Shopping doesn’t look the way it used to. Ever since the internet became a normal part of our everyday lives, eCommerce has been an increasingly popular option for buying all sorts of products.
But the rise of eCommerce hasn’t just transformed the way people shop, it’s completely changed how marketing works.
How eCommerce Transformed Marketing: The Short Answer
The process of buying products online is different from the experience of browsing in a store. Consumers don’t head to one brick and mortar location and choose products based on what they find there. More often, they start out with an idea of what they want, and peruse a number of options to find the best fit.
Research is a bigger part of the process, and they have access to more information—both from brands themselves and from third-party sources.
That puts more pressure on brands to prove their worth and provide a solid customer experience throughout the entire purchasing process. And the growth in available online channels—websites, search engines, social media, email, live chat, etc.—means learning how to reach and interact with consumers in a number of different places and formats.
That’s the summary-level version of the change. But there are a lot of more specific effects eCommerce has had on the marketing landscape.
8 Ways eCommerce Transformed Marketing
Even before the coronavirus moved all nonessential shopping online, the growth in eCommerce businesses and the change in shopping habits that came with it made the internet a huge part of any good marketing strategy. With that, a few important differences are now the marketing norm.
1. Websites are now a requirement for all businesses.
No matter what type of business you run, you need a website. Even for businesses that depend entirely on in-person sales (or did pre-coronavirus), the internet is where people turn when trying to decide which stores to visit to get what they need. A website is how you show people your business is legitimate, and where you convince them to do business with you.
Creating a website used to be complicated and expensive. But over time as websites became increasingly essential for all businesses, options for building them also became more affordable and accessible.
Now anyone—no matter your skill level—can build a website using an intuitive website builder. And for HostGator customers, with the investment of web hosting (something you’ll have to buy anyways to launch a website), you can get access to a website builder for free.
Getting a website running is now affordable and easy. And the benefits of doing so in the age of eCommerce are undeniable.
2. eCommerce introduced new marketing channels.
Before the internet, most advertising budgets went to channels like TV, print media, the radio, and billboards. Businesses still spend money on those things, but now around half of all advertising budgets go to digital channels. And there are a lot of different digital marketing channels.
Creating an online presence so that it’s easier for potential customers to learn about your brand requires investing in some combination of:
- Search engine optimization (SEO) – Employing tactics that increase the chances of your website showing up for relevant terms in search engines.
- Paid search ads – Setting up pay-per-click campaigns to bid for top keywords so your website and/or products show up on the first page of search engines, especially Google.
- Social media marketing – Creating social profiles on different popular platforms and using them to connect with your audience, share information about your brand, and raise your online profile.
- Social advertising – Boosting your social following and brand awareness by buying ads on the most popular social platforms.
- Retargeting – Using advertising platforms to serve ads to people who have already shown an interest in your site and products.
- Email marketing – Building an email list and sending regular emails to subscribers to stay in touch and build ongoing relationships.
None of these marketing channels existed before eCommerce, and all are now a common part of a modern marketing strategy to boost eCommerce sales.
3. Marketers now have more data.
Digital marketing channels can promise something that was much more challenging with traditional marketing channels: data. Online platforms track results. You can see how often people visit your website, click on your ads, or follow your social profile.
And more than that, most online advertising platforms have additional data on the characteristics and behavior of the people taking those actions. So you can gain some insights into what kind of people click on your website, like where they’re geographically located and what demographic categories they fall into.
You can use that same data to refine your marketing campaigns to get better results over time, and improve your targeting to reach the right people at the right moment.
4. Content marketing is now an important strategy.
The old marketing strategy was to get your brand in front of as many people as possible wherever they’re spending their time—while they’re watching a football game, commuting to work, or reading a magazine.
With eCommerce, it’s more about convincing consumers to come to you willingly, when they’re looking for information related to what you sell. Instead of seeing an ad for running shoes when they’re on the subway and maybe (but maybe not) remembering the name of the brand later when they need new shoes, a consumer that’s into running is more likely to learn about relevant brands through active research.
When they go looking for tips on running, if they find useful content that answers their questions, they may decide to follow the brand that supplied it on social or sign up for their email list. When their old shoes wear out and it’s time to buy new ones, they already know the brand name because they’ve been getting emails from them, or seeing their social updates.
Content marketing is about helping consumers in order to increase awareness of your brand with the precise people likely to buy from you, and build trust at the same time.
Content marketing is now a cornerstone of many online marketing strategies. It helps improve SEO, gives brands something valuable to share on their social profiles, makes email marketing more valuable, and improves the customer experience. In short, creating great content can strengthen every other marketing tactic you use online.
5. Reviews play a big role in eCommerce decision making.
Content is a great way to reach your audience with your own message, but when people go searching for information online, they tap into a whole world of information beyond what your brand provides. A big part of that is reviews.
Between websites that collect customer reviews into one place and third-party review sites, when people dig in and research product options before purchase, reviews inevitably play a role in what they learn and the decision they make.
That consumers trust other customers more than they trust the word of brands themselves is nothing new. But before the internet, it was harder to access the opinions of dozens (or even hundreds) of strangers to see what they say about a product before buying.
Greater access to reviews means brands can’t rely on marketing alone. You have to invest in providing a high-quality product, a superb shopping experience, and exceptional customer experience. Otherwise, consumers will hear about your flaws and factor that into their purchasing decisions.
6. Social media impacts shopping habits.
According to Statista, people spend an average of 144 minutes a day on social media. It’s become a huge part of how people spend their time, as well as how they connect to other people and brands.
Many consumers now expect to find brands on social media. Some see it as a direct way to interact with companies they do business with,whether to ask questions or learn more about their product offerings. And many also use social media to learn what other consumers think of a brand.
Businesses now need a social media strategy that encompasses:
- Social marketing and advertising in order to get your brand in front of relevant consumers.
- Providing customer service to customers who use social media as their preferred channel to get in touch with questions or concerns.
- Social monitoring to learn what customers are saying about your brand across social sites—both the good and bad—in order to gain customer feedback, and respond when needed.
Managing social media effectively is a complicated part of doing business well in the modern era, but it’s an important one. If wielded effectively, it can be a powerful way to connect more directly with your target audience and learn more about them. If neglected, you risk disappointing customers who expect you to be accessible where they want, when they want.
7. Mobile marketing is a growing trend.
According to eMarketer research, 34% of eCommerce sales happen on smartphones. A lot of your customers are browsing the web on mobile devices, researching products on the small screen, and even making their purchases on phones. That means it’s just as important that your marketing prioritize mobile devices as desktop ones.
The first step for successful mobile marketing is making sure your website is mobile friendly. That’s easy with most website builders, since responsive templates are now a common option. But if you built your website a few years ago and it doesn’t work well on mobile, then it’s past time to update it.
In addition to making sure people can use your website easily on all device sizes, mobile marketing tactics like SMS marketing (which stands for short message services—text messages in the common parlance) are now a common tool used in marketing strategies. Most online advertising platforms provide the option of targeting mobile devices specifically, so you can generate marketing campaigns specific to mobile users.
And for some businesses, like online retailers, developing branded apps makes it easier for customers to make purchases on their smartphones—which increases the likelihood of them making more purchases with your company.
8. Brands must manage omnichannel experiences.
In many ways, having more channels to reach your audience is a good thing. It gives you more ways to connect, grow awareness of your brand, and learn about your customers. But practically speaking, it creates serious challenges for businesses. When your brand has a presence across dozens of channels, keeping them all connected is no small feat.
If a customer contacts you on social media, how do you make sure what you learn can be applied to interactions with them on your website, or over email? If they click on a link on a mobile device, how do you connect that data to actions they take on their desktop? Connecting all your different channels is difficult, but not impossible.
A number of tech products now exist to help businesses solve these challenges, but just as importantly, you need a way to organize and use all the information you have. And in the midst of it all, you need to figure out how to avoid crossing any lines regarding customer privacy. It’s a complicated process that brands of all types and sizes are still trying to navigate effectively.
And it’s a business expectation that’s been created by the advent of eCommerce and all the channels and marketing tactics that grew up because of it.
Marketing in the Age of eCommerce Has its Perks
Some of the ways eCommerce has transformed marketing may feel more like problems than improvements. You have to be in more places now. You have to learn all these different channels and technologies. And between social media and reviews, customers have access to information about your brand you can’t control.
But on the other hand, you have more ways to interact with customers directly, learn what they care about, and build trust with them. You have access to more data that helps you learn what they like and what they respond to, so you can improve your strategy consistently for better results. And as long as your brand is doing the work to create great products and deliver amazing customer service, you’ll have competitive advantage over any brand that doesn’t.
eCommerce has already transformed marketing in a lot of significant ways. And as technologies evolve and consumer behavior continues to change with the times, the future of eCommerce will inevitably bring more transformations for marketers to adapt to. Stay on your toes and prioritize what your customers care about, and you should be able to evolve along with the market.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.