6 Things That Take Your E-commerce Store from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’

Starting an e-commerce store today is not a huge deal. Topped with a good idea, even a basic website can transform into an e-commerce store in no time with a simple shopping cart plugin like ours.

Trouble is, there are millions of such e-commerce stores out there on the internet that set up shop and hope to win wallet-share on a wing and a prayer. My bet is that your store is a lot more valuable to you to leave outcomes like success, failure or mind-blowing popularity in the hands of pure chance.

So what would you do to take that e-commerce store of yours from good to great? Here’s what.

1. A Pleasure to Use, Not Easy to Use

Don’t you hate having to hunt through umpteen different aisles to get that one thing you came to pick up at your local supermarket? The feeling of being completely at sea when hunting for your desired products is by no means restricted to the physical world.

I can recount numerous instances where sifting through an e-commerce store in pursuit of that elusive item has left me tearing my hair out.

Spare your users this agony by building an online store that is easy to use. Why easy, build one that is a pleasure to use. Some key aspects to cover when working on improving usability are:

  • Simple and intuitive product categories
  • Navigation that is easy to follow and follows from the product categories
  • Appealing, yet not overwhelming website design with ample white space
  • Beautiful images that help users experience the product even when they’re unable to touch and feel it
  • Support multiple languages, currencies based on the geographical areas that your site services
  • Pages that load fast and are compatible with various browser types to make the entire shopping experience smooth flowing

Invest some time and effort into A/B testing every feature of your website that your user interacts with – the product categories, site navigation, the checkout process, post purchase service levels. A disappointment in even a single aspect of usability has the potential to ruin the overall user experience – something that a great e-commerce store will never tolerate.

2. Being House-Proud

Classical romance demands grand gestures that sweep ones partner off their feet to establish your affection for them. Many brands go ahead and implement such grand gestures every now and then to remind customers how important they are to them.

The WestJet Christmas MiracleThe WestJet Christmas Miracle

However, everyday lives cannot be filled with grand gestures. Everyday special demands paying attention to the little things. Turn to the oft-ignored but strangely powerful little things that populate your website and turn them into unexpected spots of joy that leave customers coming back for more.

Work on your web copy. Instead of writing your own website copy or getting it done in-house to cut costs; get a real professional to write your copy. Smart, sharp copy doesn’t simply tell customers about your business; it holds a conversation with them.

If copy is important, micro copy is equally vital. Micro copy refers to those little instructions in tiny font that you see on web pages that offer you real-time advice on what to do next. Microcopy tends to be contextual and often witty. Thoughtful, well written microcopy not just saves a customer time when they’re filling up a web form, it also offers a wonderful piece of whimsy that brings out your brand’s personality.

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Choose to go ad less across the site to improve your users’ experience? Highlight this benefit to your users so they are aware of your gesture on their behalf. Is users’ privacy a driving concern for you? Are you taking all possible measure to protect it? Inform them about it and win them over with your user friendly policies.

Small things are remembered long after the initial excitement of those grand gestures wears off. Aim at being spectacularly memorable, mere spectacular is for also-rans.

3. Giving Customers a Voice

User generated content like product reviews on e-commerce sites, helps in making the content on each product page richer and more useful to other readers. Top online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Old Navy, and others actively solicit user reviews and include them in their product pages.

This practice has the added benefit of having Google’s blessing. You see, user generated content like reviews are correlated with increase in click-through rates. Further, Google’s local updates are known to factor these in while ranking pages in their search results. So content about your brand by third parties that you did not have to pay for, pretty much translates into a vote of confidence for your brand, hence improving your SEO ratings. This comes as no surprise if you think of it, but it has to be mentioned as a key reason to promote user generated content, nonetheless.

Understandably, users tend to give more credence to the real experiences of fellow consumers to the advertising magic that brands try to pull off. This explains the popularity of social review apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Giving Customers a Voice

According to a study by Bazaar Voice, 51% of Americans trust user generated content over other sources of brand information. This need for validation from other users is even stronger for certain types of purchases like major electronics purchases (44%), cars (40%) and hotel bookings (39%).

4. Being a Part of Something Bigger Than You

It’s easy to offer users a couple of coupons or special discounts and buy their loyalty, however fleeting that will be. A great brand on the other hand, inspires customers to buy from them whether or not there are discounts thrown in. What’s more, these are brands that make customers feel good for buying from them.

They do this by aligning themselves with goals that are loftier than mere bottom line numbers. When users know that your brand stands for something that is altruistic and close to their hearts, they’re not just loyal to you, they become brand evangelists for you.

A great example for this is TOMS Shoes.

TOMS Shoes was founded on the principle of ‘One for One’ where each pair of shoes bought by a customer would be matched by another pair of shoes donated to a needy child in developing countries like Argentina, Ethiopia, Haiti and others.

TOMS Shoes

This ‘business with a purpose’ was lapped up eagerly by young consumers who looked at shopping from TOMS as their contribution to a better world. It also helped that TOMS has some pretty cool shoes to go with the promise of doing good for the needy.

The support from their users is amply demonstrated by their annual ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event where millions of TOMS customers from around the world spend a day without shoes to raise awareness for the millions of under privileged children who live without shoes every day of their lives.

5. Staying Top of Mind, without Stalking Customers

No brand can hope to have a loyal fan following if their users don’t even remember them after one purchase. Most brands spend millions of dollars in advertising, sales promotions, one-on-one events with customers, celebrity endorsements and more; to remain relevant and memorable to their target audience.

Spending pots of money is not a problem if you are a Coke or Samsung or McDonald’s. Smaller folks like you and I need to get creative to stay on top of users’ minds. Digital media and big data have combined to ensure that we don’t have reason to despair.

Use the biggest asset that your website generates on a daily basis – big data – to help you build brand recall and brand preference among your users. Based on users’ actions on your site, create segments and target each user segment with communication that is relevant to them. Email marketing is a perfect tool for reaching out to various customer segments with tailored messages at zero cost. The great thing about email marketing is, that it offers the highest conversion rates among all other digital marketing tools available – paid or otherwise.

Another tool that you can employ easily without burning a huge hole in your pockets is social media. Pick social networks that matter to your target audience and post content on these networks that your users will appreciate. Top of mind recall does not mean salesy content that pushes your product down people’s throats and timelines. It is content that they willingly seek out.

The same goes for your website blog. Make your readers actually seek out content on your blog, instead of force feeding them promotional content that they’re naturally blind to anyway. Here are some great examples of content marketing by brands that manage superb top of mind brand recall without talking about their business much.

6. Remembering Customers without Sales on Your Mind

Just as it is important to maintain top of mind brand recall among your target audience, it is even more critical to let your customers know that they mean more to you than mere sales.

Building a real relationship with your customers helps in sales not just today or tomorrow, but for years to come.

Invest in building a relationship marketing program where the basic aim of your communication is to become your customer’s friend and not con them into buying your next product. People trust their friends, not pushy salesmen out to close a deal.

Reach out to customers when they least expect it. Birthday greetings are standard by now. Keep in touch with your customers for events like their first anniversary of shopping on your site or celebrate the 5th purchase made by them on your site with a special gesture and so on.

Even a simple ‘Missing You’ note tells the user that you’re thinking of them and they’re not just another customer for you.

Remembering customers without sales

Another way of reaching out without being promotional, is by being actually useful to your customers. Remind them of things that matter to them, for example if a customer has bought one pack of sanitary napkins from your store, you obviously know that she will be needing another pack around the same time, next month. Proactively send out an email reminding your user that she might be out of stock and might want to stock up in time.

Over to You

Thankfully, by now the clunky websites of the nineties have been left behind in the last century and most websites are decent, if not pretty good in terms of their usability. But then again, how many of us remember every single site that we shopped on, ever? Unless it offered something truly outstanding, most e-commerce sites just blend into each other.

Don’t let your online store be yet another statistic. Invest in some (if not every single one) of these little gestures and ensure that your brand remains memorable long after that first purchase.

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So How Much Does Social Media REALLY Matter to Your E-Commerce Site?

Did you check your Facebook profile today? Chance are you did. And multiple times, at that. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American spends over 40 minutes per day on Facebook.

If you work backwards on Facebook’s claim of having over 128 million daily users; it means that over 40% of all Americans check their Facebook account on a daily basis.

These numbers are not just about American attitudes to social media, they are a reflection of the global addiction to social media that we have witnessed in the last few years.

If users are on social media, it follows that marketers won’t be very far behind. It’s no wonder then that social media has steadily gained a progressively bigger share of the marketing budgets of brands worldwide.

Projected share of social media in marketing budgetsProjected share of social media in marketing budgets

Trouble is, social media does not seem to be living up to all it’s been hyped to be. The last touch attribution numbers – conversions by folks who came directly from social media onto your site – remains miserably low. Low enough that questions are being raised about the ROI of social media expenditure and the sustainability of social media marketing.

Data from Monetate’s Quarterly E-commerce Report for Q2 2014, shows that the total traffic that can be directly attributed to social media is a meagre 2.3%. Conversions, obviously are even lower.

Website Visits and traffic

Black Friday – the annual shopping bonanza that all retailers await for the whole year brought in record breaking numbers for e-commerce sites last year – $1.2 billion in sales to be precise. However, even during a ‘made for shopping’ holiday like Black Friday, social media accounted for just 0.34% of all online sales.

If a medium offers a business just 2.3% of the total traffic that it gets from all sources, and an even tinier share of conversions; does it really deserve a 9% share and going forward, a 21% share of overall marketing budgets?

Social Media Is NOT a Last Touch Medium

The short answer to that question is, YES.

Let’s now look at the long version of the answer. All the grouses about how social media has not performed to its potential come from people who are getting a very fundamental thing about social media completely wrong. Social media is NOT a last touch medium, it is an influencer medium.

Users are NOT going to go from a social media post you made about creative crafting ideas to buying a couple of boxes of colored glitter. What that post about creative crafting does instead, is give the user ideas about what to do the next time they want to work on a craft project, what tools to use, which products work best and so on. So the next time that user wants to create a model airplane, they will know where to go to buy their glue sticks and glitter pens.

Social media is your build up to the sale and not your salesman.

So what do you do to ensure that this medium that takes up swathes of your users’ time and attention on a daily basis contributes to your business meaningfully? How do you move out of the trap of looking at last-touch attribution figures for social media and writing it off as a failed marketing tool?

You do that by leveraging the things that social media DOES do well. Here’s a rundown of the various things that social media DOES offer without a shadow of doubt – things that once employed effectively by your business can only help in growing it to the next level.

1. Understand your audience

As we saw earlier, social media is the place your users spend a significant chunk of their time on. With 4 out of 5 Americans now active on social media, this platform is a treasure trove of user data, if only you take the time to look and learn. Social media tells you a ton of things about your audience – where they live, how old they are, how educated they are, what they like to do for fun, places that they frequent, brands that they identify themselves with and more. Each of these factors combine to paint a composite user profile that you can use as a guideline while marketing to them.

With insights like these, your business won’t end up making gaffes like selling spare parts for a Lamborghini to a Ford user.

2. Target Your Audience Clearly

So we saw how social media can tell you who your users are. Now take a look at social media from another perspective.

Social media is the only marketing platform that tells you exactly where to spend your marketing dollars, so you don’t waste them on people who will not respond to your communication. On social media, you have the option of laser-targeting only and only those individuals who fit the right age, sex, location, interests and activity profile that you have created for your ideal customers.

This prevents spillage of your budgets on non-responsive audiences, it improves the efficacy of your messaging among your real target audience and reduces the overall budgets you would need to achieve a particular result by streamlining your marketing.

3. Engagement

Users like, follow or share data from a brand only when it resonates with them and speaks to them in language that they identify with. Once you hit upon this magic formula for your posts, nothing stops users from sharing it with their friends and family and taking your content viral.

Some of the key things that ensure your users are engaged (and by extension, ready to spread your word of mouth for free!) include:

  • Your content matches their areas of interest
  • What you’re saying is very different from what they see other brands say
  • Your content tells them about something they did not know about before
  • Your content is exciting / funny
  • Sharing your content with their friends will portray your users as smart and cool, earning them brownie points from their peers.

Remember, the deeper your engagement levels are with your users, the easier it will be to convince them about the merits of your brand and products. In other words, building an engaged user base is basically the process of priming your users to become customers of your product.

4. Trust

Users log primarily on to social media to connect with their friends and family, not to follow brands or organizations. This primary function that social media has of being a social connector, means that users set a lot of store by what their friends and family have to say about various matters – political issues, environmental stands, entertainment gossip and brand endorsements.

A study of over 25,000 online consumers by Nielsen as part of their Global Online Survey showed that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from their friends.

By building a positive, credible brand image for your business with your fans and followers, you are in turn creating brand ambassadors who have the power to influence their peers to a level that your marketing messages can never hope to achieve.

Solicit reviews of your products from existing customers on social media to get the benefit of virality and being seen by their friends and family. Use social proof like the number of fans you have or the number of positive reviews that your product got or the number of times people shared your blog post on social media as tools that help potential customers make up their minds and enable conversions.

5. Top of Mind Recall

For a radio ad to stick in a user’s mind, you need at least nine repetitions per day. That figure is similar for television. For any business to be able to afford that kind of airtime all year round, is an incredibly expensive affair, to say the least.

Social media solves this problem by offering itself up as a near-free platform to reach out to your users. With the right kind of organic posts, your brand can reach out to users multiple times every single day, every day of the year at no extra cost. This is an opportunity that no business, especially cash strapped small businesses, can afford to ignore.

Dig into your analytics and determine the times of day when your users are active on social media. Use social media as a completely free reminder medium with regular posts at these times in the day. Paid ads on social media too work best when they are targeted at the right times of day and on the right days of the week.

6. Inspire Your Users

As discussed earlier, do not look at social media as a salesman with revenue targets on his head. Instead, view this wonderful medium as your online brochure that users can browse through at their leisure to get ideas on what to buy and where to buy it from.

I am not endorsing salesy posts that say “Here’s my product, it’s so great, buy it now!”. What a smart social media marketer would do instead is to SHOW the users the various ways your product can be beneficial to them. Show them various use cases for your product. Highlight real-life stories of customers who have used your products and the pleasant experiences that THEY had.

Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or even Facebook lend themselves beautifully to creating look-books or design guides that tempt users to check out your wares, instead of simply pushing percentage-off offers down the throats of unwilling and uninformed users.

7. Make Life Easier for Them (Social Login)

One of the cardinal requirements of a good business is to make life easier for your users. Does your website force users to create a username and password as a pre-requisite for transactions? Do users have to remember these username-password combinations each time they revisit your website? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these two questions, you’re creating a wall between your website and its users.

Social media helps knock down this wall with the help of a social login. By allowing users to log into your website using their social media accounts, you are taking away the friction of creating a new account from scratch and remembering the password attached to that account for future visits.

Research by Monetate shows that users spend 127% more time on websites that allow social logins than those that don’t. It further goes on to say that 64% of users are more likely to return to a site that remembers them without the need for them to create a fresh username and password.

There’s yet another benefit that social logins offer you on a direct level. Users that sign on with social media accounts agree to share the data from their social media accounts with you in exchange for the convenience of a social login. This is invaluable data that you can access directly in your inbox, without even going to social media and digging around for details.

Invest in a social login, it will only help your cause with your target audience.

8. SEO

This is much debated, but now well established benefit that social media offers businesses, both big and small.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and without a doubt, Google+ help in backing up all the other ranking signals that your page has and help in making the final cut in where your page ranks in a particular search. Let’s understand with an example.

Let’s say I search for ‘Pizza places in Birmingham’ on Google. If a friend of mine on Google+ has left behind a +1 or a positive review about ABC Pizzas located in Birmingham, then all other factors remaining constant, ABC Pizzas will get a bump up in their search rankings compared to other pizza places. The simple reason here is relevancy. Google assumes that since this is a place recommended by MY friend, it would be more interesting to me, than a place that is rated highly by a bunch of strangers.

Searching for people on Google or Bing, typically pulls up their social profiles – another indicator of how search engines DO give points to social signals, much as they would like to confuse and confound marketers everywhere.

Conclusion

Social media may not fit into clear silos of ‘lead generator’, ‘lead nurturer’, ‘awareness creator’ or ‘last mile converter’ that we are used to for other marketing platforms that we use. To truly benefit from social media, you need to understand what social media brings to the table and maximize it for all that its worth.

Consider social media as an enabler for your sales, instead of a deal-maker and you’ll be surprised with the results that you see.

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Harnessing the Power of Social Commerce: 5 Key Things Your E-Commerce Site Must Do Right Away

We’ve all done this at some point or the other – Going to the mall with friends tagging along because you want their opinions on what you buy. There’s social commerce in the analog world for you.

A lot has changed in the last decade. We don’t shop at the mall as much as we do online. Again, we don’t meet up with friends face to face as often as we interact with them on social media. When you factor in these two changes to the ‘going to the mall with friends’ concept – you get social commerce in 2014.

How Would You Define Social Commerce?

This is one of those things that is still nebulous, still taking form and no one can really agree upon any one comprehensive definition.

However, we can attempt to piece together inferences from how social media affects e-commerce to arrive at an acceptable meaning for social commerce today.

  • Facebook brand stores that were launched in the late 2000’s have almost disappeared entirely. This failure indicates that simply copy-pasting the existing e-commerce model onto social media does not make users want to buy things on social networks. Users go to social media to bond with friends, keep up with their social connections, not to browse through pages and pages of products for sale.
  • Research from Salesforce shows that 78% of sales professionals who use social media to reach out to their target audience sell more than those who don’t. Time to brush up those social skills and engage with your target audience, don’t you think?
  • Social media is not just useful from the seller’s perspective. Consumers use social media as a tool that aids purchase decisions.

Social Commerce

It’s not always sellers who reach out to potential buyers. Often buyers reach out to sellers – for various reasons, not just for sales. These reasons include service issues, pre-sales research, expressing thanks over a great experience and more. According to the Salesforce research quoted earlier, nearly three-quarters (73%) of all users claim to have engaged with a vendor on social media.

From all of this data, we can safely say that buying a product or a service online as a direct result of interactions on social media can be called social commerce.

It could be a result of clicking through from an organic post on social media, a recommendation by a friend, a paid ad or even a solution to a customer query posted on social media.

How Would You Maximize Social Commerce Revenues?

Getting your penny’s worth from social media has a lot to do with how you integrate social media into your website and your marketing communications.

1. Social Sharing Beyond The ‘Share’ button

The first step to making your online store social friendly is by letting users befriend your brand on social media. Tell your visitors loud and clear where to find you on social media and offer click through icons that let them follow you on individual networks.

Getting fans and followers used to be how social media marketing started among e-commerce players, but soon the realization sunk in that mere fans who don’t interact are not worth too much to the brand.

Enter engagement.

Allow users to share interesting things that they find on your site with their friends and family on social networks with strategically placed sharing buttons. If you have gorgeous product images, offer sharing to Instagram, Pinterest and of course Facebook. If quotable quotes are what your site is famous for, offer ‘click to tweet’ options.

However, just having social sharing buttons on product pages is mere tokenism in the name of social integration. ModCloth actually ‘gets’ this whole social sharing and community thing really well. Take a look at their search results page and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

1.	Social Sharing Beyond The ‘Share’ button

Each item shows the number of users who have ‘liked’ it previously – a sort of endorsement for the item. It gets better. The page filter offers ‘Most Loved’ as an option to filter your results by – something that you don’t see every day on an e-commerce site!

2. Encourage ‘purchase sharing’ on social media by offering buyers incentives to share online

A great way to ensure virality of your content on social media is to encourage your fans to like or share your posts on social media. This would mean that this ‘story’ would show up on the timelines of a large number of their friends.

An even better way to piggyback on your fans’ networks and get awesome visibility for your brand is by asking them to share their recent purchase experiences on social media. You can incentivize them to share their purchase online via your order confirmation email or your ‘Thank You’ page by offering a discount on their next purchase.

2.	Encourage ‘purchase sharing’ on social media

Take social sharing a step further by letting users share their own user generated content with your items on the product pages of your own website like ModCloth does here:

Endorsement

What better endorsement can a product get than having satisfied customers posting pictures of them actually using said product?

3. Social Proof to Encourage Conversions

The Global Trust in Advertising report by Nielsen shows that 70% of consumers trust opinions posted by real consumers online for making purchase decisions. This is second only to direct word of mouth recommendations from friends and family that topped the trust charts at 92%. Unsurprisingly, paid advertising managed to convince less than 50% of consumers with TV ads being most convincing and text ads on mobile phones bringing up the rear.

Leverage this innate trust that consumers have in the opinions of other users by offering them social proof across your website.

Don’t get thrown by the term ‘social proof’. Any content on your site that contains opinions or experiences or data regarding real users constitutes social proof. This includes:

  • Number of ‘satisfied customers’
  • Customer testimonials for your brand as a whole
  • Celebrity testimonials (remember Jennifer Hudson and Weightwatchers?)
  • Awards and recognition for your brand from prestigious entities
  • Ratings and reviews for individual products
  • Number of social ‘likes’ for a product

In fact, product reviews and testimonials are given huge importance in conversion optimization of e-commerce sites. CRO guru Neil Patel has penned an article that handles the topic in minute detail.

To summarize what Neil says about testimonials and social proof, here are quick to-dos:

  • Don’t stick to just text based testimonials. Create testimonials in video form with your users speaking about their experience with your product. A video combined with a compelling story is a convincer.
  • Make sure your testimonials are not vague, one-size fits all type affairs. Request users to spell out what they liked specifically about your brand, how it helped them in their own lives etc.
  • Use images and names of users to give the testimonial a tad more authenticity

4. The Right Mix of Product Posts and ‘Value-adding’ Posts on Social Media

If there’s one constant thing that one hears all around is that whatever you do, do not be ‘salesy’ on social media. The minute you start pushing products down users’ timelines like a used-car salesman is the minute you’ll have them running in the other direction for dear life.

Instead, we’re told offer ‘real value’ to users through your social media posts.

Now, I am not here to contradict these tried and tested pieces of social media wisdom. But I have my own take on how both types of posts hold real value for your users and must be used based on what works best. Test out your posts with A/B testing tools like VWO or Optimizely and see the response to them. Based on this you will arrive at a ratio of product posts to value-added posts for your individual brand – this is a critical step, as this ratio can vary widely for different brands based on their existing brand equity, industry type and target audience.

In the case of product posts, make sure you offer a click through link to your website where users can directly buy the product without having to comb through the entire website for the item. Image driven social networks like Pinterest can be optimized with Rich Pins that help users experience your product as well as click through to buy it right away.

Amazon has taken the lead in direct sales through Twitter by setting up the AmazonCart option. Nothing stops your brand from taking inspiration from the largest e-commerce site in the world and adapting the idea to your own online store.

Value-adding Posts on Social Media

5. Break Down Barriers with Social Login

You might have just put up your best social media post to date, yet you see few users crossing over to your site to make a purchase.

Jay Baer explains this reluctance to leave social media  “Given the extreme stickiness of social networks (especially Facebook and Pinterest), it is indeed possible that part of the issue with social commerce is one of session interruption, whereby consumers don’t want to leave the visceral comforts of their social network by clicking a link and going shopping online, but would rather store the awareness of the deal in their noggin and visit the website later, when they are less ensconced in social media bliss.”

Now turn the situation around. Imagine a user who comes to your site, picks out a product she likes and boom! She is asked to create a brand new user name, password and account on your site to be able to buy the item she picked out so carefully. How many users would have the patience to create the umpteenth user account on an e-commerce site? Statistically, just about a third of them.

What you really need in a scenario like this is the ability to let users move seamlessly between social media – a world that they are generally logged into already – and your website. Social login tools like Janrain make it possible for users to log into websites using their social media IDs. No more remembering yet another password-username combination.

Social logins come with some direct benefits for online stores as well. E-commerce stores get access to social information about their users – their likes, dislikes, location, preferred activities and more – using the integration of users’  social media accounts with their accounts on the e-commerce site. This rich data can be used to personally tailor communication for each user, thus raising conversion possibilities manifold.

Social login users post details about their purchase to their social networks directly from within your site, making the purchase visible on their friends’ timelines instantaneously.

Over to You

Social commerce will soon step into its next epoch with the ‘Buy’ button soon to become a reality on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – your three major social networks that are all set to help multiply your conversions from social media.

However, even with the ‘buy’ buttons or Amazon’s #AmazonCart concept, social commerce will not just be an e-commerce venture dressed in social skins. To make sure your e-commerce store truly benefits from social media in terms of actual bottom line numbers, you need to first get your basics right. Simply action the stuff that we discussed in this post right here, and you should be all set!

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!

7 Things to Consider Before Starting an Ecommerce Store

7 Things to Consider Before Starting an Ecommerce Store

Embarking on an e-commerce venture is like strapping up for a real adventure. While you may argue that business is business everywhere, there are many aspects of an e-commerce business that make it unique and exciting simultaneously.

The platform on which an e-commerce business depends – the internet – is an ever changing landscape with constant surprises waiting for you round every corner.

Every other day something new ambushes the unsuspecting e-commerce entrepreneur – Google decides to change its search algorithms which affects your site’s rankings and visibility, Facebook decides to start charging for stuff that was free so far, email marketing rules become more stringent with Gmail and Yahoo cracking down on spammers and so on.

Then there are the surprises that come with running a retail business anywhere on the planet – inventory stock outs, shipping trouble and the like.

While it is practically impossible to be prepared for each and every aspect that may challenge your e-commerce venture, there definitely are certain risk-mitigating steps that you can factor in before you launch your digital dream.

1. Domain Name & Web Hosting

In the early days of e-commerce and SEO, it was considered a good idea to use broad category-specific domain names (exact match domains) to attract more visitors. But that practice is being debated and we now see a bigger influx of brand oriented domain names. Though it means you spend money in building your brand and then get traffic to your site, picking a brand specific domain name helps in brand recall and pays off better dividends in the long run.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos recounts a story about domain names in his book Delivering Happiness. In it he says, Zappos.com was originally supposed to be Shoesite.com. But Tony shot down that move and after much brainstorming, they ended up with Zappos.com, which is just as well, because today Zappos sells a whole load more than just shoes.

Opt for a .com domain name if you are based in the US or most other countries around the world. In some cases special domains work – if you are in the UK, a .co.uk name works better, in Germany .de is more popular than .com. But by and large, users have a tendency to append .com at the end of most domain names and this will help with getting you traffic.

Picking a domain name is like choosing a name for your house. But you’ll also need space on the internet to build your house – your hosting service. Pick a reputed hosting service for your website that will allow you to grow and spread as your business grows bigger over the years.

2. Web Platform, Store Design and UX

A web platform is the skeleton on which you will build your e-commerce store. The sequence is simple,

          Domain Name -> Hosted Web Space -> Web Platform

         House Name -> Plot of Real Estate -> Skeleton for the House

You can pick from 3 types of web platforms on which to build your site:

a. Open Source e-commerce platforms – You download the source code and build your store from scratch with the help of developers and designers. Useful if you are a developer yourself or are getting in a professional team of developers to build your site. This option is cheap in the long run and allows endless flexibility. The downsides are significant too. The complexity of setting up an open source site from scratch means high dependence on professional developers to build and maintain your site. The open source software needs endless patches and updates on a regular basis. There’s no real customer support team to turn to in case your site runs into trouble and so on. Examples: Magento, UberCart.

b. Hosted e-commerce platforms – Ready to roll out e-commerce sites that need minimal customization. You can develop your site yourself with drag and drop functionality, full hosted services, round the clock technical support, a range of plugins and apps to enhance site features and a monthly or annual fee in return for all these services. This is the quickest route to market, but is also often the most expensive in the long run. Costs add up quickly with each site feature you add, there is very little flexibility to the site design once you’ve zeroed in on a particular one, worst of all, as you grow in size and scale, your hosted platform will charge you higher fees for supporting your operations. Examples: Volusion, Shopify.

c. Hosted Shopping Carts – This option lets you add a shopping cart to an existing blog or plain website and integrates a checkout, payment and order management process into a basic non-e-commerce site. This can be set up even by rookies and does not affect the overall functions of what you offer. Example: ShopIntegrator.

The design and layout of your store will determine to a large extent how many visitors to your site will convert to paying customers. Spend time researching the best designs that you can consider, test the various design options you have with A/B tests and qualitative usability testing before your decide to freeze on any one design option to launch your site with.

Owen Fuller takes you through the intricacies of balancing great aesthetics with good conversion optimization techniques in this post. Christian Holst from Smashing Magazine explains the science of building navigation structures and product categories for easier findability and conversions in e-commerce set ups here.

3. Supplier relationships & Inventory management

No brick and mortar retail store can survive too long without managing their suppliers well. The same holds true for e-commerce stores as well. Invest time and effort in choosing good suppliers.

As a startup, your products quality will be a part of your marketing efforts. Don’t opt for cheap over good quality. Many startups look at Asia for bulk manufacturing. While this saves costs and is done by the biggest names in the business like Walmart and Apple, they typically tend to have superb supplier networks, dedicated teams to handle suppliers and a strong supplier management policy framework. Learn from the biggies in this area and tread carefully. Even big names like Mango, Gap and Benetton have had to face the heat when suppliers mess up big time.

An online store cannot pull down its shutters in the night while its owners are asleep. By definition e-commerce is 24 x 7 x 365. This makes inventory management supremely important.

4. Payment Processing & Gateway Partner Choice

When you decide to sell products online, the assumption is that you are going to accept online payments. Figure out what payment options you’d like to offer (duh, all!) and what you can afford to offer and strike a balance between payment gateway charges (to you) and payment convenience (to the customer) before you make your final call.

Your payment mechanism choice also defines your level of website security. When you venture into offering credit card or debit card payments, you will need to get a SSL security certificate for your site which will allow transactions to be carried out through a secured section of your website.

PayPal and similar third party payment processor will charge you 3.5% per transaction plus 30 cents per transactions as their processing fee. In the case of credit card companies, they will charge you 20 to 50 cents per transaction plus a fixed percentage of the total transaction amount. With PayPal, transaction security is taken care of by them, while with credit and debit card companies, the onus of transaction security is squarely on you.

These are typically issues faced by websites that are built on open source platforms or even hosted e-commerce platforms. A plug and play shopping cart like ShopIntegrator will take care of integrating your site with a payment gateway, include all necessary security features and offer you a host of payment options to boot.

This totally eliminates the need for you to build in an SSL certificate on your site, as the ShopIntegrator plugin already has SSL certificates built in. No payment data is captured on your site directly – the customer is taken to the payment gateway in order to capture their payment details, thus removing the risks and liabilities associated with handling sensitive customer data.

5. Shipping Costs & Processes

Shipping your goods to your customer is a process that is exclusive to e-commerce. Traditional retail seldom has to worry about this aspect of the sale.

Check out the various shipping companies in your country of operations and pick the one with the best combination of good reputation, low costs and great service.

Shipping costs are a huge determinant of final e-commerce conversions, with at least 61% of users are likely to cancel their entire purchase if they eventually find that free shipping is not offered.

You don’t always have to offer free shipping on everything – it can be for specific high margin items, for purchases above a certain minimum threshold amount and so on.

6. Set Up & Train Customer Service

Many brands (like the aforementioned Zappos) have built their reputation and success purely on the back of exceptional customer service. A happy customer spreads the word about good service she received from your brand and brings in more customers at zero cost to you. A study by Econsultancy, showed that 70% of customers trust recommendations from other users while just 14% trust advertising directly from the brand.

Invest in a good customer care team, train them well and set them up with good CRM software. You can take your pick from Salesforce, Zendesk or NetSuite and see your customers’ journey from the time they browsed your site for products to their purchase history to their profile information all in one place.

Offer 24 x 7 customer service through a toll free phone number which is the expected bare minimum today for e-commerce sites. Also look at options like Live Chat and social media customer care post launch and growth of your business.

7. Aggressive Launch Plan & Continued Marketing

You may have sent months or even years putting together every little aspect together to launch your e-commerce venture. But without a big bang launch followed by sustained marketing, your e-commerce venture could vanish without a whimper.

Spend time with your marketing team and agencies to develop a distinctive personality and voice for your brand. Research your target audience and understand what media platforms you can market to them effectively on – Internet? Mobile? Radio? Email? Social Media? A mix of all of these? Get the brew right and launch a sustained campaign on your chosen media platforms at least a minimum of a fortnight before your site actually launches.

Once you pull off a successful site launch, switch over to the detailed marketing strategies that you have developed in advance and continue to stay on top of mind for your target audience.

As a new age entrepreneur you have a million and one tools at your disposal to unleash your original business idea on netizens around the world. Capitalize on this fact, put in your time and efforts in a strategic manner and your chances of success multiply exponentially.

Building and running an e-commerce business is complex, exhilarating, and scary, but in the end immensely satisfying. All the best on your exciting adventure!

Image Source: 1

10 Clever Ways of Growing Repeat Customers

Anybody who runs their own business will admit that attracting customers to your product/service is hard enough. After fending off each one of your competitors, alternatives to your product or even the customer’s own fickleness to commit to a purchase, an actual sale can leave you feeling like you deserve a sinful, creamy, double chocolate cupcake with a liquid chocolate core. (Mmm!)

If a basket of cupcakes is chocolate nirvana, a customer who returns over and over again and buys at your store would be the embodiment of business nirvana.
Trouble is, such a customer is unbelievably hard to find. We all know the most commonly touted facts about repeat customers:

“Attracting new customers is 5 times more expensive than retaining existing customers.”
~ Lee Resource, Inc.

“80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers.”
~ Gartner Group

Before figuring out how to grow repeat customers, it’s important to understand why we need them in the first place.

Repeat customers have a big impact on your profits.

Read that aloud. According to a study by Harvard Business School, a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by anywhere from 25 to 95%. That’s huge. And it gets better.

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Having repeat customers is similar to cutting costs. A mere two percent jump in customer retention rates is monetarily equivalent to cutting costs by ten percent, state Emmett and Mark Murphy in their book Leading from the Edge of Chaos: The 10 Critical Elements for Success in Volatile Times.

Just as increased retention rates are good for profitability, not focusing enough on customer retention and only chasing after new customers brings your profitability down. The cost of bringing a new customer to the same level of profitability as a repeat customer is up to 16x more than the cost of retaining an existing customer.

Now that you’re clear on how crucial repeat customers are to the sustainable growth of your business, let’s take a look at what can be done to keep your joy going and the customers coming back.

1. Hire a good team

A great company is the result of a talented, committed team that feels a deep sense of ownership and loyalty towards the organization and are brand evangelists in their own right.

I mention this as step 1, because everything else you do will flow from here. Your product will be first rate because an intelligent and sincere team was behind it. Because they feel a sense of ownership with the brand, they will offer great service and try to help the customer at every step. Michael LeBoeuf, professor at the University of New Orleans, and author of How to Win Customers and Keep Them For Life, throws light on the biggest reason why customers stop coming back to you:

“68% customers quit because of an attitude of indifference towards them by the owner, manager or some employee.”
~ Michael LeBoeuf

2. Create a great purchase experience

Instead of saying user experience, say buying experience, because this is as important for online businesses as it is for offline.

Make sure your website is clean, clutter-free, well thought out and well designed, to help the customer navigate through, in a painless manner. Make sure your purchase flow is streamlined, well-engineered and user friendly to prevent customers from dropping out mid-purchase. The ShopIntegrator e-commerce plug in is a great example of a smooth and glitch free purchase experience.

Offer exceptional service. This applies to your online service, in traditional stores, on your customer service number, live chat service, shipping and delivery – every customer touch point, period. A customer may not remember average service they received, but they will definitely remember a terrible service experience and worse, spread the word about it. Two key benefits of exceptional service are higher customer loyalty and lower price sensitivity. 86% of customers will pay more for great service, according to an Oracle Customer Experience Impact Report.

3. Keep in touch regularly

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“Out of sight, out of mind” has never been truer than in today’s hyper competitive, super connected world. With the number of different devices, mediums and entities that wish to communicate to your repeat customer, you need to keep pace with your communication if you want to be remembered through all the chaos.

Thankfully, the same technology that creates this “e-chaos” comes to your rescue when it comes to communicating with your valued customers.

Reach out to them through as many platforms as you can realistically manage – Email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare or any other medium that speaks to your audience. Always remember, your interaction on whichever medium needs to enrich the customer, or else they will not see value in communicating with you and your presence on these platforms will become redundant.

4. Reach out to unhappy customers and learn from them

Just as satisfied customers will gladly turn into brand advocates for you, unhappy customers can ruin your brand reputation and drive away any potential customers you may have had in their social circle.

“A dissatisfied consumer will tell between 9 and 15 people about their experience. About 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.”

~ White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC

Prevent this negative word of mouth from spreading, by nipping it at its bud. The very same platforms referred to above, can be leveraged to reach out to an unhappy customer. Listen to what their problems are, apologize for the trouble they went through and offer a realistic solution that will make the customer happy. Most importantly, take your learning from the problems that your customers highlight and apply them to your business. Customer feedback is the most valuable input you can use to design your business and grow sales.

5. Be nice

Retaining repeat customers is not a clinical task of crunching numbers or rolling out one retention marketing campaign after another. It is about building a one on one relationship between the customer and your brand.

With Big Data and all the various ways to harness it, you have a gold mine of personal information about your customers. Show the customer you care by reaching out to them at times that are special to them – birthdays, anniversaries, a hello after a long purchase absence, a thank you for the purchases they did make – take your pick.

6. Seek permission and preferences from your customers

Automatically opting in a customer to your email list is what a lot of ecommerce sites do by default these days. However, opted in customers are far more likely to respond to your communication than customers that you spam with your emails. Seek your customers’ permission to communicate with them.

Ask them upfront the frequency of communication they prefer and the mode of communication that will work best for them (email, social media, direct mail, SMS). This will give you a customer who is genuinely interested and engaged, plus it will also prove to the customer that you respect their wishes and are their friend.

7. Educate them about how to best use your product

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Many customers buy a product and then leave it to gather dust in a corner as they are too confused to figure out how to put the product together or how to really use them. A good example of a product that just sat there after being bought was the ubiquitous encyclopedia set in every home a few decades ago.

Don’t let your product fall into this trap. Once the first purchase is complete, communicate to the customer on how to use the product, the various benefits it offers, interesting applications of the product and so on. This will not just drive interest and usage of your product, it will also prime the customer for a future purchase from you.

8. Upsell and cross sell products they might like

Earlier we discussed about the wealth of information we now have access to as marketers and business owners. Instead of just pushing your agenda, play nice.

Apply the insights that you gleaned about the customers shopping preferences based on transactional and behavioral data gathered till date and send them details on products that they might enjoy. This shows the customer that you’re listening and that you care, while simultaneously creating revenue opportunities for you.

9. Use artificial advancement on loyalty programs

Give customers a head start on your loyalty program to see greater customer stickiness and higher dollar values from the conversions.

Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze, conducted an experiment on the customers at a local carwash. They gave out loyalty cards to 300 customers but split them into two groups without their knowledge. Group 1 got cards that said they had to complete 8 washes with the carwash service to get 1 totally free carwash service. Group 2 got cards that said they had to complete 10 washes at the carwash service to get 1 free carwash service. This card had a twist in its offer. It said, “We’ll give you 2 free washes just to give you a head start in the game.” So in effect, group 2 also needed to do 8 washes to get the 1 free wash.

The results that came in showed that group 2 outperformed group 1 by almost twice the margin! While 19% of the customers from Group 1 completed the 8 washes, a whopping 34% of customers from Group 2 completed the set of 8 washes, thanks to the psychological nudge they got with the “head start” communication.

10. Use display retargeting to maintain top of mind recall

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Retargeting is basically a form of display advertising, where a customer who has visited your site is shown ads related to your brand or the item they browsed, on sites that they visit after they exit your site.

While retargeting is primarily used as a customer acquisition tool, it makes perfect sense to use it as a subtle branding tool for your repeat customers to ensure sustained top of mind recall. It acts as a nudge to accelerate a future purchase or a reminder to repeat customers who are at risk of lapsing.

A study of over 0.25 million online transactions shows that if no efforts are made towards retaining customers, just 5% of all first-time customers will return to your site of their own accord. Of the 5% that does return to your site, only 3% will actually make a second purchase.

KISSmetrics puts the cost of a lost customer at $289 per customer.

Putting these two metrics together, if you get 1000 new customers on your site per week, only 50 will come back to your site for browsing around. Of these only 3% i.e. only 15 customers out of 1000 customers will ever actually make a second purchase. This means you’ve lost 985 first time customers for good. In revenue terms, your weekly loss would be $284,665 or nearly $14.8 million in a year.

It’s your choice – would you rather spend millions of marketing dollars on acquiring new customers who never return or would you dedicate a substantial portion of your marketing efforts to nurture every customer you currently have into a lifelong user and brand advocate?

Image Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4

10 benefits of getting your business online and ecommerce ready

 EcommerceEcommerce is here to stay

With unparalleled, and in all likelihood, continued growth in information technology, internet access and online consumer spending, getting your business online and ecommerce enabled should be a priority. Not only does an online presence open your business up to exciting new opportunities, but in order for most businesses selling products or services to really thrive long-term, providing an online sales channel is essential.

“Ecommerce sales topped $1 trillion for first time in 2012…This year, sales will grow 18.3% to $1.298 trillion worldwide” eMarketer

Tapping into this growing pool of online consumer spending should be something your business is making the most of. There are of course things you need to consider and address when moving online, such as security concerns, data-protection, possible technology gaps between providers and users, levels of online customer service and fulfilment and so on. But any potential teething problems are minor in comparison to the opportunities the internet provides.

10 reasons to get your business online and ecommerce enabled

1. Reach a new, global audience

The internet enables even the smallest of businesses to access audiences far vaster than can be reached through traditional channels alone. A small business or start-up can reach corners of the globe previously only accessible to multinationals’ with large marketing budgets. The internet can help maintain a competitive advantage by opening your business up to a new global audience and also through sourcing potential new suppliers and distributors.

2. Increased interaction with your customers

An online presence provides your business with the opportunity to increase communications with customers  through interactive elements such as product review’s, customer feedback , email newsletters,  discussion forums and blogs. Through real-time feedback you can get to know your customers’ expectations and thoughts on your products and services. This insightful information can then be used to improve customer relations and fed back into business planning.

3. Your business is open 24 hours, seven days a week

The beauty of ecommerce is that your business can be taking orders and purchases all day, everyday. Whilst you’re tucked up in bed your business is still working for you, processing orders from customers from the other side of the world – ensuring you don’t miss out on valuable sales.   An online store gives your current and potential customers the convenience and ability to shop when they want.

4. Level playing field

The internet enables  businesses the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with even the biggest of competitors. In addition to low start-up costs, the availability of a number of excellent free tools (webs analytics, DIY site builders, social media and so on) gives even the smallest of businesses an equal footing with the big guys.

5. Data tracking and gathering

Analytics provides instantaneous access to your websites’ data. It can tell you all sorts of insightful, real-time information about customer behaviour, web traffic, conversion rates, bounce rates – all of which can be fed into your business planning and strategy. And a lot of it is available for free.

6. Low start-up and maintenance costs

Getting your business online needn’t cost the world. The are a number of free do-it-yourself website platforms available to get you started no matter how new or small your business is. And, the cost of maintaining a virtual store is far lower than the bricks and mortar equivalent.

7. Reduce marketing and advertising costs

There are all sorts of low cost digital marketing activities you can engage in to improve your online visibility. If you are prepared to put in time and effort you can undertake inbound marketing techniques such as Search Engine Optimisation, link building, social media, blogs, Pay Per Click advertising, none of which require a large marketing budget.

8. Flexibility and Speed

The internet provides your business with speed and flexibility. You can set up an online shop in a matter of minutes and adapt your website quickly and easily to respond to market trends or competitor activity. Mass communication with customers can be almost instantaneous through social media and email.

9. Keep up with your competitors

You need to stay competitive and not get left behind – the likelihood is that even if your competitors aren’t all online yet they will be soon. And because the internet provides transparency – there is no quicker and easier way to keep on top of what your competitors are doing than monitoring their websites.

10. Reduce processing costs and receive payments quicker

An online store can reduce many  processing and transaction costs and enable you to receive payments into your bank account much quicker than through more traditional methods.

Finally, if you’re still hesitating….

How is this for an encouraging  statistic. According to a recent report by the Lloyd’s Banking Group (Britain’s Digital Opportunities Report 2012), there is a distinct link between having an internet presence and growth in turnover. Findings indicated that the businesses who were reporting an increased turnover were more likely to have a company website, felt the internet was very important to their organisation and used the internet daily.

Getting your business online and ecommerce ready really isn’t as daunting as first it may seem and there is plenty of help out there. Most website platform providers offer some excellent templates and hosted, third party shopping cart software can be a quick and simple way to turn your website into an online store. And if you’re just starting out, don’t worry, your website and online shop doesn’t need to be all singing and dancing straight away.  The beauty of the internet is that you can evolve and adapt your presence with relative ease to reflect market trends, consumer expectations and your own business requirements.

Image courtesty of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net