Competition continues to stoke the fires of the e-commerce world. Fighting huge organizations like Amazon, Walmart, and the ever-increasing amount of established retail stores taking their services online can feel like David going up against Goliath.
They have more money, more brand recognition, more…everything.
But, there’s one thing they’re missing.
According to Netsuite, the rise in online shopping demands a significant rise in customer service experience as well — that’s something the huge, faceless brands typically lack.
Coming at it from a customer experience perspective, we’ll focus on the best practices for e-commerce stores to win over the competition.
So once you’ve got a handle on creating and running your online store, use these 25 tips to improve your customer experience, retention, and revenue.
25 Best Practices for E-commerce Stores
Think of this list like a cheat sheet for e-commerce success. We’ve compiled tips, advice, and examples from some of the top e-commerce brands to help you grow your business with as much clarity as possible.
1. Focus on your product
It can be easy to get caught up in the flash of marketing. Many e-commerce brands seem to thrive on brilliant marketing alone. But, great marketing really relies on a great product.
Consumers are smarter than ever. Without product accountability, you can’t count on retention and loyalty. Word of mouth spreads quickly throughout review sites and social media.
Take the Chanel advent calendar controversy for example.
No amount of brand recognition could salvage the damage of selling a poor product. Whatsmore, the video was seen over 50 million times.
Focus on your product first, the rest will follow. And vice versa, if you neglect your product, the rest of your business will come crashing down.
2. Speak to your niche
The real differentiator for growing e-commerce stores is the ability to “niche down.” By focusing on a smaller subset of customers, you can speak more specifically to their unique needs and desires.
In this example from Netflix, a customer service representative at the company decided to get into character, using lingo from Star Trek, and the customer responded in turn.
We all know Netflix as the hub for TV and film buffs. Building off this shared knowledge of a popular TV show, the support agent was able to connect with the customer and create a meaningful experience.
3. Research competition
A little research goes a long way. Take a look at your competitors’ websites and take copious notes. What’s working for them? What’s not? How can you improve the customer experience?
Look at their marketing tactics. Follow them on social media. Peruse their website to get ideas or to understand how their operations work.
The notion of starting with a blank page doesn’t carry into today’s world. Start by gathering all the things you love about other brands (and the things you don’t love), then make it your own to create a unique experience.
You can even look to the behemoths like Amazon and Walmart to see how they present and price items similar to yours.
4. Build up brand recognition
Build up brand recognition for your e-commerce store by keeping all your marketing assets consistent. Create documentation that clearly outlines your tone, colors, logos, and more. This is a living document that will change overtime.
As you expand into new marketing territories, this branding documentation will guide you to build a rapport in every space. Potential customers will recognize your branding in different mediums. That consistent messaging will ultimately lead to sales.
5. Pick the right e-commerce platform
E-commerce business owners rely heavily on their tools. Don’t underestimate the importance of selecting the best ecommerce platform for your new store.
Look at customer reviews, case studies, and talk directly to other store owners. Figure out what you’ll need (and what you won’t) before making a decision.
Keep price point in mind. Specifically, look at all their plans—even the bigger ones you don’t need yet. You might need to scale up as you grow, make sure the price point is sustainable.
Keep up to date with paperwork
Business registration, tax filing, LLC renewals — there’s no lack of paperwork when it comes to starting your own business. Maintain your records and schedule recurring check-ins to make sure you’re not lapsing on any necessary items.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your business plan too. Set a quarterly calendar reminder to adjust any dates or goals as needed, and monitor your own progress.
If you can afford to outsource your financials, it’s one of the better investments you can make. Having a professional review and monitor your profit and loss will save you the headache and allow you to focus on more growth initiatives.
Test logos and website design
Creative aspects, like logos and website design, are a subjective and ever-changing endeavor. Especially as a growing business, feel free to test these elements until you find one that really resonates with your customers.
After all, this will be the face of your company. Let your creativity fly and find something that speaks to you and your brand. Focus on colors and shapes—everything matters.
Use online resources, like these popular freelancing sites, to find great talent at fair prices to help your vision come to life:
- Upwork: Connecting businesses with freelancers, independent talent, and agencies around the globe.
- Fiverr: Connects businesses with freelancers offering digital services in 300+ categories.
- Freelancer.com: Find & hire top freelancers, web developers & designers inexpensively.
Look for website designers and builders who have worked with e-commerce stores previously. Make sure your website developer is familiar with your e-commerce platform. Send them examples of similar sites to align your vision.
Maintain consistent inventory
Maintain an immersive understanding of your product line and operations. Figure out exactly how to manufacture your product then get it into the hands of your customers.
Start with these initial questions to understand where and how your products will be made:
- Are you making them yourself at home?
- Do you need a warehouse?
- Are you planning to dropship?
- What third-party companies will you work with and what are their requirements?
- Does your manufacturer have minimum order restrictions?
Build models and projections based on various plans. Look at everything with a discriminatory eye to figure out which plan makes the most sense for your new company — keeping in mind, it may change as you grow.
Find the best sales and marketing channels
Sales and marketing are constantly moving targets. Dip your toes into the waters of a few strategies. Test and experiment with different channels or creatives. Then slowly move forward with whatever is working—and leave behind what’s not.
Where do you think you will find your customers? Start there. But don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong.
The easiest strategy is often the most obvious. If you are someone who would buy your own product (and you should be), think about where you frequent. Where do you find out about new products? What influencers do you gravitate towards?
Keep an open mind with this one, and you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where you should be spending your time.
Improve your SEO
SEO (search engine optimization) uses organic search to drive potential customers to your website. The goal is to get your website recognized by popular search engines for relevant keywords.
When customers search for a product that you sell, you want the search engine to show your company as a result.
Getting your website to show up as a top Google result is not easy, though.
If you’re not familiar with SEO, it’s a sub-sector of marketing that’s very popular with small businesses. If you do it well, you can drive a lot of traffic without spending very much money.
Experiment with paid social campaigns
Paid social media campaigns boost up your social creatives by showing them to more people. You can select which audiences can see a certain campaign, too.
This furthers the likelihood that your social media reaches the right customers.
Social media campaigns are obviously one of the biggest drivers of e-commerce sales these days. The key is to treat it like an experiment, though.
Test different creative assets, copy, and demographics. There’s a ton of competition in this space—which can be good or bad depending on how you position yourself.
Try paid advertising
Paid advertising involves creating specific content meant for drawing in new customers to your business. Paid ad placement ranges from more traditional platforms with ads (like TV or print) to new digital mediums (Facebook or Google).
Paid advertising implies higher value. You’ll get better placement and more eyeballs as you spend more money, presumably.
Keep your focus on ROI (return on investment) though. Admittedly, it’s difficult to attribute conversion on a one-to-one scale. Someone may have seen your paid ad first, then decided to click through on a social media post.
Overall, the slow and steady rule applies here. Spend as little as you can while still seeing a bump in conversions.
Test display ads
Display advertising uses new digital mediums (like websites, apps, or social media) to show pop-up ads for a business.
You can create specific assets using text, images, or video to sell your brand on other websites where you might find your typical customer.
If paid ads are working for you on certain search terms, display ads might be the next logical step for you to try. Again, continue to test and watch each new move you make — be careful not to muddy the waters by trying too many marketing channels at once.
Enter into partnerships with influencers
Partnerships allow you to collaborate with a relevant influencer or company to promote both your business and their own interests. It’s a mutually beneficial marketing tactic that allows both parties to reach new audiences.
Influencer marketing typically requires actual back-and-forth between your company and the influencer, usually involving payment of some kind.
On a large scale, well-known influencers can reach hundreds of thousands of people with a single post. Micro-influencers target a smaller, more niche group, offering authentic advertising opportunities and a precise injection into the desired community.
Apps like UserGems or Gatsby make it easy to find out who among your existing customers are influencers and propose a collaboration.
Hip Mommies, a curated shop for baby and toddler goods, boasts an impressive amount of micro-influencer content on Instagram. The company reposts photos of customers using their products, most of whom have over 1000 followers themselves.
Since influencer marketing is a relatively new growth strategy, be deliberate with your expectations. Set numerical goals for new customer acquisition, ask potential influencers to provide data for expected outcomes, and use tools to track exactly how many customers are coming in from this channel.
Set up your customer service platform
Great customer service directly correlates to e-commerce success. In fact, 84% of organizations working to improve customer service report an increase in revenue.
Your customer support platform will quickly become your greatest asset in building a strong e-commerce brand. An all-in-one helpdesk ticketing system will instantly increase your ROI.
A good customer service platform houses all past, present, and future customer communications in the same place, regardless of how or when they contact you:
- Social media channels
- Live chat support
- Phone support
- Email support
- Reviews and rankings
- Marketing emails
- Self-service interaction
Simple helpdesk software (like Groove) is a great starting point for most online businesses. You can optimize your current workflow using basic tools like a shared inbox. Then simply add more advanced integrations as your business grows.
Pick an inbox that integrates with your e-commerce store
For e-commerce stores, make sure your customer support inbox offers an integration with your store’s platform to streamline your workflow.
Tracking and collecting all the interactions a customer has with your brand in one place will pay dividends.
An integration with your e-commerce platform allows support reps to see a total customer breakdown: Recent purchases, previous chats or calls, links to social media accounts, etc. Agents can respond quicker, and with more context, to every inquiry.
Other helpful help-desk features include:
- Personalized folders for agents or teams
- Priority folders sorted by severity of the request
- Channel-based folders to separate submission sources
- Folders for starred conversations you want to pay attention to
- Time-based folders so nothing, and nobody, falls through the cracks
Make self-service (a knowledge base) your e-commerce frontline
A knowledge base empowers prospective customers to make informed purchases by providing detailed answers to common questions. After they make a purchase, self-service reduces support volume and increases customer satisfaction.
Why? Because online shoppers genuinely want to help themselves…
To do this, the first step is ensuring you have a knowledge base. Then, keep your help center well organized—with clear sections and tutorials—so customers can easily find what they’re looking for.
Building a solid knowledge base saves both your customers’ and your customer service team’s time. Make sure that all relevant information (faqs, deliveries, return policy, etc.) is easy to find and eliminate a step in providing answers to your customers’ questions.
Measure and optimize key customer metrics through smart reporting
You should be able to measure a handful of customer-related key-performance indicators (KPIs) within your helpdesk. For e-commerce, you’ll want to track metrics like customer happiness, total conversations per day, and tag insights.
Aim to reduce total conversations with a comprehensive knowledge base and website. See if you can improve customer happiness by personalizing responses or reducing response time. And encourage your team to tag trending topics as they see them, so you can alter the product or create a new knowledge base article.
Lastly, combine and monitor bottom-line metrics—like retention, repeat orders, and onsite reviews and rating—alongside your service-specific reporting.
Automate customer interactions, without losing the personal touch
Automation is the secret sauce of good customer support. Done right, it allows your team to engage on a more personal level with more of your customers.
How? Most likely, you already automate a host of transaction messages: Order confirmations, receipts, and shipping notifications.
What you might not be automating are all the one-off or recurring conversations your customers send when they hit a snag. Common, low-value tasks—like “Where’s my order?” or “How do I return this?”—should likewise be automated so that your support reps can focus on more challenging cases.
But don’t overlook the obvious: Letting customers know you got their request and that you’re on it. During a recent study of ~1,000 small, medium, and large companies across the globe:
The easiest way to avoid those pitfalls is to set-up a personalized auto-reply that, instead of reading like bot-inspired gobbledygook…
Reads like one human talking to another, while still being honest that it’s an “automatic reply”…
You can even set up canned replies for common conversations that you can add, edit, and send with just a few clicks:
Keep these replies creative, thoughtful, and in your brand’s voice. Just because it’s automated doesn’t mean it needs to sound like a robot.
Meet your e-commerce customers on the channels they prefer
Today’s customers have certain assumptions when it comes to communication. Online shoppers expect to be able to connect with their favorite brands over social media, email, real-time messaging, offline support channels, and phone calls.
But keeping up with a ton of different channels can be a huge challenge and hurt your team’s response time. Rather than force an agent to stop what they’re doing and check social media every day (or hour), funnel all your communications through the inbox with integrations.
No missed messages. And no wasted time moving between platforms.
When you proactively listen to your customers’ conversations, whether they happen within your own customer service email channel or through external platforms, you can better serve their needs.
Improve customer retention
In “The Economics of E-Loyalty,” Frederick F. Reichheld and Phil Schefter found that customer acquisition costs are especially high for online retailers, costing 20-40% more than traditional retail stores.
But there’s good news.
Repeat customers spend more than twice as much after 24 months. They go on to say that customers become more loyal to an online brand as well, often referring the store to new customers.
It makes sense that a customer lifecycle chart for e-commerce looks something like this:
Customer retention is an undeniable factor for growth and revenue. From day one, start to build relationships with your customers that encourage loyalty and repeat buying.
We put together a list of fifteen ways to improve customer retention in e-commerce that you can put into action now.
When you master not just attracting customers, but retaining them, it sets a solid foundation for your entire organization’s growth.
Surface a search bar
As far as website design is concerned for your e-commerce store, simplicity is key. But so is accessibility. A search bar straddles the line between the two.
Give your customers access to a search bar on every page of your website to ensure they can easily find what they’re looking for. Keep it out of the way — a small icon at the top of your store will do — but obvious enough for someone to find when they need it.
Technically, remember to tag all of your items with any relevant keywords as soon as you post them on your site. This will save you a ton of time in the future as you add more and more items to your product line.
Reduce checkout fields
Nothing brings the flow of buying something you love to a complete halt like a bulky checkout process. In fact, 28% of buyers say they’ve abandoned their purchase due to a long or complicated checkout process.
You’ve worked so hard to get these customers to this final step. Don’t ruin it by asking for unnecessary information. Once the purchase is complete, then you can put them into an email flow to get them more engaged.
But, cross the finish line first. Then, you can get to the post-game interview.
Send cart abandonment emails
The average e-commerce store loses 75% of their sales to digital cart abandonment.
Put a plan in place to recoup some of these losses as soon as possible. The easiest tactic requires you to simply send an email.
Offer an incentive for returning if you like — like a percent off or a free gift. But simply sending a follow-up will up your return rate.
Play around with incentives and timing for the email series to see what works best. Once you’ve figured it out, automate the cart abandonment email flow for a low-effort, high-reward retention tactic.
Grow your email list
Maintaining a strong, growing email list does wonders for an e-commerce business. Make an effort to collect emails wherever possible — on your site, before a purchase, after a purchase.
Once you have an email, you can offer incentives, ask for reviews, introduce new products, and so much more. Even if you don’t have the content set in stone for your email campaigns yet, collect emails from day one.
Trust me, no one will be staring at their inbox waiting for an email from you. So, don’t feel pressured to have something to send in order to ask for an email.
Step one is just getting the email — put a process in place for easily collecting emails as soon as your store goes live.
Put these e-commerce best practices to work at your business
Eventually, all these best practices will be so naturally baked into your e-commerce business plan that you won’t even notice them. But, if you’re just starting out, don’t pressure yourself to conquer every step at once.
Start with the basics. Choose the right software and tools. Set up easy automations. Take some of the pressure off yourself by relying on your tools at first.
Then, experiment with different tactics and creative elements. Test what works and what doesn’t. Don’t rush the process. Let your customers tell you what they want.
Keep building on top of your solid foundation. Incremental growth beats out overnight success every time. Use these best practices, in combination with a bit of patience and ambition, to exceed all your goals.