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)

 

Shopping cart security: why Trustmarks still matter for small online businesses

trustmarks, online trust marksAs a growing nation of online shoppers I’m sure most of you are familiar with some of the Trustmark security logos placed on websites, such as VeriSign, McAfee and PayPal.  These Trust logos help reassure customers that it is safe for them to shop on a particular website. It means he website will have passed a number of security tests that protects customers from threats like  credit card fraud and identity theft.

So how effective are Trustmark’s in reassuring customers that a website is a safe place to carry out financial transactions or impart personal information?According to The European Consumer Centres’ Network Trust Mark Report 2013, Trustmarks can be defined as:

  Electronic labels or visual representations indicating that an e-merchant has demonstrated its conformity to standards regarding, e.g.,security, privacy, and business practice.”

Consumers have become far more confident shopping online and certainly where a brand is well-known and long established, I suspect  Trustmarks probably make little difference. For example so full of trust  am I in John Lewis’s brand, I don’t think that I have ever looked at or checked their security credentials. However on a site I am new to or unfamiliar with, security reassurance is one of the first things I would check.  Online security is still high up on people’s list on concerns and for smaller online businesses with less established brands reassuring customers with your security credentials is essentails. Indeed research shows:

  • 84% of online shoppers are “concerned to very concerned” about shopping at websites they have never heard of before (McAfee)
  • 69% are concerned about buying at websites where they have not shopped in the past (McAfee)
  • 76% of survey respondents had not purchased something because they hadn’t recognised the logo  (Actual Insights)
  • 61% of participants said that they have at one time not completed a purchase because there were no trust logos present. (Actual Insights)

 How can trust marks help?

For most small businesses it is important to reassure your customers as much as you can about the security and trustworthiness of your site. As we mentioned earlier small businesses and start-ups can’t rely on having an established and recognisable brand to convey trust and therefore need to work harder to convey the credibility of their online business.

Alongside other trust building activities (which we’ll come onto in a moment), Trustmarks can be used to help give  customers confidence that undertaking online payments and transactions involving  personal data is safe and secure.

This can help reduce shopping cart abandonment and increase conversions. Indeed, according to research:

  • 58% of consumers have abandoned their shopping carts over concerns about payment security (Econsultancy)
  • Research by McAfee shoes that showing a McAfee Secure Trustmark can significantly increase sales conversion by an average of 12%

Use Trustmarks as part of a ‘trust package’

Using Trustmarks in isolation won’t work when it comes to getting customers to part with personal information or complete a financial transaction. Rather, Trustmarks should be looked at as one part of a number of wider activities that you need to undertake to give your site credibility. For example:

  • Your website needs to be well designed. It needs to look professional, be easy to navigate and have up-to-date, relevant content. Make sure you contact details and registered address are present and easy to find.
  • Client testimonials, independent reviews and links to official associations can all help convey trust.
  • Your shopping cart and checkout process should be easy to use, linking to a number of PCI DSS compliant payment gateways. And it’s security partner will guard against credit card fraud, identity theft, spyware, and other threats
  • Customer services should be helpful and professional at all times – dealing with queries quickly and efficiently

Trustmarks in combination with the factors listed above will help convey trust and reassure visitors to your site.

 Make sure your Trustmark is recognisable

Choose an online shopping cart solution that is  affiliated with a recognisable Trustmark . A Trustmark should be one that people recognise. Otherwise,  in terms of recognition and it won’t immediately establish as much trust with the consumer as an instantly recognisable one can. Indeed, 64% of people surveyed said an unknown (unrecognisable) Trust logo would affect their sense of trust for a specific website.

In a Trustmark Survey by Actual Insights, the top three most recognised Trust logos were:

  • McAfee 79%
  • VeriSign 76%
  • Paypal 72%

So in summary….

  • Ensure you choose an ecommerce solution that supports and utilises a Trustmark logo
  • Use an online store with one of the most recognisable Trustmarks- For example McAfee
  • Don’t use Trustmarks in isolation but alongside other ‘social proof’ to build trust package 

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. So please do take a moment to leave a comment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

M-commerce: smartphones and purchasing on-the-go

smartphone online shoppingWhat does the growing popularity of smartphones mean for small online businesses ?

Recent years have seen a shift away from online shopping being carried out solely through a PC. Purchasing online is now a multi-device, mobile experience that has fundamentally changed the way consumers shop online.  As M-commerce continues on its steady upward trajectory,  what does this mean for the small business owner? In this post we look at some interesting statistics surrounding smartphones and their growing place in consumers’ online shopping experience.

Mobile phones have become an integral part of our everyday life, for example when was the last time your left home without your mobile device?  I know if I ever leave mine behind, I spend the day subconsciously reaching about for it – so accustomed am I to its constant presence. So,  as mobile technology continues to improve and develop, one has to wonder what effect it will have on online shopping namely,  ‘shopping on the move’.

Shopping with smartphones – what does the future hold?

Actual online purchases made through a Smartphone are currently still lagging behind desk tops and tablets . However,  purchasing via a smartphone is rising and is likely to continue to do so as smartphone sales grow, mobile technology continues to advance and online businesses adapt their websites to be small device compatible.

In the last year, shopping by smartphone and tablet in the UK increased by  18%, with sales via mobile devices doubling to £3bn  .

“About 80% of mobile sales come from tablet computers, but sales via smartphones are growing faster as retailers adapt their websites to make it easier to shop from a phone and the technology improves. Sales from smartphones nearly tripled between 2012 and 2013.” The Guardian Business

Interesting Smartphone  statistics

“Smartphones are our constant shopping companions – helping us research, compare, and even purchase products online and in stores” Google Mobile Ads Blog  

I had a little look for some recent Smartphone statistics and found some interesting reading some of which I’ve listed below.

  • Mobile retail is gaining momentum with more than four in five (87%) smartphone and tablet owners in the US using a mobile device for shopping activities (Nielsen)
  • In the US 34% of mobile internet users admit that their smartphone is their primary device for going online (econsultancy)
  • A quarter of the UK have shopped online using their smartphone. Research shows that 23% of consumers in the UK have bought goods online  their smartphone. (econsultancy)
  • Data from econsultancy’s Multi-channel Retail Survey that the number of consumers that have made a purchase on mobile has roughly doubled in the UK since 2011 from 13% to 25% of consumers.
  • According to e-marketer 4.55 billion people worldwide will use a mobile phone in 2014 with 1.75 billion of those using smartphones
  • In June 2013 more than half (55%) of all ‘retail related’ time spent online originated on smartphones and tablet devices (econsultancy)
  • In the UK Smartphone owners who have used their smartphones to make a purchase has increased from 28% in 2011 to 39% in 2013 (Google Mobile Planet)
  • Smartphone penetration in the UK now stands at 58% (econsultancy)
  • eMarketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014
    Read more at http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536#YeJmgHpqi67eTDtT.99
eMarketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014
Read more at http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536#YeJmgHpqi67eTDtT.99
The global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014 Read more at http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536#xolsKEfKZ550j9jI.99
The global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014 Read more at http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536#xolsKEfKZ550j9jI.99

Mobile ecommerce shopping cart checkoutAdapting your website for small screen purchasing

It is important for small online businesses to adapt their websites for small screen purchasing. Even if actual purchasing on smartphones is still relatively low, it is rising steadily year-on-year. And as mobile technology and indeed shopping cart technology improves this is trend is likely to continue.

Equally important is the integral part that smartphones play in the multi-channel online shopping journey. Even if actual end purchasing is still predominantly via tablets and PCs, Smartphones are used for the initial research like checking out your website, downloading vouchers and looking up product reviews.

“In the UK, people are increasingly using their smartphones for researching products, locating stores and making purchases. That’s why it is now essential for businesses to ensure their sites are mobile-ready”. Matt Brocklehurst, Product Marketing Manager at Google

So make sure you don’t dismiss smartphones and the significant part they play in the online shopping journey . Get your website fully optimised to be multi-device compatible –  ensuring your customers experience a seamless online journey – right through to shopping cart and checkout.

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

Smartphone carrying shoppingcart courtesy of cuteimage / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

Online giving: increase charitable and non-profit gifts with a donation button

online donation, donating onlineIf you run a charity or not-for-profit organisation such as a school or church, then online giving can be a practical and valuable addition to your fundraising website. In recent years people have become more confident using the internet and far more proficient and trusting when carrying out financial transactions online. We can see this  reflected in the growth of online donations.

Increase online giving with a Donate button

Online giving  has become an increasingly popular way for people to contribute to charities and causes close to their hearts. According to The 2013 Charitable Giving Report overall charitable giving in the US grew a healthy 4.9% last year. However, even more impressively online giving grew 13.5%. It is important that smaller charities in particular tap into this by ensuring that they have a way to collect online donations from their websites.

A donation button offers charities and not-for-profit organisations:

  • an additional channel to take donations
  • a quick, simple and immediate way for potential donors to contribute
  • cost-effective collection tool – particularly for smaller charities where fundraising budgets are tight.

As internet usage continues to rise globally, adding a donation button to your website should be high- up on your fundraising agenda. People are turning to the internet not just for initial information research but with the intention of carrying out the entire process from start to finish online – including the final financial transaction. As online security has improved, people have become far more willing to complete financial transactions online. Indeed online credit and debit card transactions have steadily grown year-on-year and hand-in-hand with this growing confidence in making online payments. According to The UK Cards Association’s Annual Report 2013,  in the UK alone consumer internet card spending more than doubled in the period between 2006 and 2011.

“Online fundraising isn’t just for the future: it’s important for your nonprofit right now” (non-profit hub)

So how can a donate button help increase giving? Take this scenario, you have attracted a prospective donor to your to your site and they have decided that they are ready to contribute to your cause.  You are far more likely to get them to convert if you can offer an immediate payment option there and then. If you send them off to make a phone call or  to write and post a cheque, you run the risk of losing the donation altogether. It is important you make it as easy as possible for someone to make a donation. You must  strike whilst the iron is hot or in this case whilst your prospective donor  is on your site ready and willing to pay. If you donor leaves your website, the moment may have gone and you run the risk of your organisation losing out on a potential conversion.

Use digital marketing to help drive traffic to your donation button

A donation button is an essential addition but  don’t look at it in isolation, rather as a part of your fundraising efforts as a whole. I’m not saying that simply dropping in a donation button will suddenly solve all your fundraising problems. However using it in conjunction with your other digital tools can help increase those all important donations. Try to drive potential customers to your website donation button using email and social media. This way you have more of a chance of converting potential donors off the back of other campaigns. Once they are on your site make sure you have a good landing page where you can focus your efforts on converting prospects into potential donors.

 online donate buttonIntegrating a ‘Donate’ button to your website

When you are looking to integrate a ‘Donate’ button, think about choosing a flexible buyer chooses value option that enables a your donor to choose the amount he or she wishes to give.  Indeed,  by enabling your donor choose the amount they wish to contribute you may well end up with a larger overall donation. In fact, studies have  indicated that when people can actually choose the amount they wish to contribute they feel in control and are therefore increasingly likely to pay or donate a higher amount.

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

 Pink Donation image courtesy of winnoud / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Donate Computer Key image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Talking someone’s language will increase your international sales

Globe covered in country flagesGoing global – reach, engage and convert an international audience

The Internet opened a whole world of global opportunities for the small business owner.  For the first time, SME’s were able to compete on a level playing field to reach markets once only accessible to big multi-national corporations. Suddenly a small cottage business could sell its products to customers from all over the globe.

With annual global e-commerce sales now over the $1 trillion mark, growth looks set to continue. Research statistics estimate that by 2016 there will be  1321 million digital buyers worldwide with an average digital spend of $1,439 per annum by 2016.

If you can successfully tap into this lucrative global market, a whole international audience awaits. The key issue however is, now that you’ve reached this new global audience how do you then engage them and convert them into paying customers?

Offering a multilingual online shop can increase international sales

We know that the more welcoming and straightforward your website is, the more chance you have of engaging your customer and converting them to a sale. Well, the same applies to an international customer. The more welcoming you make your website, the more likely it is that they will convert to a purchase. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by enabling your website to speak their language.

Why should you adapt your perfectly functional English language website to include a multi-lingual online store? In an  J.P. Morgan report for the Department of Commerce, it is estimated that only 27% of global online shoppers are English-speaking – that leaves a whopping 73% you are not able to communicate with through your website.  Offering a multi-language online store will help you:

  • Attract more overseas customers
  • Grow your global sales with increased conversions from international customers
  • Reduce shopping cart abandonment rate from overseas customers
  • Encourage more repeat visits from international customers

Merry chrismtmas in different languagesOffer a multilingual storefront

If your website offers  international shipping you are probably already receiving interest from international customers. As an SME you can better cater for an international audience by providing an online shopping experience in their own language. You may have a single English-speaking website or wish to create several multi-language versions of your site. Either scenario will benefit from introducing shopping cart software with multi-language capabilities.

1. Single English language website: The checkout process is often the most complicated element for an international customer. Terminology can be technical and trying to negotiate the payment element can make a customer unfamiliar with the language nervous – often resulting in shopping cart abandonment midway through the purchasing process. Offering customers a choice of languages in which to progress through your online store can make all the difference in whether your engaged customer converts to an actual sale.

2. Separate multi-lingual websites:  Alternatively, you wish to build several separate language versions of your website for audiences from different countries. Choose a shopping cart where you can use the same shopping cart account for all your multi-language versions. Having a shopping cart account that can be set to display the matching language of each specific website will eliminate the need for the shopper to make a language selection and for you to operate a different online store account for each language.

ShopIntegrator offers a multi-lingual storefront in 7 languages which compliments its multi-currency capabilities. And impressively, if you totted up the combined total of these seven key languages, you’d have a total audience of 1.7 billion people.

ShopIntegrator’s seven key language options:

  1. English
  2. French / Français
  3. German / Deutsch
  4. Italian / Italiano
  5. Portuguese (Brasil) / Português (Brasil)
  6. Spanish / Español
  7. Swedish / Svenska

Keep the shopping experience seamless for international customers

Keeping the language consistent across all a customer facing aspects of your online store is important, from basket right through the third-party payment processing. Using the customers preferred language from start to finish provides  a welcoming environment and seamless process for international customers. From:

Online store text

e-commerce buttons

Shopping cart checkout

Payment processing

Customer order email receipts

Customer order invoices

Order completed web page

Essentially, the success of converting an interested international audience into actual purchasers lies in removing as many obstacles as possible. And, language has to be one of the biggest – remove it and you are on the way to growing your international customer base.

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

How to change your online shop without changing your website platform

online hopping cart iconsWhen first starting out many small businesses utilise the basic online store provided by their website platform as it can offer a simple simple way to start selling online. But, what happens when your business grows and its needs change? You may well come to the point when your current shopping cart no longer provides you with the ecommerce features you need in order for your business to move forward.

Don’t let your business stall due to the limitations of your online store

For example, perhaps you require better product and order management capabilities, you’d like to offer multiple currencies as your customer base becomes more global, you require more advanced shipping calculators, you are thinking about starting to sell digital content, you’d like to offer your customers a wider range of payment options  or introduce special offers using discount codes and e-vouchers.

However, surprisingly often small businesses end up remaining with the initial online store that came with their website platform for far longer than needed, simply because they’re not quite sure where to start, are worried about how much technical know-how is involved or are concerned that if they change their online shop they’ll have to change their website platform.

The upshot is you can end up feeling tied to your existing online store putting limits on what your business can achieve.  But actually, changing your online store to a shopping cart with more advanced features doesn’t have to be difficult or costly if you consider a hosted, third party ecommerce solution.

shopping cart selling digtal downloadsBenefits of moving to a hosted, shopping cart solution

There are some excellent third party shopping cart solutions available that are quick and easy to integrate, don’t cost the earth and require very little (if any) technical knowledge but, have the benefit of being able to offer a wide range of advanced ecommerce features.  Lets begin with dealing with a couple of common concerns that can make a small business reluctant to upgrade their current online store.

Q: I want to stay with my existing website platform but need more advanced ecommerce features

Changing your online shop doesn’t mean you need to change your current website platform or  remain tied-in to your website builders own online store. You can choose a hosted, third party ecommerce solution that can offer easy integration with your existing website builder. Look for a shopping cart that can integrate with any website, whether it is HTML , a CMS (Content Management System) such as Drupal, WordPress or DotNetNuke(DNN) or DIY site builder such as Weebly, Moonfruit, Yola, Webs, SiteJam, 1&1 MyWebsite, Vistaprint, Webnode and 123Reg.

Q: I’m concerned that changing my online store will be technically complicated and time consuming.

Many small online business put-off changing to a more appropriate shopping cart solution because they are concerned about the level technical knowledge that might be required and the potential disruption it may cause. This needn’t be the case if you opt for a straightforward point and click system where you can simply copy and paste ecommerce buttons and widgets into your website to create an online store.

Or even easier choose a third party solution like ShopIntegrator that has the capability to drop a complete, fully functioning online store into your website within a few quick and easy clicks. This enables even complete novices to be set up a fully functioning online store quickly and easily – requiring little, if any technical knowledge.

Key things to consider when choosing ecommerce solution

So what are the key things to consider when looking to replace your existing online store? Thinking about each of the elements below will help get you on the road to choosing the solution that is most suited to your online business.

Features: It is important to think about your current and future business requirements. What are your existing business needs? What might they be in three or five years time? Choose an ecommerce solution that is flexible enough to adapt and change with your business. There are some fantastic ecommerce features out there, which you may not be able to take advantage of with your current shopping cart. For example, advanced features may include more sophisticated product and customer order management, high-capacity cloud storage for selling digital downloads, the ability to take donations and ‘pay what you want’ sales, advanced shipping plan creators, international tax such as VAT and regional tax such as US State sales taxes, and shopping cart design customisation. Take some time to think about what features could help you free up valuable time and move your business forward.

Pricing:  Higher costs don’t automatically reflect a better product. Once you’ve got an idea of the kind of features you are looking for then hunt around for competitive prices. And, don’t rule out smaller providers as they can often offer exactly the same features and capabilities as the bigger guys – but at better prices. Consider different pricing packages as this will give you the flexibility to grow your online store and take advantage of features only as you need them – rather than paying for features your business doesn’t yet require.

Ease of Integration:  Look for straightforward, easy to use solutions that take the headache out of changing your online store. Choose a solution that is compatible with any HTML website, CMS or DIY site builder. Tutorials and platform specific integration guides can be a real help when you integrate, as they can walk you through the process step-by-step – so it is worth checking out if these are available.

Payment Processing. Offering a range of payment options to your customers makes good business sense, since limiting payment choice could potentially mean the loss of a sale at the checkout.  Look for a shopping cart that includes a good  choice of pre-integrated payment processors and offline options such as ‘pay by cheque, ‘pay on delivery’ ‘pay by phone’ or ‘pay by bank transfer’.

Support: It is really important to choose a provider that you feel can offer you good customer support. Don’t forget it is in your providers best interest to ensure that your business is a success. Take a look at their support page to make sure they offer a comprehensive support system.

So you’ve done your research, you know the main features you are looking, so how then do you narrow down your choice?

Check out reviews and feedback:  – Take a look at independent reviews  and feedback from other users. An easy way to do this is to visit the business Facebook page and take a look at the comments.  It’s a good way to get a feel for what other users think.

Take advantage of a free trial. This is a great way to test drive your online store. You get a good feel for the product and its services before committing.

Contact the service provider.  Contact the service provider and discuss through any concerns about suitability you may have – a good provider will be happy to help. This is also a good way to get a taste of their customer services and the support you are likely to get once you are signed up.

Good luck. And remember, moving from your existing shopping cart provider needn’t be a headache and can really help you move your business forward in the way you need in order for it grow.

Shopping carts image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Make sure your online business gets a bite of the apple this Valentine’s day

valentines day image

The days of grabbing some last minute flowers from the local petrol station on the way home from work are long gone. Nowadays, Valentine’s day is seriously big business. According to statistics 180 million cards are exchanged on Valentine’s day and the average annual Valentine’s day spending is a staggering $13.19 billion.

Growth in online Valentine’s s day purchases

For the past few years UK and US online Valentine’s day sales have been grown steadily year-on-year. In the UK alone it is estimated that 1 out 3 shoppers will go online for their Valentine’s day purchase. So if you are an online business offering something that would make a great Valentine’s day gift or experience then you really can’t afford not to tap in to this lucrative seasonal surge.

Valentine’s day is not just for the chocolate and card industries

And, don’t just think Valentine’s day is only of relevance to the card, flower and chocolate industries. These days popular Valentine’s day presents are surprisingly diverse –  from jewellery to electronics, clothing to pets. Yes, pet shops take note, in the US an eye watering $367 million is spent on pets on Valentine’s day.

Take inspiration from other websites

So, what can you do as a small business to get in on the act? A good starting point is getting some inspiration from other websites. There is a great deal that can be learnt from looking at websites that have been established for a while or who have a large marketing team and budget behind them. Assessing other sites can provide you with great insight and is a good way to generate ideas – even if you have to pare them down or adapt them to meet your own business requirements. Here are a few websites that we at ShopIntegrator think do Valentine’s day well:

Valentine’s day up your online business

  • Website: Give your website a Valentine’s day feel and focus by introducing some relevant images and graphics. When customers come to your website they should immediately be able to see where your Valentine’s day selection is. Remember, customers shouldn’t have to think to hard once they’re on your website. Categorise gifts where you can and try and help customers with their purchase by inspiring them with gift ideas ‘gifts for him’,  ‘gifts for her’ ‘gifts under £25’ and so on. And, as with any seasonal deadline, make sure last shipping and delivery dates are clear for your customers to see – shoppers will not want their Valentine’s day purchases turning up after the event.
  • Special Valentine’s day offers: Used sensibly, special offers can be a good way to pull in customers. Perhaps think about motivating customers with a Valentine’s day promotion as an added incentive.  For example a small free gift with every purchase  over a certain value or introduce discount codes and sales vouchers with free shipping and delivery,  percentage off or multi-buy savings. Just remember to factor in all your costs before introducing any promotions.  Although offers may generate more sales, your profit margins could be effected.

“People who receive gift cards often spend more than the value of the card

  • Spread the word: Telling your customers about what you are doing is essential. Use all your available digital marketing tools to spread the word.  Send out Valentine’s day related emails and promote your special offers on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and  all your other social media sites. And if you have a blog then why not use it to entice customers in. Not on the High Street. com have cleverly used their blog to inspire customers and to tap into the whole Valentine’s day phenomenon with fun and relevant posts.

Plan ahead your seasonal promotions

It is important think ahead and plan for seasonal surges such as Valentine’s day. Most industries have times when sales peak. You need to identify these periods in order to ensure you maximise the opportunities they can offer your business. And remember one of the benefits of being an online business is that you have a global audience – so try to think globally and culturally. Once you identify your best seasonal periods and start examining all the possible opportunities, you’ll be surprised at just how creative you can get.

Image courtesy of Claire Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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