Competition is fierce across all industries -- especially for e-commerce brands. But it's that very competition that should fuel us to do something different or unusual to gain the competitive edge we need.
I founded The Bouqs Company, a cut-to-order online flower delivery service, in an effort to provide flower industry consumers with something unique. I had always hated the process of purchasing flowers online, through the big name brands with their bait-and-switch pricing, cheesy upsells (my wife isn't into teddy bears) and hidden fees. So, I set out to launch an online brand that would remedy the issues I so often ran into, and provide consumers with a one-of-a-kind experience.
Here are several "hacks" I've learned from my experience in launching an online business, that you can use to give your e-commerce brand a boost, especially in those early days:
Maintaining a sense of transparency is important for all brands, but it's particularly important for online brands, since their website and storefront are one in the same. At The Bouqs Company, we strive to be as transparent as possible with customers in a number of ways.
For one, our company "About Us" isn't a short, vague paragraph -- it's a detailed conversation between us and the customer. I call it a conversation because we think of our customers as friends, so we adopted a friendly, casual tone to introduce our service. Your "About Us" section is a reflection of your unique brand and ultimately where consumers are convinced to choose your product or service.
Second, we take customers through every step of the process. They can see where their product is coming from and how custom requests are being met, assuring them that they'll be getting their money's worth. In our industry in particular there's almost no transparency, so providing a farm-direct model and reassuring clients that their products are grown and sourced in a responsible manner, is in itself a differentiator. For you it may also be sourcing, customer service policies or terms and conditions. Whichever it is, be sure to be transparent -- your clients will appreciate it and help spread the word as a result.
Offer Free Shipping
In an effort to make up for gaps in the online shopping experience, e-commerce brands are adopting unique methods to boost their online brand. One way some companies, including Bouqs.com, are doing this is by offering free shipping. Why is offering free shipping something worth considering? The 2014 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study found that the leading reason for shopping cart abandonment is shipping costs (58 percent). If that doesn't convince you to consider free shipping, then think about the friction it causes in your own life. Shipping just feels painful! Ditch it if the economics make sense, and watch conversion rates soar.
According to the same UPS study, 93 percent of online shoppers have taken action in order to qualify for free shipping, including adding more items to their cart or joining a loyalty program. The benefits of offering free shipping is obvious for consumers, but what about for online merchants?
As mentioned, free shipping can boost conversion rates, leading to more orders and increased profits. In the long term, it can grow your customer base as a lot of online shoppers specifically look for online retailers that offer free shipping. Finally, a pro-customer feature such as this can give e-commerce brands a competitive advantage within their industry. If you can make the economics work, offer up free shipping for all your clients, or build in a velvet rope model with minimum order values or lifetime value triggers. Your clients will love it and the per-unit costs will be made up through improved LTV.
Personalize the Experience
Having personalized customer service is a great way to build customer loyalty and engagement. By personalizing the experience to include such things as handwritten notes or acknowledging birthdays with a special gift, you're showing customers just how much they're valued. Creating a more personal, human connection with online customers is essential to making their experience a memorable one. It's a challenge to break down the imaginary wall that exists between you and your clients, but through personalization and a human touch (powered by digital experiences) it can be done.
At The Bouqs Company, we've implemented what we call a "concierge service," a subscription service that tailors flower deliveries to consumer needs. This service personalizes the experience by allowing customers to choose to send flowers on a regular basis, just because or on important dates. Customers take their experiences with your brand personally and so should you!
Customer referrals can have a huge impact on your online business. In fact, according to a recent study by Nielsen, 84 percent of consumers worldwide say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, a form of earned media, above all other sources of advertising. So, it works great. Now how do you get clients to spread the word for you? First, execute points one through three. Then, give them the tools to share your great story and an incentive to do so.
More and more companies are choosing to offer customers some sort of incentive to refer their friends or family. For instance, we offer customers the opportunity to earn a $40 free flower bouquet credit for every two friends they refer, increasing website traffic and building our customer base. On top of that, clients can give their friends and family a free second bouquet with their first purchase. So you get to give a free bouquet, and for every second redeemed, you get a free bouquet. Win-win!
Referrals are a great way to advertise your business without having to spend a fortune, and an effective program can drastically reduce your cost to acquire a new client.
Put Customers' Happiness First
In the end, you want to create a positive experience for customers in the hopes that they'll become repeat customers (and bring others along with them). To make that happen, put customer happiness first -- always. Providing unrivaled customer service is a surefire way to create happy customers.
Start with having a customer 'in the room' when making key decisions about your product offering. Designate an employee to be the customer, and give that employee the right to comment or debate any decision from the POV of the client. This will ensure a more customer-centric shopping experience.
At The Bouqs Company, we've created a happiness guarantee as a result of this process, which basically ensures customers that we'll do everything in our power to turn their frown upside down, in the unlikely event they don't have a great experience. For example, late delivery or quality issues result in a free Bouq replacement or equivalent store credit. This guarantee shows customers that we stand behind our product and experience. Pull together a customer-first service policy, brand it and communicate it to your clients. It'll go a long way towards keeping your clients happy and shopping for years to come.
What experience hacks have you implemented to launch your business and set yourself apart from the competition?