Happy New Year! Hopefully, you had a blast watching fireworks and that champagne hangover is just a dull throb by now, because well, we’ve got work to do. We hope 2018 was a great year for your business, as it was for us (a very, very special thanks to our partners for making the last year so amazing for Refersion!); and we think 2019 is going to be an amazing year of growth, change, and success for your e-commerce business (and your affiliate marketing). But to put your best foot forward, it’s important to take a step back and lay out a game plan for the year using lessons gleaned from 2018.

According to research compiled by Subscriptionly (via Social Media Today), 2019 will see a 20% growth in e-commerce worldwide. That means there is a larger pie to grab a slice from if you play your cards right. Let’s dive into the steps you can take with your business to position yourself for big wins in the new year.

Do a SWOT Analysis

A comprehensive and high-level way to audit your 2018 is to perform a SWOT analysis across your entire business. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Whether you brainstorm on these four topics with your management team or company as a whole, a rigorous SWOT analysis can not only get your team on the same page but also help create a roadmap for the new year.

Brainstorm all you want, but there is a fine line in conducting a productive SWOT analysis and pure navel-gazing. Keep these tips in mind to stay on course:

  • Limit the items on each of the four sections to at most 5, and ideally 3. The best businesses always keep things simple, and keeping each section laser-focused can help your company move in the same direction. For example, if you can whittle down to your 3 top strengths, your Marketing team can craft easy to understand narratives and stories around them. If you have 10+ strengths, that’s great… but good luck converting that into a simple message for your audience.
  • Try to be as tangible as possible. Meaning, a weakness like “brand isn’t as strong as competitors” isn’t nearly as good as a concrete weakness such as “our prices are 15% more than our competitors,” or “our Instagram follower number is 50% less than competitors.” The more precise you can be, the more actionable these revelations will be.
  • Get an outside perspective. While the leaders of your company need to be heavily involved in a SWOT analysis, it’s important to get the input of lower-level employees as well as people outside your office walls. In this case, affiliate reps can be a great resource to ask for opinions; they’re tangentially involved, but still maintain an outside perspective. They might see strengths or weaknesses you may not have even considered due to their unique vantage point.

Gather Affiliate Satisfaction Feedback

While we’re checking in with our affiliates for that SWOT analysis, if you haven’t done it at the end of last year, now is a great time to see how satisfied they are with your partnership.

Remember, poor communication with affiliates is the number one failure point that we see when it comes to merchants who stumble with their campaigns. Time and time again, profitable partnerships are hurt or lost because business owners are too busy or too negligent to pick up the phone and ask how they’re doing.

Here’s a good place to start. Ask each of your reps this one simple question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, would you recommend our affiliate program to another person?

If you’re scoring 8, 9, 10; you don’t have too much to worry about. Just be sure to show them some appreciation for their hard work over 2018. If you’re scoring 7s and under, you’ve got some work to do. Don’t know why you’re scoring low? Exactly the problem. Better communication is needed between you and your reps so their satisfaction is always high.

Resolve to communicate with them more via phone, Skype, email, Slack, whatever it takes.

Update your Website (for Speed)

According to Unbounce, 2019 is going to be the “year of page speed.” In 2018, the average load time of a page was just over 15 seconds, which is pretty much an eternity in today’s mobile-first internet traffic. Check out this chart from Think with Google:

15 seconds is still off the charts! So while your business will probably be updating your website in various ways (eg. blog content, new product pages, flashier homepage, etc), you will definitely want to put a heavy emphasis on page load times across the board. Why? Because Google will be putting a heavy emphasis on it in 2019, according to Unbounce, and that could hurt the rank of your website on Google’s results pages.

There are many, many articles online on the topic of speeding up your website’s load times. Remember to maintain a mobile-first strategy that will inform your optimizations moving forward.

Clear Out Inventory

As we wrote about previously, “holiday shopping” has now extended well into January. From bargain hunters to those looking to redeem gift cards and store credit, to savvy refurbished/returned discount shoppers; the shadow of Black Friday grows longer and longer every new calendar year.

Now’s the time to shore up your clearance section on your e-commerce store and sell off the remaining items for 2018. Not only should you deeply discount overstocked inventory to move, you should also have a process to quickly receive, test, repackage, and list returned items that are incoming from the gift giving season we just experienced.

Some tips on moving old inventory:

  • Take new photos. Instead of pushing the same look on your product page that you’ve been pushing all of 2018, take new pictures of old stock to give them a “fresh coat of digital paint.” This will get even seasoned customers to give them a second look, and give you new photos to use on your social media.
  • Move these items to a new product page. Were these older items ever listed on your Clearance section? If they were, how about your Flash Sale section? Moving them to a new area on your website can lead to new traffic and a higher profile.
  • Bundle them. Utilize bundles to entice shoppers to pounce on new deals for old products. Bundle them with similar items. Bundle them with newer 2019 items. Bundle them as an add-on for a low cost at check out.

More Social. Always More Social.

We’ve got to admit, even we were surprised at just how huge of an influence social media had on 2018. It seemed to have permeated every aspect of life from politics to traditional media to, of course, business and e-commerce. And despite the constant threats that Facebook is dying or Snapchat is yesterday’s news, 2019 will be chugging right along with more and more social media impacting your traffic, revenue, and profits.

In essence, a few years ago many SMBs treated social media as a “nice to have,” something that they’d get to when they had extra time. More recently, businesses have taken social media more seriously, to the point where it’s a “necessity,” and an important piece of the Marketing initiative. Now? It’s “vital,” if not downright “social-first.” Brands now live and die by their social media influence, and that’s trickling down to smaller brands with any ambition of competing on the internet.

To this end, take a good look this January at your holistic social media strategy. Sure you might have a handle on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. But what about Twitch, Discord, and TikTok? Sure you can do beautiful pictures, but what about video? Because 2019 will be all about video content on social channels, to the tune of over 45 minutes of a person’s daily internet time. Now is the time to plan your attack on how to leverage social media in the next 12 months.

What do you have planned to accomplish first thing in 2019?