Every e-commerce brand dreams of growing and scaling quickly, of being an instant hit with consumers, and having products fly off their virtual shelves. And with e-commerce sales topping $4.2 trillion worldwide in 2020, there are plenty of growth opportunities for every e-commerce brand.
However, if brands aren’t sufficiently prepared for rapid growth, their plans can quickly fall apart. Business resources may become imbalanced, brand equity or product quality can deteriorate, and customers can end up frustrated with the overall user experience—ready to take their business elsewhere.
To avoid this, brands need to plan in advance for sustainable growth. Let’s look at five ways to do this.
1. Document Your Plans
Investing time and resources in upfront planning always pays off over time, yet so many new businesses simply dive in without having a strategy beyond the next quarter or year. If you don’t have an overarching growth plan in place, you likely won’t achieve the results you hoped for or you won’t have the proper infrastructure in place to support and sustain the growth you achieved.
Take the necessary time to think through and document:
- The primary mission you want to accomplish as a company, as well as why you want to accomplish that mission.
- The distinct characteristics of the primary audience you’re targeting.
- Your long-term and short-term financial goals.
- Your three-to-five-year go-to-market strategy for accomplishing elements of your mission and meeting those financial goals.
- The type of team you need to execute that strategy (roles, skill sets, etc.).
- Your marketing plan for driving your intended growth.
- Impact on all relevant internal teams.
Documenting the results of this planning will serve as a high-level roadmap for you and your team to follow. Avoid getting too into the weeds and focus on overarching objectives.
2. Build a Stable Foundation
Think of your e-commerce site like a skyscraper. Like a physical high-rise, your site needs a foundation to support it. The strength of your foundation determines how high you can build, how quickly you can achieve your goals, and the amount of growth you can handle before things fall apart.
Tech debt is the ultimate growth-killer. You need to ensure that your technology solutions meet your current needs while being able to scale as you grow. If your platform, custom code, or third-party solutions can’t meet your product needs or marketing objectives, it will slow you down. A significant overhaul is costly, so stay nimble and plan updates to your stack as far ahead as possible.
3. Market Resourcefully
You’ll need to be resourceful and creative when it comes to marketing, especially in the beginning. Outline a slow and steady organic growth plan you can fall back on if performance marketing becomes too expensive.
Test less-saturated channels that may allow you to acquire customers at a lower cost. Would Casper Mattress have achieved the success they have if they hadn’t been one of the early brands to go all-in on podcast advertising? Probably not.
Don’t be afraid to get creative—even scrappy—with your content as a way of standing out. A single YouTube video made Dollar Shave Club a household name overnight.
Above all, never lose sight of your existing customers in the quest for growth. Loyal repeat customers drive long-term profitability. You’re probably familiar with the oft-cited statistic that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. If you fail to effectively serve your current base, your churn rate and customer acquisition costs (CAC) will skyrocket, putting your growth plans in a precarious position.
4. Test and Optimize
Once you have a solid foundation (technology stack, campaign structure, etc.), you can look for and test ways to improve the user experience, then adjust based on the results of those tests. This will not only optimize the experience itself but can also improve your bottom line.
Analytics tracking and heatmaps can help you understand how visitors do or do not interact with various sections of your website. Look for any behavior that suggests hesitation, friction, or confusion in the user experience. For example, do users abandon the checkout process at one point more than all others? Theorize what might be causing the friction, test your theory by running A/B tests, and then optimize the checkout process based on the outcome.
The process of conversion rate optimization (CRO) is one of the most effective tactics for sustainable growth. Instead of spending more to drive traffic to your site, you’re able to convert more of your existing traffic.
If you have international reach, you may also want to consider expansion into and additional localization for those markets. Overall, the internet recognizes no borders, so the growth of your business needn’t be limited by such things either.
Sustainable growth comes with being able to iterate on your existing tactics and strategies so that they remain effective as things evolve, while also experimenting with new ways of connecting with your core customers and executing your mission. For example, if you see the opportunity to expand your e-commerce sales internationally, you’ll need to both adjust your site’s user experience so it feels domestic to consumers in other global markets, not to mention adopt technologies that make cross-border logistics easier.
In other words, to sustain growth, you’re never “done.” Repeat. Iterate. Take the things you learn each month, quarter, and year and evolve your original plans to reflect them. This doesn’t mean abandoning your overall mission or goals. It simply means having the flexibility to achieve your mission and goals in ways you hadn’t originally anticipated.
E-commerce success requires constant iteration and innovation. It’s changing at an incredible pace, with new platforms, tools, trends, and customer preferences. That’s why we love it.
Image: Courtesy of Alicia Radabaugh
About the author: Alicia Radabaugh is vice president of client success at Flow Commerce, a comprehensive cross-border solution helping e-commerce brands sell internationally. Alicia is also a former Flow client with over 12 years of experience driving global growth for e-comm brands spanning $1M to $100M in revenue, including MVMT, JackThreads, 11 Honoré, and Thirteen Lune.
Featured image: Color Joy Stock