The New eCommerce Growth Model: Advanced Strategies for Brands

In the new era of eCommerce, where the buyer journey is omnichannel and unpredictable, the most successful brands in the industry are approaching growth as an ever-expanding cycle: collect, curate, cultivate, repeat.

A New eCommerce Landscape

The first era of eCommerce was marked by the meteoric rise of brands that understood how to effectively funnel shoppers through their buyer journey. From first-touch on a social or search ad to the moment of purchase, customers progressed through a step-by-step path, fueling similarly predictable growth for the brands themselves.

That era is over.

The buyer journey, and as a result, the new model for eCommerce growth, have become decidedly non-linear. Shoppers discover brands across channels — brick-and-mortar, search, third-party retail, social, referrals, word-of-mouth, print ads, etc. — and devices — mobile, desktop, tablet.

What’s more, they’re likely to bounce back-and-forth between them several times before finally making a purchase.

So, where does this leave today’s brands? It’s up to them to embrace the chaos of the modern buyer journey by adapting to the New eCommerce Growth Model.

Table of Contents
The New eCommerce Growth Model
Phase 1: Collecting the Building Blocks of Customer Experience
Phase 2: Curating a Better Buyer Journey
Phase 3: Cultivating Lasting Customer Relationships
The New eCommerce Growth Model
Phase 1: Collecting the Building Blocks of Customer Experience
Phase 2: Curating a Better Buyer Journey
Phase 3: Cultivating Lasting Customer Relationships
The New eCommerce Growth Model
Chapter 01

The New eCommerce Growth Model

If the linear growth model is a thing of the past, then the most successful brands in the eCommerce industry now are approaching growth as an ever-expanding cycle. Instead of focusing on moving customers along a clear path to purchase, they are rethinking their eCommerce marketing strategy to promote self-perpetuating growth via exceptional customer experiences.

This new model for growth is comprised of three key eCommerce marketing phases that are carried out on an ongoing basis:

  • Collecting – Gathering data, feedback, and content of all types from your customers
  • Curating – Displaying that content effectively across channels, and using the data to inform customer-centric experiences at every touchpoint
  • Cultivating – Using the channels, content, and data to foster community and build loyalty

Each of these phases relies deeply on the relationships that brands build with their customers through the experiences they create. At a time when price and functionality are so easily replicated, the connection that brands are able to form with their customers will define the trajectory of their growth.

The following chapters will delve into each of these three phases, offering advanced strategies for success and examples from real brands.

Phase 1: Collecting the Building Blocks of Customer Experience
Chapter 02

Phase 1: Collecting the Building Blocks of Customer Experience

Collecting is all about establishing an initial relationship with your customers that goes both ways: They come to you for the products they love, and you work to understand their behavior and needs by capturing feedback, data, and their experiences with your products.

While any brand worth their salt today already collects reviews and photos, this phase of the new growth model goes way beyond that. Here are seven of the most important ways to fuel the foundation of your growth engine:

Reviews That Matter

Every brand is familiar with the Perfectly Enthusiastic One-Word Review: “Amazing!” If you’re lucky, you might even get a shout out to the product itself: “Love these pants!” While it’s always reassuring to learn that your customers are satisfied, these types of reviews are effectively useless to consumers.

Instead of sending out generic review requests, prompt your past customers to share their thoughts about specific topics: Quality, shipping, size, battery life, etc. This way, the content you collect will reflect the specific questions and concerns of new shoppers.

The Data You Need

From on-site behavioral data to transactional data, you need a granular view of who your customers are and how they interact with your brand and your products.

In addition to using traditional tracking tools, another easy way to gain more insight into your customer profile is by asking them to answer specific questions when they submit a review. Not only will this help you better identify your customer base, but it will also help shoppers seek out information from past buyers who are most similar to them.

When you send out review requests, be sure to include multiple choice questions that ask about age, location, skin type, body type, favorite products, etc., depending on what’s relevant to your vertical. You can also use this opportunity to have customers shed light on other common issues, for example, whether fit is true to size or not. The combination of this information and customer profiles gives new shoppers all the details they need to purchase confidently.


Get On-Brand Visuals

With 77% of shoppers preferring customer photos to professional ones, most brands have already begun collecting and displaying visual UGC. However, while your best customers love your brand, they don’t always get your aesthetic right. Your website is your face to the world, and collecting images you can’t display is both a waste of time and a disappointment to customers who want to be featured.

Instead of simply asking customers to submit photos, offer some brand guidelines. For example, launch a competition on Instagram and in the contest rules, let your brand fans know that they need to photograph your products against a plain background, outside, at golden hour, without filters — whatever best matches your usual look and feel. You’ll get a ton of content you can actually use and your customers will love the challenge of taking the perfect on-brand photo.

Gather Topic Sentiment

When we talk about “collecting,” it’s not just about asking your customers for content. The most successful brands know that the job isn’t over when a review is submitted — you have to go beyond that to understand the trends in how customers are feeling about your products and service.

But gauging customer sentiment at scale is hard work. While you could have your customer service team comb through reviews, you’d be better off using sentiment analysis technology. This way, you’ll be able to “collect” trending topics in reviews and identify how shoppers are feeling about them. This in turn enables brands to make smarter business decisions: For example, if you learn that the sentiment around the quality of a particular product is negative, you can invest in fixing the quality issue before manufacturing the product in new colors.

Ask & Answer

With reviews, detailed product pages, consumer forums, and social communities, it can be easy to forget that shoppers may still have unanswered product questions. Your website is the perfect place to host that Q&A to prevent shoppers from leaving to find answers elsewhere.

Allow shoppers to submit questions onsite, and have someone from your team moderate the Q&A. Not only will they be able to provide answers, they can also spot trends and suggest when common questions should be answered in your product descriptions. In addition to having staff answer shopper questions, you can also send them out to past buyers, enabling your customers to speak to one another and form a sort of mini-community onsite.

Cover All Your Products

A common problem with collecting customer content is product coverage. Your best-sellers have thousands of reviews and some of your newer or less popular products have barely a dozen. Since highly rated products are the most frequently purchased, this can be a self-perpetuating cycle.

To ensure all your products get reviewed, consider incentivizing reviews on particular items by offering coupons or other perks. Additionally, when customers purchase multiple products, set your review requests to automatically prioritize the least-reviewed products in their order.

Get the Opt-In Where it Matters Most

While most brands focus on email sign-ups, that’s not the only way to connect with customers. In fact, as eCommerce shifts increasingly towards mobile — with more than half of all online purchases expected to be via mobile by 2021 — it’s more important than ever to reach out to your customers where they already are: on their phones.

Choose an SMS marketing solution that offers robust growth tools, so you can collect phone numbers and build a list of subscribers on a high-engagement channel with exceptional ROI. Since privacy laws are strict when it comes to text messages, be sure to select a provider that’s compliant with regulations.

Brand Spotlight

Direct-to-consumer footwear brand GREATS asks customers to rank fit and comfort in addition to writing a review, allowing them to collect more valuable information about their products.

Steve Madden
Footwear giant Steve Madden encourages customers to show off their looks, and the guidelines provided ensure that their beautiful shoes take centerstage.

Phase 2: Curating a Better Buyer Journey
Chapter 03

Phase 2: Curating a Better Buyer Journey

Curation is where all the data, feedback, and content you collect come together. Using these elements to create stellar, personalized experiences not just on your website, but across every channel, is critical to the success of any modern eCommerce brand.

Here are eight ways to meet your customers wherever they are with the impactful, tailored content that will convince them to convert:

Next-Generation On-Site Displays

While diligent shoppers will read reviews until they find what they’re looking for, most people just don’t have the time. It’s on the brand to make it easy for them.

Make sure your customers find what they’re looking for by implementing AI-powered topic filters above your reviews. That way, shoppers seeking out information on size, quality, or fabric can immediately filter for the most relevant reviews for them, making them more likely to convert, faster.

Upgrade Your Emails

Email marketing is an essential channel for reaching your customers and enticing them to purchase again. However, consumers get dozens of branded emails a day, making it tough to stand out.

To ensure you see the full impact of this channel, your email marketing strategy needs to focus on three key pillars:

  • The audience: Use reviewer data to effectively segment for campaigns (a five-star reviewer needs different messaging than a two-star one).
  • The content: Enrich your campaigns with UGC (include reviews in a cart abandonment campaign to add that extra “umph” that will tip the scales in favor of purchase).
  • The timing: Use behavioral data to ensure you send emails when your customers are most likely to browse.

Bring Your Best Content With You

The direct-to-consumer model allows brands to carefully tailor the content they share with customers — but what happens when brands grow and begin to sell through third-party retailers?

In today’s omnichannel world, you need to syndicate your best reviews and customer photos to every retailer you sell through. This not only extends the reach and influence of your customer content, but it also ensures that wherever shoppers discover your products, they’re met with the same relevant, informative experience they would have on your site.

Stand Out on Search

Shoppers on search typically have high intent — they know what they’re looking for and are already comparing options. But with constantly changing algorithms, staying at the top of search results is a serious challenge.

Luckily, when you host reviews on your site, your customer content is crawled by Google, improving your ranking and making it less likely for shoppers to find a third-party review site first. Also, when you collect site reviews regarding your brand and service as a whole, your overall star rating will appear in Google search results, making your brand stand out from the plain text listings.

Connect Directly With Customers

Today’s consumers are busier than ever, and they’re bombarded with advertising everywhere they go. To cut through the noise and create a more effective buyer journey, brands need to reach customers on their own terms, via the channels they use most.

This is where SMS marketing comes in. The channel’s exceptional engagement — text messages have a 98% open rate and 35% click-through rate — gives brands the opportunity to capture shopper attention. Whether you’re sending out snippets of your best reviews ahead of a sale or sending your customers their loyalty status updates, SMS gives you a new opportunity for direct communication.

Optimize Your Ads

With the rise of social media, brands can no longer escape spending on Instagram and Facebook. But how can you ensure you’re making the most of your ad budget?

Spend less on creative and use all the content you collect — your customers’ best photos and reviews — to put together authentic ads that blend into shoppers’ social feeds. Instead of being instantly ignored like most heavily branded ads, these see 3x higher click-through rates.

Take it Offline

With the unpredictable modern buyer journey, many brands have begun diversifying their advertising channels to include “old-school” methods like subway ads or TV commercials.

To put a new twist on an old tactic, include your customer content in print and TV ads as well. The impact of a glowing or funny review doesn’t end on your site or on social — it’s a great way to entertain and inspire commuters and to stand out from the traditional print ads they see everywhere.

Don’t Drop the Ball Post-Purchase

Savvy brands know how important quick shipping and a great unboxing experience are, but for many brands, the experience ends there. Since most shoppers only consider themselves loyal after purchasing from a brand at least five times, curating an engaging post-purchase experience is critical for increasing retention.

A creative loyalty program is one of the best ways to incentivize continued interaction with your brand, and to keep up the customer connection post-purchase. Think out of the box and offer points for non-transactional actions, like following your social pages or reading a blog post. Then, reach out to members via SMS or email to remind them of their options for earning and redeeming points.

Brand Spotlight

Accessories brand MVMT stands head and shoulders above other search results thanks to the customer content that’s automatically populated in their Google Shopping Ads and organic results.

Bob’s Discount Furniture
Bob’s Discount Furniture curates a better on-site experience for shoppers, allowing them to easily sort through reviews by common topics, like “comfort,” “quality,” etc.

Phase 3: Cultivating Lasting Customer Relationships
Chapter 04

Phase 3: Cultivating Lasting Customer Relationships

Once you’ve established a connection with your customers to collect content and data, and then curated thoughtful experiences that develop your relationships with them, it’s time to cultivate those relationships and create a bulletproof brand community that will perpetuate the growth cycle.

While most people think of social media when they hear “community,” watching your follower count grow isn’t enough to guarantee that your brand fans are engaged, loyal customers. Here are six ways to cultivate those customer relationships and ensure they’re there to stay in the long run.

Keep Things Private

While the “Instagram generation” spends most of their time on their namesake platform, when they’re not busy double-tapping, they’re most often in groups. Private WhatsApp chats, Slack, or Facebook Messenger groups are popular for a reason: They allow for exclusive, peer-to-peer communication.

Brands are uniquely positioned to enjoy this trend by creating two types of groups that drive engagement and build connections. The first should include your most loyal customers who naturally flock towards your content — your members here can serve as influencers and ambassadors to draw in new customers. The second should be about a topic that your customers care about, rather than a product (think running marathons, not running shoes), allowing you to start conversations that your customers want to be a part of.

In both cases, you set the stage for increased interaction both with and among your customers and fans, naturally growing and strengthening your community.

Treat Shoppers Like VIPs

Once you’ve set up a creative loyalty program to improve customer experience, the next step is using that same program to cultivate community. To do this, you need to design an exclusive experience for your best customers.

Implement VIP tiers in your loyalty program, and as shoppers move through the ranks, offer them benefits that go beyond a simple discount, such as early access to new products or fun swag. Be sure to save these perks for VIPs only: Authenticity is the key to lasting relationships — and your customers need to know that their loyalty means more than any other one-off purchase.

Turn Reviews into a Conversation

When your customer submits a review, they’re taking the time to offer feedback. Cultivating relationships requires give and take — so, whether they’re saying something positive or negative, brands should be responding to customer reviews.

Leave a comment publicly or privately to say thank you, ask a question, or apologize and offer compensation for a negative experience. Customers will see that their voice matters, and they’ll be more likely to engage with your brand going forward.

Use Customer Content to Build Community

Collecting and displaying customer content doesn’t end on your site or in ads — it’s also a powerful tool for community engagement.

Find ways to use that content to make your customers feel recognized and important. For example, feature your best customer photos in your Instagram Stories and mention the brand fans who submitted them, giving them a moment in the spotlight that both encourages them to share your post with like-minded friends and to continue submitting content in the future.

Hand Over Your Product

Receiving product feedback in reviews allows you to make important improvements, but product feedback can play an equally central role in community-building — if you do it right.

Turn product development into a collaborative process. Ask for ideas of what to create and continually check in on your customers’ thoughts and opinions as you develop the product. Should it be pink or green? Larger or smaller? Encourage them to participate actively and they’ll feel deeply connected to both the product and your brand.

Design a Smarter Referral Experience

Your brand community will be the driving force spreading the word about how much they love your products. To make the most of that brand love and cultivate a larger, more engaged community, you need a smart referral marketing program. The LTV of a referred customer tends to be higher than that of an average shopper by as much as 3x, so the investment will pay off and then some.

Make sure your program encourages customers to send referral links via one-to-one sharing. A link sent through Facebook Messenger or email works up to 15x better than posting the same link on Facebook or another social platform.

Brand Spotlight

Soko Glam
Korean skincare brand Soko Glam designed a tiered loyalty program that gives their VIPs everything from exclusive gifts and rewards to “one of a kind special experiences.”

Ministry of Supply
Fashion brand Ministry of Supply invites shoppers to refer a friend using Facebook Messenger and a direct link that can be sent via email.