Google has announced this week the addition of a ‘buy’ button in the Google Shopping results. The feature, which will be available to mobile users in the coming weeks, is part of Google’s move to take on online retailers like Amazon and continued mission to improve mobile search experiences.

Online retail spend is expected to surpass £50 billion in the UK in 2015, according to data from the Centre for Retail Research, equating to 15% of all retail sales in the UK. Ecommerce is big business. So how can we, as ecommerce marketers, make the most of the opportunities of online retail and get more ‘bang for our buck’ when it comes to attracting and converting customers?

Mobile first

Any web design team, designer or developer worth their salt will have been extolling the virtues of a mobile-first approach for the last year at least – ever since Google first hinted at its intention to prioritise mobile-friendly sites in the mobile search results (and I predict as a factor in desktop search too in the not-too-distant future).

This means your website needs to work on a mobile device. Savvy marketers recognise that this doesn’t simply mean dropping certain elements of your website to make for a responsive design; a truly mobile-first approach will start with the mobile user in mind, and then extrapolate a desktop version from that.

As an ecommerce business, your website must be mobile-friendly and it must allow all of the functionality required to make a purchase from a mobile device – including payments. Many retailers such as Amazon and eBay have invested in mobile apps, which can be a valuable asset when your customers tend to return for repeat purchases (but less so for high-ticket items that are more likely to be one-offs).

You can test your website’s mobile usability using Google’s mobile test tool.

Channel use

With your website ready to handle mobile traffic and deliver a seamless mobile experience, your next point of focus should be on delivering traffic to that site/app. There are so many channels available to online businesses; organic search, paid search, social media, affiliate marketing, content marketing… choosing the right channel will depend on your goals and your audience. Know who you’re trying to reach and where they’re active online, and you’re off to a good start.

An an ecommerce business, you have a number of other options available to you, the most noteworthy today being Google Shopping. This is where Google’s new buy button will be found, and as such represents an opportunity for retailers.

Adding your products to the Google Shopping feed starts with signing up to the Google Merchant Centre. You’ll also need to verify your website with Webmaster Tools, so you’ll need to have this set up too, and create your product listing feed (guidelines from Google here) before uploading to the Shopping feed. By connecting your Google Merchant Centre account with your AdWords account, you can create your Shopping campaign – which is part of your Google AdWords account. Select a Google Partner like ourselves to help you with the set up for the best results.

Pinterest is another channel which has received much interest in recent months from retailers, as rumours of their ‘buy now’ button continue. Keep an eye out in the coming months for this coming to fruition – a ‘buy now’ on Pinterest could be really powerful for retailers of particularly visual items, such as jewellery, clothing, toys, etc.

Conversion rate optimisation

Getting the traffic to your website, or indeed to your Google Shopping feed (bearing in mind that the buy button will mean that people don’t even have to come to your site to complete a purchase, instead completing within the Shopping feed itself), is just the first step. Converting that traffic into paying customers, and increasing the number of conversions (your conversion rate) can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

There are lots of tools and techniques available to online retailers to improve conversion rates. For example, you might consider:

  • Ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics; check the funnel data to see where people tend to drop off before completion to identify areas of weakness that could be improved. Often, this might be order forms.
  • Ecommerce conversion tracking in Google AdWords; identify the campaigns, keywords, products that best convert and test different ad structures and copy to improve. Consider budget allocation in campaigns that aren’t performing and how that might be better applied to those which are.
  • Video tracking, using tools such as Decibel Insight, to monitor how people use your website once they arrive and where the journey can be improved
  • Google Experiments, to test out different versions of buy now buttons or images within products to find the version that best converts.

Omnichannel approach

Reported by IMRG and Capgemini, online sales figures surpassed the billion pound mark for the first time last year in an upward trend that’s set to continue. Forecasts suggest a further 15% uplift in 2015, meaning online sales will account for over £116 billion.

For every retailer that’s investing successfully in online commerce, there’s another which is yet to see a real return, or which hasn’t invested at all, resulting in an emerging trend for retailers picking sides in an ecommerce vs bricks-and-mortar battle that inevitably sees both sides missing out on opportunities and custom.

Savvy retailers recognise that customer don’t just shop online; they research their buying decisions online too. There are huge gains to be made by those retailers who can create a seamless online/offline integration which enables their websites users to identify the products that suit them best through research and purchase them in whatever way they choose, be it online or off. An omnichannel approach combines online with offline techniques to provide a seamless user experience that cultivates loyalty and repeat purchases.

Data in ecommerce

Successful digital marketing in the retail sector is data-driven. With the range of technologies and platforms available to online retailers, we have the potential to develop a depth of customer understanding that has previously been unavailable.

Supermarket loyalty schemes are a great example of this. With data derived from their Nectar scheme, Sainsburys has engaged over 16.8 million subscribers, from whom they gather key data around shopping habits and behaviours which they integrate into their direct communications to that customer, creating personalised experiences with a far higher propensity to convert.

Retailers are using mobile technology to gather data on where their customers shop and where they’re most engaged through iBeacons and similar schemes. Purchasing preferences gathered online are guiding the way retailers fulfil orders, with the rise of Click and Collect schemes a classic example of user feedback driving a major change in the industry.

As with all things digital, the key to ecommerce success lies firstly in the creative approach to marketing products and displaying them online, and secondly in the ability to monitor user data and adapt accordingly. It’s for this reason that many of the country’s biggest retail brands are now turning to the support of specialist ecommerce marketing agencies to manage their online presence.

The future of ecommerce

With Google’s buy button announcement comes yet another reminder to online retailers of the importance of mobile commerce. Whether making the complete purchase online, showrooming in store or browsing for the perfect product and deal for high-ticket items, shoppers are set to increase their reliance on mobile and tablet devices and savvy ecommerce marketers will invest in the strategy and technologies to make for a great online user experience for their customers.

The difference between online and offline commerce

Online and offline commerce can work together, but there are certainly some developing trends. We explore the difference here:

future of commerce

Do you work for an ecommerce business, or plan to sell products online? I’d love to know your thoughts on Google’s announcement and the future of ecommerce; feel free to share in the comments below.

Infographic sources:

Experian FootFallEmarketer, Centre for Retail Research, RetailMeNot, Mintel

Laura Hampton

Head of Digital PR

Head of Digital PR at Impression working with colleagues and clients to deliver link acquisition campaigns that support SEO visibility and wider marketing goals. Regular speaker at industry conferences and contributor to industry publications. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

Laura has specialist knowledge in Digital PR and Content Marketing.

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