Discover more in the Small Business Saturday series

How E-Commerce Sites and Storefronts Alike Can Help Engage Customers Online

Getting shoppers riled up for a big in-store sale is one thing, but how do you build that same excitement online?
October 27, 2016

While customers may love the convenience of online shops and services, e-commerce purchases can often lack the excitement and community feel of an in-store buying experience. Especially during a big sale or event, customers can feed off of the delight of other shoppers getting great deals. So how can an online business—or a brick-and-mortar location looking to better leverage its digital presence—create the same sense of excitement and urgency through their online platforms? From your website to social media channels to email marketing, these strategies may help you better connect with your digital audience.

Prepare Your Website for Sales Success

The goal of your website is to reach, engage and convert customers. Think of your homepage or landing page like a storefront window. Include clear messaging about sales and promotions up top and vivid imagery to help draw customers in.

Getting permission to use “trust icons,” such as the logo of a state chamber or local business bureau, can help give your online business a sense of establishment.

To help ensure customers can browse and purchase smoothly, make sure that your e-commerce platform is set up with accurate pricing, discounts and links before your flash sale or online event begins.

Make sure your site looks good and functions well on mobile devices, too, since many customers may be shopping on the go. If you have a custom site, try working with your developers to test your site experience for mobile compatibility and load time, or use testing tools like BrowserStack, which allow you to view your website across various browsers and operating systems. This can help ensure customers are getting the best site experience, no matter what device they’re using.

Create Hype Around Your Event

Announce your event, whether it’s a flash sale or live social chat, through emails and social posts in the days and weeks leading up to it. Even more enticingly, consider offering some surprises that customers will want to “tune in” for. For example, you can launch limited-time special deals in a dedicated section of your website. This can help drive customers to check back frequently so they don’t miss out.

Testimonials are the digital equivalent of having a happy customer offer a compliment in-store that can be overheard by other shoppers.

Include testimonials and reviews on your own site, but also highlight and respond to unsolicited comments and replies on social platforms to help create buzz. Testimonials provide social proof and can be as simple as a quote from one of your customers. They are the digital equivalent of having a happy customer offer a compliment in-store that can be overheard by other shoppers.

Giveaways on social media that require customers to follow your account and include an appropriate hashtag can also help get the word out, and encourage people to take action. Pick a short, unique hashtag for your special event and use it across all social channels. Encourage your customers to use the hashtag to search for future sales or events. You can also use the hashtag to pull a custom Twitter newsfeed onto your own website, linking your social activity back to your homepage or landing page.

Sure, this may not lead to direct sales, but if people enjoy the images and messages you post, they’ll have more of a reason to continue following and engaging with your brand.

Strike Up a Conversation

Invite customers to live chats or webinars, which might not only get you on their calendars, but also provide a human element to your company. Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope have become incredible, real-time channels to connect with customers. Try showing clips of what goes on behind-the-scenes to design and create products they love. You can host guest experts or stream chats between the employees and founders, allowing your customers to see the people behind the business. This can help personalize your web presence and the customer’s experience of your company. Afterwards, you can use recorded videos as content for your website.

There are also live web chat solutions that you can easily integrate into your website. These can allow website visitors to make inquiries in real time, or you can proactively reach out to a site visitor and have a personal dialogue—just like saying hello when someone walks into a store.

Remember to Say, "Thank You"

Be prepared to send follow-up emails and offers to thank the new contacts you acquire during your sales event or social campaign, whether or not they clicked the “Buy” button that day. For customers who were browsing products, does your e-commerce platform allow you to see if they got stuck at the shopping cart? Maybe they just need a little reminder. Many platforms can auto-send cart abandonment emails, inviting customers to return and complete their purchase. You may even consider offering a discount as an incentive to do so.

And just like any good business owner, be sure to thank your visitors and followers. Politeness and acknowledgement can go a long way when the time comes to promote your next event. Include links to your social media platforms in all emails, newsletters and near blog posts to encourage customers to look for your business in other channels.

Ask Your Customers for Feedback

Use your event as a learning experience. Consider creating a brief survey or Twitter poll to help you learn more about customer needs. If possible, consider rewarding those that complete it with a discount code. Respond promptly and graciously to any comments or feedback.

As more and more businesses integrate their brick-and-mortar and online presences, or forego physical locations altogether, it can be even more critical to provide a focused and pleasurable customer experience. Whether you’re an e-commerce site looking to drive sales or a coffee shop posting about sustainable sourcing on Facebook, consider all the ways you can connect with your online community.

Photo: Christopher Lane