Shopify solved your e-commerce problem. YOU need to solve your identity problem.

November 13, 2013 Ben Myers

This post by Eric Doucet originally appeared on Simple Story Videos and is reused with permission.

After just a few short years, fellow Ottawa startup Shopify is now kind of a big deal. Providing simple yet powerful online stores to anyone from mom and pop operations to Tesla Motors, Shopify has democratized e-commerce in the same way that WordPress democratized digital content creation and endless navel-gazing. The proof is in the pudding: by the end of 2013, Shopify will be responsible for 80,000 online stores and 1.5 billion in total sales.

While Shopify has been an amazing tool for small businesses, it can’t solve every problem for online retailers. The three pillars of traditional retail, which I believe still apply to e-commerce, are: distribution, value, and customer experience. By the very nature of e-commerce, distribution has become normalized and commoditized. At the high end of the e-commerce scale, value is really a margins battle fought between the likes of Walmart and Amazon. But for small businesses, the concept of value is far more amorphous, and directly related to customer experience. I don’t mean customer experience in the traditional retail sense, which can relate more to point-of-sale interactions or customer support. In the digital realm, value is derived from product and brand identity: does the customer get value from not only purchasing your product, but also associating with and advocating for it? If Amazon and Walmart are about selection and price point, Frank & Oak is about which curated collection of men’s clothing best represents me.

But as e-commerce is democratized, it becomes harder to stand out from the crowd. So what can small businesses do if a great online shopping experience is now considered table stakes? This quote from Shopify CEO and founder Tobias Lutke is telling:

“Why is Kickstarter successful? I don’t think it has anything to do with crowdfunding. I think that’s a complete misattribution of its success. Kickstarter is successful because it forces the product creator to create a video about the product. If the people who create the product, tell you … the reason why they went there, why they built it and why this is product needed to come into existence … you have a much more powerful thing. And that is the problem that [traditional retail] has. When you go into Best Buy they won’t tell you the product story. And [there isn't a] channel between people who create things and the consumers who buy things.”

In our social age, consumers buy into a company’s brand as much as their products. Crafting an identity around your products and the process behind their production creates a brand identity that your customers can grasp onto and take as their own. As Lutke notes, video can be a powerful tool for small businesses to tell their brand and product story. The video by John Neeman Tools (above) demonstrates the level of craftsmanship that goes into every tool they make, but also crafts a narrative of rustic self-sufficiency that is highly appealing to those that identify more with MEC than Macy’s.

A strong brand identity is crucial for small businesses to succeed in a digital world, but this narrative approach is not just the domain of Latvian toolmakers and hipster Brooklyn pickle fanatics. A quick YouTube search will show that disruptive fashion brands like Nasty Gal and Black Milk Clothing understand the value of using video to define not only their brand identity, but their customer identity as well.

Statistics back up the value of quality video content as well. According to Visibility IQ, businesses can double their organic search traffic by including a video thumbnail in their search ranking. ComScore also notes that 64% of website visitors are more likely to buy a product online after watching a video, and increase their time on site by and average of two minutes. However, in the long run, the most effective video content is the type that builds a lasting relationship with your potential customers. If every purchase is now just a click a way, why should your customer click on you? It’s a story only you can tell.

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