The Future of Ecommerce for Small Business

For small businesses managing online stores, in order to remain relevant and successful, the key will be to keep ahead of the curve and implement focused strategies that ultimately drive sales and customer satisfaction.
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With the extreme growth of smartphones, tablets and other portable devices the retail industry is undergoing a huge shift towards ecommerce. Since 2008, ecommerce has grown at a pace at least twice as fast as total retail sales.

In-store retailers are now battling challenges such as "showrooming" -- where consumers view products in-store, then purchase them online (often due to cheaper prices online and greater convenience). For ecommerce this poses a huge opportunity, however the barriers to entry for online stores has also increased with a huge influx of new ecommerce stores and also the growing domination of the monster stores like Amazon making the online market even more competitive.

For small businesses managing online stores, in order to remain relevant and successful, the key will be to keep ahead of the curve and implement focused strategies that ultimately drive sales and customer satisfaction. So where should small business ecommerce retailers be focusing their efforts for the future?

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile!

Consumers can now shop anywhere and anytime across smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. According to eMarketer's data released late last year, 16 percent of the U.S. ecommerce market (in 2013) will come from mobile devices. It is estimated that 62.5 percent of the total mobile-based sales will be generated from tablets.

Mobile ecommerce is only going to expand. Small business ecommerce retailers are called to adopt mobile (if they haven't already) as an integral part of their sales strategy. At a base level ecommerce websites should be optimized for mobile with a clear, intuitive purchase path across smartphones and tablets.

Ecommerce retailers with physical stores should look to incorporate strategies that target mobile to enhance the customer experience, such as free WI-FI, QR codes and NFC-redeemable coupons.

For purely ecommerce retailers positive mobile user experience across product research, adding to cart, and the online payment process is critical in encouraging online sales and customer loyalty.

Curated Content and Personalization

A common challenge for ecommerce retailers has been to match the right products to the right customer. The future of ecommerce for small business sees personalization and curated content as key to keeping ahead of fierce competition.

Amazon championed personalization when they began filtering and recommending products based on what customers had previously purchased. Today other leading ecommerce retailers have adopted similar strategies transforming the standard catalogue-like nature of ecommerce websites into premium, personalized experiences that encourage purchases.

A great example is Net-a-Porter's digital magazine, The Edit. Curated by its top fashion editors and stylists, each installment features products that can be purchased directly from the magazine, creating a seamless path to purchase. Based on its success, The Edit has been extended to a print edition where every product within the magazine will be purchasable via QR codes.

Ecommerce small businesses are now called to see how they can use curated content proactively to enhance their customers' experience online. Effective implementation not only encourages sales, but also builds loyalty by giving customers a reason to return.

Customer Loyalty

As it becomes easier for new ecommerce retailers to get started, and with such increased competition, customer service and satisfaction become key to differentiation.

Ecommerce retailers should look to focus on their end-to-end order management processes and what can be done to enhance their customers experience and build loyalty. Key opportunities include free shipping, extended returns periods, online order tracking, SMS status updates, alternative delivery methods, free returns and 24/7 support via email, phone and live chat.

Additionally, online retailers should focus on loyalty programs that drive customer retention. At a basis, retailers should look to push gift cards and rewards for frequent spending, encouraging customers to return to shop in the future. Leading brands have embraced gamification as part of rewarding points to further enhance the customer experience.

In particular, emerging technologies such as QR codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) are bridging between online and offline retail. NFC, for example, can be used in two ways: to drive users on the street to your online store or a particular online promotion (via scanning a physical chip) and alternatively, to allow customers to access more information about products in-store.

As technology progresses rapidly ecommerce small businesses must adapt and evolve to keep up with future trends to stay relevant. That said, the focus must be on customer experience. As Deborah Schultz puts it -- "technology changes, humans don't." Ultimately it's about creating a holistic approach to ecommerce that sees all your marketing channels working together seamlessly to drive purchases and build customer loyalty. Positive experiences will ensure your brand stands out from competition and that customers return again and again.

If you are looking to start an online store or if you are an experienced ecommerce retailer and want to make sure you are handling the fundamentals, this ecommerce website checklist is a great resource.

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