The following is the first in the From the Pros series of blog posts - posts where professional retailers are interviewed about various topics, and their insights and expertise are distilled in order to give you the best, most up-to-date actionable advice possible. The retailer interviewed for this post was Fishwest, a fly fishing shop based in Sandy, UT.
Customer loyalty and retention are two hugely important aspects of running a successful online store. Without either of them, your store won't last long. According to Adobe, 40% of an online store's revenue is created by 8% of its customers.
So how can you inspire customer loyalty and retention in your own ecommerce store? The pros from Fishwest were kind enough to sit down with us and dish out some tips and expertise on this very subject.
Product selection is key
One of the most important things you can do to inspire customer loyalty and retention is to have the proper product selection.
"One of our biggest things is product selection," Dustin Carlson, the founder of Fishwest, said. "We tend to not cherry pick product lines and carry a wider breadth of products. A customer's going to be able to find everything they want and not split their order between multiple stores."
At first glance, this advice appears to fly in the face of conventional ecommerce wisdom - you can't try to sell anything and everything. That's a strategy that only big-box retailers can get away with. However, Carlson is referring to selling as much as you possibly can within your niche.
Chances are, there's a big box store that sells what your online store is selling. For example, Fishwest competes locally with national outdoor retailers Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Scheels. Each of those stores have fly fishing sections that sell similar products to what Fishwest offers, and sometimes at even lower prices.
But what those stores don't have that Fishwest does is an expansive array of products. Fishwest carries nearly every major fly fishing brand, while their competitors like Sportsman's Warehouse, only carry Redington, Fenwick, Temple Fork, Sage, and St. Croix.
"The big-box [retailers] have a place in the world," Carlson said, "But I think there's a pretty common path that a customer takes where they start a big-box, maybe get their first [fly] rod and reel, and end up being a specialty store customer. At some point, you outgrow what a big box has to offer."
Carlson's comment about "specialty stores" is particularly relevant to this topic.
Shopify wrote a blog post last year that gave out 41 pieces of advice from successful ecommerce entrepreneurs. The one thing they had in common? Almost all of the stores were specialty stores that offered products you just couldn't get at a big box retailer. The stores mentioned in the post were geared towards customers who, as Carlson said, had outgrown what big box retailers had to offer.
So while you don't need to adopt the mentality of selling everything and anything under the sun, you do need to try to offer as many niche-relevant products as you possibly can.
Offer unmatched expertise
When I asked Carlson what else, aside from product selection, separates Fishwest from the stiff competition in a state where outdoor recreation is a huge part of the economy, he placed a lot of emphasis on how important it is to have a knowledgeable staff.
"What Fishwest has to offer is more knowledge [about our] in-depth product selection," Carlson said.
Fishwest is unique in that it started as an online-only retailer back in 1999 - probably the first-ever online fly shop. Since then, they've expanded to a brick-and-mortar location in Sandy, UT. Carlson said that the expertise of his staff is a large part of the reason his physical store has been successful.
"Relationship management, face-to-face, is exponentially more important, especially in specialty retail," Carlson said.
If you're planning on opening a physical location for your ecommerce store, or already have one, it's important to not overlook staffing it with people who really know the industry inside and out.
Don't forget about customer service
Customer service is one of the basic essentials to any successful business. But a few things that Carlson brought up in our interview are important enough that they warrant their own section in this post.
"We have to take care of the customer base we have," Carlson said. "They should be treated as important when they come into the store."
Carlson was referring to when customers enter his physical store, but the same goes for your ecommerce store as well.
"Customer service can make or break an ecommerce store," Carlson said. "Once you have [customers], to keep them, they should be able to contact you in any way possible. You just have to be available to them any way they want."
Fishwest does a great job of this by using Twitter to field questions about products, as well as integrating live chat on their site. Live chat is the ecommerce equivalent of walking into a physical store and talking to a sales rep, so it's just as important to put passionate, knowledgeable staff behind the live chat as it is to have those same types of people as sales reps.
Don't overlook advertising and social media
When Fishwest first started out, Carlson said they used a "shotgun" approach to advertising.
"For a long time," Carlson said, "[The joke around here was] you couldn't swing a dead cat [on the internet] without hitting a Fishwest ad out there. Whatever ad network it was, we were out there. There's a bit of a shotgun approach to it to make sure that you're getting seen as a startup. Once you're bigger, you have to fine-tune a bit."
Carlson is absolutely right about online advertising. In fact, in the above mentioned Shopify post, the advice given by Jenn Louise (an online store that sells Australian designer handbags) said, "Don't underestimate the importance of marketing, especially paid advertising. With our site being online only, this has been essential for us. It kick starts everything."
In that same Shopify post, another great point was made about the power of social media.
"Social engagement has been amazing and the flow of traffic to our site is still largely thanks to Instagram and Twitter," Said Karim Faisail of Gown and Oars, a wristwatch business.
Fishwest has taken full advantage of social media, since fly fishing naturally lends itself to photo sharing via Instagram, Facebook, and other image-focused social platforms.
"Don't buy followers," Said Corinne Perrine, Social Media Manager for Fishwest. "Just go in there and be part of the conversation. Follow all the people you want to follow, you talk to them, you start the conversation. You can't just throw your content out there and expect to get followers. You need to engage with the community."
Provide stellar content
Of course, any online retailer understands the need for quality content, but how can you go about making sure your content really is valuable?
"[You] have to try to diversify the type of content you have," JC Weeks, Web Team Manager of Fishwest, said. "[We try to find] people with unique perspectives that anglers can relate to, and having a bunch of [contributors] with a variety of expertise is important."
Through content diversification, Fishwest was able to build an "ambiguous" brand for itself.
"We wanted to build an ambiguous brand, not just fly fishing in Utah," Weeks said. "For a long time, we didn't want to be known as a Utah place. Fishwest was just a magical place that your stuff came from. It didn't matter where you were."
That's a goal that any ecommerce store should aspire to: creating an strong brand that can resonate with people around the globe. While social media and branding obviously play a role in creating that image, so too does your content.
By combining all of the above tips - product selection, expertise, killer customer service, and stellar content - you'll be able to not only attract more customers, but retain them as well. Customer loyalty is hugely important in today's ecommerce world - you have to give customers a reason to buy from you once, and then to continue doing so. Implementing some of the above strategies will definitely help you accomplish that goal.
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Photo courtesy Matthias Ripp.