Customer Acquisition Strategies for E-Commerce Businesses

Learn how to optimize your strategies and grow your audience

Woman with credit card and tablet

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

E-commerce experienced an unprecedented boom during a year of lockdowns and quarantines. According to media and research organization Digital Commerce 360, consumers spent $861.12 billion online in 2020, marking a 44% jump year-over-year and the highest growth in at least two decades. More customers than ever turned to online retail when buying everything from groceries to holiday gifts.

While the online shopping surge presents an opportunity for e-commerce businesses to capitalize, it’s just as critical to stand out in an increasingly busy landscape. One of the key ways for retailers to accomplish this is to optimize their e-commerce strategies and maximize engagement from first click to purchase.

Inspire Confidence

In order to get customers interested, at a baseline, an e-commerce brand must inspire confidence. “A retailer is more likely to get clicks if the brand appears not only legitimate, but polished, cohesive, secure, and lauded by other customers,” said Kunle Campbell, an e-commerce adviser and host of the podcast “2X eCommerce,” in a phone interview with The Balance. “The packaging, your product photography, and descriptions—the presentation must be high-quality and coherent, and it must sell the ‘why’ of your business.”

According to Campbell, the brand must also keep up these appearances throughout the shipping and communications process. If there has been an error in the shipment process, tell the customer that you’re working hard on fixing the problem. 

On your e-commerce website, Campbell recommends having as many secure payment options as possible, from American Express cards to PayPal. The options will broaden your purchaser base and inspire confidence that your business cares about customer security.

Positive reviews will boost user confidence significantly. According to a 2020 study conducted by consumer review site Trustpilot, 89% of global consumers check reviews when buying products online, and 49% rank positive reviews as one of their top three online purchasing influences.

Establish Your Audience

In order to acquire quality traffic, an e-commerce brand must first establish a realistic target audience. For example, if a brand is selling luxury shaving razors, it may want to target affluent men who have noted interests in grooming. 

According to Campbell, the target should be as accurate as possible. “The way our market works, you need a focus,” he said. “A presentation has to be focused on particular demos. If it works, then you can expand that audience. But in the beginning, you’re not Coca-Cola. You can’t advertise to everyone and expect a high conversion.” 

Once you have a targeted audience, you can begin to gather quality traffic from various digital channels.

Advertise Strategically

Once a brand has defined its customer base, it should then spread the word via paid, targeted advertising on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. However, while it is a relatively low investment to buy these ads, the median conversion rates on Facebook (0.9%) and other social media platforms (0.7%) is on the lower end, according to e-commerce strategy and development firm Growcode. 

On the search front, Google serves ads through its Google Ads platform that target customers who are already searching for related products. So, if a user searches for the terms “luxury men’s razors,” a paid advertisement for your brand could crop up. These ads have an average conversion rate of 4.4% on the Google Search Network, according to search marketing company WordStream. Meanwhile, traffic on Google-owned YouTube has increased significantly in certain search categories during 2020, including home office, tutorials, workouts, finance, and food. 

According to Campbell, organic reach, which denotes the number of people who have seen your post or content on a social platform (and has a 2.1% median conversion rate), can be maximized by engaging influencers who already have a following within a target audience.  The highest conversion rates, however, stem from email marketing (median 5.3%) and referrals (5.4%), so it is critical to focus on building a community and grabbing email contacts in addition to advertising.

Let Your Product Show the Way

Different products lend themselves to different e-commerce strategies. If you’re selling makeup, for instance, consider throwing advertising dollars toward YouTube due to its popular makeup tutorials, or Instagram because of its visual focus. 

Your product will also determine which influencers you choose. An automotive influencer shouldn’t be your first choice if you’re selling health food, for example, even if they’re very popular. On the other hand, an exclusive art gallery would want to rely heavily on organic reach, personal networking, and referrals to maintain its air of exclusivity.  

Your product offering may also determine what selling platforms you use. If you’re an artisan who makes quilts, you could reach your target demographic more easily by selling on a site like Etsy than on a massive, general e-commerce platform like Amazon, which is better for widely searched products.

Join the Conversation

It’s critical to stay on top of shifting trends in order to be a player in e-commerce. But in addition to reading the news and scanning statistics, it’s also important to demonstrate that you’re a part of the conversation. E-commerce expert Campbell offers some tips on how to do so. 

Reach Out to Your Audience

In your promotions and communications, show that you’re in touch and meeting customers where they are, which, in many cases, is online. For example, many retailers created original, non-promotional, direct email messaging during the pandemic to continue engagement and express camaraderie with their customers.

Be More Active in Events

To create more brand awareness, consider attending more conferences—virtual or in-person—such as the Global E-Commerce Leaders Forum or the Big Show by the National Retail Federation. Join panel discussions, blog about e-commerce trends, or sign up for online courses to hone your craft. In addition, get active on Shopify forums or join communities like eCommerceFuel.

Engage Your Network

Keep those in your personal network engaged—not always to sell them products, but to check in or to invite them to virtual networking events. Read their books and articles and send congratulations. Networking doesn’t always mean striking a deal or pushing an agenda—it’s an ongoing investment that you must tend to over time.