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/

 

 

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

Shopping online can be a real breeze. Just choose what you want to buy, enter your credit card details and voila, you’ll have your chosen item at your doorstep in a matter of days (or hours, if Amazon and its drone delivery plans take wing). No long queues, no driving all over town hunting for that perfect pair of shoes.

While online shopping is fun, addictive and a lot of things besides that, what sometimes kills the joy of online shopping is the sheer terror of credit card fraud and identity theft. And no, you cannot cower under a pillow and pretend that this will go away. If you shop online, you need to read the following security tips. If you own an online retail store you need to read this even more.

1. Get the Basics Right

Being safe while shopping online is not rocket science. Millions of users successfully shop for their hearts’ desire and more online without ever getting into trouble. Here are a few basics that every online shopper MUST keep in mind.

  • Never make the mistake of assigning the same passwords for all your accounts and cards. Use different passwords for each account, make sure your passwords are not easily hackable. With one password, you run the risk of compromising all your accounts with just one crack in your armor. An easy to guess password like your name or date of birth make breaking into your accounts easy as pie. Make passwords a combination of alpha-numeric characters that have nothing to do with any of your personal details like your family members’ names, your wedding anniversary etc. Another key aspect to always remember is to never share your passwords with anyone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when swiping your card. When you hand your card over to the cashier at a store, keep an eye on the cashier while they swipe your card. In case you see the cashier swiping your card on a machine that is not a POS machine, raise the alarms. Chances are the second machine is a dip card reader that steals user information from the magnetic strip of the card. Fraudsters use this data to make duplicates of your card and run up giant shopping bills at your expense.
  • Avoid using your credit card on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are accessible with or without a password to anyone who is within range of the network. With people peeping over your shoulder figuratively and literally, it is not a smart idea to carry out credit card transactions in public Wi-Fi zones where your data can be easily intercepted by an unscrupulous stranger.
  • Choose only secure sites to carry out credit card transactions. Avoid shopping on sites that look shoddily made – poor selection of images, a very high text to image ratio, spelling errors all over the place etc. Chances are, these are dummy sites set up by credit card fraudsters to capture your payment details and misuse them.

When making any payment online, check if the address bar in the browser shows HTTPS and not HTTP. On the payments page look out for a Verisign logo or a McAfee Security logo that tell you that the site is safe to use. Just a tip, the green lock icon on your browser address bar is a sign that the site you’re browsing is protected by SSL security and your data is being transmitted on a secure connection. Sites powered by ShopIntegrator have this worry of keeping payment details safe taken off their shoulders. ShopIntegrator directly transfers the customer to the payment processor’s site, thus making PCI compliance easier for merchants.

2. Protect Your PC

Playing it safe is sound advice in nearly all walks of life, if you know what I mean 😉

  • Secure Your Home WiFi. To begin with protect your home internet from outside users by setting up a strong password for it. Data like your credit card details can be easily hacked into while you transmit them over the internet. A secure home Wi-Fi connection avoids this mess. Another critical thing to do right away is to remove Autofill settings from your browser. The browser tends to store data that you use to fill in forms regularly like your name, address, telephone number, sometimes even credit card details in its memory. Removing this autofill data from your browser’s memory eliminates the possibility of someone else accessing your machine and misusing this data. It also thwarts hacking attempts by not offering identity thieves any rewards for their efforts. Different browsers have different procedures for doing this. Check out the settings section of your respective browser and reset this right away.
  • Updated Operating System. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple keep scouring their software for security holes on a continuous basis and release updates and patches to counter any gaps that they find. So the next time your computer asks to restart itself to install some new operating system updates don’t irritatedly postpone the update. Go ahead and keep your operating system updated to avoid falling prey to potential identity thieves on the World Wide Web.
  • Updated Browser. Most browsers these days release updates on a regular basis. Either set your browser to automatically update itself when there’s a new release or do it yourself manually without fail. Chrome’s ‘Safe Browsing API List’ is but one example of the many precautions that browsers employ to keep users safe online.
  • Strong Antivirus. Another smart, but essential investment for your financial and data security is a good antivirus software. It does not have to be an expensive one. As long it detects and removes spyware or keystroke logging malware from your personal computer and protects your computer from third party attacks, it will do just fine. As with all your other software, keep your virus definitions on your unit up to date to avoid online mishaps.

3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams

The Nigerian Prince story has been done to death on email by fraudsters around the world. It’s gotten so stale that even my Dad knows that it’s all just a scam. But not all scamsters are so naive. Phishing for bank account and credit card details has reached sophisticated levels with many fraudsters posing as your bank representatives asking you for your personal financial details as a matter of routine maintenance. There have been cases of people receiving links inside perfectly innocent looking emails which if clicked can download a malicious keystroke logging malware into your machine.

Large scale scammers even go to the extent of building replicas of bank websites that end up stealing your passwords and other personal details as you access the site. Some easy pointers to avoid being phished:

  • Do not open emails from unknown or suspicious looking email IDs
  • Avoid opening or downloading any suspicious looking attachments even from known contacts
  • Never click on links without verifying where the link leads to. You can easily do this by hovering your mouse over the link in the email for a few seconds. The browser will automatically reveal the destination URL in a separate box.
  • Double check logos of banks, spellings and other minor tell-tale signs in emails that deal with financial data.
  • No bank or credit card company will ask you for your passwords or other personally identifying information over email. Never pass this information on without double checking with the bank over the phone or in person.

4. Activate Two Factor Authentication for your card

With the number of financial frauds rising by the day, banks and card issuers are becoming wiser and thinking two steps ahead. Many banks now offer users the option of adding an extra level of security to their cards while they carry out online transactions.

Many banks make it a point to call users personally when their card is swiped for a larger than normal amount. This ‘average’ amount is presumably arrived at by taking a median of all the different amounts swiped on the card till date. Banks also tend to call users when transactions are made outside the country of issue of the card.

Two factor authentication takes these basic precautions a notch higher. Instead of relying on just a username and password for a transaction, two factor authentication requires card users to enter a second identifier which they typically carry on their person like a fingerprint scan or a password sent via SMS to a mobile phone, a personal PIN number not stored anywhere else and so on.

Besides banks many other online services too have realized the importance of two factor authentication and actively encourage users to set it up like; Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook etc.

5. Use digital wallets for online transactions

Swiping a credit card can now be replaced by a slew of ingenious payment mechanisms that do not even reveal your card details to the online merchant, thus keeping your identity and financial data safe and sound.

PayPal was the trailblazer in digital wallets which allowed users to transfer money into a seller’s PayPal account from a prepaid PayPal account for any online transactions. It also helped reverse transactions in case of complaints regarding fraud.

The biggest benefit of digital wallets is that you have the option of transferring only as much money you need for your online purchase into your digital wallet. This avoids the scenario of miscreants breaking into your account and emptying it of all its cash.

Now the digital wallet has gone mobile with the introduction of the Google Wallet about four years ago and Apple Pay coming in last year. There are also a bunch of social media payment mechanisms like SnapCash that are gaining in popularity for their sheer convenience and novelty. However the security levels of these social payment mechanisms are yet to be tested and one would do well to tread cautiously in these choppy waters.

Conclusion

Online security during your e-commerce binges is not just the responsibility of the merchant site where you carry out your transactions. It is equally yours. Whether you choose to check users reviews about site’s security online before using a website or use a security app to protect your credit card or activate two factor authentication for your card or even switch to a digital wallet; the idea is to be proactive and work towards avoiding a situation where your financial data is at risk.

By following simple guidelines that typically don’t take much time or resources, one can ensure that one’s hard earned money remains safe and sound without any external threats. Stay safe and happy shopping!

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12 days until Christmas – essential tips to help small businesses survive Christmas

12 days of christmasWith just 12 days until Christmas Eve, we thought we’d start the countdown to Christmas by sharing our 12 favourite tips to help you make the most of the 2013 festive season.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation , the average person plans to do 40% of their Christmas shopping online. Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas which is an increase of  almost 20% on 2012.    So, clearly Christmas 2013  is shaping up to be a fantastic season for retailers with unprecedented online sales.

So join us in our Christmas countdown and take a look at what we think are the best tips to help you survive the run up to Christmas.

Chritmas shopping trolleyTip 1. It’s not too late to increase your online Christmas sales

The clock is ticking as we speed towards the midway point in December. However, as a good proportion of us are still shopping right up until Christmas Eve, it’s not too late to make the most of the opportunities the Christmas season offers to increase your sales.

Indeed, according to the National Federation of Retailers, 20% of consumers don’t even plan to start their Christmas shopping until December. So don’t worry there is still time  to entice customers in. For example, creating a Christmas feel to your website can get shoppers in the  purchasing mood.  Inspire them with great gift ideas and offer special Christmas promotions such as buy one, get one half price or free delivery.

For more tips on increasing your online sales this Christmas have a look at our recent blog post ‘7 tips to boost your online sales this Christmas’  

british postboxTip 2. Christmas shipping & delivery

Be very clear on your Christmas shipping and delivery dates. Flexible delivery is great but don’t promise delivery in time for Christmas if it’s simply not possible.

Check delivery dates with all your distributors and ensure your last guaranteed Christmas  delivery dates are clearly visible on your website.  This will save a lot of angry calls and bad feeling from the frustrated customers who haven’t received the deliveries they’re expecting. In fact you could  use your last delivery dates as sales tool by reminding customers to make that purchase before it’s too late.

And for your interest, if you’re posting within the UK, Royal Mail’s last Christmas posting dates for 2nd class mail is Wednesday 18th December and 1st class is Friday 20th December. Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed is Monday 23rd December.

NewspaperTip 3.  Spread the word – tell everyone about what your business is offering this Christmas

You may have a lots of great Christmas promotions in place but if you don’t tell your customers about them then there’s no point to all your hard work. You should be going all out promoting all your great products this Christmas. Make the most of your website, email newsletters, social media platforms to tell your customers about all your special Christmas promotions and all the inspiring gift ideas you have.

christmas card season greetingsTip 4. Send out a little Christmas spirit

The last posting dates for Christmas are fast approaching (Tip 2) so make sure you are going to be ready to send out seasonal greetings to clients and suppliers. Sending out Christmas greetings by a card (or if you are past the posting date an e-card) adds a personal touch to your business and shows both clients and suppliers that they are important to you.

small chrismas treeTip 5.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly

If you haven’t already done it then now is the time to get the tinsel out and jolly up your office. Creating a festive work environment is more likely to get you and your staff into the swing of Christmas. And, if Christmas means longer hours due to the heavier workload then it is far more motivating and uplifting to be in a festive environment than in an office devoid of any seasonal touches. And, for those of you one-man-bands out there, this applies to you too. A few festive nods around your workspace can make all the difference to your frame of mind!

social media like imageTip 6.  Make the most out of your social media

Most people are in the Christmas spirit a couple of weeks before Christmas so now is a great time to use your social media platforms to engage with customers. Social media is an excellent, low-cost way to communicate with customers on a more emotional level. It is a great way of  building brand awareness and brand personality. And, since people are likely to be feeling festive at this point in December why not add some fun touches like some Christmas themed quizzes, competition or games?

December calendarTip 7. Plan for a stress free break

Used to wearing multiple hats, it is often hard for small business owners to switch off  over the Christmas period.   However, spending time with friends and family and having the chance to properly relax and unwind is important both mentally and physically –  especially considering that small business owners often have to work 24/7.

To take the stress and worry out of taking a well deserved break, make a plan of what you need to do to enable you to fully enjoy your time off. For example, prioritize tasks in order of importance. What needs to be done before you go and what can wait until you get back? What can be delegated or outsourced? Sometimes just putting your worries and concerns down on paper is a useful exercise in itself as it can help you see the wood from the trees.

If you are unable to take a complete break, then plan a specific time slot each day to check emails and return pressing phone calls – but keep it as short as you can and only deal with issues that really can’t wait.

Man carrying pile of Christmas presentsTip 8.  Santa’s little helpers – be prepared for last-minute rush

Be prepared for a last-minute Christmas rush – there is always a significant proportion of shopping done online right up until the 23rd December. And, with flexible delivery options such as Click and Collect and Special Delivery, don’t rule out last-minute Christmas sales.

“With local services like Click & Collect, people can shop online with confidence right up until 23 December and pick up in store on Christmas Eve which could have a big impact on online shopping times”. Internet Retailing 

It is important to make sure you have enough help to fulfil any last-minute orders that may come in. Have family or friends on standby if necessary.

gold starTip 9. Offer excellent customer service at Christmas – it’s your chance to shine

In previous posts we’ve discussed just how important good customer care is especially for small businesses. December is likely to see increased customer queries and more than likely bring with it a few stressed customers. Keeping your cool by  remaining calm and courteous is essential.  If you have people other than yourself answering phones or replying to emails, make sure they are all fully briefed on the importance of offering excellent customer service. If you can continue dealing with queries efficiently and professionally over the Christmas period then it will only reflect positively on your business in the future.

If you need to free up some time then it is a good idea to put a ‘frequently asked questions’ section on your website and telephone answering service. This should contain information that is regularly asked for such as your last posting date, returns policy and Christmas hours. This will give you more time to answer more time-consuming queries.

Little girl with thumbs downTip 10.  Returns and exchanges – dealing with unwanted gifts

Just as Christmas brings with it a surge in online sales, January is likely to bring with it a surge in request for returns and exchanges. To avoid any confusion, make sure customers are aware of your returns policy when they make a purchase.  Clearly state it both on your website and on any customer correspondence such as on the invoice or  despatch note.

However, as a small business keeping existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new customers so bear this in mind when it comes to returns and try to be as flexible as you possibly can. Sometimes it is better (and more cost-effective) in the long-term to just to accept an exchange (obviously within reason) than quibble with a customer over something minor. If you can do this, the customer is more likely to do business with you again in the future.

we are closed door signTip 11. Out of office

Sounds obvious but make sure you have communicated your businesses’ Christmas plans to your customers. If you aren’t going to be answering emails or calls at all over the Christmas period then make sure you’ve got an out of office message on your website, email and voicemail in place.  Let customers the office is closed and when you are going to be able to respond. If there is someone covering for you whilst you are away, then make sure their contact details are available.

If need be, mobile devices offer the opportunity to touch base with customers and answer any pressing issues whilst you are away from the office but as we mentioned earlier in tip 7 try to set aside specific times rather than letting it rule over your Christmas break.

Tip 12. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – enjoy your well deserved breakmerry christmas stocking

Finally we would like to wish you a Happy Christmas – you deserve it. Running a small businesses can be hugely rewarding but with long hours it can be all-consuming. So it’s OK to switch off once in a while – in fact it’s essential.  And, since you’ve taken note of Tip 7 and planned you break you’ll be able to rest assured that you can enjoy a stress free break without the worry about your business.

7 tips to boost your online sales this Christmas

Chritmas shopping trolleyThe predictions are in and by all accounts Christmas 2013 looks set to be a record year for online retailers. So, as we go full steam ahead into the busiest shopping period of the year, ask yourself whether you are making the most of the opportunities Christmas presents to maximise your online sales.

A record Christmas for online sales

Forecasts indicate that consumer spending will break through the £10 bn mark for the first time this year as internet shopping will account for the largest ever share of sales . Retailers are already coming in with glowing pre-christmas sales reports. Indeed,  John Lewis has announced a 23.7% year-on-year growth in eccomerce sales, with  31% of  the £101.4m made in the week in question were from sales made online.

Monday 2nd December – Cyber Monday – is just a few days away and looks set to be the busiest online shopping day of the year. Therefore we thought it was the opportune moment to offer some timely tips to help you take advantage of this record breaking period and increase your Christmas sales.

7 tips to boost your sales and keep your customers happy this Christmas

1. ‘Christmas up’ your Website

Get into the Christmas spirit and inspire your customers  by making your website Christmas friendly.  Creating a festive feel with the use of some appropriate graphics sets the right atmosphere and helps create a relevant environment for Christmas shopping.

Identify the products that will make great Christmas gifts and  create a Christmas page where you can showcase them.  Make things easy for customers and categorise products so they are easy to find under headings such as; gifts for him, gifts for her, gifts for kids, gifts for foodies, gifts under £20, sticking fillers – you get my drift. This helps inspire customers with gift ideas and can help motivate them to buy.

Don’t be afraid to look at what your competitors are doing and to take some inspiration from other bigger websites like John Lewis and Not on the High Street .com  that do Christmas really well.

2. Be multi-device friendly this Christmas 

“Online retailers also need to be mindful of the need to provide a consistent multi-channel experience to shoppers across all devices”  Digital Strategy Consulting

According to the latest research findings from IBM the volume of traffic to UK retail websites has grown 60% year-on-year (October 2012 – October 2013) and sales from mobiles is up 80% in the same period. Therefore, it is more important than ever to make sure your  website is equally well viewed on whatever device your customer is using to browse or buy from your online shop – whether laptop, mobile, tablet or desktop.

You may have a fantastic Christmas friendly website selling a multitude of great products but if it can’t be viewed effectively on the device the customer is using at the time, then you may lose the customer and the potential sale.

3. Special christmas promotions – discount codes and special offers

Christmas shoppers are on the hunt for good deals so now is the time to entice customers to your website and motivate them to purchase with some special Christmas promotions.  For example use discount codes and sales vouchers to offer special Christmas savings such as  percentage off, multi-buy savings, free delivery and limited time money-off discounts.

4. Entice customers with Christmas friendly shipping and delivery

Getting shipping and delivery right at Christmas is hugely important. Offering free shipping is great but only if the product gets to the recipient in time for Christmas. Give customers peace of mind by being very clear about estimated delivery dates. Remember at Christmas the sheer volume of packages results in longer delivery times. Build this into your delivery estimations so as not to disappoint customers. Why not consider click and collect options for your customers. They may find this more more convenient than waiting at home for a delivery.

Communicate with your customers, send email status up-dates letting customers know when their products have dispatched.  And most importantly don’t forget to make sure you state the last day for guaranteed Christmas delivery. As we’ve already mentioned, not getting their purchase in time for Christmas is a huge frustration for customers. Reinforce your last shipping dates on you website, social media sites and in email communciations. Perhaps consider a Christmas delivery countdown such as  – 11 shipping days to go.

5. Don’t forget stock and resources

With all your offers and promotions – take time to think about your stock and staffing levels . Identify the products most likely to sell (last years Christmas sales figures should help) and make sure you are managing your stock to meet any uplift in sales. Also, with increased orders do you have enough hands to fulfil and despatch orders in time to meet your promised deadlines? Think about taking on some temporary staff or rope in family and friends to help if necessary.

6. Promote, promote, promote

Christmas is the time to go all out with your marketing. You need to make sure your offers are communicated effectively to customers. There is no point implementing great offers and incentives if your customers remain unaware of them. Shout your promotions from the rooftops using your website, all your social media channels and email. As a small business all these tools are low-cost and effective ways to get your messages out. Keep promoting, refreshing  and pushing your messages throughout the entire  Christmas shopping season.

7. Don’t forget last-minute shoppers

There is a  large proportion of shoppers that do their Christmas shopping at the last minute in the week before Christmas so try and think of creative ways of enticing them in for some extra last minute sales. Perhaps offer next day delivery options or promote some last minute offers. You could even think about a last minute Christmas shopping promotion – perhaps a special offer and some last minute gift ideas for customers.

Christmas 2013 looks like a great year for online businesses so we wish you some very happy and healthy Christmas sales.

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

Advantages an Online Store Brings to Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

Guest Author: Gina Smith
 

Gina Smith writes freelance articles for magazines, online outlets and publications on behalf of a number of companies, including Global Response.  Smith covers the latest topics in the business, golf, tourism, technology and entertainment industries.

Online shopping Smartphone with ProductsMany brick-and-mortar businesses struggle with whether or not they should incorporate an online store.  This is an especially conflicting proposition for businesses that have been operating for several years.  Some business owners are simply just comfortable with their walk-in customer base. They have established a loyal following and prefer to remain status quo.  While this may work for awhile, it is not a sound long term strategy.

Change is scary, and not too many of us enjoy it.  However, for a business to keep moving forward, they must embrace change and be willing to incorporate new strategies into their marketing mix.  Whether we want to accept it or not, in today’s society, the Internet is king.  If you don’t have an online presence, sooner or later you will be isolating a portion of your customer base.  Let’s examine some advantages an online store brings to brick-and-mortar businesses. 

Computer Mouse wrapped around globeYou’re Now Global

A website can transform a local business into a global enterprise.  People from literally anywhere in the world now have access to your store and products.  This is especially beneficial for boutiques and specialty shops who carry hard to find products, handmade items or local artwork.  For example, when my husband is in need of a rare part or fixture, he visits the online store for a local hardware store he use to shop at when we lived in another state.  They always carried items he had difficulty finding.  Even though we now live hundreds of miles away, he is still one of their best customers! 

Clock, 24 hours, 7 days a weekOpen 24/7

An online store allows customers to shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  This is especially convenient for people who work restrictive hours which prevent them from coming to the store during regular business hours.  Then, there are others who prefer to shop or browse from the convenience of their own home.

Seasonal Customers Can Make Purchases Year Round

I see this all the time living in Florida.  Business tends to be slower during warmer months, then picks up during the winter.  This is primarily because of the growing population of people who spend summer up north and head to their second homes in the south when the cool weather starts to set in.  Establishing an online store means customers have access to your products, whether they are “in town” or not.  I frequently visit the North Carolina mountains and can always count on discovering a new, unique shop with interesting and eclectic merchandise.  Those who have websites generally earn my business year round because I have ready access to them all the time.  I even share my favorites with my friends and promote them across social sites.  One customer armed with your online store can generate an impressive amount of residual business!

So, while taking the step incorporate an online store can be intimidating, it is very manageable and can open up new opportunities. Browse the Internet to get an idea of the types of online stores out there. Once you know what general style you like and function(s) you want, a qualified website design and marketing professional can help develop the best option for your business.  Be sure to do your research and choose a firm with a good track record and excellent references.  There are even some website design and marketing companies who specialize in small business, offering customized services at affordable prices.  Good luck!

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

Images Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net: Smartphone and products: Naypong, Globe and Mouse: Master Isolated Images, 24/7: David Castillo Dominici

Does your online shipping and delivery cut the mustard?

Red post box

It may not be the most glamorous area of e-commerce, but shipping and delivery is a fundamental part of the online buying process and underestimating its importance can have a detrimental effect on the success of your business.

Why is shipping and delivery so important?

Get your shipping and delivery strategy right and you are rewarded with increased levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Get it wrong and you risk reducing your profit margin, alienating customers and damaging your brand image.

Customers expectations rise as they become increasingly web savvy and research findings repeatedly tell us that delivery has a direct influence on a customers buying decision.

According to research carried out on behalf of MetaPack:

  • 68% of potential customers abandon online sales at the delivery page
  • 42.5% of customers look at the delivery pages first
  • It costs 10 times the cost of the original delivery when a delivery fails first time

More food for thought…

Research findings from a recent ComScore White Paper on behalf of UPS  found that although 83% of respondents were happy with online shopping overall, some of the lowest satisfaction scorings were in the area of delivery and returns.

In addition, a IMRG UK Home Delivery Review 2013 found that:

  • 74% of consumers said that a good delivery experience would encourage them to shop with again with a specific retailer
  • 75% would like access to clear delivery information prior to purchase
  • 80% would like online tracking
  • 78% would like the ability to choose a specific day for delivery

Five best practice tips to help meet customers expectationsDelivery Man

When planning your shipping and delivery strategy, spend time thinking about each of the areas of best practice suggested below and see if they can be incorporated into your shipping and delivery service.

1. Shipping rates

Make sure you are offering shipping and delivery rates that the customer deems fair. Getting the prices right for your market is essential.

“The setting of shipping fees have a dramatic effect on both conversion rates and profitability” (Internet Marketing, Chaffey et al, 2009)

Rates can be varied for the length of time it takes to deliver. For example checkout Amazon’s list of delivery options.  Amazon offers seven different shipping rates with costs varying depending on the time it takes for delivery. Customers can take advantage of free super saver delivery shipping if they are willing to wait 3-5 days for delivery, pay a premium for next day delivery or take advantage of Amazon Prime – Amazon’s loyalty programme where customers pay an annual fee to qualify for free next day purchase.

Know your product delivery costs  – find out exactly what the costs are to ship a product and make sure you check what your competitors are offering. With a bit of research you can offer shipping rates that keep your customers happy and your profit margins where they should be.

2. Free shipping

76% of online shoppers would like to see free shipping options at checkout (UPS ComScore research)

It is not always possible to offer free shipping on items, however wherever you can you should try to offer the option.  Customers are often willing to wait longer for something if it can be delivered for free (think Amazon). If you can’t offer a permanent free shipping option then think about using it as a sales promotion technique. For example, ‘spend £50 or over and get free delivery’ or a time limited offer such as ‘free delivery this week only’. If free shipping is really out of the question for your business then think about offering ‘real time’ delivery – where customers pay exactly what you have to pay to ship products.

3. Returns

Make your returns policy clear and as customer friendly as possible. Returns are always a bit of a pain, so try to make it as convenient as possible for a customer to return your item. For example, offer free returns with a pre-printed, postage-paid returns label that the customer can simply peel of and stick back onto to the original packaging. Think about signing up to a returns service such as Collect + where customers can drop their parcel into a local shop rather than having to go to the post office.

4. Flexibility

Try and be as flexible as possible with your delivery options. We’ve all experienced the frustration of waiting in all day for a delivery.  Where you can offer flexible delivery instructions that can be passed on to the delivery service such as, leave in garage, leave with a neighbour, leave behind the bins and so on. Where the customer has to be in to take receipt of their order then think about offering options where the customer can pick a delivery day, or a morning or afternoon time slot. Put yourself in your customers shoes and think about what kind of options you’d like.

5. Communication

Keep customers informed about the status of their order. People like to know when their order has been processed and is out for delivery. Implement delivery notification emails with shipping tracking references. Not only do you keep your customer happy, you are also cutting down on potential calls to your customer service department.  So when choosing your delivery service and shopping cart software think about whether they offer these options.

Shipping and delivery is a critical part of your online business, so keep your customer in mind and research your market.  And remember one size doesn’t fit all – have a shipping and delivery strategy that reflects your own individual business requirements.

 

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