The Business Owner’s Guide to Online Retail in 2017

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Retail is currently undergoing massive changes. Over 8,600 stores could close this year alone. Retailers of every size are experiencing great uncertainty about their brick-and-mortar future.

The good news is e-commerce seems to be picking up the slack. E-commerce is expected to grow by 12% this year alone. This is great news if you sell a product online.

Whether your online business is connected to a brick-and-mortar store or is entirely virtual, here’s what you need to know:

Current Challenges for Retailers

There are two major ways to sell a product online. First, you can sell directly from your own website. You can also sell through third-party distribution sites. Amazon, Alibaba, and Target are some of the largest third-party sites around the world.

Plus, traditional retail is still a strong competitor. There are plenty of reasons people prefer to buy a product in a physical store. Online retailers need to understand how to compete with offline stores for what is often the same audience.

Retailers which exist both off and online have a unique set of challenges. They need to balance their marketing efforts so both their virtual and real world advertising works together.

Search is at the heart of both online and offline retail. Developing the right SEO strategies will drive sales both online and off.

The Five Stages of Buying

Every customer goes on a journey from “I wonder if there’s a solution for…” to “I’m definitely buying a product.” The customer journey is more complicated today than probably ever before. A customer could bounce from online ads, offline ads, social media pages, product pages and more.

Brands are rethinking the customer journey. Instead of focusing on individual steps, they’re concentrating instead on the five stages of buying. Those stages are Initiation, Research, Comparison, Transaction and Experience.

  • Initiation: The customer-to-be looks into background on the general industry
  • Research: They’ve starting reading guides, product reviews and recommendations
  • Comparison: They’ve narrowed their selection down to just a few items and are comparing features
  • Transaction: They’re ready to buy and are looking at different price points and sales locations
  • Experience: These are any post-sale issues such as customer service needs or additional product interest

Traditional marketing was heavily skewed towards the Transaction action. But search engines are used in every stage. Virtual marketing now involves every stage of the journey.

An Example of Effective Content

Your brand will likely publish introductory guides related to your industry. For instance, if you sell lawnmowers, you’ll create a guide about The Best Way to Mow Your Lawn. This guide is intended to connect with customers during the Initiation and Research stages.

In the guide, you won’t mention your product at all. In fact, your brand presence will be rather small. You just want to gently introduce your brand to the reader. From this one guide, you can link to other content, moving your reader deeper into the sales funnel.

Move Quickly or Be Left Behind

The earlier customers see your brand, the more likely they are to stay within the sales funnel. You want to reach potential customers when they’re first starting to learn about your niche.

A Bing Ads Brand Impact study detailed this effect:

  • Brands discovered in a category search are often thought to be market leaders
  • Customers who saw an ad, even if they didn’t click on it, had higher purchase intent

Customers remember brands they encounter during initial research. The same Bing study found shoppers who saw a brand ad were between two to five times more likely to visit a specific product page compared to a generic category page in a retail marketplace.

Retail Marketplaces or Dedicated Website?

Should you list your products on an online marketplace like Amazon or should you sell from your own website? In most cases, the answer is easy: Both.

Even if most of your sales end up occurring through an online marketplace, you don’t want to neglect your personal site. A site dedicated to your brand is vital in order to rank high in the search results. Usually, a marketplace presence alone isn’t enough. You’ll need the full range of optimization tools available with a dedicated site.

Developing a Presence across Every Stage

Content, including keywords, will need to be created for each stage of the customer journey. At every stage, the benefits of your product should be emphasized. Customers want to learn more about the problem they’re having – and they want to learn what solutions are available. You want to position your product as the solution.

During the initial stages, your brand promotion will be incredibly minimal. But as the customer becomes increasingly ready to make a purchase, your content will begin to push your products. You’ll emphasize why you’re better than the competition and otherwise present more of a traditional sales pitch.

Traditional retail is quickly changing. Don’t let your business fall behind. Call or email us today to learn more about the online retail opportunities available for your brand – or ask any questions you might have below:


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