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5 tips and tricks for small and medium-sized online shops to stay competitive

5 tips and tricks for small and medium-sized online shops to stay competitive

The European e-commerce market will keep growing the next years. According to recent estimations the revenues will increase from 418 (2015) up to 535 mio USD in 2018. Hereby specific industries such as fashion and electronics will grow especially fast.


Simultaneously to the growth of the e-commerce market also competition increases. Big players such as Amazon & Co add further pressure. Hence it gets more and more important for online retailers to position themselves smartly to stay competitive. The following article includes tips and tricks in the fields of customer trust and satisfaction, low budget marketing and how to save time and money in the shipment process.

1. Increasing customer focus & loyalty

It’s getting harder and harder to bind and make customers return. Loyalty is decreasing. Most of the consumers become one-time customers. Hence, it’s essential to fully place the focus on the customer – alongside all business areas.

A deep understanding of the customer is basic requirement. Existing Information and data help to figure out their challenges and needs. The better online retailers manage to approach the needs of potential customers, the higher the conversation rate and customer lifetime value.

A live chat is a great opportunity to not just get in direct interaction with website user but also to enhance their trust. Triggers help to generate automated welcome messages that pop-up every time a new visitor enters the website. Clever softwares such as zopim change to notification mode when being inactive for a while or offline. Hence, there’s no need to sit in front of your computer 24/7.

Another possibility to win the customers’ trust and differentiate from unprofessional providers are online shop certificates such as Trusted Shops. Besides the quality factor customers are provided with a money-back guarantee.

Additional functionalities such as a search field, Q&As or further information regarding payment and shipping help website visitors to find relevant info and reduce time-intensive, individual requests. Google’s Forms is a free tool to created inquiry forms and easily integrate them in your website.

Online surveys are great to ask your website visitors for feedback. In addition it’s a good way to include your customers in an improvement process and increase their trusty.

Graphics: Example for online survey

Online-Fragebogen source: sendcloud.de

2. Defining target groups more specifically

Short, medium and long-term goals and clearly defined target groups are the basis before starting external marketing activities. A general mistake is to want to address “everyone”. However a more general targeting result in a bigger waste coverage.

A popular way to determine target groups is working with personas. They are fictional people who represent typical users with clearly defined characteristics (see below). These personas shouldn’t be made up randomly but much more be based on relevant information such as studies, survey or results of analysed data. However, it takes some time to collect all the relevant data. Hence it’s also possible to start with speculative personas and add the relevant info step-by-step.


The different personas should be described in a narrative style and include the following:

  • Realistic name (including photo),
  • Demographic information (age, education, marital status, job title) ,
  • Personal goals & motivations,
  • Preferences, aversions and hobbies (Where can you meet this person?),
  • Challenges, needs & expectations (regarding the product),
  • Buying behaviour/purchasing process

In general 3-5 personas should be enough, dependent on the target groups and complexity of the products.

3. Selecting low budget marketing and PR activities

While multinationals and corporates have sufficient budgets to conduct big multi-channel marketing campaigns, it’s getting harder and harder for small and medium-sized online merchants to get heard.

Content is (still) king. Having your own blog helps to improve your ranking on search engines and build up customer trust. To add professional photo material check on of the many free photo libraries such as Unsplash, Pixabay or Pexels.

Researching, writing and spreading blog articles often take quite a while. Additionally it also makes no sense to set up a blog and post articles on a super irregular basis. Consider the time factor when deciding whether to go for a blog article or not.

Blogging is not just restricted to your own blog. Contributing articles on external platforms helps to extend the audience and to establish yourself as an expert in the specific field. When contacting other blogs come up with concrete topics and possible content relevant to their readers. The same applies for white papers in form of business cases, analysis or market studies.

Press releases may also be relevant for your online business and might save you a lot of money (spending on paid ads). Although it takes quite some time to set up a press email list with specific contact persons and details it help in the long-term run. Interesting topics for journalists and blogs are:

  • Newsworthy,
  • Emotional,
  • Controversial or
  • Unique (if possible).

Unfortunately SEO gets more and more complex and time-intense. Google keeps on changing the algorithm and CPCs (cost per click) for popular keywords get increasingly expensive. Hence Amazon, eBay & Co are not just means of distribution anymore but also for marketing purposes. The following factors affect the ranking on market places:

  • Product range (uniqueness),
  • Terms of delivery (duration and costs),
  • Product presentation (title, photos, description, additional information etc.),
  • Return policy,
  • Reviews,
  • Customer service (including respond time),
  • Balance (price and availability) etc.

The higher the number of market places the higher the administrative effort in the shipment process and customer communications. Luckily there are smart tools available that offer free integration of web shops and market places and selection of shipping provider.

Co-operations with complementary products or service are another great way to expand the audience and attract new customers.

4. Using the right social media channels

Social Media is fixed component of marketing today. According to a recent study by the German e-commerce agency Aufgesang Facebook is still number one with 81,5%. Twitter is more relevant for industries such as office furniture, cosmetics or media. Twitter Ads might me super interested for these branches since they are still quite cheap compared to advertising on Facebook.


Instagram and Pinterest are getting more and more interesting for fashion and lifestyle e-commerce businesses. Although they still ranked behind Facebook with 28 mio users in Germany (Instagram 5,5 mio, Pinterest: 3 mio users) their active user bases grow constantly. In addition advertising on these platforms is still moderate.

For online merchants with B2B focus the business platform LinkedIn and Xing for the German market are super relevant. There you find groups such as the e-Commerce Lounge with helpful information and networking opportunities. Blog articles and other publications can easily be shared there.

Whether blog article, press release social media post there are some general rules for creating content:

  • Simple words instead of technical terms,
  • Short sentences instead of complicated constructions,
  • Sublines for longer copy,
  • Graphics and pictures to make text less monotonous,
  • Use professional product shots and graphics,
  • Include important keywords,
  • Apply call-to-action if possible.

Multivariate testing are great to optimize online content such as website or social media ads. A/B testing helps to compare variations of copy, call-to-actions or graphics, you can check more components with multivariate testing. Landing pages are one possibility to conduct such testing or promote limited specials.

5. Saving time and costs during shipping process

Online customers have high expectations when it comes to delivery. “Clients want flexible delivery times and pick-up possibilities such as parcel shops or pick-up stations” knows logistics expert Rob van den Heuvel. According to a recent study by the German Internet World fair trade the most important criterias regarding shipment are:

  • In-time delivery (87%)
  • Status notifications (74%)
  • Tracking (66%)

Customers of DPD for instance can predict the delivery time within one hour. Via GPS they can track their shipment in real time. Same-day-delivery and international shipping is getting increasingly popular as well.


In addition to their e-shop a lot of online merchants offer their products on market places like Amazon. This helps to increase the outreach but also increases the administrative effort within the shipping process and customer service. Clever all-in-one solutions try to solve this problem by providing easy integration, selection of shipping provider and customer communications within one tool.

Summarizing the European e-commerce market offers big potential, not just for specific industries such as fashion but also means of communications (i.e. mobile commerce). However, small and medium-sized online retailers need to do their “homework”. This includes finding the right strategy for market positioning, courage to try new things (trial & error) and clever co-operations.


About the author:

Alexis Seyfried is Senior Marketing Manager at the e-commerce shipping service provider SendCloud. The all-in-one shipping solution helps small and medium-sized online retailers to save time and money during the shipment process. It offers free integration of Shopware shops and market places, selection of shipping providers, print of customised labels and customer communications such as track & trace emails. www.sendcloud.eu



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