If You Build It, They Will Come… But Probably Not

Even the least seasoned retailer will tell you that adding the right products at the right price is insufficient to driving new sales if your customers don’t know the products exist in the first place. Driving awareness, then, is the next piece of the eCommerce puzzle.

Note that this is not meant to be a comprehensive eCommerce marketing guide as the landscape of options is vast and each sub-topic requires a deep level of understanding. Rather, this article will cover three basic areas to make potential buyers aware that your products exist: your own website, marketplaces and Google Merchant.

So why those three? Because the fundamental way people are finding you and your products are via search — and we feel strongly you should be well prepared to serve up your products as results whenever possible.

More to the point, your products should show up WHEREVER people are looking for them — and especially where people are looking the most.

1. Your Own Website

In the modern world of connectivity, online shopping is at your fingertips via mobile phones, tablets, smart watches, computers, and even through voice command in your home. By the year 2020, the number of people shopping online in the United States alone will reach 270 million.

But if it’s so easy to shop online, and the total number of online shoppers is akin to individual grains of sand on a vast beach, you might be asking yourself, “why am I still selling more on marketplaces than I do on my own site?” There’s really one answer to that question: marketing, and more specifically, online customer acquisition.

Imagine clearing the cars out of your garage, setting up tables, laying out hundreds of items you no longer want, and slapping price stickers on those items only to find that nobody knew you were having a garage sale. Your website is no different. Sure, a neon green sign at the end of your street is not likely to drive traffic to your online store but you still need to attract customers somehow. So what should you do?

Create a customer acquisition marketing strategy

A great online customer acquisition strategy will employ both inbound and outbound marketing.

Inbound marketing

Inbound marketing focuses on drawing customers to your website by presenting content they’re looking for where they’re already spending time online. A good inbound marketing strategy requires you really understand your target audience, where they spend time online, and their pains and questions as a consumer. Your role as the marketer is to create content (blog articles, product videos, educational papers) that directly addresses your customer’s pains and questions and then deliver that content where they spend time online.

Some key benefits of an inbound marketing strategy:

  • It’s cost effective — Your investment in inbound marketing is time, not dollars in the form of a budget.
  • Customers are long lasting — Consistently engaging in inbound marketing will build lasting relationships and trust with your customers.
  • You build authority and brand awareness — Creating expert content that continuously engages your audience will stamp authority on your brand and grow your audience naturally.

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing on the other hand is more of a “push” type marketing strategy. Think paid advertising. In this case, you’ll be using digital paid advertising channels like Google AdWords, Google Display Network, and Facebook to “interrupt” online consumers by “pushing” promotional messages in order to attract buying customers. The one potential downside to this strategy is that it requires budget. But the upsides are huge.

  • It’s immediate — How great would it be to gather all of your potential customers in one massive auditorium tomorrow to tell them about your President’s Day sale? Well you can. It’s called Google AdWords.
  • It’s Targeted — Knowing your target audience is key. Advertising specifically to that target audience is effective management of your marketing spend.
  • It’s easily optimized — Most ad platforms offer in depth data analysis that allows you to tweak and adjust campaigns in real time.

Marketing for your own website is a long term commitment that requires an investment of time and advertising budget. But when executed effectively, online customer acquisition is sure to turn your website into your most profitable sales channel.

Stay tuned to the CommerceESB blog for upcoming discussions and expert guest articles about marketing for eCommerce.

2. Marketplaces

Merchants who have dabbled in marketplaces (e.g. eBay, Amazon, Walmart) know that the cost of sale is about 13%-15%. So right off the bat, why would anybody in a low-margin business consider marketplaces?

The general guiding principle with marketplaces (and Google Merchant, see below) is that you want your products to show up anywhere potential buyers are looking. It’s no different than marketing breakfast cereal in a physical store: it’s no coincidence the breakfast cereal options you see when shopping at the grocery store.

Products at eye level are what shoppers are most likely to buy simply because it’s where the shoppers are looking. You may not know that, but the cereal brands and grocery store owners know it — it’s premium space for this reason.

The same maxim holds true for online shopping: if your items don’t appear right in front of potential buyers’ eyes, you are relegated to the Internet’s bottom row of the shelf — and how many items “fly off the bottom of the shelf”? (answer: not many).

As we stated earlier, it is clearly more profitable and valuable to have a customer buy directly from your site. But without superior marketing skills and budgets, how do you attract new buyers and transactions at scale without breaking the bank?

That’s where marketplaces come into play.

Think of marketplace fees as marketing fees. The 15% you pay to Amazon (or 13% to eBay/PayPal) funds their superior marketing capabilities. And better yet, especially for Amazon and Walmart, you only pay when the sale is won. It’s an incentive that ensures your collective priorities are aligned. They know that in order to get paid, they need to

  • Attract buyers and keep them coming back
  • Make products “findable” (see article on “Placement”),
  • Enable merchants provide all the data buyers need to make a purchasing decision (see articles on best practices)
  • Ensure merchants are trustworthy (e.g. if an item shows as available, it is in fact in stock; communication between buyer and merchant is timely and accurate, such as shipping confirmation)

In addition, once you’ve gotten the hang of listing and managing items on marketplaces, they each have ways of boosting awareness even further. We’ll cover those topics, such as Amazon’s promoted listings, in a subsequent article.

Finally, it’s not uncommon that merchants who use marketplaces often see they are attracting an incremental buyer — somebody who wouldn’t normally have bought from that merchant via other channels.

3. Google Merchant Center — Back to the Future

It’s no secret that the better you show up in Google search, the more likely you are to convert a customer (and a sale).

Whereas marketplaces — and especially Amazon — are trying to make their sites the de facto destination for product searches, Google remains the eCommerce player we are keeping the closest eye on.

Google has placed Google Merchant Center at the focal point of its merchant-facing toolset. It’s where you go to upload your products, manage prices and stock levels, and tie into your Ad Words campaigns.

More importantly, it’s one of the best tools you have to ensure your products show up where potential buyers are looking. By feeding Google Merchant Center your products, they will show up as part of their current search experience. And because Google aggregates results from other sources (such as marketplaces), If you are also feeding marketplaces, that means you could essentially be featured a multitude of ways in one search experience.

And what better way for a buyer to find you if all they see is your product sold by you?

But it’ll get even better: Google has been beta testing a couple of “buy on Google” experiences (Google Express and Purchases on Google), and we fully expect them to add a “Buy Button” on listings — meaning it’ll be even easier to find and buy items when searching on Google.

Article originally written on CommerceESB Blog