In 2014 ecommerce sales hit a record high of $1.3 trillion worldwide. In 2015, global ecommerce sales have grown at 6.4%. It’s clear that ecommerce is already big, and it’s just going to get exponentially bigger. Here are three trends in the dynamic world of ecommerce to keep in mind as you assess your outdoor brand’s digital presence.

Responsive design (for mobile) is mandatory

Making your website look good and work well across multiple devices will help to build strong brands, encourage enduring customer relationships, and improve bottom line sales. People increasingly use a fluid mix of visits to virtual and physical stores to gather information about and purchase products - for example, googling information and reviews about a bike while browsing in a bricks and mortar store, or checking out different pairs of skis in a store before purchasing online.

A study conducted by Google found that 66% of the time spent on ecommerce sites is via mobile devices and 61% of customers leave a site if it isn’t mobile friendly. Mobile site experiences materially influence how users feel about a brand (48% of users said they get frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that’s not mobile friendly) and whether or not they make a purchase from the site (67% said that they are more likely to buy a site’s product or service when the site is mobile-friendly).

Integration of content and commerce to encourage brand engagement

The most successful ecommerce sites integrate content and commerce to create online destinations that keep customers coming back. The key is to offer original and informative content, not generic information that can be found elsewhere. It’s more valuable for users and it boosts SEO (Google and other search engines prioritise unique content and rank it higher in search results), increasing traffic and creating positive brand associations.

Unbranded content offers significantly more search demand than branded terms. Google recently reported that searches on “how to” topics on YouTube have grown 70% year over year. Two outdoor brands that do a great job leveraging unbranded content as a key component of their SEO strategy are Mountain Equipment Co-op and Evo. Their websites present neutral and useful information about a range of outdoor activities (such as technique tips and information about equipment choices) and include calls to action to browse products for sale, without giving a hard sell. As an example of their success, in a Google search for “backcountry skiing”, both brands rank on the first page of search results.

Another good example of the integration of content and commerce is Genuine Guide Gear’s website. The site tells stories about its athletes and its products, sharing adventures and tales from the mountains while also providing information about the products used. Inspirational content is integrated with product content, with a strong brand presence throughout.

The use of social media

Social media has tended to be used more for creating brand awareness and “buzz”, and it has been difficult to measure whether or not social media presence actually resulted in sales. However, recent research suggests that the use of social media in ecommerce is evolving. Social media is becoming an increasingly utilised resource for online shopping: 74% of consumers rely on social media to inform their purchasing decisions, as consumers seek product recommendations from their peers; and sales through through social media are rising. Social commerce sales are forecasted to represent 5% of online retail revenue in 2015. Facebook is still leading the way: 85% of overall orders from social media sites come from Facebook. In the sports and recreation industry that figure is even higher: 94% of social orders in the sports and rec industry originate from Facebook.

The challenge for brands looking to use social media to sell their products is to promote their products and capture attention while avoiding coming across as excessively exploiting social media for commercial purposes. Research has found that consumers reacted most favourably to advertising on social media which was perceived as offering entertainment or information value. See: David G. Taylor, Jeffrey E. Lewin, and David Strutton. "Friends, Fans, and Followers: Do Ads Work on Social Networks?" (Business Faculty Publications - 2011). Although outdoor and adventure brands have an inherently exciting subject matter, producing entertaining and informative content requires more than just strapping on a Go-Pro… Influencer marketing (using athletes and ambassadors to promote a brand through social media) also raises a number of unique issues. That’ll be the subject of a future blog.

Round up

Good content is the link between product, marketing, and ecommerce. Inspiring and informative content which is presented in engaging ways across all digital touchpoints is a powerful way to encourage engagement, positive brand associations, and return visits, and ultimately conversions.