Ecommerce marketers are having a difficult year.

Marketers tasked with driving online commerce are facing obstacles such as intense price competition, skyrocketing customer expectations, and a disloyal customer base.

With struggle, however, comes progress and so ecommerce marketers are, in some ways, forging a path for other marketers who may very well end up in their position in the future.

But what are ecommerce marketers doing differently from everyone else now? And how can other marketers learn from them, before experiencing similar difficulties?

To find out, Econsultancy, in association with Magento and BORN Group, recently held roundtable discussions with ecommerce marketers in Mumbai. There, delegates from numerous firms shared their experiences and offered suggestions on how other marketers can connect with their customers and avoid cut-throat competition and a fickle user base.

1) Learn more about your customers

No matter how well you think you know your customers, one participant stated, there are always opportunities to learn more.

Ecommerce customers, attendees agreed, are constantly changing. And to keep in sync with them, marketers need to keep abreast of their current behaviours.

First off, one argued, marketers should research where customers are getting their product information. If products are advertised or sold offline, then consumers may have different and conflicting information from what ecommerce companies are offering online.  Or, if the ecommerce site is selling commodity goods, consumers may be getting information from competitor sites.

Regardless, to create and build customer connections, ecommerce firms have to become the authoritative source of information for the products they sell. It may not be for all of your products, but sites should aim to have unique, canonical product information for at least some categories so that they provide added value to customers,

Ecommerce firms also need to understand their customers’ buying habits. Even large ecommerce sites can no longer count on capturing all of a consumer’s business. Small sites now appear from nowhere and suddenly capture high-margin business through providing a more personalised experience.

Finally, ecommerce sites have to know their customers’ pain points. Despite recent advances in customer experience, one delegate said, all customers have pain points. And if you don’t know what they are, it’s quite likely that you are causing them.

So, the table agreed, only when ecommerce sites understand how their customers research, buy and feel about service can they start building stronger connections with them.

2) Act like companies which have been ‘digital from the beginning’

Another way ecommerce sites are building closer connections with their customers, according to attendees, is to emulate companies who have been digital ‘from the beginning’ have built their online businesses.

For example, Uber has always offered the entire customer experience through its app. Its customers have never had to contact drivers or customer service offline and, in fact, few participants had even ever used Uber outside of its app. All Uber’s services, including payments, are tightly integrated with the app which helps the company keep close connections with its customers. Ecommerce companies should evaluate their range of services and see if they are so consistent and well integrated.

AirBnb was offered as another example of a digitally-native business. Airbnb has created a digital community in which its customers service one another with ratings, advice and other user-generated content.  Additionally, Airbnb has also offered sharable sign-up bonus codes which both encouraged virality as well as customer advocacy. Ecommerce companies, participants agreed, rarely make efforts like this to win customer loyalty.

Finally, one attendee felt that ecommerce companies can learn from other, digital-first ecommerce companies, specifically Amazon and Flipkart. Reason being that these two firms have solved many major customer pain points and have, therefore, pull ahead of their smaller rivals.

First off, Amazon and Flipkart have made it very easy for consumers to buy. They provide a consistent user experience across all categories and vendors and their checkouts have been optimized to a great extent.  Also, they have overcome some major logistics and fulfillment issues in emerging markets which has significantly improved the customer experience. And, they are both renowned for handling service issues in a customer-friendly way in order to maintain their large market share.

Other ecommerce firms, the tables agreed, have a lot to learn from these ‘digital pioneers’.

3) Create a consistent experience, both online and offline

From another perspective, argued one participant, ecommerce marketers may actually be focusing too much on the online experience and not realizing the gains they could be making from improving offline channels.

Some firms with ecommerce components to their business, such as cruise providers, banking products, and insurance have complex, multi-day, omnichannel customer journeys. In these cases, customers may find out about a product online, call a customer service centre for more information, meet an agent in person and then book online. Following the sale, payment queries, refunds, and customer service issues could be handled either online or offline, or both.

For companies with such a customer, all touchpoints, online and offline, should be reviewed so that a customer has a consistent experience across all of them. Sales websites, said one attendee, should not be well-design and highly optimized if the customer service portion has an out-of-date UX and functions poorly.

Only when the customer feels that they are receiving the same level of service across all interactions with the company will the firm be able to ensure customer loyalty and avoid the viscous circle of competing solely on price.

A word of thanks

Econsltancy would like to thank our table moderators, Satyarth Priyedarshi, Head of Product Marketing, JioChat and Soham Wagh, Global Marketing Lead, GSK as well as our sponsors for the day, Magento and BORN Group.

We’d also like to thank all of the participants who took time out of their busy schedules to let us all know about how their ecommerce sites have created strong customer connections, and how other marketers might benefit from their experiences.  We hope to see you all at future Econsultancy events!