Overall, ecommerce has had the time of its life over the past year, albeit in testing circumstances. Worldwide retail ecommerce sales grew 27.6% in 2020, with sales reaching well over $4 trillion. In the UK, Europe's largest ecommerce market, online sales accounted for more than 30% of total retail sales for the first time [figures: eMarketer], as lockdown demand boomed, and digital transformation accelerated beyond any precedent.
But in many ways, the landscape has favoured the large, established operators. As Canadian ecommerce giant Shopify pointed out in its Future of Commerce report, digital-first D2C brands and huge marketplaces initially saw the greatest returns, giving merchants the choice of going up against them or taking their terms and ducking under their umbrella.
Meanwhile, record online competition saw advertising costs spike as lockdown rumbled on. With ecommerce an increasingly vital sales stream, smaller retailers need a plan of attack. Squeezed by the giants, hurt by rising acquisition costs but desperate to build the D2C channel - what's a little brand to do?
Look at alternatives to advertising
The pandemic has created an exceptional set of circumstances, but in many ways, it has brought existing trends to the fore. For years, traditional advertising has become steadily less effective, as consumer trust has waned, consumer irritation has set in and ad blindness has spread.
As a result, partnerships - with influencers, affiliates, content publishers, service providers and B2B partners - have become increasingly effective in comparison, simply because they are relationships built on trust. The World Trade Organization estimates that 75% of the world's commerce is now driven through partnerships in some form, while a Forrester study from just before the pandemic confirmed that businesses with mature partnership programmes grow faster than competitors.
Ecommerce and partnerships make a natural fit
As every retailer discovers, the internet is a big place, and simply creating a great online shop is not enough to attract the share of the limelight it deserves. Partnerships are a way to divert the right traffic from the high-traffic, high-engagement zones of the web. However, good partners can be hard to find, and getting satisfactory results from them can often be a challenge too far for stretched marketing departments.
Building and carefully managing a partnership programme can be the rocket fuel in a retailer's ecommerce strategy. Using the right technology, merchants can discover and recruit new partners, develop contracts, and settle payments in numerous currencies. They can also track partners to attribute performance across devices, measure performance, communicate with partners and benefit from fraud protection.
Pay partners what they're worth, get what you need
Part of the beauty of partnerships compared to traditional forms of advertising is their flexibility of cost, meaning that brands can negotiate relationships with partners according to the value they drive. So, whereas the cost of a PPC campaign will be based on the market rate for a click - regardless of what that click might be worth to your particular brand - partnership campaigns reflect what an engagement is worth to the brand in question.
Likewise, partnerships allow the broader terms of engagement to be negotiated to the satisfaction of both sides. Both influencer and affiliate marketing are most successful when brands recruit genuine advocates and then measure the results of that advocacy against the business goals they have set out. The right platform helps brands build those relationships, and rewarding partners based on results fosters the sense of loyalty that is critical to a long-term partnership programme.
Integrate organically where possible
In March, Impact was selected by Shopify as an influencer and affiliate marketing partner for its premium Shopify Plus service. This allows brands to launch and automate affiliate and influencer programs through the Impact Partnership Cloud without developer involvement, and to do so in hours, rather than days.
This relationship is an organic one, given that many Impact clients already use Shopify in some form, and affiliate and influencer marketing are recognised as some of the most effective growth channels for Shopify brands.
The result is that ambitious brands who are either in the early stages of their ecommerce journey, or setting out to accelerate growth in changing times, can find the tools they need right where they already are. And by that method, today's ecommerce challengers become tomorrow's mature operators.
Copyright 2021. Sponsored post by Daisy-Blue Tinne, Director, Channel Partnerships for Impact EMEA.