There’s plenty of money to be had, but you need to distance yourself from your fiercest competitors.
October 24, 2019 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
For e-commerce as a whole, business is booming. According to estimates from Statista, the number of worldwide digital buyers is expected to reach 2.14 billion by 2021, with global e-commerce sales exceeding $4.5 trillion. While this paints a positive picture overall, many e-commerce sites struggle to see success for themselves. Though there are many factors that can hurt an e-commerce store’s profitability, one of the most common issues is entering a crowded and competitive niche.
Even if you have a great product to sell, the sheer number of competitors can make it difficult for your store to stand out. Because of this, finding ways to create separation from your competitors will prove essential for ensuring that you too can get a slice of the booming e-commerce marketplace. Here are four to help you get started.
1. Create a memorable unique selling proposition.
Ultimately, your products are the best way to differentiate your store. There may be thousands of e-commerce stores that sell baby clothes, for example, but ideally there’s something different that would help your own baby-clothing platform stand out. This is where a quality unique selling proposition (USP) makes all the difference. Research your competitors and consider how your product addresses meaningful pain points in a way that others in your niche do not. Even if your product is essentially an update to something else that already exists, this can still serve as a helpful USP if you highlight how it will better meet customer needs.
While special offers like free shipping or a generous return policy can grow out of your USP, they aren’t part of the USP itself. These are add-on features that can add value to your store and play a part in your marketing messages, but your primary focus should be what makes your product or service truly different from the rest.
2. Get involved in a meaningful cause.
Americans increasingly want to do business with brands that support a cause. In fact, the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study revealed that 87 percent of consumers will be more likely to buy products from companies that advocate for issues they care about. Adopting a charitable cause can provide valuable separation for e-commerce stores.
To get a better understanding of this practice, I reached out via email to Ryan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Modern Tie, for comment. Smith’s e-commerce store sells ties, but is also invested in a charitable initiative known as #KnotAnotherLife, which donates a portion of all tie sales to opioid-addiction education efforts and treatment-center scholarships.
“Having experienced the pain of opioid addiction first-hand, it was a natural fit for us to try to find a way to give back through our store,” Smith explains. “For a charitable effort to have meaning for your customers, it has to have meaning for you, too. E-commerce stores should choose causes that they are passionate about, because their genuine commitment will shine through. This will help you make a real difference while also drawing like-minded customers to your store.”
3. Invest in a visually appealing site.
For e-commerce brands, a website plays the same role as a brick-and-mortar storefront does for physical retail. It must be attractive and show off your products in the best light if you want to make a favorable first impression with your customers. In fact, according to data from Neil Patel, 52 percent of online shoppers will decide not to return to an e-commerce store if they are displeased with its overall aesthetics, and 42 percent use design alone to formulate their opinion of a site.
You could offer amazing content and products, but if your website is hard to navigate or just plain ugly, you could be losing a significant portion of your customers almost immediately. Web design may seem like a costly investment, but few things are more important for the sustainability of your e-commerce store.
4. Leverage social proof to drive sales.
Traditional marketing can certainly play a role in building your e-commerce brand, but social proof can ultimately be even more valuable for growing your customer base. Research from BrightLocal reveals that 91 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds in the United States give just as much weight to online reviews as a personal recommendation. The seemingly minor shift of allowing customers to leave reviews for products on your site could be enough to encourage others to buy.
Then there is influencer marketing. Survey data from CivicScience reveals that nearly one in five Americans have bought a product online because of an influencer or blogger recommendation. These rates were higher among younger demographics and those who spend more time online, with 34 percent of daily Instagram users having made a purchase because of influencer marketing. Partnering with a relevant influencer can go a long way in expanding your audience and driving sales.
Standing out in a crowded e-commerce niche will require investing in marketing, but all the marketing in the world won’t help if you don’t have a strong foundation to build on. By taking the time to fine-tune your USP, website and overall brand vision, you will be better equipped to make a lasting impact with your product.