Ecommerce was already a quickly growing segment, and then – boom – along comes a pandemic. COVID-19 with its shutdowns and calls for social distancing has further accelerated the growth of online shopping.
To help your company get its piece of the growing pie, we bring you examples from Dunkin’, an organic mattress company, BBQ grill retailer, 3D models platform, women’s clothing store, vegan blog, gourmet deli and marketplace, footwear brand, and female wellness product.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
While ecommerce has been growing rapidly, it still only comprised a small percentage of overall retail sales. For example, in the U.S., on an adjusted basis, ecommerce accounted for 11.8% of all retail sales in the first quarter of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That was for Q1. Then in Q2, the number jumped to 16.1% – a 44.5% change from the same quarter a year ago. To put that number in perspective, Q2 2019 grew “only” 13.8% over Q2 2018.
What changed? The COVID-19 pandemic, of course. Even with ecommerce’s double-digit growth over the years, brick-and-mortar retail still had many advantages over ecommerce. Some products (like groceries) are hard to ship and easier and less expensive to buy in person. Brick-and-mortar retail has an experiential draw that ecommerce can’t match – from trying on a shirt to being wowed by an in-store (and Instagram-worthy) display. The ability to make a human connection and learn about a product or service.
Suddenly everything changed. That human connection became a detriment. And a no-touch version of goods and even services was preferable if not essential.
And that’s where we are in 2020 folks. A sad statement on human existence, yes. But as marketers, we must answer a practical question. How do we ensure our companies can continue to create value for customers in this changed world? Ecommerce can play a critical role. To help spark ideas for improving your company’s ecommerce efforts, here are specific examples from your peers in a wide range of industries.
A mid-sized furniture company selling organic latex mattresses engaged with MECLABS Institute to increase the overall number of mattress purchases (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa). It is one of only a few mattresses that is GreenGuard Gold certified.
The team conducted an experiment to determine which credibility approach would produce the highest rate of mattress purchases and ran an A/B split test.
The control landing page mentioned the certification, but it was de-emphasized.
Creative Sample #1: Control landing page for organic latex mattress
The treatment landing page added a section entitled “What is the GreenGuard Gold Seal?”
Creative Sample #2: Treatment landing page for organic latex mattress
The treatment landing page generated a 46% increase in conversion in the A/B test. The tangible value created by the additional copy helped the customer determine that the mattress was worth purchasing.
You can learn more about this experiment, and see other ecommerce experiments, in Optimizing Ecommerce Experiences: 25 valid ecommerce experiments to ideate your next A/B test from MarketingExperiments (MarketingSherpa’s sister publication).
The way customers perceive your products and service can change over time. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example. For most companies, if they just treated customers the same way they did before the pandemic, they would have overlooked customers’ changing motivations. And those changing motivations affect how potential customers perceive your offer.
Dunkin’ is an example of a company that moved swiftly to tap into new customer motivations. “As COVID-19 struck, Americans wanted to find ways to help and to show support for the frontline heroes. Dunkin’ wanted to give people a way to do so, even without being able to leave home,” said Justin Unger, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Dunkin'.
Created in just days, the DunkinCoffeeBreak.com ecommerce site gave customers a way to show appreciation by sending a virtual coffee break in the form of a Dunkin’ e-gift card. Dunkin’ donated $1 (up to $100,000) for every card purchased at this site to the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation emergency funds, specifically for non-profits helping families affected by COVID-19.
“Since the initial launch, Dunkin’ has used the site for multiple moments that matter to people, such as Teacher Appreciation Week, National Nurses Week, and Mother’s Day,” Unger said.
The site is driving incremental digital gift card sales and has generated a 300% increase in year-over-year gift card sales for certain events.
“I think ecommerce, especially in the gift card space, is a key [you can use to] unlock growth. We saw a tremendous lift in online gift card sales with the addition of DunkinCoffeeBreak.com without any cannibalization to our existing online gift card program. It allowed us to reach new guests and tap into the wealth of information and targeting in the digital world, which you just cannot do with plastic gift cards hanging on pegs,” Unger said.
“Online and mobile shopping surged when social distancing was introduced…based on Blackhawk Network’s partners’ sales data, gift cards sales made directly from a restaurant’s or merchant’s website since mid-March are up 92% from last year,” said Brett Narlinger, Head of Global Commerce, Blackhawk Network, Dunkin’s gift card program partner.
“Throughout my ecommerce career I have successfully implemented what I call ‘penny campaigns’ within numerous Google Ad accounts for a large number of different businesses,” said Patrick Connelly, co-founder, Stellar Villa.
Most businesses focus their ad spend on a select few products or services that account for the majority of the company’s revenue, he says. The idea with a penny campaign is to go deeper into your product set and offer very low bids for the ads.
“Penny campaigns can work with both text ads and Google Product Shopping ads, although I prefer Product ads,” Connelly said. Once you have the products added to a campaign, simply set a very low bid. While this can vary by industry, Connelly typically sets bids between five and twenty cents and uses broad match for a larger reach if targeting keywords.
For example, from May through July the wall art company ran a Shopping campaign with Product Listing Ads) for its “Nursery Wall Art” collection. The team set a maximum cost-per-click of $0.20 with a daily budget of $100. “We knew we wouldn't spend close to that, but I like to let Google know we're willing to pay for as many clicks at $0.20 or less as they can give us,” Connelly said.
Over the course of three months the ad produced 354 clicks at a cost of $60.18. The ad generated $743.40 in sales.
“The penny campaign strategy can be implemented on more platforms than just Google Ads. It also works great with Amazon Advertising,” Connelly said.
Thrive Cuisine had more than 25,000 backlinks but was plateauing at about 30,000 monthly unique visits.
The team was building links and publishing content on the same schedule as before and wasn’t sure why they weren’t seeing more traffic and conversions.
George Pitchkhadze, CMO, Thrive Cuisine tried a new approach. Instead of focusing on getting more backlinks he decided the site need a bigger variety of backlinks. Pitchkhadze stopped outreach efforts that were targeting the same kind of website over and over again and spent two months creating a completely new link-building and outreach strategy. This time, the team specifically focused on websites in adjacent niches instead of the vegan blog’s own niche. They started the outreach effort in May after spending two months creating more diverse content to link back to.
The new out outreach targeting more diverse websites increased the number of referring domains by more than 50%. This resulted in traffic going from about 30,000 to more than 50,000 monthly visits from unique visitors and increased “traffic value” by more than $10,000.
“If you’re looking to get ecommerce traffic, focus on backlink variety and quality; not only quantity. This will massively improve your results. Where possible, create new content on your own website to really showcase your own expertise across diverse subjects,” Pitchkhadze said.
KURU Footwear places a high emphasis on customer service and ease of experience by offering free shipping, free exchanges, and free returns. While this messaging did exist on the footwear brand’s website in various places, the team launched a test exploring four options that inserted those value messages higher in the customer experience.
Creative Sample #3: Control homepage for footwear brand
The top-performing treatment had a black bar with simple white text at the top of nearly all pages outside of the checkout funnel. It increased conversion 21.5%.
Creative Sample #4: Top-performing treatment for footwear website
Other treatments that included the customer service message but added in a message to reassure customers that Kuru was open and operating during COVID-19 did not perform as well. “We found simplicity performed best,” said Kelly Stanze, Manager, Marketing & Communications, Kuru.
Creative Sample #5: Lower-performing treatment for footwear website
“Making sure potential new customers know just how much we prioritize customer satisfaction can be difficult. While the proof is in the shoes, we're constantly seeking ways to elevate just how passionate about our customers we are as a company. This was just one step in that never-ending effort,” Stanze said.
Big Bottom Market is a gourmet deli and marketplace in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country. In addition to its retail presence, the team also manages an Etsy Shop where they sell Big Bottom Market-branded products and the work of local artisans.
“We've been in the e-commerce game since 2016 when we were designated one of Oprah's Favorite Things and had to use the Amazon platform for national sales,” said Michael Volpatt, owner, Big Bottom Market. “From orders and shipping to returns and everything in between, Amazon was a great partner at the time. That changed when our sales volume slowed down so we crunched the numbers and realized that Etsy would be a better partner as we ramped up our growing product line with items that we created or partnered with someone to create for us…My point in this is that being flexible at all points in your e-commerce journey is important.”
Volpatt would be forced to be flexible once again. On March 18th, the county of Sonoma locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the in-person retail market closed. All of a sudden, ecommerce became a much more important component of Big Bottom Market’s sales
“As a chef and cookbook author, I decided to continue engaging with our customers and launched a Facebook Live cooking show called Cooking In Place,” Volpatt said.
Volpatt cooked and showcased local wines for fans along with other products that the market sells, encouraging viewers to buy them online.
In addition, after each show he posted the video replay across all of its social media channels and shared recipes and details about the food he cooked and wine he tasted on the show.” I would broadcast on Facebook Live and save the video feed. Then I would repost a link to the video on my personal page, on Instagram TV, and then also on YouTube,” he said.
Creative Sample #6: Facebook Live cooking show from gourmet deli and marketplace
In addition to customer engagement and increasing social media followers, the goal was to drive ecommerce sales as a way to augment lost revenue from in-store foot traffic.
“We used to see three to five orders per month in our Etsy shop. In the first week of doing the show we saw three to five per week and that increased to five to ten orders per week. To some, those numbers may seem low, but for a small business located in a tourist town, these numbers were great. Our sales ended up paying for our monthly fixed expenses, which was very helpful for a business that relies on foot traffic,” Volpatt said.
The Barbecues Galore website had a low conversion rate due to technical, usability and value communication issues. For example, when a product was added in different product categories the URL slug of the product itself would change. “This presented us with issues we needed to address immediately, as a product that constantly changes in URL is not SEO friendly and would present with unwanted 301 redirects and in some cases 404s,” said Andres Aguero, Senior SEO Specialist, Barbecues Galore.
The new site fixed those technical issues, and also did a better job of communicating value to the customer. For example, the product listing page on the old website had very few pictures and did not prominently feature reviews.
Creative sample #7: Previous product listing page on retailer’s original website
“We ended up figuring out that when people are making a large purchase online they want to feel safe and secure that their money is being well spent,” Aguero said.
The team invested in adding additional photos to the product listing and reached out to previous customers from both the online and brick-and-mortar locations to request a product review.
Creative sample #8: Product listing page on retailer’s new website
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the team had to push the live date of the website to April 2020. “This was a big risk at the time as we were at the peak of COVID-19 and all of our brick-and-mortar locations had been closed. Our only source of income at that time was our online revenue,” Aguero said.
The redesign paid off. Revenue from April to August 2020 increased 311% compared to the same time frame in the previous year and revenue from organic traffic increased 172%. (Much of that increase likely has to do with the site improvements, however this reporter questions if increased demand for backyard products due to COVID-19 lockdowns may have also played a role in the revenue increase.)
“My advice for other marketers would be to focus on your website’s existing traffic first before you make any other investments. Our PPC specialist was spending a crazy amount of money on a monthly basis only to see low conversion rates. If your conversion rate is low then try to figure out why. Take a look at your competitors and see what they are doing. After you’ve done that, then you can start making investments into PPC or SEO,” Aguero advised.
Sketchfab operate a 3D content marketplace where people can buy and sell 3D models. It features some of these designs on its landing pages. The team decided to test the effect of different background designs for the header block, which contains a search bar and other navigation menus.
The background of the landing pages consisted of colorful, contrasted 3D models of animals and characters.
Creative Sample #9: Control landing page for 3D content models platform
The team tested less prominent backgrounds to provide more emphasis to the search bar and rest of the page’s user interface. Here is the highest-performing treatment, which produced a 5.3% increase in page engagement and 12.4% increase in clickthrough rates when compared to the original version.
Creative Sample #10: Treatment landing page for 3D content models platform
“Backgrounds [with] a low contrast image that blends with the rest of the page tend to perform much better than vivid, more contrasted ones. In our case, rather than wowing customers with a spectacular image or video, having a more modest graphic allowed them to take action and flow to other internal pages,” said Guillermo Sainz, Digital Marketing, Sketchfab.
This next example may not work for every company, but it was successful for a niche brand with a very visual product.
“We used to post manually on Pinterest every now and then and didn't attract any customers/visitors to our ecommerce portal. A few months ago, we installed a Shopify plugin to automatically push product images to Pinterest,” said Akram Tariq Khan, CTO, YourLibaas.
Creative Sample #11: Automated Pinterest post from women’s clothing store
“The results were unexpected,” Khan said.
The women’s clothing store now has about 930,000 monthly Pinterest viewers with 26,000 followers and average monthly sales directly attributable to Pinterest of $56,000 within the last quarter without spending a penny on Pinterest.
YourLibaas is based in India and offers international shipping. Most of the Pinterest customers are located internationally, primarily within the US, UK and Canada with a sizeable number in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
“The majority of our international orders are customers who discovered our brand through Pinterest. We have a significant presence on Instagram and Facebook too, but the user base at these platforms is primarily located domestically within India,” Khan said.
As digital advertising platforms work to improve their image by banning industries and products deemed harmful, some less nefarious brands are getting caught as well.
For example, Chiavaye sells an all-natural, vegan personal moisturizer. Kaylyn Easton started the company because she has endometriosis.
The company was making approximately $14,000 per month in revenue by promoting the product with paid ads. However, about two years ago its ad account was shut down for “adult content.”
“Paid ads was a strategy that worked well for us until it didn’t. Meaning, the moment we got shut down, we lost more than 90% of our monthly revenue,” said Kaylyn Easton, CEO & Founder, Chiavaye.
At the time, organic traffic from Google was only about 20 visitors per month, and 98% of its was branded searches like “Chiavaye lube.”
The company decided to pursue a strategy of SEO-focused content creation. “We wanted to implement a strategy that would build our brand long-term so that after we turn off the investment, it could still bring in value. If we were to stop writing SEO articles today, we’d still get the benefits from what we’ve done for years to come. Versus, if we turn off a paid ads strategy, we immediately see a huge negative impact,” Easton said.
The primary focus of the content is not the promotion of the product, but instead helping the target audience overcome key pain points.
“We've been creating four SEO-focused pieces of content per month targeting endometriosis-related queries. Things like ‘endometriosis diet grocery list.’ We found that women with endo are craving any type of information to help them. And, if the info is good, they'll trust that person – and even buy their products,” said Joey Randazzo, Founder and CEO, Portland SEO Growth.
After 18 months of creating four pieces of content per month, the site went from about 20 visitors per month to, in the most recent month, 9,248 organic visitors.
Every piece of content has two CTAs (calls to action). The first is to buy the product. The second CTA is for a free e-book, which is generating 250 downloads per month – building the email list.
Creative Sample #12: Email signup form for e-book from female wellness product company
“We discovered that [competitors] have salesy email campaigns – every other email is a 30% off coupon. [Chiavaye's] is designed around adding value more than anything,” Randazzo said.
The team discovered the top burning questions the target audience is asking around endometriosis, like “is dairy okay to eat with endo?” Easton answers these questions in text and video in a clear, straightforward way. The email body is succinct in answering the question linking to articles on the company’s website for more information.
“Figure out who your target audience is and then create content that adds value to them and their lives. We’ve discovered that 95% of the content we create should be adding value to the reader. The final 5% should pitch us as a solution. It builds trust and entices them to opt in for our free e-book, which consequently builds a super valuable email list for us,” Easton said.
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