To build a successful e-commerce business today, you have to realize that you’re not in the business of selling products — you’re in the people business. People don’t buy products. They look for solutions to their problems and answers to their questions. They look for ways to be better versions of themselves. They look for ways to help make the world a better place.
Today, e-commerce is not transactional, but relational. You can’t win by simply creating products and launching an online store. If you want to win, you have to be willing to humanize your business and develop deeper connections with the people you know your products can help.
Here are five ways to build stronger, more meaningful relationships with your e-commerce customers in the months and years ahead.
1. Build community alongside your products
The e-commerce brands that thrive today are the ones that create and support an authentic community around their business, products and customers. It’s never been easier to spin up an e-commerce store, find manufacturers, build a brand that looks like all the other brands. So how do you compete? How do you build something sustainable that cuts through all the noise? It all comes down to the community you build for people.
In the world of e-commerce, people become loyal to brands when they believe that by supporting your business, they become part of something bigger than themselves. They join a group of like-minded people who share the same problems, goals, life experiences and values.
It’s your job to help your customers understand what kind of community they are joining when they buy your products. For example, are they stay-at-home moms? People that love going to the gym? Globetrotters? Small-business owners? The easiest way to create community around your business is by making your brand less about you and all about the people you serve. Share stories about your customers, feature real people in your brand- and product-photography and make it easy for people who buy your products to connect and interact with each other.
Want to see a powerful example of a brand that is going all in on community? Watch some of the short films Square created about their customers and community.
2. Make customers part of your legacy
Most entrepreneurs start businesses because they see or experience a problem that they believe can be solved. It’s about the chance to make an impact and create a legacy. Today, more e-commerce brands are leaning into the idea that we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. We need to create products, businesses and relationships that allow us to address the big problems of the world. Your customers don’t just want to buy your products — they want to know that they are supporting a business that cares about the world.
Build stronger relationships with them by including them in your legacy. Find a cause or a group of people you want to help, and make it your personal mission to use your business as a catalyst for change. Donate a percentage of every sale to a charity you want to align with. Mobilize your customers to raise money for a cause one day a year. Ask your community to volunteer their time to help another group of people.
You might not be in a position to kick off a big program or initiative for your business, but that’s OK. Start small, and do what you can now. Want to see an example of a company that’s rallying customers to help other people and make the world a better place? Read what Expensify is doing to address what they feel is the biggest challenges of our time.
3. Do the right thing, no matter what
Believe and live out the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t cut corners, don’t be dishonest, and don’t try to trick people. Recently, a former client of mine sent me this email: “You do great, honest work. You are one of the few people I’ve had a truly pleasant experience working with, and whenever I ask you for help with anything, I’m confident I’m going to get the right answer from you or you’re going to point me in the right direction.”
This is a client that we didn’t find success for. We don’t get it right every time, but it’s my hope that we’re always known for this kind of connection more than our case studies of exponential growth. It’s too easy to build an inauthentic e-commerce business today. Don’t do it. Build something that you can be proud of. When things go wrong, do everything in your power to make things right. Why? Because your reputation and sustainability depend on it. Online shoppers are not very forgiving. One bad experience can turn them away from you and your products forever.
Be known as a company and team that does the right thing — that takes care of people. Be known as a company that’s willing to take ownership and say sorry when things don’t go as expected. Put people and processes in place that allow you to always go above and beyond to create delightful experiences for your customers, even when they come to you with a problem.
4. Be boldly different than your competition
Build a business and brand that your customers remember by being boldly different than everyone else. There are too many blueprints and equations and master courses that try to convince you that there’s one road to success in e-commerce. Don’t fall into the trap.
People are drawn to bold ideas and unique perspectives. Embrace what makes you different, and don’t be afraid to be a little weird when it comes to marketing and branding your business. Want a good example? Look at anything that Squatty Potty has done to attract and convert customers since launching. It’s unique. It’s bold. It’s what it takes to cut through the noise.