The world of retail is changing rapidly. Once upon a time, there were small local shops where the owners would build personal relationships with their customers. Then local shops slowly started being replaced with large chain stores that offered consistency in the quality of their products and service.

Now physical stores are going the way of the dinosaurs. The news is constantly full of stories about chains going out of business and physical stores shutting down. Like so many other aspects of our lives, the world of retail has moved online. Between 2015 and 2018 online shopping in the US increased from 7.1% of all sales to 8.9% and this trend will continue.

Building a successful eCommerce business differs from creating a brick and mortar store. Without face-to-face interaction, you will have to harness new technology to build trust with your customer base. You could be forgiven for thinking the most important aspects of an eCommerce business are the products you sell. In actual fact what’s far more important is the relationships you build and nurture with your audience.

Here are the four cornerstones for eCommerce success.

1. Having a powerful brand story

When entering the world of online retail it can be tempting to use already established platforms to sell your products, such as Amazon or eBay. Doing so, however, will put you at a distinct disadvantage. Using these powerful brands might help bring in a few customers without having to spend much on advertising, but you lose the chance to build a distinct identity. If someone buys your product of Amazon, when they want to make another purchase they won’t look for you, they will look for Amazon.

By creating your own brand and platform you can foster relationships and increase your chance of gaining repeat customers. Your brand should tell a story and promote clear and distinct values. If you are selling beachwear, your values should be along the lines of having fun and promoting escapism. You might want to use bright colors and have a witty social presence. A utilitarian approach won’t endear customers to your brand; you need to express a personality. This doesn’t mean you can’t be serious in tone if that’s what your brand is about. If you are selling health products a more even-handed style, may be called for. The values a health brand might want to express would be self-improvement or even the advancement of mankind. Decide on the values of your brand that are suitable for your products and align them with the values of your customers.

Your branding needs to be consistent across your online presence, on your website and social channels. Design elements, fonts, color schemes, and iconography, and tone need to be the same to build trust and authenticity.

2. Great user experience

One of the key reasons that retail is moving away from high streets and shopping malls to the internet is convenience. People don’t want to have to drag themselves out of the house to make a purchase if they don’t have to. This doesn’t mean that they will always opt for the online choice though. If your shipping policy is expensive or takes too long, consumers will find it easier to go to the store and buy the product in person. Fast and free delivery is one of the key things that will encourage people to buy from you.

Shipping isn’t the only aspect of user experience, though it is an important one. Offering multiple payment options will increase your number of potential customers. Some people like to pay for things on their credit cards, others via Paypal and some through ApplePay or other mobile payment options. By giving as wide of a choice as possible you are more likely to complete a sale.

If you go to a store and all the items are randomly placed in the aisles or if you have to walk around for ages digging through loads of products you don’t want, to find what it is you are looking for, then most people will just walk out. The same is true of your website. You need to make it clear what you are offering and make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for. Great website design is essential for eCommerce success. Magento, for example, can be used to create an intuitive user experience, with simple checkout and payment options.

When online retail first took off the majority of sales were completed using a desktop or laptop. Increasingly sales are taking place on smartphones and tablets. When designing your eCommerce store, you need to adopt a ‘mobile first’ attitude. The store should be easy to navigate by touch, fonts should be large and easy to read, and each page should load in under three seconds.

3. Engage with your audience

Your eCommerce business needs to offer transparency and a willingness to engage with your audience. You should be easy to contact and your contact details should be displayed prominently on your website. If they are not you will lose trust and people will think your store is a scam. Phone and email are the most common forms of contact, but to a much greater extent these days people want to have the ability to contact you directly and instantly from your site. Contact forms are good and some form of instant messenger is even better. If you are unable to offer constant and immediate customer service, using a live chat to answer common queries or at least let your customers know that you will get back to them as soon as you can, is a good option.

Engaging with your customers is something you should do constantly and not just for customer service. To build a successful eCommerce business, you will need a strong presence on social media. This means you need to do more than just use it to pump out press releases and product adverts. You need to provide engaging content and when people comment or like your post you need to respond to them and let them know you appreciate their input. Doing so will help build relationships and improve your conversion rate.

Online reviews can be one of the best ways to promote your products. Many people say they put as much stock in online reviews as they do personal recommendations. If you have built up trust and already engaged with your customers, they are far more likely to leave you a good review. Once a customer has left a review, not only is this a great assurance to future customers, it also means that the original customer has developed an affinity with your brand or product and are much more likely to become a repeat customer.

4. Offer value

You need to be able to clearly and concisely explain to your customers what problem your product will solve. Will it make them look better, feel better, have more fun, or be more successful? Your unique selling proposition should be quickly followed up with a call to action to prevent customers from abandoning their carts.

The value you offer your customer can’t be limited to the products that you sell. One of the key elements of an eCommerce marketing strategy is content marketing. This can take the form of blogs, videos, and social media posts. If you are selling beachwear, you can create blogs and videos offering travel advice and tips. What are the best beaches in the world? Where can you have a beach holiday in the middle of winter? If you sell fun, quirky items, you could run a twitter account where you post the joke of the day. For a health product eCommerce store you can offer diet tips or motivational pictures on Instagram.

By providing this type of content, that offers your customers value for free, you can build an engaged and trusting audience. If people regularly visit your blog to get holiday tips when it comes to buying things they need for their trip, you will be the first place they go.

With an online store people are not able to build up personal relationships with the store clerk or the manager, so you need to build those relationships in a different way. By offering content that provides value your audience not only learns to trust your expertise but they begin to trust your business implicitly.

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