Marketing and Growth ChannelsAccording to the National Retail Federation, the e-commerce sector is set to grow another 8-12% this year. That means there’s plenty of opportunity to grow – but there’s also more competition than ever, too.
Launching a successful e-commerce venture takes more than connecting a valuable product or service with the right audience. Scale too quickly, and you could be one of the 93% of start-ups that flame out before you get a chance to start making $100k per month.
Even if you have a great product, you need expert strategy and incredible customer service to grow sustainably. And – as your customers will no doubt tell you – there’s always room for improvement.
Whether you’re in start-up mode or you’re ready to scale, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. All e-commerce companies have to figure out how to retain customers, drive traffic, and make more sales in a competitive environment. Why not learn from companies that have mastered their corner of the online marketplace?
From driving traffic with killer content to identifying the right platform for growth, these 15 e-commerce case studies will help you transform how you do business.
1. Marketing and Growth Channels
Mobile Accessories Retailer Zagg Develops Content with 172% ROI
Zagg, an online retailer that sells mobile device accessories, is a picture-perfect example of how good content can drive traffic to your site – and help you convert. An aggressive publishing schedule (they post up to 35 times per week) and expert SEO means customers find Zagg content easily.
By promoting products through copy, giveaways, and other promotions, Zagg’s content also drives sales and engagement. In 2012 alone, the company reported a 172% ROI on their blog – all of which came from direct sales.
But that doesn’t mean they rely on their blog to do all the heavy lifting on its own, says Zagg’s social media marketing expert Drew Conrad.
“The #1 referrer to the blog is our email channel,” Conrad wrote at the MarketingLand blog. “About twice each month, we compile the best posts in an email and send it to our list. Generally speaking, these content emails get a significantly higher CTR than our traditional emails.”
How Modcloth Grew to $100 Million Through Retro-Inspired Women’s Clothing
Since 2002, Modcloth has sold retro-inspired women’s clothing. They also launched an audience engagement strategy that helped them scale quickly – catching the eye of buyer Wal-Mart earlier this year.
According to Community Specialist Marketing Manager Mary Packett, Modcloth’s user-generated content platform, “Style Gallery,” helped spur massive engagement and growth on all of the company’s social platforms over the past five years.
“Since Style Gallery launched in November 2012, users have shared over 6,000 photos, and they’ve been ‘loved’ (Modcloth’s version of ‘like’) over 350,000 times,” marketing blog Contently reports. The “Style Gallery” has also translated into 2.75 million Pinterest followers and almost a million Facebook fans.
Modcloth’s innovative engagement strategy has helped the company grow 40% year over year – and earn more than $100 million in revenue.
Segmented Content Helped Dormify Increase Their Revenue by 92%
Lifestyle brand Dormify has tweaked its email marketing campaigns since launching in 2009. But, in 2016, they adopted an automated strategy that changed their bottom line.
Dormify now sends each new subscriber a welcome message followed by a three-email series with segmented content. This small but savvy change resulted in a 92% increase in email revenue.
“[The series] kind of serves as an easy intro and overview of all of the different experiences that Dormify has to offer,” Nicole Gardner, the COO of Dormify told DMN, “but [it also gives them] a little nudge via an exclusive offer to actually shop with us, too.”
Trivago Uses Google AdWords for a 140% Higher Click-Through Rate
In order to compete against major hotel search engines like Priceline and Orbitz, trivago wanted to increase their claim on search traffic.
In 2015, the company used Google’s Dynamic Search Ads to help automate complicated search queries, like “What are the nicest hotels in San Francisco?” According to Google, their DSA feature also “automatically generated longer, more relevant ad headlines for the company’s ads based on a person’s specific search.”
The result? A 140% higher click-through rate, better conversions in new markets, and better ad ROI in the markets trivago had already conquered.
How JackThreads Scored 1 Million New Email Opt-Ins Through Their Facebook Page
JackThreads, an online men’s retailer and flash-sale site, used Facebook’s custom audience insights to reach 1 million new email opt-ins, driving sales and a 6x ROI on ad spend.
According to Facebook’s case study, the company used demographic targeting – including “likes and interest targeting” – to encourage new email sign-ups. At the same time, JackThreads re-targeted their existing ads to ensure their existing Facebook followers were encouraged to become email subscribers, too.
The campaign lowered JackThreads’ customer acquisition costs, delivered a 72% match rate with their intended audience, and improved more than three-fold on their traditional ad buy.
How Harry’s Leveraged the Power of Referral Marketing – Before the Company Launched
Shaving e-commerce site Harry’s generated 100,000 leads in a week by using a gamified referral campaign prior to the company’s launch.
According to company founder Jeff Raider – who also happens to be the brain behind Warby Parker – they wanted to launch their business using “the most powerful and effective” marketing tool they could think of: a credible referral from a trusted friend.
Here’s what they did:
“First, users entered their email addresses on a splash page,” Raider told marketer Tim Ferriss. “This first step was essential since we wanted to capture emails both for our list and so that we could use it as an identifier for tracking referrals.”
“The second page was where the referral mechanisms lived,” Raider added. “By sharing the link with friends, users had the opportunity to earn free product. The more friends who signed up using your unique referral link, the bigger the prize you earned.”
Voilà! A list of 100,000 email addresses in a week.
Customer Retention / Upsells
At Finch Goods, Customers Keep Coming Back to Earn Points – and Be Delighted
Finch Goods, an online retailer that specializes in upscale men’s lifestyle products, uses a point system to keep their customers buying – and referring new business.
According to founder Richard Lazazzera, he’s still in testing mode with the customer loyalty program Loyalty Lion.
“This program rewards visitors and customers for completing actions like creating an account, making purchases, and referring friends,” Lazazzera wrote at A Better Lemonade Stand.
But he doesn’t stop there, either. Lazazzera also adds a personal touch to delight his customers.
His team often sends “handwritten cards with an order, a small additional gift with larger orders,” he added. “[Sometimes], I just send our best customers a gift at random just as a thank you.”
Lazazzera’s hit on a winning combination of creating customer delight – and adding value for loyal customers.
2. Product and Fulfillment
Minted’s Customer Favorites Become the Site’s Best-Selling Products
Minted, an online art marketplace similar to Etsy, depends on crowdsourcing to generate all of their products. Unlike Etsy, though, the retailer built its brand through gamification and online engagement – putting product curation directly in the hands of the consumer.
This is part of the brand’s success, says analyst Yoram Wurmser.
“The future of e-commerce is curation, broadly defined, whether it’s by machine, expert or crowd,” Wurmser told Wired.
“You can only show so many images before people move on, far fewer than they’ll review on a desktop. So it’s important to show the right products in that more limited attention span.”
At Minted, that translates into popular products crushing the site’s customer polls. 80% of their best-selling items were ranked in the top 5% of the product challenge by customers.
How to Take Your Dropshipping Business to $3 Million – All While Keeping Your Customers Happy
Want to scale your business without sinking resources into producing a product yourself? Dropshipping might be the answer.
Online clothing retailer Leo Gary uses Oberlo to fulfill and ship orders directly to their customers. According to the Oberlo blog, this allows Leo Gary to remain more responsive to customers’ needs.
“Dropshipping allows me to have a lot of products, and this allows me to be flexible,” founder Allen explained to the company. “If my niche product doesn’t attract any visitors, I just pick another product for my store.”
In just a few years, Allen hit $3 million in sales and sold his business.
How Custom Cycling Gear Helped ELEVEN vélo Dominate the Market
ELEVEN vélo, a retailer that specializes in customizable cycling wear, was never going to be an easy store to launch online.
“We realized if we could make kit on demand, we would be doing something different,” founder Gerard Thomas told WooCommerce.
“We would let people create what they want within a set of constraints, and that way we would develop a business that was very difficult to touch in terms of a competition (without replicating the same pipeline).”
Thomas and his team leveraged the WooCommerce platform to make product customization easy for their customers – a feat after the company hired a developer to build a similar, but clunkier, custom site.
Even Small Businesses Should be Able to Scale Inventory and Ordering Processes Like the Big Guys
When Al’s Sporting Goods, a small business in Logan, Utah, needed an e-commerce solution that would help them expand their inventory and upgrade their systems, they knew the process wouldn’t be a simple one.
By adopting multiple dropshipping vendors, the retailer was able to expand its online inventory from 8,000 products to 38,000 – but that made fulfillment a nightmare.
“The system we were using before required every order to be touched and required multiple key-strokes,” explains e-commerce manager Riley Reeder at the UniteU blog. “With thousands of orders, it took two people hours to accomplish.”
Automating inventory processes – and tracking inventory in real time – allowed Reeder and his team to become more efficient, even as they grew.
3. Platforms for Growth
How a Clean Shopify Template Helped a Lifestyle Brand Hit $120,000 Per Month in Sales
If you’re going to market upscale beard oils and other hair care products to men, you better have flawless design, a killer brand identity, and loyal customers to boot.
Since Beardbrand founder Eric Bandholz planned to market his upscale lifestyle products to a design-savvy crowd, he used the clean design of Shopify’s templates to create product vision boards that encouraged customers to explore the brand’s story.
With customer review and newsletter integrations in place, Beardbrand encouraged customers to engage with their product and their community. The strategy helped them grow to $120,000 per month in sales in under a year – with a higher repeat customer rate than other competitors in their industry.
From Side Hustle to $1M Per Month: Pink Lily Boutique Hits it Big with BigCommerce
Since launching on BigCommerce in 2014, Tori and Chris Gerbig, the husband and wife team behind online fashion retailer Pink Lily Boutique, used the e-commerce platform to grow a $1M per month empire.
By using multiple integrations, including automated, batched shipping and fulfillment, the Gerbigs were able to manage a deluge of daily orders. According to the BigCommerce blog, the business fulfills about 600 orders per day.
“BigCommerce’s integrations with ShipStation and InStockNotify have made it possible for our team to perform functions that would have previously taken days or even weeks in a matter of minutes,” Chris Gerbig told the blog.
In their first month after switching to BigCommerce, PinkLily’s revenue shot up 40%. Now the couple can truly keep pace with their customers’ needs.
Handle Front- and Back-End Traffic to Build an Online Empire
The speed and reliability of Amazon’s e-commerce platform, AWS, helped ShopDirect, the U.K.’s 4th largest online retailer, scale their business to more than 880,000 unique visitors per day.
According to Andy Wolfe, the CIO of ShopDirect, the company’s previous e-commerce platform couldn’t necessarily handle both their front-end and back-end traffic at once.
“One of the things we needed to be able to do was scale, and scale quickly,” Wolfe told Amazon.
With better hosting capabilities, the retailer’s user experience and website availability improved so dramatically, they received and fulfilled 10,000 orders per hour during Black Friday 2013.
How Subscription Service Nomadik Used Cratejoy to Launch Their Business Out of the Wilderness and Into the Limelight
Nomadik, a subscription box service tailored to outdoor adventurers, used Cratejoy’s platform and integration to increase their number of subscribers from 15-20% per month to 150% – that’s a 12x increase in just 6 months.
According to founder Patrick Hines, this is due, in part, to becoming part of Cratejoy’s online marketplace.
“The Cratejoy Marketplace helped get a lot of traffic and orders that are low-hanging fruit – ones that we wouldn’t normally have gotten,” Hines told the Cratejoy blog.
“This is super important because when you’re in that initial 50, 100, 200 subscriber count, you want to get as many orders and as many subscribers as you can,” he added. “For Nomadik, that helped us get some working capital and cashflow coming in.”
An integrated small business campaign example
I awoke on the last Friday of November to the usual Black Friday hangover. On checking my emails I was inundated an avalanche of offers in relation to that American import which, like Halloween, is now huge over here in the UK too: Black Friday. With the Argos, Currys, Tesco and Boots' websites all experiencing outages due to weight of demand, the British public appears to have got over its aversion to this American celebratory holiday of all things consumer.
I run a niche ecommerce business that has a big US subscriber base, and based on previous Thanksgiving weekends it was clear that we needed to have a planned approach to the "holiday" season. As the day drew nearer we had customers emailing asking what we had planned as offers - it was going to be a big sales day.
Now we are a small business, our turnover isn't huge but we are the market leader in our sector worldwide. I have access to a designer and I run the website, email marketing and social media myself. I do also consult extensively in said fields (I wear a number of hats as well as running Musicademy) so I am also our in-house expert but the point here is that we're not working with a specialist agency. This is in-house DIY internet marketing so accessible to any marketer with a bit of digital savvy hence why I want to share what is quite a lengthy post with you.
What to offer on Black Friday?
The big retailers Asda (well they are owned by Walmart), Tesco, Amazon, John Lewis et al. all led with targeted big discounts including the aforementioned flat screen TVs. We have previously done spot sales on particular items but we've also tested blanket discounts across the entire webstore and have found average order value considerably higher as a result.
So we went for a 20% blanket discount off every product. With some of the existing sales and offers (we already reward bulk buyers) this represented a significant saving on RRP for many products.
I like to think that people buy from people, not websites so we decided to go with a personal "With love and thanks from us to you" message which focussed on "Thanksgiving". We incorporated a "Thanks for subscribing to our updates" message and chose "THANKFUL" as our coupon code. We genuinely feel that way about our customers, and we also felt that this approach would go down well with our North American Christian market.
We have a sister company, Worship Backing Band, that targets a very similar audience so a similar campaign was also created for that.
We stuck with a variant of the design style we've been evolving in recent months which reflects our corporate colours and other key elements. We have two image styles we tend to work with - one is a white silhouette of the different instruments we teach and the other is a series of pack shots. I wanted to use this campaign to test the effectiveness of each of these, and also to enable a variety of images across different platforms.
We tend to use a tinted image in the background of a lot of our ads so for these we chose some pumpkins - again reflecting the Thanksgiving occasion.
Choice of platform
In keeping with most ecommerce retailers email marketing is our normal workhorse channel so a Thanksgiving email duly made its way out at 8am on the morning of Black Friday to our 27,000 subscribers.
We also booked in third party emails with two partner organisations. One a big magazine which we've used extensively in the past with great results (we actually write a regular column in the magazine so their customer base is well aware of us) and the other with a specialist forum with a decent mailing list (with this one we offered a reciprocal deal and had sent out an email to our list over the summer that had featured their site).
In retrospect I think the masthead here (in the partner email) was wrong - we should have stuck with the Thanksgiving image.
The website home page featured the Black Friday offer and a blog post (see below) was made live. This would also be useful for social sharing later. As people are now on-site the image shifted to pack shots.
As anyone will know that has read my previous posts here, I'm a power user of Facebook both as an organic platform and for targeted ads. In previous years we've trailed our Black Friday offers with teasers but for a number of reasons elected not to do that this year (it is a good approach though).
My Facebook strategy was fairly complex. I knew that organic reach levels on what are quite promotional messages would be low so advertising was going to be essential. I therefore created a logical but complex campaign as follows:
At Ad Set level I created an approach that targeted some distinct segments (all of which had been tested and proven in previous campaigns)
- Exisiting fanbase
- Existing mailing list using the website custom audience tool
- People that "Like" relevant other brands
- Lookalike audience (using the custom audience tool again these were lookalikes of my mailing list - they equally could have been fan lookalikes)
- And of course Facebook will often surface messages about new likes and shares of ads to friends' newsfeeds
- Age and geographic location (UK, US and Canada) was layered on every ad in order to focus our targeting at those individuals more likely to respond
Facebook positioning and pricing
I know from recent testing with the targets above that right hand ads just aren't working for us so I opted for desktop newsfeed and mobile newsfeed. Again as a result of testing I know that CPC works better for us so I initially set the ads up to that with the intention of shifting to OCPM if Facebook wasn't playing ball by showing the ads (this does happen sometimes, even with ads with good CTR, and I anticipated a huge demand on newsfeed ad space over the Thanksgiving weekend). See this graphic from SocialCode which (as Jon Loomer points out in an intelligent article on why Facebook holiday ads fail) shows that it cost x2.58 more to show an ad to 1,000 people on Black Friday.
Incidentally, if you are allocating budget to desktop vs mobile newsfeed I'd suggest something like a 70/30 split in favour of mobile. Mobile ads are really working for us at the moment. And especially in the US at holiday time when people aren't at their desks, a focus on mobile is essential.
Facebook ad types
Hugely relieved that we don't have to jump through the faff of unpublished (dark) posts to get the kind of ad I was wanting, I set about creating my ads. These were created earlier in the week and scheduled for the Friday morning. The beauty of these new Power Editor ads is that you can change the copy at any point so from the Saturday onwards these ads lost the "Black Friday Flash Sale" message and instead reverted to "Thanksgiving Weekend" or "Cyber Monday offers" or "Pre Christmas Flash Sale". Again testing variants is useful.
Here's an example of one for Worship Backing Band:
Note the use of a call to action and the different text utilised in the different places on the ad. You only get this level of flexibility by using Power Editor.
With Musicademy I tested two different ad images (see below - both complying with the 20% text rule). Depending on my results mid way through the Friday I could then turn off the one that was least effective.
I also created blog posts with the relevant images and some informative text which were used organically on Facebook as link posts and turned into ads during the weekend. Note that I never use the Boost Post button. Instead I will go into Power Editor and create an ad form that organic post.
I LOVE Facebook Offers. They are massively under utilised so are quite a novel item for users in newsfeed. Reach is not too shabby and it's easy to add a little ad budget to them to further extend their reach. The other very nice thing with Offers is that they are a lot stickier in terms of viral reach because Facebook surfaces messages about offer claims in friends' newsfeed and also asks the user if, having clicked on the offer, they want to share it.
And the other great thing about Offers is that Facebook emails your offer to those who click on it plus sends another reminder email just before the offer expires. What's not to like?
The offer also meant I had something unique to put on the newsfeed at 8am UK time (I know I can target organic posts but geography but people don't see comments and likes from other terrotories and unfortunately you have to list each recipient country individually).
I created the Offer in Power Editor (effectively as an Unpublished Post) and scheduled the ad for the afternoon of Black Friday. On the actual morning, however, I nipped into the "Manage Pages" area on Power Editor (top left) and "published" the dark post to extract a little organic reach out of it first. The Offers were created using optimised bidding.
The results weren't exactly what I would have predicted and it felt a lot harder work this year than last. On the positive, we spent about £175 on Facebook ads and had a very healthy boost in sales. Email marketing was the most effective medium (particularly to our own mailing list).
The UK seemed to have really embraced Black Friday and Cyber Monday with stores reporting record sales. However, in the US the New York Times cited Black Friday Fatigue as responsible for an 11% decline in sales since last year. Other possible factors cited were the residual effects of recession, deep discounts in the run up to Thanksgiving and the conditioning effect of continual sales leaving shoppers holding out for even better offers. We certainly saw plenty of that. Despite a bigger advertising push than last year, our sales were a fair bit lower (the majority of our customer base is in the US). And despite a near identical offer to last year, it felt from emails had a lacklustre response, as if customers were wanting something more.
Firstly, there was clearly a lot of competition on newsfeed over the entire period so I went in on the Friday morning and upped my bid price on all ads. This worked to increase my paid reach to more acceptable levels.
My A/B split test showed a clear winner in CTR and conversion (the silhouette image rather than the pack shots) so the loser ads were switched off.
My organic posts got very poor reach. I wasn't entirely surprised to see this. Firstly they are promotional (and I suspect that the algorithm was adjusted down for words like "Sale" "Black Friday" and other discount indicators). Secondly, whilst we have plenty of paying customers, our marketing emphasis is that of delivering great content. Reach of good quality posts is often over 35% and often well above that but I've never found that posts about products get many clicks or likes and the viral reach of them is virtually zero. Similarly the open rate on the email was much lower than our usual content driven weekly newsletter. I'm sure as well that a good proportion of people were simply sick of all the promotional messages being bombarded at them over the weekend.
Also we know that Facebook dislikes multiple uses of the same image. So once the images were out in one format (say an ad or offer), organic posts using the same image would suffer from poor reach. This is useful learning for the future - when you are using an image in an ad, make sure you create something different for organic posts. And the beauty of this approach is that your organic posts can have as much text on the image as you like (although arguably Facebook isn't keen on images with lots of copy - certainly penalises any it thinks are meme like).
In terms of audience, our Lookalike audiences worked really well for CTR and conversion. We'll definitely continue to craft ads for them in the future. We'd expect fans to respond and they did, but mainly in response to email marketing. I suspect that the Facebook ads merely acted as a reminder to them (perhaps when they were on mobile and out and about) and when back to desktop settled down with the email to make their sale purchases.
The initial Musicademy Offer got some good traction (34 offer claims from a Reach of 6,276 and spend of £40) so I decided to re-work the idea on Cyber Monday for the Worship Backing Band brand. Again I created an unpublished page post offer, made it live on the Page then scheduled the Offer Ad for a few hours later.
Here's the Worship Backing Band Offer and the email Facebook sends to those who take it up:
(Don't you just hate Facebook's default typeface and styling of this message?)
There was the inevitable set of moaning from British customers about why we (as a UK brand) were embracing this American import and bowing to the gods of consumerism. It was great to see British fans coming to our rescue without us having to justify our actions (see a snippet from the conversation below).
We also had the odd email from people miffed that they'd purchased at full price a few days before (we sent them some free stuff as a consolation and to our delight they ended up buying even more). One emailer told us we were being tight at only offering 20%. I didn't see many retailers being that generous across their ENTIRE RANGE (including titles that had only been released a few weeks previously). On reflection I think we could have played the game most retailers do in sales and simply cherry pick a few key products (many of which were already on half price sale) and slash the price dramatically to get the headline effect. But much of our objective was to increase average order value which a blanket discount offer had previously achieved.
Again we were able to counter this a little with our Cyber Monday email where we hit hard on the messaging to do with additional in-store discounts. The headline read "Did you think our 20% off Black Friday coupon wasn't generous enough?"
In terms of purchases the Cyber Monday email was twice as effective as that of Black Friday but do remember that it may also have served as s useful reminder to those that may still have been waiting to act on the Friday email.
So lessons learned for the future.
Responsiveness was crucial throughout the campaign. Sure the ads and organic posts were scheduled but we benefited from me dipping in and tweaking copy, bids and targeting based on what real time results were telling me. I was also learning over the weekend from customer reaction, what other brands were doing and how the algorithm was working - all this informed the content I created for the last big push that was Cyber Monday.
This has also given us a glimpse of the future for promotional posts. Facebook is very much Pay To Play unless you have non-promotional content but with a clever use of budget (and for clever read putting in the hours researching, testing and setting up ads) you can get good results on very small budgets.
Comparing what I paid for the third party email list and Facebook ads I'd choose the ads every time. And I will continue to invest in building our own list organically and focus on serving them great quality content, building up trust and permission to occasionally talk to them about products. Pretty much the same way I feel about my Facebook newsfeed.
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