Beyond Amazon: Rethinking e-commerce strategy in 2022
The recent Economic Survey 2021–2022 revealed that India added at least 14,000 recognised startups during the fiscal year 2022. This number is up 20 times in five years (Padmanabhan). As per the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), India now has over 61,400 startups. But it has also led to an intensely competitive online space that makes standing out near impossible. Till a few years ago, e-commerce brands could list themselves on online marketplaces like Amazon or Flipkart and be assured to get a major chunk of their revenue from them. But brands are quickly realizing that that strategy is no longer sound.
To think you can survive or even grow by merely having a presence on an online marketplace is inherently flawed. The main reason for this is the fact that marketplaces die when the creator becomes the competitor. Amazon sells its own products to compete with the sellers on its platforms. And since Amazon is a giant that can afford to sell for less, it wipes out competition. It also costs money to advertise on Amazon to boost the visibility of your listing or your listing can easily be buried in the deluge of products on the site. (Bain)
Therefore, it is time for digital startups to think beyond amazon and other online marketplaces. The way to do this is to focus on creating a community, focusing on curated products and content, and offering convenience to its customers. And for most brands, the timing couldn’t be better. The expanding digital footprint in tier 3 and tier 4 areas and in rural India along with the aspirational needs of these consumers and their changing attitudes about online buying present a massive opportunity for e-commerce brands. (“Value e-commerce: the next big leap in India’s retail market”) Leading this trend is the increase in mobile phone usage. According to a Cyber Media Research (CMR) report, the average usage of smartphones in India is estimated to have increased by 25% to almost seven hours a day. (“E-commerce market in India | Insights”) The popularity of m-commerce apps is soaring, and it’s the marketers who can best identify and successfully acquire high-quality and loyal users that will reap the benefits.
The country has also seen a massive uptick in e-payment platforms and transactions. And with the increased digital payments and resulting customer confidence, people are more likely than ever to turn to e-commerce brands for all their needs. So how should a digital startup go about it? It’s said that it is very simple to set up a website but quite difficult to create a web-based business model. Over and over, we have learned in the past couple of years that no amount of quirky Instagram creatives or influencer videos will result in the desired sales without paying attention to getting the basics of the business right. In order to optimize these basics, there are a few things that an online business needs to get right
- Focus on user experience- An important way to distinguish your site is to provide an excellent user experience (UX). As the website is the first impression that most digital users will have, ensure that the user experience is smooth and informative. Include what you think a customer must know about your brand at a first glance- your purpose, ethos, products, and its details. Every touchpoint on a user’s journey could be a potential conversion. From sign-up offers when a user lands on the website to special offers like combos and new limited edition products, to exit intent discounts. Another idea that works for customer-centric brands is to have a FAQ page. You can build loyalty programs to entice customers away from online marketplaces. Brands like Bodyshop are a good example.
- Strong PDP (product detail page)- On the product page itself, ensure in-depth detail about your product and include all that a customer might need to nudge her to make a purchase. Companies that want to turn their valuable web traffic into sales must know how to optimize their PDPs. There are some unmissable attributes- page loads instantly optimized for all devices, relevant pictures and videos, customer ratings, and upsell.
- Content marketing- Another aspect of user experience is to focus on potential customers. To do this, you need to reimagine content and promotional activity. Most brands know they need to advertise on social media like Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc. But they follow a cookie-cutter approach to this. In order to have meaningful conversions, it is important to cater to user needs. As released by Google in its annual ‘Year in Search’ 2020, most Indian users consume content in their vernacular. By using vernacular ads and pointing them to Indian language landing pages, brands can better connect with their current users and reach new audiences.
- Drive organic search- As important as paid traffic through advertising is for a business, it is imperative for any business to drive organic search in order to break through the clutter. There are a few reasons why organic traffic is better than paid traffic. More people are likely to find your brand as the vast majority of people who make purchases online use search engines to help them make a purchase decision. (“6 Reasons Why Organic Traffic Is Important for E-Commerce Stores”) It gives you an edge over your competitor and it is cost-effective. These days, there are multiple digital marketing agencies you can work with to help build your SEO strategy.
- Retargeting- customers who have already shown an interest in your website are more likely to make a later purchase. Retargeting is a technique that tracks customers who have visited your website and displays ads to them while they’re browsing the internet with the intent of getting them back on your website. When these visitors enter your website again, they are far more likely to make a purchase. To effectively manage a retargeting campaign, make sure your ads are as specific as possible. You can also consider offering special offers and discounts to these customers.
- Address price fundamentals- Pricing is a complicated issue for most online businesses. It needs to be done in real-time. Other factors to keep in mind are the perceived value of your product, your margins, the alternatives available in the market, sustainability of referral fees and online advertisement, the urgency for your product in a customer’s mind, among others. Management of your fixed costs is similarly critical for success. It is important to consider all these factors and more while also keeping an eye on competition and marketplace prices to maintain a competitive edge.
- Course correction- Most importantly, you need to stop and analyze what’s working and what’s not every step of the way so you can be agile and make quick decisions. Track user engagement like their purchase history and how they interact with your site. Give incentives to repeat customers, enable a subscription model if your product is a recurring use product, etc.
Establishing a successful e-commerce strategy takes time and continuous analysis. Beyond the tried and tested methods listed above, it is also important to stay up to date with the latest market trends and competitive practices. By responding positively to these changes and leveraging the opportunity presented, along with managing the basics and paying attention to your revenue model, the website traffic, and customer engagement mechanics, you can sustain and expand your eCommerce business to unprecedented success. Overall, you must take a comprehensive look at how you can focus all investment behind a single winning strategy. Most users today are willing to buy from small online businesses, it is ultimately up to you to make the most of this opportunity.
Bain, Marc. “The pros and cons of putting your small business on Amazon.” Quartz, 18 January 2021, https://qz.com/1957408/the-pros-and-cons-of-putting-your-small-business-on-amazon/. Accessed 2 February 2022.
Padmanabhan, Arun. “Economic Survey 2022: At least 14000 new startups recognised in India, up 20 times in five years.” The Economic Times, 31 January 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/startups/economic-survey-2022-at-least-14000-new-startups-recognised-in-india/articleshow/89243366.cms?from=mdr. Accessed 1 February 2022.
“6 Reasons Why Organic Traffic Is Important for E-Commerce Stores.” Small Business Rainmaker, https://www.smallbusinessrainmaker.com/small-business-marketing-blog/6-reasons-why-organic-traffic-is-important-for-e-commerce-stores. Accessed 2 February 2022.
“Value e-commerce: the next big leap in India’s retail market.” Kearney, https://www.kearney.com/consumer-retail/article/?/a/value-ecommerce-the-next-big-leap-in-india-retail-market. Accessed 2 February 2022.