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Ecommerce collaboration: 5 ways online retailers can stick together

Written by: Anastacia Valdespino

Article // May 13, 2020

Why is now the time for brands to engage in ecommerce collaboration? As one writer portends:

“The next five years of growth in online shopping is happening right now — over the course of weeks. Revolutionary changes like this often result in a fissure between companies that are equipped to handle shifts with agility and speed and those that are too slow to adapt.”

While some might find this statement charged at best or reductive at worst, the claim that these changes are revolutionary is nothing short of exact. From changes in shopping behavior to disruptions in supply chain and fulfillment turnaround, nearly every touchpoint in the ecommerce journey has been impacted. 

Companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target are readily positioned to rev up their ecommerce operations and maximize the benefits from this unprecedented growth in online consumer shopping. Meanwhile, ecommerce stores who operate with lean teams and leaner models like DTC are feeling the brunt of these challenges. 

How can ecommerce collaboration help?

“It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies, yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world.” – Thomas Paine

Who better to invoke when it comes to “revolutionary changes” than a revolutionary himself? Sure, we aren’t talking red coats and settlers here, but the metaphor still maps on pretty neatly. When it comes to the frontlines of ecommerce, online merchants are up against tech giants and legacy retailers. It probably even feels as though the sun never sets on these empires, at least not according to their essential workers

But when you count the number of etailers in the industry, ask yourself what it might look like if greater unity existed between them? Not even in spite of marketplaces, but despite them. How can you engage in ecommerce collaboration to support a fellow merchant, or partner together for meaningful collaboration? 

ecommerce collaboration
Image via etailinsights

While we can’t imagine all the possibilities that could exist here, we did pull together five different suggestions as a starting point. If you’re already collaborating with another business in the ecommerce industry, give us a shout. We’d love to hear what you’re doing and add it to our plan of action! 

1. Buy directly from brands and small-medium sized etailers

This first one is a no-brainer. It’s something that we’re each responsible for as individual consumers, and can’t be stressed enough. 

As we’ve already laid out, the behemoths in ecommerce are able to gobble up swaths of consumer spending. As if having a household name weren’t enough to inspire customer confidence or loyalty, these companies also promise a better experience, greater convenience, and the best available deal. 

But if you have been shopping with any of them (no judgment, here), you know that this just isn’t the case. Between stockout notifications that don’t come until checkout and awaiting refunds on charges that were already applied to items that went out of stock after you hit purchase, the experience isn’t always smoother, more convenient or cheaper. 

We’re not suggesting that you abandon your go-to grocer, especially if they’re local! But for those one-off items that you probably used to pick up on the way home from work, such as coffee or wine, why not purchase directly from the source? When it comes to inventory, they likely have a wider selection available for what you seek. Given most are offering free shipping to ease their customer’s purchase, these one-off buys are easier than you might think. 

In some cases, these brands are lining the digital marketplace shelves anyway. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers are category experts. They aren’t thinking about how to bring you a little bit of everything. They’re focused on bringing you the best when it comes to something specific. 

In the end, it’s about spending your money where it will have the most impact and leaning into the choices you have as a consumer. If you’re not sure where to get started, Shopify launched an app to help people find local businesses they can support. One of our team members also recently put together a list of top isolation essentials and where to find them. Whether it’s athleisure and loungewear or fun stuff to keep you engaged like DIY house projects, arts & crafts supplies, or even at-home science experiment kits for the kids, you can find an ecommerce store that specializes in it. Buying from online brands and smaller retailers like your own store means buying from someone you can trust, an act of faith that we’re in this together. 

2. Pledge support for future purchases with gift cards

Another simple solution that leverages your power as a consumer. If you haven’t made the most of this easy tactic that can help inject cash-flow into your online store, be sure to check out this article on how to do so. 

The beauty of gift cards, besides that immediate infusion of cash, is that they cost virtually nothing to the store providing them, especially if they’re digital certificates. Stores can use these as a way to keep buyers from abandoning their carts when certain products are unavailable. Purchasing gift cards is your way to show support to others who are facing stockout challenges.

Gift cards

Given that you probably haven’t been able to go out and shop for gifts as you normally would, gift cards can quickly solve your birthday or anniversary needs in a cinch. 

The team here at Searchspring recently put together a gift card giveaway contest on LinkedIn just to underscore how much we embrace this solution. (P.S. If any of that fun stuff we mentioned earlier like at home-science kits or DIY home projects sounded intriguing, you should definitely follow our page to check it out!). 

3. Join an online community of professionals for ecommerce collaboration

Alright, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how teams can support one another through ecommerce collaboration. Beyond what you can do as a consumer, the resources and insight you can offer as an ecommerce professional are bountiful. Although a light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel, teams are still working tirelessly to overcome current challenges. 

Online communities offer the unique opportunity for you to see what others in your position are doing. These professional groups give you the chance to ask the questions that are keeping you up at night and explore solutions with those most likely wondering about the same issue. Or perhaps you and your colleagues came up with a novel merchandising idea that you think other ecommerce teams should consider trying out! Whether you’re gaining knowledge or sharing insights, these online networks are powerful places for ecommerce professionals to come together and learn from one another. 

Ecomm Alliance was created for this exact purpose. If you work in ecommerce, consider joining the Ecomm Alliance Slack community. Membership is based on a very brief application and reserved for those who bring expertise and direct ecommerce experience to the table. In other words, this isn’t a place for selling and self-promotion. It’s a space for those who are serious about leveling up together and helping each other out. Apply here if this sounds like something you’re looking for! 

4. Actually band together for ecommerce collaboration

Speaking of alliances, why not use this time to get creative about what collaboration can look like? 

Here are two coalitions that recently inspired us most: 

Both groups banded together with the purpose of doing their part for COVID relief. Whether it was producing protective face masks or donating to nonprofit organizations, these brands realized that their overall impact would be stronger together. Like Mr. Paine said, it’s not about the numbers. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing that you can go further united than you would on your own. 

If charitable giving sounds nice but not quite feasible for your organization right now, there are other ways for you to envision ecommerce collaboration. 

Maybe it’s time for you to review and revamp your partner-based marketing strategy. Or perhaps there’s an ecommerce store with a social media game that you’ve always admired. Why not ask if they’d consider doing an Instagram Live video with you?

Certainly, this poses some clear and concrete perks like expanding your audience and building brand awareness and exposure. But the softer and less tangible benefits you’ll reap are just as important: building meaningful relationships. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Are there businesses in your local community that you can partner with?
  • Are there people in your network who might be interested in this idea?

Sure, they might say no and be too busy. They also might say yes and surprise you. 

5. Leave reviews, ratings or simply engage with their social media

Ok, so technically, this is something that any consumer can and should do. But as ecommerce professionals, you’ve got a first-hand look at the positive outcomes actions like these can actually produce. According to TrustPilot, product reviews on-site can increase conversion rates by 74%. Meanwhile user-generated content, especially from social channels, are at the core of nailing down that coveted social ecommerce strategy. 

So the next time you get a pop-up notification or email asking if you want to leave a review or rate a product, take a second and think about how much those 60 seconds of your time might benefit that merchant. When you see that DTC brand you purchased from appear on your Instagram feed again (who hasn’t succumbed to one of those targeted ads?), drop a comment about your experience with them. Share it with a friend, or do the effortless, and simply like the post! All of these tiny actions create ripples in the complex ecommerce ecosystem. 

If you try it out…try it as a habit

As someone behind the scenes, focused on creating consumer experiences, it might be easy to overlook the power you hold as a consumer, yourself. Even easier still to neglect the opportunity to connect with others in your industry when you’re caught up thinking about the day-to-day operations.

As things begin shifting back to normal in the coming weeks and months, these tips for how you can support others through ecommerce collaboration will continue to be relevant, especially if you consider making one into a habit. 

Although brick-and-mortar stores will start reopening and consumer spending might get a slight lift as furloughed employees return to work, the long-term effects of this are yet to be seen. 

If you have other ideas for how etailers (or consumers!) can further support ecommerce stores, let us know on social media or reach out to us directly! 

When we look back, and more importantly, as we look forward, wouldn’t it be better to say we endured it together than survived it alone? 

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