In an increasingly-overcrowded online marketplace, it can feel near-impossible for small businesses to get the attention of consumers: they’re up against hordes of competing online merchants, and are easily crowded out by market-dominating brands.
But whether you’re a bright-eyed entrepreneur battling past doubts to seek an online presence for your startup, a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer moving into the digital space, or a seasoned ecommerce operator looking to scale up, there are various tools and techniques that can help you thrive.
In this article, we’ll look at the ways in which startups and small businesses can leverage their values, optimize their digital experiences, engage their customers, and increase their visibility to drive online sales and improve their footing in the digital market.
Communicate their value propositions
As a small business, your value proposition is often your most effective weapon. Put simply, a value proposition outlines to a potential customer why they should opt for your product or service in lieu of others on the market. It’s the clearest, most fundamental benefit that your brand offers a customer in exchange for their business.
A successful ecommerce value proposition will focus on how your brand is uniquely different from its competitors, and communicate this in a straightforward, compelling way. If a user performs a Google search for your company or lands on your homepage, it should be clear to them what it is you do, how you do it and (fundamentally) how it meets their needs, speaks to their desires or alleviates their pain points.
Offer seamless user experiences
For businesses of any size, offering sub-par user experiences will result in customer engagement metrics tumbling very swiftly in the wrong direction. In fact, 86% of consumers say they would leave a brand after just two poor experiences, so it’s imperative that every interaction with your site feels smooth, intuitive and obstacle-free. And with more than half of online visits now coming from smartphones, it’s sensible to take a ‘mobile-first’ approach to UX design, ensuring your shopping experience is highly responsive for mobile users.
To help create an effortless user experience, using a robust and high-performance hosting service is essential. It’s understandable if you’ve thus far shied away from investing in technical infrastructure due to the complexity of related admin, but keep in mind that managed hosting can shoulder the burden for you. Full-range retail solutions like Cloudways ecommerce hosting are geared towards smaller businesses, and they can allow you to focus on enhancing your UX while reducing the time spent on more complex technical tasks.
Build powerful SEO strategies
Visibility is one of the key challenges facing small businesses selling online, so an effective SEO strategy is a prerequisite if you want to cut through the noise and get your site ranking for the key terms your customers are searching for. Crafting compelling, relevant, keyword-optimized content is the first step toward ensuring search engines place high value on your pages.
But SEO isn’t just about keywords. You’ll also need to ensure your off-page (backlinks, guest content, social marketing) and technical (site performance, structured data) SEO strategies are up to scratch in order to build authority and trust in your brand, or you’ll risk becoming nigh-on invisible to search engines and searchers alike.
Personalize, personalize, personalize
An optimized user experience is one thing when it comes to driving customer engagement in your brand, but personalisation is what will take it to a higher level. Increasingly, businesses large and small are leveraging the power of AI and machine learning (particularly with tools like Zapier) to deliver relevant and highly-personal content to their customers, with the aim of keeping them deeply engaged, fiercely loyal and free from the clutches of competitors.
For small businesses, the ability to anticipate a customer’s needs and offer them a solution at precisely the right moment in their buying journey (whether through email automation, social media marketing or onsite content) will not only drive up conversion metrics but also increase lifetime customer value of your customer by tapping into their primary motivations.
Use brand values to drive engagement
In an increasingly socially-conscious world, the values you hold as a brand could be the catalyst for a customer opting for your product or service in favor of a big market player with a hefty carbon footprint or a cloudy social conscience (even if their offering is cheaper than yours). This is especially true of small businesses, as more and more consumers (particularly in light of the pandemic) seek out more sustainable, ethical alternatives to the all-conquering brands.
As a small business owner, your brand values matter to your consumers. Whether you’re using sustainable materials in your products and packaging, working exclusively with local partners and suppliers, making contributions to worthy causes, or giving back to your local community — shout about it!
Encourage reviews to boost credibility
With 93% of consumers saying that online reviews influence their purchase decisions, it’s clear that the quantity (as well as the quality) of reviews posted about your products or services will have a significant impact on your conversion metrics. Genuine, honest reviews are possibly the most effective resources for building real trust in your brand and convince customers that your offering is worth investing in.
An automated post-purchase follow-up email (often with an incentive attached) is a good idea if you want to encourage more reviews, and displaying user-generated content (such as user testimonials or social media posts) on your site shows potential customers that others value and trust your brand, providing some much-needed impartial perspectives.
In summary, while it may be daunting for small businesses and startup brands to think about how their propositions can compete digitally with better-established market players, it’s absolutely possible to make real progress — and these suggestions can help. If you’re a small business owner looking to scale up your ecommerce operation, focus on these key areas and you’ll find your engagement, conversion and revenue metrics moving in the right direction.