2020 has been a disruptive year in retail, to say the least. Customers are now shopping online more than ever (because they have to — at least until the provisional date of 15th June) and online sales are up 12.5% YoY in the UK.

Some are speculating that this is the new normal for some retail industries. Whether or not that’s true, one thing is abundantly clear: being online and optimising for it matters now more than ever, no matter the size of your business.

The good news is, online retail is more accessible than ever with the number of tools, technology and platforms that are available. That said, we’ve found that many retailers make several common mistakes online that are costing them sales.

Here are the ones we see most frequently and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not understanding your customers

It’s pretty common for retailers to follow blanket digital marketing advice like “run Facebook ads!” or “do SEO!” or “[insert another business’ marketing tactic],” only to see poor ROI from it.

Unfortunately, most retailers do not understand their customers well enough to be truly successful with these tactics (or to choose the right ones in the first place — more on that next).

For example, one survey found that:

  1. Only 50% of retailers could articulate why someone would buy from a competitor.
  2. Only 32% of retailers understood how their customers’ values affected their purchase decision.
  3. Only 16% of retailers knew which incentives appealed most to their customers.

This lack of knowledge is especially problematic when you’re selling online because you’re engaging your customers through your website and marketing copy first, rather than face to face. What’s more, the number of personalisation options available online heightens the value of understanding your customers and increases customer expectations for relevant outreach.

Since the average internet user’s attention span is only 8 seconds, if your product isn’t relevant or your copy doesn’t speak to their values and needs, they’ll just click “back.”

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What you need to do:

Focus on your data

It’s not enough to have a digital storefront, inventory, and run ads if you want to succeed in online retail in 2020. It’s vital that Digital Marketing teams understand the data from their Google Shopping campaigns both at SKU level and at Campaign level. This will help them to get a better grasp of customer purchasing habits and seeing what works for them in order to make better and more informed decisions that influence the ROI on these campaigns. The more granular the insights, the more visibility you have of  what your customers actually want, and this is what will help you personalise campaigns to their needs.

Personalise to customers needs

One of the ways you can personalise is by building an online shopping experience your customers connect with (one that feels personal) — including everything from the colours of your website right down to the very products that you offer.

Data backs this up — for example, this study found that 80% of consumers said they’d be more likely to buy from a company that offers a more personalised experience.

Affinity towards personalisation is strong

Building the kind of personalised experience customers want starts with understanding who your ideal customer is and what makes them tick. You need a good understanding of psychographics (values) and demographic (age, gender, etc.) information such as:

  • Their pain points. What are they struggling with? What are they hoping to achieve?
  • Their values. What do they care about? Why?
  • Other products they’ve tried in the past. What did they like? What did they dislike?
  • Where and how they engage with online content. Do they frequent Facebook? Do they like to read blogs? Which ones?
  • The language that resonates with them. What words do they use to describe their problems/hopes/fears/dreams?

By understanding data points such as these (and others like them), you’ll be able to offer the products that customers really want in the way they want them to be offered. Market research is one way to find this out. Increasingly, brands are turning to AI-driven tools that analyse customer data and online patterns.

Mistake #2: Not utilising the right channels

You might have a great online store on your website, but that won’t matter if all your customers want to use Amazon. Similarly, you can spend all the money you want on influencer marketing. But if your ideal customers aren’t following the influencers you’re working with, you’ll sell very little.

That’s why understanding your customer is so key. it’s far too easy to choose the wrong channel and waste your marketing budget advertising to an empty room unless you know:

  • The places your customers frequent on the internet
  • The devices your customers use most frequently to access it
  • The people your customers follow and look up to

What you need to do: Get on the right channels

The reality of the modern online retail landscape is that your customers are typically using multiple platforms to shop — Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, Google Shopping, their inbox on their phone, the street outside your store, and many more.

The key to success as an online retailer today is to be highly visible on the right platforms that best reach your audience. You should tailor your priorities based on customer research, but Google shopping is a channel retailers should definitely be on; and learning how to optimise Google Shopping campaigns is key to success on the platform. The right AI-driven tools can even help you optimise your product listings on Google Shopping and on any supplementary channels where your customers are — more on product listings in the next section.

Today’s online shoppers are very aware of what they’re looking for, and aware that they have options and the power of choice. If you want to capture their attention, your product has to be exactly what they’re looking for, right where they’re looking for it.

The key to achieving this kind of relevance is data. Ensure the data you include in product listings is optimised and matched to the channel requirements so that you can improve the visibility of your products. Which brings us onto the next common mistake retailers make online…

Mistake #3: Not optimising your product listings

Your product listings play a big role in driving sales — both for visibility and also for conversions. And unfortunately, we see far too many retailers who miss out on sales simply because they haven’t done enough to optimise these.

To be fair, this is not easy — ensuring that each product listing is enticing (but honest, to avoid returns) and is also optimised for visibility on every channel at scale is no small task.

Here are the key things to keep in mind to ensure you’re getting the most out of your listings with the time you have to put into them.

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How to optimise your product listings

We’ve created a dedicated blog post that explains in detail how to optimise your product listings for visibility and conversions. Here is a summary of what’s most critical to pay attention to:

  • Prioritise quality photography. Your customers can typically only use one sense to experience your product before they buy it online: their sight. So it’s critical that any pictures of your product are truly enticing.
  • Provide all of the information customers need. The copy you use to describe your product has to satisfy your customers’ intellectual (informational) and emotional needs at same time. It should tell them all the things they need to know and make your product irresistible simultaneously. If you’re not sure how to best do this, check things like your competitors’ listings and your reviews.
  • Understand the requirements of specific platforms. Different platforms have different elements of product listings they prioritise, so it’s important to know which elements are most important on each platform to ensure you’re getting the visibility you’re hoping for. Research what others are doing on the platform and adapt it where it makes sense for your products. The right AI technology (like Upp) can help you automate this and optimise your listings even further, saving your ecommerce team time and effort so you can focus on other important tasks.
  • Focus on optimising the title. Your product listing’s title is the first thing your customers will see. So you want to make sure it is both relevant and enticing. Give them what they’re looking for right away.

Again, data is a powerful tool that will help you get this right. The more data you have on what is working for others and (understand why it is), the easier it will be to determine what to change on your product listings to see a conversion rate increase. And AI tools with the capabilities of a  product listing engine — such as Upp — can provide you with actionable insights to ensure products are fit for channel.

Mistake #4: Not including customers reviews

The importance of displaying reviews cannot be overstated in the online retail world. Over 70% of all online shoppers read reviews before they make a purchase and 88% of consumers say they would trust a product that has positive customer reviews more than one that does not but was personally recommended.

It makes sense —  how else would a customer know that your product is as good as you claim, or that you’re a trustworthy retailer?

However, reviews also do more than build trust with your customers, they also build trust with Google. Since Google (and other search engines) prioritise recent and ‘active’ content, collecting reviews is an easy way to keep your content fresh in their eyes.

Furthermore, since many customers will mention the name of your company or product in their review, it adds these keywords to the page each time, increasing “relevance” in the eyes of search engines.

How to use customer reviews effectively

One of the challenges with reviews is that you’ll end up collecting such a large number of them that it’s difficult for consumers to sort through to learn what others think about your products.

That’s why sites like Amazon filter and organise them according to their star rating, features, and more:

Customer reviews and Google Shopping

This is a great idea for your own online web store. In addition to adding a filter to your reviews, you’ll want to think of creative ways you can use them to make your customers’ shopping experience easier to navigate.

Include reviews on catalogue pages and include an option to filter by them to help your customers find the best products. Or, use them in your email marketing to increase your click-through rates.

You can even use them right in your ad copy!

Mistake #5: Not aligning to an overarching strategy

Many retailers struggle to align their business as a whole, with all departments in the know. Customer data can often become siloed off or shared across teams incompletely, leaving each team to draw their own conclusions and develop their own strategies independently of what other teams might be doing. Teams are only focusing on individual KPIs and not considering the bigger picture or understanding how their metrics can impact other departments. This makes it easy for them to lose focus on their Margin performance.

That’s why it’s so important to develop a central, overarching strategy that combines each channel’s data and aligns everyone internally under the same goal. Understanding how each department’s actions can impact margin will help teams make more strategic changes which will not only benefit their department but the overall company goal. To do this they would need greater visibility of data, something many brands struggle with.

What you need to do: focus on core metrics like margin

Metrics let you align actions and assess their outcome. Although your business might still be in ‘survival’ mode, a great long-term metric to come back to is margin. Margin, when assessed on a product-specific and business-wide level provides a good benchmark for understanding your flexibility and how marketing is impacting business strategy.

The relevance of margin to almost every department makes it far simpler to align cross-departmental actions and track success. Understanding your margin performance at SKU level across every channel is the best way to focus all of your departments together to work towards the singular goal of profitability.

Unfortunately, gleaning that kind of visibility at scale is no small task.

That’s where AI-driven software can help. Not only can it ensure your product listings are uniform and optimised across each channel, it also makes centralising your data (and any insights from it) much easier.

Focus on the data and harness automation

The beauty and the challenge of moving online as a retailer is the amount of helpful data available to you. The sheer volume is incredibly powerful — but only if you have the ability to collect it and make sense of it. Far too much time can end up sunk into data analysis, and too little spent on data-driven actions.

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The same goes for managing product descriptions and uploads across channels. With the wide range of options online, you have to make sure you don’t end up bogged down simply getting your listings on every relevant channel. You need time to strategise and optimise.

Automation tools are critical to online success. They can help you collect and analyse data, they can even help you upload product listings and cross-reference them across platforms and with your in-house stock levels. The less time you have to spend focused on the little things, the more time you will have to make sure the right big decisions are being made.

AI-powered software can make it easier to create the kind of SKU-level visibility retailers need to streamline operations and increase profit (not just revenue). Upp can offer you this kind of visibility so you can gain actionable insights and make informed decisions about improving your online operations.