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6 Ways to Make Your Ecommerce Startup Stand Out Barebones shopping cart sites and apps just don't quite cut it anymore.

By Ralph Tkatchuk Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The growth of the ecommerce industry remains strong. In the U.S., the industry grew by 15.6 percent to $394.86 billion last year, with ecommerce comprising 42 percent of all retail growth. Consumers have also now shifted to mobile. Mobile ecommerce poses another set of challenges to success which leaves online merchants little choice but to continue adapting. Merchants must be able to leverage the new developments in ecommerce technologies in order to secure an advantage.

Related: 3 Major T's to Cross Before Starting Your Online Store

Ecommerce startups may find themselves in quite an interesting position. On one hand, they can readily implement cutting edge or mobile-first strategies since they don't have any legacy issues to deal with. On the other, they also need to enhance their infrastructure with these new technologies. Barebones shopping cart sites and apps just don't quite cut it anymore.

Here are six ways startups can make their stores stand out.

1. Marketing automation

Even with a good catalog of products, ecommerce startups can't just expect customers to just turn up and buy. Successful ecommerce efforts are always aided by strong marketing efforts. Ecommerce marketing helps to attract and convert customers, upsell and cross-sell, and generate repeat sales.

Due to the volume of customers companies have to reach, doing marketing tasks such as sending newsletters and following up on abandoned carts can be a tedious process. Marketing automation can be used to streamline these tasks. Automation services can be configured to send out customized offers or newsletters via email or as push notifications on mobile. These can even be sent out at an optimal time based on a user's past behavior so that messages land at the top of their inboxes. Moreover, effective timing can lead to increased email response times. Reminders can also be triggered if customers leave items in the online shopping carts.

Related: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform

2. Advanced analytics

Gone are the days when analytics meant simply tracking a website's daily visits and how long each visit lasted. For ecommerce, advanced analytics offers means to accurately track each customer's journey. Trackers can now determine traffic sources and gather data on each click made in the store. These data can be compiled and analyzed in order to generate insights on customer behavior and product and site performance.

Analytics tools can be configured to sync data from multiple sources and trigger actions such as notifications. These can even be integrated with automated marketing services as part of rule-based campaigns. Analytics could also be used to track internal team's performance to see how quickly orders get fulfilled. Timely decisions and changes can then be made while being guided by solid evidence. Customers, especially loyal ones, could tell if improvements are being done to enhance their experience.

3. Personalization

Customers love being flattered and one way to do this is by offering a personalized experience. Among the simple ways of implementing personalization are automatically changing language and currency settings based on geolocation data and launching push notifications reminding customers of the items they browsed.

Related: Your Ecommerce Business Might Owe a Ton of Taxes You Don't Know About

Customer data can be utilized to further improve their experience. Developments in machine learning are ushering in hyper-personalization in ecommerce. We are already seeing glimpses of this when store apps would display a targeted selection of products based on recently viewed items. Thirty-five percent of Amazon's sales come from such recommendations. The combination of analytics and machine learning enables targeted messages and actions based on a customer's historical information. Soon, machine learning may even be able to anticipate and predict purchases based on buying histories, trends and seasons.

4. Chatbots

Chatbots are an exciting development in ecommerce. Dubbed conversational commerce, messaging apps are now being used to enable ecommerce. One example is Uber's integration with Facebook Messenger which allowed users to book rides within the chat window. Voice activated home devices like the Amazon Echo can be used to check user's Capital One account balances and even order pizza from Domino's.

Future developments would enable users to browse and compare products and even directly place orders within the chat app. Facebook is heavily investing in its Messenger developer platform to enable more partnerships and integrations. Subway has recently unveiled its Messenger bot to enable sandwich orders, and Wells Fargo looks to follow Capital One in allowing customers to access account information through Messenger. Startups could do well investigating how they can make an early splash in using chatbots for ecommerce.

5. Customer support 2.0

Among the pitfalls of doing business online is poor customer service. Digital channels do take away much of the human element of doing business so it is important to put up systems that would allow merchants to connect with customers. Customer support often came in the form of chat widgets and email and messaging systems which allow customers to interact with live agents.

Related: The First 5 Steps to Launching a Successful Ecommerce Business

The problem with this is that it can sometimes take a while, especially if the support team is encountering a large volume of transactions. However, being too pushy by bombarding users with messages can turn them off. One way to supercharge customer support is by carefully engineering the points at which these messages come up. Platforms like Giosg can be set to enable live chat to pop up just as a customer abandons the cart. This allows a live agent to address any concerns buyers may have in order to close the sale.

6. Fraud protection

A growing concern among merchants is fraud. Fraudsters often target ecommerce services to "launder" money by using stolen credit card details to purchase both physical and digital goods. Due to the chargeback system, real owners of the credit card gain a level of protection. Unfortunately, it's the merchant that has to deal with the loss.

Implementing fraud protection has been gaining traction. But, for some, verifying orders has been a manual process. There are times where legitimate transactions get flagged or denied. While this could be simply a prudent move on the part of the merchant, these can ultimately result in lost customers. Availing of fraud protection services can help automate this process, and using their advanced algorithms, filter out fraudulent purchases while ensuring real purchases get fulfilled.

Providing superior customer experience

Everything considered, what this all boils down to is providing superior customer experience. Ecommerce startups should understand that the industry has become more competitive. These new technologies could be a difference maker but only if used strategically. There's little point in packing all these features if they aren't configured to work towards making the whole experience unique, smooth and hassle-free for customers.

Ralph Tkatchuk

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Data Security Consultant

Ralph Tkatchuk is a data security consultant and and an IT guy with 15 years of field experience working with clients of various sizes and verticals. He is all about helping companies and individuals safeguard their data against malicious online abuse and fraud. His current specialty is in ecommerce data protection and prevention.

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