So How Much Does Social Media REALLY Matter to Your E-Commerce Site?

Did you check your Facebook profile today? Chance are you did. And multiple times, at that. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American spends over 40 minutes per day on Facebook.

If you work backwards on Facebook’s claim of having over 128 million daily users; it means that over 40% of all Americans check their Facebook account on a daily basis.

These numbers are not just about American attitudes to social media, they are a reflection of the global addiction to social media that we have witnessed in the last few years.

If users are on social media, it follows that marketers won’t be very far behind. It’s no wonder then that social media has steadily gained a progressively bigger share of the marketing budgets of brands worldwide.

Projected share of social media in marketing budgetsProjected share of social media in marketing budgets

Trouble is, social media does not seem to be living up to all it’s been hyped to be. The last touch attribution numbers – conversions by folks who came directly from social media onto your site – remains miserably low. Low enough that questions are being raised about the ROI of social media expenditure and the sustainability of social media marketing.

Data from Monetate’s Quarterly E-commerce Report for Q2 2014, shows that the total traffic that can be directly attributed to social media is a meagre 2.3%. Conversions, obviously are even lower.

Website Visits and traffic

Black Friday – the annual shopping bonanza that all retailers await for the whole year brought in record breaking numbers for e-commerce sites last year – $1.2 billion in sales to be precise. However, even during a ‘made for shopping’ holiday like Black Friday, social media accounted for just 0.34% of all online sales.

If a medium offers a business just 2.3% of the total traffic that it gets from all sources, and an even tinier share of conversions; does it really deserve a 9% share and going forward, a 21% share of overall marketing budgets?

Social Media Is NOT a Last Touch Medium

The short answer to that question is, YES.

Let’s now look at the long version of the answer. All the grouses about how social media has not performed to its potential come from people who are getting a very fundamental thing about social media completely wrong. Social media is NOT a last touch medium, it is an influencer medium.

Users are NOT going to go from a social media post you made about creative crafting ideas to buying a couple of boxes of colored glitter. What that post about creative crafting does instead, is give the user ideas about what to do the next time they want to work on a craft project, what tools to use, which products work best and so on. So the next time that user wants to create a model airplane, they will know where to go to buy their glue sticks and glitter pens.

Social media is your build up to the sale and not your salesman.

So what do you do to ensure that this medium that takes up swathes of your users’ time and attention on a daily basis contributes to your business meaningfully? How do you move out of the trap of looking at last-touch attribution figures for social media and writing it off as a failed marketing tool?

You do that by leveraging the things that social media DOES do well. Here’s a rundown of the various things that social media DOES offer without a shadow of doubt – things that once employed effectively by your business can only help in growing it to the next level.

1. Understand your audience

As we saw earlier, social media is the place your users spend a significant chunk of their time on. With 4 out of 5 Americans now active on social media, this platform is a treasure trove of user data, if only you take the time to look and learn. Social media tells you a ton of things about your audience – where they live, how old they are, how educated they are, what they like to do for fun, places that they frequent, brands that they identify themselves with and more. Each of these factors combine to paint a composite user profile that you can use as a guideline while marketing to them.

With insights like these, your business won’t end up making gaffes like selling spare parts for a Lamborghini to a Ford user.

2. Target Your Audience Clearly

So we saw how social media can tell you who your users are. Now take a look at social media from another perspective.

Social media is the only marketing platform that tells you exactly where to spend your marketing dollars, so you don’t waste them on people who will not respond to your communication. On social media, you have the option of laser-targeting only and only those individuals who fit the right age, sex, location, interests and activity profile that you have created for your ideal customers.

This prevents spillage of your budgets on non-responsive audiences, it improves the efficacy of your messaging among your real target audience and reduces the overall budgets you would need to achieve a particular result by streamlining your marketing.

3. Engagement

Users like, follow or share data from a brand only when it resonates with them and speaks to them in language that they identify with. Once you hit upon this magic formula for your posts, nothing stops users from sharing it with their friends and family and taking your content viral.

Some of the key things that ensure your users are engaged (and by extension, ready to spread your word of mouth for free!) include:

  • Your content matches their areas of interest
  • What you’re saying is very different from what they see other brands say
  • Your content tells them about something they did not know about before
  • Your content is exciting / funny
  • Sharing your content with their friends will portray your users as smart and cool, earning them brownie points from their peers.

Remember, the deeper your engagement levels are with your users, the easier it will be to convince them about the merits of your brand and products. In other words, building an engaged user base is basically the process of priming your users to become customers of your product.

4. Trust

Users log primarily on to social media to connect with their friends and family, not to follow brands or organizations. This primary function that social media has of being a social connector, means that users set a lot of store by what their friends and family have to say about various matters – political issues, environmental stands, entertainment gossip and brand endorsements.

A study of over 25,000 online consumers by Nielsen as part of their Global Online Survey showed that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from their friends.

By building a positive, credible brand image for your business with your fans and followers, you are in turn creating brand ambassadors who have the power to influence their peers to a level that your marketing messages can never hope to achieve.

Solicit reviews of your products from existing customers on social media to get the benefit of virality and being seen by their friends and family. Use social proof like the number of fans you have or the number of positive reviews that your product got or the number of times people shared your blog post on social media as tools that help potential customers make up their minds and enable conversions.

5. Top of Mind Recall

For a radio ad to stick in a user’s mind, you need at least nine repetitions per day. That figure is similar for television. For any business to be able to afford that kind of airtime all year round, is an incredibly expensive affair, to say the least.

Social media solves this problem by offering itself up as a near-free platform to reach out to your users. With the right kind of organic posts, your brand can reach out to users multiple times every single day, every day of the year at no extra cost. This is an opportunity that no business, especially cash strapped small businesses, can afford to ignore.

Dig into your analytics and determine the times of day when your users are active on social media. Use social media as a completely free reminder medium with regular posts at these times in the day. Paid ads on social media too work best when they are targeted at the right times of day and on the right days of the week.

6. Inspire Your Users

As discussed earlier, do not look at social media as a salesman with revenue targets on his head. Instead, view this wonderful medium as your online brochure that users can browse through at their leisure to get ideas on what to buy and where to buy it from.

I am not endorsing salesy posts that say “Here’s my product, it’s so great, buy it now!”. What a smart social media marketer would do instead is to SHOW the users the various ways your product can be beneficial to them. Show them various use cases for your product. Highlight real-life stories of customers who have used your products and the pleasant experiences that THEY had.

Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or even Facebook lend themselves beautifully to creating look-books or design guides that tempt users to check out your wares, instead of simply pushing percentage-off offers down the throats of unwilling and uninformed users.

7. Make Life Easier for Them (Social Login)

One of the cardinal requirements of a good business is to make life easier for your users. Does your website force users to create a username and password as a pre-requisite for transactions? Do users have to remember these username-password combinations each time they revisit your website? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these two questions, you’re creating a wall between your website and its users.

Social media helps knock down this wall with the help of a social login. By allowing users to log into your website using their social media accounts, you are taking away the friction of creating a new account from scratch and remembering the password attached to that account for future visits.

Research by Monetate shows that users spend 127% more time on websites that allow social logins than those that don’t. It further goes on to say that 64% of users are more likely to return to a site that remembers them without the need for them to create a fresh username and password.

There’s yet another benefit that social logins offer you on a direct level. Users that sign on with social media accounts agree to share the data from their social media accounts with you in exchange for the convenience of a social login. This is invaluable data that you can access directly in your inbox, without even going to social media and digging around for details.

Invest in a social login, it will only help your cause with your target audience.

8. SEO

This is much debated, but now well established benefit that social media offers businesses, both big and small.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and without a doubt, Google+ help in backing up all the other ranking signals that your page has and help in making the final cut in where your page ranks in a particular search. Let’s understand with an example.

Let’s say I search for ‘Pizza places in Birmingham’ on Google. If a friend of mine on Google+ has left behind a +1 or a positive review about ABC Pizzas located in Birmingham, then all other factors remaining constant, ABC Pizzas will get a bump up in their search rankings compared to other pizza places. The simple reason here is relevancy. Google assumes that since this is a place recommended by MY friend, it would be more interesting to me, than a place that is rated highly by a bunch of strangers.

Searching for people on Google or Bing, typically pulls up their social profiles – another indicator of how search engines DO give points to social signals, much as they would like to confuse and confound marketers everywhere.

Conclusion

Social media may not fit into clear silos of ‘lead generator’, ‘lead nurturer’, ‘awareness creator’ or ‘last mile converter’ that we are used to for other marketing platforms that we use. To truly benefit from social media, you need to understand what social media brings to the table and maximize it for all that its worth.

Consider social media as an enabler for your sales, instead of a deal-maker and you’ll be surprised with the results that you see.

Image Source: (1, 2)

How to Create Your eCommerce Budget for 2015

Creating a budget requires time for planning, looking at your available resources and a thought process that is geared towards avoiding any unforeseen costs and expenses. This rings especially true for those who are looking at starting up a successful eCommerce venture.

Shopping Cart Software

Image Source: ShutterStock.com

Many elements of your line items will appear self evident, but others are less obvious. In addition to initial startup costs of getting your web site built, tested and functional, there are other more long-term, ongoing expenses that need consideration and inclusion.

Here are six key elements to examine when planning your eCommerce budget:

#1 – Design & Development

In addition to the most obvious, number-one line item for your online business, some categories of design and development are often overlooked. For example, one will easily remember a “shopping cart” service, but what about the other elements that should accompany this buying platform? Customer loyalty programs, coupons, gift cards, shipping estimators, returns and exchanges are just a few functions and features that sometimes go MIA.

#2 – Visuals & Artwork

Once you look past the design of a business logo, your site needs other types of visual appeal, photographs and artwork. These are not necessarily “free” and to avoid any possible legal ramifications in the future, ensure that your images are all properly licensed (naturally available at an additional cost) or perhaps you will be using your own photography. Either way, decide which will work best for you and your bottom line.

#3 – Data Entry & Management

Someone will need to enter all your valuable product information into a database. While most developers will perform this service (again, for an additional fee), some startups will opt to do it themselves. Be prepared for a little training and a hefty investment in time, but this is also a valuable way to learn the ropes of your site’s management console. There is also ongoing data management and maintenance of product information, customer and sales information that require attention.

Data entry security

Image Source: ShutterStock.com

#4 – Hosting & Security

There are plenty of web hosting companies that are a real bargain, but you often get what you pay for in terms of speed, security and support. Online shoppers are impatient and fickle, so if your site loads too slowly or doesn’t appear to be secure, they will quickly move along to someplace faster and safer without blinking an eye.

#5 – Maintenance & Updates

What works today, might not work tomorrow — just think of how often Windows is updated. The same is true for you and your website. You’ll need to budget for things like upgrades associated with advancements in web browsers, advancing technology, enhanced security, new features and functions. Even tech startups can be caught off guard by these costs.

#6 – Marketing & Advertising

Traffic to your new eCommerce website will not magically appear out of thin air. You’ll need to promote your new business through effective marketing and advertising. Both of these come at a cost, either with your own time or payment to a third party. There are many different marketing options available but be prepared to pay for targeted advertising, effective SEO marketing and/or social media strategies.

In closing, think about this, remember playing hide-and-go-seek as a child? There were always a few rules and limitations as to where you could conceal yourself.

Budgets don’t play fair.

Guest Author: Megan Ritter

Megan Ritter is an online business writer and guest author based in Southern California. As an online journalist, she often covers social media marketing, ecommerce, finance management, and business communications. Follow Megan Ritter on Twitter to connect with her!

How small online businesses can improve conversions with increased customer choice

online customer choiceToday’s consumers have high expectations of the type of customer experience they believe they are entitled to receive online. Customers are increasingly online savvy, confident and like choice and control. Enabling your customers to have the convenience of choice and flexibility enhances their overall online experience with your business , in turn increasing the likelihood of  conversion and repeat visits.

Increase choice to reduce the barriers to purchase

However, I’m not suggesting that you overwhelm your customers with a smorgasbord of choices – too many options can actually deter customers. Rather, focus on offering customers increased choice in a few strategic places along the purchasing journey to help reduce some of the barriers to purchase.

Shopping cart abandonment is part and parcel of any online businesses. The current rate averages at 67.4% so any changes you can make to help reduce your shopping cart abandonment rate can only be a good thing. We take a look at how offering customers choice in some key online areas can help you increase those all important conversions.

Simple ways to implement more customer choice

Online card paymentsPayment Choice

Offering your customers a choice of payment options at checkout can have a significant impact on conversions and help reduce shopping card abandonment. Figures show:

  • 59% of respondents would abandon a transaction if their preferred payment method was not in place.
  • 40%  of respondents would have more confidence in an online shop that had more than one payment method.

It is important to be able to offer customers both online and offline payment options as it means you are more likely to be able to provide the customer with their preferred payment choice. Being able to take payments by credit or debit card is becoming increasingly important. According to the UK Card Association the majority of online purchase are now made using cards.  In the UK during 2013;

When initially setting up in business, many small businesses begin selling online using the basic shopping carts provided by their existing website platform. It is a quick and simple way to get up and running. However it can mean that as your business grows you are limited to a single payment system such as PayPal. A simple, cost-effective way to improve your shopping cart capabilities without changing your existing website platform is to use a hosted third-party shopping cart solution that is quick to integrate and can offer your business a wide range of pre-integrated payment processors and offline payment options.

online shipping and deliveryIncreased delivery options

Underestimating the importance customers place on shipping and delivery options is a potential disaster for your conversion rates. Customers take online delivery very seriously, with 42.5% of customers looking at delivery pages first.  Research also show that 50% of customers have abandoned an online purchase due to unsatisfactory delivery options.

It is important that customers fare able to plan for delivery. I’m sure we have all experienced the frustration of not being at home when a package requiring a signature turns up. Offering more delivery choices makes the customer feel in control and goes along way towards providing an all-round positive customer experience. Research shows that in terms of e-commerce delivery,

  • 31% of customers would like the option of a fixed delivery date
  • 24% of customers would like the option of collecting from their local stores
  • 24% of customers would like the option of next day delivery
  • 13% would like the option of a two-hour delivery slot.

So think about introducing some flexible delivery choices such as:

  • Next day delivery
  • Nominated day delivery
  • Pick up from a local store (such as Click and Collect)
  • ‘If out please leave…” options such as : leave with neighbour, behind bins, in garage and so on.

smartphone online shoppingBe multi-device friendly

Your customers should have the choice of being able to view your website equally well on their preferred device – be it desk top, smart phone or tablet. By limiting your customers access to a standard desk-top version of your website, you may lose out on potential sales. M-commerce such as tablets and smart-phones play an increasingly important part in your customers purchasing journey.

“With over half of all e-retail traffic coming via smartphones and tablet devices the latest results reveal a huge landmark in the growth of mobile commerce” Guardian.com

Significantly, online shopping on mobile devices has overtaken desktop traffic for the first time in the UK with 52% of online visits made via a mobile and an impressive 36% of UK online sales completed on a smartphone or tablet device. So let your customer choose how he or she wishes to view your site in the most convenient way to them, at any particular point in time, by making sure your site is multi-device friendly.

social media small businessChoice of communication channels

“The attention of modern individuals is fragmented and in this hectic communication reality they want to decide for themselves how and when and with whom they speak, both in private and with business communication” Social Marketing Forum

There is no doubt that the last ten years have seen a huge change in how we choose to communicate.  The whole social landscape has changed and as a business this needs to be reflected in the way you communicate to your customers. By offering a choice of ways for your customers to interact with your business you are more likely to be able to provide the preferred channel communication to a wider range of customers. This communication choice can be applied across the board from customer services to marketing. Simple ways to do this is to think about using an integrated both offline and online. For example:

Customer services: let customers choose how they wish to interact with you – whether it is by email, phone, or via social media.

Marketing: Market your product or services in a variety of ways, communicating traditionally through direct mail and advertising and digitally through email, social networks, PPC and SEO. In integrated approach reinforces the message and gives customers a choice in how they chose to respond.

Purchasing: Make sure customers have an options to make the final sale in the way that suits them – this could be over the phone, through your website’s online checkout or even via your social media.  For example if you have a large majority of customers who interact with your business on Facebook, then think about how you can better use that to your advantage. Try offering them the choice of purchasing your products directly through a Facebook Store.

So to reiterate, it isn’t about overwhelming customers with an overabundance of options but rather implementing customer choice strategically to give customers more control and an improved customer experience. This can help remove some of the barriers to purchase and help you increase your conversions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so do please leave a comment.

 Online shopping concept image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos

 

 

 

 

Harnessing the Power of Social Commerce: 5 Key Things Your E-Commerce Site Must Do Right Away

We’ve all done this at some point or the other – Going to the mall with friends tagging along because you want their opinions on what you buy. There’s social commerce in the analog world for you.

A lot has changed in the last decade. We don’t shop at the mall as much as we do online. Again, we don’t meet up with friends face to face as often as we interact with them on social media. When you factor in these two changes to the ‘going to the mall with friends’ concept – you get social commerce in 2014.

How Would You Define Social Commerce?

This is one of those things that is still nebulous, still taking form and no one can really agree upon any one comprehensive definition.

However, we can attempt to piece together inferences from how social media affects e-commerce to arrive at an acceptable meaning for social commerce today.

  • Facebook brand stores that were launched in the late 2000’s have almost disappeared entirely. This failure indicates that simply copy-pasting the existing e-commerce model onto social media does not make users want to buy things on social networks. Users go to social media to bond with friends, keep up with their social connections, not to browse through pages and pages of products for sale.
  • Research from Salesforce shows that 78% of sales professionals who use social media to reach out to their target audience sell more than those who don’t. Time to brush up those social skills and engage with your target audience, don’t you think?
  • Social media is not just useful from the seller’s perspective. Consumers use social media as a tool that aids purchase decisions.

Social Commerce

It’s not always sellers who reach out to potential buyers. Often buyers reach out to sellers – for various reasons, not just for sales. These reasons include service issues, pre-sales research, expressing thanks over a great experience and more. According to the Salesforce research quoted earlier, nearly three-quarters (73%) of all users claim to have engaged with a vendor on social media.

From all of this data, we can safely say that buying a product or a service online as a direct result of interactions on social media can be called social commerce.

It could be a result of clicking through from an organic post on social media, a recommendation by a friend, a paid ad or even a solution to a customer query posted on social media.

How Would You Maximize Social Commerce Revenues?

Getting your penny’s worth from social media has a lot to do with how you integrate social media into your website and your marketing communications.

1. Social Sharing Beyond The ‘Share’ button

The first step to making your online store social friendly is by letting users befriend your brand on social media. Tell your visitors loud and clear where to find you on social media and offer click through icons that let them follow you on individual networks.

Getting fans and followers used to be how social media marketing started among e-commerce players, but soon the realization sunk in that mere fans who don’t interact are not worth too much to the brand.

Enter engagement.

Allow users to share interesting things that they find on your site with their friends and family on social networks with strategically placed sharing buttons. If you have gorgeous product images, offer sharing to Instagram, Pinterest and of course Facebook. If quotable quotes are what your site is famous for, offer ‘click to tweet’ options.

However, just having social sharing buttons on product pages is mere tokenism in the name of social integration. ModCloth actually ‘gets’ this whole social sharing and community thing really well. Take a look at their search results page and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

1.	Social Sharing Beyond The ‘Share’ button

Each item shows the number of users who have ‘liked’ it previously – a sort of endorsement for the item. It gets better. The page filter offers ‘Most Loved’ as an option to filter your results by – something that you don’t see every day on an e-commerce site!

2. Encourage ‘purchase sharing’ on social media by offering buyers incentives to share online

A great way to ensure virality of your content on social media is to encourage your fans to like or share your posts on social media. This would mean that this ‘story’ would show up on the timelines of a large number of their friends.

An even better way to piggyback on your fans’ networks and get awesome visibility for your brand is by asking them to share their recent purchase experiences on social media. You can incentivize them to share their purchase online via your order confirmation email or your ‘Thank You’ page by offering a discount on their next purchase.

2.	Encourage ‘purchase sharing’ on social media

Take social sharing a step further by letting users share their own user generated content with your items on the product pages of your own website like ModCloth does here:

Endorsement

What better endorsement can a product get than having satisfied customers posting pictures of them actually using said product?

3. Social Proof to Encourage Conversions

The Global Trust in Advertising report by Nielsen shows that 70% of consumers trust opinions posted by real consumers online for making purchase decisions. This is second only to direct word of mouth recommendations from friends and family that topped the trust charts at 92%. Unsurprisingly, paid advertising managed to convince less than 50% of consumers with TV ads being most convincing and text ads on mobile phones bringing up the rear.

Leverage this innate trust that consumers have in the opinions of other users by offering them social proof across your website.

Don’t get thrown by the term ‘social proof’. Any content on your site that contains opinions or experiences or data regarding real users constitutes social proof. This includes:

  • Number of ‘satisfied customers’
  • Customer testimonials for your brand as a whole
  • Celebrity testimonials (remember Jennifer Hudson and Weightwatchers?)
  • Awards and recognition for your brand from prestigious entities
  • Ratings and reviews for individual products
  • Number of social ‘likes’ for a product

In fact, product reviews and testimonials are given huge importance in conversion optimization of e-commerce sites. CRO guru Neil Patel has penned an article that handles the topic in minute detail.

To summarize what Neil says about testimonials and social proof, here are quick to-dos:

  • Don’t stick to just text based testimonials. Create testimonials in video form with your users speaking about their experience with your product. A video combined with a compelling story is a convincer.
  • Make sure your testimonials are not vague, one-size fits all type affairs. Request users to spell out what they liked specifically about your brand, how it helped them in their own lives etc.
  • Use images and names of users to give the testimonial a tad more authenticity

4. The Right Mix of Product Posts and ‘Value-adding’ Posts on Social Media

If there’s one constant thing that one hears all around is that whatever you do, do not be ‘salesy’ on social media. The minute you start pushing products down users’ timelines like a used-car salesman is the minute you’ll have them running in the other direction for dear life.

Instead, we’re told offer ‘real value’ to users through your social media posts.

Now, I am not here to contradict these tried and tested pieces of social media wisdom. But I have my own take on how both types of posts hold real value for your users and must be used based on what works best. Test out your posts with A/B testing tools like VWO or Optimizely and see the response to them. Based on this you will arrive at a ratio of product posts to value-added posts for your individual brand – this is a critical step, as this ratio can vary widely for different brands based on their existing brand equity, industry type and target audience.

In the case of product posts, make sure you offer a click through link to your website where users can directly buy the product without having to comb through the entire website for the item. Image driven social networks like Pinterest can be optimized with Rich Pins that help users experience your product as well as click through to buy it right away.

Amazon has taken the lead in direct sales through Twitter by setting up the AmazonCart option. Nothing stops your brand from taking inspiration from the largest e-commerce site in the world and adapting the idea to your own online store.

Value-adding Posts on Social Media

5. Break Down Barriers with Social Login

You might have just put up your best social media post to date, yet you see few users crossing over to your site to make a purchase.

Jay Baer explains this reluctance to leave social media  “Given the extreme stickiness of social networks (especially Facebook and Pinterest), it is indeed possible that part of the issue with social commerce is one of session interruption, whereby consumers don’t want to leave the visceral comforts of their social network by clicking a link and going shopping online, but would rather store the awareness of the deal in their noggin and visit the website later, when they are less ensconced in social media bliss.”

Now turn the situation around. Imagine a user who comes to your site, picks out a product she likes and boom! She is asked to create a brand new user name, password and account on your site to be able to buy the item she picked out so carefully. How many users would have the patience to create the umpteenth user account on an e-commerce site? Statistically, just about a third of them.

What you really need in a scenario like this is the ability to let users move seamlessly between social media – a world that they are generally logged into already – and your website. Social login tools like Janrain make it possible for users to log into websites using their social media IDs. No more remembering yet another password-username combination.

Social logins come with some direct benefits for online stores as well. E-commerce stores get access to social information about their users – their likes, dislikes, location, preferred activities and more – using the integration of users’  social media accounts with their accounts on the e-commerce site. This rich data can be used to personally tailor communication for each user, thus raising conversion possibilities manifold.

Social login users post details about their purchase to their social networks directly from within your site, making the purchase visible on their friends’ timelines instantaneously.

Over to You

Social commerce will soon step into its next epoch with the ‘Buy’ button soon to become a reality on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – your three major social networks that are all set to help multiply your conversions from social media.

However, even with the ‘buy’ buttons or Amazon’s #AmazonCart concept, social commerce will not just be an e-commerce venture dressed in social skins. To make sure your e-commerce store truly benefits from social media in terms of actual bottom line numbers, you need to first get your basics right. Simply action the stuff that we discussed in this post right here, and you should be all set!

How small businesses can use e-coupons and discount codes to increase profits this Christmas

using discount codes at ChristmasHow to use online vouchers and discount codes successfully this Christmas

For many small businesses, Christmas is one of the most important sales periods of the year and also one of the most competitive. Online businesses are busy competing against each other in the hope of winning customers and hearing the ringing of their virtual sales tills. Used tactically as a short-term sales tool, discount codes, online vouchers and e-coupons can help increase sales conversions during this all-important holiday season.

The use of digital vouchers has risen significantly over the last few years or so and if predictions are correct the growth looks set to continue. The rise of e-commerce, shrewd and technically competent online consumers alongside a long period of economic stagnation have effectively propelled discount codes and e-coupons into everyday online shopping.

110.8 million people will redeem a digital coupon in 2014

There are few online consumers who haven’t redeemed an e-coupon at some point or other. Indeed recent statistics highlight just how significant online vouchers have become in the world of e-commerce:

 

The benefits of using e-coupons and discount codes

The reality for most small online business  owners is that e-commerce is a competitive environment full of cost conscious shoppers, so making that final sales conversion sometimes needs a little extra impetus, especially at times like Christmas when competition is fierce. Voucher codes can be an excellent short-term sales tool. With the right e-commerce solution they can be really quick to set up, promote, measure and redeem online.

  • Online vouchers can help push the consumer into making that all important move from shopping basket browsing to final conversion at the checkout –  who doesn’t like to feel that they have bagged themselves a bargain?
  • The time sensitive nature of a voucher or discount code for example ‘20% off for three days only’ can force consumers into a making a purchasing decision.  As humans we don’t like to feel that we may have missed out on something.
  • If you’re competing for business in a crowded market with little differentiation between products and services then it will be the better deal that is more likely to win the business and close the sale.
  •  If a customer takes up say a 30% off discount then he or she is likely to perceive the money saved as potential money to spend on something else. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been not been planning to buy something but have been enticed online with a money off promotion and checked out with an overflowing basket!

Caution signDo proceed with caution…

Of course there are some pitfalls that you will want to avoid to ensure your discount code and e-coupon promotions remain profitable this Christmas , otherwise it completely defeats the purpose of using them in the first place.

Do your sums: Before you in dive in offering discount codes here, there and everywhere – do you sums. Work out what kind of discount you can afford to offer and for how long you can run it in order for the promotion to remain profitable. Don’t forget to factor in shipping costs as well if you are thinking about offering free delivery and returns.

Don’t overuse: Think about what objectives you are hoping to achieve and plan for when you are going to run your promotions. Offering discounts all the time may end up significantly reducing your profit margins, plus their overall impact will begin to suffer. If consumers think they are always going to get a discount with your business then the sense of urgency as an incentive to buy reduces.

Have expiry dates: Make sure you have clear expiry dates on your vouchers and discount codes. You don’t want to be caught out having to honour old promotional discount codes when you hadn’t planned to.

Comply with British code of Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing. Make sure you have familiarised yourself with the guidelines laid out by the British Code of Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing.

 

Chritmas shopping trolleyTop tips for using e-coupons and discount codes this season

There are lots of different ways you can use online vouchers and e-coupons – some common examples are below. Test and measure the response of different offers to find out which work best for your business objectives.

  • Free shipping and returns
  • Spend over £50 and save 15%
  • Discounts such as 20% off or save £5 off your order
  • Money off your next purchase
  • Buy one get one half price
  • Three for the price of two
  • Recommend a friend and receive a money off voucher for your next purchase

Date and time specific Christmas promotions: Rather than offering on-going discounts throughout the Christmas season, tactically plan on your promotions for the maximum impact. For example offer a special ‘Black Friday ‘(Friday 28th November 2014) or ‘Cyber Monday‘ (Monday 1st December 2014) promotion or a ‘VIP one week only 20% off‘ promotion. You can see the Gap example below – it offers a 40% off for 12 hours only – a great way to create a sense of urgency. Limiting your promotions heightens the sense of urgency and the perceived specialness of the offer.

 

Gap discount code

Encourage up-selling and repeat visits: To make sure you are keeping an eye on the bottom line focus on up-selling and encouraging repeat business . Tempt shoppers with  further products once they have been enticed in and follow-up with an email at a later date showcasing further Christmas products they may be interested in. You can also try testing an offer to increase you average order value such as ‘Spend over £50 and receive 10% off and free delivery’. Used effectively, coupons can help with goodwill and customer retention. Indeed, 91% of coupon redeemers say that they will visit a retailer again after being offered a coupon.

Christmas shopping cart abandonment: Shopping cart abandonment is always a big issue for online retailers, perhaps no more so that at peak shopping times like Christmas. Although I would advice caution against offering discount codes to abandoned carts all the time, at competitive times like Christmas offering some sort of incentive to carts that have been abandoned for a while can work well since, 65% of online consumers state that they would re-consider an abandoned shopping cart if they were offered a voucher code.

“Coupon codes are essential to an e-commerce startup if it is in a competitive market. Business owners can use coupons wisely in their marketing strategies by re-targeting with banners or shopping cart abandonment emails to lure shoppers back to a website.” Pablo Palatnik, Mashable

Getting rid of old stock during the Christmas sales: Post Christmas sales are the time when businesses need to rid themselves of old and excessive stock. Offering a limited time discount on top of sale prices is a good tactic give you a bit of a competitive edge and pull-in shoppers. Just keep a close watch your profit margin as the last thing you want is to be selling at a loss.

 

Finally, it is really important to make sure that your checkout is able to deal with the redemption of vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons quickly and efficiently. A poorly set up, fiddly checkout that makes redeeming vouchers time-consuming will cause shoppers to leave in frustration – even if they have a discount code.

The use and redemption of digital vouchers and e-coupons looks set to continue to rise over the next few years. With predictions that redemption via mobile devices will grow the most. So looking forward it makes sense to ensure your e-commerce solution is multi-device compatible and quickly and easily able to set up and redeem discount codes, gift vouchers, e-coupons and online vouchers.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so please do leave a comment.

Christmas sale item image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Caution image courtesy of mrpuen/FreeDigitalPhotos.com

8 Must-have Elements for Any E-commerce Website

Must-have Elements for Any E-commerce Website

A dinner date with that ‘special someone’ demands a freshly pressed shirt, casual trousers and a nice jacket to match. A day at the beach calls for sunscreen, flip-flops, some cool shades and beachy shorts to match. A business meeting with your next ‘big fish’ client will see you in a tailored power suit, snappy tie and super shiny shoes.

What am I getting at with all this? Clothes maketh a man, my friend. And great website elements make a great e-commerce store.

Does your site have what it takes to clinch a sale and convert a visitor into a customer? Take a look and find out.

1. Intuitive Navigation

Good navigation, is in my opinion, the single biggest conversion factor for any e-commerce site. Over 70% off all visitors who do not bounce off your site, browse through it using on-site navigation.

Your navigation tells users where to find the products they want and helps them narrow it down to the smallest details. Do your site a favor by creating logical product categories that break down into clear sub categories in the most natural way; for example,

Menswear >> Shirts >> Cotton Shirts >> Egyptian Cotton

Another critical thing to ensure is that the navigation bar or product categories are clearly visible to the visitor. The more the user is forced to hunt aimlessly for a specific item she has on her mind, the higher are her chances of giving up and moving on from your site.

2. Search Bar

If for some reason your site navigation leaves a lot to be desired, all is not lost as long as you have a great in-site search function. At least 30% of all visitors directly use the site search function, pointing to the pressing need for a search function that offers results that are as quick and relevant as possible.

Search is also a great starting point for users who know exactly what they have in mind, right down to the model number, size and color.

Place your search bar in a prominent spot on your website – many sites like Amazon, Zappos, BestBuy and Walmart place it top center, right above the main navigation bar. Avoid the miserly little search bars that most non-e-commerce sites use. As an e-commerce brand, your search bar needs to be large enough to visibly fit in longer queries that may involve detailed product specifications and filters.

3. Product Ratings & Reviews

Don’t let the weaknesses of online shopping affect your business. Things like being able to touch, feel, try on or test run a product in a physical store cannot be replaced by e-commerce. However, you can offer the next best thing – word of mouth recommendations and reviews by real customers.

Understandably, users trust the experiences of real customers more than any glib marketing copy that you may offer on your webpage. According to a study by iPerceptions, 63% of visitors were more likely to purchase from a site that offered product reviews than those that did not.

Use and display product reviews wherever possible – on your search results pages, on product pages, even offer links to product reviews for products showcased on your home page. Actively seek out product reviews from customers immediately after product delivery. This keeps the purchase experience and product reviews fresh in the minds of customers and acts as great fodder for future sales.

Another awesome by-product of detailed and fresh reviews is better search rankings for your site. You see, new reviews are seen as fresh content and get picked up by search engines easily. Moreover, they typically contain keywords that are important to your site and thus contribute to boosting your search rankings.

4. Short, Simple Checkout Process

One of the biggest negatives that traditional retail has from a customer experience point of view is the long wait times that most customers have to suffer at the cash register before they can pay and checkout with their purchase.

Don’t replicate customers’ offline shopping miseries online by creating a long and overly complicated checkout process. Keep your checkout process as short and simple as possible. Forms during your checkout process must have minimal fields requesting only that information which is really useful to you.

A good-to-have aspect of high performing checkout processes is that they are self-contained and do not have any distractions like the main site navigation bar, banners, pop-ups or any other unnecessary site elements that might lead the user away from completing the transaction.

5. Guest Checkouts

A pet peeve that most online shoppers live down is the need to register with a site before completing a transaction.

Think about it. For any e-commerce transaction to take place, the user has to offer you her complete name, shipping address, email address and mobile number (besides their financial information) at the very least. Is it not possible to create a user account on behalf of the user automatically after the transaction is completed? Is it so necessary to divert the user from the middle of a transaction to a registration page and risk them losing interest altogether?

Offer guest checkouts as a thumb rule for all new users to reduce distractions and minimize the need to re-enter the same data into registration forms that they would anyway fill up in your checkout forms. If you do need any additional data about your users, you always have the option of sending out a dedicated email requesting them for such information.

6. Multiple Payment Options

Paying for a purchase in the real world can happen in a multitude of ways including cash, credit and debit cards, coupons, gift cards, checks, store credit and more. Unfortunately, the online world has been slow in adopting this variety of payment options into their transaction mechanisms. Most e-commerce sites offer just a choice between credit or debit cards and end the discussion right there.

With the rising incidence of large scale security breaches at leading retail chains and the subsequent credit card numbers being stolen, more and more online shoppers are switching to alternate payment methods like PayPal, pre-paid cards or even cash on delivery payments in developing countries. Mobile wallets by both Google and Apple offer users the option of syncing all your cards – debit, credit, loyalty etc – under a single app. Just tapping their mobile phones on a POS system at a retail store, enables customers to make their payment without fishing out a single card.

Acknowledge the need of the hour and expand your users’ options by offering the latest payment options preferred by them, to avoid losing out on a sale.

7. Trust Factors

Most people are fiercely guarded about their lives online, which extends to their financial behavior as well.

Few visitors to your site will willingly part with their email IDs or phone numbers, afraid of receiving a load of junk emails or having their data sold to unscrupulous organizations looking for user data.

When a user whips out a credit card or a debit card to make a payment, they need to know that the site that they are trusting with their financial information is safe to use and will protect the privacy of their personal and financial information.

Your job is to restore this faith in humanity that most online shoppers have by offering subtle trust cues across website. While collecting personally identifiable information from users, make sure you clarify that their data will not be sold forward to others or misused in any other way. This could be in the form of microcopy alongside the various data driven fields in your checkout process.

The need for trust is most acutely felt when it comes to financial information. Use widely accepted financial security measures to prevent data theft and misuse. Logos like the Verisign or McAfee tell the user that their data is now in safe hands.

8. Free Shipping

Getting items shipped to your doorstep is one of the many perks of e-commerce, however this perk typically comes at a price. Sometimes, the cost of shipping for certain bulky items becomes so unreasonably high, that online sales for such products becomes entire unviable.

A study by UPS in 2011, showed that unexpectedly high shipping costs were the number one reason for shoppers to abandon their shopping carts online mid-purchase.

Fix this conundrum by negotiating rock bottom rates with your shipping providers and offering users the benefit of free shipping once they shop above a certain order value. To ensure that your bottom-lines do not take a large hit while offering this convenience to your users, you can also offer users the option of picking slow shipping modes in order to avail the option of free shipping.

In Closing

The list of must-haves on a good e-commerce site is a large tome – something I probably will need a brand new blog post to cover and complete.

For now, my dear e-commerce colleagues, I promise you that getting started with these eight elements will show you some fabulous results already – results that will motivate you to dig deeper and turn that website of yours into a conversion machine. Amen to that lovely thought!

Image Source: (1)

Getting to grips with social media – 5 top tips for small businesses and start-ups

social media small businessThe rise of social media.

There is no doubt that since the arrival of Facebook in 2o04, social media has had a meteoric rise. It has altered the way we communicate and become an increasingly integral part of our everyday lives. So what does this mean for you as a small online business owner?

With so many social media platforms around it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to get started tapping into all that social media has to offer. We take a look at the benefits of social media, its challenges and where, as a small online business, to best focus your time and effort.

Fascinating facts and figures

 

The benefits (and challenges) of social media for small online e-commerce

The statistics outlined above reinforces our belief that social media should have a place in your online businesses marketing strategy.  It’s no longer something that is the solely the domain 18-25 year olds that can be dismissed as a passing fad. Your business needs to take it seriously. If your customers are using social networks (and chances are they are) then you need to be communicating with them on the same platform. Indeed, 70% of marketers have used Facebook to successfully gain new customers. An effective social media presence can bring your business added value through:

  • Building relationships 
  • Directly engaging with customers on their preferred communication platform
  • Establishing relevant online communities
  • Driving new traffic and as a consequence increasing sales
  • Strengthening your brand presence
  • Providing a low-cost marketing channel
  • Offering valuable customer insight

Clock, 24 hours, 7 days a weekOf course having a social media presence does also bring challenges for small businesses – namely time and resources.  Time often feels like it is against you when you run your own business; you are constantly wearing multiple hats and juggling lots of balls. And since few small business owners have the luxury of  dedicated marketers or social media experts, it means it is down to you where you choose to commit your time and resources. Social media is a bit of a trade-off (a bit like SEO) your costs are low but you will need to invest time in it.

Social media can bring a number of benefits to your business but you need to be able to balance the time and effort you will need against your other commitments. And because measuring the value of you social media efforts isn’t always as easy as other marketing channels like PPC or email, small business owners can be hesitant about committing their time to it. However, social media is often a component part of a customer’s overall journey to purchase . This makes it difficult to accurately measure its influence in terms of last click attribution. In an interesting article by Hubspot, they note that the value of social media often comes at the beginning of the sales funnel through relationship building.

“When was the last time you bought something immediately after clicking through a Twitter or Facebook link? That’s not how it typically works, right? Most customers discover companies through social media, then take some time to get to know their products or services — subscribing to emails or returning again through another channel.” Hubspot 

5 Tips for getting the most out of your social media presence.

We’ve established that having a social media presence is a necessity for small businesses and if done well the benefits will outweigh the challenges. So where should you focus your time and effort?

spread too thinly1. Don’t spread yourself too thinly: Firstly it is really important not to spread yourself too thinly. Rather than signing your business up to every social media network out there, start with a couple of key platforms first. That way you will be better able to manage your presence effectively within the time constraints you face. Of course the best social media platforms for your business with will depend on your target market so spend a bit of time finding out which social media platforms your audience are using as these will be the best places to focus your time and resources.

In terms of size Facebook is still leading the way with nearly 1.4 billion monthly active users and for your interest,  the top 3 social networking sites used by marketers are Facebook, Google+ and Twitter . As a general guideline it is better to post a little regularly. Decide how much time you can realistically commit to social media and stick to it.  Planning it in to your schedule may help – even if at first it’s just 15-20 minutes each day.

Content Image2. Concentrate on content: Just as with your website, fresh, relevant, quality content is key. If  you want to your customers to engage with your business then your content needs to be up to scratch. The more interesting and relevant your content is to your audience the higher the likelihood you’ll get shares, recommendations and conversations starting up. Social media is not the place for hard sales messages,  it is for building communities, relationships and rapport between you and your customers. So don’t be overly ‘salesy’ or ‘self promoting’ – it will turn your audience off. Instead, widen your content with information your customers are going to find interesting, entertaining and informative – such as competitions, insider news, industry trends, polls, helpful tips, interesting posts or invitations to special events.

Your should be aiming to get audiences to start looking at you as a bit of an expert in your area. Think about starting a blog. This will not only help you get seen as an expert, it is also a great way of adding fresh, valuable content that invites comments and conversations. Remember, its quality over quantity every time. So slow down and think about what your audience would like to see and aim for less, higher quality content rather than churning out lots of ill thought out content that customers may find irrelevant.

social media conversation3. Engage in conversations:  Engaging in conversations is a great way to give your business a personality.  And,  as we all know people prefer to do business with other people. Social media is all about building relationships with customers. To do this successfully first spend a bit of time observing what your audience is saying to each other – what are they talking about?  As a tip, a good way to get a conversation started is by sharing interesting information such as a blog post.

In terms of etiquette, if someone takes the time to make a comment then make sure you respond politely, thanking people for taking the time to make a comment or recommendation. Of course this will open you up to dealing with negative comments as well so it is really important you respond to these quickly and professionally at all times.

If you are in the position to have other team members around then think about getting them involved in your social media presence as well. It will help with your own time constraints and add a different voice to the mix. Just remember if you are opening it up to colleagues make sure you have some clear business guidelines in place for everyone to adhere to.

social media sharing4. Encourage Sharing:  The more interesting and relevant your content,  the more likely it is to be shared. “The sharing of content through social media and email consistently outperforms both consumer ratings and consumer reviews. And, surprisingly, online sharing carries essentially the same weight as in-person recommendations.” Yahoo Small Business Advisor

Of course if you haven’t made it easy for people to share all your great content then your hard work may be wasted. Make sure you have your social media icons in prominent places to make it as simple as possible for customers to share your content. For example on your website display icons clearly in your sidebar or header, add them to your email newsletters (many of the email companies like Mail Chimp and Mad Mimi will do this automatically for you), include sharing buttons on all your blog posts and don’t forget to use call to actions asking people to follow you and like you on Facebook.

Remember people trust the recommendations of friends and family often above all other influences – so encouraging sharing is essential.  “The most influential element driving purchase decisions today is word of mouth.” WOMMA

 

social platforms should support one goal5. Take an integrated approach: Don’t look at social media in isolation, rather take a joined approach. By this I don’t just mean take an integrated approach to your presence on all your social media sites, rather that you make sure all your platforms are working in unison and supporting each other. Take a coordinated approach across your website, blog, social media platforms, email newsletters and so on to ensure they are all working together to your achieve your end goals. If you look at each platform in isolation then your messages will end up being disparate and confusing to your customers.

So the key to getting on board with social media is to start out picking a couple of key platforms to establish your business on, allocating a realistic (and manageable) amount of time on a daily basis and putting your energy and time into producing interesting, relevant and shareable content. Track your progress to see what is working well and not so well and then grow from there!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment. 

Social media is taking over the world image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Buttered bread image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social network image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Click share button image courtesy of mater isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Succesful teamwork image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net