Hope Channel Store Sales Strategies
- Five pertinent online Christian retailers include Christianbook.com, Lifeway, Family Christian, CBN, and Christian Apparel Shop.
- Omni-channel digital marketing will assist with an increase of traffic to an online retailer's website and reach a wider customer base.
- All five Christian online retailers offer Christian related gifts, and most focus primarily on books.
Five online Christian retailers are profiled below, highlighting their website theme, messaging, and color, as well as the location and content of their menus. In addition, a section details the parts of an effective digital marketing strategy to increase website visits, views, and sales. Benchmarks for general online marketing strategies are included as applicable to websites and online marketplaces focused on similar products to the Christian product stores.
- Christianbook, formerly known as Christian Book Distributors, began in 1978 and now employs over 600 people while stocking approximately 500,000 Christian products in a 370,000-square-foot facility in Peabody, Massachusetts. The online Christian retailer offers a wide-array of products aside from its main focus, books, including gifts, bible accessories, toys, music, software, church supplies, and crafts. Books and time-of-year gifts are featured, currently graduation gifts.
- At the top of their homepage reads "Everything Christian for less!" In addition, the homepage highlights an author and provides an opportunity to donate to a charity.
- The main coloring of the homepage is a soft-gray background and a warm blue highlighting the online cart. At the top of the store section are the product menus, each containing a drop-down menu with more than a dozen sub-categories. Scrolling down below the initial categories finds additional highlighted sections: This Week's Specials, Featured Stores, Graduation Gifts, Featured Author, Did You Know We Carry?, and Best Sellers.
- The bottom of the page contains a large menu with categories including account, shipping & returns, services, catalog, community, about us, help, and shops.
- Overall, the website looks like a basic online marketplace, nothing fancy and rather muted in color.
- On the review site Trust Pilot, the Christianbook.com website does not receive very good ratings. Comments are frequent about poor customer service and shipping. 55% of the 31 reviews are rated either poor or bad.
- Lifeway.com is Nashville based Lifeway Christian Resources' online retail e-commerce website. Lifeway Christian Resources is the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The homepage of Lifeway.com contains 7 main drop-down menus: Bibles, Bible studies, books, digital media, ministries, camps & events, and for churches, each containing several sub-menus with dozens of categories. The website's main focus is on books, bibles, and ministry literature.
- The website's messaging includes "equip every ministry" and "disciple everyone". It also contains a reminder or a message, "remember what unites", to be careful when administering communion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Menus on the homepage are located at the top of the online store section and are simple drop-down menus. The website background color is basic white, but the initial scroll-down screens include colorful pictures related to ministries.
- The website recently went through a visual transition: "As you browse through lifeway.com, we hope you notice and enjoy the changes—specifically a new logo, fresh colors and styles, and above all, design improvements both visible and under the hood to provide you with a better shopping experience. Many more changes and improvements will be introduced throughout the year so we hope you will check back often!" Specifically, the new webpage changes include depictions of the cross, a person, a folded paper, a computer, and the pixel-shaped dot, which represents digital experiences.
- The stated goal of these changes, "Your ministry is still our No. 1 priority. As new changes appear in 2021, know that our goal with each update is to help you find the right tools faster so that you can spend more time doing what matters most."
- In March 2019, the company announced it would close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar retail stores and move everything online. The company stated, "Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels", citing increased costs as its main reason for the move online.
- The non-profit and its online e-commerce website received 4.4 out of 5 stars based on 27 reviews.
- The Family Christian website is powered by Christianbook.com. Their website explains, "Giving Company is working with respected online retailer Christian Book Distributors (Christianbook, LLC) to provide shoppers the ability to easily purchase Christian items from FamilyChristian.com website. Your purchase, shipping and customer service are all handled by Christian Book Distributors, a trusted retailer for many years. FamilyChristian.com is part of Giving Company, a nonprofit global faith and family media network on a mission to serve underprivileged and marginalized women and children around the world."
- The online retailer offers bibles, books, entertainment such as Christian media, fashion, gifts, home decor, and items for kids. Books are prominently displayed on the website's homepage.
- There is no prominent messaging displayed on the homepage.
- The homepage is very basic, with white as its background and simple fonts used for words. The 8 main menus are listed at the top of the page, with only 3 having limited drop-down menus. However, the page does contain an advanced search function. The homepage is very similar to the Christianbook.com website.
- Jacksonville, Florida based Christian Apparel Shop offers men's and women's t-shirts, headwear, jewelry, gifts, wallets, dog tags, and fashion accessories. Each category is prominently displayed at the top of the website's homepage.
- The main messaging of their homepage is "Christian t-shirts can change a life".
- The website displays 6 main menus at the top of the page that take the user to the dedicated sub-pages: new arrivals, Christian t-shirts, Christian jewelry, Christian headwear, gifts/accessories, and sale. The very top of the homepage is modern looking and contains links to customer service, my account, sign-in, cart, and the company's social media pages: Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.
- While the background color is white, the homepage is full of pictures and colors, giving a modern marketplace feel and look.
- The bottom of the page details why Christian t-shirts are important, and it contains a standard site listing of menus, which includes a link to dozens of customer reviews (all positive of course).
- The Redfin Group assisted Christian Apparel Shop with a website redesign in 2014. Redfin explains how they did a "modern overhaul of Christian Apparel’s website, including updated merchandise images, a new logo, and more standardized brand assets. All this effort came together to create a contemporary storefront and more state-of-the-art functionality." The redesign was targeted towards the brand's customer base, 30 to 40 year old women, resulting in "a color palette and typography that set a spiritual, cool, elegant, and youthful tone. The logo was designed to embody that tone, with an elegant script and a subtle ichthys (“Jesus fish”) to resonate with their Christian customers."
- The impact of the redesign resulted in a 31% increase in website conversion, 46% increase in overall views, and an increase of 230% in product sharing on social media.
Christian Broadcasting Network (ShopCBN)
- ShopCBN is the Christian Broadcasting Network's online retailer. Their online retail website offers items for kids, books, DVDs, CDs, and gifts. Items for kids are featured, as are books. CBN is the second largest religious network in the United States.
- There is no prominent messaging displayed on the homepage.
- The layout of the website is very basic, not very detailed, and is primarily set up for books.
- Basic requirements for an online Christian retail store include "pictures, short descriptions, cost of items, shipping and return policies, payment options and order forms. An About Us page, helpful hints page or articles about Christian gifts help increase sales and build customer trust." In addition, the online marketplace should be advertised in online business directories, online forums that cater to the target demographic, and using pay-per-click advertising on Christian related websites.
- According to Career Trends, links on the website should include customer service and contact information, which help to promote good customer service aspects. They also suggest offering new digital payment methods through digital banks such as PayPal. The inventory of products should be presented in an easily understandable method and make the user experience an enjoyable yet unique one.
- Christian Retail lists customer service and cross-merchandising are important aspects to Christian retailing. While the basis of the article is geared toward physical stores, the basis remains the same for online marketplaces. As seen with some reviews earlier in this report, customers are not hesitant to leave negative reviews concerning customer support or service. Making the online marketplace as user-friendly and including a visible link to connect with customer support are important features of the retail website. In addition, marketing unique and popular items across platforms (digital cross-merchandising) is equally important.
- Several Christian website design and hosting companies offer their services for the Christian community. Among the more prevalent are Exodus Design, Christian Internet Design, Truepath, and NetMinistry.
- Exodus Design offers Christian web design packages that include search engine optimization (SEO), coordination between the website's design, logos, and color themes and social media pages, and training for continual updates to the website to ensure a contemporary look.
- CI Design specializes in serving the Christian community through services including web design, graphic design, cross-platform coordination of themes, tones, colors, and products, SEO, online marketing campaigns, and maintenance services. Their profile page shows designs performed for dozens of Christian based entities.
- Truepath primarily specializes in web hosting, as well they offer existing website conversion to their platform. They offer website design templates and lean towards self-content.
- NetMinistry offers the NetMinistry Web Presence Platform, which they claim "is the the most comprehensive web presence and marketing management platform for churches, ministries, and Christian businesses in the world." In addition, they have been serving the Christian community with through their platform, providing a suite of content management, relationship management, and e-commerce management tools. They state, "NetMinistry Web Presence Platform is an online suite of website, people, and money management tools that are fully supported by a team of experts in the dynamics of churches, ministries, and Christian businesses." Part of their comprehensive offerings is marketing design and implementation, which is constructed "to attract visitors to websites and extend influence across the internet".
General Online Benchmarks for Online Marketing Strategies
- Benchmarks and online marketing strategies include targeting only the prospects most likely to purchase a specific product. Experts recommend tailoring marketing to a specific target market, similar to how the Christian Apparel Shop has done. This can include social media.
- Digital marketing, whether for the Christian community or other retailers, provides a comprehensive, start-to-finish view of many important metrics including impressions, shares, views, clicks, and time on page by using digital analytics software, making it one of the biggest benefits of digital marketing.
- According to the Aberdeen Group, "companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve a 20% annual growth rate, compared to a 4% decline in revenue for companies with poor alignment", meaning an improvement to the customer's' journey through the buying cycle by using digital is likely to result in an increase in a company's performance.
- Clearly defined digital value proposition allows for online marketing strategies to be tailored to specific target market, which should include omnichannel approaches by using social media and other targeted advertising.
For this research on online Christian retail stores, we leveraged the most reputable sources of information that were available in the public domain, including both Christian specific industry sources and general marketing experts.