UPS deliveryman carrying packages
PHOTO: Maarten van den Heuvel

Companies must juggle a number of factors to keep their ecommerce operations running efficiently and profitably. Remembering certain foundational elements of the ecommerce world will help your business build a loyal community of customers and continuously expand your business.

A few points to keep in mind: customer relations are as important online as they are offline, and the same goes for taking a personalized approach to addressing customer needs. 

The following six factors can make a difference in your overall ecommerce business plan: Branding and messaging; business and revenue models; assortment optimization; promotions; shipping and return policies; and retention strategies.

Branding and Messaging

Branding is the most important factor in ecommerce — ignore it at your own risk.

Branding is the emotional connection your company fosters with its audience. And that emotional connection not only helps you make sales, it also enables you to expand your audience through word-of-mouth marketing, which happens when satisfied customers tell their friends about your brand.

An effective branding strategy is a powerful way to foster customer loyalty and build a community centered around your message and products. Developing the right branding and messaging strategy can be difficult, but using data analytics to gain insight into customer behavior can help shape your branding and your messages.

Branding involves more than just designing a logo. A good logo is important, but branding means connecting with your customers and helping them understand what your business is about and what that logo represents. Think of your brand as a corporate persona; your company’s job is to make sure that the persona embodies a consistent set of traits, is relatable and effectively in conveys quality. Focus in on the aspects of your brand that you can control, such as the logo, policies and marketing messages. But remember that the way you handle and respond to feedback will have a big impact on other less-controllable aspects, such as customer experiences, customer expectations and, ultimately, the messages customers spread by word of mouth.

Related Article: 5 Rebranding Lessons From a CMO Who's Been There

Business and Revenue Models

Your business and revenue models are important factors in ensuring that your business stays open and turns profit. Making sure that you are selling your products at a competitive price, but also at a price that keeps your books out of the red, is important.

Revenue generation is dependent on an amalgam of factors, such as advertising, sponsorships, traffic and business relationships. There are five different revenue models that are important to ecommerce: The subscription revenue model, the transaction fee revenue model, the advertising revenue model, the sales revenue model and the affiliate revenue model. Many companies receive multiple streams of income via different business models. Choosing the right ecommerce model for your company is very important for your continued success and future growth.

Assortment Optimization

Lure customers to your online store with a combination of products they may need or want. Assortment optimization refers to grouping products in an offering with an eye toward maximizing revenue. Using competitive intelligence to perform a gap analysis on your products and your competitors can show which products overlap with your competitors’ products and which ones are unique.

Reviewing your current inventory competitively provides you with context that shows you where your ecommerce site can grow product-wise. Best-seller lists are popular on ecommerce sites to show which products are gaining popularity. Best-seller assortments can measure a product’s viability and whether items are moving in an upward direction.

Though the Harvard Business Review article titled “Which Products Should You Stock?” states that assortment optimization is more of an art than a science, you should still base your decisions on data.

Related Article: Ecommerce Innovation Builds Your Competitive Advantage

Promotions

Many ecommerce companies have many different sales at the same time. What most retailers don’t understand is that sales and promotions are the most important driver for sales. In any given time period, retailers have various promotions, such as price discounts — either a certain percentage off or a certain number of dollars off — freebies or mail-in rebates. These promotions could be open to all customers or limited to, say, loyalty program customers or those who receive paper coupons.

The most important objective for any sale is to increase sales of and traffic to products on your website. The promotions will affect not only sales of the discounted items, but also sales of products that are somehow related to those items. 

When planning a sale, remember that there are certain times of the year when promotions are most effective and try to optimize your sale by choosing to hold it at a time that is historically favorable, like Black Friday.

Shipping and Return Policies

Great shipping and return policies can encourage consumers to take a chance on your products.

It is essential to have clear shipping and return policies; they can make all the difference when it comes to gaining the confidence of potential customers. People are more willing to place orders when they know there is little risk to making the decision. If customers will have a hard time returning items that don’t fit or turn out not to be to their liking, they won’t take a chance on buying products from your site.

One strategy that can help improve sales is to offer free shipping for orders of more than a certain dollar amount. According to UPS’s “Pulse of the Online Shopper” study from June 2014, 58 percent of shoppers will add items to their carts if they can get free shipping when they reach a certain dollar amount. Furthermore, 68 percent of survey respondents who had returned things purchased online said that free return shipping was a key factor contributing to a positive returns experience, and 58 percent cited a hassle-free “no questions asked” return policy.

Among other things, offering free shipping on returns and simplifying the process by including a return label in the package makes customers happy by enabling them to avoid long lines at the post office.

Retention Strategies

Once you have won over your customers, you can take a number of steps to ensure you retain them and encourage them to make additional purchases in the future. According to a blog post on Spoken.com, selling to an existing customer is seven times less expensive than acquiring a new customer. That figure reinforces the importance of treating your current customers like gold — the same way you did the first time they made a purchase. Remember: Consistency is the name of the game; that is what you want to strive for.

Another effective strategy is to target ads to customers who are members of your website based on their previous browsing histories.

Related Article: Why Are Companies Investing in Customer Retention?

Mind the X Factors

The future of your online business depends on these X factors. If you pay attention to them, your business should continue operating smoothly and growing at a steady pace. And one tactic that will push your business into the future is really getting down to the nitty gritty of analyzing the data that is available to help you understand your customer’s habits, struggles and interests.

The bottom line is that focusing on good business practices and quality service will make a difference in your customer’s loyalty and the excitement they experience when doing business with you.