According to the latest numbers from the National Retail Foundation, SMBs make up more than 98% of all retailers today. This feels inflated when you consider all the large merchants in our news feeds every day, but if you look beyond the headlines and consider the vast opportunities offered by the Internet, it isn’t really so shocking. Robust e-Commerce platforms, codeless site design, simple payment systems and a myriad of affordable tools are available today to help ambitious entrepreneurs set up shop and establish a formidable online retail presence quickly and at minimal cost.
For most online shoppers, as long as the goods, price and customer experience are up to snuff, sheer size of the merchant has little impact on purchase decisions. This “level playing field” means retailers of every size are competing for the same customers, pitting smaller teams with less money and not enough time against resource-rich retail giants like Amazon and Walmart. This competitive landscape makes marketing even more critical for smaller retailers trying to engage consumers, who often default to omnipresent merchants by habit or convenience.
The gold standard of digital marketing is essentially the same for any size e-Commerce store. Personalization, seamless customer experience, relevant content, easy path to purchase and all the marketing musts of the moment are important to potential buyers, no matter how many people sit in your office or servers host your site. That said, e-Commerce SMB marketers do have their own unique challenges to overcome. Here are just a few of them, and some suggestions for moving beyond them to marketing mastery:
Where On Earth Do I Start?
We are not all born digital marketing geniuses. Many small store owners have dedicated all their time to developing products or honing their skills, not keeping up with the rapidly evolving and complex world of digital marketing. All of a sudden, they own a shiny new online store with an inventory of products waiting to be shipped, and they find themselves wearing a CMO hat seemingly overnight. It’s nothing short of overwhelming.
New owners know that they must do marketing to succeed, but messaging, content, design, channels, personas, journeys, funnels and the hundreds of other elements associated with the task are enough to make heads explode. Googling “best practices for e-Commerce marketing” will only add to the confusion.
Suggestion: Start with email. As old school as it may sound, email marketing still delivers the highest ROI across categories and is relatively simple to start. Collect email addresses online, at trade shows and wherever your brand is present. Deliver quality content and you can build your way up to more sophisticated campaigns and personalization over time.
So. Much. Data.
Even store owners who have only dipped their toe into the online marketing pool will find themselves in possession of heaps of potentially valuable data. Simple analytics from the site, combined with purchase behaviors, contacts collected offline and any data coming in through various marketing efforts are just a few ways that these info gems will funnel into an organization. Unlike large retailers with deep pockets, though, small independent retailers don’t have a database team or analysts and tools to parse, clean and organize the data into something that makes sense or provides actionable insight.
The thing is, data is critical to survival and you don’t need to spend a fortune or have a PhD in data science to glean some benefits. Putting the effort and time into determining how data will be collected and organized for future use, even if it’s a mostly manual process at first, is always worth it in the long run.
Suggestion: Prioritize data capture and activation from the very beginning. Understand what information you have access to on your customers and target audience. Ask yourself what you can learn from it. When you are ready, there are affordable tools out there that can help you understand what the data is telling you, and recommend how to adjust your marketing campaigns accordingly.
Not. Enough. Data.
Not a typo. While we swim in oceans of collected data, one of the most common issues young retailers run into is a stagnant contact list. They’ve collected information from the same people at events, and regular visitors of the site have all signed up for updates, but now the continuous growth of their email list has stalled. Large retailers have a lot of options to build out their databases, including access to data cooperatives like the Abacus Alliance, where they can retrieve massive amounts of consumer data shared by and between fellow members, but it is a rigorous process to become a member and comes at a hefty price.
Accessing a lookalike audience is one of the significant benefits that comes from these data co-ops. Merchants get a list of new contacts who have similar characteristics to their current list of existing customers. Lookalike lists typically result in a higher volume of warm leads than buying lists for certain demographics or even utilizing the robust targeting options offered by social media.
Suggestion: Look for the SMB champions. Vendors are beginning to realize the potential in the market, and many are leading the charge to democratize data and provide SMB retailers with what they need to compete. My company recently released the Springbot Exchange, a co-op to give SMB merchants access to data from our participating retailers and additional data provided through our partner connections. There are a lot of us out there fighting for you. Start searching for your best fit and ways to gain access to what you need.
Amazon and the other big players aren’t going away, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for others. Starting an online store is easy. Surviving and scaling is tough, but marketing can help. Every store is unique, with its own products, customers and personality, and only you can figure out what defines yours.
Parting Suggestion: There is no special sauce. But there is an eager community of merchants, partners, vendors and SMB advocates to help you along the way. Visit your local SBA office or Chamber of Commerce where they often have free resources and volunteers happy to share their experience. Pick a few retailers who you think do a decent job at marketing and reach out. Chances are they were standing where you are once upon a time and would be happy to impart wisdom to a fellow SMB!
Brooks Robinson is the CEO and co-founder of Springbot. As an entrepreneur and marketing enthusiast, he is passionate about helping small retailers compete against much larger competitors. He created Springbot to make advanced marketing technologies accessible to the small companies that traditionally couldn’t afford them.