How to Create Your eCommerce Budget for 2015

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

Shopping Cart Software

Image Source: ShutterStock.com

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

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

#1 – Design & Development

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

#2 – Visuals & Artwork

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

#3 – Data Entry & Management

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

Data entry security

Image Source: ShutterStock.com

#4 – Hosting & Security

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

#5 – Maintenance & Updates

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

#6 – Marketing & Advertising

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

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

Budgets don’t play fair.

Guest Author: Megan Ritter

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

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How small online businesses can improve conversions with increased customer choice

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

Increase choice to reduce the barriers to purchase

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

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

Simple ways to implement more customer choice

Online card paymentsPayment Choice

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

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

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

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

online shipping and deliveryIncreased delivery options

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

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

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

So think about introducing some flexible delivery choices such as:

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

smartphone online shoppingBe multi-device friendly

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

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

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

social media small businessChoice of communication channels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Online shopping concept image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

110.8 million people will redeem a digital coupon in 2014

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

 

The benefits of using e-coupons and discount codes

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

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

Caution signDo proceed with caution…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Gap discount code

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Caution image courtesy of mrpuen/FreeDigitalPhotos.com

8 Must-have Elements for Any E-commerce Website

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

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

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

1. Intuitive Navigation

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

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

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

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

2. Search Bar

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

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

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

3. Product Ratings & Reviews

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

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

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

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

4. Short, Simple Checkout Process

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

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

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

5. Guest Checkouts

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

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

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

6. Multiple Payment Options

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

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

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

7. Trust Factors

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

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

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

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

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

8. Free Shipping

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

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

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

In Closing

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

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

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

 

Selling on Facebook: Grow online sales with a Facebook Store

Open a Facebook shop

How your business can benefit from a Facebook Shop

You may already be using Facebook as an integral part of your online marketing strategy –  helping drive traffic to your website and building customer relationships –  but have you thought about using it as an additional sales channel?

Creating a Facebook Store where you can  sell your products directly off your Facebook page makes sense – especially for small online businesses.  It can be cost-effective and offering as many options as possible is good for you customers and your sales. Not only does  a Facebook store provide you with an additional sales channel through which customers can purchase your goods, you are also reaching customers in an specific environment where they are engaged and interacting  – a Facebook store gives them the convenience of being able to buy there and then. And after all , shouldn’t customers be able to buy where they like?

The power of Facebook

Facebook is the world’s largest social network and you simply can’t ignore its power. Having a good Facebook page should be an essential part of any small businesses online presence. Facebook statistics are impressive and the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 1.23bn monthly active users
  • 757m users log onto Facebook daily
  • 556m access Facebook via their smartphone or tablet
  • 48% of users log on any given day
  • 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up
  • The average time spent of Facebook per visit is 18 minutes
  • Facebook users grew by 22% between 2012 – 2013
  • 1 million links are shared every 20 minutes on Facebook

 

social media like imageBenefits of selling directly from Facebook

Right, we can see from the statistics that having a Facebook presence is important – Facebook is quite simply too big for your business to ignore. But why include a Facebook shop in the Facebook pages you already have? What additional benefits can a Facebook Store  bring to your online business? We’ve listed some of the key benefits below:

  • Increase your online sales through an additional sales channel. It’s all about making it as convenient as possible for your customers to make a purchase. The more sales channels you have available, the better chance you have of enabling customers to purchase in the way that most suits them – be that via a website, bricks and mortar store,  telephone, post or their favourite social network. The point being the more options you have the more likely you will find a channel to suit almost all your customers and potential customers.
  • Your customers are on Facebook. If your customers are on Facebook (and statistics would indicate there is a high likelihood that many probably are!) then it makes sense to offer them the opportunity to purchase your products or services there and then – on the platform they are currently on. Of course some customers will be quite happy or may even to prefer to click-through to your website however, you’ll want to be able to offer the opportunity for customers to purchase on Facebook should they so wish.
  • Improve your conversion rates . Converting even very interested customers into an actual sale is always a challenge. You need to make sure that their route to purchase is straightforward, and has as few distractions as possible. Adding a Facebook Store to your Facebook pages means a customer can directly and immediately purchase your product without having to click separately through to your website – meaning there is less chance of you losing them en-route.
  • Increase social sharing of your products. Having a Facebook Store means your customers can quickly and easily ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ their favourite  products with family and friends – a great way to grow new traffic.  And don’t forget, as the number of likes increase so to does the confidence new customers have in your product or service. So, when you’re choosing a Facebook Store App check that it is enabled with the Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ button.
  • Easy to get started. It isn’t difficult to set up a Facebook store with a Facebook App that is easy and quick to integrate – some can have you up and running in minutes. And, if you are new to selling online and haven’t got a website then a Facebook Store is a great place to started and test the water.

 

A few things to consider when choosing a Facebook Store App

  1. Easy integration: Make life as easy as possible for yourself and choose an app that is simple to use and  can get you up and running quickly and easily. With the right Facebook Store App there is no reason why you can’t be set up within minutes.
  2. Cost-effective: Setting up a Facebook Store shouldn’t cost you the earth, so look for a cost-effective solution.
  3. Centralised Store administration: If you are already selling online through your website then it makes sense that your products are managed from the same, centralised store administration. This way you will find you can manage orders and stock control easily across both sales platforms.
  4. Customise: Think about keeping your brand consistent by  customising your Facebook Store page to reflect your website shop.

 

Facebook store demonstration

ShopIntegrator Facebook Store Demonstration

Checkout ShopIntegrator’s Facebook Store demonstration and tutorial

Finally, to help you get a real feel for how a Facebook Store looks and works take a look at our  Facebook store demonstration on Facebook and to see just how easy it is to set up a Facebook Store, checkout our e-commerce video tutorial ‘How to add a free Facebook store page’.

 

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

‘Like’ image courtesy of tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

Building an E-Commerce Startup: What You Need to Know

There was never a better time to start your own business than the present day. With the internet boom and all the various avenues it has brought with it, would be entrepreneurs are spoilt for choice.

It’s even better for retail entrepreneurs. No more shelling out big bucks for your retail store. No unnecessary expenses on utilities, rent and overheads. No need to employ large sales teams on the shop floor to assist shoppers. Last, but most importantly, no more being limited by the population of a locality to grow your business.

Amazon

With the birth of Amazon and eBay in 1994, e-commerce in the form we know it today was born. It has evolved to a nearly unrecognizable level from its humble beginnings, but the basic idea remains the same – get customers to visit your website, let them browse around for the things that interest them, allow them to make a purchase and pay for items that they finally settle upon; all online.

So if you have a bright idea for the next Amazon in the making, put on your listening ears. Here’s a step by step roadmap to launch a successful e-commerce startup.

1. Think Through Your Idea. Do concept testing.

The one thing that gives a startup a definite edge over competition is an innovative concept. While established businesses can afford to buy market share by spending huge money on marketing, a great idea often attracts attention by pure word of mouth and can be the USP of the business.

If you think you have hit upon such a game-changing idea, get more opinions on it. Test your idea with your target audience and see if they are equally gung-ho about it. Use survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics to do your concept testing by yourself before you unleash your business idea on the world.

2. Figure Out Source of Funding

Before you can plunge headlong into building your business, figure out where the money for the venture is going to come from. Today, startups have a variety of choices when it comes to getting funding for their business.

Figure Out Source of Funding

  • Bank Loans: There’s always the tried and tested route of taking a bank loan to get started. The amounts are often not very large, but it’s a lot easier to obtain than a lot of other funding options.
  • Venture Capitalists: Approach venture capitalists or angel investors for seed funding for your e-commerce startup. Even Google started small with VC funds and grew into the internet behemoth it is today. You will need to come up with a clear business plan, an airtight revenue model, timelines for when your business will breakeven besides loads of enthusiasm to make a pitch to a potential VC and secure your funding.
  • Crowdfunding: Another option you should consider is crowdfunding. With this option, you present your business case to the public at large through a crowdfunding site and invite the public to contribute funds towards your business idea. In return the donors or investors get a share of equity in your business, a fixed return on their investment or even a special gift as a thank you for their donation. Pick from sites like Angels Den, Crowd Cube or Indiegogo to get your business idea off the ground.

3. Legal Eagle – Get Your Paperwork Done Correctly

There’s some level of paperwork involved while setting up any new business. An e-commerce venture is no different. While the intricacies of the legal requirements may vary from country to country, largely you will need to take care of these three priorities:

  • Copyright: Once you have established that your business idea is one worth pursuing, you need to take measures to prevent someone else from copying it and getting to market before you. If it is a never before seen product or service idea, copyright it to protect it from me-too copycats. This step however, is a matter of choice, not necessity.
  • Registration and Ownership Structure: Next you need to register the business as a legal entity and get your taxation details set up. Since you have figured out your funding sources already, spell out the ownership structure of your business (sole proprietorship, partnership, public limited company etc.) right at the beginning in order to prevent problems later on.
  • Domain name and Web Hosting: Every startup, especially and e-commerce startup needs a place on the web to host its website. Buy a domain name and get a web hosting service for your business from any of the hundreds of services out there. Take your pick from HostGator, GoDaddy or FatCow to build your website on. Make sure the domain name you buy is unique, relevant and is the same as or matches your brand name.

4. Pick A Good Platform To Build Your Site

Shop around, do your research, speak to existing e-commerce business owners and understand which platform will be best suited to build your e-commerce venture on. Spend some time and effort in this process, as the platform you build your website on, will decide how stable your website is, how fast you can process transactions, how versatile and multi-functional you can make your site and more.

Pick A Good Platform To Build Your Site

You have multiple options to pick from. There are the free to use, open source options like WordPress, Drupal or the e-commerce favorite – Magento, or you can choose to go with plug and play e-commerce platforms such as ShopIntegrator.

Your final choice depends upon how flexible you want your site to be, what your budgets are, and the extent of e-commerce functionality you’re looking to offer over the long run.

5. Use Conversion Optimization Principles For Your Website At The Design And Development Stage

A lot of e-commerce sites get into optimizing their conversions retroactively – after they see sales slumping or traffic bouncing off at alarming rates.

Avoid this situation altogether by building your site from the ground up using the best conversion optimization and SEO guidelines in the book. Some conversion optimization fundamentals that you must keep in mind at the time of developing your site are:

  • Good Copy: Invest in good writing and functional copy that engages readers while it communicates facts. Pay special attention to headlines. A great headline captures users’ attention and also tells search spiders exactly what the page is about to raise your page rank on SERPs.
  • Page Meta Data: Take care to include accurate and descriptive title tags, meta descriptions and alt tags on images for each page on your site. Each of these help search engines discover your site more easily and improve your page rankings
  • Clear Navigation and Site Structure: A clear breadcrumbs based navigation structure, intuitive categories and sub-categories and logical link architecture helps not just search engines but also allows users to find products on your site with ease. Better showcasing of products = better chance of a sale.
  • Call to Action: Every page out to have a clear call to action that stands out from the rest of the page. Use contrasting colors, arrows or ample white space around the CTA to make it jump out at the visitor.
  • Social sharing: Include social sharing icons alongside every product listed on your e-commerce site. People like to share interesting things they find online with their friends. Play into this need and get your pages to become more popular online
  • Quick and Easy Checkout Process: This is of prime importance for e-commerce sites. Make sure your customer does not get distracted by other interruptions on your site once they add items to their shopping carts. Create a simple, linear checkout flow with minimal steps to avoid shopping cart abandonment and improve conversions. Take a look at some of ShopIntegrator’s shopping cart and checkout options for inspiration.

Here’s a great guide to conversion optimization best practices for further reading at your leisure.

6. Keep Costs Low

As you start out on your journey towards a new business, it is important to keep your expenses under control. Technology now allows you to use free or low cost apps for doing stuff that large organizations employ teams of people to do.

Keep Costs Low

Some free / cheap apps that you can consider to get your everyday business done for free are:

  • Dropbox for Storing Data that can be accessed anywhere. You get 2 GB of free storage post which you can pick from one of their paid plans based on your storage needs.
  • Asana for Project Management and collaborating with your team on projects smoothly. They have a free option for teams under 15 members. For bigger teams you’ll have to go paid.
  • Free Conference Call for using Conference Services for absolutely free
  • MailChimp for Email Marketing offers a great free account that can be upgraded eventually as your email database grows bigger.
  • Natural HR is a free Human Resource Management tool that you can consider for recruiting, onboarding, training and payroll management.
  • Streak a free CRM tool that works from right inside your email inbox.
  • Shop Integrator is a complete Store Management & Shopping Cart solution with a free online retailing option where payments can be made by PayPal or offline checkout. The free version also supports 7 storefront languages and includes a tax manager.
  • Free Press Release allows you to submit press releases for free that get distributed to news sites, blogs, search engines and social media.

7. Hire Good Talent

A big mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make is taking too much onto their plates and getting burnt out eventually. While it helps to have a business partner or involve your family in the business to keep costs down, it is not a long-term fix. Do what you are naturally good and delegate the rest.

Hire talented people who share your vision and can help take the startup forward.
Check out LinkedIn profiles of professionals who work for your competitors and reach out to them with interesting offers. That’s a free and effective way of hiring capable talent. Another free avenue is to tap into your college network for references of talented professionals whom you can approach.

Only once you have exhausted your free options and networks should you venture into paid recruiting platforms that cater to your particular industry. LinkedIn offers job posts by industry, so do leading career portals like Monster and CareerBuilder.

8. Manage Your Cash Flows

Managing money is often the Achilles Heel for many new startups. Multiple expenses are a given in a newly set up business. Besides capital expenses, there are running expenses like payroll, tax payments, utilities, business travel, business entertaining and more.

Keeping track of each expense often becomes too cumbersome and things quickly spiral out of control.

Manage Your Cash Flows

Stop spending from personal accounts, and open a dedicated bank account for your business. Get a corporate credit card that can be swiped for everyday business expenses. Invest in an accounting software that will link your bank account, credit cards and all expenses together and keep the paperwork sorted in one place. Apart from managing income and expenses, most expense management tools also take care of invoicing and payment receipts from clients, payroll and taxation as well as overall book-keeping for future records.

You can use a free app like Wave Accounting for this, or if you want to go bigger, you can upgrade to apps like Xero or QuickBooks.

In Closing

Setting up and running a business was never easy. But with technology on our side, we can now predict our performance and correct our course before it’s too late. Even when mistakes occur, it is easier to bounce back on an e-commerce platform than a real world retail set up.

So go ahead, take these fundamentals of building an e-commerce startup, add your own creative flair to them and create your dream enterprise to rival the e-commerce behemoths of the day.

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