Part Two of a two-part series in which e-commerce experts reveal what’s working in the industry now. This time, we hear growth hacks from online retailers themselves.
What strategies are paying off big in e-commerce these days?
Last week, in Part One, I shared intel from investors, analysts, SAAS founders and others in E-com Land.
This time, I’m sharing what I’ve learned from some of the top CEOs and CMOs of online retailers. From branded products to A/B testing, these are the approaches that are succeeding.
Read through them and think carefully about which might work for you before 2016 winds down. And let me know what you think!
Big National Retailers
Alexandra Wilkis Wilson is co-founder of Gilt, which she turned from a start-up into a mature global enterprise. At Gilt, she has assumed multiple roles, including chief merchandising officer, head of national sales and head of strategic alliances.
Growth Hack: Build an amazing audience
Brands have been recognizing Gilt as a marketing platform to help build awareness about a brand, a product line, category extensions, or upcoming launches and collaborations. The Gilt membership is a highly desirable audience for marketers around the world to target. This membership fuels much of the growth of acquiring new brand partnerships and business development deals for Gilt.
Ed Han from Tiny Prints
Ed Han proves the power of persistence. Having previously started two e-commerce brands, in 2003, Ed founded TinyPrints, a retailer focused on delivering customizable announcements, invitations, and greeting cards. Each year I am amazed that a higher and higher percentage of the holiday cards I receive come from TinyPrints. Shutterfly was too: in 2011 they bought the company for $350M. (Full disclosure, I remember expressing skepticism when Ed told me over burritos that he was buying a high-volume custom printer for his retailer. Why would anyone stop drop shipping?)
Growth Hack: Capitalize on cheap PR; know what your customer needs next
For both Tiny Prints and Beau-coup (started with my wife, Polly), word of mouth via great products/service, SEO and PR were very, very critical ways of achieving escape velocity. Had we not gotten traction through these cheaper channels of customer acquisition, as bootstrapped companies, I’m not sure we would have done well enough early on for us to keep at it. That’s on the customer acquisition side.
Another main growth lever for both companies was expanding into related occasions—both companies catered to special occasions and started with a single category (baby for Tiny Prints and wedding for Beau-coup). Thinking of logical next events to expand into really helped us drive greater lifetime value and growth. For instance, TP went from baby to holiday since families often start sending out Christmas cards after they have children.
Finally, in the case of TP, our single biggest product-related growth driver was in vertically integrating so we could design our own proprietary products. We were able to achieve a substantial cost advantage, and could offer lower prices and products that others couldn’t carry.
Vince Jones from Bluestem Brands
Vince Jones is an entrepreneur in residence at Bluestem Brands (the parent company of Fingerhut). Previously, he was CEO of eBags, VP of operations and finance at SharpCast, and a member of the Walmart.com founding team.
Growth Hack: Make your mark with branded products
For eBags, the most successful part of our business in the last few years was the growth of proprietary products. Our private-label program has driven significant growth and delivers great value to the customer.
Craig Elbert from Bonobos
Craig Elbert is VP of marketing at Bonobos. He is one of the few e-commerce marketers I know who thoroughly embraces the concept of customer-centricity, having built a data-driven program around increasing customer lifetime value.
Growth Hack: Make products worth sharing
Since launch day, it has always been about word of mouth for us—which means you need to have an amazing product that people want to talk about. You can’t fake that in the long-run.
Smaller Niche Retailers
Andrew Youderian has founded a number of niche e-commerce stores—including TrollingMotors.net and Right Channel Radios. He is the author of Profitable eCommerce, an e-book on starting an e-commerce store. His blog eCommerceFuel is a—if not the—go-to resource for startups.
Growth Hack: Keywords and connections
SEO, and specifically guest posting, has been the biggest driver of growth for our businesses. Offering information-rich buyers’ guides to communities where our customers hang out has helped us build authority and gain organic traffic, as well as increase direct referrals.
Richard Lazazzera is a veteran digital marketer and e-commerce entrepreneur. When he’s not starting amazing new brands, he’s blogging about the process at A Better Lemonade Stand.
Growth Hack: Test, don’t guess
A/B Testing. It’s amazing to see the difference subtle changes can make.
Billy Murphy from eComLab
Growth Hack: Content marketing
Now I’ll turn this over to you: What are these people missing? What’s the biggest growth hack you’ve seen this year?