Running a stunning ecommerce operation requires a lot of tools, knowledge, money, and time. Unfortunately, the wrong tools can lead to wasted money and time, plus the related knowledge that doesn’t prove beneficial. So, getting the tools right can generate consistent positive impacts on your business.
The right tool improves your service, and that means big wins for you, your team, and a better experience for your customers. Finding the right tools can be hard unless you’ve got a helping hand.
This guide will give you a mix of specific tools and segments to consider. Sometimes, we’ve selected our favorite or the most user-friendly, and others we’ve left as categories because you’ve likely already got something in place or there are a considerable number of viable, useful partners.
Learn Customer Behavior
Most ecommerce companies instantly jump into adding new plugins to address what the owner or the sales team want, without making sure they’re what the customers want. If you don’t prioritize customer data and start by collecting it, you can easily add things that complicate your sales process without generating any benefit.
Now, it’s easy to say that you should learn about your customers, but it can be difficult to actually do that. So, start with these tools that can generate a baseline of understanding for who your customers are, what they already do in your store, and what they prefer.
In this toolkit, we’re going to prioritize powerful and free. Google Analytics is the perfect tool to start with to get both. This is a data analytics platform that can track your traffic, give you a variety of insights, monitor activities people take, and provide data for how successful your other efforts are.
Installation is simple and using its ability to support trackable URLs makes it simple to understand traffic referrals and goal completions (like sales) from your traffic sources, including search, social, direct, and from things like newsletters.
There are many analytics tools that can be layered on top of Google Analytics to give you additional insights, so we recommend this as your baseline.
One important piece of information that Google Analytics doesn’t capture is learning where your customers focus on for your pages. Hotjar is a top heatmapping tool designed to show you where people focus when they click and move their mouse on your site.
It’s a smart piece of information to make sure you’ve got content and offers that work. If your buttons are too low and customers never head down on the page, you’ll know it’s time to move things up. This is a great spot-check tool to make sure your valuable information is in the traditional F-shape or T-shape on your page.
The company also has mobile tracking tools for taps and scrolls plus options for feedback and surveys. If you’re struggling to find people to test your website, it also has a platform option to get people in your target demographics to test your site and see how user-friendly it is.
Sometimes, to know you must ask.
Qualaroo is a top survey tool to present questions in ways that customers will answer. These live unobtrusively on your site, such as in the bottom of pages, and can be targeted to get key pieces of information.
One reason Qualaroo stands out is that it is easy to target surveys to different pieces of metadata, simplifying segmentation and improving the context you can add to the responses. It’s simple to edit and add, with multiple options that include exit, email, link, mobile, NPS, and sectioned surveys.
It’s hard to recommend anyone besides Dynamic Yield for A/B testing, but let’s look at why you might want to consider this or any other platform for continuous split testing.
Split tests allow you to slice your audience into different segments and show them different pages or pieces of content to see what resonates best. You’re relying on their activity and not direct responses to questions to learn behavior.
We prefer tools that give you an omnichannel personalization because it limits what you have to do to try things out. Also, look for tools that have some initial templates to help you get started but then provide robust mechanics for managing who gets what test. You’d be surprised how different your Twitter, Facebook, and Search audiences can be, and how significantly their responses to offers will differ.
Plan Your Funnel
There’s more to eCommerce than just having a product landing page with cool things on it for sale. You need to go out and find your audience, create a connection to your brand, and take a wide range of steps to nurture them for the purchase. You know that, and we know that tools can make it easier. Here are a few of our favorites.
Email marketing could be its own list of dozens of resources from MailChimp to ActiveCampaign and much more. The good news is that email is still extremely successful and well trusted, especially for delivering coupons and automating additional information. As people embrace their phones more and more, you’re capturing attention no matter where they are.
Based on reviews, reports, and the email marketing we receive, here are a few of the most popular email marketing tools for eCommerce companies: MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, Constant Contact, GetResponse, Infusionsoft, HubSpot, Emma, and dozens more.
ClickFunnels is one of the more popular funnel development services because it makes it easy to create and manage funnels as well as figure out which might benefit your business. You’ll get a variety of easy-to-use templates and the ability to create your own. One thing we like is that it regularly improves funnels and allows you to select the one you want based on industry, goal, content, and more.
You can also combine it with some tools above to accomplish the objectives you’ve identified. It can repeatedly be used to drive efficiencies and simplify the sales journey, which often leads to better sales.
Landing pages are one of the best tools in your arsenal to generate leads, push people to your email newsletter, or create sales. Nearly any step in your funnel can benefit from a landing page — they just don’t always need a form to deliver the goods.
There are many different landing page builders, and not all of them work well with eCommerce platforms and pages. Here are a few that do: Instapage, Unbounce, Leadpages, Lander, and Leadformly.
Retargeting is one area you probably know would work for your eCommerce brand, but it is one of the last to be adopted. Many stores rely on a stable of constant recommendations that highlight popular items to get people to your site to buy.
Retargeting expands this to other sites by delivering ads to people who were on your site and tying these ads to the pages that people visited. The reason Perfect Audience gets highlighted is that it makes the process incredibly simple to select what people get based on the pagers they visited and your overall sales results.
Serve Your Customers
Ecommerce marketing is about creating a positive funnel for your customers to move through. You’ll need to keep them happy throughout and in your follow-up to maximize the customer lifetime value. So, don’t forget the touchpoints designed to serve your customers, or the opportunities to give them some freebies.
Here are a few tools that you can use to remove problems, add positive touchpoints, and generate or capture social proof specifically on the eCommerce side of your operations.
One really nice revelation in the eCommerce space has been that receipts don’t have to be boring. Traditional retailers try to do this with coupons and receipts that are miles long, but you can optimize this into something people use and enjoy.
Conversio is one of the more popular options because it simplifies the process of creating interactive receipts — or if you want to minimize this effort, they can still be stunning. Our favorite part is tying coupons and other rewards to a social or other interaction right after the purchase.
Plus, if you have customer information, it also has successful cart abandonment responses that you can automate, which is a lifesaver in many cases.
Customer Service Chats
Life chats and chatbots are extremely common on nearly every site you visit today. Why? Because they work. Tools such as Intercom and Zendesk can send customer questions to real people when your customer service department is available, plus work with some predefined responses and chatbot services if it is outside your normal business hours.
Look for tools that can answer customer questions in multiple ways, plus those that have a straightforward process to turn a chatbot question into an email or trouble ticket when the problem is complex.
Make things social to engage your customers. Here’s an interesting tactic that we’ve seen Yotpo support: tie your customer interactions and customer service with immediate reviews and responses. Yotpo makes it easy for brands to aggregate their customer reviews and verify them across different platforms.
The good news is that you can use these for social proof and almost immediately know when you need to respond to a review with a customer service touch. You don’t have to sift through looking for negative sentiment; you just need to fire this up and stay alert. Another plus for the service is that it integrates with a wide range of other ecommerce tools as well as review locations — including social interactions on channels like Facebook.
The platform also highlights your best reviews, which you can then easily send to your marketing team for some strong social proof.
Your marketing is about getting people to a page they love, but it doesn’t stop there. The page itself needs to be compelling, and the experience needs to be enjoyable. Success here comes down to the platforms you use and the way they showcase your brand.
Most ecommerce sites already have a shopping cart and digital platform in place, but they might not be the best fit. There are countless options to get you started, but we think it was worth highlighting three of the most popular tools to help you consider if a shift is right for you.
When getting started, Shopify has become one of the go-to choices for getting your store up and running and then managing it without a lot of fuss. Shopify is a powerful cart tool and manages a lot of the backend, so you don’t need to be an expert coder to jump into a new market.
It’s a platform that some people leave as they grow larger and need more complex tools or services, but that’s not always the case. It continues to integrate with a variety of services, like Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, plus special selling options for leading social services.
If you want a customization powerhouse, Magento is a common choice. You can control and customize significantly, with a lot of additional features that few other eCommerce platforms can match. This needs to be your main effort, or you’ll want some help, because the platform can become complex and it requires a significant investment.
If you’re a data fan, the platform’s Business Intelligence tools are very detailed and robust. It’ll help you analyze changes and figure out what to test or what to do with test results.
Simple, Controllable Services
If you want to control the way your service looks but aren’t ready for the full coding and IT requirement of Magento, you’ve got a variety of smaller options. Services like OpenCart, Wix, and Zen Cart make it simple to customize your platform and your shopping cart. These offer some of the better controls for making the purchase process easy on your customers.
Finish with Order Fulfillment
The final piece to your marketing efforts comes when the customer moves ends with your checkout page and patiently waits for their goodies. A poor experience — such as late or incorrect orders, poor packaging, or damage due to the box — can kill your sales and cost you even more when goods are returned.
Prevent this by finding the right fulfillment model for your business. We recommend you look for what you can control and the time you have to exercise that control. The best news is that you have plenty of partners available to help, or that you can create a truly compelling experience with close-knit partners as well as when you rely on your team.
Direct fulfillment is when you fill and ship all the orders you get yourself. It takes time, a team, and money to build out your location, store your goods, and have the supplies needed to send orders. It is used by businesses of all sizes.
The biggest benefit if that you can control the entire process, from how things are packed to special add-ons like notes and coupons, plus you can change this at any moment. The only deal you have to make is when you hire team members and train them.
The downside is that this is a significant amount of work, and when things lag your business suffers and there’s no one else to hold responsible. It can save you if you’ve got the space, team, and high volume of orders.
Dropshipping is when you pay for fulfillment as an order happens, and you’re usually working with a vendor or manufacturer who sends from their warehouse. Sometimes you might be working with a single company and brand, and other times you’ve got access to all of the products that distributor houses, and you can offer anything in their selection to your customers.
Dropshipping is great when you want to minimize expenses and when you’re getting started. It is especially good for testing new products. The big downside is that anyone else can access the same inventory and your product offering is limited by what deals other companies make.
Third-party fulfillment companies (3PLs) are the middle ground. You are buying inventory from a manufacturer and supplier, but it is stored and shipped out by the 3PL. They typically have large warehouses and operations handling goods from a wide range of customers.
One note about third-party services is that they might be able to do a better job at presenting your products than you can do, simply because they’ve got more knowledge and a wide selection of tools specifically for this. They’re delivering the perfect unboxing experience for a variety of clients, and you can benefit from that when you choose them as an option.
Other benefits include their ability to integrate with your order systems and accounting, plus they free up your team to focus on selling while you also have a say in the presentation of your goods. A good partner will also help you stay on top of your inventory, highlighting changes in your business as well as preventing out-of-stocks.
The downside is also part of the benefit. You don’t have any way to verify how things look before they go out the door. So, success depends on the strength of your relationships and your contract. Negotiate reviews and photos to overcome this issue.
Now, Get Started
That’s our giant list of things to consider and tools for you to create a holistic marketing and customer service paradigm for your business. Share your favorite tools with us and happy selling.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.