The ABC's of e-commerce

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Traditional business practices built around print, direct mail, subscriptions and advertising are evolving into a multi-channel, multi-platform model focused around digital delivery and, increasingly, e-commerce. How are you leveraging this shift to increase revenue?

The publishing model has not changed much over the years; it is still about targeting your audience and creating value-added content.  The key difference between traditional print models and newer digital models is that publishers now have more and varied tools for identifying and evaluating customer preferences, and associating products and services with those preferences. 

Delivering relevant content or services in the format, context or moment at which they are most valued has proved to improve sales, lead generation, click-throughs, engagement and other performance goals.

How do you apply these tools to build an effective e-commerce offering? Getting started is as easy as A-B-C:

  • Assess your current state
  • Build your strategy
  • Create your goals

Assess your current state

The initial step in creating a solid e-commerce foundation is to identify the state of your online enterprise and ask yourself these questions:

1. What are you selling?

  • How can you present your offerings differently?
  • How can you add value that warrants a premium price?
  • Can you change your free print products for paid online consumption?
  • What new products can you offer?
  • Where do your e-consumers’ interests lie in relation to your products?
  • Who else is selling these types of products and how?

2. Where is the money?

  • What is your audience buying?
  • Can you increase your average revenue per reader (ARPR)?
  • How do consumers or business professionals relate to your products?
  • What are your online assets—beyond subscriptions?
  • Can you offer original products for a different price?
  • Where do new products fit into your pricing tier?

3. Who is your market?

  • What can you learn about your audience—beyond their contact info?
  • What are their interests?
  • Why are they interested in your business?
  • How do they use your content?
  • How do they navigate the web?
  • Can your markets/readers be segmented differently?

Make sure you are focused on the high-level strategies that emerge from your answers: They should inform all decision-making with respect to revenue generation.

Build your strategy

Real value (and thus revenue) comes from knowledge – information that is categorized, reliable and presented in context. Your users and readers want value for the time and money they are investing in your website. The creation of that value is a direct reflection of where you choose to allocate your resources.

A good strategy directs that resource allocation and is a fundamental building block to achieving any objective (which should be specific and quantifiable). 

In e-commerce, the objective is readily apparent:  to make more money online.  The good news is that this is very specific and highly measurable – all you need to do is appropriately direct your available resources.

Four strategic pillars form the base of an effective content/e-commerce strategy:

  • Relate. The key to driving more revenue is to present a full range of resources – articles, guides, newsletters, conferences, events, research, books, etc. – relevant to each reader at the right time.
  • Contextualize. The introduction of context-aware e-commerce opportunities will provide you the most direct lift to your bottom line.  Context isany information about a customer – from behavior as simple as the article they are reading, to data about the customer: e-newsletter subscriptions, products purchased, pages visited, social media sharing, etc., which may be used by an e-commerce system to provide products and services of value to each customer.
  • Deliver. You want to provide knowledge wherever you can. Data is widely available, information (the organization of that data) is less so, but real value (and thus revenue) comes from knowledge – information that is categorized, reliable and presented in context.
  • Listen. It is important to understand that your customers must drive your context.  Listen to them by paying attention to site metrics, comments, click streaming, questions, tweets, email and e-newsletter opens, sales trends and other cues.

Processing your decision-making through the filter of these four pillars is a very effective way to cut through the daily noise and focus on the things that truly drive outcomes.

Create your goals

With the four strategic pillars firmly in place, the next step is to look at the specific e-commerce goals of each of your main internal disciplines or departments.  This process works in large multi-platform media conglomerates as well as with a small publisher who wears many hats.

By definition, goals are the long-term aims that define the accomplishment of your mission.  The most effective goals are established for every aspect of your business, to help you sell more, more effectively. 

The object is to simply align each discipline with the four strategic pillars, and marry those to your individual goals.  This is different for everyone, but consider these typical elements as a representative sample, with their associated metrics for success:

Editorial Processes

  • Enhance search engine optimization (SEO) to increase presence
  • Improve customer communication/dialog
  • Streamline and automate – do more without adding staff
  • Introduce phased, focused efforts and controlled growth

Circulation & Fulfillment

  • Reduce churn to improve revenue and renewal stability and predictability
  • Create new products/new segmentation/new markets
  • Reduce acquisition costs
  • Grow audience

Marketing & Sales

  • Increase ad rates
  • Introduce new ad & sponsor models
  • Jumpstart page views
  • Amplify brand awareness
  • Engage site visitors
  • Direct revenue growth

Once you’ve assessed your capabilities and have staked out your definitions of success, it’s time to focus on the basic blocking and tackling necessary to get there. These e-commerce tactics are a topic for a future column.


Thomas Chaffee is CEO of ePublishing, a leading SaaS CMS provider helping publishers and media companies make more money online. 

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