To lead off the documentation on how to build the various parts of a uCommerce based e-commerce site I wanted to first describe what those components are. Having worked with a multitude of clients and projects in my career I’ve come to take many of these things for granted. As uCommerce grows in popularity I wanted to share some of these things in the hopes of making your next e-commerce project a bit smoother.
If you missed the first article in the series called Anatomy of an E-commerce Solution: Browse, which deals with product catalogs and product presentation.
Today e-commerce stores and webshops are all about enabling store owners to tell their story. While the CMS plays a hugely important role in this area, marketing is another story altogether. Marketing can be divided into internal- and external marketing.
Internal marketing is about setting up special offers for customers to further engage them in the buying process. Too often focus is solely on the the macro conversion, i.e. converting the user to a customer when in reality you need to focus equally on micro conversions, i.e. the act of convincing the user to perform minor conversions with the final goal of getting to the macro conversion.
The most common micro conversion is to offer the user to sign up for a newsletter so you might engage her later on with direct e-mail communication, but there are many opportunities for micro conversions in webshop like getting them to add more demographic information to their profiles to provide better targeting for site ads and discount, getting them to download sales materiales, or get in touch with a sales representative via e-mail or live chat.
You want the user to navigate to interesting products, so why not throw up a banner advertising for the unique selling points of the products or offer up some additional information about the product like a PDF or video? Or how about letting your users compare products? Banners range from the run of the mill “Buy for x amount and get free shipping” to more advanced banner where you tell the customer exactly what they need to do to get the discount, “Buy for x amount more and get shipping shipping, i.e. the banner is aware of the customer context and shows how much more the customer must buy for the get the discount – a much more actionable banner than the first one.
One of the most efficient marketing activities is to let customers do marketing on behalf of the store by enabling them to give ratings and perform full product reviews. Reviews and ratings made by actual people have a very high degree of credibility and many users turn to the reviews section of the product page to find out whether the product is right for them or not.
Indeed research today shows an increasing number of customers not willing to buy products without having consulted product reviews prior to the purchase.
At the end of the day store owners need tools to convince the customer to convert. These tools might include incentives like reduced prices, over all discounts on the order itself, or voucher codes. Discounts come in many shapes and forms and are usually grouped in campaigns, which run for a certain amount of time after which they are removed from the site. In other words we’re dealing with temporary pricing and benefits.
Your most common types of discounts include “buy two for one”, “percentage off the order”, “amount off the order”, “volume discount”, “free shipping”, and more.
Vouchers and gift cards are a certain type of discount which be paired with individual products, entire categories, or just the vanilla stand alone voucher. They enable store owners to pass out codes which can be used during checkout to receive a discount. Vouchers are a very effective means of converting the customer or getting repeat business from existing customers.
Vouchers are often used as a means of increasing the effectiveness of external marketing by including voucher codes with e-mail marketing campaigns, in print media, or on billboards.
Gift cards are basically a variation on the voucher with the main difference being that we’re not really dealing with a discount anymore as a customer will pay full price for the privilege of using the
With ads and discounts in place you’ll want to target customers with your message. For that purpose targeting is often used. Basically targeting will enable a store owner to configure who should be exposed to a particular message and determine when a discount should be triggered for a customer. Targeting often works by collecting information about the anonymous user on the site: Which products did she look at during the visit, which ones are displayed right now, what was the entry point into the store, any search terms which brought her to the store in the first place.
These are the basics, but often you’ll go a step farther and start building a profile about a given customer. By categorizing content and products the profile will be become more complete over time and as that happens targeting will become ever more precise to the point where the anonymous customer can be placed in a segment.
Once the customer logs in the profile will often be carried over and the store owner will know even more about the particular customer. A scary example of this in practice is Amazon, which it seems will pick up which products you look at and some days later will send a targeted e-mail to you offering a special on…. exactly the products you viewed.
Scary and brilliant at the same time. The mechanics are pretty straightforward when you think about it.
External marketing include all the activities which drive new traffic to your site including search engine optimization, search engine marketing, link building, social marketing, etc.. While support for some of these activities can be characterized as convenient others must be supported directly in the platform for your solution to rank highly. These include the ability to add custom meta data to your products, have pretty URLs laden with search terms, having product reviews formatted using one of the micro formats that Google recognizes to display as part of search listings.
Content is king in this matter. You can optimize all you want, but in the end getting incoming links to the store by having great content is what really counts. And it’s more interesting to create too.
One surprise I’ve had far too often when shopping online or dealing with existing webshops is customers getting a discount by accident. By accident I mean the case where customers are never told about the discount until they’re in the check out flow and notice a lower price than what was listed. Store owners who do this sort of thing might as well toss money in the toilet – it’s more fun and would yield the same profit at the end of the day. The customer didn’t know about the discount, she would have bought the product anyway so why bother having a discount at all?
It’s crucial to remember that marketing is not about lowering pricings or giving great discounts it’s about getting the message out. If you don’t get the message out you might as well not bother.
I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what marketing in an online store or webshop entails, but these are some of the scenario that you’ll be expected to support in your e-commerce solution. Some of it is pretty srraightforward to build, other areas not so much. The area which will trip you up is typically the management pieces and targeting of content and discount. These are areas which either require very efficient workflows or complicated logic to achieve.
Check out the first article in the series called Anatomy of an E-commerce Soltion: Browse, which deals with product catalogs and product presentation.
The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent
my employer's view in any way.