, who they’re listening to and where they’re shopping. Sometimes, the business itself doesn’t have to lift a finger beyond what they’re already posting. Think about it: Your existing customers (or followers or subscribers) can tweet, tag friends in comments, share posts in direct messages and forward emails — all of which gets your content in front of new people who might have never seen your magazine or television ad.

On top of that, successful ecommerce marketing helps retailers reach new audiences through targeted digital advertising.

You can create “lookalike audiences” on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and use them to target potential customers whose demographics and interests match your existing customers. Spooky? A little, but very effective.

Reengages previous customers and boosts customer loyalty

If you have a physical storefront, especially in a high-traffic area shoppers frequent for other errands, you likely capture repeat traffic all the time (if that’s not happening, let’s talk about how to increase customer loyalty to drive in-store business).

But unless a customer is looking for something specific and knows to come directly to your website, they need another prompt. That’s where digital marketing tactics like email marketing, social media and other ecommerce marketing channels come in.

Helps you engage with potential and already-loyal customers

Remember what we said about one-to-one conversations? Driving engagement with existing and potential customers is much harder when you’re relying on traditional forms of marketing. Online, you can invite them to enter giveaways, participate in polls and even chat with them directly. And in the case of social media, the more engagement your posts get, the more likely the social networks are to show them to users who don’t even follow you (yet).

Shopping qn ecommerce store

What are the most effective aspects of an ecommerce marketing strategy and what marketing tools should I invest in?

Email marketing

eCommerce email marketing’s average ROI is 45:1. That means for every $1 you put into email marketing, you make $45. Not a bad deal, huh? Here are a few of our favorite ecommerce email campaigns and how they help drive revenue:

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Abandoned cart emails
Most ecommerce platforms – including Shopify, BigCommerce and WooCommerce – let you set up automated abandoned cart emails. These are notifications emailed to shoppers who add something to their cart but don’t complete the purchase.

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Sale emails
Sure, you can send mass email campaigns advertising that you’re having a sale. That might drive a few clicks. But lately it feels like retailers have sales more often than they don’t. An exaggeration, sure, but the point is inboxes are crowded, and you need to find ways to stand out if you want to see clicks that drive sales. Think about putting together content like, “top 10 toys from our sale,” “these best-sellers are marked down today only” or countdowns as the end of the sale approaches.

Read more: Best practices for retail markdowns and sales

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Special offers
And who doesn’t love a surprise special offer in their inbox? You don’t want to be throwing out discount codes left and right (that will train your customers to never shop full-price), but you can surprise and delight email subscribers with discounts, free shipping, free gifts with purchase or other promotions sporadically. Consider setting up automated welcome, birthday and even occasional “thanks for your business” offer emails.

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Reengagement
Personalization is key to reengagement emails. If a customer is getting all of your other email newsletters and still not returning to your site, it’s time to take another approach. You could send a special offer email, like the above, but use reengagement messaging — something like,

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This is where integrating your ecommerce platform with a reporting-heavy point of sale comes in handy. Not only can you run reports that will help you identify who hasn’t made a repeat purchase in a certain amount of time; you can also pinpoint data like a customer’s most shopped items, brands or categories. Weave that insight into your email content.

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Post-purchase emails
Automated post-purchase emails are another great reengagement tool. Here are a few you can set up to send at different intervals after a customer’s purchase:

  1. Welcome email after their first purchase with links to social media handles
  2. Package delivery confirmation
  3. Request for product review
  4. Loyalty program invitation
  5. Referral promotion (“give your friends 20% off their first purchase, and take 20% off your next purchase when they do.”)
  6. Cross-sell (“because you purchased <item>, you may also like <items>”)

Now, this is all fine and good, but why don’t we back up and share a few ways to grow your email subscriber list?

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During transactions
It’s not a bad idea to offer a guest checkout option, or allow the customer to checkout without providing a lot of their information. But you MUST always collect a new customer’s email when they check out. You need it for order confirmation and shipping emails, as well as to get in touch with them should their payment fail. Right below the email field on the checkout page, include a line about opting into marketing communications. Make sure the checkbox is checked by default; that way, they will have to uncheck it if they don’t want to receive emails from you.

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Website popups
These help collect shoppers’ contact information before/even if they don’t make a purchase right away. Set up exit-intent popups that offer free shipping, or another offer, to browsers who provide their email address.

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Social media
Include an email list sign-up link in your social media profile bios. Direct followers there through your posts, and give them a gripping reason to sign up. Everyone says something along the lines of “stay up to date with product and sale announcements!” but you can do better than that. Use language like, “Be the FIRST to know the date of our sample sale” and “Shop the new collection two days before it drops.” And follow through! Give email subscribers early access to promotions and new arrivals.

Do not be tempted to purchase email lists. First of all, the chances of you getting a quality list are slim. You’ll likely receive a lot of outdated or incorrect emails, resulting in tons of bounces. And that’s assuming the recipients are even the kinds of customers you’re trying to target.

Secondly, when you send unsolicited communications, you’ll find a lot of recipients flagging you as spam. That trains email providers to start filtering your messages to the spam folders even of subscribers who did opt-in. Worst of all, you could be hit with penalty fines, especially if the company you purchased the list from acquired the emails illegally.

Taking a photo on the phone

Content marketing campaigns and strong search engine optimization (SEO)

Content marketing helps retailers attract and engage with their audience by providing relevant, valuable content, as opposed to overly “sales-y” product pitches. When done well, it humanizes your brand, positions you as a thought-leader or influencer in your industry and, of course, drives sales. eCommerce marketers should think about how they can gracefully weave their product and brand into tips and tricks, roundups, recipes, free tools, how to’s, videos, gift guides and other creative content.

Customers will reward you with their business when you can show them how and why what you sell adds value to their lives. Share this kind of content on:
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A company blog
Email newsletter
Email newsletters
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Social media platforms
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YouTube, TikTok or another video sharing platform

Content marketing is also excellent for boosting SEO. Your website may be full of copy thanks to the thoughtful descriptions on your product pages, but unless your merchandise is extremely unique, it’s going to be hard to rank against competitors. You may be selling the most pet-friendly rugs in the world, but you aren’t the only one selling pet-friendly rugs, so you need to fluff your website with valuable content that you’ll have an easier time ranking for, instead of relying only on product descriptions. In this example, the retailer may choose to set up a blog section of their website and write a post like “how to get dog hair out of my rug.”

No one typing this question into Google may have thought they were in the market for a new rug, but you’ve gotten their attention. Now it’s the content’s turn to convert them.

On the computer

Pay-per-click (PPC)

The world of PPC is vast, so let’s start with the basics.

Pay-per-click advertising is pretty much what it sounds like: An ecommerce marketing strategy in which the retailer pays a publisher for every click their ad on the publisher’s site receives. That “publisher” may be Google, Facebook, Instagram or really any media site, from Vogue.com to an independent designer’s fashion blog. This is one of the best digital advertising strategies to reach a wide audience and drive direct website visitors to your ecommerce store.

Due to its popularity, and as to not totally overwhelm you, we’re going to focus on Google PPC advertising in this post — specifically Search Ads and Google Shopping.

Google Ads Search Ads

When someone searches for a term relevant to your business – let’s say, in the case of the above example, “machine washable area rugs” – your goal is to rank high on the search engine results page (SERP). But, as mentioned, the more competition in your industry, the more competition on Google. If you don’t (yet) have superior SEO that would score you a first-page placement organically, you can invest in Google’s Search Ads. You select a handful of relevant keywords and phrases, plus your budget, and watch traffic start to hike.

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Note: “Organic” refers to search results that are not paid advertisements. Similarly, “organic traffic” is website visitors who landed on your ecommerce store without clicking through a paid ad.

Google recommends a budget based on businesses that are similar to yours, but you ultimately decide how much you want to spend by setting a monthly cap. Once you reach that cap, your ad will no longer be shown for the remainder of the month (unless you increase your budget).

Click here to play around with Google Search Ads and get an idea of what businesses similar to yours might be paying to rank.

Google Shopping

eCommerce advertisers have an advantage over brick-and-mortar-only retailers, because they can advertise through Google Shopping. Google Shopping results appear even above Google Search ads:

Image of Google shopping

Like Search Ads, you only pay when someone clicks. Unlike Search Ads, you’re serving searchers a visual instead of just a text link. You’re also sending shoppers directly to the product they’re [hopefully] on the hunt for, as opposed to leading them to your homepage or a category page, as you probably would with a text link.

Google Shopping Ads generate, on average, up to 12% more revenue over text ads. Sounds like they’re worth a try, don’t you think?

Image of Google shopping ads near me

Bonus: If you do also have a brick-and-mortar store, add its location(s) to your website tags. That way, you have a higher chance of showing up when shoppers use location-specific long-tail keywords, like “machine washable rugs near me” or “machine washable rugs available in Boston.”

Image of Google shopping ads near me

Social media marketing and selling

If your business has a Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter handle or any other similar channel, you’re already engaging in social media marketing. It’s free to publish on all of these social platforms, and if you make your account public, there are a few ways to get your content in front of people who don’t already follow you. Those include using hashtags and praying to the Instagram gods that you show up on its “Explore” tab.

But, Instagram – and most social outlets, for that matter – are crowded, so it’s tough to gain new followers or even engagement from current ones if you’re only posting organically.

Reminder: posting content and growing your following organically refers to doing so without the assistance of paid ads.

Fortunately, these platforms offer affordable ways to boost your content. Facebook and Instagram advertising can be as easy as clicking “Promote” on a post you’ve already shared, putting 20 bucks behind it and watching it reach hundreds of new people.

Instagram

Or, you can get much more strategic with social media advertising by setting up full campaigns in Facebook’s Ad Manager platform. Here, you can:

  • Upload unique content that doesn’t appear on your feed
  • Set a budget
  • Schedule a start and end date
Instagram

BUT, here’s an exciting recent development for organic-only posters: You may have noticed that larger brands and influencers could traditionally send you to their website via the “swipe up” feature on their Instagram stories. This was previously only available to accounts with over 10,000 followers, but in late 2021, Instagram began rolling out the “link sticker” to all users with a Business account (as opposed to Personal). Soon, any user will be able to send followers to a website through a direct link on their story. This is a game changer for retailers who haven’t reached the sought-after 10k.

Social selling and in-app shopping

Social selling has created one of the most frictionless commerce experiences we’ve ever seen. Scrollers can see a post and purchase the item without ever leaving the app. It’s probably the only instance in which you don’t have to worry about sending traffic to your ecommerce website.

Instagram

Instagram and TikTok are currently the two most popular outlets for social selling, and they’ve taken off quickly and profitably. 130 million users engage with Instagram Shopping posts every month, and TikTok is seeing a 553% increase since 2020.

87% of Instagram users say influencers have inspired them to make a purchase, and 70% of shoppers turn to the platform to discover new products.

Source: Instagram

The easiest way to set up an Instagram Shop is by connecting your Instagram Business account to your existing ecommerce platform. This way, your sales and inventory sync in real time, so you don’t have to worry about overselling an item.

It’s totally free to create an Instagram Shop, but you can also promote it through Instagram Ads if you want to expand your reach.

And don’t even get us started on TikTok’s potential. No longer just an outlet littered with Gen Z’s viral dance routines, TikTok now boasts 732 million users. Do you remember hearing about the country’s feta shortage? Blame the TikTok Feta Pasta trend. What about e.l.f. Cosmetics? A viral TikTok campaign handed them a 13% net sales increase last year, while the rest of the makeup industry was looking at a 22% decrease during the pandemic.

Instagram

To start selling on TikTok, your ecommerce site does need to be built on Shopify, but it’s likely that more platforms will be supported soon.

Bookmark these resources for later!

87% of Instagram users say influencers have inspired them to make a purchase, and 70% of shoppers turn to the platform to discover new products.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing

Could anyone have predicted that our posting of amateur, over-filtered photo squares on Instagram would turn into the $13+ billion dollar influencer industry in under a decade? Love it or hate it, influencer marketing is here to stay.

You have lots of options when it comes to working with influencers. Some – especially those with under 5,000 followers – will promote your business on their channels in exchange for product. Others may only accept paid campaigns. If you have the budget for those, create a contract and lay out the required deliverables, specific messaging you want included and date(s) you want the content to go live.

When you’re creating a wishlist of who you’d like to work with, don’t get caught up in follower counts. Some people may boast 100,000 followers, but their posts have under a 1% engagement rate, either because some of those followers are fake (yep, it happens), or they just aren’t sharing content that their audience wants to engage with.

Here are a few things to look for when evaluating influencers:

  • Their followers. Not the number, but who they are — your best guess for age, location and other demographics. Are they the customer you’re trying to reach?
  • Average engagement rate (divide their average number of post likes by followers). Instagram and Facebook story impressions are important too, so don’t be afraid to ask an influencer if they can share their average view count.
  • If they respond to followers’ comments and answer questions
  • Other brands they work with
  • If their values align with your brand’s

Influencer collaboration ideas:

  • Send a product for review
  • Invite them to curate a collection of products they love, and highlight it in a special section of your website with additional email and social promotion (“ <Influencer Name> ’s Picks!)
  • If you manufacture your own products, work with an influencer to co-design a collection
  • Have influencers photograph and show how they’re fitting your products into a timely theme, like summer travels or holiday entertaining
Influencer-collaboration-ideas

Affiliate marketing

An extension of influencer marketing, affiliate marketing refers to an agreement in which a business pays a blogger or influencer a commission of every product they help sell. You can either set up your own in-house affiliate program or work with a larger platform.

When working with creators directly, provide them a unique affiliate link to a landing page they can share with their followers. This will help you track influencer-generated revenue, so you’re able to report on their sales and accurately pay out earned commission. Another (or additional) tracking option is to provide them with a unique discount code to share with their followers, like “JULIE25OFF.”

Instagram

If you’re willing to give up a little more commission in exchange for less clerical work on your end, you can work with an affiliate network (you may be familiar with platforms like rewardStyle, Rakuten and ShopStyle, to name a few). Creators enroll and make money by promoting any of the brands on the network. You, as the retailer, pay the network any earned commission, plus their fees, and they pay out creators directly.

A fun bonus of working with an affiliate network: It’s additional advertising for you, because many creator members are frequently looking for new brands they can promote and earn with.

Digital PR

Digital PR

In the age of digital marketing, public relations feels a bit antiquated. But don’t discount it:

PR is still a critical part of your ecommerce marketing strategy.

In fact, so many ecommerce brands have put traditional PR tactics on the backburner that there’s more of an opportunity for new ones to get in front of media with less competition.

Working with influencers is one part of digital PR, and we’ve already covered that (yay!). Securing press on other digital media platforms is another. When you achieve this, not only can you drive great brand awareness and more traffic to your site; you also boost your SEO. The more high-quality backlinks you have, the more search engines will favor your website.

Here’s how to pitch media:

  • Make a list of the online media outlets that your customer base reads, watches and listens to: digital magazines, news websites, blogs, YouTube channels and more. Not sure what they are? Include a survey in your next email newsletter, or post a poll on Instagram.
  • Craft your pitch. What makes your ecommerce business unique, or what value can you provide to readers and listeners? Depending on what you sell, maybe that’s an interview with your founder or business owner, an early preview of your upcoming holiday collection, recipe or cooking demo, story about how you’re giving back to your community or taking measures to become more sustainable.
  • Make your pitch list and track down contact information. Media databases like Cision make this easy, but you can also search outlet by outlet. The good news is, once you create a media list, you can go back to it at any time. Take notes on the responses you receive, and remove anyone who says they aren’t interested in receiving pitches.
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You can send a mass email to media through an email marketing platform (you’re probably already using one for your normal email newsletters). Or, you can send individual plain text emails. The latter may be much more time-intensive, but chances are it will yield higher results. Bloggers, journalists and other media personnel receive hundreds of pitches a week, so you should consider personalizing each message: Address the contact person by name, mention something they recently published that you enjoyed and talk about why your brand and/or story are a good fit for their outlet. Include a clear CTA, like “would you be interested in speaking with our head designer?” “or would you be up for me sending a line sheet or sample product your way?”

How do I get started with ecommerce marketing?

We’re guessing you’re feeling a little overwhelmed right now. But don’t panic: You don’t have to implement each of these ecommerce marketing tactics right now. Focus on one or two instead of spreading yourself (and your budget) too thin.

And remember: data is king. Put time into evaluating how each approach is performing. Influencer marketing may not be a great fit for your business, and that’s ok. Or you may have worried that Facebook ads were a risk, but they’re actually showing a high return and will perform even better with a higher monthly cap. Only your traffic, sales and conversion data will tell.

Good luck!