7 Ways to Stay Ahead of Your E-commerce Competition

Karin Yarhi

Brick-and-mortar stores are taking a hit and e-commerce businesses seem to be eating up the retail world. Recently, most of the major retailers such as Macy’s, Toys R Us, and Sears have announced that they are closing their stores all over the U.S. Even though brick-and-mortar businesses are no longer a threat for e-commerce startups, other online businesses present a problem. According to statistics, there are about 24 million e-commerce sites across the world. The rise of e-commerce and increasing online competition makes it hard for startups to be heard. However, a crowded field shows existing demand, making e-commerce an exciting place to be. You don’t even have to beat existing giants such as Amazon to taste success. Yes! Getting noticed doesn’t have to be a struggle. You just have to know some trade secrets to make it to the top. Today, we look at the 10 crucial factors for success in e-commerce that you can’t afford to ignore.

Perform a Competitor Analysis

Learning from your e-commerce competition helps you spot new trends and anticipate market shifts. In addition, it helps you determine potential barriers within your niche and make more informed decisions. You need a strategy that ensures you’re keeping track of your competitors on an ongoing basis. This will ensure you update the view of your competitive landscape and keep up with the changes. Where to start So what should you cover in your competitor analysis? You can identify key competitors in your industry using Google and Amazon. Simply search an overarching product idea, business name or products. AhrefsAlexa, and Keyword Spy are helpful tools for this process. The next step is to categorize your competitors into either primary, secondary or tertiary competition. Your primary competitors are your direct competition. This means that you’re both targeting the same audience or offer the same products or services. On the other hand, your secondary competitors may sell the same products or services to a different target audience. They may provide a low or high end version of your product. Finally, tertiary competition includes related businesses that may sell to the same audience. However, their products are different but distinctly related. For example, if you sell gemstones, your tertiary competitor may be a jewelry store. Once you’ve identified your competitors, here are some of the elements you should include in your assessment.

  • Website and customer experience
  • Marketing messaging
  • Pricing strategy
  • How they handle shipping
  • Analyze their online reviews and social media presence

Focus on Product Quality

E-commerce brands that get the most traction are those that offer new and exciting products. That’s why you have to stay on top of the trends and the latest technology to have the upper hand. However, the fact is, not every product can be new or even better than your competitors. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to outstrip them using other methods. Differentiation is what will give you a competitive advantage. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself using products is by marketing your product as as update to that of your e-commerce competition. This may involve including newer technology and applications or leveraging latest industry trends to stay ahead of the curve. Remember to make sure that these improvements are all geared to solving the customers need better than the competitor. It’s not difficult for customers to stay loyal to a product they know they can rely on. Similarly, quality control becomes an issue when you’re manufacturing different types of products. If your products are not up to standard, you risk losing customer loyalty and sales. Try to narrow your focus on just one product when starting out. This ensures that you pay attention to the reputation and overall quality of that product. After you’ve mastered and scaled one product, you can then venture into other products that will serve your target market. Equally important, incorporate product videos to your product images. You can do this by creating a slideshow where you talk about product benefits. Research shows that 64-85% of site visitors are likely to buy a product from you after watching the video.

Establish Unique Branding

Let’s face it! Your potential customers are constantly bombarded with advertising from different e-commerce sites. This makes it hard to break through their sensory overload when you present yourself like the rest. Branding is the core of the identity of your business. The best way to define this is by identifying what you do and the purpose behind it. These set of values define your mission. Branding also drives customer perception that affects conversions. Customer perception includes the thoughts and feelings a customer gets when they think of your e-commerce business. Factors that affect customer perception include:

  • Customer service
  • Social media advertising
  • Online reviews
  • Public relations

As you can see, customers build their assumptions about your brand based on interactions and first impressions count. That’s why you need a unique selling point (USP) to win them over. It helps to offer flexible shipping solutions and a generous return or refund policy. Moreover, your brand is also your keyword. You’ll need SEO to bring help bring in organic traffic. Be sure to follow SEO best practices to stay on the safe side of search engine results. Transparency also speaks volumes to your overall brand image. Ensure that your contact information can be easily viewed from your website. Keep your email address or phone number at the top or bottom of every web page. Be upfront with your charges and refrain from not disclosing other hidden fees. Communicate to potential customers about your extra charges on shipping or handling charges. Remember to provide outstanding product information as well.

Provide Great Customer Experience

Did you know that the average web visitor decides if they like your site or not in just less than half a second? Your potential customers develop their first level of trust based on your site’s visual arrangement and how well information is presented. Web design is the first step to improve user experience. And by this, I don;t just mean you should focus on a good-looking design only. You have to create a site layout that maximizes your conversions. After all, converting site visitors into paying customers is what keeps your e-commerce business running. To help you boost your conversion rates, here's a handful of tricks to use to your advantage.

  • Simplify your navigation
  • Leverage color and contrast
  • Use the responsive design
  • Add breadcrumbs
  • Compress images
  • Create distinct landing pages
  • Optimize your site for mobile users

It also helps when you embed interactive content such as videos, animated images, and games into your site. Remember to use split testing to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Providing better customer support goes a long way to create a satisfying user experience. How you treat your customers when they’re unhappy with your products or services can make a world of difference. Epic customer support involves being polite, friendly, and going above and beyond to ensure the customer’s issues are addressed in a timely manner.

Build Engagement

It’s important to build authentic relationships with your existing and potential customers. Social media platforms offer a great way of interacting with your customers in real time. However, don’t spread yourself too thin by marketing on every platform that presents itself. Examine your options by looking at your target audience to determine which social media platforms will serve them best. Create a blog to share product updates and valuable content that will help your target audience see the value in what you’re offering. Strive to build a forum or community section on your site to help users come together or to host events. Speaking of events, nothing speaks positive brand image like drawing out a crowd for a good time. Promote the event earlier to build interest and make sure your theme is around your products or services. Rent out a public space, create a hashtag related to your event on social media and send out invites to your followers. During the event, encourage users to share photos using the hashtag in their accounts. Offer incentives such as giveaways as either door prizes or trophies to be won during contests within the event.

Become Part of Something Bigger

Nothing makes people feel better about themselves than when they contribute towards a worthy cause. Most e-commerce stores fail to participate or advertise their charitable initiatives. Sometimes the difference between buying from you and your direct competitor is the value you offer to society. Don’t shy away from turning your customers into philanthropists.

Go Against the Grain

Selling your products or services online offers endless opportunities. In contrast, there’s a lot of e-commerce competition. New brands can penetrate into the market and take over in an instant. Customers have no qualms shifting their loyalties to another brand. You need to take a page from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. This will help you identify your competitive advantage and incorporate it into your branding strategy. Strive to establish an emotional connection with your buyers using social media, a great website layout, exceptional customer service, and building a forum where they can have one-on-one interactions with each other and your brand.

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