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

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

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

What is a pop up shop?

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

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

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

Benefits for ecommerce owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 essential tips for getting started

pop up shop planning1. Planning.

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

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

2. Location.

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

3. Make an Impact.

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

publicise pop up store4. Spread the word.

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

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

follow up emails5. Follow up 

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

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

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

 

 

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How to generate leads with 5 essential in-bound marketing techniques for small online businesses

Small business ecommerce lead generationInbound marketing is essentially about attracting people to your website using techniques such as SEO, content marketing, social media and email. For small businesses and ecommerce start-ups it can be particularly appealing as it doesn’t come with the hefty budget required by more traditional outbound marketing approaches like advertising or direct mail.

Inbound marketing delivers 54% more leads than traditional outbound marketing.

Small business and start-ups are unlikely to have an established customer base or a ready-to-use database at their fingertips.  In-bound marketing tactics can build awareness, create interest and consequently attract prospects to your website ready for you to nurture into leads and ultimately loyal customers.

Content ImageThe crux of successful inbound marketing is content. It is through the creation of valuable and engaging content that you can draw visitors to your website and showcase all that your business has to offer.

71% of B2B marketers are using content marketing to generate marketing leads

To get the content right for your business it is essential to do some background work first. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you trying to target – who is your key audience? What sector or industry are they in?
  • What information is going to be of interest to them – what kind of content would they find helpful, useful, entertaining or engaging?
  • Where do they look for information – where are they currently getting their industry knowledge (e.g. competitors, organisations, social networks) and what places could you engage with them?

5 Key inbound marketing tactics

There are all-sorts of inbound-tactics you can use to generate leads and grow your business. In this article we just focusing on a few key in-bound techniques that will get you up and running and help attract visitors to your site. It is important to take a long-term approach to in-bound marketing. The benefits may take some time to come to fruition, but will be well worth the time and effort you put in.

1.SEO

Audiences use search engines to discover information and as a consequence search engines can bring a sizeable percentage of traffic to your website. Optimising your online presence to reflect the keywords and phrases relevant to your business and industry is essential if you want to move up the search engine rankings and be found by your target audience. I don’t for one minute suggest the practice of keyword stuffing, rather use keyword research to find the keywords and phrases that are meaningful to your prospective customers.  It is those keywords and phrases that should form the basis of creating engaging, relevant content for your target audience.

blogging2.Blogging

B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads than those that don’t. 

Creating original, fresh, relevant blog posts for your site not only supports your SEO efforts, it draws new visitors to your site, helps build your brand personality, is highly sharable and provides added-value content for established customers.

Think too about guest blogging on other relevant industry sites. This opens your business up to a wider audience and creates links back to your site.

3. Visual content

The last few years have seen visual content literally explode in popularity. Introducing more visuals to your site is a great way to entice your target audience to your ecommerce business. We humans are naturally visual learners so it is no surprise that using visual content can have a greater impact that text alone.

  • Use inspiring and interesting photos and images to support your content.
  • Infographics.  People are 30 times more likely to read an infographic than a text-based piece of content. Infographics are a great way to convey ‘drier’ content such as research and statistics in an engaging format. There are a number of online tools such as Easel.ly and Piktochart that make it simple for you to create your own infographics using ready-made templates that won’t cost the earth to produce,
  • Video. People are naturally drawn to other people so videos are a great way to build a brand personality and put a face to your business. Implement an ‘ About Us’ or ‘Meet the Team’ video or try video blogging. You can also use video to help your convey complex information in a digestible format though Video Tutorials or How to Guides. And, interestingly, using videos on landing pages increase conversion by 86%

4. Email Marketing

Email is an essential part of the in-bound marketers’ toolkit. The added benefits for small businesses is that it is cost-effective, easy to measure and offers a healthy ROI. Use email marketing to communicate to your audience on a regular basis such as through a weekly or fortnightly newsletter. Email is a great way to build relationships and keep your business at the forefront of your audience’s mind. Offer links back to the valuable content on your site such as latest industry news, videos or your latest blog post.


Use Social media to build brand awareness5. Social Media

Utilise your social media platforms to drive your prospects to your online content such as your blog, news articles, video tutorials – in fact all the compelling content you have created.

Rather than taking a scatter gun approach to social media, focus your efforts on the key social media platforms where you customers are. For example if you own a craft store you are probably likely to find Facebook or Pinterest relevant.  Whereas B2B’s may generate more leads through platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter. Indeed,  44% of B2B marketers have generated leads through LinkedIn.

Converting visitors to prospects

Of course once you have enticed your target audience to your website and sparked their interest with all your compelling content, you need to try to convert them into leads by encouraging them to impart their contact information.

  • Optimise your website to make it simple for people to sign-up. Don’t ask for unnecessary information and ensure any forms they may have to complete are quick and straightforward. In the first case of getting people to sign up to your newsletter, a first name and email address will suffice.
  • Offer incentives. Valuable, desirable content such as white papers, eBooks, special offers and giveaways are a great way to get visitors to pass you their details. Rule of thumb – the more valuable the reward the more information you can gather.

Of course the next part of the journey is turning those leads into paying customers…!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences using in-bound marketing techniques, so please do leave a comment

 

 

 

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

 

7 motivational tips for small businesses and start-ups

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

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

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

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

 

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

networking1. Be social.

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

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

time management2. Improve your time management skills.

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

exercise and motivation3. Take a break

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

self help books4. Read some self-help books.

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

positive thinking5. Think positively and celebrate successes

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

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

facing fears6. Face any fears straight on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runner image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Coffee cup image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Books image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Positive thinking image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Ecommerce man image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014: Guide for Small Businesses

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

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

What is the EU Consumer Rights Directive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What actions should you be taking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further information

Key Facts on the new EU Consumer Rights Directive

Implementing the Consumer Rights Directive 

EU Commission: The Directive in Consumer Rights 

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

 

 Image courtesy of taesmileland / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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)

 

Data Protection: a guide for small businesses and start-ups

data protection, data privacy laws

For small online businesses and start-ups collecting data for marketing and sales communications is essential and therefore good quality data is highly valuable. However, there are specific rules and regulations in place that govern how you collect, keep and use data. It is important you familiarise yourself with these since, the last thing you want is to upset customers or face any hefty fines.

This is post provides a basic overview, but I have added in a list of  useful links at the bottom that will enable you to examine the regulations on more depth and look up specifics relevant to your business.

In the UK there are two key acts you should be aware of  concerning data collection, processing and dissemination.

1. Data Protection Act 1998

2. Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act

These basically concern how you:

Obtain ‘personal data’

from your data subject (eg. customer, visitor to your website, prospect). Your data subject should be understand why they are handing over their data and how it will be used.

Process and store personal data 

(modify, keep secure and delete data)

Use personal data

 

1. Data Protection Act 1998

“Data Protection Legislation is enacted to protect the individual, to protect their privacy and prevent the misuse of their personal data” (Chaffey et al, 2009 p.141).

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) effects how you can collect and use data. In the UK, any company that holds personal data on file needs to register with the data protection registrar.  Some small businesses are exempt from registering – you can find out whether you are exempt by taking the ICO’s (Information Commissionaire’s Office) online self assessment questionnaire .

The Information Commissioner has an excellent overview and checklist specifically for small businesses Data Protection Checklists for Small Businesses and SME’s.

There are 8 key principles of the 1998 Data Protection Act which can be summarised as follows.

  1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully. Essentially this is a code of practice  that the Information Commissioner suggests to ensure fair and legal data processing. A quick summary of the code includes the following: companies should have a person ‘data controller’ who has overall responsibility for data protection. If you are a small business or sole trader this is likely to be you. Any communications should clearly detail how a ‘data subject’ (e.g a customer) can get in contact with the data controller or their representative. The ‘data subject’ must have given consent prior to any data processing.  Sensitive personal data should be treated with particular care (eg. ethnic origin, religious or political beliefs)
  2. Personal data shall be obtained for only one or more specified and lawful purposes.  You must make it clear at the point of collection how you intend process and use the information. For example whether you are using it for further communications and whether the data will be passed on to any third parties.
  3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive. This is really a balance between what information you need as a company to better understand your customers and not taking advantage of your data subjects rights.
  4. Personal data shall be accurate and where necessary, kept up-to-date.  It is essential that you keep your data accurate (think about how the data is inputted – many mistakes can come from inaccurate keying in) and up-to-date. So if a data subject contacts you with any changes to their personal details, those changes should be implemented quickly.
  5. Personal data shall not be  kept longer than necessary. If your relationship with the data subject ends then you must delete their data. This is a slightly woolly area so I would suggest you use your common sense – for example if you have held the data for years but feel there is a possibility that the data subject will buy from you then the information is still useful. However if the data subject has had no contact for 10 years then perhaps you need to think about deleting it – don’t forget a clean, up-to-date database is likely to be better performing anyway.
  6. Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the data subject’s rights. This concerns the protecting the rights of the data subject with regard to how their data is processed. Examples include,  an individual can request to view personal data held by an organisation (which must be supplied within a 40 day period), data processing should not cause distress ( for example sending out mailshots to someone who has passed away) and unsolicited phone calls or email.
  7. Appropriate technical  and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss, destruction or damage. This is about ensuring that the data you hold is protected by the necessary security measures that will prevent any unauthorised access to the data.
  8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic area unless that country ensures an adequate level of protection. Essentially this means that you cannot transfer data to countries outside Europe if they do not have appropriate data processing laws in place – such as anti-spam legislation and regulations surrounding privacy and electronic communications.

 

data protection, marketing consent2. Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations Act

In 2002, to further support 1998’s Data Protection Act, specific regulations were introduced to protect consumers with regard to controlling the distribution of electronic communications (eg email and SMS).  There are regulations specific to the type communications you are looking at so it is important to take a look at the Act in full. However some key points of importance here include:

 

 

  • Having an Opt out / unsubscribe  option in all communications. Customers should be able to unsubscribe from future communications quickly and easily. For example, you should always include a clear unsubscribe option on all your communications and ensure this is followed up by suppressing any such opt-outs on your database.
  • Contact details must be provided. You must by law, have a contact details by way a recipient can get in contact – such as a valid address or phone number.
  • The sender must be clearly identifiable. Essentially you should in no way attempt to conceal or disguise your identity.
  • For unsolicited electronic communications the recipient must have given prior consent.  Often you see this implemented at the at the sign up stage with a simple tick box where the recipient can choose to Opt-in (he/she proactively consents to receive further information) or Opt-Out ( he/she refuses the offer to receive further information). For example:

Would you like to receive further communications by email Yes 〈  〉  No 〈  〉

As we mentioned earlier it is worth reading the regulations as there are slightly different rules for individual subscribers, company subscribers and existing customers, so check what is applicable to your business. For example existing customers you can use what is known as a ‘soft opt-in’ which differs from the formal ‘opt-in’. This is where you can send emails or SMS messages if you have:

  1.  obtained their contact details from a sale (or sales negotiation) of a product or service
  2. you are only marketing to them about similar products or services
  3. you gave them the option to opt-out of the marketing when you first collected their details and give them the opportunity to opt-out (unsubscribe) in subsequent communications.   

Also, this guide focuses on regulations within the UK, so if you are outside the UK then you need to look at the  regulations for your own country for example in the US there is the CAN-SMAM Act 2003. A useful summary of spam and privacy regulations for individual countries can be found at SpamLaws.com .

Finally it is also quickly worth mentioning the CAP UK Advertising codes. This code stipulates a number of rules of best practice concerning advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing.  Such as being responsible, non-offensive and not misleading. It also has more specific rules pertaining to specific industries and advertising to children. Again, it is something worth taking a look at.

Hopefully this should give you a brief overview of  key data-protection and privacy regulations in the UK. Outlined below are some useful links that will provide you with further, more-in depth reading.

Useful references

ICO.org. Getting it right. A brief guide to data protection for small businesses

Information Commissioner – Data Protection Principles :

ICO Marketing Guidance for Privacy and Electronic Communications

Direct marketing, Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications

The Data Protection Act 

Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP),  UK Advertising Codes

Email Marketing – When to use opt-in and when to use opt-out

Spam Laws Guide to different countries regulations

 

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