Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome. Focus on these ecommerce growth strategies instead.
Written by: Joel Marc
Time to read 12 min
AI, VR, AR, Personalization, Live selling, the Metaverse… there's no shortage of new innovations that are exciting, but are they a distraction from what drives growth?
Every marketing team is always looking for new ecommerce growth strategies. I get to see a lot of different ecommerce businesses and am usually asked about one of these new innovations.
At first glance, they all hold potential for exciting new customer experiences. In fact, we've even used some of them. The question I usually ask in return is “have you mastered the basics?”
Working in ecommerce, we all know that teams are small and budgets are lean. This means that you absolutely have to be ruthless with your time and attention. I find that many businesses struggle to master the basic ecommerce growth strategies, so new innovations can be the Shiny Objects that sink your sales targets (and your job). Here are the “basic” ecommerce growth strategies that you want to master first (and that drive revenue growth).
When considering a shiny new ecommerce strategy, see if you've mastered the following basic ecommerce growth strategies. If you have, they will contribute to the potential success of the shiny new innovation.
The "basic" Ecommerce Growth Strategies
Reasons-To-Buy (RTB) Strategy
Well I said these were the basics. You might laugh and say duh, I know why people should by our products… but have you articulated your RTB in a compelling visual, written, and emotional way that meets the exact wants of the customer? From my experience, that answer usually well, kinda..but I'm sure it could be better. Good! It 100% can be better.
So many brands throw up some photos, have a copywriter write a flowery description, jam in some technical “specifications” and are like done! …and then wonder why their Add-To-Cart rates are low.
Your Reasons-To-Buy need to be thoughtful. You should struggle over them, with passionate debates about how they separate you from your competitor (whether that's another brand or another focus). And yes, you obviously need to have RTB for every single product you sell.
If you have a small SKU catalogue (eg <50 SKUs), write unique RTBs for every product. If you have a large SKU catalogue, separate out your flagship products (eg top 5% of sales) and write unique RTBS for them. For the other products, use brand RTBs that can be widely applied.
Here are the components of strong RTB:
Benefits, NOT Features:While features are the characteristics of your product, benefits are the value that those features provide to the user. Detail clearly how your product can make the user's life better, easier, or more enjoyable. Answer the question “What's in it for me?”
Know Your Audience: Do you really understand your audiences preferences, pain points and what they value most? Use consumer research, surveys, or customer data to extract this information. With this knowledge in hand, you can write to these audience wants and create visuals that speak to them.
Emotional Resonance: Apart from logical reasons to buy for an immediate need, consumers are primarily driven by emotions.Tap into positive emotions or address pain points to create a compelling RTB. Compelling means “OMG, I must have that now.” The emotional resonance must meet users where they are. Simplify your messaging so that it's easy for the target audience to understand and remember. Avoid jargon or overly technical language, unless you're targeting a very specific niche that understands it.
A RTB ecommerce strategy is the systematic approach of outlining and communicating clear, compelling reasons why a consumer should purchase your particular product. This strategy aims to address any hesitations, questions, or objections that a potential customer might have. By providing sufficient and persuasive reasons to buy, you'll push your customer over their objections and into a conversion.
Where to apply this: Primarily PDPs, but look for opportunities upstream to communicate RTBs where it makes sense (eg PLPs, LPs, HP, etc).
Product Photography (Strategy)
Yep. This is another obvious one. And again I'm shocked at how little thought goes into most product photography. Here's a fun thought experiment.
Imagine you're shopping online and you land on a product page for a Jacket that has NO PHOTOS, but it has a flowery description and some bullet point technical specs. Would you purchase it? Of course not.
Now imagine that same Jacket page with 5 photos and NO TEXT details or anything else on the page. Would you purchase it? Still likely not, but some of you are already starting to rationalize a purchase more than the product without photos… well assuming it fits, and its good quality… I sure do like the color and the style is super cool.
Now finally, imagine that you are the Jacket designer and you can ONLY communicate the RTB (see above) with PHOTOS. What attributes, benefits and detail would you need to shoot? How would you visually tell this story? In fact, wouldn't video make communicating some of this easier?
Now you're on the right track of thinking. A compelling Product Photography Strategy goes beyond Front, Back, Side, Detail, Detail. These angles are fine but they need to wrapped around a compelling visual story of your product. You have to do a photo shoot anyways, so take the time to develop template, then work with your product designer to define the story. Your photography or art director will be able to follow that template to bring it to life visually.
OK. Let's talk about Lifestyle vs Studio shots. In the days of yor, brands would do both. An expensive and labor intensive process, shipping hundreds of skus to a warehouse for the Studio shoot and then doing it all again to a location for the Lifestyle shoot. Why? Well the ecommerce PLPs need photos that all thematically match when viewing a collection, and then we obviously need lifestyle for ads, and email and all the marketing bits….
Cool. So you're saying that when a customer is scrolling through 1UP or 2UP rows on their mobile that their going to be confused about what they are seeing? Have you used Instagram?
Sure, if you have big budgets to spend, do your studio photo shoots if you want but today, the only photos that matter are Lifestyle. People want to see the product in its environment, in use, and they want to imagine that the image is of them. If you're talking about trying Live Selling on TikTok and still doing studio photoshoots for your site, you can start to see the paradox.
Social media, influencers, and yes, live everything, has evolved the consumer expectation to see your product in environment. So master this basic. Hmm, what is a compelling lifestyle environment that visually complements my product? Now you're thinking.
Size Charts & Fit Guides
Do you LOVE charts? Do you get SO excited to look at charts? What about from your mobile phone?
Spoiler. Nobody likes looking at charts (ok almost nobody, but certainly not people shopping for apparel).
The size chart is the lowest effort and laziest way to describe sizing. It's basically saying “Here are some numbers, figure it out.” When we talk about overcoming customer objections with confidence, a lot of brands haven't mastered this concept. Any shiny new thing that's done upstream is always going to fail at the size chart if the customer isn't confident that the item will fit.
Your aim should be a solution that says “WE ARE SO CONFIDENT THAT THIS WILL FIT.”
Eeek, I can hear marketing and product teams collectively cower. BUT yes, you need to get your product grading, and your line sheets, and your size charts, across ALL your products, and use them to create absolute certainty with your sizing.
This is a HUGE project, and you know what the result is? Increased conversion… AND lower returns. In fashion apparel where returns can be 30%, this is a HUGE cost savings.
Sizing Apps: I see what you're trying to do. Think you can use a Size app instead of measuring all your products huh? Nice try. These apps are only as good as the data goes into them, so if you have no data or poor data, they are not worth the cost and effort.
As a side note, we did a project for a Footwear client using an iPhone app that could create a 3D model of a person's foot from a short video. The real work was 3D scanning the shoe lasts so that we could match a customer's scan against the actual shoe, and then recommend a size match. The client's return rate for sizing reasons dropped to near zero.
Fit guides are indeed different from size guides, although they can be combined together. Once you know your size in an item, the type of the fit needs to be clearly explained. You might see a variety of fit types like slim, relaxed, baggy, boyfriend, crop, classic, muscular, etc and this variety means that you need to define this fit for your brand. The best way to communicate this is visually in either an illustration, a modelled photograph, or even better, in a video. Nothing shows movement (or lack of movement) better than video.
It's here: The Age of Personalization. We've been on the cusp for a while but AI models are getting better. Before you dive in to automation though, you will want to understand whether you can achieve the goal of Cross Selling… intelligent, assisted shopping.
Cross selling is the practice of recommending complementary items based on a previous purchase or a pending purchase. Commonly confused with Upselling (which is Upgrading to a higher priced version of the same product), Cross Selling has been widely experience as the “You may also like” collection at the bottom of a product page.
The challenge with Cross Selling is that most ecom teams let the app AI make these recommendations without oversight, which unfortunately, results in poor quality recommendations that customers ignore it. There are some more sophisticated apps out there that can be configured with advanced tags and logic or even manually curated. My point here is that there is work involved if you want to extract the value from Cross Selling.
Think of this from a physical store perspective. You're buying a jacket and the sales person has learned about your style likes, your size and fit, what you want to use the jacket for… and using all this knowledge, recommends a pair of boots that not only style well with the jacket, but also functionally and are available in your size.
This is the goal that we are aiming for with ecommerce Cross Selling. Not random guessing based on what other people have clicked on but targeted, intelligent, assisted shopping.
If you can achieve this with an app and AI, manually curate your Cross Selling strategy for ever product. Yes, it's work, but the pay off is much higher AOVs and higher conversions because the customer gets a full set.
Product Strategy & Merchandising
I'm splitting this section by vertical as there are some notable product strategy differences between DTC Ecommerce and Fashion Ecommerce.
While the historical 2 seasonal drops of Spring / Summer and Fall / Winter still are followed from a production perspective, it's common knowledge that the modern shopper wants to see something new… every week. If production has the capability to do this, great, but likely you won't have enough new product to drop weekly. This requires creative thinking to present your collection in a way that continuously looks fresh to ensure high open and click-through rates on your marketing emails. Here are some ways to achieve this:
Variant splitting. Spread your variant color drops out. Instead of dropping all variants of the product, stretch this out of weeks/months so your colors don't cannibalize each other in one drop.
Merchandising. In your photoshoots, style your product differently. Instead of having just one look, create multiple looks, and then drop these thematic looks every month. You're using the same product, but presenting it in a way that looks fresh and different.
Limited Runs. Have extremely small and limited runs of a handful of products. Sometimes having a QTY of 1 per size is enough! Dropping runs this small literally creates panic and customers will do anything to get them. Small runs create energy.
Change up your website colors. Swapping out your background color and changing the colors of your CTAs can invoke a refreshed look, even if the product is the same.
Your product strategy will struggle in an upstream battle against modern customer expectations (eg TikTok trends) if you stick with less than 12 drops a year. Aim for 52 drops and land somewhere in the middle.
Yes, fashion brands are also DTC but for this purpose, I'm using DTC to describe non-apparel products like hard goods. It's rare that DTC hard goods have an extensive catalogue and dropping new products can actually be pretty challenging. Customers likely came to your brand for a flagship product, and creating more flagships can take years. So how does a DTC Ecommerce brand stay fresh and increase repeat customers? Let's dive in:
Have consumables: If your customer buys your flagship once every 5 years (or longer), you need something they can buy every couple of months (or at least once a year). Find or create complementary consumables that are more convenient to order from you or are better than the existing product.
Tell different stories: Referencing your RTB (above), create 3-4 thematic stories that you can tell and different times of the year. While your product stays the same, customers may identify with different stories and buy more.
Create long tail kits: Rather than only selling your flagship and 4 complementary items as bundles or kits, stagger out the kit over a couple months. Use email automation to serve the customer the other parts of the “kit” and encourage them to complete the kit.
For some brands, it's also the fact that you might only have a flagship product (eg the automobile industry). Your marketing dollars will always be focused on acquiring new customers, and that's ok, but, look for innovative ways to create more value for customers that they would be willing to pay for. Services, insurance, upgrades, servicing, etc can all add up.
The Home Page
I saved this one for last because it's the easiest and frankly, you should do every other above item first, but your site home page IS the retail store window of your ecommerce business. If you walked by the same window display every day, you wouldn't walk in the store. I know, many of you may be thinking, duh, I do this already. But you would be surprised how many don't, and this is an article about mastering the ecommerce basics after all.
So what is the cadence you should flip the home page? 2 weeks.
You'll be looking at your returning customer rate monthly so giving the site a refresh every couple of weeks helps keep this rate high and engaged.
If you're a DTC product brand, the rules are a bit different given you're not dropping new products consistently (see Product Strategy above). Follow the suggestions above in the Product Strategy section and use some of those ideas to tell different stories and update the freshness of your store window.
While there are a lot of ecommerce tactics you could focus on, and something new seemingly launches every week, focusing on the basics sets a strong foundation to build upon. From this foundation you'll have the confidence to explore new experiences, leaning into the learnings you've achieved from the basics and leveraging that knowledge forward into the new world because yes, VR shopping is coming.
Written by: Joel Marc, Head of Ecommerce Strategy
Joel leads EASY Ecommerce, an ecommerce agency for Fashion and DTC brands needing deep retail expertise from their agency partner. Joel is an experienced omnichannel retail executive having lead ecommerce channels generating $1 million to $500 million. Joel regularly writes and speaks about ecommerce and omnichannel strategy.