Running an online store can be one of the most challenging vocations of the modern world. Like a roller coaster, eCommerce can be the best industry to be in (when sales and conversions are flying high), and the worst (when Web traffic dries up along with sales).
With organic search traffic from Google proving to be more and more volatile and harder to come by, it’s important for eCommerce site owners to ensure that they are doing everything possible to secure a sustainable and profitable stream of income. But what does that mean in practice?
The only way to guarantee a lasting supply of interested and engaged customers is to understand everything you can about your niche market – including who’s who in the zoo, what strategies competitors are using to drive sales, and what customers are thinking and feeling about your products, sales and service.
It’s a lot to keep on top off, but with a little practice you’ll quickly begin enjoying the benefits of knowing and understanding more about who can help you sell more, how to implement better marketing and promotions, and where and why customers behave the way they do.
1. Work hard to identify new influencers
Do you know everyone that works in your niche industry? You should. Reporters, bloggers and journalists are some of the people you should be rubbing shoulders with every chance you get. But not just any old writer. You need influencers who your customers listen to. Spreading the word about your brand, products and business is virtually impossible without help from established industry influencers. Trying to market and promote an eCommerce store is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of online business because everyone is sick of being bombarded with ads about sales and discounts.
That’s why it’s so important to have someone else talk about your store. Someone who has a decent social media following, or a decent email list, or simply access to publishing platforms where the type of customers you want hang out. But above all, someone who is trusted by their readers.
But who are these influencers? An influencer can be anyone. What qualifies them as someone you want to build a relationship with is who they influence.
This means that in order to identify the right influencers for your store, you must first research:
- Who your target audience is
- Where they congregate online
- Who do they follow
Sounds easy, right?
Identifying influencers is actually the easy part of the equation because all the information you need is available online. Google is a most useful tool to use when searching for influencers because search results tend to be a great starting point for finding influencers using targeted keywords (depending on what topics your particular target audience might be searching for) – i.e. if a blogger writing about the “latest shoe styles” is on page one of the search results, they might be a potentially valuable influencer for you to reach out to (assuming you sell shoes).
The next step is much harder because in order to leverage the influence of the people you are targeting, you must first build a relationship with them and gain their trust. Influencer marketing is not a paid relationship like celebrity endorsements, which means it requires time, patience and effort to succeed… not cash. Once you have identified your preferred influencers, check out influencer marketing 101 to learn more about how to approach them and build sustainable, profitable, and mutually beneficial relationships.
2. Monitor competitors’ sales & marketing
While influencer marketing focuses on reaching out and pulling in new customers, monitoring your competitors is more about learning what marketing and promotional strategies they are using to drive sales.
Imagine you could monitor the sales of competing products, and receive alerts whenever they experience an out-of-the-ordinary spike in sales. Knowing that a product is experiencing a spike in sales – in real-time – would then allow you to quickly work out what it is that lead to the sharp increase. For example, a product review on a prominent tech blog, or an article in a magazine, or a press release in the news.
Armed with the knowledge of what exposure leads to an increase in sales, you can learn useful things like which writer/blogger was responsible for the article, and which site(s) have plenty of buying customers. This makes it much quicker and easier to focus your efforts on people and sites that are known to work in your niche.
But how is it possible to monitor the sales of competitors when they keep that information private? Well, it’s not possible to see how well someone is selling from their own personal site, but it is possible to spy on how well products sold on some of the big marketplaces, like Amazon, are selling. Using a sales tracking service like RankTracer Enterprise means that you can monitor the sales of any product sold on Amazon and spy on how well, when, and why those items are selling over time.
Once the system has alerted you to a spike in sales for a given product, they also offer tools to help close in on what marketing campaign was responsible for the increase and add it to your own marketing playbook.
3. Ask questions
The title of this section might sound slightly redundant, but there is more to asking questions than meets the eye. There are different ways to ask questions, and there are different people to ask those question of.
It’s often very useful to ask complex, market and industry related questions on Quora. Especially if they are questions requiring a bit of specialist knowledge you don’t have access to. Many, many industry experts from all over the place take the time to write in answers that often contain really valuable nuggets of info – often with links to corroborating evidence from respected research organizations.
So Quora can help with industry related market research questions, and possibly offer a bit of decent insight into your own customer base. But, the best people to ask about your customers are your customers themselves.
Use your newsletter and mailing list to ask questions about what people want, why they are (or aren’t) buying, what information they need to help them make buying decisions, and so on. Unfortunately, many customers are pretty apathetic about answering polls or questionnaires, so offer something juicy in return. Something like, “Answer these five questions and get 20% off your next purchase” might do the trick.
What about your own eCommerce platform community forums? Many top eCommerce solution providers offer support forums for their customers to learn from the wisdom of the community. For example, Shopify has a huge range of discussions around anything from how to build a business, to getting feedback on your store design, to selling your site.
There will almost always be someone who has been in the same situation you are and has found a way to solve it already. And, the act of sharing and helping others is also a fantastic way to build your network and make potentially valuable new connections.
Hopefully these three tips will help you to learn more about your store, it’s niche industry, and the people who inhabit it. Ultimately, the more knowledge you have, the easier it is to make better decisions. Decisions that will ultimately lead to greater profits and financial success.
What other market research tips have you used with success? Share yours in the comments.
Featured photo credit: Thomas Hawk via flickr.com