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What is Ecommerce?

Image of ecommerce shopping cart on multiple devices

Ecommerce refers to the sales or purchase of goods or services online. Put simply, if you buy or sell anything using the internet, you’re engaging in ecommerce.

If you own a small business and are wondering “What is ecommerce?” there’s never been a better time to jump in. Ecommerce is claiming an increasingly large share of business, offering opportunities for companies of all sizes to expand their customer reach far beyond what was previously possible. More than just a new way of doing business, ecommerce is a major force that is transforming the retail landscape.

The Current Retail Landscape

Many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling. As interest rates and rents rise, doing business the old-fashioned way no longer makes much financial sense. In the first few months of 2019 alone, retailers in the U.S. announced that 5,994 stores will close—more than the total for all of 2018, according to a recent report from Coresight Research.

And these aren’t small, mom-and-pop brands, but long-standing retail powerhouses like Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Payless ShoeSource, and JCPenney.

Ecommerce, however, has grown aggressively over the last several years—23% year over year, according to BigCommerce. So it’s not that people aren’t shopping, it’s that they are shopping in a new way. And this is not necessarily bad news for brick-and-mortar stores.

Some savvy retailers have opened their own ecommerce channels to complement their in-store experience, giving customers the convenience of ordering products online and picking them up in the store—a benefit that online-only retailers can’t match.

Across the retail spectrum, ecommerce has been a force whose momentum has transformed the way the world buys and sells. And if you’re a retailer, large or small, success today means meeting your customers where they are—on the internet.

Three Ecommerce Rules to Live By

Doing business online successfully requires a solid foundation based on proven industry guidelines. Here are a few to keep in mind.

Find the right ecommerce platform.

Your ecommerce platform is the software or service on which you’ll build your online storefront. The platform usually includes features such as a shopping cart, payment gateway integrations, order management, security, and much more.

There are many platforms available to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you evaluate the platforms thoroughly and determine how each platform can support your vision for how you want to grow your business. Even small differences in features and performance can have a big impact on your bottom line. Ecommerce CEO offers a variety of free comparison guides.

Always put the customer first.

This is important in any business endeavor, but even more so when it comes to ecommerce. Instead of trying to fit customers into your existing model, think about the shopping and buying experience from their point of view. Online shopping is all about the user experience.

Use your leap into ecommerce as an opportunity to rethink your processes and strategies. Make shopping and buying fast and easy, and your customers will keep coming back to you.

Don’t rest on your laurels.

Things move slowly in a brick-and-mortar world. In ecommerce, the atmosphere is dynamic and ever-changing, and businesses can be much more agile. Even if success comes fast, it may not last. A competitor may sneak up on you and do things faster, cheaper, or more creatively.

You need to be constantly thinking about how to improve your processes and customer satisfaction. Ask yourself, “What is ecommerce competition doing to beat me?”

Even Amazon, one of the most successful ecommerce companies in the world, works continually with its data to evaluate all of its processes in the pursuit of improvement.

Key Ecommerce Tactics

In the midst of all this change, the bottom line remains the same: You need to connect with your customers, and you need to persuade them to make a purchase. In the new world of ecommerce, these simple imperatives look a little different than they did in traditional sales. But with a little insider information, you stand a much better chance of having your ecommerce efforts succeed.


What is ecommerce marketing? It’s critical to the success of your business. Essentially, there’s a lot of noise out there. Even if you have the best product in the world, if you can’t rise above the clamor, you won’t sell. Here are a few ways to get the word out about your product or service:

  • Use automated email campaigns to stay in contact with your customers, send them helpful information, and promote new products.
  • Try a social media campaign to reach new audiences and improve your visibility.
  • Employ personalization strategies such as addressing customers by name or sharing videos and images about your company or your products.
  • Consider starting a loyalty program that rewards your returning customers.

Many online retailers are successfully using these strategies. For example, LUSH Cosmetics creates videos that take their followers inside their factories, showing them how their products are made and interviewing team members. Audiences learn more about their products’ ingredients, benefits, and usage.

Image of Lush's ecommerce website featuring videos showing how their products are made.
Lush uses multimedia content, like videos, to give their customers a behind-the-scenes look at how they make their products.

The North Face incentivizes members to earn rewards by offering flexibility in how they’re redeemed. Customers earn points on every purchase or by attending The North Face events, checking in at certain locations, or downloading The North Face app. The rewards are then tailored to match the customer’s lifestyle, which helps build a strong connection between the consumer and the brand.

Image of The North Face's ecommerce website showing information about their customer rewards program.
The North Face empowers customers enrolled in their loyalty program to choose how to use their rewards points.


Converting your visitors to buyers is the ultimate goal whether you are selling in a store or online—but conversion in ecommerce has some particular challenges. In a physical store, if your customer wants a product, they must commit before they leave the store.

But an online shopper can place something in their cart and then walk away—to make dinner, walk the dog, clean the house—and maybe return later to make their purchase.

Fortunately, there are several online resources to help retailers improve conversion rates and avoid abandoned shopping carts. For example, Old Navy sends regular reminder emails to customers who leave items in their shopping carts, and it will often add an incentive, like free shipping or a discount, to entice customers to finalize their purchase.

Making Your Move

Ecommerce is here to stay. Ecommerce sales are expected to climb from 9% of all retail sales in the U.S. to 12.4% in 2020, according to Statista. As the retail sector continues to evolve, ecommerce will be the channel most people use to purchase all types of goods and services.

The window of opportunity is wide open for small businesses. Is it time for you to make the leap? For more about ecommerce and the latest AddThis free ecommerce tools, visit

Last modified:  July 15th, 2019