Here’s the harsh reality of ecommerce in 2018:

There are more competitors than ever before!

New brands are launching with an ecommerce-first approach. Established brands are waking up to the power of ecommerce. The increasingly crowded market makes it all the more challenging to stand out.

While a competitive landscape is the reality for ecommerce right now, it’s also easier than ever to create a site that can scale. Startups can design and launch online stores and quickly be competing with Fortune 500s.

Understanding the challenges that ecommerce brands face today, we reached out to ecommerce experts at marketing, PR and creative agencies around the world who have helped indie brands go mainstream and large brands become ecommerce juggernauts.

According to our experts, these six marketing & growth techniques are underrated and underutilized by ecommerce brands trying to scale in 2018:

1: Building Relationships With Media & Influencers

When we asked Jeremy Andrews, founder of AlphaBeta, what he thought was the most underrated strategy for scaling, he said:

Relationship building with writers, micro-influencers, and journalists who are passionate about the same things your brand represents.

If you want to build a brand that is well-known and respected, you need buzz. That means generating press and getting on the radar of relevant influencers. That’s just the reality of the business.

A recent influencer marketing study from Linqia found that 39 percent of marketers plan to increase their spend on influencer marketing in 2018; 21 percent plan to spend the same as in 2017; and only 5 percent plan to decrease their spend.

That’s because courting influencers and generating press works wonders for ecommerce.

In every industry, there’s at least a handful of websites, blogs, media outlets and newsletters that share content related to your product offering. If you sell hunting gear, find a hunting magazine and start building relationships with their editors. If you sell street fashion, reach out to street-style blogs.

Take for example this photo from Sara Toufali, an Instagram influencer with more than 26,000 followers:

In this shot, she’s tagged both Dyson Hair and Sephora while also including them in her caption. The inclusion of these brands gives them a chance to reach Sara’s audience and help them drive engagement and potentially more sales. The fact that she’s included the hashtag #Sponsored makes it clear that this post was part of an ongoing influencer campaign.

2: Establishing A Quality Tech Stack From Day One

One of the most common mistakes brands make when they decide to embrace ecommerce is starting from scratch on everything, from their email marketing system to their CRM to their return management system. Such an investment can quickly turn a potential competitive advantage into a huge pain.

Thanks to sites like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce, it’s easier than ever to design and build a quality ecommerce site. These platforms come with apps and integrations that companies can use to create better experiences for their customers and ecommerce partners.

For example, you could spend thousands of dollars creating and maintaining a return management system, or you could install our app and save the headache. And we don’t just handle returns—we gather valuable insights to help you understand why people are returning products from your store.

Attempting to create your own service like this could take months. Instead, invest time in researching the various apps and integrations that are available and utilize the ones that will save you time and money.

The most limited resource any entrepreneur has when scaling a brand is time. It is important to focus time where it has the most impact, and hire or delegate for the rest.

3: Collaborating With Complementary Brands

A wise person once said: Two sets of hands are always better than one.

That philosophy certainly applies when it comes to reaching a broader audience for your ecommerce brand—after all, collaborations have been a part of doing business for years. But Eric Mayville, co-CEO of Wondersauce, said not enough brands take advantage of collaborations when they’re trying to scale:

I would love to see more ecommerce brands finding complementary companies to collaborate with. It allows you to co-opt both audiences and introduces your brand to an already established group of potential customers. Everyone loves a good collab.

Collaborating with complementary brands is a great way to reach more people and delight your audience with a little something different. Here’s an example of a collaboration between Kenneth Cole and jeweler Shahla Karimi:

The two brands teamed up to create a “fine jewelry capsule collection” inspired by one of Shahla’s existing jewelry collections. When Shopify asked Shahla about the benefits of this collaboration, she explained that the social media cross-promotion and press recognition gave her customers validation and greatly broadened her brand’s market.

Brand collaboration isn’t limited to up and coming brands. Organizations like Vans and North Face have customers all over the world and they’ve come together to create their own products as well:

Take inspiration from these companies as a way to get creative with your collaborations. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with larger organizations, smaller organizations or brands who target an entirely different (but ideal) audience. The key is to ensure that the collaboration offers a win-win situation for both you and the other brand.

4: Embracing Good Ol Fashioned Email

Email may be one of the oldest tools in the digital marketing textbook, but it is just as effective today as it was in 2008. Email marketing is a great way to build relationships with your audience and keep them in the loop on your brand.

When we talked to Kurt Elster, host of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, he said that when it comes to scaling an ecommerce brand, more marketers and founders need to “go back to the basics” instead of only chasing the shiny new thing:

People talk about new exciting trends, they don’t talk enough about the consistent workhorse of ecommerce revenue: email! Every person with internet access has email and checks it constantly. If you want to stay top of mind, stay in their inbox.

We couldn’t agree more—email is still a powerful tool for ecommerce brands.

Whether it’s an ad blast announcing your latest sale or a customized reminder to a buyer about items left in their cart, emails can be valuable.

5: Investing In A Quality Loyalty Program

A loyalty program helps build a consistent customer base by rewarding customers who frequently patronize your business. Rewards can be things like coupons, discounts or access to unreleased products.

Loyalty programs have been around since the 1950s, but they’re still relevant for ecommerce brands trying to scale today.

Dan McIvor, a director at the Shopify Plus expert agency SwankyApple, said loyalty programs are an effective avenue for scaling an ecommerce business, especially if you put customer data to good use:

Loyalty programmes are an effective method of achieving growth. It would also be beneficial to look at innovation in meta-data sharing between different systems and services. This will allow you to segment customer data between loyalty programmes, in-store gift programmes and wish lists, for example.

What is worth noting is that even some of the biggest ecommerce brands haven’t managed to do this yet, often because of their scale and the internal politics of connecting up different areas of the business (as well as the large mass of data which would need to be shared).

This is an opportunity for smaller, more agile businesses to use data better and overtake larger ecommerce stores.

If you want to learn more, check out this blog post from Shopify on how to build a great loyalty program.

6: Cold Emailing—Yep, Cold Emailing

When we asked Giles Thomas, CEO of Whole Design Studios, what he felt was the most underrated scaling strategy, he pointed to cold email outreach. While it might seem counterintuitive for an ecommerce site to conduct cold email marketing, remember what we said earlier—email is still the best way to stay top of mind.

If you’re looking to build relationships with the press or kick-start a collaboration with another brand, a cold email could be the starting point. According to a recent study, 86 percent of business professionals still prefer email over every other form of communication for business purposes.

Tools like Hunter.io make it 10x easier to find the email addresses of the people you want to reach. You simply plug in the company and the individual’s name and within seconds the site will identify potential email addresses for that person:

So as you’re thinking about how to scale your business, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for the first time.

If you want AI to help you write better emails with a higher chance of response, Boomerang offers a pretty slick solution that lives directly in Gmail.

Wrapping Things Up

Scaling an ecommerce brand can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible—if you follow the right strategies.

Create a quality product, deliver a magical customer experience, and put into practice some of the ideas shared in this post, and you’ll be well on your way.

Once you’ve launched some of the ideas shared above ensure that you’re embracing analytics to better understand the impact. Whether you’re tracking a shift in Net Promoter Score or direct sales – identifying a goal and embracing analytics to ensure you achieve it is an important step.

What other ways have you seen brands scale effectively? We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re an ecommerce shop interested in making your return process more scalable, be sure to get in touch.