10 practitioners share their favorite scalable customer acquisition and retention strategies in 2017

Wanna know the best customer acquisition and customer retention strategies for e-commerce? Just ask the practitioners who live and breathe the business each day.

We rounded up a handful of our customers and e-commerce practitioners and asked them to share their favorite e-commerce growth strategy that scales in 2017.

Our questions went something like this:

  1. Please tell us about your favorite e-commerce customer acquisition and retention strategy that scales in 2017. (What makes it your favorite one? How to execute it properly? What stage of the company does it apply to?)

  2. How do you scale it? (What tools do you use? Where do you hire people to scale it?)

Here are our favorite responses in random order. Please enjoy and vote for your favorite strategy at the end of this post.

The strategies

  1. Collaboration building (BioClarity)
  2. Authoritative links (DermWarehouse)
  3. Very targeted ads (Fourmine)
  4. Contributing to Quora & Reddit (Pairfum)
  5. Let others use your original product images (Precious Little One)
  6. Build loyalty by giving back to the community (DollarDays)
  7. Guest posts for SEO (Moving Blankets)
  8. Stellar photos, searchable products and more (Bonanza)
  9. Holiday promotions and targeted customer segmentation (LittleLlama)
  10. Facebook & Pinterest ads, Instagram influencer giveaways, lifecycle marketing (Sojourner Bags)

1. Collaboration building (BioClarity)

Matt Edstrom
Head of Marketing, BioClarity

(Skincare & Beauty)

My favorite e-commerce growth strategy that scales in 2017 is collaboration building. Sure, influencer marketing is a hot term right now in the industry, but collaborations can be so much more than just a person with a popular Instagram account.

Think about extending this collaboration mindset to the people and organizations outside of your primary sales vertical. Businesses need to be cultivating and fostering relationships throughout each of their core business functions, from sales to vendors and suppliers to partners.

This is scaled by instituting the proper culture within your business. A mindset of “when the business wins, we all win” is instrumental to this being effective, and the easiest way to implement that is through employee recognition. Consider setting up an incentive-based structure, either through monetary bonuses or other perks such as additional PTO. Even an "Employee of the Month" award can go a long way.

2. Authoritative links (DermWarehouse)

Jason Parks
Cofounder, DermWarehouse

(Skincare & Beauty)

When you build authoritative links back to your website, this increases a metric called domain authority, which has a trickle down effect on your entire website. If you are able to scale your digital PR, outreach and content efforts, you can grow your SEO quickly.

The beauty of ranking well organically is that you don't have to pay each time someone clicks on your website. It is earned so it is one if not the best return on investments from a marketing perspective.

If you want a game plan on how to scale SEO, there is a software called PitchBox that will automate pitches to send out to websites. You can even select which sites to send pitches to based off of domain authority and keywords. Otherwise, I'd recommend just getting your hands dirty. Sending out personalized pitches and doing research and then writing content is normally the best formula. It takes time to scale but if you do it right, it can lead to tremendous growth.

3. Very targeted ads (Fourmine)

Slisha Kankariya
Cofounder, FourMine

(Engagement Rings)
  1. Get specific. The more specific the targeting and messaging, the more likely it is to resonate with your target audience. Using social media, use filter combinations to target behaviors, marital status, age, liked brands and more to build exactly the type of audience that likes your products based on past sales.

  2. Landing pages make a difference. Shopping is all about creating a personalized experience for your visitor. The more personal the experience, the more likely it is that the visitor will stay and shop. When drawing in users, present them only with the products, content, and prices that they were expecting to see when clicking through on your ad.

  3. Tailor your re-marketing. Use dynamic retargeting to show products that are relevant to the user. If using static banner ads, segment by the areas of the site that the user has visited. Generic ads don't help you and don't help the customer. Bring them back to the shopping experience they went through on your site initially.

4. Contributing to Quora & Reddit (Pairfum)

Huib Matt
Cofounder, Pairfum

  1. My favorite e-commerce growth strategy is contributing to online forums such as Quora and Reddit, as well as other ones specific to our market. This not only helps you position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, but it also gives you the opportunity to interact with your customers and learn about their needs.

  2. The nice thing about participating in community forums is the strategy scales itself. As long as you contribute genuinely without spamming or being overly self-promotional, your answers will usually get upvotes and rise to the top. It's an easy and free way to drive traffic to your site over the long term.

5. Let others use your original product images (Precious Little One)

Sam Williamson
Digital Marketing Executive, Precious Little One

(Baby Products)

The best e-commerce growth strategy that scales (take original product images and let others use them). Images of products are generally pretty dull and boring, so many e-commerce companies will take their own images and use them instead on their site. This in itself is a great approach, but it can be even better if you contact people using boring stock product images and allow them to use your original imagery. You can then ask for a link back to the relevant page on your site, which is a great way to improve your organic visibility.

To scale this is very easy, and can be completed using free tools:

Using Google Chrome, right click on a stock product image and click 'search Google for image'. You'll immediately find pages and pages of people using the same boring stock image on their site. All you then need to do is contact the owner of the site and let them know that they can use your image, provided they include an attribution link back to your website. You can contact the webmasters manually, or you can upload their details to a tool like Buzzstream and do it that way too.

6. Build loyalty by giving back to the community (DollarDays)

Marc Joseph
CEO & President, Dollar Days

(Wholesale Goods)

Our sales increased 40% in 2016 and we attribute to what we did below for a good part of that growth.

Every retail and online business needs to build into their plans and then do it all year long, a give back to their community program. When your customers know you are engaged in helping their community, they become more loyal and in some cases feel the obligation to give back themselves, which is a win-win for you, your customers and your community.

Our strongest give back effort is through Facebook, where we have 248,000 followers (no mean feat for a B2B business!). We run promotions where customers can nominate deserving organizations.

To create such a following, we give back to our community with a different giveaway each month. In January it was for nonprofits that support kids. In February it was for volunteers and volunteer organizations. This month it is for places of worship. This gives you a sense of what we have done in the past:

Giving back to your customer base is another way to do social good through cause marketing. We have a program where any of our customers can designate 5% of their purchase dollars to their favorite charity.

We also have created a free wish list program for nonprofits to get what they need as another way we support charitable causes. We set these wish lists sites up for nonprofits at no cost to them.

7. Guest posts for SEO (Moving Blankets)

Dustin Montgomery
Digital Marketing, Moving Blankets

(Moving Blankets)

Our favorite customer acquisition strategy in 2017 is Search Engine Optimization via Guest Post Outreach. This is a strategy that scales well, especially if you are creative and good with content creation. This strategy allows you to build relationships that have potential go beyond just a blog post, and you are actively creating content that helps and informs users. This strategy has potential to hit on several parts of our marketing funnel, but the biggest, of course, is awareness.

Scaling this strategy is best done with more time or people. You can usually hire someone on Upwork and train them in your process. There are tools that can automate parts of the process, but you risk missing out on potential sites and losing the personal touch that can make your outreach most effective.

8. Stellar photos, searchable products and more (Bonanza)

Gwen Schlefer
PR Manager, Bonanza

(Anything But The Ordinary)
  1. Start with a stellar photo: A picture is worth a thousand works. Take professional photos and edit them so that they are visually appealing and clearly highlight the item for sale. There are tons of free tools to help elevate photos to a professional selling level. Gimp has a massive suite of tools to help with all your editing needs and the Background Burner is a powerful tool that removes all background imagery in order to only display the foreground object.

  2. Play nice with Google: One of the best ways to increase traffic to your page is by making your items searchable across the web. Appearing as a result in Google Shopping is a minor way to make a major increase in page views and sales. By selling items through a marketplace, you can choose to have your listings pushed to Google without paying the fees that they charge to individual sellers. At Bonanza, we give sellers the option to opt into our advertising program and expand their audience by the millions of shoppers searching for items on Google. We even provide some tips about how to optimize your item titles for great search results and created a list of why your items would be denied to help our sellers succeed.

  3. Free shipping is king: In the age of Amazon Prime, online shoppers are becoming more and more prone to skip over items that don’t state that shipping is free. Don’t sweat, it doesn’t mean you have to lose money on shipping items, just include shipping cost in the listing price. Here at Bonanza, we find that shoppers will spend up to 30% more on an item with free shipping.

  4. Diversify: With so many platforms that make selling approachable and affordable, there is no reason to limit yourself to one marketplace or even your own website. Sellers who choose multiple platforms such as Shopify, Etsy, eBay, Amazon, and Bonanza, get in front of more buyers and are able to take advantages of the different advantages that each has to offer. Bonanza has so many buyers from other sites that we have even created a bunch of helpful importer tools. Opening a store is streamlined if you already have listings on another platform.

  5. Build a reputation: With so much access to information and reviews, we are constantly relying on each other for advice. Who goes to a restaurant before reading a few reviews on Yelp? (Ok, let’s be honest, we usually pick out what we’re going to eat before we even arrive). Same goes for making purchases online. For many sellers, their brand reputation is determined by the reviews they receive. As consumers, we want to see that other buyers had a positive experience with the seller and they loved the product before sending payment for a purchase. A few ways to increase your positive reviews? Communicate openly with the buyer about any issues, always provide tracking information, personalize your packaging, and don’t be afraid to ask them to leave feedback if you believe they had a positive experience.

  6. Discounts and incentives: Who doesn’t love a deal? Once you have a buyer on your page, using discounts and limited offers is a great way to turn their visit into a sale. Adding a pop-up with a coupon code for first-time buyers or displaying a limited time discount are great ways to create a sense of urgency and encourage a buying decision. (Note: the offers don’t actually have to be limited, but making them appear so encourages the buyer to complete a purchase before leaving the page.

9. Holiday promotions and targeted customer segmentation (LittleLlama)

David Liew
Cofounder, Little Llama

(Children Toys)

Favorite would be to send existing customers a discount code during special occasions such as Christmas, or during new product launches so they feel special for being our customers. I use Metisa to automatically segment my customers so that I can focus in a more targeted manner, with better conversions through discount schemes to recapture at-risk customers. I have also seen success from a time-based coupon pop up when customers land on my store and need a nudge to make their purchase

10. Facebook & Pinterest ads, Instagram influencer giveaways, lifecycle marketing

Adam Mayhugh
Founder, Sojourner Bags


Customer acquisition for an item in our price range is a tough game to play. We continue to work hard to make our advertising profitable, with Facebook and Pinterest ads being top of the heap along with giveaways to Instagram influencers. Our product is largely a 1-time purchase but we do try to re-engage people with the site by using retargeting ads. None of these things are hard. You just have to be willing to put in the time.

If they purchase or sign up for our newsletter we use lifecycle email marketing for an emails sequence that goes out over about 8 weeks (1-2/week) which at periodic points offers discounts if the buyer hasn't repurchased.

Over to you

Have a great customer acquisition or customer retention tip to share? Feel free to leave a comment below!