As 2012 comes to a close and the year's robust holiday season is over, small online retailers will have a bit of time to reflect on how to improve business in 2013.
The coming year is likely to see growth in overall ecommerce spending, increased competition for loyal customers, and advances in marketing technology. What follows are five suggested resolutions. If followed, these resolutions could lead to more sales and more profit.
1. Treat Your Customers Better
Consumers — customers — are spending much more online, perhaps $252 billion in the U.S. alone in 2013, according to Forrester estimates.
The number of businesses selling online is also growing, increasing the competition for Internet shoppers. While many of these new businesses will compete solely on price, some merchants will offer more than just discounts. These retailers will offer exceptional customer service.
Resolving to treat customers better can mean changes in a few areas.
- Retailers should encourage a "customer first" philosophy. Everything centers on providing great service.
- Retailers should be easy to reach, offering an 800 number, live chat, and easy email options.
- Retailers should give shoppers many options for payments, shipping, and returns.
2. Focus on Mobile
According to consulting firm Strategy Analytics, there will soon be more than 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide. Tablets, which are perhaps the most revolutionary of mobile devices, are enjoying amazing popularity too.
Online, mobile shoppers are using these devices to make purchases when it is convenient. Some of these mobile buyers might be sitting on a couch watching "Dancing with the Stars" and placing Internet orders from an iPad. Others could be standing at a shop in the mall comparing prices from a web-enabled smartphone.
To be successful small online retailers must resolve to serve mobile shoppers in 2013.
- Retailers must ensure that their sites look good on mobile devices, including the iPad Mini.
- Retailers should consider using mobile specific capabilities like geolocation to improve the buying experience.
- Retailers should engage mobile-friendly payment methods and SMS too.
3. Integrate Video
Video platform maker SundaySky recently reported that 48 of the top 50 online retailers were using product video to boost sales and increase revenues. Only 16 of those same retailers used product videos the prior year. As the trend continues, it will be quite common to see video demonstrations or explanations on many product detail pages.
Small Internet retailers that resolve to integrate product videos into their sites and marketing campaigns will certainly need to invest time and money, but could see significant returns.
- Retailers should invest in an inexpensive camcorder, a green screen or backdrop, a few lights, and video editing software.
- Alternatively, retailers could choose a video platform that automatically makes videos from still product images and text.
4. Use Email Marketing Better
Email marketing is, perhaps, the most powerful tool at an ecommerce marketer's disposal. Done well, each email will generate sales and profits.
Resolving to use email marketing better in 2013 has a lot to do with planning.
- Retailers should plan email marketing at least one quarter in advance, putting down on a calendar when emails will be sent, what they will offer, and how success will be measured.
- Retailers should also seek to automate email marketing in 2013. Follow up emails should automatically go to subscribers that don't open an email after three days, as an example.
- Retailers should use transactional emails to encourage new sales.
- Finally, retailers should have a content plan that makes emails worth opening.
5. Reduce Your Reliance on Search Engines
In 2012, Google released two significant updates to its search algorithms. Called Panda and Penguin respectively, these updates had two important impacts on search.
First, both generally improved the results Google users received for many, if not most, queries, making the king of search engines even better.
Second, both devastated some online businesses that saw dramatic drops in search engine traffic after the changes. Many of the effected businesses had been following the advice of search engine optimization practitioners, but were frequently doing things to please bots — not real visitors. Google's goal is to please people, and that should be a site owner's goal too.
In all likelihood, Google, Bing, and other search engines will continue to make changes as competition in the search engine market heats up. Given this fact, it may make sense for some small online retailers to resolve to become less dependent on search engines in 2013.
- Retailers should use email and text marketing to build lists of customers rather than constantly depending on new shoppers wandering in from Google.
- Retailers may want to explore subscription-based offers that build lasting relationships with loyal customers.
- Retailers may look to content marketing, using video, magazine like articles, and social media to drive traffic.