“If it ain't broke don’t fix it", goes the common refrain. There’s truth to that, for sure. You might have an established and successful ecommerce business, pulling in regular sales and experiencing steady growth (despite or perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
If things are going well, take a second to count your blessings, but consider what work remains to be done. With the current scope of improvements in all sorts of different sectors related to ecommerce - from new social media apps to customer expectations related to delivery and inventory management - there are many ways that you can build on what you already have and make your store even better in 2021. Here are six worth considering.
1. Set up Instagram shopping if you haven’t yet
It’s hard to believe that the first iterations of Instagram Shopping began over five years ago. While a new program rollout always comes with its fair share of bugs, the evidence is overwhelming that adding shopping within the channel is a huge win for brands big and small.
Across key metrics such as traffic and revenue, the addition of clickable shopping links within Instagram seems to be a winner. Assuming you already have an active Instagram account, it’s not too difficult to extrapolate that the qualities which make the platform so engaging - beautiful photography, user-generated content, and searchable hashtags - would translate to a boost in your ecommerce store’s performance.
Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce offer simple integrations to propel sales from the social media side of things to the main store, making it easier for you to set up.
2. Spend less on shipping
If you don’t have a background in third party logistics, it might not be obvious how much capital ecommerce businesses waste on shipping. The short answer: they overspend on logistics in all sorts of ways, and these unnecessary costs can cut deeply into margins.
There are numerous factors worth considering if you want to save money on shipping, but here are two very basic ones to keep in mind. Zone skipping can be done by strategically placing inventory at different fulfillment warehouses around the country to minimize distance to customers. For example, warehouses located in Utah and Tennessee can reach 99% of the US population within two business days. As a bonus, you’ll spend less on covering the baked-in price of “free” returns thanks to this principle.
Another easy way to reduce the cost of shipping is by reducing the dimensional weight of your product packaging. If you have a lot of excess space in the boxes you send to customers, you’re basically paying for empty space to be shipped long distances. Optimizing your packaging dimensions and using the minimum viable size container will save you money.
3. Get on TikTok
OK, let’s pivot back to social media. “Oh no, not another account to manage!” is a reasonable thought to have at this point. If you’re already on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, or some combination of those platforms, TikTok might feel like a tough sell.
The truth is, right now it’s a comparative bargain compared to legacy social media (it feels weird writing that, but you can’t deny that Facebook seems downright creaky and old compared to TikTok). At this point TikTok has 1 billion users, around 80 million of them in the USA, and they’re overwhelmingly Gen Z and Millennial. It’s hard to argue against adopting a platform where the two largest demographics of the future are hanging out.
Plus, it’s still early enough that the algorithm is extremely generous compared to FB and Instagram ads. If you have the budget for paid ads, why would you say no to more bang for your buck?
An added benefit to TikTok is that content often goes viral without as much help from having a beefy follower presence. In other words, unlike legacy social media, where the biggest accounts tend to capture the largest audience, the best content gets the most views on TikTok. It’s truly a content meritocracy.
If you don’t know the first thing about how to make content for TikTok, these examples of brands using the platform is a useful read.
4. Invest in AI chatbots
Like Instagram shopping, AI chat as a feature has been around for a handful of years, and a lot of major debugging and troubleshooting has happened in that time. If you don’t have an AI chatbot plugin on your ecommerce site, you’re missing out on multiple benefits.
The most obvious and important one is that an AI chatbot works 24/7. It renders the old worry about missing customers in different time zones obsolete.
Of course, an AI chatbot is only as good as the AI itself, and the questions you foresee it having to answer. Today’s AI chatbot software can be easily fed not just FAQs but more personalized queries with the help of logged in users, shopping cart product detection, and simply better, more sophisticated artificial intelligence.
For mundane and routine issues like billing questions or a question about returning a defective product, AI can give you some of your precious time back. Will you still need to manually answer questions yourself (or delegate them to your team)? Absolutely. But at this point the technology merits the investment.
5. AR/VR/360 product photography
Another emerging technology that’s had many of the kinks ironed out is augmented/virtual reality, and its first cousin 360 degree product photography. The data we have seems to point to VR and AR utilized in B2C ecommerce leading to a significant payoff for companies willing to invest upfront in the technology and labor necessary to create these specialized product visualizations.
Augmented shopping is something a lot of major chains and retailers are doing.
But, is it possible to do it on a budget?
It depends what you’re looking for. A makeup company that would be a natural fit for face filters would have to splash out thousands of dollars or more on a high-quality AR filter that could be used in Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok.
If that’s beyond your means, consider 360 degree photography. It’s a solid compromise that can make your product photos really pop, without costing nearly as much. Here’s a thorough beginners’ guide to DIY 360 degree product photography, in case you want to learn more.
6. Back to basics: up your loyalty game
So far, all the suggestions made in this article for improving your ecommerce store have focused on pretty big structural or operational changes to the way you do business. Adopting new social media channels, adding new fulfillment locations, and investing in new technology are potentially costly ventures that have a lot of risk. Of course, you wouldn’t have made it this far without taking risks along the way!
But you can still improve your business without making any revolutionary new additions. If you’re feeling a little hesitant at stepping outside your comfort zone (which is understandable given the events of this past year), double down on the fundamentals of your business: Your existing customers.
You may already have a loyalty program. If so, you’re already one step ahead. When was the last time you added a new type of reward to your customers? You can reward existing customers with store credit or points for referrals they make. If you want to focus on growing your email subscriber list - email has always been a reliable standby for marketing -encourage more signups to your email list by giving out a discount code.
Perhaps the boldest move you can make in the way that you interact with existing customers is by setting up some form of subscription model. Patreon has skyrocketed in popularity. Companies left and right have emulated Amazon’s Prime membership model with varying degrees of success. Who’s to say that your most loyal customers wouldn’t be thrilled to pay you an annual membership fee if it meant getting free shipping on their orders, or early access to new product rollouts?
You’ll never know until you try. Whatever you do this year, as long as you stay focused on keeping your customers happy, you stand a good chance at continued growth and success in 2021.