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Tools to Start Scaling Your Online Store in 2021
Keeping up with the ecommerce Joneses may seem like a daunting task. However, with the influx of new shoppers and digital stores in 2020, there was an equally overwhelming surge of new tools, tips, and platforms — all of them promising to get your business to meet (and exceed) your goals in the year ahead.
Ecommerce is set to continue growing at a similarly fast pace in 2021, too. Online revenue is expected to reach a staggering five trillion dollars (yes, with a t) this year. And while that indicates that big opportunity is afoot, you’re not the only store to want a piece of it. Now that ecommerce is really heating up, more merchants than ever want in.
When it comes to figuring out how to keep competitors at bay, growing your customer base, and scaling as much as possible in the year ahead, there’s a lot to wrap your mind around. What platforms are best? How should your budget be split? Where are your customers (and how can you hang onto them once you find them)?
Calm your mental gymnastics, and read on for more ideas that are easy to set up and get going so any ecommerce store can scale in 2021.
Ecommerce Platforms Built for Growth
With so many tech solutions and ecommerce-specific agencies available today, it wouldn’t take long to burn up even massive budgets on the wrong tools for your store. Whether that’s picking platforms that aren’t the right fit for your goals or audience, or it’s investing in too much at once, it’s a good idea to understand your unique needs before jumping into the deep end of ecommerce tech stacks.
Understanding the tools and platforms at your disposal can help you determine what’s out there, what you need, and what works best for your brand. There are a lot of platforms to pick from, tackling practically every conceivable task, but here are some of the major verticals within the ecommerce tech industry:
- Store Platform: These help brands build shoppable websites. The market for options that are ready right “out of the box” continues to grow but is led by leaders like Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and beyond. Of course, creating a custom solution is always an option with the help of some savvy developers by your side.
- Checkout: Some brands may need a solution to enable digital checkout if they aren’t using an ecommerce platform that has a built-in checkout option, like WordPress. There are lots of plug-and-play options available, like Square, PayPal, Apple Pay, and more.
- Fulfillment: If your store has scaled and outgrown the space of your one-bedroom apartment, it’s time to consider a fulfillment solution. Actually getting your products to your customers simply can’t always be done in-house, especially if you sell big stuff. Fulfillment solutions like ShipHero, ShipBob, and Shipfusion can help brands scale by managing storage and fulfillment of ecommerce goods.
- Marketing Solutions: Once your store is built and you’re off to the ecommerce races, you’re going to want to drive more awareness and discovery of your brand. Er, otherwise known as marketing.
From email marketing and outsourced social media management to content, automation, personalization, and paid ads, there are heaps of solutions that exist today. Some are single-purpose platforms like Hootsuite or Fomo, and some can handle a majority of these immediate needs, like Mailchimp.
- Package Protection and Tracking: The post-purchase experience should carry as much priority as the journey pre-conversion. Route is a post-purchase platform that empowers online brands to take control of the entire customer experience, not just everything that happens before the checkout.
Route offers package protection, real-time tracking, post-purchase engagement, and automated issue resolution so that online stores can continue to offer standout experiences even when the goods aren’t in their control.
- Customer Support: Managing claims, tickets, and support inquiries can be time-consuming and costly, not to mention it can keep lean teams from innovating and developing more rad products to sell. Thankfully, there are a variety of options to help support your customers and take some work off your plate. As your store grows, odds are good that your support needs will grow in tandem. See if outsourced call centers and chatbots, like Drift and Zendesk, could be the solution for your store.
- Customer Feedback and Reviews: Aggregating the voices of your customers can lead to a variety of improvements from product updates to fixing customer journey glitches and more. Tapping into a tool like YOTPO that gathers feedback and reviews can offer helpful insight into what you’re doing well (and not so well) so that your strategic decisions are informed and not just comin’ from your gut.
You get the picture. There are a lot of options out there, and we haven’t even dug into the nitty-gritty of automation, branding, metrics, syndication, PIM, DAM, and beyond. However, a towering tech stack can quickly become overwhelming, unmanageable, and a vacuum of time and subscription costs. Think about tackling your store’s foundation first, then depending on needs and revenue, think about tucking some more platforms under your belt one at a time.
Prioritizing the Right Ecommerce Platforms For Your Store
Wading through the sea of ecommerce platforms and store solutions can be daunting and leave brands with questions like “Which one do I invest in first?” and “How am I supposed to choose?”
Unless you’re Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pile of cash that can pay for hands-on help implementing, optimizing, and maintaining every ecommerce tool known to man, start with solutions that will provide the most value to your customers soonest.
The first thing brands need to consider is their goals: Are you trying to grow your customer base, reduce churn, minimize costs, save time, increase loyalty, have a cool brand? You can’t have it all on day one, so you’ll need to prioritize.
Above all, remember that at the end of the day, priority No. 1 is converting your shoppers into customers and long-term loyalists. Adopt ecommerce solutions that touch on every part of the customer experience to ensure a well-rounded yet barebones tech stack that is easily managed and not too costly.
With that in mind, setting up a few ads, a frictionless website, smooth checkout, and loyalty-inducing post-purchase experience is a nice formula to follow that touches every part of the customer journey while enhancing the experience the whole way.
An example of a product page for Rare Device, a store
using Shopify to wheel and deal.
1. Pick a Platform for Your Online Store
This seems obvious, especially after all that’s already been brought up, but you’ll need a website for people to shop on and to host your wares. Building a custom online store can be expensive and time-consuming, and creating a totally customized store right out of the gate might not be a wise investment as you continue to hone your brand. Odds are good that your brand image, design, and needs could change in just the next year (or sooner!) after launch.
We recommend digging into platforms that are ready-to-go. Tools like Shopify typically offer a variety of plan levels to fit your unique store and number of SKUs, along with a few experiential must-haves like automated “thank you” emails that deploy after purchase. Best of all, most offer a free trial that gives you the opportunity to dig into the back end and learn which is easiest for you to use.
2. Make a Strategy to Grow Awareness and Attract Shoppers
Organic search is a cost-conscious way to get some initial customers, but it can take a long time to rank on Google. Plus, you have to dedicate time to writing, designing, and posting content consistently until you grab traction on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Good thing there are ways to bypass the Google lords and get on consumers’ radar sooner. The quickest way to get in front of new customers is paid digital ads, but this option costs some serious green. Find a balance between paid ads and “free” organic that works for your brand, and build relationships with other brands similar in size, category, mission, and values. You’ll be able to get in front of their audience and vice versa for expanded growth and exposure.
3. Create a Post-Purchase Plan to Learn and Engage
You have a store live on the web, you’re attracting customers, and the last piece to your foundational puzzle is a plan for what happens beyond conversion.
First, you gotta know what’s working, right? You need a way to measure your efforts. Some platforms will offer simple built-in tools to measure basic metrics like visits, unique visitors, and conversion, and Google Analytics is a widely popular option. You can always use more than one tool to cross-check your numbers and make sure your metrics are accurate.
Understand the pages and products your customers are clicking, and use that information to start upselling, cross-selling, or offering promotions. Engage with consumers by offering thoughtful recommendations after their initial purchase to drive them back to your store.
Use your newly found insights to connect post-purchase, but also consider providing a memorable and engaging tracking and support experience with Route. Between purchase and delivery, a lot can go awry, but by notifying customers of purchase status, showing them exactly where their goods are on the map, and reassuring them that help is just a click away if something goes wrong, your brand will leave a lasting impression that builds instant loyalty.
These three must-haves interact with customers throughout the journey instead of focusing solely on acquisition or conversion. This is key to scaling since your customers will walk away with a new product and a great experience, increasing the odds that they’ll tell their friends and return for another purchase.
Cover the Bases, then Tack onto Your Tech Stack
Once these basics are covered, the rest of the ecommerce tools can be great supplements to the customer experience. Once your brand has matured a bit, you can begin focusing on engagement through email, push notifications, or text. Tinker with automation and push the personalization boundaries. Whatever will resonate with your customers and provide a better individual experience is worth trying—especially in 2021.
Brands can improve their ecommerce experience by adding to a tech stack that is focused on building revenue, improving loyalty, and creating efficient processes without difficult onboarding or nabbing a chunk of your budget right off the bat.
Don’t Reinvent the Ecommerce Wheel. Scaling Big Begins with Starting Small
Remember one simple truth—you are not the first one to build your online store dreams. Internet pioneers have been evolving and advancing ecommerce since the dawn of the ‘90s, after all.
There are ample resources to explore what works and doesn’t work for your brand, niche, or big ol’ vertical. Learn from those who went through the same process and once sat exactly where you were! They lived to write about it and put it up on the internet to share their experience—and odds are good that your own favorite brand has a blog or backstory to spark some inspiration.
As overwhelming as the choice between platforms for every part of the ecommerce experience can be, they’re all here to help merchants sell more. Determine which pain points are hurting the most and soothe those first to determine your first platform.
While it may seem like all the top contenders in ecommerce are crushing their goals because they have deep pockets and wield every tool imaginable, just take a deep breath and focus on yourself. We can’t all be Amazon on Day One. Focus on your unique situation, resources, and customers. After all, that’s who this is all about anyways.