Shopping cart security: How small online businesses can build customer confidence

data security Large scale data security breaches are becoming increasingly common. No matter how technically sophisticated we become it seems hackers are always hot on our tails.

Indeed just recently eBay suffered a massive cyber attack on its 145 million users. And of course it is only natural that as data breaches grow so to will consumer concerns over how their personal and payment information is stored and managed online.

It’s not just large corporations like eBay that experience security breaches, an increasing number of SME’s are also vulnerable.

“The total number of data breaches increased 62 percent during the last 12 months, amounting to more than 627 million sensitive records exposed…We all know that large corporations continue to be the targets of these attacks, but what we have seen in the last 12 months is that small and medium-sized businesses are experiencing the largest number of breaches.” Internet Security Threat Snapshot Summary — 2014: Data Breaches Grow Significantly

So in addition to implementing adequate security measures, what can you as  a small online business owner do to build consumer confidence and reassure customers about the  security of your online store?

30% of consumers are increasingly concerned about the loss of personal data

New research by Software Advice* into the impact data breaches have on consumer confidence found that nearly one-third of consumers are increasing concerned about their personal information being stolen. The study found that:

  • 30% of consumers are increasingly concerned about data loss
  • 35% of consumers would stop shopping at a company where their personal data had been stolen
  • 53% of consumers would be somewhat more or much more likely to shop at a store where they were confident their personal data was secure.

In summary, the Software Advice research highlights that consumers are increasingly concerned about data security, would avoid shopping in stores from which their personal data was stolen and would look to shop somewhere where they felt confident their personal data was secure.

How to build customer confidence online

In all likelihood the majority of us are probably unfamiliar and uninterested in the highly technical aspects of data security.  Although implementing solid security measures is an absolute essential, in isolation it is not enough. You also need to work on building brand trust so that your customers feel secure and confident imparting personal and payment information when they shop at your store. We look at some best practice tips for a safe and secure online presence that will help foster trust amongst your customers.

1. Secure, PCI compliant e-commerce

The first thing is to make sure is that the e-commerce software solution that you choose offers secure data storage and is PCI / DSS compliant ( this is the payment card industry’s security standard).  Your shopping cart solution should be protected by  a PCI approved scanning vendor such as McAfee , VeriSign or PayPal and it should protect you against credit and debit card fraud and other threats such as identity theft and spyware.  So it is really important you spend time doing your research to make sure the e-commerce software you choose helps protects you and your customers against data security breaches.

2. Implement appropriate data-protection legislation

When you are storing and managing a customer’s database make sure you are familiar with and keep to relevant data-protection legislation. In the UK this would be the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act. Following best practice and appropriate  legislation will ensure  less risks to the data you are managing and build customer confidence.

3. Build trust signposts

There are other ways to help build trust amongst your customers. Research indicates that simply announcing all your great security credentials is not enough. You also need to implement  ‘trust signposts’ to help build customers confidence in the safety of your online store. Large and established brands like John Lewis have ingrained such a sense of brand trust over the years that customers are rarely concerned about parting with their money or personal information. However, small businesses and start-ups don’t have this luxury so you have to work harder to build trust.

Website. Ensure your website is professional looking, up-to-date and easy to navigate. Customers won’t feel comfortable parting with payment or personal details on a site that is confusing to navigate around, has errors or is full of out of date content.

Customer service. Good customer service can only reflect positively on your brand image. Customers will be reassured with helpful, flexible and polite customer service. Make sure that all your contact and company details are clearly visible and easy for a customer to find.

Trustmarks.  Trustmark security logos can help reassure customers that the website they are on has the appropriate security protection. So whoever your security vendor is make sure you display their trustmark somewhere visible.

Customer testimonials. Client and customer testimonials, independent reviews, membership to industry organisations and links to relevant associations can all add kudos and  help reassure customers that your site is trustworthy.

4. Communicate to your customers

It won’t do any harm to remind your customers about how they can protect themselves against online fraud, such as by regularly checking their credit and bank account statements and properly managing their passwords. It can help show that you take the security of their personal information seriously. For example remind them that good password practice includes:

  • Not using the same email password for every site they register on.
  • Mix up letters, cases, numbers and special characters when creating a password.

So in an era of increased data breaches and sophisticated cyber-attacks, don’t assume that as a small online business or start-up you won’t be effected. Don’t underestimate the importance of secure e-commerce and follow good practice to ensure you are keeping you and your customers’ personal and payment information as safe as possible.

 

*New research on how data breaches can hurt retailers courtesy of Software Advice:

Software Advice helps buyers choose the right software. As a trusted resource, our website offers detailed reviews, comparisons and research to assist organizations in finding products that best fit their current and future needs. We have a team of software experts who conduct free telephone consultations with each buyer to shortlist systems best suited to their company’s specific requirements. Having a real conversation with our buyers allows us to fully understand their needs so we can match them with the right software vendors—eliminating weeks from the research process. Our software experts have advised more than 160,000 software buyers to date across various and niche software markets. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Software Advice employs a team of 100, as well as an engineering team in Cordoba, Argentina.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

 

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Why Ignoring Customer Service is a Terrible Idea (With 5 Case Studies)

Why Ignoring Customer Service is a Terrible Idea

That interminable wait time while on the phone with customer service. The ‘pleasure’ of repeating your problem to four different people over the phone before at least one of them comes close to a solution. The experience of being snubbed by a salesperson in a retail store. Getting a completely wrong dish from the one you ordered in a fancy restaurant. Sound familiar?

Who among us has not had a maddening experience with customer service associates of our chosen service providers in the last 30 days? My bet is, ‘very few’. How about in the last one year? That number probably veers closer to ‘zero’ than anything else.

Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds with hundreds of new apps and software that help businesses handle every tiny aspect of customer care. From Sales & CRM behemoths like Salesforce to customer care focused ones like ZenDesk, there’s a range of specialized tools that claim to make customer care a breeze.

Studies have even shown that good customer service has been consistently rated as the most important factor that makes a customer choose one brand over another.

And yet we are inundated with instances of bad, sometimes appalling customer service experiences.

What Science has to Say About it

Some of this may be down to the fact that human brains are hard wired into remembering bad experiences far more than positive ones. A study by Professor Roy Baumeister from Florida State University attributes this stronger impact of negative events on our brains to an evolutionary response.

In the early years of human evolution, remembering negative experiences helped humans avoid or minimize threats to their lives, hence ensuring survival of the fittest. Remembering good experiences on the other hand was not quite so crucial to the survival and evolution of the human race.

This is not just scientific mumbo-jumbo. Market research supports this scientific finding and goes on to prove that 55% of customers who suffer bad customer service switch to a different brand, 48% of them convince friends and family to stop using the offending brand. The positive effect of a good service experience is slightly less pronounced.

DimensionalResearch.com, Zendesk

Consequences of Bad Customer Service

Treating customers badly, as you might expect, is not healthy for your business or its longevity. Some of the immediate effects of poor customer service include:

    • Customers stop buying from you
    • Disgruntled customers spread negative word of mouth among their friends and family
    • Social media backlash
    • Sets a precedent to employees that treating customers shoddily is ‘O.K.’
    • Cost of making it up to a dissatisfied customer is far higher than getting service right in the first place
    • Acquiring a new customer in place of the one you lost is often 4 to 7 times more expensive than keeping existing customers happy

I could go on, but you get the general drift, don’t you? Now let me bring out the real eye-poppers.

According to a study by New Voice Media in December 2013, US businesses have been losing over $41 billion every year, owing to bad customer service. And this figure does not include the cost of replacing the lost customers with new ones.

Brands that were Burnt by Bad Customer Service

Most brands invest in customer service to avoid just such scenarios, yet customers are treated to some spectacularly bad service from time to time. Here are a handful of the most infamous customer service debacles in recent years.

1. United Breaks Guitars

United Airlines

When musician Dave Carroll flew United Airlines with his guitar checked in with the rest of his baggage, little did he expect to find a broken guitar at the end of his flight. Carroll took up the matter with the airline staff at Chicago’s O’Hare airport but got no response. On filing an official claim with the airline, United rejected his claim saying he had crossed the 24 hour deadline for making claims about damaged baggage.

On reaching a dead end to his situation, Carroll resorted to what he did best. He wrote a song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ and posted it on YouTube. It became a viral sensation with about 14 million views till date.

While the song and its popularity embarrassed United Airlines publicly and the Managing Director of Customer Solutions himself called Carroll to apologize personally, the damage had already been done. United lost about $180 million in stock value within four days of the video being posted on YouTube.

2. Netflix Charges Double

Netflix

In 2011, Netflix decided to expand from its DVD rental only service, to offering its content streaming online and spin off its original DVD rental service under a new brand name – Qwikster. There was one small glitch. They decided to charge customers separately for the Qwikster DVD rental service and the online rental service – even existing customers. That meant a price hike of 60% for customers opting for both services.

This move unleashed a maelstrom of negative social media backlash against Netflix calling it uncaring, greedy, insensitive to customers, and more. Netflix was lampooned on national television on Saturday Night Live and ended up losing about 800,000 subscribers and lost 77% of its stock value in a matter of four months.

What happened to Qwikster? Well, it died an unheralded death within three weeks of its launch.

3. Dell Hell

Dell

Dell made its name and fortune on the innovative premise of selling computers direct to customers with specs as per the customers’ requirements. However, as Dell has grown in size, it seems to have lost its finger on the pulse of its customers.

Jeff Jarvis, a journalist and blogger with significant online clout, bought a Dell laptop in 2005 which turned out to be in his words; a lemon. He experienced multiple problems with the machine and tried to fix them by calling Dell’s customer service department. He paid for a technician to come to his home and fix the computer, but the guy who showed up did not bring the parts along with him that he needed to fix the machine. In spite of a fruitless service visit, Jarvis was charged for the ‘service’ even though the shortcoming was clearly on the company’s part.

When repeated attempts to solve his problem through Dell’s customer service team came to naught, an enraged Jarvis took to his blog and posted the first in a series of hate posts against Dell calling it his ‘Dell Hell’. The posts quickly went viral around the world and Dell’s reputation took a beating among computer buyers worldwide.

Besides massive negative PR, blogger and social media backlash, Dell also had to suffer the ignominy of Google’s search results showing negative content for search terms containing ‘Dell’ in them. Dell tried to minimize the damage by refunding the price of the laptop to Jarvis, but by then; the damage was already done.

You might think that a customer service disaster on such a mega scale would make Dell reconsider its ways. But this ‘Dell Hell Redux’ story of yet another customer going through a similar struggle in 2014, makes you wonder whether anything changed in the 9 years since the original ‘Dell Hell’.

4. Delta Airlines Breastfeeding Debacle

Delta Airlines

Breastfeeding advocacy has reached a fever pitch in recent years, with medical science backing up what was long believed to be a healthy practice for both mother and child. However, instead of considering it as an essential child care act, breast feeding is still viewed from a sexual lens; prompting many businesses to ask breastfeeding mothers to leave their premises or stop breastfeeding immediately.

Emily Gillette from Santa Fe, New Mexico; faced a rather unpleasant situation in 2012 while on a flight from Vermont while breastfeeding her baby daughter. Gillette was apparently kicked off a Delta connections flight (operated by Freedom Airlines and Mesa Air) at Burlington, Vermont for breastfeeding her baby in flight.

Gillette filed a lawsuit against Delta and its allied airlines for discrimination, mental trauma and inconvenience caused. The airlines came together and offered Gillette an out of court settlement amount, which she accepted. Freedom and Mesa Air separately paid the Vermont Human Rights Commission $20,000 in a separate settlement.

The incident sparked outrage across the United States, affecting the reputation of all 3 airlines involved and uniting pro-breastfeeding groups against the big bad corporate enemy. 19 airports across the country hosted ‘nurse-ins’ by mothers showing their solidarity for the cause. Both Mesa Air and Freedom Airlines apologized to Gillette and declared their open support to breast feeding mothers on board in all their flights.

5. Toyota Vehicle Recall

Toyota

Vehicle recalls have become a part and parcel of the automobile industry. With prompt corrective action and swift apologies from carmakers, customers have started seeing them much less negatively than they did during an earlier age.

However, problems arise when a company is perceived to be callous and uncaring in the face of automotive glitches that can be potentially life threatening.

Starting in 2009, a spate of accidents resulting in 34 deaths were reported involving Toyota vehicles. All evidence pointed to an unintended acceleration problem causing the fatal crashes. All this while, Toyota denied any issues with their cars and did precious little to help the scenario.

In the meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times begins a series of reports exposing the flaws in Toyota vehicles and their linkages to the accidents. Following a public uproar, Federal authorities step in and Toyota is taken to court in a class action lawsuit.

Besides paying millions of dollars to the Federal authorities for the slip ups in their product, Toyota ended up settling the class action lawsuit for a sum of $1.2 billion.

The recalls led to a $21 billion drop in Toyota’s market value. The cover ups, early inaction and silence from Toyota on the issue, cost the company the trust of existing car owners as well as the chances of acquiring new customers in the immediate future.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, it takes all kinds to make up the wonderful, mad world of customer service. Being a completely customer facing function, customer service slip ups are out there for the world to see and react to. It is up to brands and their custodians to figure out how to make customer service work for them instead of boomeranging badly.

The New Voice Media study quoted earlier also showed that when brands do a good job with their customer service, 70% of satisfied customers tend to be loyal to the brand and 69% of them would recommend it to other people.

Even if people are pre-disposed to remembering the mistakes that you make more than the good things that you do, the payoffs are much higher in the long run by being in the good books of your customers. Try it once and see what happens. I have a sneaky feeling you won’t regret choosing to maximize customer delight instead of minimizing customer complaints. Here’s to happier customers all around!

(Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

7 motivational tips for small businesses and start-ups

motivation tips for small businessesWe  all have days when simply getting out of bed and facing what lies ahead feels like a mammoth effort. As a small business owner you may find that when business is booming it is far easier to leap up and get on with the day than it is when things aren’t so rosy. So, how do you motivate yourself to carry on when times are tough?

‘In the midst of Winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer’ Albert Camus

Being your own boss and starting your own business can be hugely rewarding however, the reality is that running your own business is often a long journey filled with ups and downs. The challenge is to stay focused and motivated when there is an economic downturn, when sales are slow, when your work life balance is proving a challenge and the stress of wearing to many hats and juggling too many balls becomes exhausting.

Small business owners have the added pressure of carrying most (if not all) of the responsibility on their shoulders alone so it’s completely understandable that there are days when you just don’t want to face the day. We look at some tried and tested motivational tips to help you when you need a little bit of inspiration to get you going again.

 

7 top tips for when you need a bit of  extra motivation

networking1. Be social.

The reality of being your own boss and running a small business is that you can end up spending hours alone. There are  few if no colleagues around for you to  share a bit of light-hearted banter or talk through any concerns. As humans we are naturally social  and so it can be really de-motivating not having anyone about to talk to.  It is essential that you put time aside to socialise with others. Have a think about ways you can get together with people in the same situation as youself. Feeling part of a community is important so  why not try signing up to small business discussion groups. There are plenty of online forums that will enable you to join in on discussions with like-minded individuals.

Many towns have local small business networking groups that get together on a regular basis to network and chat. Business mentors can work really well too – and it can be an excellent way to bounce ideas around with someone and get an objective and experienced opinion.  Realising that you are not alone and  that there are other people in a similar situation to you who will have experienced much of what you go through as a small business owner can make a real difference to how you manage your business ups and downs.

time management2. Improve your time management skills.

Unfortunately the nature of running a small business or start-up is that you are likely to be juggling all sorts of roles – from accountant to marketer and strategist to administrator. This means that trying to balance all these disparate tasks  can sometimes feel like an impossible mountain to climb. Good time management skills can help you learn how to prioritize your workload and  focus your time and effort in the right place. Feeling in control of things is a far more productive than feeling so swamped and out of control that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

exercise and motivation3. Take a break

Don’t feel bad about taking a break from your business. This could be anything from taking time out for a 20 minute coffee break  or a whole day out with your nearest and dearest. Having a break can help you see things in a different light and approach problems with fresh eyes. Exercise is also a great way to get you motivated and lift your spirits. Many studies show the link between regular exercise and improved motivation. So if you are having a bad day, get out and do some exercise and see if it puts a better spin on the day.

self help books4. Read some self-help books.

Ok there maybe a few cynical raised eyebrows here,  but self-help books aren’t all Bridget Jones-esque ‘Men are from Mars women are from Venus’ type fare. There are some really excellent books out there that stand the test of time and are used by prominent business folk  for inspiration. Indeed, ‘How to win friends and influence people was first published over 75 years ago and has sold over 150 million copies and Feel the Fear and Do it anyway has been riding high in the best seller chars for over 25 years.  Take a look at this article from Entrepeneur.com that lists some of the most popular motivational books for entrepreneurs.

positive thinking5. Think positively and celebrate successes

Of course it’s not always possible to look on the brighter side of life, but in order to succeed in a challenging environment  it pays to remain as positive as possible in your outlook. Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can give you the push you need to carry on when times are tough. It is important that you learn to accept mistakes and see them as part of the learning process rather than as pure failure. We often waste valuable time lamenting on our perceived failures rather than learning from them and swiftly moving on.

And when you do succeed or do something well then sit back and acknowledge that achievement – celebrating success is a great motivator.

facing fears6. Face any fears straight on.

There are always tasks we don’t want to do, phone calls we don’t want to make and problems we don’t want to deal with. However the more time that we put off dealing with lingering problems, the bigger they become and the more likely you will start feeling unmotivated.  I promise you 9 times out of 10 you will feel a whole lot better by simply taking a deep breath tackling  the problem straight on.

ecommerce boss7. Remind yourself of why you want to be your own boss.

When you’re having a bad day, week or month and business is tough, it is often easier to focus on all the things that make being your own boss challenging. Therefore, it is really important that you don’t lose sight of the reason you became your own boss. Remind yourself of all the benefits running your own business can bring. For example:

  • Not having a manager to answer to
  • Making your own decisions
  • Creative control
  • Sense of satisfaction and reward
  • Setting your own working hours
  • Tax benefits
  • Working directly with your customers

Try writing a list of all the things that you love about being your own boss and stick it up somewhere where you can look at it whenever you need to remind yourself of why you have chosen this path! I’ll leave you with an appropriate and inspiring quote from The Chimp Paradox:

“Don’t be disheartened if you have set-backs: instead learn from them and always celebrate any successes. Remember you always have a choice. The choice you make and how you choose to deal with life will determine your success and happiness. So what are you going to do today that will make you happier and more successful?” Dr Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox

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

 Man in bed image courtesy of graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Runner image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Coffee cup image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Books image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Positive thinking image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fear / Courage image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ecommerce man image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Why Email Marketing Could be the Next Best Thing since Sliced Bread

OK. So that was a bit of an exaggeration. But just a bit.

While email itself has been around for about 43 years, email marketing is about 36 years old. Did you know that the first ever email marketing campaign, for Digital Equipment Corp, generated over $13 million in revenue for the company? This was sent to just 400 email IDs.

Not much has changed since 1978. Despite many expert predictions that its end was near, email marketing continues to go on strong – unglamorous and unheralded – but extremely ROI efficient.

According to ExactTarget, a digital marketing and analytics company; as of 2014,

  • 95% of online consumers use email.
  • 91% of consumers reported checking their email at least once a day.
  • 70% say they always open emails from their favorite companies. Conversely, only 18% say they never open commercial emails.

Proof that the time-tested medium is not just alive and kicking, but actually looked forward to by 70% of potential customers.

So now that we have established that email marketing is important and you would probably be doing your business a disservice by ignoring it, let’s look at all the benefits it can bring you and then maybe you would be a tad less skeptical of the headline of this piece.

So what are the benefits of email marketing? Read on.

Easy to create and execute

Email maybe yesterday’s technology, but creating state of the art emails with all bells and whistles is easy as pie with today’s technology. Hundreds of tools exist that allow even the most untrained person to simply drag and drop design elements into beautiful templates and shoot off a well-crafted marketing message to millions of users.

Easy to create and execute

Sending out emails is again ridiculously simple now with services like MailChimp, Aweber, Mad Mimi and the likes dotting the crowded email automation software space. There is no dedicated infrastructure set up required by you as a business owner. All you need is an email account to send out the marketing mails, a creative that conveys your message effectively, a cleaned up database and a tool to actually deliver the messages.

Cheap

The fact that email marketing is so ridiculously cheap is probably the biggest reason why it has managed to hold its own against the new big boys of marketing like PPC, SEO and Social Media.

According to Experian, email marketing is 20 times more cost-effective than traditional media. For only a few pennies each, email can drive traffic to your storefront or Website more effectively than a TV or PPC campaign.

Moreover, email marketing requires you to reach out to existing customers or atleast potential customers who have willingly signed up to receive communication from you. The fact that it is  6 to 12 times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than to a new one, makes the cost to returns ratio of email marketing even stronger.

Targeted, no spillage

With most traditional media like television, print or radio, you can filter down to the most probable audience for your message, but there is no guarantee that a 45 year old man might not be watching a commercial for pop colored nail polishes that are all the rage in high school corridors.

This problem is addressed to some extent with SEO and PPC. But even with them, there is always some amount of wasted advertising dollars with the wrong audience watching an ad meant for someone else.

Targeted, no spillage

Email marketing neatly solves this problem by only addressing specifically those people who displayed an interest in your product / service, hence making targeting as laser sharp as it gets.

Decide the timing

Anybody who has dabbled in any traditional marketing would recall the days when you would wait for hours for your ad to show up on TV. After all, you could buy a particular time band, not a precise moment in time on television. Even when your ad does finally show up, there is no guarantee that your intended audience actually saw it. The same holds true for all other forms of marketing as well – there’s only so much control you have on when your message will be broadcast and if your audience is in a receptive mood to it at all.

With email marketing, you get to decide exactly when the email will be delivered to your customers’ inboxes. Knowing your customers’ habits, it is entirely in your power to time your emails such that they are in a position to read and absorb what you want to convey to them.

Interactive, shareable

Emails, unlike PPC or SEO or TV, allow for a two way dialogue between a customer and a brand. You can reach out to your customer and find out their preferences, they can reply to you with things that they want or stuff that’s bothering them, you can tailor your communication to your customers based on their specific requests – the possibilities for engagement are endless.

Email forwards were probably the pre-cursor of the social media sharing craze that we are witnessing today. Interesting content, even commercial content, can and does get shared very frequently via emails.

Quick, immediate results

With almost all other mediums taking their own sweet time to being in the dough, the results of email marketing are often very immediate. It is possible to roll out a fresh campaign within a matter of a few hours – something that is impossible with any other marketing platform – and the responses generated from email campaigns are equally instant.  The overall results of bulk emailing are seen almost entirely within 48 hours of sending out the initial email.

No geographical restrictions

As long as you have an email database (accurate and updated regularly), it does not matter where your target audience is located. Your message will reach a customer located on another continent at the same time and at the same cost that it takes to reach any local customer.

No geographical restrictions

The reverse can be applied equally successfully to email marketing. You can specifically geo-target customers from a particular region using email marketing at no extra cost or effort – yet another benefit that is unique to email marketing.

Measureable

A marketing email is a number cruncher’s wet dream. Almost every tiny aspect about email marketing is measurable and relatable back to actions on your website.

Right from the mundane numbers like open rates and CTRs, marketers can now measure the number of times a single email was opened by the same customer, what time was it opened; open timings can be co-related with purchase timings on the brand’s website; customer preferences can be gauged with heat maps of clicks on a particular email; email creatives can be tested out for efficiency by measuring various engagement factors; and so on.

Understand customer needs, build customer profiles

All that data that can be mined from marketing emails can be put to very good use with the emergence of Big Data and sophisticated marketing analytics.

The way a customer interacts with a marketing email reveals a lot about his or her needs, buying habits and communication preferences. These bits of data can be combined together to form consolidated user profiles for every single customer. A 360 degree customer profile is like a gold mine in the hands of a company. It can be used to create products and services that would best suit one’s customers, and allows you to tailor the online and offline experiences a customer has with your brand based on deep customer knowledge instead of depending on good old luck.

Personalization is easier

As described above, the rich customer data that is gleaned from email marketing can be applied to creating custom made, personalized user experiences.
Why is personalization important, you may ask? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.
~ DemandGen

Personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
~ Aberdeen

While on-site or in-store personalization are uphill tasks with huge automation, data mining and execution costs, personalization in emails comes at no extra cost. Right from personalized subject lines that include a customer’s name in them, to personalized content based on the customer’s purchase history and user profile, to even scheduling emails based on the time best suited to specific customers or customer segments, the options for customization and personalization are myriad.

Recover lost customers

Studies show that approximately 67.91% of all customers who begin to buy a product online, discard their shopping midway and move out of an average e-commerce site. Unfortunately, just about 29% of companies currently analyze and take action on shopping cart abandonment as per another study by Redeye.com and eConsultancy.

Don’t be one of those companies that allow hard-earned visitors to your website walk away without any attempt at recovering them. Email is a great way to reach out to these customers in a low cost, high efficiency way. Studies show that retailers earn $5 worth of revenue with every single cart abandonment email sent out.

High open rates with mobile

You don’t need me to rattle off large statistics to know that mobile is the next big thing. Hell, it’s probably the current big thing. With the growth in smartphone penetration, we have seen email open rates on mobile going steadily up.

From 42% in January 2013, emails opened on mobile devices grew by 21% and stood at a full 51% in December 2013.
~ Litmus Software

This is an encouraging trend for email marketing which was suffering from falling open rates in the last few years. The switch to mobile emails has meant higher reach and higher conversions for brands.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

We have all experienced that tinge of surprise when we see an email in our inbox that correlates the content of their messaging with a recent action that we made on that brand’s website.

These magical emails are “triggered emails” that are sent out in real time in response to a customer’s behavior on a website.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

Triggered emails can be sent out for various events e.g. a welcome email when a user signs up into your website for the first time, a reminder email for monthly purchased items, birthday or holiday greetings emails to prevent a dormant customer from lapsing and so on.

Open rates stand at about 50% for triggered emails, while CTRs for triggered emails are double at 10% as compared to business as usual emails. – Epsilon Email Trends and Benchmarks Study 2013.

A/B tests are easier

Every professional email marketer knows that no email can be sent out without testing it out first. Tests can be carried out instantly and with very little effort using current email marketing tools. Various aspects of email can be tested for open rates and conversions like the subject line, the time of send out, the creative, the right customer segments and much more.

The fact that testing is quick and free makes it easier to create more precise and relevant pieces of communication.

Super high ROI

Email holds the distinction of being probably the most cost effective tool in a marketer’s tool kit.

Email marketing delivers $67 or revenue for every $1.7 spent.
~ Direct Marketing Association, 2011

With its low costs and low barriers to entry, email marketing is easily executable by the smallest of companies. Its high reach and equally high ROI ensure that every penny spent on email marketing can be accounted for in full for every single campaign carried out.

That is more than what can be said for the new kids on the marketing block. What say Facebook, Twitter?

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

EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014: Guide for Small Businesses

EU Consumer Rights DirectiveOn the 13th June 2014 the new EU Consumer Rights Directive came into effect. Since it was passed in October 2011 it has provoked a fair amount of controversy amongst UK retailers. But, whether for or against, the new legislation is now in place and the reality is that it will have an impact on your business practice.

So, if you are not exactly sure what the new EU Consumer Rights Directive is all about and what  it means for your business, then read on.  We’ve  put together a brief overview of the key factors most likely to have a direct impact on small businesses.

What is the EU Consumer Rights Directive?

In a nutshell, the new directive was implemented with the aim of ensuring all consumers have equal rights across the EU, regardless of how they choose to shop – whether in a high street shop, through the post or  downloading electronic content. In particular, this has meant stronger rights for people when they are shopping online.

As we mentioned at the beginning,  the new legislation has been controversial and not necessarily  welcomed with open arms amongst many UK retailers indeed, as The Guardian notes in an article earlier this year 40% of small businesses actually want to leave the EU. However, the  EU Commission argues that the new legislation will  actually help businesses enter new markets and make it easier for them to trade across the European Union through the introduction of a single set of common rules for all 27 member states.  According to statistics from the EU Commission:

  • Only 25% of EU traders sell across borders
  • 40% of traders in the EU see the cost of complying with differing  national consumer protection rules as a big obstacle to trade

What does the Directive mean for you as a small online businesses?

If you read around there is a general consensus on the key factors that are likely to have a direct impact on SME’s and will therefore require you to make some changes to your current practice.  We’ve outlined the key changes below:

  • Pay Now button: Your order confirmation button will now need to make it very clear to the customer that by clicking on the button they are actually entering into an agreement and acknowledging their obligation to pay. Buttons need to be clearly labelled as something like ‘Pay Now’ so the customer is in no doubt that they are agreeing to an order and have an obligation to pay. Buttons with wording like ‘Buy Now, Confirm. ‘Check out’ are no longer adequate. And, if you don’t make this clear, then the customer may well be eligible for a refund.
  • Total Costs upfront: You must make clear to customers the total cost of goods at the point of sale, before they place an order. This includes all shipping costs, taxes or duties – there should be no surprises for the customer once they have committed to the order – if there are any additional charges not previously pointed out then they will not have to pay them.
  • Refunds issued within 14 days. The amount of time you have to issue a customer with refund has been reduced from 30 to 14 days (this is from the point of returned goods being received).  You are now also liable to refund standard shipping costs back to the customers. Make sure you factor this into your budgeting – if you are not already offering it then it is going to have an impact on your profit margin. Businesses are now also entitled to offer only partial refunds to a customer should the returned item be ‘diminished in value’. The new legislation states that the customer should take be expected to take reasonable care of the goods they are returning.
  • Cancellation rights extended to 14 days. Consumers previously had the right to cancel their order up to 7 days from receipt of their goods. The new legislation extends this to 14 days from receipt of goods. You are also obliged to ensure that a customer is made aware of this before placing their order. In addition you must also make sure you provide a downloadable cancellation form that customers can use (should they so wish) if they wish to cancel their order and return their goods.
  • Order confirmation. An order confirmation needs to be sent to customers via a ‘durable medium’ – this essentially means in a way that the customer is able to access and reproduce any time he or she requires it. An email is fine so is a printed receipt or even a personalised account page.
  • Digital downloads. New rules have also come into place for electronic downloads. The new legislation requires sellers to provide more detailed information about the downloadable content they are providing. For example if there are limits on the number of copies a customer can make or if there is any relevant software or hardware compatibility information. Your customer also has the right to cancel their order right up to the point the download starts. You need to make sure that you have made the customer fully aware (prior to purchase) that their right to cancel is only applicable until the download commences.
  • Opt-in tick boxes: Most of you are probably already undertaking this as part of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act, but essentially you must make sure you have no ‘ pre-ticked’ opt in boxes. Your customers need to be able to actively tick the sign-up box and opt-in.

 

What actions should you be taking?

As this is just a short blog, we’ve just focused in brief on the key factors that as a small business you will need to take into account.  Some of the changes you will need to make are minor tweaks such as changing the text on your order confirmation button to ‘Pay Now’. Others will be involved and require you to amend your terms and conditions and even re-train support staff in the new legislation. You may well wish to look at the EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014 in more detail, therefore we’ve added some relevant links in at the end of the article.

As a starting point, we would suggest that you review your current processes and systems to make sure you are in compliance and work through the following checklist so you make sure you’ve covered.

Budgeting. Make sure you have factored in any additional costs into your profit and loss. For example refunding standard shipping costs on returned goods will have an effect your profit margin.

Terms and Conditions: there are a number of changes that will need to be made on your terms and conditions with regard to changes in the cancellation period, shipping, returns and refunds and partial refunds policy.

Order confirmation page: you need to make sure that your order confirmation page reflects the new legislation. The total cost of goods (shipping, takes, duties etc.) must be made clear at the point of sale, your call to action button must clearly show the customer they are entering into an obligation to pay so should read ‘Pay Now’ or ‘Order with Obligation to Pay’ (as suggested in the new regulations) and your terms and conditions are accessible. So there are no misunderstandings, it is a good idea to get customers to acknowledge that they have read T&C’s prior to placing their order.

Delivery information: Update your delivery information and Terms and Conditions to reflect the new mandatory rules that unless there is a previously agreed delivery date, items must be delivered without undue delay and within 30 days from the day the product was purchased.

Paperwork: Make sure all your supporting paperwork has also been amended to update the new regulations.

Customer services and support staff: Make sure your customer services and any relevant support staff are fully briefed on these new regulations as they will have to deal with queries about cancellations, refunds, delivery etc.

Website. Once you have been through all the changes make sure you update your website to reflect all the changes. For example, amend the text on  your order confirmation button to ‘Pay Now’, make sure your sign-up boxes are not pre-ticked and enable the customer to ‘opt-in’, your Terms and Conditions are updated to incorporate the new legislation and is easily accessible on the website so customers are aware of their rights prior to placing their order, check there is a link in place so customers can  download the  cancellation form, FAQ and Delivery and Returns information is up-to-date and easily accessible to customers.

 

Further information

Key Facts on the new EU Consumer Rights Directive

Implementing the Consumer Rights Directive 

EU Commission: The Directive in Consumer Rights 

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

 

 Image courtesy of taesmileland / FreeDigitalPhotos.net