E-Commerce Marketing: An Interview with Expert Giles Thomas

Giles Thomas Interview
Giles Thomas is an e-commerce marketing expert. He’s the founder of AcquireConvert and the e-commerce growth agency, Whole Design Studios, which he founded in 2012.

As someone who teaches companies how to grow through e-commerce marketing, we thought he’d be the ideal person to update you on what’s happening in the world of online sales and marketing - and to pass on a few ideas and tips to help e-commerce businesses and affiliate marketers improve results.

We sat down with him and asked a few questions about the state of play with e-commerce and affiliate marketing as we head towards the second half of 2019.

Let’s start with a quick introduction to you give e-commerce, and where it’s going?

Anyone who doesn’t know what e-commerce is can just ask their teenage kids. They’re probably using it most weeks!

Okay, they might not call it “e-commerce”. It might be “online shopping”, but they’ll know.

E-commerce, then, is essentially the name for the buying and selling of goods and services online. It encompasses everything from a one-man-band t-shirt designer with a small online store to the largest high street brands turning over hundreds of millions. And everything in between. It’s electric commerce.

Of course, some of the biggest names in e-commerce like Amazon and eBay have been there since the early days in the mid-1990s. They’ve grown to become e-commerce monsters without ever opening a brick and mortar retail store.

Nowadays, e-commerce covers quite a few different models. With most businesses, it’s a B2C (Business to Consumer) model: you buy a new watch from an online store and they ship it directly to you after you’ve paid.

But there are also B2B (business to business) e-commerce models - like for many software providers; and there’s even consumer to consumer (like eBay).
There are also different ways to set up an e-commerce business: dropshipping, for instance, where a product is manufactured and shipped to customers by a third party has become popular.

Other e-commerce businesses have broken the mold of the traditional retail business and moved to subscription-based models.

Another feature of e-commerce is that it’s BIG news!

E-commerce grew 18% last year globally - to almost $3 trillion. That’s a 3 with 12 noughts on the end! An unfathomable amount for most of us. Just to put it in perspective, a stack of three trillion one-dollar bills would stretch 200,000 miles! Over half-way to the moon! And it’s projected to reach $4 trillion by 2020, so the moon’s getting closer each day.

So yeah, it’s huge and its varied’ and it’s exciting to be at the front of that upward arrow, monitoring e-commerce trends and helping small and medium online retailers grow.

As to where it’s going. The word is ‘convenience’. Food delivery, well with some apps in Asia like GoJek, everything delivery.If it’s easier to pick up the phone and order it, you better believe people will prefer to do that.

There’s clearly some difference between how we shopped before to how we shop now. What are the advantages of e-commerce in comparison to traditional commerce?

Well, that kind of depends where you’re coming at it from.

For an established retail business that hasn’t adjusted to e-commerce, it’s a nightmare. Dwindling high street sales and an inability to make the shortfall up online has sent some well-known businesses under.

The web is awash with stories of businesses that have failed to adapt to the digital world: Who needs Blockbusters when you have Netflix? Who needs Kodak now? Who needs Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us or Radio Shack when there’s Amazon?

These are important lessons on the need for businesses to adapt - or die. Use Home Depot as an example- they’ve got 2,200 physical stores in three countries and 40,000 employees. But they’ve transitioned well to e-commerce and that’s an important part of their business now. They’ve not been left behind.

For most of us, e-commerce has provided huge benefits. As shoppers, we can order everything from lunch to a new mattress online and have it delivered to our door. We don’t have to worry about opening times - it’s 247.

And many stores offer free returns, 90 day free trials and next day delivery. We can watch our favorite moves without queuing at the cinema; shop without worrying about buying gasoline or getting parking tickets; find things easily in a store without turning the whole place upside down searching; and the information about each product is right there in front of us - we don’t have to ask a sales assistant.

This all makes e-commerce too convenient for shoppers to ignore. It frees up time to do other things, so most people love e-commerce.

And then there’s the opportunities for successful businesses, of course. E-commerce allows almost anyone to set up a store and sell products and services online without having to worry about rental charges, extra utility bills, sky-high staffing costs, or (in the case of dropshipping) even holding any inventory of the products we’re selling.

There are also no geographical or time limitations to e-commerce. You’re open 247 and your potential market is the whole globe - providing you get your delivery model sorted. That’s huge.

E-commerce has been a great leveler, if you ask me. There’s absolutely no reason why a new online retailer that gets their e-commerce marketing right can’t compete on an even playing field with big. established names.

They can quickly shake up the entire industry - look how Zappos has become one of the top e-commerce retailers on the planet and shaken up the shoe industry. Back in 1999, when Zappos started, the thought of buying shoes from anywhere but a physical store filled most people with mistrust. Surely you have to try the shoe on first to see if it fits? Zappos helped convince people otherwise through exceptional customer service.

Zalando is another good example where an e-commerce company has shaken up its industry - in this case German-based fashion.

It’s possible to dominate your niche very quickly if you get it right. Social media, smart website technology, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, and search engine optimization are all you need to get going with your marketing. You don’t need big advertising dollars anymore to be seen.

How does affiliate marketing fit into e-commerce marketing strategies and/or sales?

When you think about it, affiliate relationships have been around ever since people started trading and providing services, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re an important part of e-commerce marketing.

When you call a plumber and they give you a discount on the work because you referred then to a friend, you’re acting as a type of affiliate.

So, yes, affiliate marketing and e-commerce have been comfortable bedfellows online.

In 1996, Amazon’s ‘Associates’ program was the first time that an affiliate program was made available to the general public. You could include a link on your website and earn a commission every time someone who clicked that link bought a product from Amazon.

Since those days, the invention of cookies and other tech breakthroughs have sent affiliate marketing into overdrive, obviously.

Clickbank and other big networks have opened the door for many people to make extra income on the side - or even give up their day jobs. The ability to easily track where customers come from has allowed the best affiliate marketers to become very rich people.

With more apps like Tapfiliate coming onto the market, people have the tools to make the whole process of affiliate sales easier. And with the parallel growth of social media, the two worlds are intersecting at just the right time.

What are the main benefits of affiliate marketing for e-commerce businesses?

Well, there are a lot. For both the e-commerce business and the affiliate marketer. It really is one of the biggest win-win relationships in the online world.

Firstly, it’s totally performance-based and virtually risk-free. You can set it up so that you only pay out a commission when you receive a paying client from your affiliate. No sales, no commission - unlike standard advertising, where you pay a fee and hope that the message “sticks” with enough people to translate into sales.

That’s a bit “spray and pray”. Affiliate marketing is a more targeted and cost-effective arrangement.And, because of the exclusive commission arrangement, your affiliate marketers are motivated to make it work and get sales. That’s got to help grow your business as you have an active sales force out there selling your products and services.

Affiliates can also help an e-commerce business expand into new market areas. They act like tentacles of the business, working their way out to wider and wider areas.

Many affiliates already have established audiences who trust their recommendations. If you can form close relationships with these “influencers”, it can really benefit the reputation, as well as the reach of your business.

Think established bloggers in your field, who you can get in front of and partner up with to reach their audience. This can increase traffic to your store greatly - helping you grow sales. HiSmile for example created huge revenue with affiliate influencer marketing.

What advice do you have for e-commerce businesses looking to build an affiliate network?

Keep up with technological changes and adapt your affiliate networking approach according to the coming trends.

We all know how quickly the tech world changes. Nothing stands still and it’s so easy to take your eye off the ball and get left behind.

E-commerce businesses and their affiliate marketers both need to look out for the potential disruption that can affect your niche. I expect content marketing to play an ever more important role in e-commerce marketing. Creating and gathering content that informs your niche markets is one of the keys to growth.

Niche sites like E-commerce Platform are exerting more influence now. They cater to specific needs and generate most of their revenue from just a single affiliate relationship (in the case of E-commerce Platform, it’s Shopify).

Personal brands within these niche spaces are also becoming more popular. Niche experts rely on their authority and brand equity to grow traffic and increase sales.

Of course, everything you do in affiliate marketing and e-commerce marketing must be geared for mobile commerce too, as people aren’t about to ditch their smartphones or tablets anytime soon.

Having said all this, an affiliate is like any other customer and success with affiliate marketing requires a solid foundation in your sales process. Identify prospective influencers in your industry, build relationships with these affiliates and establish an outreach model that will allow you to acquire high quality affiliates to market your business to customers.

Richard Lazazzera, founder of A Better Lemonade Stand, says that the most important factor in successful e-commerce marketing is product/market fit.

That means understanding exactly who your market is, knowing how to reach them, and having a product that they truly see value in.

So, the businesses that are killing it with e-commerce marketing are focusing on three main things as we head into the next few years:

  • Highly targeted communication
  • User experience and customer focus
  • Social media marketing

With all the e-commerce tools available now, it’s possible to really target a highly segmented audience. First define who that is and then be sure to send specific and relevant messages to the right people at the right time. That’s extremely powerful.

Once you understand your customers’ wants and needs on a deep emotional level, you can shape your messaging in a way that’s relevant to these wants and needs. If you can include this in your value proposition, and weave it into your store marketing in email campaigns, ads, and social media activity, it can only help boost sales.

The e-commerce businesses that are most customer-focused also provide the best user experience: they understand what their customers want from the moment they first land on the store to their first purchase; and then entice them back for more.

They are also marketing their businesses really well. They’ve built large and engaged followings on Instagram and Facebook. They’re active on both platforms and take it seriously.They’ve built communities of people who become their best ambassadors; a great reputation (just like a bad reputation) spreads like wildfire on social media and the most successful businesses know this.

So they also monitor what people are saying and engage with both positive and negative feedback to manage their reputations.

For more E-commerce insights

Thanks to Giles for the insight on growing an affiliate network for e-commerce. If you are wanting more, be sure to check out related blogs from Tapfiliate.

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