What is E-commerce? An Inside Look at What Happens BEFORE You Buy

what is ecommerce digital marketing

In the nineties, a question like, “What is e-commerce?” would seem pretty reasonable. After all, the online shopping behemoth Amazon had just started selling books online and eBay was barely bubbling up into the public’s consciousness. Today, online shopping is far from being a novelty. In fact, 79 percent of Americans engage in online shopping.

But have you ever wondered what all goes into a successful e-commerce site? It isn’t as simple as the Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” approach. An entire team of digital marketing professionals are employing a host of strategies to not only get customers to their website, but also actually making purchases.

In this article, we’ll walk you through a mock shopping scenario. Along the way we’ll point out the tactics at play and the marketing professionals behind their execution.

It all starts with a spark

Every online purchase has to start somewhere. In some situations, a traditional media advertisement for a product may be the catalyst where the viewer is compelled to purchase the product as soon as possible. Unfortunately for marketers, there aren’t many products out there that just sell themselves.

Most products have similar features to their competition, meaning marketers are going to have to fight and get creative to earn their share of sales. So what does that look like? One method is to meet consumers where they are in the buying process.

Consider this scenario: You’re a huge coffee fanatic with high standards for the mug you drink from. One day, tragedy strikes and your favorite mug has shattered into pieces.

This is the “spark” moment for digital marketers. There is now a problem that can be solved by a product they’re selling.

The role of search engine marketing in e-commerce

The role of search engine marketing in e-commerce: A person pours coffee into a mug, accidentally drops the mug and the mug shatters on the floor. They then take out their phone and do a search for Best coffee mug.

“Users are searching for products, and search engine marketing is about being there at that time by getting to the top of the Google rankings,” explains Sam Martin-Ross, founder of Digital Uncut. “Pay per click (PPC) advertising, the paid option, takes you straight there, whereas search engine optimization (SEO) takes time.”

Whether you’re looking to buy a TV, car or even a fancy coffee mug, you likely spend some time researching before you buy. For most, that typically means firing off a few Google searches for things like “best coffee mug” or “Brand XYZ coffee mug review.” These searches are called keywords or keyword phrases and are the driving force behind search engine marketing (SEM) efforts.

Google, Bing and Yahoo all offer marketers the ability to bid on keywords to secure prime real estate for their websites on the search engine results pages. You’ve likely seen these without thinking much about it—these are the sponsored results that show up at the top of the page. This portion of SEM is called paid search or PPC advertising because marketers must pay a premium to ensure their results are featured first.

Content marketing is another tactic that falls under the SEM umbrella. The goal here is to create web-based content (blog posts, videos, infographics, etc.) that are optimized for search engines. If done well, these pieces of content will earn their spot at or near the top of non-sponsored search results pages. For example, Joe Somebody’s Coffee Mug Emporium might create blog articles like, “The 5 Best Coffee Mugs Every Aficionado Needs,” as an attempt to rank for the phrase, “best coffee mugs.”

“Every single e-commerce site in existence should have a blog,” says Eric Johnson, digital content marketer at Feedback Wrench. “In it, they should be optimizing for the questions that people are already asking.” As an example, he says a t-shirt company should be blogging about lifestyle, fashion, the best kinds of t-shirts, finding the best fit and so on.

Content marketing also plays an important role in building brand awareness. Discovering a fascinating infographic from Joe Somebody’s Coffee Mug Emporium about the little-known benefits of drinking coffee while scrolling through Pinterest might not directly result in a sale, but it could help put the name of that business into the minds of consumers for when those “spark” moments happens.

The role of social media marketing in e-commerce

The role of social media marketing in e-commerce: Video is a series of shots of scrolling on a web page. The first is Nothing like a day out by the lake. Hoping to catch some fish. Next is a social media post by “Mom” that says, Grabbing a quick cookie snack in a jar – with John Flores, Marco Polo, George Washington and two others. This is followed by a shot of the mug from the previous video’s search: Our most popular styles are back in limited stock! Grab yours today! followed by, Shop coffee mugs, free shipping worldwide.

Marketing efforts on social media aren’t just limited to brands sharing memes and directly interacting with customers via social networks. While these brand-building efforts can certainly help, there are also some pretty sophisticated methods used by social media marketers to support the e-commerce process.

One common method is the use of targeted advertising. The advertisements you see on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are tailored to your interests. For example, if you’ve “liked” pages related to coffee and French presses, a social media marketer at Joe Somebody’s Coffee Mug Emporium may pay to display ads showcasing their latest and greatest mugs in your news feed.

Online retail websites can also track visitors to their site and remarket to these visitors. One of the most obvious examples of this is when you’ve left an item in an online shopping cart without completing the purchase. Savvy e-commerce sites track this information and will often push targeted advertisements for these products in an attempt to convince you to complete the transaction.

For one reason or another, many shoppers won’t be ready to purchase a desired item the first time they see it, according to Pat Ahern, Director of Traffic Generation at Junto. “Retargeting takes these most likely customers and sends them display ads on Facebook and other sites that they visit as a means to encourage them to complete the purchase,” he explains.

The role of email marketing in e-commerce

The role of email marketing in e-commerce: Screenshot of someone’s email inbox with an ad for 15% off of a mug purchase.

If you open your email right now, there’s likely a few messages in your inbox from retailers pushing discounts or free shipping. These tactics may get on your nerves while you’re de-cluttering your email accounts, but they have proven effective.

Email marketing efforts can play an important role in both urging you to make an initial visit to an online store and persuading you to complete a purchase. These strategies require online retailers to compile a database of customer email addresses. Rewards programs, discounts and account sign-ups are some examples of common tactics for growing an email marketing database.

Let’s revisit our coffee mug purchase scenario. Imagine you’ve previously shopped at Joe Somebody’s Coffee Mug Emporium and created an account. Email marketing professionals can now send a stream of emails informing you about new inventory, sales or other promotional offers. The remarketing tactics used in social media marketing can apply to email as well. If you’ve left something in your cart without purchasing, you may just receive an email reminding you about it or even offering it to you at a discounted price.

What is e-commerce? It’s not so simple

As you can see, when it comes to e-commerce, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. The technical tactics and savvy strategies that digital marketers utilize play an integral role in the process.

If you’re intrigued by the techniques detailed in this article, you may have the makings of a great digital marketer. See if you have what it takes in our article, “6 Signs You Might Be Destined to Work in Marketing.”

A successful online retailer relies on more than marketing pros. If you’d like to learn more about the other people, tactics and systems that keep online business booming, check out our companion articles: “What Is E-Commerce? The Side of Online Shopping You Never See” and “What Is E-commerce? A Peek at The People and Technology That Make It Happen.”

About the author

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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