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.

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How to save your website from shopping cart abandonment

Guest Author: Jessica Kornfeind

Jessica Kornfeind is the Social Media Specialist at Ripen eCommerce, which has provided comprehensive eCommerce solutions for clients since 2004. Working in close partnership with online businesses, Ripen’s eCommerce web development, marketing, creative and technology teams build intuitive user experiences that boost online sales.

shopping cart on computer keyboardSave your online business from shopping cart abandonment

An endless problem for eCommerce companies is the fight against abandoned online shopping carts.  Your customers are showing a genuine interest in your company by taking the time to choose items or services and placing them in their cart.

Even then, about 67% of customers are still leaving without making a purchase. What can you do to prevent buyers from leaving your online store empty handed?

It’s time to evaluate the order and checkout process of your site.  With a few simple tweaks you may see a drastic reduction in the amount of potential sales left in online shopping carts.

Let’s dive in and finally solve the problem of abandoned eCommerce carts:

shopping cart abandonment infographic

 Infographic created by Ripen eCommerce

Shopping cart keyboard button image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

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

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

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.

 

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

10 benefits of getting your business online and ecommerce ready

 EcommerceEcommerce is here to stay

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

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

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

10 reasons to get your business online and ecommerce enabled

1. Reach a new, global audience

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

2. Increased interaction with your customers

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

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

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

4. Level playing field

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

5. Data tracking and gathering

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

6. Low start-up and maintenance costs

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

7. Reduce marketing and advertising costs

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

8. Flexibility and Speed

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

9. Keep up with your competitors

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

10. Reduce processing costs and receive payments quicker

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

Finally, if you’re still hesitating….

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

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

Image courtesty of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net