8 Tips to Select a Payment Processor for Your Online Store

8 Tips to Select a Payment Processor for Your Online Store
Setting up a business these days does not require nearly as much legwork as it did just five years ago. Even a blog or a plain website can be transformed into a full blown commercial site, capable of handling e-commerce transactions with a simple shopping cart plugin like ShopIntegrator. However, that’s the easy part.

To a layman payment happens in either cash or on-cash modes. In cash payments mode, you need to have physical outlets that can collect payments before releasing the items purchased. In a non-cash system, users swipe credit or debit cards on your site to transfer cash from their bank accounts to yours. Alternately, they pay via a service like PayPal where no cash changes hands, no cards are swiped, instead the user’s bank account is charged for a product they bought and transferred into PayPal’s account. Till the product gets delivered to the buyer, the amount does not get transferred to your bank account.

By and large, e-commerce stores in the developed world, only accept non-cash payments. Even after you pick your e-commerce template or shopping cart plugin, you still need to make one final choice before the money can start rolling in – choosing your payments processor. Here we shall go a little further in depth on how to pick the perfect payment processing service for your new store.

Processing an Online Payment

A non-cash payment online requires three basic entities to be processed.

a. The payment gateway
b. The payment processors
c. The merchant accounts

The payment gateway is like a fact checker that sits between your site and the customer. It verifies the authenticity of a user’s payment method and allows the transaction to proceed.

The payment processor does the actual transfer of money from the user’s account into the merchant account.

The merchant account holds cash that is transferred from the user’s account before it is moved into your bank account.

Typically, payment processors and merchant accounts come bundled together, while payment gateways are separate. However, lately there has been the emergence of three-in-one accounts that bundle all three entities into a single consolidated service. Services like Stripe or PayPal are examples of consolidated payment services. However, this convenience comes at a cost. These consolidated payment services typically charge the merchant a much higher per transaction fee, which can add up to a lot once you outgrow your startup status and start having some real good transaction volumes.

Once your business starts growing bigger and bigger in terms of revenues and transaction volume, it makes financial sense to switch to having your own merchant account and payment processor combination separate from the payment gateway.

Considerations While Selecting a Payment Processor

So you decided to go the route of a separate payment processor and merchant account to save some much needed extra cash. But what do you look for in a good payment processor before you make the final call? Here are the key factors that you ought to consider.

1. Security

With the spate of data breaches that online retailers have suffered in the last couple of years, your number one concern while picking a payment processor has to be security.

a. Data encryption is a basic must have for a payment processor, where user data is encrypted into uncrackable codes before it is transferred from one party to the other.
b. PCI Standards compliance or Payment Card Industry Security Standards compliance is a must have to be able to compete effectively in the modern e-commerce space.
c. Verisign SSL certificate tells you that the payment processor offers your users SSL security for payment transactions. In other words, payments sent over an SSL connection are doubly secure than regular connections.
d. Address Verification – Payment processors ask for billing address for a credit or debit card from a user to verify it against the actual billing address listed against said card. This minimizes the risk of fraudulent transactions and protects user data.
e. CVV2 verification refers to the three digits that appear alongside the signature panel at the back of a credit or debit card. Asking for this number ensures that the user actually has physically with him / her and is not misusing a credit card number found accidentally on a credit card statement or other such correspondence.
f. Reputation – Finally, check for the reputation of a payment processor before you commit to one. A quick online search with keywords like ‘data breach’ or ‘security lapse’ accompanied by the payment processor’s name will give you a wealth of information about whichever processor you may be considering.

2. User Friendliness

When a user is mid-transaction on your website, even a small hitch in payments or page load time or even unexpected shipping charges is enough to scare them away into abandoning the cart altogether. Hence, the best e-commerce sites seek to minimize friction in a user’s experience, especially in the checkout stage. Having a payment processor that handles the transaction as smoothly as possible plays a huge role in ensuring that the user experience remains exemplary.

a. Onsite vs. offsite processing – When payment data is collected and processed in a single flow without the user ever having to leave your website, you have onsite seamless processing. While this may be great from a UX perspective, it puts the liability of data security, firewalls and more squarely on your shoulders.

The other option is offsite processing, where the user is taken to the payment processor’s site and any financial data is handled directly by the payment processor, thus vastly reducing liability on you as a website owner. The other benefit of offsite processing is the fact that users are usually familiar with processing companies like PayPal and trust them implicitly. So even if you are a new startup, by offering processors that are reputed and trusted, you earn some of that user faith by association.

Incidentally, ShopIntegrator offers offsite processing to ensure peace of mind for all its users.

b. Analytics – Many payment processors offer customer data to the websites that they service. Detailed analytics like purchase frequency, average order value and more can be available without you running a single report in your own analytics software. An added bonus that verifies your numbers is always welcome.

c. Multiple cards supported – Look out for processors that can support multiple types of cards and payment modes. A potential customer who does not see his preferred payment mode supported is bound to drop off your site leading to a lost opportunity. Check whether your payment processor covers the entire gamut from Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diner’s Club to digital wallets like PayPal.

d. Mobile Payments Supported – With more users now accessing the internet via their mobile phones than PCs, it is imperative that your payment processor support mobile payments. Top e-commerce sites in emerging markets like India have over 50% of their total transactions coming from mobile platforms. The growing popularity of Apple Pay and consequently the renewed focus on Google Wallet and other mobile wallets like Venmo, make mobile payments support even more critical.

3. Fees

A payment processor will let your users transact via their existing infrastructure, but these services come at a cost. Many e-commerce sites make the mistake of picking the processor with the lowest fee, without balancing those out against the services that they render. Avoid this trap of opting for the cheapest service out there, but simultaneously don’t forget to keep close tabs on the cost of associating with your chosen payment processor. I say this, because it’s not one, but a host of fees that a typical payment processor will charge you. These include:

a. Setup Fees – Usually a one-time fee at the time of registration.
b. Variable Fees – These are fees that depend on the transaction volumes on your site as well as the types of services you opt for from the processor, e.g. per transaction fees, authorization fees, address verification fees, and more.
c. Recurring monthly / annual fees – Recurring monthly or annual fees are levied when you’re not charged a per transaction fee. This works well for larger e-commerce sites where the transaction volume is high and a per-transaction fee would not be cost effective.
d. Extras – These are fees that pop up, often unexpectedly. They’re rarely advertised on a payment processor’s website, usually finding their home in the fine print of some contract that you click ‘I agree’ on. Make sure you check upfront with your payment processor about these very specifically, as many processors attempt to make a quick buck out of these vague fees like cancellation fees for transactions that were cancelled by a customer. When a user’s details entered during the transaction do not match their real details, a transaction can be labelled ‘disqualified’ and your site gets charged an ‘unqualified transaction fee’.

4. Currency Support

The USP of having an e-commerce business is having the ability to sell to any one, located anywhere in the world. Most leading payment processors like FirstData, PayPal and Stripe tend to offer support for multiple currency types. This ensures that your user does not have to face the complication of currency conversions at the time of payment, leading to a lower chance of cart abandonment. However, multi-currency support comes at a price. Many processors (not all) charge a currency conversion fee for cross border transactions.

But offering multiple currencies on your site has more upsides to it than downsides. Multiple currency support means your site can even cater to visiting foreigners who might only have credit cards in their home currency. Moreover, the fact that your site already supports multiple currencies makes it easier for you to officially make a foray into new countries, opening up new avenues for your business and its revenue generating potential. Always a great thing to have!

5. Country Support

You might think I’m being repetitive here, but I’m actually not.

While people can pay with multiple currencies while still within the geographical boundaries of your home country, having multi-country support is a completely different ballgame. Most payment processors allow users to pay from different geographical locations as long as they pay in just a handful of supported currencies. While having limited currency support can be a limiting factor, not having multi-country support means your loyal customers can’t use your services anymore if they decide to travel or move away from home base.

6. Platform Support

Is your payment processor compatible with your e-commerce platform? However awesome a payment processor maybe, if their technology does not match up to that of your platform’s there’s not much you can do about it. Since both payment processing and overall design, layout and functionality are key factors that affect the success of any e-commerce site, it makes sense to first do your research about all the various e-commerce platforms you like and match them up against the payment processors that these can work with, before you make the big decision of building your site with any one platform.

I’m going to make your life easier by offering you a handy peek at the various payment processors that ShopIntegrator works with, just in case you’re shopping around for a reliable and functional e-commerce platform!

7. Business Support

So you’ve finally narrowed down your payment processors to a handful. These are not too expensive, are secure, are easy to use, are compatible with your e-commerce platform and more. You’re all set, right? Wrong.

Even if a payment processor ticks off all the boxes in the list above, it still needs to fulfill one critical condition – whether it supports your business or not. Confused? Allow me to explain. Many e-commerce sites deal with products that may or may not be endorsed by all payment processors for various factors ranging from moral reasons, to health reasons, to riskiness of the venture. If your e-commerce site sells items like tobacco, arms and ammunitions, adult toys or content etc. there is a good chance that you may either get rejected by the payment processor you approach or may be stuck paying much higher fees than businesses that operate in less ‘risky’ sectors.

8. Customer Service

Just as your users expect great customer service from you, you have a right to receive professional customer service from your payment processor. Check whether the processor you’ve shortlisted offers round the clock customer service. What languages do they offer support in? Are they at least available during the time the majority of your users are online? How proactive are they at fixing potential problems? Do they need to be chased continuously and hounded down for basic troubleshooting services? All these are legitimate questions that you ought to have answers to before making such a large commitment. Remember, a failure on the payment processor’s part can result in a negative user experience for your own customer, usually for no fault of yours at all. You don’t want to lose customers or be constantly on the backfoot with a payment processor who is highly unreliable.

As before, you can either Google this info or visit forums that offer inside news about individual payment processor. Better still, if you personally know someone who has used their services in the past, it’s a good idea to pick their brains before embarking on a partnership with a new payment processor.

In Closing

These pieces of advice are just an aggregation of my personal knowledge about the payment processing industry, its players and their relationships with their merchant partners. By no means is this an exhaustive list. However, it does give you an idea of what to expect once the deed is done. Choosing a payment processor is like choosing a spouse – preferably a once in a lifetime event that has a whole lot riding on it. Don’t hurry this decision. Weigh all your options carefully and then go with what makes most sense taking all possible aspects into consideration.

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How to get more from Pinterest with 5 great tips for small businesses.

PinterestThe last few years have seen our fascination with all things visual significantly grow. We can see this reflected in the rise of visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram who steadily continue to gain social media market share.  With this in mind we take a closer look at Pinterest and how small businesses can make more of their presence.

Pinterest can be described as a visual online scrapbook. Users create and share images they find interesting (called pins); organising them into collections called boards. With over 70 million registered users and 3472 images pinned every minute, Pinterest can be an excellent social media platform for small businesses.  Pins usually link back to the website they originated so it can be a great way for you to share your content and drive traffic.

 5 tops tips to get Pinterest to work for your business

getting started on pinterest1. Make a good start

Before you launch headlong into Pinterest take a step back and think about your objectives, your audience and the kind of presence you’d like to have. Familiarise yourself with Pinterest by exploring what other businesses, both in and out of your industry, are doing to maximise their presence. For inspiration checkout some of the examples Pinterest showcases.

Once you’ve created your business account and verified your website you can set up your profile. Use a recognisable image such as your logo and a clear and interesting description of your brand and what it aspires to. You can then start planning your boards. Categorise your boards into subject areas – be creative and think of relevant, inspiring subjects that will be off interest to your target audience. If you’re a bit stuck for ideas then an easy board for businesses to start with is a blog board. If you have a blog then you have ready-made, shareable content that links back to your site.

Then it’s all about making the most of your Pins. 

“As a rule of thumb,  try to make sure all of your Pins are beautiful, actionable and interesting. Pinterest

  • Add the Pin-it button to your website to make it easy for people to pin content from your website.
  • Every time you create a pin include a useful description of what you are pinning and a link back to where it originates.
  • Where appropriate think about using Rich Pins such as Product Pins. These allows you to add in more useful information such as where to purchase (for example your website), real-time pricing and availability. These details will stay on the pin even when it is repined.  2 million Pinterest users save product pins to their boards daily so it’s worth doing.

Make the most of the advice Pinterest offers businesses. It has some excellent case studies, blog articles and How to guides. All of which are great resources to get you off to a flying start.

use colourful images on Pinterest2. Focus on the visual

Pinterest is all about the visual. So try to use colourful, interesting and inspiring images as much as possible. Avoid seen before, run-of the mill stock photos.

There are plenty of websites available for you to source interesting images without breaking the bank. For example, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Dreamstime all offer excellent images at reasonable prices. Free images are also available but do check that they are in the public domain and cleared for commercial use as many free images will need an attribution. Pixabay is a great source of free images that are in the public domain and don’t require an attribution.

Try using original photography. This is a great way to showcase your products in interesting, real life situations. It will have a greater impact than bog-standard product shots.

Pinterest recommends the following tips for your images:

  • Use quality images with a high-resolution.
  • Images at least 600 pixels wide work best on Pinterest ( the minimum image size is 100 x 200 pixels)
  • Vertical images work better on mobile screens. Remember 75% of Pinterest usage takes place on mobile devices so it’s worth bearing in mind when you are composing your pins.
  • Keep to a maximum of 4 images in any one pin.

Don’t forget about video. With 8333 videos shared every minute across social media, video is a great way to encourage sharing. Pinning a video is simple. For example if you’ve uploaded your video on YouTube, go to Share and use the ‘Pin It’ button to share it on one of your Pinterest boards. Remember to include an eye-catching image and a relevant description.

Content Image3. Mix up your content

Try and make your content interesting with a number of varied subject boards. Approach your content from the point of view of the customer not your sales manager. Rather than just pushing your product and services think creatively about the different things that might be of  interest to or help your customers. What might encourage them to repin your pin? If you’re a bit stuck for ideas maybe test drive something from the list below that you can adapt for your industry:

  • Pin links to your blog posts
  • Have a product showcase board
  • Latest trends / seasonal trend boards
  • Competitions
  • Behind the scenes peek at your business
  • Meet the team
  • Charitable work / charitable partners boards
  • How to videos
  • Infographics
  • Coming soon sneak previews
  • Client / customer showcase boards
  • Interesting industry news

Of course these are just a few ideas – once you start pinning regularly you’ll find all sorts of ways to create engaging content.

pinterest4. Get involved – be an active Pinner

As with all social media, active participation is important. The more of you put in the more you are going to get out of it. With Pinterest you are trying to connect with your audience through their interests and lifestyle.

  • Be active by pinning regularly. Pinterest suggest trying to Pin once a day.
  • Follow other Pinner’s boards.
  • Repin, like and comment on interesting pins – especially those that are relevant to your industry and likely to be of interest to your audience.
  • Be friendly and welcoming it is your opportunity to bring personality to your brand.

pinterest analytics5. Measure your performance

To get the most from any social media platform you need to be an active participant, this of course takes up valuable time. Therefore it makes sense that the better idea you have of your Pinterest performance, the smarter you can be in channelling your time and effort into the right places.

Use Pinterest’s analytics tool to get a better picture of what content is working for you and what content is having little impact.

  • Pin performance: Identify your tops pins. Which have the most impressions, repins and click-throughs? Which of your boards are the most popular?
  • Your audience. Who is looking at your pins and who has actively liked, repined or click-through a pin. It will give you an overview of your audience’s demographics, who they follow and their interests.
  • Website content. If you’ve verified your website you can see how the content of your website is performing on Pinterest – these are all the pins that link back to your site.
  • For more information take a look at Pinterest Analytics guide.

These are just a few tips to help you optimise your presence on Pinterest. As we mentioned earlier in the article don’t forget to check out some of the resources Pinterest offers small businesses – there is plenty of help and advice to get you off to a great start.

Finally, don’t forget to support and promote your Pinterest activity on all your other social media platforms and in email communications. A coherent, integrated approach to all your marketing channels will produce the best results. 

 We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience of using Pinterest, so please do leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

5 E-Commerce Lessons to Learn From Walt Disney World

A visit to a Disney theme park – any one of them around the world – is one of those long cherished childhood dreams that nearly every kid who know Mickey Mouse has harbored. Why kids, I know a lot of adults who still look forward with bated breath to a trip to the ‘happiest place on earth’.

A big part of the magic of Disney’s theme parks comes from the magic of their movies. Our association of the Disney brand with carefree, childhood hours spent watching the Sunday morning cartoons automatically makes it a place we treasure. Disney movies, however sappy, have a way of resonating with audiences across age barriers. However, that’s only part of the story. The majority of the charm that Disney Parks hold, lies in the masterful marketing strategies that Disney has developed and mastered into a fine art, over the years.

If there’s one brand that I would want to learn marketing from, it’d be Disney. It’s happy, it’s aspirational, it’s addictive and most importantly, profitable. Instead of gushing on and on about Disney and their spectacular marketing, I think it’ll be more interesting to reconfigure my understanding of Disney’s magic to the e-commerce domain. So, here goes!

1. The Devil is in the Details

While designing their e-commerce sites, most entrepreneurs zero in on a template that suits them best and then replicate the template across webpages all across the site. The trouble with this cookie cutter approach is that we often overlook little things that make all the difference between good and great user experience.

Take Disney’s parks for example. The management goes to extraordinary lengths to manage every tiny detail of their sprawling theme parks and resorts. ‘Hidden Mickeys’ that pop up around the theme parks and resorts is something every true Disney fan-boy tries to unearth. There’s even a whole website dedicated to unearthing hidden Mickeys! Chuck Rylant recalls noticing Mickey Mouse ears at the unlikeliest of places all over the Disney Resort he and his family stayed at. From bathroom faucet handles to lamps to the top of the shampoo bottles in their hotel room, everything was shaped like Mickey ears.

Mickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resortMickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resort

Takeaway: Mickey Mouse is the very heart of Disney and its theme parks. It’s their most identifiable icon and they get the maximum mileage out of it. Do the same with your e-commerce site. Pick an icon or a signature theme that can be used or adapted in different ways across your site. It doesn’t even have to be imagery. Use microcopy that amuses and helps out simultaneously in your web forms or your tool tips to make the experience of navigating your site and completing a purchase a tad easier and a lot more entertaining.

2. Appeal to Your Customer’s Emotional Side

If you had to use pure logic to plan a wedding you probably would not opt to throw a lavish party for hundreds of people you barely know and spend thousands of your hard earned money on one-time things like a fancy suite or a designer wedding dress. But you go ahead and do it because you’re swept away in the emotion of it all.

Ditto with Disney’s theme parks. The average cost of four member family vacation to any of Disney’s theme parks can pay for a small car. But you still go ahead and do it, because Disney convinces you that you’re going to have the best time of your lives on this trip. Disney taps into this wellspring of nostalgia, happiness and voila, you fork over ridiculous amounts of money to go to a theme park. Emotions win over rational thought.

A toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey MouseA toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey Mouse

Takeaway: Your e-commerce site may not have the huge emotional equity that Disney already enjoys with its target audience, but you definitely have the advantage of knowing that tapping into your users’ emotions will get you to their wallets. If your audience is eco-conscious, you’re assured of an emotional connection by offering eco-friendly packaging material for shipping their purchases even at a slight premium. Appeal to the right emotion for the right target audience. When you strike the right emotional chord, your cash register will make some very pretty music!

3. Consistency is Key

How frustrating is it when your sliced bread simply refuses to fit into your toaster’s standard sized slot, right when you’re in a tearing hurry to get to work. After a few vile curses to the bakery that decided to get ‘creative’ with the thickness of their bread, you vow to switch to a brand that makes standard sized bread loaves to save yourself future agony. That’s just a small example of what happens when consistency is thrown to the winds. In spite of all our claims to individuality and uniqueness, consistency in everyday things keeps us grounded and soothes our way through life.

This is an area Disney truly excels at. From the costumes its cast members wear in the theme parks to the way each cast member stays completely in character even when doing something mundane like giving directions to the way the exact same experience gets served to a completely new set of over-excited guests to even the clockwork precision with which long queues form at every ride without fail (!), consistency is a lesson that Disney lives breathes every single moment.

The Mouseketeers circa 1955The Mouseketeers circa 1955

Takeaway: We discussed earlier about how once the design and layout of a site is fixed, very little changes. However simply carrying forward the same look for all your webpages is not enough. A great e-commerce experience extends beyond your website alone. Every moment-of-truth that your brand has with the customer can be made consistent with your overall brand guidelines and personality. From your order confirmation email that carries forward your website’s design aesthetics to packaging material that bears a throwback to your site to a customer care representative who greets users with your signature welcome line to your social media voice that amplifies your brand personality; each step should reflect the same look and feel for that true ‘wow’ factor.

4. Don’t Forget the Human (Mousey?) Touch

One of the most common pictures that any family album from a trip to Disneyland is a picture with Mickey, Minnie or any of the hundreds of cast members dotting the park. There are even special events at many Disney parks where guests can pay to have share a meal with Mickey and gang. While you may have to wait for hours in queue for your favorite ride, most days your request for a quick handshake, hug or even photo-op with a cast member is fulfilled instantly. This simple fact reflects the extent to which Disney emphasizes the human touch in their parks. The frustration of waiting forever for a ride simply evaporates when Snow White plants a big kiss on your toddler’s cheek and poses with her for a once in a lifetime picture.

A guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hoursA guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hours

These personal touches don’t end at the park gates. When you walk into a reservation at Disney’s resorts, the staff doesn’t need an introduction from you. They already know who you are and where you’re coming from. Chances are, you’ll even get a personalized greeting complete with your name as you first walk in the doors. How’s that for human touch? After service like that, you’ll be spoilt for every non-Disney hotel you’ll book for the next decade at least.

Takeaway: Just because your customers can’t see your face but only your website doesn’t stop you from adding human touches to your site. Offer a personalized greeting when a signed in customer arrives on your site to instantly offer an element of surprise and happiness. Show returning customers items similar to what they browsed for last or items complementary to items they bought last. This tells users that you remember them as people and not just as credit card numbers. Another easy way to extend that human touch is to offer live chat support when a user dawdles for too long on a product page or in the middle of the checkout process.

5. Don’t be Shy to Upsell. Disney isn’t

Most e-commerce sites are simply thankful that the customer finally completed their checkout process and finally bought something, instead of simply window shopping. The thought of complicating matters by trying to get the customer to buy a more expensive version of their chosen product or even pushing them into buying accessories and other paraphernalia for the product that they just bought can be rather daunting.

But trust Disney parks to be right on the money when it comes to upsell and cross-sell. Book a trip to a Disney park online and you’ll soon enough start getting emails nudging you to upgrade to better tickets that will help you jump the queue at rides, book a nicer hotel room at the resort attached to the theme park and so on.

Frontierland Stores at Disneyland ParksFrontierland Stores at Disneyland Parks

The price you pay for the entry into Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you walk through those gates, there are stores selling little (mostly useless) trinkets and movie merchandise at every step. At the end of every ride, you literally walk through a toy store themed around the ride you just took. How any parent gets out of these without buying something for their nagging kids is a miracle to me.

Takeaway: One of the most under-done, yet most easily doable activity on e-commerce sites is upselling items to a customer who’s already buying a particular item. If Disney’s upsell and cross sell strategies don’t impress you enough, I’m sure e-commerce behemoth Amazon’s attempts will be more up your alley. Not only do they immediately offer a complementary item on the product page itself, they also offer more items similar to the one being viewed on the product page. The thank you page often carries a cross-sell message prompting viewers to buy complementary items and so on. It doesn’t end with the purchase. Even after you buy an item, you’ll get emails from Amazon reminding you of exclusive deals on the products that are similar to what you bought last.

In Conclusion

I began this post by trying to derive insights from Disney’s masterful marketing to apply them to an e-commerce setting. I also resolved that I’d stop gushing like a Disney fan-boy. However, by the end of this post, you’ve probably realized that fan-boys can be recognized from a mile away and I’m definitely guilty as charged. If only I could transpose those Disney marketing smarts to my business and I’d be a happy camper!

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

How to spring clean your small business website with 7 top tips to optimise your online presence

website spring cleanTime to spring clean your website?

When was the last time you put specific time aside to review and improve your website?  When first setting up a website a huge amount of time and effort goes into its design and function. However, once up and running smoothly we tend to breathe a sigh of relief and get on with all the other demands associated with a small business. It’s all too easy to get complacent and before you realise a significant amount of time has lapsed without any proper review taking place.

In the world of business nothing stands still for long so it is essential your website evolves and develops to accurately reflect the current environment.  It is essential you put proper time aside to take a fresh, objective look at your website, rid yourself of out-of-date content and implement any necessary improvements.

Revisit the core principles of a successful website

Creating a positive and engaging online experience for your customer is at the heart of a successful website. So when you are giving your site an overview it is a good idea to revisit some of the key elements of good website design. You probably considered most of these when you initially set up your website however they provide a solid base from which to start your review.  As it currently stands does your website tick all of the following boxes?

Navigation. Is it easy for visitors to navigate your website?  Are they able to find the information they are looking for within a few simple clicks?

Design and layout. Does your website make a good first impression? Are your pages simple, clear and visually appealing?

Usability.  How quickly does your website load? Can a customer to complete a specific action easily?

Credibility. Does your website have enough trust signposts to make a visitor feel secure about completing a transaction or imparting personal information?

Accessibility. Can your website be viewed equally well from a mobile, tablet or desktop? Is your website accessible to everyone irrespective of any disabilities they may have?

Content. Is you content up-to-date, relevant and engaging to your target audience and does it accurately reflect your business?

 7 topID-10031660 tips to make the most of your online presence

75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website’s design

1. Out with the old. Nothing is more off-putting to a visitor than information that is out-of-date. It shrieks unprofessional and does little to enhance the credibility of your site. Have a thorough read through of all your content and check everything is current and correct. For example check for:

  • Broken links
  • Pricing
  • Policies – such as terms and conditions or delivery and returns
  • Expired discount codes and vouchers

Update or get rid of any information that is out of date or no longer relevant.

2. Focus on content. As we’ve said many-a-time content is central to the success of your website and critical to how you are viewed by search engines. So it is important to objectively review yContent Imageour existing content:

  • Is your content still relevant to your target audience and will it engage them?
  • Have you included a good mix of relevant and natural keywords and key-phrases (absolutely do not keyword or key phrase stuff – neither visitors or search engines will appreciate it)
  • Is it concise, clear and to the point?
  • Does it accurately reflect your business?
  • What needs updating and what could be improved?
  • Look for any gaps in content. For example do you have enough visual content such as images and videos? 

3. Is your website search engine optimised? Make sure you are doing all you can to make your website inviting to search engines. If you have lots of pages it can be easy to forget to add-in search engine friendly information on each page. So it’s worth going through and checking any pages you’ve missed or that could be improved.  Part of Search Engine Optimisation involves making lots of small adjustments to individual pages to make it easier for search engines to understand the content of your website. We mentioned keywords and key phrases earlier, but also look at:

Page Titles. These usually appears in the first line of  a search engine’s results page. Ensure your title tags accurately reflect the content of each individual page. Try to keep them short, relevant and to the point.

Description Meta Tags. These give the search engines and users an overview of your page. They are usually a short paragraph containing one or two sentences. Have a unique description for each page and try to make them informative and interesting.

URL’s. Your URL’s should be relevant to the content of each page and should be simple for search engines and users to understand.

For further reading on SEO checkout these two excellent free resources:

4. What are your analytics telling you? Web analytics are there to help you so use them. For example you may notice some pages may have a significantly higher bounce rate than expected. This may indicate a problem so it needs to be investigated. It could be that the content may not be relevant, the page may be confusing or there is no obvious call to action. You can then address the problem and implement the necessary changes.

visual content on social media5. Is your website multi-device friendly? You may have a fantastic website but does it view equally well on any device? Remember 80% of internet users now own a smartphone. A successful online presence includes being able to offer a positive user experience so ensure your small business website is accessible to everyone no matter the device they are using.

If you’re not already set up consider responsive design. This essentially adapts your website to fit the device on which it is being viewed without having to create a numerous device specific websites.

6. Curb appeal.  Make your website as visually appealing as possible to users. Go through each page and check that the layout is straightforward and the page looks clean and clutter free. Research indicates that white space is good and relevant supporting visuals are essential.

7. In with the new. Having reviewed your online offering and implemented any of the necessary changes, have a think about what else you can add to further enhance your small business’ online presence. Are there any obvious gaps in content?  For example try:

  • Setting up a blog
  • Adding in customer reviews and testimonials
  • Growing your visual content such as including more video’s and infographics

Check out other successful websites, both competitors and non-competitors, it’s a great way to get ideas and inspiration.

These are just a few ways to help ensure your small business website remains successful in terms of both user experience and search engine optimisation. Do try to put specific time aside for giving your website a review and remember regular checking really will help you keep on top of things.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on reviewing your online presence, so do please leave a comment.

Success image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How small online businesses can create top visual content on Facebook and increase engagement

twitter-292994_640Social media platforms and visual content are now so intrinsically linked that if you are not optimising your Facebook posts then chances are your small business isn’t going to be getting the degree of engagement it could.

This article takes a look at how, with a good mix of visual content and some clever tools, you can create a more successful Facebook presence.

The rise of the visual

With 1.4 billion users Facebook maintains its position as the market leading social network. Therefore as a small businesses owner Facebook is still going to be a key platform from which to market your business. However in order to fully engage an audience you need to make sure you are using the best tactics.

Visuals have the huge benefit of conveying an idea almost immediately, helping break through the masses of online content people have to wade through on a daily basis. I believe this contributes to the phenomenal growth in visual content over the last few years. Research has shows that the use of visual content in social media increased by 70% in 2014.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the key to growing your Facebook audience is to engage them. Visual content makes a considerable impact on increasing engagement.

Posts with visuals receive 94% more page visits and engagement than those without.

How to create a top-notch visual presence on Facebook

An impressive 2,460,000 pieces of content are shared every minute on Facebook. So, what will help your business stand out amongst this vast ocean of content? Using visuals to support your activity, here are 5 key tips that I recommend to help your small business create enriched posts.

1. Inspiring photos and images

According to research, images and photos are the most important tactic you can use to optimise your social media posts. But just adding any old run of the mill stock image isn’t really going to cut it. You need to source photos and images that are interesting and relevant to your audience and the subject in hand. It is worth spending some time getting the right image for your post.

Sourcing images 

Try to be creative when you are sourcing visuals and avoid using bland stock photos that everyone has seen before (you know the ones I mean – smiling business people in suits shaking hands) and try for something more interesting to support the content you are posting. Look for bright, eye-catching images that will still stand out even when they’re viewed at a smaller size.

There are number of online sites where you can source some great, reasonably priced images. Try Dreamstime, iStockphoto and Shutterstock. Alternatively sites like freedigitalphotos.net provide free images as long as you include an attribution wherever you use the image. You are also allowed to use images that are in the public domain and cleared for commercial use for free and without an attribution. Pixabay has a good selection of just such images.

visual contentOriginal photography

If you can commission your own photos then all the better. Particularly if you are showcasing your own products and services. ‘Lifestyle’ images of your products in use can have a stronger impact than just standard product shots. Try taking some ‘behind the scenes’ photos of your business. These are great way of giving your audience the opportunity to see the personality and ideas behind what makes your business unique.

2. Be creative with content

There are some really effective ways to be creative with your text-based content. And all the more importantly you don’t need a big budget or to be proficient in Photoshop to implement them. There are some excellent create image creation tools available. A number of which offer some great free options. For example, try Recite.com if you want to visualise a quote or interesting fact. It’s free and simple to use. Here is one I created in just a few moments.

image creation tools

 

Other great tools I’ve come across include PicMonkey and Canva which lets you add text to images. Skitch is also well worth a look as it enables you to draw over images using annotation, shapes and sketches – a great way to emphasise a particular point.

3. Include Infographics

Infographics are a fantastic way to convey numerical information like statistics and research. It makes text-based content far more digestible and visually appealing to an audience. Don’t just take my word for it, research shows that:

Cutting costs for business infographic

Creating great infographics  doesn’t automatically require special knowledge or a huge budget.  There are some good point and click online tools available with an assortment of ready-made templates that make it simple for you to DIY.  Check out Piktochart and Easel.ly.

share videos on social media4. Upload videos directly to Facebook

Video enhances your visual offerings on Facebook. Video continues to grow in popularity right across the globe with 8333 videos shared every minute. This is reflected in the impressive rise in video content on Facebook specifically. Since June 2014 Facebook has averaged more than 1 billion video views every day.

There are some great ways you can use video to your advantage. Try posting video tutorials, behind the scenes peeks of your business, how to guides, showcase your product or service in real life situations and scenarios or show how a product is crafted.

Try iMovie or Movie Maker for DIY video editing software or WeVideo and Animoto for online creation platforms.

 

These are just a few tips on how to incorporate visual content into Facebook. However it is worth looking at how you can improve your visual content across all your social media platforms. Visual content is a key trend for 2015 and I suspect it will remain that way for a good while yet.

I’d really love to hear how you’ve implemented more visual content into  your posts and what’s proved successful and not so successful. So please do leave a comment below or tweet me @ShopIntegrator.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Increase Conversion Rates with Product Photography

Product Photography

Who does not like looking at pretty pictures? Now what if I told you that those pretty pictures are responsible for convincing users to buy a product or a service many times more than lame taglines could ever hope for. Seriously, which gets you first – those gorgeous pictures of picturesque destinations or their standard cheesy marketing line about the country?

If there is any part of e-commerce that needs a shot in the arm from an aesthetic perspective it is the boring and done to death product photos. Typically these come from the manufacturers or brand owners themselves and e-commerce sites put them up with little or no changes. What results is the anti-thesis of a shopper’s dream destination.

If images hold scientifically proven sway over our minds, why not apply this logic to your own e-commerce site by turning every product image into a mini salesman for your site? This is how the best in the business do it.

1. Know your audience

Humans are very visual creatures. We process visual signals faster than sound and respond to them at a more visceral level. However, what type of visual signals gets each one of us going can vary from person to person. Before you decide on an image style for your site, understand whom you are addressing and design from there on.

Use the right image for the right audience. An image of an attractive woman may work with male as well as female audiences but in very different contexts. On the other hand, the image of a church may evoke very different responses from conservative audiences as compared to liberal ones. The bottom line? Understand your target audience – their likes and dislikes, and then proceed to pick the right imagery for your website.

2. Invest in image libraries

You must have heard it a million times before, but for good reason. Avoid stock shots that litter every other website. This is important to prevent user fatigue and instead guide the user’s eye towards new and interesting products on the basis of images alone. Spend some time over this and pick out unique imagery that complements your site and its personality.

Granted that unique images can be hard to come by and even when they are available, they are normally astronomically priced. Premium image libraries are a cost-effective compromise for unique images which do not cost an arm and a leg.

3. Photo shoots with a twist

Zulily – the billion dollar e-commerce phenomenon – shows the rest of us the way things ought to be done in the world of product photography. Zulily shoots 99% of all its product images in-house in its 35 studios that litter the entire office building. Their in-house photographers take artistic pictures for each item that goes up on the site. The site falls back on its regular employees to pose as models for their pictures. Baby models (it’s a mom and baby site after all!) are brought in by moms and dads who are aspiring actors themselves who get to build a portfolio for Junior via Zulily’s product shoots.

The result? A product catalogue that is as colorful as it is unique. Even if Zulily might sell a product that might be available on some other retailer’s site, it sure as hell will look completely different on Zulily. A smart, simple and highly effective workaround to expensive photoshoots, don’t you agree!

4. Build a story with your images

Your problem does not end with sourcing great pictures. What you do with them is more important.

Images are a great tool to build a story around your products. Use multiple images of a product to weave a use case scenario or present a solution to a problem that the user may have. Your creative presentation will show the user exactly how the item will fit into their lives. Another alternative is to showcase real users actually using the products in their everyday life settings. You could accessorize these images with quotes from these real users too. The contrast between the clinical austerity of most websites and the realism of slice of life type images will make your products stand out and help your conversions.

5. Use images to convey emotion

Just as images can convey stories and draw the user in, they can also tug at users’ heartstrings to loosen those purse strings on your site.

A tactic that is widely used by non-profits and welfare organizations, show me one such website that you can tear yourself away from without donating some cash or leaving with a guilt trip the size of Guatemala. If non-profits can use images to evoke emotions, so can you. Tap into the power of emotions with images that speak to the user. The right combination of photographer, model and setting contribute to emotional ammo over and over again.

6. Convey information with images

Emotional connections are great, but an image that tells a user exactly what she needs to know without even needing to read through the accompanying product description is what we are aiming at.

Wherever possible, use large images that offer users a high resolution and undistorted viewing experience. Never miss out on the zoom function on your product image. Users can only see images of your product and not the real deal before putting down large sums of cash on your website. It is your job to make this leap of faith that they repose in your site worthwhile by letting them get as close to the real item as possible.

Offer multiple product views with tiny product details visible clearly to make up for the lack of real touch and feel. Showcasing the product from different angles offers users a better idea of the real product. A 360 degree view option for your product image is a good idea, especially in terms of letting the users get up, close and personal with the item. Many top sites including Amazon and others have already started letting users savor each product with a 360 perspective.

A good way to convince a user about an item is by showing a picture of the item they are looking for being actually used by a model. Sell tractors? Put a model or a real farmer on a tractor and plow a field. Sunglasses is your thing? Get a few attractive models to lounge around the beach in your sunglasses and go clickety click on them.

7. Make your images fancy

Nothing kills a product image as effectively as putting a jarring background against a pleasant and soothing image.

Pick a background that goes well with the rest of your brand personality and issue orders to your designers stick to those colors and styles for the rest of the images as well. Marketplaces like Amazon that get product images from thousands of sellers listed on the site, on white backgrounds for nearly all their product shots. This not just makes life easier it also creates a clean feel look for your site – something that will go a long way in convincing the best sellers to list with you, and the most fanatical shoppers to buy from you.

Instead of offering flat two dimensional images, DueMaternity.com offered rotating images to its users. On hovering the mouse over the item image, the image would automatically rotate a complete 360 degrees, showcasing its complete potential without users having to click and open a page for the same experience in the past. The site actually saw a 27% lift in conversions since they implemented the snazzy new image format.

Use product videos wherever you showcase the item and allow users to arrive at their purchase decisions based on a more intimate view of the product than just two dimensional images. Offer at least one image for every product variant you’ll be listing online. This could be different color or a different use case or even a different size. Showcase these efficiently and there’s no reason for why anyone would fall back on boring manufacturer images ever again.

8. Virtual reality / augmented reality

If images let a user see how an item would look on someone else, virtual reality allows users to imagine how it would look on themselves.

Virtual reality devices are fast going mainstream and users can now get a VR headset for as low as $135. Virtual reality can be employed to let users model an item for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Glasses retailer Warby Parker offers users a virtual tryout session by feeding a self-photo clicked by the user and allowing the user to experiment with different glasses that truly suit their face.

Chinese grocery and home goods retailer Yihaodian took virtual reality to the next level when they ‘built’ 100 virtual stores across the entire city in virtually no time at all. The company allowed users to scan items and add them to their virtual cart in these virtual stores. These items are then delivered to users’ doorsteps without them even having to leave their doorstep for a minute.

9. Accessorize the product

Never miss a chance to upsell or cross-sell a product with another item.

Add an interesting accessory or two to your models’ outfits does not just add drama to the images themselves, the overall look reminds users of the possibilities that lie in wait and help push the billing amount up ever so slightly.

Most apparel retail sites do a good job of using the right accessories to set off an outfit, thus tempting the user to splurge on the extras as well in the same transaction. I particularly love the way ModCloth and Net-a-Porter pull this off without it coming across as a crass attempt at upselling.

10. Allow sharing

We all know how social media is a huge contributor to site traffic both from a last touch perspective as well as higher in the lead funnel. One of the most shared elements on social media today are images, which is clear from the runaway popularity of entirely image driven social apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. This popularity of images has even forced the text only Twitter to embrace images and showcase them prominently on users’ Twitter feeds.

Feed into this cultural obsession with sharing aesthetically pleasing images by offering social sharing for your product images. Putting sharing buttons alongside your product image or allowing users to create self-avatars wearing your product is a great way of driving social conversations which eventually lead to conversions.

In conclusion

Your product images are pages in your album not standalone works of art that all speak a different language. They need to have a consistent flow and overall ‘look’ to work with your site’s aesthetics. Invest some much deserved time into a neglected area like your product images to see the difference that they make to your site and its conversions. Let me know in the comments below how these experiments work out for you!

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5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

Shopping online can be a real breeze. Just choose what you want to buy, enter your credit card details and voila, you’ll have your chosen item at your doorstep in a matter of days (or hours, if Amazon and its drone delivery plans take wing). No long queues, no driving all over town hunting for that perfect pair of shoes.

While online shopping is fun, addictive and a lot of things besides that, what sometimes kills the joy of online shopping is the sheer terror of credit card fraud and identity theft. And no, you cannot cower under a pillow and pretend that this will go away. If you shop online, you need to read the following security tips. If you own an online retail store you need to read this even more.

1. Get the Basics Right

Being safe while shopping online is not rocket science. Millions of users successfully shop for their hearts’ desire and more online without ever getting into trouble. Here are a few basics that every online shopper MUST keep in mind.

  • Never make the mistake of assigning the same passwords for all your accounts and cards. Use different passwords for each account, make sure your passwords are not easily hackable. With one password, you run the risk of compromising all your accounts with just one crack in your armor. An easy to guess password like your name or date of birth make breaking into your accounts easy as pie. Make passwords a combination of alpha-numeric characters that have nothing to do with any of your personal details like your family members’ names, your wedding anniversary etc. Another key aspect to always remember is to never share your passwords with anyone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when swiping your card. When you hand your card over to the cashier at a store, keep an eye on the cashier while they swipe your card. In case you see the cashier swiping your card on a machine that is not a POS machine, raise the alarms. Chances are the second machine is a dip card reader that steals user information from the magnetic strip of the card. Fraudsters use this data to make duplicates of your card and run up giant shopping bills at your expense.
  • Avoid using your credit card on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are accessible with or without a password to anyone who is within range of the network. With people peeping over your shoulder figuratively and literally, it is not a smart idea to carry out credit card transactions in public Wi-Fi zones where your data can be easily intercepted by an unscrupulous stranger.
  • Choose only secure sites to carry out credit card transactions. Avoid shopping on sites that look shoddily made – poor selection of images, a very high text to image ratio, spelling errors all over the place etc. Chances are, these are dummy sites set up by credit card fraudsters to capture your payment details and misuse them.

When making any payment online, check if the address bar in the browser shows HTTPS and not HTTP. On the payments page look out for a Verisign logo or a McAfee Security logo that tell you that the site is safe to use. Just a tip, the green lock icon on your browser address bar is a sign that the site you’re browsing is protected by SSL security and your data is being transmitted on a secure connection. Sites powered by ShopIntegrator have this worry of keeping payment details safe taken off their shoulders. ShopIntegrator directly transfers the customer to the payment processor’s site, thus making PCI compliance easier for merchants.

2. Protect Your PC

Playing it safe is sound advice in nearly all walks of life, if you know what I mean ;)

  • Secure Your Home WiFi. To begin with protect your home internet from outside users by setting up a strong password for it. Data like your credit card details can be easily hacked into while you transmit them over the internet. A secure home Wi-Fi connection avoids this mess. Another critical thing to do right away is to remove Autofill settings from your browser. The browser tends to store data that you use to fill in forms regularly like your name, address, telephone number, sometimes even credit card details in its memory. Removing this autofill data from your browser’s memory eliminates the possibility of someone else accessing your machine and misusing this data. It also thwarts hacking attempts by not offering identity thieves any rewards for their efforts. Different browsers have different procedures for doing this. Check out the settings section of your respective browser and reset this right away.
  • Updated Operating System. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple keep scouring their software for security holes on a continuous basis and release updates and patches to counter any gaps that they find. So the next time your computer asks to restart itself to install some new operating system updates don’t irritatedly postpone the update. Go ahead and keep your operating system updated to avoid falling prey to potential identity thieves on the World Wide Web.
  • Updated Browser. Most browsers these days release updates on a regular basis. Either set your browser to automatically update itself when there’s a new release or do it yourself manually without fail. Chrome’s ‘Safe Browsing API List’ is but one example of the many precautions that browsers employ to keep users safe online.
  • Strong Antivirus. Another smart, but essential investment for your financial and data security is a good antivirus software. It does not have to be an expensive one. As long it detects and removes spyware or keystroke logging malware from your personal computer and protects your computer from third party attacks, it will do just fine. As with all your other software, keep your virus definitions on your unit up to date to avoid online mishaps.

3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams

The Nigerian Prince story has been done to death on email by fraudsters around the world. It’s gotten so stale that even my Dad knows that it’s all just a scam. But not all scamsters are so naive. Phishing for bank account and credit card details has reached sophisticated levels with many fraudsters posing as your bank representatives asking you for your personal financial details as a matter of routine maintenance. There have been cases of people receiving links inside perfectly innocent looking emails which if clicked can download a malicious keystroke logging malware into your machine.

Large scale scammers even go to the extent of building replicas of bank websites that end up stealing your passwords and other personal details as you access the site. Some easy pointers to avoid being phished:

  • Do not open emails from unknown or suspicious looking email IDs
  • Avoid opening or downloading any suspicious looking attachments even from known contacts
  • Never click on links without verifying where the link leads to. You can easily do this by hovering your mouse over the link in the email for a few seconds. The browser will automatically reveal the destination URL in a separate box.
  • Double check logos of banks, spellings and other minor tell-tale signs in emails that deal with financial data.
  • No bank or credit card company will ask you for your passwords or other personally identifying information over email. Never pass this information on without double checking with the bank over the phone or in person.

4. Activate Two Factor Authentication for your card

With the number of financial frauds rising by the day, banks and card issuers are becoming wiser and thinking two steps ahead. Many banks now offer users the option of adding an extra level of security to their cards while they carry out online transactions.

Many banks make it a point to call users personally when their card is swiped for a larger than normal amount. This ‘average’ amount is presumably arrived at by taking a median of all the different amounts swiped on the card till date. Banks also tend to call users when transactions are made outside the country of issue of the card.

Two factor authentication takes these basic precautions a notch higher. Instead of relying on just a username and password for a transaction, two factor authentication requires card users to enter a second identifier which they typically carry on their person like a fingerprint scan or a password sent via SMS to a mobile phone, a personal PIN number not stored anywhere else and so on.

Besides banks many other online services too have realized the importance of two factor authentication and actively encourage users to set it up like; Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook etc.

5. Use digital wallets for online transactions

Swiping a credit card can now be replaced by a slew of ingenious payment mechanisms that do not even reveal your card details to the online merchant, thus keeping your identity and financial data safe and sound.

PayPal was the trailblazer in digital wallets which allowed users to transfer money into a seller’s PayPal account from a prepaid PayPal account for any online transactions. It also helped reverse transactions in case of complaints regarding fraud.

The biggest benefit of digital wallets is that you have the option of transferring only as much money you need for your online purchase into your digital wallet. This avoids the scenario of miscreants breaking into your account and emptying it of all its cash.

Now the digital wallet has gone mobile with the introduction of the Google Wallet about four years ago and Apple Pay coming in last year. There are also a bunch of social media payment mechanisms like SnapCash that are gaining in popularity for their sheer convenience and novelty. However the security levels of these social payment mechanisms are yet to be tested and one would do well to tread cautiously in these choppy waters.

Conclusion

Online security during your e-commerce binges is not just the responsibility of the merchant site where you carry out your transactions. It is equally yours. Whether you choose to check users reviews about site’s security online before using a website or use a security app to protect your credit card or activate two factor authentication for your card or even switch to a digital wallet; the idea is to be proactive and work towards avoiding a situation where your financial data is at risk.

By following simple guidelines that typically don’t take much time or resources, one can ensure that one’s hard earned money remains safe and sound without any external threats. Stay safe and happy shopping!

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