Ecommerce Marketing Strategies: Tips From 28 Top Players [Infographic]

Ecommerce is a lucrative, growing industry. But it can also be complex, challenging and overwhelming.

How do you survive in such a chaotic market?

To help you get a clearer picture, we studied dozens of interviews with successful ecommerce entrepreneurs. We’ve picked out the best marketing advice we could find, and framed them in a coherent narrative. Enjoy!

1: Do your homework

Identify your niche

“What makes us special is that we are focused on a customer segment that is very passionate about their kids, and they are looking for great products. If you look at the retail space for that market, the low-end has been commoditized by Babies R Us, Toys R Us, Walmart. If you go upmarket just a little bit, you’ll see mass fragmentation. It’s really the local boutique store in any given town that’s selling… in those mid to upper-end price points. So, there really just isn’t a great brand out there for moms to look to.” – Darrell Cavens, Zulily CEO

“We figured out that Rent the Runway is an emotional experience. Women would put on a sequined, Tory Burch celebrity dress and twirl around, and they felt like they were ready for a fantastic evening. You knew that their expression changed, their emotion changed, their confidence changed, and we realized THAT’s the business that we’re in.” – Jennifer Hyman & Jennifer Fliess, Rent The Runway co-founders

Listen to the customers

“With our Be the Buyer program, we get a more precise read on demand because people are on the wait list for specific sizes. We have all this historical sales data on products, and we’re also interacting with customers on Pinterest and Polyvore and other external sites to see what [our customer] is saving and playing with, the styles that are inspiring her. Combined with Be the Buyer and Make the Cut, we’re able to anticipate what she’ll want down the line.” – Susan Gregg and Eric Koger, ModCloth Co-founders

Read: How ModCloth Evolved From A One Woman Firm to A $100 Million Company

Find out what your customers want

“We asked our 1,000 most enthusiastic customers, “Why do you shop at Bonobos?” I spent a weekend reading all 1,000 responses. Three things stuck out and became the three pillars of our brand: fit, fun and service.” – Andy Dunn, Bonobos CEO & Founder

Read Andy Dunn’s Survival Tips For Ecommerce Retailers

2: Build your product

Make your product insanely great

“In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO & Founder

Read: Jeff Bezos Quotes – 5 Inspiring Bits Of Tough Wisdom

“When we design something we think a lot about the return rate, how to make people understand how it fits, and how to make sure that what they see is what they get – or if they see something, what they get is even better than what they expected.” – Michael Preysman, Everlane CEO & Founder

Read: 5 Ways Fashion Retailer Everlane Earned Insane Word of Mouth

Develop a unique selling point

“We release new styles at a rapid pace. The close contact we have with manufacturing allows us to have control over quality assurance. We can deliver a suit in under two weeks and back it up with a Perfect Fit Promise. Once measurements are taken and the first suit is made, it’s just point, click and buy.” – Kyle Vucko, Indochino CEO & Co-founder

Read: 8 Examples Of Creating Unexpected Utility In Marketing To Get More Word-Of-Mouth

Create delightful experiences for your customers

“Our customers are creative professionals who love details and individuality – they can see that we put a lot of effort into the website and I would like to think that they really appreciate it. Even though we are product designers, we proved that you should follow the design through to the packaging, branding, and, well, your website. Everything fits together perfectly.” – James Teal, Hard Graft co-founder

Read: 17 Ways That 15 Companies Got Massive Word-of-Mouth By Delighting Their Customers

Give your customers a great deal

“We don’t want to wholesale our product because the inefficiencies of wholesaling to a Barney’s is paid for at a higher price by the customer. Let’s just eliminate that and let the customer get really great product at really great prices.” – Ryan Babenzien, GREATS Founder & CEO

Read: Designer Footwear Referral Program Examples: Greats

Exceed your customers’ expectations

Don’t just collect signups, engage your customers

“By spending a lot of money on marketing you might get a lift in signups, but if none of those signups ever return, your metrics would tell a misleading story. Daily signups look great, but without daily active (and engaged) users, you’re just filling up a leaky funnel.” – Tobias Lütke, Shopify CEO & Founder

Read: The Future of Retail, According To Shopify CEO @tobi

“I like to answer emails, chat with people on Reddit, and reply to YouTube comments. I was also involved on various communities online, from Reddit to Beardboard and BeardedGents.com. I am able to talk and get to know other beardsmen around the world at a personal level. I think it helps that I’m passionate about what we are building and people see that in me. I’ve made a lot of how-to videos that people have really liked.” – Eric Bandholz, Beardbrand founder

Read: How To Get Word-of-Mouth: 40+ Successful Examples To Learn From

Earn recommendations through great service

“We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then we let the customer be our marketing. Historically, our number one growth driver has been from repeat customers and word-of-mouth.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO and Founder

Read: 4 Ways To Get Word-of-Mouth With Customer Service

Really ‘Wow’ them

“All 25 of our customer service folks are in-house. We have a 24/7 operation, and we empower the reps to take care of the mom at whatever cost. Really, the fewer rules, the better. The concept is just if Mom calls and there’s an issue, do whatever is necessary to make her happy and really Wow her.” – Marc Lore, Diapers.com co-founder

Read: 21 Interviews With 10 Successful Ecommerce Founders

Never compromise on what matters

“We realize that putting multiple stamps on an envelope is time-consuming and we’d be much more efficient printing a digital stamp. But we have lots of folks tweeting images of their Tattly envelopes every day!” – Tina Roth Eisenberg, Tattly founder

4: Run a referral program

“A referral program is a key part of what we do, because our repeat customers have allowed us to thrive. Just think about what would happen if we had only one-time purchases. ReferralCandy is a part of that – we rarely discount our products so customers get thef irst crack at a discount, through ReferralCandy.” – Mike Arnot, Owen & Fred founder

“I think the main reason we’ve been able to drive guys to the site is that we deliver a very niche and curated product and work hard to make sure we’re bringing the most relevant product and brands to our audience. Beyond that, we’ve had a lot of success come through our referral program, which offers guys $10 every time they get a friend to sign up for our site and make a purchase using their referral link.” – Jason Ross, Jackthreads CEO & Founder

Read: An Epic List of 47 Referral Programs

5: Create content that your customers love

Combine marketing and media

“I think moving forward, a media company that’s separate from a marketing company will not exist. I think the lines are blurring and they will continue to blur.” – Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox founder and co-CEO

Read: How Birchbox Grew From 200 to 850,000 Subscribers In 3.5 Years

Provide a full experience

“Being able to tell our story and engage our community better online is big. Our customer doesn’t really differentiate between consuming content, shopping for something, and hanging out with her friends online. I just want to give her all kinds of reasons to hang out on Nasty Gal.” – Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal CEO & Founder

“When we started Tatchies, the idea was to take form and function without comprising them. When it comes to the website we wanted to give visitors an unique experience. Our vision is to change the site with a new experience every year.” – Markus Andersson, Tatchies Co-founder

Tell stories in fun ways

“Whether it’s video, Facebook content or other kinds of content, we are going to make a strong commitment to telling strong stories in creative ways and just giving our audience and our customers fun stuff to play with. That’s part of the fun of being an Internet brand.” – Michael Dubin, Dollar Shave Club CEO

Read: It was a dark and stormy night… – 24 Examples of Storytelling in Marketing

Don’t shy away from controversy (if it suits your brand)

“We’re always looking for new ways to get our brand in front of people. If that means a little controversy, so be it.” – Jason Ross, JackThreads

Read: SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson and the Streisand Effect

6: Utilize Social Media

“With social media, there’s such a cheap and easy form to market through word-of-mouth that you should give it a try. Don’t be scared to take this giant leap, build your own brand and develop special relationships with your customers.” Cameron Parker, Head of Sales and Marketing at Black Milk Clothing

Read: 3 Ways Black Milk Created a Crazily-Loyal Fan Base Through Word-of-Mouth

Pinterest is by far the most helpful. It’s super interesting, and there’s a lot of overlap with our audience. Even if you have nothing about fashion on your Pinterest board, you can learn so much by what people are pinning on their decor boards or DIY boards.” – Katrina Lake, Stitch Fix CEO & Founder

“Our business was entirely grown through our YouTube channel, the YouTube community and word-of-mouth. Our initial biggest win was a YouTuber with about 15,000 subscribers reviewing our product. That did way more for us than any magazine mention can do as we’ve been featured and it’s nothing compared to real people on YouTube.” – Alex Ikonn, Luxy Hair co-founder

“One of the manufacturers I purchase from has a particularly strong social following on Instagram with 16,000 fans. I had posted a photo to the Finch Goods Co. Instagram account that included one of their products. They reposted it to their account and tagged me in it, which netted me almost 350 followers.” – Richard Lazazzera, Finch Goods founder

7: Have A Purpose

Grow a community with sincerity

“Threadless grew very slowly and organically over the past 10 years. And it grew because thre is such sincerity between the company and the community and between members of the community themselves… we are truly fueled by creating cool stuff with artists around the world, not by dollar signs. But we have also been very realistic when it omes to revenue. We bootstrapped the company with $1,000 and have only grown it with our profits, so something has to really actually be working in order for us to keep moving.” – Jake Nickell, Threadless CEO and co-founder

Read: 4 Ways T-Shirt Company Threadless Built a Fanatical Community Through Word-of-Mouth

Have a purpose that people relate with

“My mission for the company is to inspire the next generation of female engineers. This is about building a movement. The bigger the campaign gets, the bigger a message we send to the toy industry, to stores who hopefully will sell Goldie, to parents who might think differently about what they buy for their children.” – Debbie Sterling, CEO & Founder of Goldieblox

Read: Educational Toys Referral Program Examples: GoldieBlox

“We spent a lot of time developing on Facebook, Twitter, really allowing our community to feel that they really had some ownership in the brand. That comes from the fact that when you buy a pair you have that ownership that you’ve helped someone. I do a lot of interviews, magazine photoshoots, those type of things because that didn’t cost us anything and the readers of those magazines are even more attracted to editorial than advertising.” – Blake Mycoskie, TOMS shoes founder

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