Launching virtual products, events, and services is an innovative way to strengthen your brand offering and engage your customers. Virtual products include e-gift cards, subscriptions, online events, and more. How you utilize these products will vary depending on your industry and the interests of your customer base, but this article will touch upon general best practices and tips.
In this guide, you will learn how to expand your product base to reach new markets and allow your brand to flourish in the ever-changing ecommerce space.
One way to connect customers with virtual products is through e-gift cards. Gift cards are great products to sell for several reasons:
- They streamline the shopping experience for customers who want to purchase a gift for someone else but do not know the exact right product to give
- They encourage future purchases
- They are a great option for shoppers who need to give a gift in less time than it will take your physical products to be delivered
If you are launching a gift card program, or are urging gift card purchases for specific reasons (company event, holidays, sales, etc.), consider incentivizing purchases with special deals. For example, the form below encourages customers to buy an e-gift card, and in doing so they will get $10 off their next purchase.
This urges customers to buy an e-gift card now, directly on your website for a friend or relative, and also shop for themselves later. The cardholder may even spend more than the allotted amount on the gift card and become a valued customer; in this way, gift cards can become an acquisition tool used to drive new customers to your website. The gift-giver will likely return to utilize your discount and maintain their brand loyalty.
If you do not currently have a subscription service and want to branch out, let’s dive into how to do so. Subscriptions don’t have to be your main offering; rather, you can choose to extend a subscription service to a segment of your customers or launch a limited-time only program. Through subscriptions, your brand will become a reliable facet of your customers’ lives and nurture your brand community.
For example, if you run a small business in the food industry, you may launch a subscription for recipes and/or meal prep kits. Meanwhile, if you have a beauty brand, your subscriptions may pertain to DIY lotions, makeup tutorials, seasonal makeup palettes, or a bath kit.
When launching a subscription service, you don’t have to abandon your main product offering or mission. In contrast, aim to have the two offerings complement each other. If you would like to test the success of a subscription service before launching it to your entire customer base, consider offering subscriptions to a small segment of your subscribers, or through only one communication channel. In the example below, this online bookstore extends a limited-time book subscription offer to SMS subscribers. Afterward, the store can reach out and ask for participant feedback and monitor the results of their subscription campaign, similar to a beta program.
Over the course of the subscription, monitor your metrics (placed orders, open/click rates, retention of subscription customers, etc.) to see if this is right for you and your business. Subscriptions allow you to get creative, so consider what your customers would like to receive on a regular basis.
Online events are another tool to add to your virtual toolkit. There are various third-party platforms, some of which are free, that allow you to connect with others online through video and conferencing.
Some popular video platforms include:
These video platforms enable you to run a host of different virtual events/programs. Three potential options are online classes, digital events, and 1:1 meetings.
- Online Classes
Online classes are a great way to not only connect with your loyal brand following, but also teach customers about your mission and craft. The subject matter may include online cooking, sewing tutorials, gym workouts, gardening sessions, or woodworking— it really depends on what your brand’s focus is. The possibilities are endless, so brainstorm ways to connect with your customers via virtual education. Consider reaching out and asking them directly what they’re most interested in.
- Digital Events
There are several reasons for starting a digital event series. Perhaps your company wants to host events open to anyone, but cost inhibits in-person gatherings. Maybe you had an event planned, but unforeseen circumstances risk cancellations. In either case, digital events are extremely useful.
Your digital event may be a conference around your product to help customers maximize their success. It may also be a concert, performance, or presentation. For example, if you sell herbal teas, you may launch a digital event series discussing how various herbs boost the immune system. Digital events allow you to host a gathering of your engaged customers in a way that they can connect with you, but also one another. Again, match your event type with the needs of your brand to optimize its value for customers.
- Virtual 1:1s
1:1 virtual meetings are also helpful for connecting you to your customers, particularly if that relationship provides the backbone for your business. For example, skin or healthcare consultants may look toward online consultations as a great option if a customer is based far away or they are unable to make an appointment. This can apply to retail as well if you decide to host online style consultations. Virtual meetings enable you to directly connect with individual customers even if you don’t have an in-store presence.
Another way to launch a virtual product inventory is to create downloadable content. Online downloads are a great way to take advantage of the ease and speed of the internet while still producing content unique to your brand that a customer can directly interact with. Some examples of downloadable content include:
- Music Industry
Artists can offer songs, albums, playlists, or video recordings of their performances for download.
- Arts & Crafts Industry
An online art studio may craft a digital coloring book, convert it to a PDF, and offer it as a purchasable download.
- Outdoor Industry
Businesses that sell outdoor gear (e.g., garden supplies, sports/fishing/hiking gear, lawnmowers, etc.) may create a calendar available for download. The content within the calendar can inform customers of key dates for planting or using your products for their specific outdoor use-case, as well as showcase marketing materials in the graphics associated with each month.
- Food/Beverage Industry
Ecommerce businesses pertaining to food and beverage may benefit from creating downloadable cookbooks, mixology suggestions, or individual recipes for subscribers.
- Fashion Industry
Ecommerce fashion brands may create downloadable patterns for sewing simple DIYs. You could have online tutorials to go with sewing patches, creating custom jewelry, or even simple designs for items like masks or scarves. You could then sell the material that goes with these tutorials.
The form below shows how you can market an online download, such as a digital coloring book, to those browsing your website. The button link will take them directly to where they can purchase this item.
Essentially, the type of download you generate will depend on the type of business you own and your means of creating it.
Create a Mystery Box or Item
Another idea to consider is to incentivize purchases with added suspense — such as by offering a mystery item or set of items for purchase. Let your creativity shine and connect your brand community with a product that they may not have known they wanted.
If you run a brick and mortar store alongside your ecommerce site and have been sitting on inventory, this is a great way to use items that are left on the shelf. If you are entirely online on the other hand and don't have easy access to your new inventory, this can be helpful to provide options that are fresh and exciting for customers even if they aren’t a part of your newest collection. Creating a mystery box with products on hand that excite and surprise will allow your business to sell excess inventory and support growth for your business. It also allows you to nurture your relationships with your customers by providing supporting communication at each stage of their adventure. These items could be virtual (downloads, subscriptions, etc.) or physical products that are delivered to a customer’s doorstep.
When using inventory featured in-store or online, create a segment of customers who purchased these products already. Then, exclude this segment from any messages pertaining to this mystery item to prevent someone from receiving an item they already have.
In the example below, a “mystery box” is advertised to customers on a product page when they attempt to exit the page. To do this, target by URL (and link the product page of your site) and edit the time delay to appear when a customer indicates that they are leaving the page. This will draw customer attention to another purchasing offer, and hopefully, entice them into converting with the added suspense.
Online Donations or Gift Purchases
Another virtual offering is the ability for customers to purchase for someone else or for a cause that your brand is passionate about. This could be an item or service sent to a friend, or a donation to the local community.
Let’s say you run an ecommerce gardening store and want to give back to your local community. You can kick-start a campaign that targets local customers and asks them to buy seeds to plant a tree in the community. Alternatively, in times of crisis, you may want purchases to act as donations toward that specific cause that your brand is passionate about.
If you are aiming to attract certain communities affected by an event or who would be attracted to donate to a local service, create a segment of customers in that specific region. For example, if you are based in New York, create a segment of customers based in New York City.
Then, create a campaign aimed at attracting New Yorkers to donate to your cause. When sending your campaign email or SMS, you will only send to your New York segment.
Alternatively, you can offer the option to buy a product to be mailed to a friend, or if it is an online gift, via email that they can forward straight to another inbox. This can be particularly handy during the holiday season, and/or you can market it as a fast and simple birthday idea for your subscribers.
New Distribution Framework
Demand for products, shopping behavior, and fulfillment options have evolved in the midst of COVID-19. For example, you may be seeing dramatic increases in sales or delays in shipping. These are especially pressing if you recently converted a brick-and-mortar location to an ecommerce store. That being said, there are ways to overcome these new challenges and grow during this uncertain time.
Two ways to alleviate this strain is through:
- Curbside pickup
- Increased fulfillment centers
With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, curbside pickup allows customers to shop from your store while still feeling safe. This will also lessen the strain of delivery costs or delays on your business. If you decide to implement curbside pickup, be sure to inform customers via forms on your ecommerce site, in SMS or email campaigns, and on social media.
Increased Fulfillment Centers
If you closed a brick-and-mortar location for the time being but have seen a substantial increase in online orders, you can temporarily convert in-person stores into fulfillment centers. You will have more space to sort, store, and manage inventory before it ships to your customers. However, be transparent with your customers about any delays, items out of stock, or changes to the buying process during this time.
There is no better way to incorporate customer feedback into your product offering than to ask them directly. Reach out to subscribers via email, SMS, signup forms, or social media and inquire about what they want to see as an online product offering. If your sales and/or inventory are down, this is a great way to see what customers may be looking for but have not yet found from your brand.
Look to engage your brand enthusiasts by asking for their opinions, especially if you have a VIP program that you can source for new ideas to launch in your brand community. Consider adding an email to your VIP flow to do so. You flow email may look something like this:
Find out what content your VIP customers find most interesting or what your company can do to better connect with your audience. Perhaps your subscribers want an interactive forum or a music playlist for the brand community. Alternatively, they may seek a specific flavor, style, color, etc. of your product that you have not yet realized was missing from your store.
You can collect customer recommendations and preferences in various owned channels, such as through signup forms and email. Head to our articles on embedding a form to your order confirmation page or using buttons to collect information in emails for inspiration.
Customer feedback is key when you are expanding your brand’s product offering. Once you know exactly what to focus on when generating content and products, your open rates and conversions will rise as a result.