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This article was originally published by Inc.
For most brands, 2020 was about survival. Companies were innovative, entrepreneurial, and downright heroic in reinventing business models, reconnecting with customers, and retrofitting new skills. Many businesses sold their products online direct-to-consumer for the first time. These brands launched a new digital storefront and dove headlong into the rabbit hole of payment processing, customer accounts, logistics, reverse logistics, subscriptions, and more. The year was a mad scramble to adjust to a new reality where — almost overnight — e-commerce became the primary sales channel for many businesses.
With the basics in place, this year in e-commerce will look a lot different. It will be the year of differentiation. In a sea of infinite choice — and sameness — many brands are now asking themselves: How do we stand out? What makes us the right choice to help customers accomplish their goals?
The good news is that the work gets more interesting, creative, and rewarding from here on out. It becomes about having a unique approach, something tailored to your brand. Here are three New Year’s resolutions for your online store, designed to make it pop.
Create brand experiences.
Don’t give the customer any distractions or barriers, the traditional thinking goes, it’ll reduce sales! Yet great e-commerce is more than just “Add to Cart” and “Checkout” buttons — especially now. To continue to stay relevant to customers during this extended period of social distancing, your online store needs to offer a more complete brand experience: educating, engaging, building trust, and creating emotional connections with consumers. That’s where your brand’s individual style, perspective, values, culture, and community come in. These are the things that bring an online store to life.
Camp, a national retail chain specializing in family activities and experiences, lost all of its revenue overnight when Covid hit. Founder Benjamin Kaufman and his team looked deep into their brand purpose and asked themselves: How do we engage our community virtually? The answer was to commit to throwing the best virtual kids’ birthday parties. That resonated with their base, and Camp followed by integrating education and commerce content into a line of craft videos where the supplies could be easily purchased through a partnership with Walmart. They’re now continuing to innovate with virtual gift exchanges and gift opening parties.
In rushing to set up an online store last year, many brands opted for the same templates and turnkey solutions as everyone else. While those tools provide fast access to powerful functionality, the tradeoff is that brands need to stick to the playbook they’ve been offered. However, you can create differentiated brand experiences even within the confines of existing systems when you embrace headless commerce, or “decoupling.”
Headless e-commerce allows you to take full control of your front-end customer experience, while still leveraging the robust third-party platforms — like Shopify — that power your store. With a headless approach to e-commerce, you are taking control and ownership of the design and experience of the customer-facing website, building it as you would any other site. But you are also curating and licensing the commerce services best left to outside experts: payment processing, order management systems, content management, authentication, reviews, and more. Those foundational services need to work, but your team doesn’t need to be building or maintaining them.
When Pharrell Williams’s team set out to launch their new entry into the skin-care category, Humanrace, they knew the brand experience would set the bar for others to follow. They created a headless architecture that separated commerce tools from the brand identity and customer experience. The result is a gorgeous, mobile-first, feature-rich site that inspires shoppers to engage and buy, run with a powerful, turnkey backend that supports heavy traffic and best-in-class service integrations.
Talk to customers as individuals.
Brand experiences stand out best when they’re personalized. Five years ago, personalization was only for big tech companies like Google, Netflix, and Spotify that could hire expensive armies of PhDs to create complex recommendation engines. These companies magically gave you the single next best thing to do, watch, or listen to. But now, companies of all sizes and budgets can implement personalization and engage customers one-on-one. By understanding what customer data your brand needs to provide differentiated services, and how to use that data in ways the customer values, brands can effectively take their first meaningful steps into personalization.
Personas and audience segments have become redundant — deliver individual messages to each one of your customers instead, based on the interests and actions they’ve taken with your brand.
Sunday is a brand that’s disrupting lawn care by using data and algorithms to reduce choice. They make it easy for consumers to find and buy just what they need. By giving Sunday your address, they take on the research duty, providing you with recommendations based on satellite imagery, property data, climate history and soil profile. Then, with a few quick survey responses, the company eliminates choice paralysis, providing you with that set of products they recommended, including how and when to use them. The result is a branded experience, fully personalized to the consumer.