7 tips to help small businesses successfully manage online returns

managing online returnsProduct returns are always going to be part and parcel of online selling. The nature of the online environment means that unless a customer visits a bricks and mortar store first, they can’t physically examine a product or service prior to purchase.

Although a bit of a nuisance, returns are expected even by the major online brands. The trick is to handle your returns as efficiently and effectively possible. If you have a well-managed returns procedure created with your customer’s needs in mind then returns can have positive impact on your business.

‘Our best customers have the highest return rates’ Zappos

Handling returns can be annoying but try to view your returns in a positive way. Online shoe retailer Zappos maintains it is their customers with the highest returns rate that spend the most money and are the most profitable.  Successfully managed returns can;

  • Improve retention rates and repeat sales through building customer loyalty
  • Help conversions by acting as a trust signpost 
  • Showcase great customer service
  • Provide a competitor advantage

How to keep your return rate low

Even with the positives a well-managed returns procedure can bring, there is no doubt that they can be annoying and can cost small businesses valuable time and money. Here are a few simple to implement tips to help you lower your return rates.

Realistic customer expectations. As we mentioned earlier because customers don’t have the opportunity to try the product before they purchase, they are reliant on the information you provide. Therefore the more accurate you are in your descriptions and the more realistic your imagery the less likely there will be a difference in what your customers are expecting to receive and what actually gets delivered.

  • Product pages. Use accurate, detailed descriptions for every product. Imagery is essential, the more accurate the better. Try offering multi-angle or 360° photos. Video also works really well as it shows the product off motion.

customer reviewsCustomer reviews. Customer reviews help manage customer expectations. For example if I was about to buy a top and wasn’t sure about the sizing, a customer review might mention that the top comes up on the large size so I would know to size down, consequently reducing the likelihood of me having to return the top.

 

Offer detailed guides and instructions. Many products are returned simply because a customer is struggling to put together or set up an item. Help them out as much as possible by including simple instructions and guides with the product. Have a video ‘how to guide’ on your website that you can direct them to and a helpline number that they can contact you on – it will reduce returns and save you time in the long run.

7 Best practice tips

Outlined below are seven best practice tips to you manage your online returns successfully.

eu distance selling régulations1. Have a clear, easy-to-understand returns policy and procedure. Your website should clear returns policy and procedure. Take a look at clothing retailer White Stuff returns page. It focuses on their customer’s needs by making it easy to find,  straightforward to understand and outlining their customers rights. Reiterate you returns procedure and policy on your invoice that is included with the product.

Ensure you are aware of the legal distance selling regulations for your country and the rights your customers have. For example in the UK you should be familiar with the Sales of Goods Act and the  EU distance selling regulations.  Changes to regulations in June 2014 extended returns to 14 days from receipt of goods. Useful websites include:

Gov.UK – online and distance selling for businesses

EU – rights when shopping online

Sales of Goods Act

2. Offer free returns.  For a small online business with narrow profit margins this may be a hard one to swallow but the benefits of offering free returns to your customers will usually outweigh any costs. Customers really won’t appreciate a hefty return postage fee cost and it will put people off coming back to you. Focus on the long-term benefit of customer retention. In addition providing free returns is a great selling point and can help with conversions so don’t forget to flag it up on your website.

3. Make it  convenient.  Successful businesses always have customer needs at the heart of everything they do. Think about how you can make your returns procedure convenient and hassle free for your customers. Try:

  • including a pre-printed and pre-paid returns label in with your packaging. Offering a downloadable returns label like White Stuff on the returns page of your website is also helpful as many customers will mislay the one included with the product paperwork.
  • think also about offering click and collect options to customers.  They than have the option to return their item to a local click and collect shop at their own convenience.

don't argue over customer returns4. Don’t argue over returns. This is another area where it pays to think long-term. Splitting hairs with customers over returns is going to lose you business and reduce your retention rates. Most returns will be genuine but sometimes you may just have to suck up a spurious return and focus on the bigger picture. Use a policy of ‘no quibble’ returns is a great selling point and can give you an advantage over your competitors.

5. Get feedback. Try to get feedback from your customers when they make a return. Feedback can be really useful as it can help you identify and tackle potential problem areas. For example if a number of products are returned because ‘product not as depicted’ it means you may need to address your product descriptions and improve your product images.

6. Prompt customer communications. The prompter you are in your communications with your customers the happier your customers will be and the more positive they will feel towards your business. As soon as you receive your customer’s returns, email them with confirmation of receipt of goods and inform them when they can expect to receive their refund. Contact them again when you have issued their refund. Customers will appreciate your efficiency and it will stop them having to contact your customer service department.

discount returned items7. Resale on returned items.  It’s not always possible to resell returned items at full price, for example if the packaging is damaged. So you’re not stuck with lots of returned stock taking up valuable storage space, it makes sense to get rid of it. Offer such products at a discounted price on your website – maybe under a ‘ clearance section’ or even on eBay. It may not give you the profit you wanted but it may mean you break even and avoid mounting storage costs.  It is essential if you are doing this that you clearly state any damage – this way the customer won’t be able to return the item as he or she was aware of the damage prior to purchase.

Hopefully we’ve shown that returns aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that if managed well you can find ways to reduce your returns rate. Implementing a best practice returns procedure will also help your business in the long run in term of stronger customer relations, trust and goodwill.

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

7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.

Conclusion

We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

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7 indispensable time management tips for small business owners

Time management for small businessWhy does it always feel that there are never quite enough hours in the day? Lack of time is a challenge most small online business owners face daily. The very nature of a small business or start-up means constantly juggling multiple tasks, trying not to let anything slip. Small business owners have to wear many hats, dealing tasks ranging from formulating company strategy to changing a printer cartridge.

Interestingly,  50% of small business owners feel lack of time is one of the most difficult aspects of owning a small business – even higher than making a profit!   Clearly getting on top of managing your time effectively is something worth conquering.  In the US 1 in 4 small business owners believes that  just one extra hour in the working day is worth more than $500. Successful time management can help:

  • increase productivity   
  • reduce stress levels
  • improve efficiency 
  • cut time-wasting.

We take a look at some practical, easy to implement tips that will help you better manage your valuable time.

1. Prioritise

There are always going to be some tasks that need to be prioritised over others. The trick is to ensure you focus on the real priorities rather than just the tasks that are easier or of more interesting. Before embarking on your working day decide what your priorities are. A simple way to do this is to get into the daily habit of categorising tasks into order of importance and urgency. This way you can focus on the tasks that have to be completed today rather than ending up spending your time on something that really could wait.  For example categorise tasks into groups –

 1 – Critical tasks. Important tasks that have to be completed  today or you face significant consequences

2 – Tasks essential to the daily smooth running of your business – important but not so urgent as your critical tasks

 3 – Everything else. 

Ensure you get everything completed in group 1 before you move onto group 2 and then only move on to group 3 when all the tasks in group 2 are completed. Getting into the discipline of prioritising your daily workload will enable you better focus your time on the areas that matter rather than being sidetracked by the ‘nice’ but not essential’ tasks.

planning2. Plan

Planning follows neatly on from prioritising. Once you know your priorities then you can schedule them into your day. A schedule can sometimes be more effective than a ‘to do’ list. There is a tendency to just keep adding to a ‘to do list’ until it becomes a very long, endless list of tasks – which is no help to anyone.

Juggling lots of things at the same time makes it difficult to see the wood for the trees. Try putting half an hour aside first thing to plan and prioritise. This will help you feel in more control of what you are doing. Think realistically about what you want to achieve that day and plan your day around those task. At the end of the day it feels rewarding to have completed what you set out to do.

There are certain times of the day that we work better. For example if you know you are a morning person then plan to get all the tasks that you know you need to focus on done first thing. Plan the routine ‘no brainer’ jobs during the afternoon slump time – it’s a far more productive use of your time. Trying to get complex tasks done when you are tired will take twice as long as it would if you were fresh and at your best.

staying motivated3. Stay motivated

Small online business owners often work from home and as a consequence can find themselves spending long period of time alone. Humans are inherently social creatures so it can be demotivating not having people around to banter with or bounce ideas off. The weight of your business usually rests on your shoulders alone so keeping motivated is essential. Of course everybody has an off day now and then but you need to remain motivated to ensure you stick to plans, manage your time well and stay focused.

  • Make time to be social. Try joining small business discussion forums or local networking groups. This can be a good way to share any small business concerns or ideas you have amongst like-minded people.
  • Take regular breaks. Typically the human brain uses up its energy reserves in 60-90 minutes so putting time aside to recharge is essential.
  • Try exercise. research shows that regular exercise is closely linked to increased levels of motivation.
  • Remind yourselves of all the positives. It can be all too easy to focus on the harder aspects of owning a business. Make time to remember all the great benefits there are to being your own boss!

organised work space4 . Streamline your processes and organise your work space

Sounds simple but an ordered workspace will make you more efficient. A messy, cluttered environment can be a real distraction. Keep on top of paperwork and have a proper filing system in place.

Think about what processes could be streamlined in your business. For example, do you spend hours a week dealing with customer queries? If so implement a Help / Frequently Asked Question page on your website and direct people there as their first port of call.  Can you set up templates for routine communications? The more efficient you can make your systems and processes the more time you will be able to free up.

And, don’t forget there are some excellent automated software and apps available to help you in all aspects of your business such as time management, task management, scheduling, accounting and email, to name just a few.  Work out what areas you could do with a bit of help and investigate some of the software on offer.

time management procrastination5. Stop procrastinating

We’ve all been there. It’s all too easy to put off things we don’t won’t to do by focusing our efforts on more enjoyable things. Many a time I’ve put off doing a task I’m dreading by distracting myself with other ‘pressing’ jobs such as tidying the house or surfing the internet. Of course we all know that in long run the unwanted task doesn’t go away and often just gets worse the longer we leave it. So instead of leaving it to fester,  grab the bull by the horns and just deal with it. I promise you’ll feel a whole letter better and waste a lot less time by getting uncomfortable tasks done as soon as possible.

“Done is better than perfect”

We also put things off by spending too long trying to get things perfect. Perfectionism can eat up your time like nothing else. Sometimes it’s better to just do ‘good enough’ and get it finished  so you can move on to the next thing.

6. Delegate or outsource

We all have things that we are better at doing than others. But as small businesses owners the need for control in all areas of our business can mean we end up doing absolutely everything – even things that we know we could easily  delegate or outsource to somebody else. It is always going to be a struggle to keep up with the demands of a small business. According to research, the average small business owner has between 3-6 different roles in any one day. If you want to manage your time more effectively try outsourcing or delegating areas you don’t enjoy or  feel confident doing to someone who is better placed to do it. It will free up your time to focus on other important areas.

managing distractions7. Get rid of distractions

Distractions can disrupt all you good time management intention. You could be cracking on with a priority task only to get distracted by a phone call, email or social media update. Once distracted it can be hard to get back to the task in hand and you can end up wasting a lot of valuable time.  Learn what things are most likely to distract you and have a strategy to cut those distractions out until you have got on what you need.

The average American worker admits to “wasting” about 3 hours of a typical 8 hour work day (not including lunch breaks).

For example group together routine tasks such as admin, social media updates, answering non-urgent emails and phone-calls and build in a specific time of the day to deal with all such tasks. Put your phone on silent log-out of the social media, close the door and focus on getting on with what is important.

The very nature of small business means we’ll always want more hours in the day. Of course that’s impossible, however getting on top of time management will help you better cope with the many jobs and pressures you deal with on a daily basis. In return increasing your productivity and helping lower your stress levels.

We’d love to hear your own tips on time management – so please do share you thoughts and experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create a successful brand for your small business or ecommerce start-up

branding for small businessesMany small businesses have been up and running a good while before their thoughts turn to brand building. Even then branding ends up slipping to the bottom of the to-do list. Of course, with the 101 things small business owners are faced with on an every day basis this is understandable. Yet it is important not to underestimate the importance of good branding.

In order to be successful long-term, branding needs to be at the heart of your business. Working on creating a proper brand presence early on can pay dividends in the long run. Why? Because the impression you make as a business as critical to your long-term success and this is tied intrinsically into branding.

What is a brand?

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Jeff Bezos, Founder Amazon

Your  brand is essentially the set of ideas your business stands for in people’s minds. Recognisable visually such as through a logo, your brand is also shaped by your actions as a business.  A successful brand will help differentiate you from your competitors, build loyalty, increase traffic, create brand advocates and help connect people emotionally to your business.

For example I have being buying Converse All Star for well over 20 years. Not solely because of the trainers themselves but because over years I have connected emotionally to the brand through a sense of belonging becoming a loyal returning customer in the process.

brand loyalty

 

Defining your brand

Branding itself is a massive area indeed, large companies have  dedicated people such as brand managers and brand directors working on their brand full-time. As a small business owners we obviously don’t have that luxury, yet with a bit of time and effort we are quite capable of building a successful brand for our business ourselves. Before you embark on building your brand presence you need first to spend some time thinking about the fundamentals of your brand.  Considering the following questions will help you get you off to a solid start.

  • What is your purpose as a business?
  • What are your businesses core values?
  • Who is your target audience and what are their needs?
  • What do your customers think when they think of your business?
  • What differentiates your business from that of your competitors?
  • And most importantly, what is it you want your customers to think when your business comes to mind.

7 essential tips small business can use to build their brand

The great news is you don’t need a huge budget in place to build your brand. You will however need to invest some time and thought into establishing a solid brand presence.

excellent customer service1. Offer a positive customer experience.

72% of consumers say customer service is central to brand loyalty.  

 

I mentioned earlier that branding is closely associated with the impression you make as a business. Central to this is offering your customers an all round positive experience from start to finish. Ensuring that your customers experience a seamless journey – from navigating your website, browsing products, using your shopping cart, making a payment, shipping and delivery to exemplary customer service – is essential if your want to building a positive impression and healthy reputation.

2. Use content to build your brand

Authentic, relevant, quality content is integral to building your brand. Content that reflects your brand identity and is relevant to the needs of your customers will build brand engagement, brand loyalty and brand trust.

80% of consumers say that the authenticity of content is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of a brand.

Focus on providing a variety of engaging, value added, visual and non-visual content for your customers. For example;

  • Blog posts
  • New articles
  • How to Guides
  • Online Tutorials
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Competitions and Quizzes.

3. Create a brand personality

People prefer to do business with other people. For small business owners your brand personality is likely to be you – it is what you do on behalf of your business. Think about the tone you use when you write, how you interact on with people on the phone, what things you post on social media and what visual images you use. Remember what you are submitting is a reflection of your business and your brand values.

Try using your ‘About Us’ page to give customers a feel for the people behind the business. ‘Meet the team’ or ‘behind the scenes’ can give a face to your business and help people build an emotional connection to your brand. Take a look a Stella and Dot or Riverford’s About Us videos.

Use Social media to build brand awareness4. Use Social Media

71% of people say they are more likely to make a purchase from a brand they follow on social media. 

Social media is a great platform to build awareness of your brand. Firstly consider not only the platforms your target market are likely to be using but also which platforms best support your brand image. For example Facebook is probably a safe starting point for most businesses as it is has huge and diverse audience, if you are heavily imaged based then look at Pinterest and Instagram and if you are B2B then you probably want to be on LinkedIn. The point is to give it some thought before you leap in.

The content you post should reflect your brand image and support your brand values. The more valuable it is to your customers the higher the likelihood is that it will be shared.

5. Brand trust

A successful business with a loyal customer base will have worked hard over time to establish brand trust – think John Lewis, FedEx, Apple and Amazon. As a small business and start-up the best way to start developing brand trust is, as we mentioned earlier in the article, through providing a consistently positive customer experience.

When you are starting out it is also a good idea to include various trust signposts that will signal to new customers that your business is trustworthy. For example:

  • Security logos and Trustmarks
  • Customer testimonials
  • Awards or accolades
  • Customer reviews
  • Transparent information on delivery and returns 
  • Exemplary customer service
  • Easy to find contact details and registered address
  • Links to official organisations and associations

6. Visual identity

Building a recognisable visual identity is essential to establishing a  brand. Firstly create a great logo and use it everywhere. Think also about your visually branding in terms of fonts, colours, style and feel. This should be applied to all your marketing materials both online and offline. If you keep these things consistent you will start to establish visual brand recognition.  It is a good idea to create a set of visual brand guidelines and standards – such as how your logo can be used, what font should be used and the Pantone reference for your brand colours.

7. Be consistent.

brand consistencyApparently it takes between 5-7 brand impressions before someone remembers your brand. Therefore staying consistent is absolutely essential if you want to establish your brand in the mind of customers.  Consistency will reinforce your brand identity making your brand recognisable and differentiating you from your competitors. Mixed messages and inconsistent branding will only leave customers confused about your business with no reason to invest in what you have to offer.

 

 

We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences on building a brand for your small business, so please do leave a comment.

 

 

10 Tips To Boost Revenue With Upsell And Cross Sell

Broadly speaking both upselling and cross-selling deliver the same effect i.e. increased profit.

Generally people require a genuine second person review or suggestion while shopping. And what if the seller himself performs this, in that case the customer would want to entrust even his future shopping assignments to him. A website cannot manifest a human touch, but if a site escorts a customer in his online shopping journey it would profit both sides.

And hence the entire objective of this operation should not just be manifold profit but to make the user’s experience expedient and comfortable.

To understand it better let’s take an illustration: Recommending accessories to pair up with your jeans might not just help you earn more profit by selling more products to the same customer. It will also resolve few hassles in advance which would spring up in the future.

10 Tips To Boost Revenue With Upsell And Cross Sell

What is Upselling?

Upselling is inducing a customer to purchase a product for which he had not shown any prior buying inclination. However it should not be taken as needless buying. As sometimes consumers do have a need which they do not acknowledge until they are made to.

You can upsell anything – a product, a service or an extended warranty contract (Terms and conditions as they are mostly provided in case of automobiles and electronic goods – it is nothing but an advanced coverage for repairs and periodic service).

Example: Amazon.com. Their persuasive course doesn’t end on completion of a purchase, it actually starts there. And it comprises regular mails with alluring offers and product images to customers. As the customers have already established a trade relation, making a new purchase all the more smooth (only if they had a positive experience).

Companies into direct retail associate bonuses with upselling and cross selling to employees in order to increase their revenue margins.

A few upsell tips that will swell your revenue figures

  1. A high end product which gets rejected for its high pricing can fetch a profitable sale if well promoted. The basic trick to upsell is learning about your customer and his background. This will help you figure out the utility-void for your product. If a customer comes looking for a smartphone and you suggest him a television, this foolhardy would not just irritate the customer but demonstrate ruthlessness at the same time. And this will also impact customer’s perception of your brand. A brand that is just bent upon selling products irrespective of its applicableness to the person concerned holds less value. And it would rarely bother about customer concerns after the sale is completed.  On the contrary a brand that takes account of customer clicks and search criteria before making a recommendation is perceived to be smart and stands to gain on account of relevant suggestions. Additionally, knowing customers purpose behind the buying decision will enable you to make more helping recommendations.
  2. Do not spin the customer amongst pages. Most of the time customers compare products before buying, and comparison rule implies that comparable products with their specifications share the same screen space. Therefore a customer should be provisioned to view other products alongside his current selection. And this can be worked up by presenting other products from the same category on the same page. Insert either a horizontal or vertical frame to carouse similar products without losing the sight of the selected product.
  3. Your suggestion frame should neither be flashy to project a nasty objective nor impede the current selection process. There can be two ways to go about it:

    1. Keep product suggestions at the bottom of the page (above the footer). Here the frame is noticeable even at a glance and at the same time does not obstruct a user in his selection process.
    2. Place the product recommendation after the first conversion step, which happens to be before cart confirmation. This would ensure the first sale and give user a last moment insight into other product range offered.

  4. Ecommerce sites usually suggest similar complimentary product options from different brands, that customer did not know existed. Nobody has the time to run over the entire product range displayed by a website. A customer always trims the product list according to his preference criteria. A productive way of recommending products would be – Displaying only the products that fulfill the chosen criteria and explicitly mention it in words. For example if a person comes looking for smartphones having 13 megapixel primary camera.  Additional product recommendations to him should be made based on the same criteria and be worded so – “Other smartphones having 13 mp camera”.
  5. Lastly, the only way to convince a customer for buying a more expensive product over his selection is by proving higher returns of the product. Invade the customer’s qualm about durability; nobody would want to buy a product that is irreparable and high maintenance. A refrigerator which is higher in cost but consumes less power being eco-friendly will fetch more savings in the long run than its economic counterpart. Effectively conveying this message to the consumer will coerce him into buying a product that is heavy on the pocket now but will alleviate the burden later. Such deals benefit both the vendor and customer, provided you deliver what you guarantee.

What is Cross selling?

A man goes to a restaurant for lunch. After noting the order waitress asks him politely “Sir would you like to have something to drink with it, we have some fresh seasonal juice you will like”. Cross selling is nothing but proposing additional products from different categories to the customer to up your sale amount.

Effective tips to smartly implement cross selling

  1. Couple one product to another for making more sales; most cosmetic companies cross sell using this criteria. A consumer intending to buy a hair shampoo is sold an after-shampoo conditioner emphasizing the need to condition hair after washing them. And since washing is a regular routine activity people do, the profit margin doubles for the manufacturer and retailer.
  2. There is a new product people are not aware about. Unless marketed people will never come to know about it. Simply asking the people to buy a new product is not enough for cracking a sale. It requires attractive embellishment to draw visitor attention. For this you can ascribe eye catching discounts to such products. This will fetch it sufficient recognition nearing purchase. You must have seen retail stores flaunting “Buy two and get 40% off”; clubbing discounts can also earn you more. And you can extend it to varied product quantities to provide an offer for everyone. Godfather’s famous lines “Make them an offer they cannot refuse” make the most sense when it comes to devising discount schemes. Various kinds of people visit online stores, some are thrifty while some are ready to spend lavishly. And then there are those that carry a flexible budget, and are ready to stretch it if they are getting a good deal. Consider all these types of people when you plan out your discount options.
    Overstock
  3. The recommendations you make should be well within the confines of relevance. The products could be from different categories but complementing the selection. If customer adds a pair of formal shoes to his shopping cart he might require extra laces, a shoe polish, or insoles. Suggesting such items which don’t literally but superficially fall into the category will induce the customer to add more stuff into the shopping cart to pair up with his purchase.
    Amazon
  4. This is possible when all the products follow at least 2-3 level categorizations. A high level view may categorize a shoe into footwear category, but it can be broadly classified into Men and Women’s shoe category, going further this shoe can fall into a formal or a casual shoe category. Therefore a detailed categorization of all the products that encompass your range should be done. So that the algorithms that regulate product displays on the webpage are fed in advance. And hence whenever customer selects a product, algorithm picks recommendatory products from its sub-categories. On the other hand, another retailer Costco.com posts other product recommendations based on previous user searches.
    level categorizations
  5. Never team a cross-sell that costs higher than the original selection. Probability of it being selected is dim. If customer takes a leap to buy an extra commodity, it should be well within his buying budget. And that budget is definitely not double the price of his purchase. In fact it approximates to 25% of the initial product price. Recommendations that bear a small price tag stand a chance in the shopping cart, as accommodating them does not distinctly inflate the cart amount. If you are suggesting accessories make sure they are not expensive enough to scare a user away as this might lead to cart abandonment, especially if the customer finds a similar pair at lesser price on another store. Although this might require you to apply more than one algorithms and a strong knowledgeable staff at the backside for suggesting relevant product. Price is the most important criteria that influence buying decisions.
  6. Bundle up free delivery with carts exceeding a particular amount. Sometimes paying for the delivery takes a toll on customers, which causes them to shrink their cart total. Incentivizing their purchase order by free shipping can relieve them of the pressure and induce them to increase their purchase limit. Just to waive off the shipping costs, sometimes friends join their wish lists and make a single bill. This can also be done by clubbing products from the same retailer. This would not just ease off the shipping issues, but will also smooth the return and exchange process.

Track the progress of every marketing campaign after its implementation. Conduct webpage analysis to monitor the most frequented area of the page, keywords, etc. If your strategy combines both cross sell and up sell techniques, it would be tough to identify which technique generated more sales. If you contemplate the outcome based on user clicks, there could be many unknown factors that influenced the result. Maybe the customer just clicked to check product specifications or maybe it was a joint order by two people.

Often retailer use an amalgamation of Cross selling and Upselling, adopting any one of the two will be losing a revenue opportunity. Well this also depends on your articulation at these coercive techniques. Ultimately the intention is to maximize profit margins.

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5 indispensable pop up shop tips for small online businesses and start-ups

pop up shopContinued growth in ecommerce coupled with changes in the traditional retail environment has meant the last few years have seen a significant development in the pop up shop industry.  With projections for next year indicating that pop-ups will grow nearly 2.5 times faster than the UK’s traditional retail industry there are no signs of a slow down.

The very nature of pop up shops means that as well as being loved by the big brands its format lends itself really well to small online businesses and  start-ups. We take a look at the benefits a pop up store can bring your ecommerce business and provide some helpful tips for getting your pop up off to a flying start.

What is a pop up shop?

pop up shop spaceEssentially a pop up shop is a temporary retail store selling merchandise in a particular space or venue for a limited period of time – typically from 1 day to a few of months. The aim is to attract customers through creating a burst of impact and providing a unique and interesting experience of your brand.  Pop-up shops are incredibly flexible encompassing a wide variety of quirky spaces to suit all budgets – no matter how small. Examples of utilising space could include;

  • Shop shares
  • Vacant retail space
  • Shopping centres
  • Churches
  • Village halls
  • High street stalls
  • Farmers markets
  • Festivals
  • Art Galleries
  • Tents
  • Window displays
  • Garages
  • Even pubs are getting in on the act!

If you are looking to rent some shop space or similar then there are a number of online services available that you can organise this through. Checkout:

Benefits for ecommerce owners

A pop up store is a low risk, cost-effective way to complement your online presence with some exciting offline activity, bringing your small online business a number of benefits. Including;

Flexibility.  Pop-up shops can be adapted to suit your budget. Their temporary nature means you have no long-term commitment and no big overheads. You can simply choose the kind of pop up space your budget allows for the amount of time you need it. This could be anything from renting a vacant retail space for a couple of months to a table at a farmers market for a day.

Drive traffic.  Exposure to a new audience can generate leads that you can capture and drive online to your business website.

Customer engagement. If your business is primarily online then a pop-up shop is an excellent way to physically get yourself in front of potential customers. It gives you the opportunity  to engage in face-to-face conversation with your target market and gain valuable insight and feedback about your business.

Brand awareness. Pop-up stores can help get your brand in front of new customers, building awareness of your brand. Being creative can help generate interest and create a buzz around what you are doing – opening you up to some potential PR opportunities.

New products. Pop-up shops enable to you to test new product ideas out on your potential audience and obtain real-time feedback. If you’re launching a new product then a pop-up store is also a  great way to create some added excitement – complementing online marketing promotions.

Test offline retail. If you are thinking about expanding your business offline into bricks and mortar then pop-ups are a sensible first step and a good way to experiment with the offline environment – before taking the plunge permanently.

5 essential tips for getting started

pop up shop planning1. Planning.

Spending time planning your presence is absolutely essential if you want your pop up shop to be a success. Think about the practical considerations you will need to undertake to ensure a positive experience:

  • Have clear goals and objectives in place.
  • What type of space is available in your budget?
  • How long are you planning to run your pop up store – a few days, a few weeks or a few months?
  • Will you need to hire in additional staff to man your pop up shop?
  • What stock will you need?
  • Do you need there to be a good WiFi connection?
  • What time of year are you planning your pop up – will the weather have an impact?
  • How are you going to take payments?
  • How do you plan to data capture contact details such as email addresses?

2. Location.

Choosing the right location is of paramount importance so make sure you do your research first. Primarily think about where you are likely to find your target market. Choose somewhere with a high footfall, with good public transport links and a location that is easy to find. Do you need somewhere with good WiFi connection (essential if you want to  get visitors to check out your online store or promote real-time posts on social media)?

3. Make an Impact.

The more interesting and unique you can make your pop-up shop the more likely you are to attract an audience. It’s a great chance for you to get creative so spend time thinking about the visual impact you want your pop up shop to have. How will you display your merchandise? What signage will you use? Are you running any promotions or special events? For some great visual inspiration, check out Pinterest – there are plenty of boards dedicated to Pop-Up store displays.

publicise pop up store4. Spread the word.

Give people plenty of advance warning about your pop up shop and stress it’s for a limited time period – people don’t like to feel that they might are missing out on something! Promote your pop up shop on:

  • Your website
  • Your blog
  • Social media platforms
  • Local papers
  • Local notice boards
  • Local social media networks
  • Flyers
  • Press releases

follow up emails5. Follow up 

As an ecommerce business one of your key goals is likely to be driving potential customers to your online store. Therefore think about how you are going to capture prospect data such as email addresses so you are able to follow-up on possible leads. Competitions are a great way to get people to impart with their contact details. Ensure that you display your website address prominently and include it on all your flyers and packaging.

With a bit of thought and planning, pop up stores can be a great offline tactic for small business ecommerce and start-ups, so it’s worth giving it a try!

We’d love to hear your experiences using pop up stores so do please leave a comment.

 

 

9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store

9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store
Trades and businesses flourish on trustworthiness be it B2B or B2C. Customer confidence and credibility are not acquired overnight; it takes consistent perseverant years of service to appease your customers and flag out your name.

Ensure your business entails all those ingredients that engender trust in your brand. Drawn from my experience as a consumer and marketer I share 9 upshots that will help you construct a trustworthy online store.

1. Fathom audience needs

Let your audience propensity take the center stage position in web store design. Site’s interface and interaction should orbit around visitor behavior – the navigation styles they prefer, shopping cart features that delight them, designs that instill confidence, page clicks and duration of visits. Audiences must perpetually feel elated coming to your site. Their interaction with the site should generate trust that eventually translates into revenue. And to attain this even if you have to inject bespoke elements into the foyer of site development, don’t dither. As a rule consumers share a fascination for extensive product information. Serving extra details on your store can take you extra miles in spawning customer’s interest for your site.

Another unspoken expectation from your website is effortless accessibility. It should have clear navigation links and an in place search functionality. Carousel format to showcase products is an intelligible method. Besides drawing user attention to product this style enables visual perception to grasp other recommended products with equal concentration.

2. Carefully word your sale

Never in your marketing campaigns criticize a competitor. Your ethics and values are substantially important in carving your image amidst customers. People don’t via for brands that demonstrate a callous image. Condemning other brands can be perceived as your brands incompetence.

Another way is to support social causes to enjoin your establishment with society’s concern. You can integrate some cause marketing program with your campaign. Toms Marketplace is one such eCommerce site that has enjoined diverse humane causes to every product purchase. The site navigation is clean and versatile to the extent that shoppers can make purchases affiliating to a cause of their choice through ‘Shop by Cause’ option.

Carefully word your sale
Your brand projects a personality. You need to get it just right enough to strike a chord at the right place; neither a subdued design nor a flashy one can make a mark. Unless you merchandise children’s items don’t select comic sans font. A font that matches your genre compliments your motive. Not all customers are discrete about a site’s appeal, but readability matters to everyone.

Every copy that floats on web needs to be exhaustively proofread, because a single grammatical glitch or an overlooked spell error can mortify you in front of your customers. And mind you, such lapses are not expected of responsible firms.

Few sites even sport user testimonials, popular magazine reviews and followership counts to trumpet their renown. And this is by no way against the rules. In fact fusing your social presence with the site will unlock the gates for traffic coming from social media. This idea provides us cues on significance of user reviews in shaping consumer confidence. As the customers get a real life account of products from people who have already used your services, their decision making is facilitated.

3. Product quality makes a difference

In a retail business, nothing except a good quality product holds the power to gratify consumers. Delivering what you promise begets trust in return. Although seasonal sales witness intensified conversions due to price disruptions, but this revenue upsurge mostly confines to discount periods and does not sustain longer. Apart from price cut another reason being the inferior quality of products that do not deliver their value for money. If you sell low quality products to get rid of that old inventory however much you succeed in disburdening yourself, you will end up disappointing a loyal customer, who will never contemplate returning to your site again. State honest product grade information on your site; refrain from deceiving tactics of optimizing products appearance by visual effects. Even sharing user reviews alongside products will be useful in purchase decisions. Some sites also use rating algorithms instead of direct user feedbacks.

Just like the neighbors in your new neighborhood coming to your home, people coming to your site for the first time are unmindful of your strengths. Acquaint them to your flagship products, latest stock additions and discount schemes. Moreover tool tip and field level response messages in forms also boost the user experience on site.

Sometimes people explore online stores with a specific product image in mind, but are not always fortunate to find it. And this inability can greatly benefit your competitors who are just an opportunity away to grab your customers. To avert customers’ migration plans to another site, register their item requests, this would also demonstrate your responsiveness towards needs of a customer.

4. About Us Page

Apparently people who desire to trade with you would want to know about your existence so far and the need that drove you to launch this venture. How long have you been in this business makes a difference when it comes to making buying decisions. People comfortably relate to long-standing brands compared to newbies. Old brands boast of their experience by mentioning their age in their taglines. For example, a popular tomato ketchup brand projects its age of establishment in the logo.

About Us Page

Further, a map showing your company’s geographic location also adds to your credibility certifying your existence. Also include a small contact-us section in your site. Allowing the customers to communicate with you manifests your accountability.

5. Managing product returns

The only spot where online retail lags behind a physical sale is the absence of a physical handshake. Here the trading parties cannot see each other face-to-face, which is a primary aspect of any relationship. But this deficiency can be overcome by modestly serving your customers. While bargain and negotiation cannot be allowed here implementing an exchange and return functionality can do the needful.

A clean trade policy endorses product exchange as an instrument to channel customer trust. Retailers with a friendly retail policy find themselves in consumer’s good books. However difficult it might be to manage returns, this encourages customers to connect with you often. In fact consumer behavior surveys predict consumers select sites with smooth return policy over sites providing higher discount margins. Therefore employing a convenient return of goods policy will win you loyal customers.

6. Be neat with money

Money is a crucial trust determining factor in trade relations. Quote clear prices. Use legible font size and style in displaying numbers. Coming to financial transactions, adoption of a transparent policy as far as product pricing is concerned wins you customer adulations. All the payment steps should furnish appropriate messages to prevent checkout errors.

Sites that ascribe hidden charges into customer bills lose out on customers, eventually falling into oblivion within a span of years. Throwing surprise charges at customers on grounds of shipping costs leads to cart abandonment in future. In fact moving a step ahead in this direction¬ – sites should show an upfront cost bifurcation chart displaying product charges, delivery charges, warranty charges, etc. before urging the customer for payments.

Be neat with money

The best way to cater a large number of buyers is to include varied price range products in your stores. Selling only expensive products may not get you those thrifty shoppers which throng e-stores initially to window shop but encountering a modestly priced commodity, end up buying. Ensure a certified shopping cart transaction that maintains customers’ data privacy. Also provide multiple payment options.

7. Offer detailed product information

There is no exception to people wanting value for money from their purchases. This is the reason people surf more than one eCommerce site before making that purchase. Comparisons are an essential ingredient of purchase decision. Rather than customer opening multiple tabs to compare, it would be very cooperative of the eCommerce site to incorporate product comparisons on the same page.

Offer detailed product information

Comparisons can only transpire between similar objects who have furnished similar information. For instance a consumer looking for 15’ laptop screen will compare only those products who have furnished their screen width. Products that reveal incomplete information stand to lose in competition.

Let the images be shot in-house rather than an online purchased image of the same product. Include real life images into your site that speak of your work culture and people behind the scenes that they could see and believe.

8. Allow a product search feature

Not finding what they want users leave the site and move ahead, but worse is when the product exists on the site, and the customer was unable to locate it. To bring the product to customers table equip your website with a notable search box (preferably at the top of the webpage). A search function brings the required product to users table. E-commerce websites enclose multiple commodities which are spread across numerous pages, scanning all those pages to find one particular product is impractical and time consuming.

There exist two types of search functions: 1. Simple Search and 2. Advanced Search.

Simple Search: Basic search functionality can serve your purpose if you are unable to provide an advanced level search. This type of search is ideally suited for sites that sell lesser items with less variety.

Advanced Search: E-commerce giants like Amazon, who sell almost everything from books to automotive parts, use this search type in their apps and websites. As the products range is diverse, for a customer to reach his desired item requires to cross multiple category filters.

A site that adapts itself to consumers and offers maximum convenience enjoys a privileged stature with consumers.

9. Ensure a speedy response

Monitor your website speed incessantly. If the site’s loading time crosses the accepted duration perimeter it makes your website appear flippant. This is almost like going to a shop where the shopkeeper is very slow to respond. What most people will do in such a scenario is move to another nearby store.

This is the first thing visitors notice on your site. Even the site’s look and feel follows next. And due to its high importance, page ranking algorithms take into account a site’s loading speed. Therefore it is advisable to parsimoniously deflate the size and weight of all those components that add to site load and inhibit response time:

1. Use compressed images as far as possible and optimize them before uploading.
2. Style your text using light weight fonts that are less cumbersome on server.
3. Store bulky scripts and stylesheet separately from the webpage. So that every time a page is refreshed, browser doesn’t have to refresh the css and scripts.
4. If you have a large number of visitors thronging your site everyday, using a Content Delivery Network may help you resolve your problem as it allocates the request to users nearest geographical sever location.

Even websites that include plenteous input parameters considerably ruin user experience. A clean and speedy cart checkout which is secure at the same time, leads the user to the end of the conversion funnel.

Finally

Remember, the faith that customers bestow in your store is your ultimate profit. Be true to your word. Speaking alone will not help you will have to deliver to build trust.

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