Jan 19, 2017

How Smaller Ecommerce Stores Can Match it With The Big Brands

Competing with big ecommerce brands with big budgets and lots of market share?

Don’t worry, there are plenty of things that a smaller ecommerce company can do to stay competitive. It's all about defining and clearly articulating your USP (unique selling proposition), combined with continual refinement of your own brand offerings.

Embrace the benefits of multichannel, digital tools, and influencer marketing to help you make the most of your ecommerce budget in 2017.  Here are 6 simple, yet actionable things you can do for your brand in order to make a big difference on a small budget.


Branding that gets people involved

Do what you do best and offer up a retail experience people won’t forget.

Great branding comes from understanding your audience, not spending loads of money on a fancy branding agency.  Focus on authenticity and connection in order to build an ecommerce brand that’s focused on relationships, not targets.

Here are 4 tips to amplify your branding:

1. Tell a story

Great branding doesn’t involve big budgets – you need a brand that tells a story. Whether you want to evoke heritage, family, power, adventure, or another image – just make sure that your messaging hits the right spots. Brand messaging must extend from logo design right through to the website footer.

2. Deliver authenticity

A smaller organisation benefits from a more authentic brand. Shout about your local credentials, share your goofy stories, and give your team a friendly face. Use your website and blog as a place to share your personality, as well as your products. (Word of warning, if you go too wacky you might put people off. Focus on your audience, not yourself. Tell them a story they want to hear).

3. Create a great experience

A great brand provides great experiences. Stay connected with your audience by never losing sight of your customers. Speak to the customer service team, talk to customers on social media, and ask for feedback, to make sure your brand is delivering a great all-round customer experience. As a smaller business, great customer service is your lifeline.

4. Be unique

Invest in unique copy and imagery and step away from bland sales copy and stock images. Invest in injecting personality – it’s something large corporate brands and department stores won’t be able to do.


Be awesome at social media

Social media is a great way to stay connected with current (and potential) customers.

Sending out the wrong vibes through your social media channels is a potential brand killer, so hang out with the right people on social and put your customers first.

Invest in the right channels: don’t be tempted to chase social glory everywhere –  focus on where your audience hang out.

Here are 5 tips to make social media work for your eCommerce site:

1. Go where the influencers are

Find the social media channels where your top influencers hang out, and make a name for yourself by putting out regular, quality posts. Influencers are often turned off by overtly commercial content or posts, so don’t be too salesy. Focus on providing expert commentary and opinion, not regurgitating others’ words. Seeding content through influencers is a great way to grow your following, but be careful about paying out too much for this type of PR.

2. Have purpose

New platforms and channels are often a good opportunity for smaller brands, but again, authenticity is key. A live video that’s just a glorified blog post will put people off. Make sure your content is brand-fit before charging ahead.

3. Converse

Connect with conversational commerce by using marketing chatbots and live-chat on your website. Selling on social is big business – invest in social selling to find customers in their natural environments.

4. Embrace social

Integrate social into your purchase journey so that your channels show real and diverse interactions. Remember – people won’t share a purchase just because you ask them to. Always think about the incentives: what makes people share? Make sure you make people look good – then they might want to share it…

5. Create a schedule

Schedule social media posts to help you scale, but don’t drown out your brand personality behind millions of shortened links. Factor in some social media campaigns for a bigger impact. Stuck for campaign ideas? Check out these 2016 campaign winners.


Be savvy with digital tools

The digital world offers loads of tools for free – don’t pay for more than you have to. Use these web tools to help you save money and scale your business faster.

4 simple tips when choosing a marketing tool:

1. Spread the cost

At first, spread the cost and go for monthly packages over annual subscriptions when you’re in the ‘try before you buy’ phase. (Annual prices are usually cheaper overall so once you’re committed – go for it).

2. Prioritise

When trying to figure out what tools to go for – always prioritise ones that are going to make you more money. Invest time into sorting out payments and invoices – if not properly managed, cash flow issues will hold you back big time.

3. Be frugal

Upgrade and downgrade services strategically – always take advantage of free trials, but be aware that you might be opening yourself to a barrage of sales calls and emails when you cancel.

4. Hack your marketing

There are plenty of ways you can hack your marketing – automation is one way to help you scale. Explore your virtual outsourcing options – you don’t have to to do it all yourself.


Go multichannel

Don’t be afraid to diversify – sell wherever, and whenever you can. The best merchants are always on the lookout for new sales opportunities. Explore new platforms and embrace multichannel selling to maximise profits.

Here’s how you can go multichannel:

1. Marketplace selling

Have you considered marketplace selling? With the right products and clever stock management, you can make a killing to supplement your online store income. Make sure you sell on the right platform though – your products have to match the marketplace.

2. Retail without the bricks & mortar

Don’t miss out on ‘real world’ sales opportunities. Seasonal craft fairs, markets, events, pop-up shops, guerrilla marketing, flyering, posters – use the whole range of available marketing arsenal to your advantage. By creating a local (as well as an online) brand, you are more likely to withstand competition.

3. Co-branded Marketing

Product tie-ins and giveaways can be great ways to reach more customers fast. Ride on the wave of more established brands and marketing events to help you grow.

4. Affiliate marketing

Be creative with your income streams. Explore sponsored content, advertising, and affiliate marketing as other ways to monetise your website or blog. It’s always worth offering your products as part of an affiliate program to help you spread the word.


Be a local influencer

You can’t reach everyone; so just make sure you reach the right people.

Take advantage of the local media community around you, and always be quick to collaborate with other businesses. Building up a name for yourself in the local community pays off.

3 tips to collaborate with local influencers (and be a local influencer yourself!):

1. Local press

Instead of courting national press and publications, focus your efforts on local press and local news. Get to know local journalists and build up good relationships with the press. Be polite, remember people’s names, and help out with local news stories when you can.

2. Niche, not mass market

Find niche bloggers and vloggers who have a big (or active) following who can help you spread the word with product placements and reviews. Most bloggers and vloggers will agree to reviewing products if they are passed on for free, but there is a certain blogger etiquette you’ll need to adopt. Don’t be too pushy, but be clear on expectations when you need to be firm.

3. Believe in karma

Do well by the people around you by connecting up people and brands as often as you can. Karma will eventually bring some business back to you as people start to remember who you are and what you do. By giving out, you’ll eventually get.


Move into markets fast

New trend on the horizon? Move in fast and cash in before bigger brands have time to move their creaking machinery in that direction. Use your agility in order to be more competitive.

Here’s how you can always be a step ahead of your competition:

1. Integrate new trends

New product trends (like matcha tea) set foot slowly, and then suddenly create an avalanche of related products. If you can’t directly cash in on the latest trend – see if there is a closely related product that can be branded.

2. Keep your ears open

Keep your ears to the ground and your mind open to new markets. Always offer some revolving door products – experiment with small stock levels or dropshipping to see how your new offering fares.


Over to You

Most importantly...Embrace your flexibility. Don’t run yourself ragged trying to act like a big company – act like yourself and use that as your strength. What 2017 digital marketing trends are you going to embrace for your brand?


About the author

Patrick Foster

Patrick Foster, ecommerce entrepreneur, coach & writer.

I’m currently writing on EcommerceTips.org where I share engaging ecommerce content for entrepreneurs and business owners. You can follow me on Twitter here for more ecommerce insights.



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