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Ecommerce Digital Marketing Strategies for Independent Retailers

In 2020, retail marketing budgets have been slashed without revenue goals cut the same way. 

Independent retailers are forced to do more marketing with fewer resources. All while dealing with evolving revenue models and getting a crash course on ecommerce digital marketing. 

Some sectors have seen tremendous growth this year. According to McKinsey, ecommerce sales in apparel, department stores, and beauty products have increased by nearly ten percentage points, on average, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Others have not fared so well. 

Even as most retail stores opened up over the Summer of 2020, many consumers still chose to shop online.  

So how will this shift in buyer behavior impact how independent retailers go to market?

Will these companies embrace new revenue generation models?

This article intends to help independent retailers answer these questions and more.

Ecommerce Digital Marketing is on the Rise

Over the past few years, brick and mortar stores have felt the effects of a major shift in consumer behavior. According to eMarketer’s US Ecommerce 2020 Study, annual US ecommerce sales in 2020 project to be $710 billion — 18% growth over 2019, and up 54% since 2017 (see image below). Purchasing goods online is quickly becoming a widely adopted practice.

So what does this mean for independent retailers?

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the role of a physical storefront was in transition. No longer simply a channel for product distribution, retail outlets provide customers a chance to experience a product before purchasing. 

Behavioral data suggests consumers will continue to visit physical stores for expert advice, to socialize, and to test products.

This means retail marketers will have to learn new digital marketing strategies and tactics quickly to drive ecommerce sales. There are two main paths for customers to purchase products outside of a physical store:

  1. Direct to Consumer
  2. Click and Collect

We will examine each of these purchase models in the sections below. 

The Executive Guide to Measuring Return on Marketing Investment

Direct to Consumer Presents a Challenge

Direct to consumer (also known as DTC or D2C) typically refers to companies who sell products directly to customers, bypassing third-party retailers, wholesalers, or any other middlemen. But some retailers have evolved their product delivery methods to offer direct shipping to consumers. But competing in this arena can pose significant challenges for independent retailers.

Consumers are accustomed to purchasing goods and services online through companies like Amazon. They’ve enjoyed personalized customer experiences built on complex platforms and technologies. Buyers also treat their personal information like currency. In fact, 57% of online shoppers feel comfortable providing personal information as long as it is to their benefit.

Retailers able to provide added value in the pre-purchase experience will be able to deal in this informational currency. Exceptional website user experience, high-value content, and an active presence on social media are examples of how marketers can position their brands as trustworthy and credible enough to online buyers.

More competition online has also increased ad costs on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, which can inflate marketing spend if not managed effectively. It can be costly to learn the ins and outs of managing advertisements on these platforms. Independent retailers may consider outsourcing paid media expertise to platform specialists with access to content and creative resources. 

Ecommerce digital marketing is very different than traditional retail marketing methods. For example, half of consumers would rather visit brand websites (rather than retail websites) because they offer more comprehensive information about their products. This means retailers looking to compete in this space may have to invest considerably in content marketing to satisfy user demand for product information.

Click-and-Collect Shows Growth Potential

Click-and-collect refers to sales of products or services ordered online for pickup in a store, pickup hub location or via curbside pickup. According to the same eMarketer study, ‘click-and-collect’ sales in the US are projected to grow by more than 60% year-over-year in 2020 (see image below).

There is no way to tell what lasting impact coronavirus will have on consumer behavior. But for some consumers, click-and-collect purchase methods may be the future of shopping.

In an interview with Retail Dive, self-described ‘retail futurist’ and subject-matter expert Doug Stephens contends that “by as early as 2033 the majority of our daily consumption will be transacted online.”


Today’s shoppers regularly speak to Amazon’s Alexa and order products via a touchscreen device. The environment for this kind of ecommerce digital marketing strategy is ripe for retail marketers brave — and creative — enough to embrace the challenge.

However, consumer behavior varies widely by geography. In the United States alone, there have been noticeable differences in behavior in certain states. Variance in emergency mandates, community responses to the pandemic, and population density all contribute to these differences in behavior. Retailers who understand their own markets and buyer behavior will have an advantage when they build and execute their ecommerce digital marketing strategy.

Creativity Remains Essential for Retail Marketers

The edge conditions presented by the pandemic have forced marketers to get creative with their approach and adapt to this new consumer behavior — a perfect environment for innovation. Below are a few examples of independent retailers who were creative in their marketing approach.

Mattress Warehouse went above and beyond to make their customers comfortable in their stores. Not only do employees provide masks, gloves, and maintain a 6ft distance within stores, but they also offer customers the option to book an exclusive in-store appointment. This kind of experience gives customers confidence and trust enough to make a purchase as significant as a mattress online.

Sports World, an independent retailer located right across from Wrigley Field in Chicago, typically sees 40,000 fans on game days but in 2020 was forced to sell their sports memorabilia exclusively through their website. They used a combination of both direct-to-consumer and click-and-collect purchase methods. This activity kept the business alive during the critical months of the pandemic which would normally be the first half of a regular MLB season. Investing in these digital ecommerce channels positioned the store for an influx of online orders when there is more market demand for baseball. Read the full story here.

Ecommerce Digital Marketing Should Be Measured Differently

Now more than ever, independent retailers must drive more sales with lower marketing budgets. It can be done, but to do so requires precise measurement and clear return on marketing investment. 

Correlating advertising spend — be it traditional or digital — to in-store foot traffic and sales remains incredibly tough. It can be measured but requires a high level of ad spend. Even so, there is still no way to prove an ad actually caused a customer to make an in-store purchase. 

The Executive Guide to Measuring Return on Marketing Investment

It’s also easy for marketers dipping their toes in ecommerce to get hung up on meaningless conversion metrics. Driving real revenue is what’s most important.

How Silverback Strategies Can Help

Silverback Strategies gives independent retailers the confidence and clarity to accelerate ecommerce digital marketing performance and prove revenue impact so they can do more of what works and lose what doesn’t. 

We offer an integrated team of experts and practitioners across Analytics, Content, Creative, Paid Media, Research and SEO to customize unique campaigns and revenue attribution models. Here are two examples of how Silverback can help you measure return on marketing investments:

Infrastructure for marketing data integration — Our expert Analytics team examines your current Web Analytics Tracking and CRM connectivity. Armed with these insights, we provide guidance to augment your data collection & quality standards. This will give you confidence in knowing accurate marketing data is connected to the rest of your business.

Centralized marketing dashboards & executive data reviews — Using the latest innovations in data visualization, our teams create customized reports and dashboards tailored to what matters most to you and your C-suite. We then review the latest insights with you and your C-suite so that you can quickly act on defining trends for your business.

Our dedicated account managers work side-by-side with you to maximize your marketing efforts, coordinate across resources, and get value out of every dollar you spend. 

Ready to go? Request a consultation today.