Without good eCommerce services for your outdoor products, your long-term success will be in question. That’s not an understatement, it has gone beyond something you probably want to do, to what you have to do. The number of manufacturers selling directly to consumers is expected to grow 71% this year, which means 2 out of every 5 manufacturers will be selling directly to consumers by the end of 2018.
Although you may have "Amazon" on the brain, more than half (55 percent) of shoppers prefer to shop directly with brand manufacturers over retailers, according to Astound Commerce Insights “Global Brand Shopper Survey.” Only a couple of years ago the outdoor industry was debating how to avoid a “streetfight” with their retailers over a direct e-Commerce strategy. Now you must use an eCommerce ecosystem strategy approach that supports your retailer partners while allowing you sell your products the way consumers want to purchase them.
"You must be able to implement technology that will ensure it can scale with your growth" - The Ecommerce Marketers Guide to Scaling Technology, BigCommerce and Hubspot
Over a third of consumers report they bought directly from a brand manufacturer’s web site last year and 59 percent already use a brand manufacturer’s website for researching products and usually make their purchase there as well. Outdoor brands must not only have a viable eCommerce store they need to maximize their strategic participation across all the e-commerce channel options.
If you are an existing outdoor industry manufacturer, you more than likely have some type of eCommerce presence and eCommerce fulfillment services. eCommerce for outdoor industry products is not new. More people are buying online. Consider this: The percentage of shoppers who have bought sporting goods online grew to over 75% in the first three quarters of last year, significant growth from just six months prior.
What is new, is that every outdoor industry product manufacturer needs an eCommerce platform that does more than sell. It needs to provide an amazing customer experience with the brand and all of its products across all channels, devices, locations and times.
In the future, outdoor industry manufacturers that follow this path will succeed with increasing their direct sales ROI. Even more, they'll enhance their right to win business with retail trading partners. Companies that embrace the eCommerce opportunity within the broader omnichannel environment all while creatively engaging shoppers in all channels will be more successful than their competitors. This winning plan will help guide them through the rugged outdoor industry marketplace. Click here to learn about the basics of starting an eCommerce store.
In 2015, online sales amounted to over $294 million. By the fourth quarter of 2016, retail eCommerce sales made solely on desktops surpassed $67.4 billion. Forbes reports that B2C ecommerce will reach $3.2 trillion by 2020. That's nearly a 1000% increase in just a few years.
As a company in the outdoor industry eCommerce channel, you should be obsessed with data and then using data to measure what is happening from it. The eCommerce trends that emerged in 2017 were significant.
Tablets and smartphones are making it easy for consumers to shop for products whether they are on the couch, on the go, or in the aisle. These devices are blurring the line between browsing and shopping by allowing consumers to access information, compare prices, and make purchases almost instantaneously.
Read along below, email this article to yourself, bookmark it for later, or jump to the section that interests you most. The sections are:
- Where Do You Stand with Your eCommerce? Ask These Questions.
- The What and Why to Having a Direct eCommerce Platform for Outdoor Industry Manufacturers
- What Type of eCommerce Platform Should I Have?
- Do You Have a Collaborative Partnership with Your Retailers and Online Partners?
- What Should You Be Investing in for eCommerce Success with E-tailers?
- The Link Between Digital Marketing and eCommerce
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
We've all seen success stories about companies opening online stores or putting their products on Amazon and immediately producing $50k in sales in the first month. While everyone should set big goals and work hard to reach them, it's important to manage expectations as you start the process of creating your e commerce machine. Some people expect it to be easy, others quit when the going gets tough. Don't let the laundry list of challenges discourage you because you can be successful. Building the processes is the most difficult part, so ramp up the projections down the road and give yourself time to get to those goals!
“As new technologies raise consumer expectations, successful merchants realize they must cater to customers however they choose to shop” according to the Internet Retailer Hot 100 article.
If you want to determine where your eCommerce presence is today and where it should go, use this list of questions to assist you in your analysis.
Brick and Mortar
- Are your retailers carrying all of your product SKUs?
- Have your retailers properly trained their sales staff on your products?
- Can your retailers be easily located when customers are searching for a local place to go see your products?
- Do you and your retailers share the same type culture and purpose for corporate accountability that consumers in the outdoor industry segment demand and expect?
- Are you sharing data and assets with your retailers?
- Is your retailer locator easy to find at the top of the menu and up-to-date?
- Was your eCommerce site developed for “mobile first” or did you “squeeze” an existing desktop site into a mobile design?
- Is your site based on a custom platform or does it use open source platforms such as Magento, Shopify, and Bigcommerce?
- Have you analyzed the “customer experience” on your eCommerce platform?
- Do you have a responsive website that is optimized for SEO and built upon a growth driven design platform?
- Are your eCommerce goals driven by short-term quarterly profits of long-term brand and customer loyalty building?
- Are you using third-party software to directly connect to your retailer’s inventory on your product so potential customers know if the product they want is in stock?
- Does your eCommerce site clearly map the buying flow process for getting consumers to buy from a dealer?
- If you are designing advertising for your online store are you sharing this with your retailers for them to use?
- If you develop data and information content for Amazon, do you share it with your retailers and have them deploy the content on their website
- Do you have an arrangement with your retailers for direct purchase customers to pick up products from their store in exchange for customer data and additional sales opportunities when in their store?
Product and Brand
- Who are your online partners and retailers?
- How do you use Amazon to bolster your product’s discovery by potential customers?
- Have you identified which of your products are impulse buys and which are not?
- Have you identified which of your products consumers feel a need to “touch or try on” before purchasing?
- Does your eCommerce platform allow for virtual sizing, video of products, products being used in virtual reality, lots of reviews for each product?
- How strong is your brand in the customer segments you have targeted?
- What is your policy for online MSRP and MAP pricing?
- Are you fully utilizing your ecommerce store to provide content that will help build top and middle of the funnel leads for your products?
- Are you retailers and e-tailer partners fully utilizing your e commerce store to provide content that will help build top and middle of the funnel leads for your products?
- What is the growth in your “reorder” business from your ecommerce customers?
- Is your inbound digital marketing fully integrated and aligned with your eCommerce platform?
- How are you tracking data from your eCommerce channels, analyzing it and using it to improve?
- Is your eCommerce platform fully integrated to allow consumers a rewarding omnichannel experience in their evaluation and purchase of your outdoor industry products?
- Am I getting customer data back from retailer and e-tailing partners?
Winning over today’s digital shoppers requires you to have a collaborative relationship with your retailers and e-tailers. You must ensure that your company is developing its own dynamic digital resources to drive engagement to consumers to nurture them to eventually make a purchase. Your investment in a dynamic eCommerce presence will not only create more direct revenue and data from consumers you control, it will also influence your traditional retailer sales.
Your eCommerce strategy can provide you a highly effective system that delivers solutions to shoppers through the use of education, convenience and pricing that will influence their online and offline shopping decisions. Simply put, an effective eCommerce strategy, when done correctly, will have an impact on your customers. As you answer these questions, it will assist you in identifying how an eCommerce strategy will fit with your overall digital marketing and sales goals.
Consumers are looking to buy online and they are looking to the outdoor industry brand manufacturer to provide the information they need about products they are interested in to solve their problems. If you don’t already have one in place, then you should consider creating direct-to-consumer eCommerce channel. This will provide a direct channel you control for delivering customer experiences and providing product information.
The single greatest benefit that outdoor industry brands can get from their own eCommerce platform is through the direct access it provides to consumers. These sites are valuable learning labs and highly effective hubs for disseminating product knowledge, building brands, and creating and testing one-to-one pricing, online assortment schematics, and shopper solutions. Your own e-Commerce channel is the opportunity for outdoor industry manufacturers to glean insights that can help them build engagement and sales across all their other sales channels, including those of their traditional trade partners.
Source: SheSpeaks iVillage Shopper Study
Developing a brand eCommerce website is one thing, developing one that is compelling and distinctive is another. Nike, for example, has fully integrated its online and social media channels to deliver unique content and allow users to customize orders. Nike is using “portable” eCommerce experiences, mobile apps that become in-store beacons, and digital out-of-home digital media networks to continue the conversation started on eCommerce web sites into the store and deliver an expanded choice of personalized offerings at the point of sale.
Besides these innovations, your eCommerce store can differentiate itself by offering discontinued favorites, providing access to all your company's products by brand, creating a dedicated brand shop, offering products with special features not found elsewhere, event announcement and social promotion tie-ins.
Building eCommerce websites include all core business functions, integrated into a single platform. It will foster collaboration across departments, align operational processes and provide real-time user data. The platform will include the components of:
- Analytics and reporting - collection and mining of online data and analytics is the key to discovering consumer and shopper insights that can enhance and drive engagement across the myriad touch points in the digital world.
- Customer support - a range of services provided to assist customers in making cost effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, troubleshooting, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal of the product.
- Order and inventory management -includes aspects such as customer ordering processes, controlling and overseeing ordering inventory, storage of inventory, and controlling the amount of product for sale.
- Procurement - the purchase and sale of supplies, work, and services through the Internet as well as other information and networking systems, such as electronic data interchange.
- Content management - such as ratings and reviews, how-to video tutorials, personalized match-finder applications, and digital shopper solutions
- Digital Marketing - digital marketing is an umbrella term for all of your online marketing efforts.
- Pricing and promotions - providing a system that allows you to establish your product pricing and create pricing changes aligned with promotions for any product.
eCommerce platforms of today have moved beyond single purpose software where people can buy products and services online. Today's best cloud-based eCommerce platforms integrate both the front and back-office systems to provide a unified business environment that is easily scalable, endlessly customizable and provides time-saving automation functionality. Such a platform enables businesses to meet their customers' demands while also providing the flexibility and adaptability needed to keep up with the pace of business. In short, your eCommerce platform should reduce operational costs, increase efficiencies all the while minimizing the hassles of managing hardware and software.
In the outdoor industry B2C realm, your ecommerce platform needs to do more than just facilitate transactions if you want to compete in this competitive marketplace. In the end, a complete eCommerce platform can provide significant advantages over competitors not leveraging similar technology.
For today’s shopping preferences, you need an approach that is comprehensive and integrated across channels. This approach will allow you effectively compete in the omnichannel world. A world where consumers buy from brick-and-mortar retailers, clicks-and-brick retailers, e-tailers such as Amazon, Moosejaw, Sierra Trading Post and proprietary stores online.
Building your eCommerce site is no different from building your regular website: you need to build it with your customers in mind. Who are they, what are they looking for, how can you provide them a solution or product that they want? By understanding the buyer personas you are trying to reach, you can construct an eCommerce site that helps point them towards the right products. This extends to the kind of content you put on your pages and the way you maximize your SEO tags to help your Google ranking. The higher you rank, the more visitors you get, and the better you design your site, the more sales you'll see. It all starts with knowing your audience and buyer personas. According to the August 2017 report from Astound Commerce Insight’s “Global Brand Shopper Survey”, consumers:
- 37 percent of respondents expect a more engaging experience on a brand manufacturer’s website than a retailer’s.
- Half of the respondents expect better prices on a brand manufacturer’s website than on a retailer’s website.
Many retailers are attempting to differentiate themselves by creating highly curated experiences that combine the personal feel of in-store shopping with the convenience of online portals. These personalized online experiences are powered by artificial intelligence.
Combine Online with Personal Connection and Personality
The days of the nameless, faceless, personality-free e-commerce store is over. The only way to thrive now is to be someone and to offer unique value. Two of the top marketers on the 2017 Hot List 100 who add unique value are Shinola.com and Enjoy.com. Both are very different, but both have personality and value-driven business models.
94% of senior-level executives believe delivering personalization is critical or important to reaching customers. Direct interaction through social media, e-mail, eCommerce, mobile loyalty applications, virtual fitting rooms and in-store media provides an excellent way to turn big data into delighted customers.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, "Personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by 5 to 15 percent, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 10 to 30 percent". To succeed in personalization, you will need an eCommerce and digital marketing platform that:
- Uses behavioral data to find where the value is
- Plan in advance to react quickly to customer signals
- Empower a small group of the right people in your company and/or outside agency
- Focus on the processes and technology that really help teams work faster
- Track your individual leads, prospects, and customers through their entire journey and touchpoints
Build your eCommerce site to become a “flywheel” for reorders. The true value of an eCommerce platform is in the information you collect and the process you create to nurture repeat purchase habits of its customers. If you deliver a superior customer experience that delights your customers, you will get them to purchase and again?
Outdoor industry manufacturers must focus on their initial eCommerce investment in the channels that will likely bear the most fruit. They should consider providing the eCommerce infrastructure that focuses on the e-tailers, third-party sites and click-and-brick retailers that are most relevant for their brand segments. The information and experience gained from these investments will assist in scaling these to other players in these channels more cost-effectively.
|Pro Tip: An omnichannel approach offers a solution to one of the greatest challenges facing marketers: how to replicate the scale of traditional mass media, such as television and print, in digital media.|
You get what you put in. The whole point of your e-Commerce initiative is to make more money, so some business owners are reluctant to spend money to get their online sales going. But the benefits of a powerful e-commerce platform far outweigh the costs.
If you invest in something like Magento, Shopify or Bigcommerce as the base for your new store, you'll have amazing features and the option to scale as you develop and grow. But don't go crazy; buying a huge eCommerce platform for a fledgling company could hurt you in the long run if you are buying products that do more than you need. Having perspective about what you need and where you can grow to will help you understand where and how to spend your marketing dollars, be it an online platform, pay-per-click advertising on Google, or Facebook ads.
There is certainly strong evidence to support the conclusion that brick and mortar stores are becoming extinct. However, while it is correct that some retail store strategies are failing, there are numerous others that are thriving.
Source: Business Insider
In contemplating eCommerce partnerships with retailers, manufacturers should identify the most promising partners. Sales volume is an important criterion in this process, but it should not be the sole reason for choosing a partner. It is also important to determine how willing the outdoor industry manufacturer is to build business collaboratively and its posture with regards to data sharing, content syndication, and experimentation to drive conversion to retailers (either in physical stores or by providing a shopping basket handoff to online trading partners).
When establishing online direct-to-consumer sites, manufacturers must consider how they will reassure their retail partners about their competitive intentions. This can be accomplished by continuing to fund programs that drive traffic to retailers, as well as by leveraging the unique insights and content they develop their own digital assets to enhance retailer collaboration efforts.
According to Astound Commerce Insight’s “Global Brand Shopper Survey.” The in-store experience still plays an important role for brands, especially on products that are higher priced items. The study also indicated that 72 percent still prefer to shop at physical retailers where multiple brand manufacturers are sold. Other insights from the August 2017 Study found:
- The shopping experience: 59 percent of respondents visit a physical store to seek out the full brand experience they don’t believe they can get online.
- Touch and feel options: 70 percent of respondents want to touch and feel the product.
According to Icebreaker’s internal Amazon analytics, 55 percent of U.S. consumers search for product info on that site, compared to the 28 percent that uses a search engine. That’s just fine with Walford. “We’re excited about the relationship we have with Amazon,” he said, though it’s certainly not the only place for Americans to find Icebreaker product.
Brands and retailers are partners, not competitors. When they work together, everyone wins. Direct-to-consumer selling isn’t the brand versus retailer conundrum we once feared. Instead, it’s a symbiotic means of bringing both closer together.
There are numerous steps and investments to make to succeed with e-tailers like Amazon, Moosejaw, Sierra Trading Post, etc. There are five primary kinds of investments that outdoor manufacturers will need to make with online retailers to have a successful partnership.
Optimize Your Content with SEO (link this heading to my revised SEO eCommerce optimization blog): both you and your online partners are going to want to make search engine optimization for keywords and long-tail keywords a priority to support keyword purchases, descriptive materials and images that make it easier for consumers to find and learn about your products on their website:
Targeted advertising and promotions: You will need to invest in advertising that drives traffic to their retail sites and on their sites:
Point-of-sale (POS) data and analytics: You will need to spend money to mine your online sales data, improve processes to capture data and maybe purchase data; and
Resources to assist them: Whether you provide these resources from in-house sources or from an agency partner specialized in outdoor industry eCommerce, these online partners will expect you to provide investments in account-dedicated resources, particularly those focused on merchandising your online products.
Pro Tip: Outdoor industry manufacturers that are serious about doing business with Amazon should be prepared to invest time and money.
“The role that brand manufacturers play in today’s retail landscape has evolved,” said Lauren Freedman, SVP of digital strategy for Astound Commerce. “Consumers’ heightened expectations for digital commerce means brands must master online selling and present compelling and competitive shopping experiences, on par with multi-brand counterparts. Moving forward, brands and retailers must explore even more creative ways to demonstrate value and engage through experiential means to woo younger customers and maintain customer loyalty, particularly in light of the challenging retail climate.” Success in digital marketing is based on having a complete process in place.
Shoppers using eCommerce sites to research products and hunt for deals not only drive online sales but also influences online sales and top-of-the-purchase- funnel metrics, such as awareness and consideration.
Your products won't sell themselves, no matter how great your e commerce site is. You still need to utilize the full range of marketing options at your disposal, like email, social media, blogging, eBooks, and SEO and PPC campaigns. There are steps you should take to maximize your ROI from your spend on digital marketing for e-commerce. The goal of an inbound marketing campaign, as opposed to traditional (read: old-school) marketing efforts, is to draw relevant traffic to your site, interest them in your company and products with quality content and other offers, and move them towards the sales point. Some people will show up ready to buy: awesome! Others will need to see some powerful email campaigns or a call to action on your Facebook page before they make their purchase. Inbound marketing gives you the full range of tools to capture new customers wherever they are in the buying cycle and is the best way to maximize your potential with eCommerce.
Craft Clear, Compelling and Creative Offers
Design clear, compelling and creative offers. For an example, check out BollandBranch.com. is a seller of organic bedding and fine linens. Boll and Branch have mastered the art of a clear and compelling offer. First, like many successful online companies, they offer an immediate discount upon arrival to the site for $30 off your first purchase when you enter your email address. They take it a step further by then moving the coupon code and a prominent reminder of the offer to the upper left portion of the header.
It’s impossible to miss but doesn’t get in the way of shopping. Also, they creatively overcome one of the biggest hurdles of selling bedding online – customers wanting to touch and experience the product before committing. They offer a 30-day money back guarantee to take away any pre-purchase anxiety. While this is not all that unique, their presentation is. They don’t say, “Comes with a 30-day guarantee,” they offer “Let’s have a 30-night stand – Try Boll and Branch for 30 days and if you aren’t completely in love send them back our way for a full refund.”
For Millennials, Brand Experience is Key
Astound Commerce notes "that Millennials have been a driving force in the evolution of brands, with innovations like NIKEiD and Apple’s Genius Bar developed to meet their demand for unique, convenient brand experiences. The study indicates Millennials want experiences that are:
- Engaging: 45 percent of millennial respondents expect a more engaging experience on the brand manufacturer’s website where they can get a strong sense of the product and brand.
- Sophisticated: Nearly a third (32 percent) of millennial respondents strongly agree that brand manufacturer websites are more sophisticated than the retailers’ sites who sell their products.
- Social: More than half (56 percent) of millennial respondents connect at least weekly with brand manufacturers on social media – indicating a need for more brand content in their personal feeds."
As eCommerce takes on added importance in an outdoor industry manufacturer’s growth strategy, companies may also want to reconsider how they organize their internal shopper marketing. Most companies with shopper marketing are sales driven with close alignment to digital marketing. However, if you want to improve online sales and drive the growth of your eCommerce direct platform, you will want to develop more “digital first” shopper solutions. These are solutions for the consumer that will be satisfied from your company's direct to consumer e-Commerce platform. These changes will further drive the need for your outdoor recreation company to have greater collaboration and coordination between sales and marketing to capture synergies between eCommerce and digital marketing. Here are five other ways to improve your eCommerce sales.
This article only scratches the surface of what you should aim to do when launching your new eCommerce initiative. Every site is different, and every selection of products needs and different kind of site to sell them. We're big fans of eCommerce here at The Digital Outdoorsman, and in working with the team at Revenue River, I'm learning new things every day about industry standards and how to maximize your marketing budget to make online sales. It's not an exact science, which makes it a unique challenge and opportunity. If you're interested in talking about how to launch your eCommerce site.