It’s easier than ever to start an ecommerce business, but with about 2.5 million online stores based in the U.S. alone, it’s harder than ever to get noticed. And small online retailers have a particularly steep uphill battle because they don’t have the huge online marketing budgets of major retailers.


“Ecommerce platforms make it easy to get up and running, but because it’s so easy to launch a store, there’s never been more competition,” says Derric Haynie, an ecommerce expert and CEO of Ecommerce Tech, a Walnut Grove, California-based platform for online merchants. “Where brands are standing out is by building that customer relationship.”


So, how do small and startup online retailers stand out and draw traffic to their product listings? Here are five strategies Haynie recommends:


  1. Become an influencer, not just a seller


Small business owners have the advantage that can bring a vision, passion and expertise to their trade—something major online retailers often lack. Because of this, they can become influencers on social media and use that trust and authority—and ideally a nice-sized following—to help sell their product. 


For example, a hairstylist who sells hair products online could drive traffic to their store by creating an Instagram page showing examples of the great hairstyles they’ve done, including comments about the different looks. These posts can weave in mentions of the products used to create those types and link back to the online store where people can buy them.


  1. Try a brand collaboration


Many small businesses are paying other popular influencers or larger brands in their field to promote their product or service. That strategy can be effective, but also quite expensive, Haynie says. You might have better luck with a brand collaboration (also known as co-marketing). 


Let’s say you sell dog treats online and meet a dog groomer who loves your treats. Your store has a social media following and so does the dog groomer, who gives grooming tips on her Facebook page. You can promote each other by posting content about how the groomer loves to give dogs your treats to calm them during a grooming session. You can add each other’s products or services to your ecommerce websites or offer referral codes with discounts.


“Brand collaborations can take some effort, but they can be just as valuable as influencer partnerships, without the upfront cost or risk,” Haynie says.


  1. Wade carefully into advertising


Running online ads can be one of the fastest ways to bring in customers. Paid ads on search engines, for example, reach customers at the moment they’re searching for your product or service. But advertising is also expensive, so it must be planned carefully, Haynie says.


A complete analysis balances the cost of acquisition with the lifetime value of the customer. Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose, Haynie advises, and don’t assume you will always be able to understand whether a given sale can be attributed to advertising.


  1. Target your content


Content is a great way to get attention for your store, but generic content won’t get you a good result in organic search results. Make the content as specific to your niche as possible. That could be the town where your store is located. Or it could be targeted to the “persona” of your desired buyer and their demographic and behavioral profile.


You can also target your content based on where your customers are in their buying “journey.” If you want to lure first-time buyers, build content that raises awareness of your brand. This content grabs attention by informing or entertaining people, rather than by selling to them. (The selling happens once they’ve visited your store.)


  1. Make the most of your content


Let’s say a customer walks into your store and asks a great question. Your social media-savvy sales rep shoots a video of the customer asking the question and their own helpful answer and posts the video on your social channels. But that’s only the beginning. The customer might want to post the video on their social channels to help you get more attention. And then you can use an AI-based video-to-text tool to quickly turn the video into a short blog post. 


Once you’ve repurposed your content as far as you can go, “look at the content that outperformed the rest, figure out why it performed so well and double down on it,” Haynie says.


Smaller online stores that want to stand out in the sea of online product listings today need to be both creative and persistent in order to drive traffic to their site. Those who are will take the cake.

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