How is a sinking ship different from a failing ecommerce site?

At least the captain can go down with their ship!

You can’t – so you better do everything in your power to keep the customers coming.

As we approach crunch time in the world of online shopping, now seems like as good a time as any to review the best tools and techniques for acquiring new customers, increasing repeat business, and minimizing loss.

The whole ecommerce game boils down to getting people to buy your product. And then, hopefully getting some of those customers to come back again and again.

Whether you’re new to ecommerce or a grizzled vet who remembers what it was like to sell on eBay, this guide should give you some new ideas and reinforce old ones, including:

  • Why actionable, helpful content is your responsibility (i.e. curation isn’t key)
  • When to ask customers for reviews (and then how to use those!)
  • How to do influencer outreach to earn increased SEO (the science + the art)
  • How to use live chat to increase conversions and customer loyalty
  • Why your site doesn’t need to be beautiful, it needs to be helpful (and what the difference is)

You’ll also find recommendations on BigCommerce apps and integrations that fellow entrepreneurs use to succeed.

If there’s anything you want to add, please leave us a comment or email us – don’t be shy!

Customer Acquisition Tactics: The 4-Step Process

Customer acquisition is the process by which ecommerce brands actively find and then convert net new customers to their sales cycle.

Many brands think that to effectively create a customer acquisition cycle, all you need to do is launch your website.

But that is far from the reality. Once you launch, you need to then:

  • Create targeted ads on Facebook
  • Install 1-step checkout
  • A/B test your copy
  • Get niche bloggers to talk about it

That’s how net new customers will come.

Let’s go a layer up here, though. Good customer acquisition breaks down into four major categories:

  1. Promotions.
  2. Design.
  3. Testing.
  4. Outreach. 

If you nail these four areas of ecommerce customer acquisition, you should expect to do pretty well at convincing Joe Web Surfer to buy your stuff.

What is cost of customer acquisition?

The cost of customer acquisition is typically referred to as CAC, and it is easily broken down into a simple formula.

It is the cost spent on acquiring new customers (marketing expenses) divided by the number of customers acquired for that given period.  

For example, if you spend $100 in a year and acquire 100 customers, your CAC is $1.

Additional Recommended Reading

In case we’re moving too fast: here’s a comprehensive guide on how to drive traffic to your ecommerce site.

Customer Acquisition Strategy Ideas + Examples

1. Give ‘em a deal they’ll never forget.

What’s the last thing you bought online?

Chances are, it probably was on sale, came with a discount code, or was shipped to you for free.

People love discounts.

Giving someone the feeling that they “won” a deal is a powerful way to make them like your product more than a competitor’s.

You can go about promotions in a variety of ways.

Use your social media channels to run ads featuring a coupon that’s redeemable on your website if you have a pretty solid target demographic figured out.

If you’re more into drip campaigns or interacting with customers off of social media and perhaps have a popular blog, your email list is a bona fide money-making machine.

Encourage people to subscribe to your email newsletters and occasionally reward them for access to their inboxes with an exclusive offer.

Additional Recommended Reading

To get the most out of welcome emails, check out these battle-tested templates.

If you have a less popular item in stock or dwindling inventory of a SKU that’s no longer made by your suppliers, put it to use either as a limited-quantity loss leader or throw it in as a freebie on orders over a certain quantity.

Not only does this free up valuable space in your ecommerce fulfillment warehouse, it gives customers the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from getting a great deal.

Don’t forget that when you’re crafting deals to lure in new customers, you should pay attention to related trends or the time of year.

That could mean putting together ads that drum up anticipation for the winter holidays or spoofing the new hit TV show that everyone in your demographic follows.

The only thing better than a sale is a sale that connects with the lifestyles of the people who are your customers.

BigCommerce app that could help: Coupon Pop entices new visitors to become customers with instant pop-up discount offers designed to get sales.

2. Design your website to be helpful, not sophisticated.

No one cares if your website has 1080p image sliders or embedded QR codes.

The only thing that matters is that a first time visitor can find what they’re looking for, and then buy it from you.

So keep things simple and easy to use.

Use an ecommerce database (otherwise known as a search bar) for customers that actually answers their queries — and leave breadcrumbs for them to navigate your selection of items if you have an especially large inventory.

When a visitor is ready to make the leap into becoming a customer, make sure your site has a 1 page checkout to keep things as easy as possible.

Write detailed product descriptions that tell your customer exactly what they’re getting when they order from you.

If you sell clothes, include specific sizing charts and model dimensions. You wouldn’t buy something online without knowing what you were buying — so take that into consideration when you think about your customers.

That said, writing an immaculate product description is only the first step to true customer satisfaction.

The real test is ensuring that your order fulfillment process 100% ensures that your customer get the correct product, in the right size, and on time.

Whether these operations are handled in house, or outsourced, the financial cost and soft costs of mispicks, lost inventory, and late shipments can be disastrous to your bottom line.

Additional Recommended Reading

Need to explore different fulfillment tactics more? Check out our article on ecommerce fulfillment, self fulfillment, and dropshipping.

Another underrated feature of any good ecommerce site is load time.

If you’re using a bulky web platform or cheaping out on server space, there’s a good chance you could have a higher bounce rate as visitors decide it’s not worth waiting for a page to load.

You can’t afford to lose traffic just because your load times are slow. Optimizing page load times is fundamental to your site’s chances at success.

Additional Recommended Reading

Need ideas on ecommerce store design? BigCommerce wrote a thorough guide with great examples from around the web.

BigCommerce app that could help: Live Chat Inc. One of the classic drawbacks to shopping online is that customers can’t try on or test out products.

While futuristic solutions such as virtual reality shopping could change that, specialty or customizable items will be a tough online sell so long as customers feel like they can’t know for sure what they’re buying. One method for covering that gap of uncertainty is a customer-facing live chat integration.

ZenPro Audio’s Story

Warren Dent is the owner and founder of ZenPro Audio, an ecommerce site that sells high quality audio equipment and products.

At this price point, most folks have various audio needs and order size requirements, making the product difficult to sell without direct interaction with individual customers.

That’s why Dent decided to install a live chat app. He explains the benefits best:

“I tried a half dozen or so live chat apps, and always ended up coming back to LiveChat. It’s not the cheapest. However, it has the ability to customize the chat window with logos and avatars, allows file transfers back and forth with customers, and is fast and responsive.

The admin page is very clean, and the chat page to me was the most sensibly laid out. Popup notifications work, and when you click them it carries you to the open tab and chat for immediate response every time.

The incoming chat sound is spoken as “incoming chat” which also makes sense to me, when a customer is initiating.

Afterwards, standard message sounds apply.

You can watch your customer type in real time which can be helpful.

Also, customer support is outrageously awesome –– and work, of course, via live chat. They’ve never been unavailable when I had dozens of requests to tweak my design etc.

I tried the rest and found the best in my opinion anyhow.”

How ZenProAudio 2X’D AOV

Live chat isn’t the only tool that helps convert. See how Klarna can turn prospects into customers for high-priced items.

Get a 100% Increase in AOV with Klarna

3. A/B test everything.

A/B testing is important not to see which designs are best or to use data to outwit other colleagues (though it can do both of those as well). No, A/B testing is about figuring out which options produce the highest numbers of conversions.

Ecommerce conversion rate optimization is the #1 tactic to growth for brands past the startup stage.

Why?

Because the more customers you convert (moving the needle from 2% of site visitors to 5%), the more money you make, the lower your CAC (the calculation of which is explained earlier) and the less you have to spend to acquire that customer again.

It’s smart for your brand to have a test plan for online shopping website optimization. That means that you:

  • Mark on Google Analytics every time you launch a new test
  • Have a standard for how long you run them and how many visitors must experience both versions
  • Have a process for executive approval to launch the winner
  • Move onto the net item to test to increase conversions
  • Repeat as needed.

This is especially true with copy on landing pages and product pages.

If there’s one thing you should remember about copywriting, it’s this:

The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.

Copywriting guru Eddie Shleyner said that, and he knows a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

Without good copy — without the sort of hook, line and sinker content that gets customers’ eyes moving down the page — your product is as good as dead.

So write product copy.

  • Test out a sentence.
  • Test out your tone.
  • Test out corny jokes.
  • Test out every facet of your website.

Not just the words themselves, but the layout of your website. Does it make sense to have the product search bar tucked into the top right corner, or would you have larger order sizes with a full-width behemoth?

Do blue “buy now” buttons get more clicks, or are they outperformed by red? Is “buy now” a better CTA than “get this?”

The more you know, the better your ecommerce businesses will do.

Here’s a list of 5 fundamental parts of your business that need testing; if you can’t do it, then find someone to do it for you. It’s simply too important to not take into consideration these ecommerce testing scenarios.

5 Ecommerce A/B Testing Ideas:
  1. Product copy
  2. Landing page/lead magnet layout
  3. Email drip campaign copy
  4. Blog content: Video vs infographic vs photo gallery vs test
  5. Advertising layout + copy

Best BigCommerce app for this: Visual Website Optimizer gives you 7 different testing options, including conversion tracking and A/B testing.

Additional Recommended Reading

If you’re stuck on optimization ideas, check these landing page and checkout page design articles.

4. Reach out to influencers.

People who work in marketing either love or hate influencer outreach. It just depends on your personality and whether you like cold-emailing folks to ask for favors or not.

What no one denies is that working the back channels of major media websites or Page 1 heavyweights is not an option if you want your business to succeed.

It’s mandatory.

So how do you stock your pipeline full of quality influencers? This largely depends on where it’s most effective for you to do your marketing.

Additional Recommended Reading

Stuck on influencer marketing? These nine influencer marketing case studies should help.

Building up a catalog of valuable backlinks usually starts with the content you create.

Quid pro quo is a reliable strategy for breaking into more venerable websites. If you allow someone from a relevant website to write a guest post on your company’s blog or simply link to one of their posts from somewhere on your site, you can leverage that into getting a guest post or backlink on their site.

Depending on what sort of audience you’re targeting, it might be more effective to seek out backlinks via an Instagram or Youtube channel instead of on a facebook page or on a blog post.

How do you know which channels make the most sense? By looking at our Google Analytics or BigCommerce Analytics to determine from where your most profitable traffic is coming –– and then working with influencers to get more of that.

In terms of finding influencers, free tools such as the BuzzSumo trial version or Google Alerts go a long way to connecting you with people and media channels who can make a difference.

While it’s not cheap, Pitchbox is a highly effective platform for performing keyword matches on influencer sites in your niche and scraping contact info for you to cold email in automated sequences.

It’s a huge time-saver and can get you handfuls of backlinks, especially if you craft a winning cold email.

Examples of Ecommerce Influencers:
  • Ezra Firestone
  • Richard Lazazzera
  • Sujan Patel
  • Noah Kagan
  • Shayla Price
  • Krista Fabregas
  • James Thomson
  • Daniel Wallock
  • Rieva Lesonsky
  • Andrew Youderian
  • Emil Kristensen
  • Tracey Wallace

Overview of Customer Engagement Tactics That Work

Customer engagement is how much interaction your marketing, merchandising and business as usual activities inspire in your customers. In other words: how often do your customers engage with you?

Customer engagement is a good measuring stick for customer lifetime loyalty and a brand’s overall messaging effectiveness.

Brands typically begin measuring customer engagement once a prospect has bought something –– or turned into a customer.

This is because once you have those new customers coming through the door, it’s time to focus on the next step: getting them to buy again.

What can you do to foster a better relationship and drive trust with your existing customers and ensure that they come back to you for future purchases?

The key to converting new ecommerce customers into repeat customers lies in keeping them interested in what you’re offering. How you do that depends most of all on your brand and what you’re trying to accomplish by engaging with them.

Good customer engagement breaks down into four major categories:

  1. Rewards
  2. Social media
  3. Content creation
  4. Post-purchase experience
6 Examples of Customer Engagement Strategies

1. Build loyalty through rewards.

Making your product appealing to customers on an emotional basis is a powerful way to build loyalty.

After all, when marketers use words like “loyalty” that have emotional connotations, it’s clear that the endgame is to make people feel like your company is more than just a brand and they’re more than just customers.

They want to feel valued.

How do you make someone who paid hard-earned cash for your product feel special? You reward them for it.

  • Give out discount codes to customers who review you on Amazon.
  • Have a digital punch card on hand for repeat buyers so they get their 6th product refill for free.
  • Organize members-only meetups and get your customers talking about your brand to each other and within their social circles.

You can grow customer lifetime value in just a year if you follow these tips.

True brand loyalty – “My daddy only drove Fords and so do I” – is incredibly valuable, hard to fake, and hard to earn.

By showing your customers that you’re willing to give them an exclusive discount, you demonstrate that you want their business and want them to feel satisfied with your product.

Best BigCommerce app for this: Smile.io incentives customers to share your brand with their friends through social media as well as encourage customers to post positive reviews in exchange for future discounts or redeemable rewards points.

Formerly known as Sweet Tooth, the app integrates with BigCommerce businesses with the sole purpose of building customer loyalty through incentives such as discounts and reward points.

Lisa Chu, owner of toddler fashion company Black n Bianco, knows the importance of keeping her customers hooked to her brand.

“Month by month my conversion rate and traffic started to increase [with Smile.io]. By rewarding our customers I built brand loyalty and created a positive feedback cycle of happy, passionate and vocal customers. Rewarding them really helps keep my brand relevant and competitive. Smile.io is the perfect app because it incentives customers to post reviews (especially the positive kind!) and share our brand with their friends through social media.”

After using BigCommerce for 4 years, Black n Bianco integrated Smile.io led to an increase in customer engagement of 38%.

Most businesses would kill for that sort of return on their investment. Maybe you don’t need to kill at all; you can test ride it and start getting the love from your customers you always dreamed of.

2. Reflect your audience’s tastes in your social feed.

There’s nothing sadder than seeing an inactive social media page for an ecommerce business.

How are you supposed to connect with your customers?

Have them call an (800) number? That would be acceptable if your customers were in the senior age bracket and this was 2010.

But even grandma has a Facebook account these days, so you pretty much have no excuse.

Do some research and put together a core list of social media channels you want to focus on.

The plan of attack for successful customer engagement varies depending on your goals and what network you’re using.

Tractor company John Deere uses a clever Instagram hashtag that their customers might use when they’re out in the field on a combine harvester or perhaps dressing up their youngest as tractors for Halloween.

It connects the image of practicality and reliability that characterize the brand with current owners, aficionados, and potential future customers.

Le Creuset knows its customers tend to be passionate about cooking and swoon over food porn. There’s no better social media platform for this than Pinterest, since the focus is on images (in this case of gorgeous browned crusts, sumptuous stews, and other culinary delights).

Oftentimes their enameled cast iron pots are not even in a shot; all you see is a close-up of a freshly-prepared meal with a link to the recipe.

This exemplifies the goal of social media and online customer engagement: you’re not trying to upsell, you’re giving them value for something they already got.

In some ways, this overlaps with the goal of creating loyalty. Either way, the end result is the same: by reflecting your customers’ tastes on the appropriate social media channel, you keep them interested and poised to buy from you again when the moment presents itself.

3. Create useful, actionable content.

It’s not just enough to share other peoples’ creations on the company Twitter account.

You need to proactively create content that your customers will appreciate and find useful.

If done right, your content should not only augment the experience of your customers; it should also be shared and reposted by other influencers, too.

Quality content comes in a variety of forms.

  1. You could release a series of guides or mini ebooks that correspond to the product you sell.
  2. Maybe host a YouTube channel or a podcast with tailor-made episodes.
  3. Or pay bloggers to publish short stories that feature your item just as it was intended.

Whatever content you make, it should connect existing customers to your brand.

So what does useful, actionable content look like in the real world? Here are a couple examples.

Blue Bottle Example

If you’re a coffee addict, you’ve probably heard of Blue Bottle — they’re a heavyweight in the world of subscription premium quality coffee.

They have a few brick and mortar locations, but the creme de la creme of their revenue comes from their ecommerce store.

For anyone who loves coffee, their website is a treasure trove of useful information about how to make the perfect cup.

Whether that comes in the form of a Bialetti or a cold brew, Blue Bottle has step by step guides with clear photos and written instructions that walk you through the process of making coffee the way you like it.

When creating content to engage with existing customers, they asked one simple question — What’s the best complement to our excellent coffee? — and the answer was this series of useful guides.

Excellent content doesn’t need to sell your brand at all; it just needs to feature it.

Ipsy Example

Ipsy understands that principle and that’s why their partnership with popular makeup and cosmetics artists on Instagram is such a brilliant idea.

They run a subscription service that sends out a personalized selection of sample-sized cosmetics and makeup once a month, and they use Instagram for the heavy lifting of content creation.

The brand re-posts images with permission from Influencers like Ashly to help grow their audience and engage with fans.

Turn Your Instagram Fans Into Customers

Instagram Shopping is now available for U.S. sellers. Install it here. And download the guide below for 80+ examples of brands already using it.

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4. Follow up on purchases.

There’s one other way that your business should cater to existing customers: right after the sale.

As you probably know from experience, after you buy something the novelty slowly fades away.

Sure, you’re going to be addicted to your new PS4 for the first couple months that buy it. But eventually other distractions or new toys get in the way and all of a sudden the only reason you use it is when you want to watch Netflix on a Sunday night.

When a new customer comes along and buys something from you, don’t wait til the novelty has worn off to approach them with a social sharing incentive or free product in exchange for answering a survey.

While this is anecdotal and not the same as a scientific survey, most online shoppers I know tend to leave reviews for products within a week after they made a purchase.

Additional Recommended Reading

If you’re having trouble with abandoned shopping carts, you might want to learn how to reduce them — and gain more purchases.

Greg Bullock, director of marketing at longtime BigCommerce website TheraSpecs, has advice for any ecommerce business looking to increase customer engagement in the post-purchase phase.

“Like most ecommerce companies, we use an automation tool — in this case ActiveCampaign — for outreach before and after a purchase. Our precision-tinted glasses often require some time in order for customers to experience relief for their light sensitivity, and we want to experience that journey with them as well as help set and manage their expectations.”

Keeping in touch with customers and demonstrating that you care about their experience after the sale helps to create a positive feedback loop.

That’s only natural when someone places their trust in your brand and is rewarded with a quality product and a friendly email asking if there’s anything that can be done better.

Bullock says that looking for feedback is even more important if a customer isn’t satisfied with their purchase:

“We have automated emails that go out from our service team to learn more about how TheraSpecs are working, and we want to engage with that customer in order to share in their joys of relief or provide service if there are any issues. For those who offer positive feedback, we like to delight them by offering a discount on their next purchase as well as the opportunity to share their story on our blog and social channels.”

This is why following up with customers matters: if you do it right, it just turns right back into good marketing for your brand.

Key Metrics For Customer Engagement:
  • Email open rate
  • Email click through rate (CTR)
  • New versus repeat visitors
  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Frequency rate (how often the same visitor returns)
  • Repeat purchase rate
  • Customer loyalty program activity

The Complete List of Tools

Here is a final list and links to all the tools mentioned in this piece:

  1. Active Campaign
  2. Smile.io
  3. Buzzsumo
  4. Pitchbox
  5. VWO
  6. Live Chat
  7. Coupon Pop
  8. Klarna

What’s your secret to winning new customers and making repeat ones? Tell us in the comments below!

Want more insights like this?

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