Every year Internet Retailer compiles a list of 100 of the most innovative online retailers. This HOT 100 list is full of e-commerce trail blazers, content marketing masters, interesting business models, and examples of how to win online. It’s one of my favorite and most anticipated e-commerce publications of the year.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Zak Stambor, Managing Editor for Internet Retailer and a driving force behind the HOT 100 list. In the interview on my podcast we highlight ten of our favorite companies on the list. While there is a lot to be learned from IR’s list of innovative retailers, I want to focus on five insights that struck me as particularly powerful.
A quick note about the companies on the list before we dive into these five insights: this isn’t necessarily a list of the biggest, fastest growing, or most profitable companies. This is a group of innovators – e-commerce companies who are doing something exceptional online.
Whether they succeed long term or not, they are worth paying attention to now and learning from their creativity.
Now for the insights and the innovators behind them.
1. Craft Clear, Compelling and Creative Offers
At the heart of good marketing is a good offer.
- Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.
- Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.
- For when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
The success of these taglines from Dominos, Geico, and FedEx was fueled largely by the attractiveness of the offer. Fast delivery with a guarantee when no one else was offering it. Overnight delivery that would absolutely, positively get there when no other delivery option offered the same certainty. Significant savings on insurance without a grueling sales pitch by an insurance agent. These offers worked because they struck a chord with their intended audience.
BollandBranch.com – our first company to highlight from the HOT 100 List – is a seller of organic bedding and fine linens. Boll and Branch has mastered the art of a clear and compelling offer. First, like many successful online companies, they offer an immediate discount upon arrival to the site for $30 off your first purchase when you enter your email address. They take it a step further by then moving the coupon code and a prominent reminder of the offer to the upper left portion of the header.
It’s impossible to miss, but doesn’t get in the way of shopping. Also, they creatively overcome one of the biggest hurdles of selling bedding online – customers wanting to touch and experience the product before committing. They offer a 30-day money back guarantee to take away any pre-purchase anxiety. While this is not all that unique, their presentation is. They don’t say, “Comes with a 30 day guarantee,” they offer “Let’s have a 30 night stand – Try Boll and Branch for 30 days and if you aren’t completely in love send them back our way for a full refund.”
It’s fun, it’s charming, and it fits with their category. Also behind their discount and guarantee offers is an offer to support fair trade throughout the supply chain. This is also presented clearly and in a way that stands out, but doesn’t interrupt shopping. So you mean I can order fine organic linens, risk free, with a discount and know that I’m supporting workers with fair wages? Sounds pretty clear and compelling to me.
2. Master the Art of the Reorder
Many savvy investors will tell you that the true value of an e-commerce company is not in the product or the inventory, but in the repeat purchase habits of its customers. Have a business that delights customers and gets them purchasing again and again? That’s an attractive business.
Several sites do it well. One of my favorites from the HOT 100 List is Primary.com, a seller of quality, staple clothing for children without giant logos or obnoxious sayings. Skirts, hoodies, t-shirts, pants, etc. that last, look great and don’t proclaim that your child is “too cute” or “sassy.” I for one am a fan. I don’t dislike all clothing with logos and sayings, but I don’t need every article of clothing my 5 year old daughter wears to proclaim that she is “spoiled rotten.” Their slogan is “we believe in colors not giant logos.”
The true brilliance of Primary is in the ease of reordering. Rather than just an order history, they offer you a “Closet.” From your Closet you can reorder, size up, or buy more colors of the same item with ease. Say you order a couple of bright long sleeve tees and khakis for your little man. If you fall in love with the shirts and want more colors just go to the closet and with a few clicks order the same shirt and size in different colors. Or if he starts growing like a weed, go to your closet and “size up” by ordering all or part of your closet in a larger size. Clothes shopping for kiddos can be hard...Primary makes is really easy.
3. Don’t Ask Mobile to Do Too Much
You’ve heard it for years: everything is going mobile. Go responsive, go mobile, or get left behind. No one would argue with the growth and importance of mobile.
But how about this advice? Don’t ask mobile to do too much. Understand how your customers want to interact with you from a mobile device given your category and craft your mobile strategy accordingly.
One company handling mobile well from the HOT 100 List is David’s Bridal. They understand that for wedding dresses, the bride-to-be wants to browse and get ideas on a mobile device, but she likely wants to try it on first before buying (it’s pretty important that it fits perfectly). David’s Bridal makes browsing on their app easy by allowing you to shop by category or brand or by using their dress finder.
The dress finder creates a list of recommended dresses when you enter your favorite silhouette, your big-day venue (outdoors, ballroom, beach, etc.), your wedding vibe (offbeat, timeless, glitzy, etc.) your bridal style (elegant, classic, glam), and must-have details.
While you can purchase from the app, the main goal is to push shoppers to a local store to try on a dress. 70% of those who sign up for a wedding consultation show up, and 60% of those who come in for a consultation purchase. The app will quickly find a nearby location and make setting and confirming the appointment a breeze. On the app, 2.5% of visitors book an appointment compared to only 1% on the site. The app mainly focuses on two things – beautiful, high-res pictures that show dresses from every angle, and getting bride’s and their wedding party into a local store.
4. Invest in Content Marketing That Makes Sense (and Ignore Content Marketing that Doesn’t)
The term content marketing is overused, misunderstood and often presented in a way that makes it seem overwhelming. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it can pay off.
Some merchants short-sightedly ask, “how many widgets will this blog post sell?” Other merchants ask, “how can my content marketing build a stronger community of loyal brand advocates?” One e-commerce company doing content well is StrongerRX.com. StongerRX sells workout gear and apparel mainly for the crossfit crowd. To connect with their market, they sponsor crossfit events and games and then highlight those sporting events on their YouTube channel. They also sponsor crossfit athletes. They’re taking the power of local, in-person events and the power of celebrity endorsements and applying it to a smaller niche market. Content marketing is part of what helped StrongerRX.com grow 31% YoY to $2.1 million.
Another great example of content marketing that makes sense is DiscountRamps.com. They sell ramps and equipment for transporting snowmobiles, motorcycles, wheelchairs and more. Their YouTube video showing how to use a ratchet strap has racked up 303,000 views. Which makes sense...the first time you try to use a ratchet strap it feels like you’re trying to solve a rubik's cube made of canvas and metal. They also offer videos helping you properly select and use ramps. These videos are helpful, direct, and lead to more purchases.
5. Combine Online with Personal Connection and Personality
The days of the nameless, faceless, personality-free e-commerce store is over. The only way to thrive now is to be someone and to offer unique value. Two HOT 100 List makers who add unique value are Shinola.com and Enjoy.com. Both very different, but both with personality and value-driven business models. Shinola is a Detroit-based manufacturer of quality hand-made watches, bicycles, and leather products. As they proclaim on their site, “We’re building a tradition one thoughtfully crafted product at a time.”
Shinola is best known for their watches, which are made by hand in downtown Detroit. This brand is extremely popular with millennials and is growing rapidly. Part of what makes them great is the way they connect their employees to their products and their customers. My wife recently bought me a Shinola watch for my birthday (the Runwell Contrast Chrono, if you’re curious). The presentation of the product is fabulous. The watch came in a well crafted wooden box and inside is a bundle of print materials showing how to use and care for the product and also telling the brand’s story.
At the top of the bundle is a card proudly listing the first and last name of the employee who built the watch. Pretty cool! The website shopping experience is excellent too, and was inspired by the shopping experience created in Shinola’s stores. You can easily browse new arrivals, gift ideas, product categories and watch beautiful videos telling the story behind their products. Their growth online proves they are doing a lot right. 2014 sales grew 199% to $59.8 million.
Another trailblazer on the HOT 100 is Enjoy.com. Enjoy is backed by Ron Johnson, famous for his genius in making Apple Stores what they are today (and for his spectacular failure in attempting to turn around JCPenney). Enjoy.com is taking the pain out of buying electronics. Enjoy.com makes shopping for your next hi-tech gadget easy and fun. The best part is what happens after you purchase. Your gadget isn’t dropped off by a delivery service.
It’s hand delivered within 4 hours by an Enjoy Expert who will then spend up to one hour with you helping you set up and learn how to use your product. How cool is that? No waiting in line, no waiting until the next day, and no spending hours or days (or weeks) learning how to use the darn thing. Right now delivery is only available in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Will Enjoy.com succeed long term? Who knows. But, one thing is certain: we will begin to see more and more companies combining the ease of online shopping with personal interaction.
Take a lesson from these online companies. Stale, me-too, run of the mill online experiences will lead to online extinction. As with most successful businesses, these HOT 100 List makers are doing a lot of little things well, and their customers and our industry are better because of it.
Join the Webinar
Ready for a more in-depth analysis of these strategies as well as some pointers on how to execute them on your own website? Join me on my SEMrush Webinar, "5 Powerful Insights From the World's Most Innovative E-Commerce Companies" on Wed. Feb. 24. Click here for local time and registration.
Do you have more questions? Ask on the webinar or leave them below in the comments.