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In Online Retail The Best Are Always Different

The best and fastest growing online retailers have one common trait — they’re different. Online retailing is like being in a race: the companies that move the fastest and execute the quickest typically win. Companies that employ a one-size-fits-all eCommerce platform won’t usually find themselves in the top spot. They’ve purchased a ticket to ride the online retail bus, which will eventually get them to their destination, but at the same pace as the other retail passengers. Instead of taking control of their own future, they’re letting the bus driver — in this case, the platform or technology provider — set the pace of innovation.

Online retailers that aspire to be the best in their industry must stand out from the rest.  They are not going to take the lead with a site that is built on a one-size-fits-all platform.  Such solutions can severely limit the authentic expression of their brand. This becomes glaringly obvious in the design and features/functionality of the site.

As a retailer, you have one chance to make a first impression, so a unique and catchy design is imperative.  The most important thing to remember when designing your site is that it needs to be YOUR SITE.  The look and feel should be unique to your company and instantly recognizable to shoppers.  Every aspect of the site should be developed and created so that customers feel like they are experiencing your brand, not just buying your products. Customers can always visit sites like Amazon and eBay to buy similar products, so you need to find ways for customers to truly embrace your brand and buy from you.

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There’s a simple test to see if you’re successful in creating a look that embodies your brand.  If you remove or replace your logo, will customers still know they’re on your site? They should. Unfortunately for companies using a one-size-fits-all approach, the available templates restrict the look and feel of their site and don’t provide the flexibility a retailer requires in order to establish their own identity.

Another aspect in which an off-the-shelf eCommerce solution makes it difficult to differentiate is in its features and functions.  Retailers need to include features that make shopping easy, fast, and fun. Off-the-shelf solutions can certainly accomplish this, but the problem is that your competitors — also using the same platform — will have similar functionality.  To boot, when the platform provider releases their quarterly or semi-annual “innovation” update, new features will appear on your site at the same time they appear on your competitors’ sites.  By definition, innovation describes something new and unique, so when multiple sites add the same features or functionality at the same time, innovation is cancelled out.

Continually Update Site Content

While the platform running your eCommerce site is important, it’s also critical to keep your site content fresh and interesting. Your team should be intimately familiar with what’s happening on your site.  They should continually brainstorm new ideas in an effort to further reinforce the uniqueness of your brand and deepen engagement with your customers. Your company’s growth will stagnate if you simply wait around for your provider to release new features across its client base. 

A good platform provider will serve as an extension of your team and strive to improve your online presence in tandem with you. They should be aware of your wants, needs, and goals and work with you to make them a reality.

For example, new social media sites are popping up all the time.  You and especially your platform provider should be staying up to date on the latest trends. One of those sites might just be a perfect fit for your brand and target demographic. Pinterest and Instagram quickly became two of the most popular social networking sites and the next big trend could appear at any time.  When that happens you need to be prepared so you can quickly find creative ways to leverage it and engage your customer base. 

Being the first to integrate a new feature or service into your site or mobile app could provide a significant competitive advantage. But be sure to avoid the common pitfall of trying to do too much too fast.  Test new features and functionality once they’re live to make sure your customer agrees they work. Adding bits at a time is often better than adding everything at once.

Being first to add features that are a natural fit for your customer base shows you’re in-tune with their digital lives and preferences, gives them a reason to keep coming back, and gives them something to share with friends.

Don’t wait around for your provider to add yesterday’s technology to their roadmap; chart your own course so you can speed ahead of the crowded eCommerce bus.  Don’t passively take a seat on the bus with everyone else; get behind the wheel and drive.


Avery Amaya is the VP, Business Development at WebLinc and has been with the company since 2007. He brings nearly two decades of senior-level marketing and operations experience and nearly a decade of strategic and business development expertise in eCommerce. Amaya has played a key role in bringing on  clients like Nasty Gal, Hello Kitty/Sanrio, the U.S. Polo Assn., Simon Pearce, and many more.

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