Customers are the lifeblood of every business.

Especially if you’ve got a new online store, you’re desperate for new customers to turn that side project into a proper business.

If you’re running a more established business you’ve realized that you need a way to bring a steady stream of customers through your virtual doors. A reliable flow of new sales means predictable revenue, allowing you to plan and invest accordingly.

But what are the best ways to find new customers?

There is no right answer. It depends on the size of your business, the people you are selling to and how long your store has been around.

When you’re just starting out you can increase sales by reaching out to family and friends. But for an ecommerce business with $1 million in revenues, that approach probably won’t move the needle.

Luckily you’re not the first store facing this challenge!

Two years ago Traction was published. It’s a book that outlines a framework to find the ideal growth channel no matter what business, stage or industry you’re in.

The main audience for the book is tech startups, but I’ve adapted the framework so you can find the marketing channel that works for your eCommerce store. At the end, I’ve included an overview of all the possible channels you can use to get traction.

Find the right channel for your store

Step 1: Brainstorm ideas

First go through the list of channels below and come up with a couple of ideas of how you could leverage every channel.

You’re probably familiar with or good at one these channels, and that’s what you want to focus on. But, especially in the beginning, it’s important to keep an open mind and consider other avenues to pursue.

This could also mean that you could discover traction channels that are under-utilized in your industry. For example, while your competitors are battling fiercely over the same 3 ad slots in the top of the Google search results you could be bringing in tons of new customers with YouTube videos.

This is still the brainstorm phase so get those creative juices flowing. Who knows what that impossible and crazy idea can turn into!

Step 1 of finding the right #marketing channel for your #eCommerce store - Brainstorm Ideas! Click To Tweet

Step 2: Evaluating your ideas

After the brainstorming, it is time to give every one of your ideas a little more thought. Use the following criteria to help evaluate them:

  1. How probable does it seem that this idea could work?
  2. What will it cost to acquire a customer in this channel?
  3. How many customers can you expect to acquire through this channel?
  4. What is the timeframe needed to run tests?

It’s ok if you don’t have an exact answer to these questions. For now, your best “guestimate” will do.

Also do not dismiss a certain channel because you think it might not generate a lot of results or will be too much work to keep up. Especially when you are starting off, you have to do whatever you can to move the needle.

Or as venture capitalist Paul Graham puts it:

Startups take off because their founders make them take off (…) The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.

It’s hand to hand combat for those first few sales!

Step 2 of finding the right #marketing channel for your #eCommerce store - Evaluate Ideas! Click To Tweet

Step 3: Prioritize the channels

When you put numbers on paper, you get a more realistic view of what channels make sense to try today.

Try to make a shortlist of 2-3 channels and think of a couple of ways how you could test them on a small scale. Read the examples below, google for some basics and get something out there to see how your audience responds. Don’t overthink it or try to have everything perfect out of the gate.

If you’re considering running ads on Facebook, run 2 ads for a couple of weeks and check the results. If you think offline events are the way to go, organize a small get together and see how many people turn up and what kind of response you get there.

If you start with 2-3 channels, you can run tests in parallel. While you are waiting for the replies of the people you’ve reached out to, you can already tweak your ad campaigns.

When designing and running these tests you should try to get more detailed answers for the following questions:

  1. What will it cost to acquire a customer in this channel?
  2. How many customers can you expect to acquire through this channel?
  3. Is this channel giving you the customers you want right now?

All of the questions above are focused on generating sales. But don’t get discouraged if the orders don’t come rolling in overnight.

If you’re not seeing new sales, look for other signs that you are on the right track. These can be things like positive feedback from people on your site, new email sign ups, visitors browsing the product page on your website. The goal is not to get a big amount of customers yet, it is to test which of these channels can help you increase traction.

If you see one channel with potential emerging, it is time for the next step. If not, go back to the brainstorm phase.

Step 3 of finding the right #marketing channel for your #eCommerce store - Prioritize! Click To Tweet

Step 4: Focus

Now that you’ve discovered a channel with potential it is time to go deeper and focus.

Invest more time and resources to learn everything you can about it. Can you find companies in other industries that have had success with this channel? Which of their approaches can you use for your store?

Try to break down the different parts that result in success in this channel. Then find out how you can improve every single part better. If you’ve found promising results from Adwords campaigns, you can start to test different keywords, ad copy or landing pages.

Your goal should be to focus on this channel and keep improving until it stops working.

You might have grown so big that the number of customers you can add through this channel just isn’t worth it anymore, or it might dry up altogether and become too expensive to find more customers.

Then it is time to go back to brainstorming phase and find your next traction channel. Like this, your business will keep growing and your traction channels will be changing.

With a bigger email list, more brand recognition, more industry contacts and a bigger marketing budget, new opportunities will present itself.

Step 4 of finding the right #marketing channel for your #eCommerce store - Focus! Click To Tweet

Marketing channels

Below you can find a list of channels that are relevant for eCommerce. Most channels aren’t stand-alone. Meaning that success in one channel will very likely be beneficial for another one as well.

Creating great content for example might also help attract attention on Facebook and get you backlinks, which will benefit your SEO.

For every channel I’ve added a short description and an example of an eCommerce store that is making this marketing channel work for them.

1. Email marketing

By collecting email addresses of prospects or customers and engaging them with interesting content or great offers, you can stay top of mind and generate revenue.

Example: Huckberry, an online outdoor store, focused on creating in-depth articles that were a perfect match with what their audience wanted to read. To make distribution of these articles easier (and build up their subscriber base) they created an email newsletter. And it seems quite successful, in their first years of business they managed to grow their list to about 130,00 subscribers!

Three years after launch they continue to focus on email. Their home page is an email opt-in box, without any mentions of products.

Huckberry marketing channel

2. Search Engine Marketing (SEM or PPC)

This allows you to show text or product advertisements next to relevant search queries in the search results of Google or Bing.

With these types of campaigns, the customer is actively searching for a solution to his or her problem (or specifically for a product). Those customers are more responsive to good offers.

Example: It’s hard to find stores that are putting out real numbers for their advertising campaigns. But this B2B eCommerce store saw a nice increase in sales from their PPC campaigns.

Use search engine #marketing to grow #eCommerce sales Click To Tweet

3. Social & display ads

These are banner ads on sites, in apps, or on social networks like Facebook or Reddit.

Related posts:  How to Position Your Lifestyle and eCommerce Fashion Brand

If you’re trying to reach a customer that is reading a news article or checking updates on Facebook, you have to stand out and deliver a message that grabs their attention.

Example: State Bicycle Company used Facebook Ads to target fans of certain music bands to promote its pages & store. Within a year they managed to sell an additional $500,000 worth of bikes with these campaigns.

Social and display ads allow your #eCommerce store to stand out and grab attention Click To Tweet

4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is the process of getting your website to rank higher in the search results. This is often done by creating good content that attracts customers and links.

Example: Petflow, a store that sells pet products, started a new site with the latest viral news stories, pictures, and videos. Few of the articles have to do with pets or pet products, but the popularity of the media site has improved the rankings of their actual products.

Use #SEO to rank your #eCommerce store higher in search results and generate more free traffic Click To Tweet

5. Public relations

In this channel, you’re trying to get coverage for your online store. This can be getting featured on a small blog or a primetime TV appearance. The key is to provide something of value or interest to the audience of the person you are pitching to.

Example: By keeping close relationships with relevant blogs in the space, kids interior shop Juniper Wilde manages to get a lot of their products featured in relevant articles.

#PR helps you get coverage and massive exposure for your #eCommerce store Click To Tweet

6. Offline ads

These are traditional advertisements in magazines, newspaper, billboards, on radio or TV. Using these to market your store might be counter-intuitive, but they still offer a great way to reach a big audience.

Example: Warby Parker sells prescription glasses and sold most of their products through online channels. To increase brand awareness and drive traffic to its site, they started advertising on tv.

Offline ads might be counter-intuitive but offer your #eCommerce store a way to reach a huge audience Click To Tweet

7. Existing platforms

The customers you want are already hanging out online. Depending on your audience you can reach them on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter.

Once you know where your potential customers hang out you can figure out a way to reach them and get more exposure for your message and brand.

Example: Nasty Gal is using Instagram to inspire its followers and show off new products. So far they’ve gathered over 1.5m followers to show off their products and brand.

Nasty Gal Marketing channel

8. Affiliate marketing

With this strategy a third-party will drive traffic to your site. You pay a commission for every sale that results from this traffic.

Example: Sleepwear retailer Crazybargains.com generated an increase of 11% in revenue thanks to affiliate marketing.

With affiliate #marketing, third-parties will drive sales and traffic to your #eCommerce store Click To Tweet

9. Sales

Sometimes your customers need a little encouragement, or in-depth advice to select the right product for them. This can transform your store from a hands-off type of sales to more of a lead generation approach. There your focus is on convincing prospects to call in or leave their details for further follow-up.

Example: Giving personal advice to an online customer doesn’t have to be complex. It could be as simple as installing a live widget on your site. Gym equipment store Total Gym Fitness did exactly that and saw an increase in conversion rates. Today about 39% of all their orders interact with the chat somewhere during their buying process, indicating the need for personal advice.

Encourage customers to purchase on your #eCommerce store with some hands-off sales Click To Tweet

10. Business development

Develop partnerships with other people or companies to exchange value. You can reach their network to reach more customers while you offer them value through your audience or network.

Example: One kings lane partnered with bloggers to create mood boards around some of the products on their site.

Develop partnerships with other companies to grow your #eCommerce audience Click To Tweet

11. Engineering as marketing

This is a special type of content marketing that can be more work to create but often is more enagaging than a simple text article or even a video.

Example: Beauty product retailer Birchbox created a quiz that helped women determine the right face mask for their skin type.

Engineering as #marketing is a smart way to grow #eCommerce sales Click To Tweet

12. Community building

Selling is always easier if you have a group of people that follow and believe in what you do. You can build this community on different platforms, via email, in the comments of your blog or face-to-face

Example: LuxyHair sells hair extensions and built up an impressive follower base on YouTube of over 2 million fans by giving out hair styling advice.

Selling is easier when you build online communities for your #eCommerce store Click To Tweet

13. Blogger outreach

By connecting with relevant blogs in your space you’re able to gain more exposure for your store. The most important thing is to deliver something of value to the blogger that you’ll be pitching. This could be providing a couple of products for a giveaway on their site or sending them free gear to review.

Example: Erin Condren sells personalized stationery and partners with bloggers  to do product giveaways. This creates exposure for their products and drives additional sales.

14. Content marketing

You attract potential customers by creating content that resonates with them. This can be text articles, images or videos.

Example: Onnit sells food supplements and workout gear. With their blog they try and provide value to people that want to get stronger or train smarter.

Attract potential customers to your #eCommerce store with #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

15. Viral marketing

Viral marketing is all about getting your content, idea, or story to spread. These often are the most bizarre, scary, or awesome things.

This is a hard channel to get right and your first try will probably not be a home-run.

Example: The  Z.E.R.O. Kit (Zombie Extermination, Research and Operations) is a $24,000 product bundle. Because of its outrageousness it got shared like crazy. And although it is unclear how much bundle sales were generated, this campaign has brought a lot of exposure to Opticsplanet.com, the store that sells the bundle.

16. Offline events

Besides virtual community building, you can also organise real-life events to create a tight knit community. This can be small a get together with your best customers, an exclusive product preview, a tasting session, a workshop or a full fledged pop-up shop.

Example: Swell.com toured around with a Bikini Truck to make shopping for swimgear even easier.

Bikini Truck marketing channel

17. Speaking engagements

Through public speaking you can increase the awareness of your online store. You can establish yourself (and your store by extension) as the expert in a particular field.

If you know who you are selling to, what would be good events to speak at? Remember to deliver value to your audience, whether they become customers or not.

Use speaking engagements to increase awareness of your #eCommerce store Click To Tweet

18. Trade shows

If it is a consumer focused trade show, this might be a great opportunity to grow your community. If you’re creating your own products, it could also be a great place to get new partnerships with distributors.

In fact, you do not necessarily need a booth in order to be present. With creativity, you can circumvent those costs and be very effective!

Trade shows are a great place to find new distributors for your #eCommerce store Click To Tweet

Find Your Channel

Instead of trying a little bit of everything and getting nowhere, the framework in this article will help you to find the the right channel to help your store grow to the next level!

If you’re struggling to get traction for your online store, check out the Store Growers blog to learn more about getting traffic and increasing sales!