4 Ways to Boost eCommerce Average Order Value

Thoughtful woman holding shopping bags and looking up

Want to improve the amount of traffic and the number of conversions of your eCommerce store? Who doesn’t? These are, after all, imperative to grow your revenue. But for that you need to utilize the most powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal, which, unfortunately, is often overlooked. Yes, we are talking about your Average Order Value (AOV).

Average Order Value or AOV is a criterion used to compare your marketing campaigns’ efficiency. In addition, this key metric helps you understand the type of eCommerce customers you currently have. Using this metric you can understand how each traffic segment of your website is converting and where you need to improve to enhance your revenue. In short, it is your tool to create personalized marketing strategies for a better conversion rate.

Why Increase Your AOV?

The benefits of increasing your Average Order Value are pretty obvious. To begin with, it helps you increase your cash flow really fast, which is obviously one of your basic goals. And that’s not all; there are several other benefits of working your way out to improve your AOV.

For instance, you can simply increase your AOV by installing a plugin for your eCommerce shopping cart. In comparison, acquiring traffic not only has a significant cost attached to it but is also more difficult to achieve, thanks to the frequent search engine algorithm updates we are being subjected to these days.

It may also happen that any of your traffic sources might disappear one fine day, leaving you clueless and dumbfound. If you have worked on your AOV and improved it, chances are you will be in a much better position, while reducing your marketing spend.

But before we sum up the tips to improve your Average Order Value, you need to know how it is calculated. The AOV formula is quite simple to comprehend:

AOV = Revenue / Number of orders

Using this formula and a web analytics software like Google Analytics you can easily start optimizing your conversion rate. All you need to do is get the exact average order value from Google Analytics for each traffic source. Consider the numbers mentioned in Transactions and Revenue sections (under Acquisition -> All Traffic) and use the above mentioned formula to calculate the AOV.

Now that you know how to calculate your AOV, it’s time to look at some of the tactics to increase your Average Order Value.

1. Product Recommendations

More often than not, customers are only focused on what they are looking for. As a result, they overlook to browse your eCommerce store to find more. This, in turn, results in smaller carts, a.k.a. smaller Average Order Values.

While you cannot change how customers will behave, there is a very simple solution to improve your average order values. Simply add product recommendations on your product and check out pages. If you don’t believe us, consider that Amazon has been using this trick for quite some time now. Its recommendations come in forms of “Frequently bought together,” “Customers who viewed/bought this item also viewed/bought,” “Frequently bought with the item you added” and so on.

Product Recommendations
All that this eCommerce giant does is collect data about its visitors’ past shopping and browsing habits and combines that information with its algorithm and voila, it provides personalized product recommendations that buyers are most likely to purchase.

Profiling popular products or products that your customers have previously browsed is perhaps one of the best ways to increase your Average Order Values. In addition, it helps in minimizing friction before checkout. Studies indicate that 2 to 5 percent of an eCommerce revenue is attributed to product recommendations. Better yet, this increased revenue can go up as high as 20 percent, depending on how effectively you pair up products.

Similarly, showing your customers cross-selling options also helps you to improve your AOV. You can use such product recommendation tactics by using phrasing like “Complete the look” or “Get the look” on your eCommerce store and it works particularly well for fashion and apparel stores. It’s convenient for the customer and you can move your products without sounding pushy.

In fact, you can use cross-selling for almost all type of eCommerce sites. All you need to do is recommend additional and/or complementary products. Got a customer purchasing a Windows 10 laptop! Why don’t you recommend a laptop bag to go with it?

2. Cashback Techniques

Another simple way to increase your Average Order Value is by utilizing cashback technique. In fact, cashback technique is quite a traditional tactic used by retailers to attract and retain customers. How many times have you seen eCommerce stores offering free vouchers on your next purchase? Quite some time; the Internet is filled with ads like “Spend $100 and get $20 cash-back on your next purchase.” All you need to do is spend a certain amount and you can redeem the voucher.

Cashback TechniquesThis is a great way to increase your repeat purchases and Average Order Values per customer. But to leverage this tactic you need to first set a spending threshold, ideally slightly above your present average order amount. This will help you identify shoppers who qualify for a cash-back reward on their next purchase.

Once this spending threshold is determined you need to format your offer and market it as aggressively as possible to increase its visibility. Display them front and center on your homepage as well as on other pages. The goal is to make your customers aware of the target number as clearly and vividly as possible while they shop so that they keep on adding products to their carts to make it to the cash-back minimum. Apart from displaying such offers on your webpage, you can even spread the words through SMS marketing.

You can also offer cashback in other ways. For example, you can build partnerships with other companies to allow your customers to redeem the gift vouchers at several purchase points. This will further inspire buyers to reach the cash-back minimum. Another way to increase your site conversion is through “refer a friend and get cashback programs.” All your users need to do is refer a friend and get cashback in form of a gift voucher to be redeemed on their next purchase.

Gift Vouchers

Cashback technique works like a charm and generally outperforms any other promotional techniques when it comes to increasing your Average Order Value. Better yet, it even encourages return visits and helps you turn your one-time visitors into loyal fans.

3. Free Delivery

Along with the cashback technique, free delivery option (when bought item(s) over a particular amount) is a great way to increase your Average Order Value. Free delivery is something almost all customers expect when making an online purchase but providing free delivery is a major financial challenge for most retailers, especially if it is smaller AOV. Setting free delivery threshold is a great solution to this problem.

Free Delivery

Just like the cashback technique, you need to determine a spending threshold. For this, consider the average site spend first and how much the delivery costs you. Once you have the numbers, set an amount slightly above your current average order amount. Also, display the amount required to get free delivery on your product as well as checkout page to use this tactic effectively.

In essence, this technique combines upselling and cross-selling with an incentive to increase your Average Order Value. For example, if a customer is purchasing an item worth $40, display a message like “spend another $10 to get free delivery” to improve your AOV. And if you are still not convinced about free shipping, consider the following findings:

So what are you waiting for? Just dive in.

4. Gamification

A more contemporary technique, gamification can not only help you engage users but also make them buy more. McDonalds, for instance, used this tactic though in form of Monopoly Campaign UK to increase its Average Order Value.

Gamification
This technique works because of its meaningful structure and reward systems. Let’s see how McDonalds used it. McDonalds allows users to peel off a prize (stickers) from their meal, giving them an instant prize in form of a monopoly piece. This way, users can collect monopoly sets to win big prizes.It is quite obvious that the larger meals at McDonalds had more stickers on them, enticing people to spend on them.

McDonalds achieved two things with their persuasive gamification technique. First, it increased their AOV and second, it increased the chances of a returning visit. You too can achieve a similar result with gamification; all you need to do is create an appealing system that exceeds your buyers’ expectations.

That said, you really don’t need to create a game to entice your buyers to purchase more (although you can always do that if you have the resources). Setting an effective rewarding system based on purchasing points too can help you obtain a similar result. Announce a particular point for every order they make and offer a significant discount when they reach a pre-determined threshold. For example, “Get 5 points for each purchase and claim $30 off for 100 points.”

Gamification is a great idea for customer retention as it helps you create a relationship with your buyers, making them come back to you time and again.

Conclusion

While there are several ways to incorporate AOV strategies to improve your conversion rates, their effectiveness largely depends on your eCommerce solution. Most shopping cart systems include these basic AOV features and offer add-ons and plugins for them. However, if your eCommerce software fail to support them, you should better upgrade to a shopping cart solution that does. Using these simple, yet powerful tools is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to increase your AOV.

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

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The Risky Business of Mobile Security and Holiday Shopping

Secure credit card processing

E-Commerce has seen continuous growth for over a decade now and 2013 worldwide business to customer sales amounted to more than $1 trillion. Same as regular shopping, e-commerce sales record a huge increase during holiday season. Other than holidays that boost brick and mortar retail stores’ sales, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Black Friday, bigger e-commerce stores also create special offers for a few unique online shopping holidays. These include:

  • Cyber Monday– this is the first Monday after Black Friday and it’s coming with the same shopping fuss all around the internet. Some retail chains continue offering discounts, even after this day and extend their offers to the whole week (Cyber Week).
  • Single’s Day – last year we witnessed new shopping phenomenon when one of the biggest Chinese online stores decided to turn minor Chinese holiday into the biggest shopping day in the world.

E-commerce entrepreneurs have a lot of work during these holidays, mainly due to increased traffic on their websites. Since smartphones are becoming more popular than ever, holiday sales growth is the most visible in mobile shopping statistics. Comparing to last year, number of mobile purchases doubled, while purchases from tablet devices quadrupled during this year. Some predictions even say that in the end of 2015, number of mobile and tablet purchases will reach 18 million. High holiday traffic means more security risks. In this article we presented several effective ways for e-commerce website administrators to protect their and their customer’s sensitive data from cyber criminals.

Identify Fraudulent Visitors

E-commerce administrators should take precaution measures before the holiday season starts. They should:

  • Spoofers – They should search for visitors who are trying to spoof mobile devices. These are more likely to have malicious intent
  • Jail broken iOS devices – these phones are either stolen or hacked so they can download paid AppStore apps. Users with jail-broken iOS, are also much more likely to commit acts of cyber crime
  • Android users with mini browser alternative – these are often used by the hackers to show a US based IP address, while communicating from elsewhere
  • Track consumers – Use advanced tracking and keep all data, in order to recognize and block users who try to apply malware software, like: man-in-the-browser and man-in-the-mobile Trojans

Apply Security Measures

Security should be tightened while waiting for the holiday season. These are some of the measures e-commerce administrators should apply:

  • Mobile app security testing – security should be the highest priority during all app building cycles. Apps should be customized to come with security strategies that are able to answer the latest mobile security challenges, rather than having generic and outdated solutions
  • SSL and PCI compliancy– admins should use strong Secure Socket Layer authentication and run frequent PCI scans
  • Don’t store sensitive data – customers’ credit card and personal data shouldn’t be stored on company servers. Data breach doesn’t happen when there’s no data
  • Address and Card verification systems – these systems should be applied in order to reduce fraudulent attempts
  • Set up alerts– alerts should turn on in case several suspicious transactions or data breach attempts are coming from the same IP address. These alerts should be connected with admin’s smartphone
  • Introduce remote software systems– when cyber-attack occurs, website and app administrators need to react fast, which is why remote server monitoring systems are very useful
  • Patch regularly– security systems should be patched, the moment new versions are released

Educate Customers and Employees

Both customers and employees should be educated about safety measures and precaution. This education should include:

  • Employee’s security training – all company employees should be introduced to cyber security, especially if the company is working on BYOD bases. They should know about safe use of e mail, text messengers and social media accounts
  • Require strong passwords from customers – strong passwords, especially passphrases are harder to break
  • Customer education– add mobile shopping security articles to company’s blog, send them over newsletter and provide links to them on product pages.

With e-commerce being such a competitive niche, only companies that enable customers to shop freely and without fear can stay competitive, especially during those shop-till-you-drop holidays.

 

Guest Author: Nate M. Vickery

Nate M. Vickery is a business consultant from Sydney, Australia. He is mostly engaged in providing entrepreneurs and small business owners with management and marketing advice. He is also the editor in chief on Bizzmarkblog.com.

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

 

* Secure credit card image sourced from Perspecsys Photos licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

 

 

7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.

Conclusion

We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

Image Source: (1, 2)

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)

 

How to optimise your landing pages and increase conversions

Apollo moon landing

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good landing.

Landing pages play an integral role in maximizing online conversions. Yet, a surprising number of small online businesses overlook their importance.  A good landing page should engage your visitor, generate a response, increase conversions, answer your customer’s information needs, reduce your ‘bounce’ rate and support your brand.

“Landing pages can be described as the entrance doors to a website that only selected customers are directed to” (Gay et al, Online Marketing, 2007)

Put simply, your landing page is the destination web page a customer arrives at when they click on a link – usually from a marketing communication or referring site. The landing page, the page on which your customer enters your website, is incredibly important as it is often the first impression that they get of your business.

Do you recognise this all too familiar scenario? You spend time putting together a fantastic offer and communicate it effectively to your customers via a great, targeted email campaign.  Your customer, enticed by your exciting offer, clicks on the link through to your website – then inexplicably exits your website immediately? So what might be going wrong? One possibility could be down to the web page you have sent your recipient to – the landing page.

Exit signBounce rate – how are your landing pages performing?

“In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave “instantly”. Thought about from a customer perspective rather than I came, I saw, I conquered, the action is I came, I saw, Yuck, I am out of here.” Avinash Kaushik

The bounce rate is a really useful measurement to use when you are evaluating the effectiveness of your landing pages. Your bounce rate is essentially the number of customers who arrive at your website then leave immediately – without looking at any other pages. The basic rule of thumb is the lower the bounce rate the better. A high bounce rate may suggest some issues with your landing page.

A good starting point is to look at your Google Analytics (or equivalent) Landing Page report and look at the landing pages with the highest bounce rate. From here you can visit those landing pages and review what might not be working so well – unrelated or irrelevant content, no call to action, confusing format and so on.

So what is an average bounce rate to measure your performance against? Actually, an average bounce rate is difficult to pin down as it will differ for industry and web page type (for example a contact us page is automatically going to have a high bounce rate due to the nature of it use – in fact a high bounce rate in this case would indicate your contact page is doing its job). However to give you a ball park figure , Google put the average around 40%-60% so this is probably a good starting point to begin with.

“According to Google the average bounce rate for most sites falls in the range of 40% – 60%.  If your site bounce rate is below 40% you are doing well and if it’s above 60% then you definitely need to find out why”. Anders Analytics

Welcome mat imageWhat makes a good landing page?

So, your hard work has paid off. You have successfully grabbed your customer’s attention and they’ve clicked through to your site. How then do you make sure you don’t lose them? The first thing to remember is that the page your customer arrives at may be the first experience they have had of your website. You need to make them feel welcome and reassure them they’ve arrived at the right place.

1. Create different, campaign specific landing pages

Often the first place that visitors are automatically directed to is the home page, and sometimes this is appropriate. However, the problem with the home page is that due to the broad  job it has to do, it can’t be very message specific. This can make  it difficult to develop a customer’s interest and elicit a particular response.

You need to consider where it is the customers is coming from – be it an email newsletter, search engine, social media site or a specific marketing promotion – and direct your customers to a landing page that is appropriate to the message being communicated. For example if your customer has been enticed by a special promotional offer, then you should have a specific landing page dedicated to that offer. The landing page should enable the customer to easily find out further information about the offer and there should be a clear call to action.

2. Think about it from your customer’s point of view.  

Before you write the copy for your landing page, think about what it is that will drive your customer to click-through to your website. What link has bought them to you – what are they expecting to find? You then need to write your copy accordingly. Your landing pages should provide additional, relevant information to your searchers based on the offer or referring site that they have just clicked through on.

3. Have a clear and specific message

Make sure that the message you are conveying to your customer is clear, targeted and specific. Don’t get distracted and try to be all things to all people. Keep your message concise, relevant and to the point.

4. Have recognisable and consistent branding

Make sure your landing page reflects your brand and is consistent with the rest of your website – even if your landing page is just temporary for a time-specific promotion. Remember, even if your ultimate objective is conversion, you must try to ensure all visitors (even those who choose not to convert at this time) have a positive experience. As we mentioned earlier, this maybe your users’ first time on your website and so you need to create a good first impression if you want them to come back.

5. Clear and easy call to action

Make it as easy as possible for your visitors to convert. Your call to action should be obvious and it should be easy for your customer to respond to. If you’ve got them this far, you don’t want to put them off with a complicated call to action or a request for too much information. The more straightforward it is, the more likely it is you’ll get that conversion.

6. Well thought out page design and layout

As with any other web page, think carefully about page design and layout. It should be easy to navigate, user-friendly (for example how easy is it for your user to complete an action?) and visually appealing.

I’ll leave you with some solid landing page advice from Web Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik on improving your bounce rate:

“If you want to have high performing web pages make sure that you:

1. Have a clear understanding of what the purpose of that page is and

2a. a clearer understanding of what drove customers to the page and

2b. what they want to accomplish to ensure that

3. #1 and #2 are in alignment.”

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

Exit sign image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome mat image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to use images to improve customer engagement

Hand pointing at online streaming of imagesThe use of visual imagery is becoming an increasingly important part of online communication. The meteoritic growth  in social networking sites like Pinterest and Instagram illustrates just how significant images have become in increasing engagement and interaction amongst consumers.

Indeed, research shows that articles containing an image have, on average, 94% more total views  than articles without an image, indicating the power of a good image.

Psychologically, consumers love imagery, and seeing visually appealing things creates positive emotions. Most people — between 65 and 85 percent — also describe themselves as ‘visual learners,’ forming meaning and organizing thoughts based on what they see more so than what they read.” Trend Reports

According to Forbes, image-centric marketing will be one of the top online marketing trends for 2014. Therefore, understanding the potential benefits of images and using them effectively on your website and in your marketing can increase engagement and interaction amongst your customers. Images can help:

  • Grab people’s attention
  • Convey meaning quickly
  • evoke emotions
  • Illustrate a point
  • Make text-based articles more visually appealing by breaking up reams of text
  • Convey complex information in an easily digestible format (think infographics)
  • Showcase a product effectively online.

How to make the most of images online

Your website

The use of visual imagery on your website is essential. Not only are images valuable in terms of SEO, they are central in terms of engaging customers. Nobody is going to find a solely text-based website enticing. Using photos, illustrations, graphics, icons, infographics and videos are all great ways to improve the content of your website and as a result, increase its appeal to customers.

Your product pages are a key area to focus on, since images are one of the most important elements in a customer’s decision-making process. So, ensure you are using high-definition images and spend time thinking about how to showcase your products to their full advantage. Research shows:

  •  67% of consumers say that the quality of the image is very important when they are purchasing a product.
  • 63% of consumers  saying a good image is even more important than product specific information.

social media like imageSocial Media

Social media and images go hand-in hand, just look at the phenomenal success of Pinterest in recent years. Think about how you can use images to enhance your presence on all your social media sites.  For example,  when you are posting an update on Facebook, always  include an appropriate image, be it an update about a new product, service, staff change, industry news, special promotion or competition. Including an image will make it far more likely for your update to capture people’s attention and in turn generate more likes and comments.

Blogs

Putting an image right at the beginning of your blog post is a great way to pull readers in. A relevant  image can help readers understand what your post is about, help illustrate a point and stir-up an emotional response. Images are also a great way to break up text if you have a long blog. And don’t forget, images can also be used when you promote your blog post on your social media sites and in your email newsletters.

Infographics also work really well in blog posts. They’ve grown in popularity over recent years as they present statistics and research in an interesting, relevant and engaging way.

Email and Online Press Releases

People tend to skim through emails and online press releases, picking out the salient points. Therefore, using images is a great way to help you get your message across quickly, break up text and create engagement at the same time.

You Tube on ipadVideo marketing

And finally, don’t forget the moving image. Using video  is a great way to boost your search engine rankings (search engines love video).  It’s format is engaging and it is a great tool to use  if you need to educate or explain something to your customers – think product demonstrations and video tutorials. Just remember to put it up on YouTube as well as on your website.

What makes for a good image

Where possible try to avoid using staged business photos as you are more likely to capture people’s attention and get an emotional response by using real people, real-life situations, humour, interesting visuals or stunning photography. Take a look at which boards get the most re-pins on  Pinterest  and you’ll get a real feel for the type of images that really work.

Make sure you  add Alt Text to your images. This is essentially a concise and accurate description of the image and is used as alternative text when the image can not be displayed. This is important as:

  1.  it makes the image accessible to all users, including those that are visually impaired as screen readers can read the alternative text provided
  2.  it one of the factors that can help improve your SEO performance.

Sourcing images

There are plenty of low-cost  and free images available on the web, but if you are not using your own photos or images then you must be careful about copyright and get permission from the author. Look for royalty free stock images that are for commercial use. I’ve listed a few of the low-cost and free websites we use for images and they’ll  tell you whether an image requires an author credit or not.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stock.XCHNG

Dreamstime

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

Image streaming image courtesy of  nokhoog_buchacon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Like button image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

YouTube on Tablet image courtesy of Winnond at Freedigitalphotos.net

How to change your online shop without changing your website platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key things to consider when choosing ecommerce solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping carts image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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