In the post-COVID era, retail companies will continue to rely more on online shoppers to grow their business. As a result, it has become essential for new and emerging digital brands to differentiate themselves in an already crowded marketplace.
While online retail has been a rapidly growing segment for a number of years, the pandemic further shifted consumer habits to the point that physical retail is in danger of becoming obsolete. According to a recent report by Coresight Research, as many as 10,000 stores could close in the United States in 2021 alone, with far fewer openings than in past years. In contrast, online sales of apparel and footwear rose more than 27 percent to $121.5 billion in 2020.
Some may argue that shoppers will return to stores once the pandemic has run its course. However, according to a recent study by First Insight, “40 percent of consumers say they will shop for apparel in-store either less or the same amount after being vaccinated.”
Below are a number of practices that will help increase the chances of growing an online retail company in today’s competitive environment.
Build A Strong Team
The old saying “you’re only as good as the people around you” could not be truer in today’s world, where the amount and type of expertise needed for a retail company to be successful has never been so high.
From branding and marketing to social media, there are a multitude of disciplines a company must effectively utilize to compete. If there is something you are not doing right, you can bet someone else in the marketplace will take advantage. Not to mention the importance of understanding the rapidly evolving technology shaping how practically everything is done today.
It is impossible for one person to be an expert at everything, and it should not be the responsibility of a founder or CEO to master all of these tasks. However, it is their job to put a strong team in place, have a good understanding of each discipline, and most importantly be decisive.
Marketing is Key
Global online retail sales are anticipated to approach $5 trillion in 2021, according to the Global Ecommerce Update 2021 by eMarketer, up from an estimated $4.28 trillion in 2020. However, there are reportedly more than 24 million ecommerce websites in the world. With so much competition for online shoppers, marketing plays an essential role in building an online brand.
Two main goals of a marketing campaign are brand awareness and increasing customer loyalty. While finding new customers is key to growing a business, attracting repeat shoppers will ultimately be what takes a company to the next level. There are a number of tools that can help online retailers achieve both of these objectives, including digital advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, public relations, and social media.
SEO has become an especially important tool for ensuring a company’s website ranks high on Google and other search engines. There are numerous digital marketing companies that provide SEO, but the cost and level of service can vary widely, so it pays to do your research.
Email marketing may seem old fashioned, but in fact it can be an extremely effective way to maintain and increase brand loyalty if done in a thoughtful way. Distributing a weekly or monthly newsletter about the brand is a good option, along with emails highlighting special offers and events.
Public relations can also be used to promote a brand to potential customers through “earned media” opportunities such as executive profiles, inclusion in trend stories, news announcements, and company awards.
For a younger audience in particular, social media has become extremely important for promoting online brands, but it needs to be done thoughtfully and methodically. For example, it is important to know which social media platforms your customers are using such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and regularly post to those sites. Increasingly, Instagram provides brands with the greatest potential for audience growth due to its popularity and visual advantages.
The Power of Influencers
A brand influencer is someone who is paid to connect their loyal social media audiences to a retail partner, potentially increasing sales for that brand. Perhaps the most famous example is Kim Kardashian, but influencers can range from 5 million-plus followers to “nano-influencers” who engage a small, targeted audience of up to 10,000 followers. Costs for engaging an influencer can range widely, so a brand needs to weigh the costs versus the benefits of working with a particular person. Influencers may not work for every brand, but they can provide a much-needed boost if utilized smartly, even if just for a short period.
With greater competition from online retailers than ever before, it is essential to utilize at least some of these tools in order to effectively connect with customers and build brand loyalty in a post-COVID world.
Written by Jeffrey M Canouse.
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