How to Solve the Biggest Shipping and Fulfillment Challenges of 2019

shipping and fulfillment challenges

By 2021, global B2C ecommerce sales are expected to surpass $4.5 trillion—almost double the $2.3 trillion reached in 2018. But alongside the explosive growth of online selling, customer expectations have also soared.

If you’re an ecommerce retailer, not only should your line of products be of optimal quality, you need to be able to get them to your customer’s door as quickly as possible. If you don’t, your competitors are lining up to scoop up those sales.

Longer delivery times result in abandoned carts

38 percent of online shoppers will abandon their orders if delivery takes more than a week. Amazon is setting the bar incredibly high with its two-day, next-day, and same-day delivery options. Customers increasingly expect on-demand access to products and services, and this heightened expectation poses great challenges for shipping and fulfillment.

Late deliveries result in B2B penalties from larger retailers

Aside from direct to consumer online sales, shipping and fulfillment challenges can also have an impact on online retails who also sell their products through larger retailers. In the U.S., retailers have become increasingly stringent when it comes to their suppliers’ order fulfillment.

Companies like Wal-Mart and Kroger have shrunk their delivery window from four to two days, and one day for household items, with any deviations fined $500 per order, or 3 percent or the order amount.

Apart from the fines, suppliers may also be either blacklisted or excluded from promotions and left off dedicated shelf spaces. This can potentially add up to crippling losses for businesses.

Late or missing deliveries drive B2C customers to competitors

69 percent of consumers are less likely to do business with a retailer again if a purchase is not delivered within two days of the promised date. With the hyper-competitive ecommerce industry, there are plenty of options to turn to if customers are left dissatisfied.

It doesn’t just end with losing business from that one dissatisfied customer. People want to share their experiences—whether on social media, or with their peers—which means your business reputation can take an exponential hit. This is why it’s important to build relationships—and a great way to do so is by keeping a promise.

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International competition is on the rise

The U.S. share of global retail ecommerce is expected to continue to drop to 16.9 percent by 2020—down from 22.2 percent in 2015. Of course, this is not to say that U.S. ecommerce sales are declining. It’s just that sales all over the world are rapidly increasing, most notably in Asia.

From this perspective, you can see how the quality of shipping and fulfillment has become almost as important as the quality of the products itself. Below is a list of the most common problems you can face in 2019, and what you can do to address them.

1. International shipping

Apart from the obvious added costs of shipping overseas, international shipping also entails getting acquainted with rules and regulations, as well as the required paperwork and permits. Tax and duties are also mostly country-specific, so you’ll have to keep that into consideration as well.

Solution: Plan ahead

The best way to tackle the complex process of international shipping is by planning ahead. This entails building an information database with shipping rates for different package sizes and weights for the different countries you could ship to. While this could be time-consuming, it allows you to set prices confidently and be prepared for any issues that may arise.

And if you have the resources for it, you could also opt to employ an ecommerce fulfillment service provider. These businesses can provide you with all the rate and importation fee information you’ll be needing.

The key here is to be transparent with your customers. While they may not expect to get their items overnight, it’s best to tell them just how long it could take, and offer shipping options. A lot of customers are willing to pay a premium to get their orders sooner.

2. Communicating with suppliers

Your relationships with manufacturers and suppliers is just as important as your relationships with customers. If you’re new to ecommerce, it might feel intimidating at first to reach out to established suppliers.

Solution: Over-communicate and ask questions

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how seasoned the supplier you’re reaching out to is, they’re just trying to run a business—just like you. Part of doing business is answering questions and concerns, so if you want to clarify anything—ask.

If you’re still figuring out where to source your products from, Alibaba has an expansive business directory where you can find almost anything you need.

3. Damaged/inaccurate inventory

The moment customers pay for an item, they’re already looking forward to receiving it. So if they wind up receiving an incorrect or damaged item, you can only imagine how infuriating that could be. Whether it’s a slightly creased book cover, a small scratch, or loose screws—customers notice it, and it reflects on your company.

Solution: Track and double check your inventory

Proper inventory management can address issues like these on the front end. Track inventory as it enters and leaves the warehouse with a centralized system. Also, don’t neglect your warehouse conditions. Make sure your inventory his housed safely, and that it’s double-checked before being sent out. It would also be wise to invest in quality packaging and insurance.

4. High shipping costs

While it’s easy to pass the cost to the customer, this shortcut is also a surefire way to lose them. You can also look for the cheapest solution provider, but you don’t want to compromise the quality of service.

Solution: Research the best deals and packaging options

Because each carrier has a unique set of services and prices, it’s important to practice due diligence when it comes to analyzing what your needs are. For example, a lot of carriers offer packaging tailored to specific requirements. Opting for this instead of investing in your own is a good way to avoid added costs.

There are also mail carriers that provide fixed-rate shipping based on the distance a package has to travel. If you frequently ship to a certain location, see if the flat rate shipping is a more cost-effective solution.

5. Technology deficiency

With everything that’s going on with running a business, keeping pace with technology can easily be overlooked. Not upgrading the technology you use or working with shipping vendors that don’t use the best tech can lead to you lagging behind competitors.

Solution: Stay up to date on tech trends in ecommerce

Keep your finger on the pulse of technological developments. While not every innovation that comes along fits your business needs, you need to be aware of what options are available. Automation allows you to be more effective and efficient in monitoring, tracking, and moving orders throughout the supply chain. You might also find that having an ecommerce app boosts sales.

It may take an upfront investment, but it could ultimately boost your bottom line.

6. Data security

Being an ecommerce retailer means your website handles sensitive customer information. Security issues can lead to a nightmare only the biggest companies can recover from.

Solution: Be proactive

Take time to understand potential security vulnerabilities on you website and in your payment solution. One way to avoid a lot of hassle is to use a payment service that doesn’t store any sensitive information (like credit card numbers) on your business’s servers.

If you can, manage your own servers. Don’t use common FTP to transfer files as this is prone to theft. Also, avoid using an open Wi-Fi network. Use a VPN for additional protection. And it always bears repeating: Make it a habit to have regular backup intervals.

7. Wrong tracking codes

As alluded to earlier, as soon as customers place an order, they’re already looking forward to receiving it. So when they receive a tracking code, that excitement is only heightened. You don’t want to provide a code that doesn’t work. It’s a great way to lose credibility.

Solution: Test your tracking codes

Make sure that codes are tested before they’re sent to customers. It doesn’t matter if it takes longer to be able to provide a tracking code, as long as you get it right. Having the right tracking information allows customers to manage their expectations. Should any issues arise, they know exactly where it’s stemming from.

8. Time-consuming pick and packing

Pick and packing is the process of taking orders from inventory, grouping them together, and shipping them to the customer. Depending on the systems you have in place, this could be time-consuming, and could add costs.

Solution: Do your research

There are a number of picking and packing methods to choose from, and one that works for some of the biggest retailers may not necessarily work for you. This is why it’s important to allot the time to study the different methods to find what fits your business needs.

Having the right system in place allows the process to be streamlined for warehouse associates, ultimately resulting in better customer experiences.

9. Product returns

The majority of consumers check a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase. But while having a good return and refund policy is integral to great customer service, it can mean additional costs for your business.

Solution: Make your policies easy to understand

Transparency should be standard practice in all aspects of ecommerce, and it’s the same with return policies. Use plain English when explaining your policy, this allows you to set expectations clearly.

This is also where having shipping insurance comes in handy. Do what you can to make the return process as convenient as possible, like providing a return envelope and a pre-printed label for easy returns.

10. Demand planning

Even if you’re just starting out, you need to have a plan for high demand. But predicting consumer buying habits is easier said than done.

Solution: Track your sales trends

Start with the basics—expect surges during holiday seasons. But before that even happens, monitor the movement of your products. If you find a particular product being more popular than others, chances are, this will also be the case during peak season.

Apart from working to understand your sales trends, there are also predictive ordering software solutions that can help small businesses improve their demand forecasting.

Above all, be proactive

It’s easy to overlook when you’re just starting a business, but shipping and fulfillment problems quickly turn into a tremendous concerns. From warehousing, order fulfillment, and international shipping, a lot goes into making sure your products reach your customers.

But while it might seem overwhelming, there are a number of solutions providers that can help you at virtually every step of the way. Make sure you cover all the bases to ensure that your customers don’t turn to your competition.

What shipping and fulfillment issues do you find most challenging? Let us know on Twitter @Bplans.

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Aaron Chichioco

Aaron Chichioco is the managing editor of He loves to write about online marketing, ecommerce, and web design. He has a vast experience in overseeing daily operations of several online businesses since 2011. You can follow Aaron on twitter at @Aaron_Chichioco.

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How to Make Millions Using Video Sales Letters

Creating videos that pitch viewers on a product or service can be quite lucrative, even if you have zero on-camera experience.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This article is written by Jason Capital, best-selling author of “Higher Status,” millionaire copywriter, and an Advisor in The Oracles.

Few skills will put more money in your bank account than learning how to make high-converting video sales letters.

Video sales letters are videos that pitch viewers on a product or service. They resemble sales letters you may have read online, except with a richer media experience. Some sales pages for products and services may consist of a single video and no copy.


We’re visual creatures, and we’ve never had more visual content to consume.

The average consumer watches hours of Netflix, streaming content, and television per week. More video is then consumed on Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. We love video, and video sales letters are an insanely effective way to leverage this format to capture attention and convert it into action.

Video sales letters, along with other high-income skills like copywriting, helped me build a multimillion-dollar business from scratch. They’ve also helped me build captive audiences in the tens of thousands on YouTube and Instagram. And they’ve put more dollars in my pocket than most other advertising and sales formats combined.

In the process, I’ve learned the following core principles behind million-dollar video sales letters. No matter your skill level or business, you can use this high-income technique to beef up your bank account.

Remember that video sales letters are fundamentally about copywriting.

Video may be a different medium than text, but the same principles that you would use in effective copywriting will result in a great video sales letter.

At the end of the day, video and copy are the same. You are capturing a prospect’s attention, addressing their top pain points and objections, then persuading them to take action.

You’ll want to follow the core principles of good copywriting in order to write a good video sales letter script. Deeply understand your market. Speak conversationally. Write no higher than a third- or fourth-grade reading level.

Pick one big idea.

The most successful video sales letters succeed or fail based on whether or not they have a single big idea. If you have a powerful big idea behind your letter, it stands a much better chance of converting — even if the other elements aren’t perfect.

One example of this is the extremely popular workout program P90X. The product’s video advertisements all centered on a single big idea: muscle confusion. The reason to buy the product over all others was because its different workouts confused muscle groups, which led to extraordinary results in a short time — extraordinary results that anyone, even the overweight and out of shape, could achieve.

This single big idea led P90X to sell millions of copies.

The big idea is so important that advertising legend David Ogilvy said, “Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

You must captivate viewers in the first 30 seconds.

We all know attention spans are short. Every marketing communication must have a great hook to reel in your audience. But the stakes are much higher for video sales letters.

If you write copy that has a lame introduction, it’s possible your prospect will keep reading if your headline’s promise is powerful enough. After all, they can skim your sales letter for the information they want.

The same cannot be said for video. Nobody skips around a video the way they would scan a sales letter, looking for the information they need. They don’t have the time.

Bore your viewers and they’re gone forever.

I’ve built a substantial business on video sales letters, and my data shows that more than half of viewers drop off in the first 30 seconds of the video.

The solution? You must grab and keep attention in the first 10 to 30 seconds of your video.

Don’t be afraid to address your prospect’s pain point head on. Don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops right away to gain attention. The beginning of your video is not the time for subtlety. Hit people right away with the most arresting information, messaging, or visuals.

The rest of the video will describe all the details of your offer, but you must get the viewer’s undivided attention first.

My experience shows that if you do the first 10 to 30 seconds of your video sales letter right, you buy yourself another five minutes of your prospect’s attention.

Practice making a video every day.

The tips above are essential for creating great video sales letters, but you also need to perform well. Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice all matter enormously when you’re on camera. Even the perfect pitch will fall flat if you don’t know how to deliver it.

The problem is that a lot of people think they need coaching or practice before they make their first video. It’s the opposite. You get great at being on camera by practicing being on camera.

If you want to create better video sales letters, I recommend you do a 30-day challenge: Post a video on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram every day for a month. It can be about anything, and it can be any length.

The point is to post daily and publicly, so you see exactly how you come across on video and have pressure to improve. It’s uncomfortable, but it works.

Most importantly, it’s worth it. Being great at video sales letters will take you from broke as a joke to high income faster than you can imagine. But that only happens if you take action.

Want to share your insights in a future article? Join The Oracles, a mastermind group of the world’s leading entrepreneurs who share their success strategies to help others grow their businesses and build better lives. Apply here.

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5 Mobile Payment Processing Trends: Increase Your Sales and Keep Customers

nontraditional payment processing trends

New payment options for ecommerce and brick and mortar retail businesses seem to emerge weekly. Many of them aim to reduce the friction between a customer’s initial interest in your product or service, and landing the sale with cash in hand.

How many of your customers are mailing you checks or handing you payment in physical dollars and cents? Probably fewer and fewer. In 2019, even the act of swiping a credit card in-store, or typing in your credit card number for an online purchase, are giving way to mobile payment options.

While these mobile payment trends are generally great for customer convenience, there are also some potential wins as far as customer retention and even reduced costs for small businesses and startups. 

As you grow and your sales increase, you’re probably looking for ways to reduce how much you shell out for payment processing. And if you’re like most businesses, you’re always thinking about the most efficient (and cheapest) way to turn a single sale into repeat business. This year’s trends in mobile payment processing suggest you might be in luck.

Let’s take a look at five payment trends that you can use to boost sales and encourage repeat business.

1. More online and in-person mobile payments

Mobile payments are definitely on the rise. In fact, Adobe reports that more than 50 percent of 2018 holiday season sales went through smartphones.

But the term “mobile payments” doesn’t just refer to customers doing their shopping on mobile devices. Mobile payments also include in-store customers paying at the register with their phones through platforms like Google Wallet and Apple Pay. And when you reduce in-store lines by taking customers’ payments on mobile POS stations throughout your store? That’s mobile payment, too.   

“Why are we picking Uber over the taxi stand at the airport [when the taxi stand] is right in front of us and might be less of a wait?” Mobile Payments Today asks. “It’s because of the automated payments experience, the ability to make the payment without physically having to [pull out a card]. Merchants have to start thinking about [those experiences] or they will get left on the curb.”

Mobile payments, when used in conjunction with a loyalty or rewards program, can be even more effective as far as increasing sales and encouraging repeat customers. eMarketer predicts that Starbucks will have more customers using mobile payments than Apple Pay within the next four years. “Because they’ve combined a habitual purchase with a loyalty program,” eMarketer reports. “Giving daily buyers of a cup of coffee a reason to switch over from other payment methods.”

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2. More membership-based payment processing options for retailers

Membership-based pricing provides shoppers who buy a lot of merchandise with a way to save on their day-to-day purchases by opting into an annual or monthly fee.

Retail models that provide this—like Costco—are immensely successful. However, membership-based processing services can also help reduce fees for retailers who process a high volume of transactions, or who sell a lot of high price point goods. You may not have heard of this, since most widely-used payment processing companies are flat rate—meaning they take a percentage of each sale you make in payment for their services.

With membership-based pricing, on the other hand, you pay a set monthly fee for all of your transactions. So, you don’t have to pay out a big chunk of your profits as your business grows.

“Membership-based payment processors don’t markup the processing fees of banks or card networks… nor do they take a large cut out of your sales,” Payment Depot reports. “Instead, merchants are charged with a monthly or annual membership fee in exchange for access to lower wholesale rates.”

3. AI-based payment chatbots

Artificial intelligence is nothing new in retail, but this is the year that chatbots infiltrate the payment sector—enabling retailers to guide customers through every aspect of the shopping process and to offer customers more payments than ever before.

Big box retailers such as Nordstrom are investing in multiple chatbot platforms to provide consumers with a more personalized shopping experience and to reduce cart abandonment.

Digital Transactions reports, “Juniper, a firm based in Hampshire in the United Kingdom, predicts chatbots will proliferate and reach a level of sophistication and presence in financial services that will see them account for 79 percent of ‘successful’ exchanges with customers by 2023.”

Contrary to popular belief, chatbots can also an affordable option for small business owners and startups. Creating a chatbot on Facebook Messenger is actually free, although you may need to hire someone to help you build and implement it.

4. Increased focus on security and data privacy

One of the biggest challenges to getting customers to buy online is convincing them that your website is a safe place for them to enter their credit card information. One of the trends we saw in 2018 was an increase in cyber crime.

34 percent of U.S. consumers experienced compromised personal information last year alone, so it should come as no surprise that security is a concern for most customers when shopping online. The perception of payment security can be the determining factor when customers are choosing where to make a purchase, which is why payment arbiters have become so popular.

Payment arbiters are widely-known financial services companies—such as PayPal and Apple Pay—that allow consumers to purchase products without re-entering their credit card information every time they pay.

Deloitte reports, “Arbiters provide ‘trusted’ services that support the entire ecosystem, enabling more efficient and less risky processing. Their presence in a payments transaction…allows consumers to have greater control over how their identity and data is shared.”

5. Incremental payments increase consumer financing options

Back in the day, QVC was the only major retailer offering customers the option to pay for their purchases in a few easy payments, but incremental payment options have hit the mainstream.

According to retail expert Shelley Kohan, “With buy-now, wear-now, pay-later, the customer takes the product with them at the point of transaction and ecom goods are sent at the transaction point. The big win for retailers is they don’t have to figure out where to store layaway goods, deal with customers who change their minds and handle the mound of abandoned product.”

Partnering with an incremental payment provider such as Klarna, Affirm, or Quadpay can smooth the path to purchase for customers who want to make a higher ticket item now, but don’t have all the funds available at the moment. It’s a good alternative for customers who want to avoid putting a big charge on a credit card. Incremental payment companies also tend to accept consumers with a broader range of credit scores than most traditional banks, making your products accessible to a broader range of consumers.

Another benefit of using incremental payments? Millennials are generally more averse to credit card debt than other consumers. But incremental payment options are often interest-free, so you can give younger customers the opportunity to buy the products they want without taking on dreaded credit card debt.

Bringing it all together

Every dollar in profits can be essential to your business is important when you’re running a startup or small business, so you need to be able to identify and implement payment trends that can help save your business money as they arise.

Read your business’s credit card processing statement regularly and evaluate your payment processing partnerships every six months to make sure that you’re still getting the maximum return on each sale you make as your business grows. Setting aside a few hours to evaluate your payment processing fees can save your business thousands of dollars in the long term.

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Jasmine Glasheen
Jasmine Glasheen

Jasmine Glasheen is recognized as a leading influencer, writer, editor, and brand representative providing both online and video content. She is a frequent contributor to many publications including prominent retail magazines and news sites, tech blogs, and numerous fashion and lifestyle trade shows. She is a contributing editor to RetailWire, content lead at Retail Minded, and is the author of numerous ebooks and whitepapers for private clients. Glasheen also provides fresh thought leadership in the form of live video content, webinars, and podcasts.

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Google, Facebook and Amazon Are the Only Winners in Ecommerce

Rising advertising costs means falling profits for the ecommerce advertisers.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I have been a long-time fan of the ecommerce industry. As offline retailers were struggling to compete with online retailers, many large chains went out of business, and an increasing amount of consumer buying moved online. For a long time, ecommerce startups were printing money in what felt like a “can’t lose” industry. But, like with any gold rush, empowered by ecommerce platforms like Shopify — that made it quick and inexpensive to get your online store up and running — ecommerce attracted a bunch of competitors trying to get their products discovered.

Related: The ‘Amazon Effect:’ How Ecommerce Will Change in 2019 and Beyond

But, what happens when millions of ecommerce stores are fighting to get discovered on only three primary websites — Google, Facebook and Amazon — where consumers are looking for potential shopping solutions? All hell breaks loose, wreaking havoc on your cost of customer acquisition and your bottom line profits. This means the only long term winners in ecommerce are, you guessed it, Google, Facebook and Amazon. These three keep raking in all the highly-profitable advertising dollars while the ecommerce businesses themselves are starting to struggle to make a profit. Allow me to explain.

The growing ecommerce industry.

The ecommerce industry in the U.S. was worth approximately $500 billion in 2018 and has been one of the fastest growing areas of the economy. This big market has been attracting tons of large retail corporations and startup entrepreneurs that have been trying to capture their piece of the pie. What started off as a handful of ecommerce sites in the infancy of the internet has grown to more than one million ecommerce businesses in the U.S. alone — and growing daily — each competing for consumer attention.

The rising costs of getting discovered.

How to do you get consumer attention? In today’s market, that largely means being present on the big three websites. But, there is a limited supply of positions on the first page of those website search results, which means with limited supply and growing demand, the price of getting discovered keeps going up and up. That, in turn, means the cost of acquiring a new ecommerce customer is quickly increasing, eating into the profitability margins of ecommerce businesses.

To me, it is quickly becoming a race to the bottom for the ecommerce businesses, many of which can no longer drive a profit on their first sale. They now must cross their fingers that they have a quick and frequent repeat sale cycle to make their profits from the second and third transactions down the road. This may work well for a consumable vitamin business, but doesn’t work so well for a non-consumable mattress business, for example.

Related: Amazon vs. eBay: The Future of Online Shopping

Google, Facebook and Amazon capturing all the profits.

As costs keep going up and up for the ecommerce businesses, that means advertising revenues keep going up and up for Google, Facebook and Amazon, making them the real money-makers. Said another way, if advertisers are willing to invest up to one third of their revenues into consumer marketing efforts, that is more than $150 billion of largely free and clear profits for the three big websites to share between themselves. At the same time, ecommerce businesses will struggle to break even as their marketing costs continue to soar to higher and higher levels. Pretty picture for Google, Facebook and Amazon. Ugly picture for the ecommerce businesses.

An iExplore case study — costs up 10X.

Let me provide an example here. When I was running iExplore in 2000, I could buy a Google “adventure travel” search click for $0.25, competing against a handful of competitors. Those clicks would net me around a $200 cost of acquisition per new customer, or around 20 percent of my $1,000 gross profit margin. This is a very healthy bottom line profit margin. Fast forward to today, that same click may cost $2.50 (10x more), as hundreds of competitors are now fighting for the top positions on those keywords. This means my cost of customer acquisition has grown to $2,000 today. And, instead of driving an $800 profit on the first sale, I am now losing $1,000 on the first sale. A pretty grim reality, to say the least.

Making a deal with the devil — AKA Amazon.

Google and Facebook clearly present their marketing challenges, but Amazon is even worse. More than half of all shopping searches start on Amazon, but there is a price to pay for that distribution. Amazon charges about a 15 percent revenue share to get promoted on their website, assuming you do your own fulfillment. The fee rises to around 25 percent if you need Amazon to do the fulfillment. And keep in mind, this is before Amazon fully exploited their ambition of building a Google-like advertising marketplace to ensure your products get discovered on their platform. 

When you layer marketing costs on top of the distribution and fulfillment fees, there is going to be no profit left for anyone except Amazon. And, if you were hoping for repeat sales to drive your long term profits, good luck, as Amazon does not allow you to share in any of the customer records created. They are Amazon’s customers, not yours, and you are not allowed to repeat market to them anywhere except on Amazon. All-in-all, a great win for Amazon, and strong kick in the gut for the ecommerce businesses.

Related: 3 Ecommerce Trends You Must Prepare for in 2019

Concluding thoughts.

If you are one of the lucky ecommerce businesses driving a healthy profit today, enjoy it while it lasts. It is only a matter of time before new competitors learn of your success and try to enter your market. We’ll see what your profits look like in a couple years, after the flock of competitors start fighting for position around your keywords. And, this will be the case in nearly every category of ecommerce, so it doesn’t really matter what products you sell.

So, for all you ecommerce lovers out there (myself included), I have these cautionary words of wisdom for you — think twice before getting into the ecommerce business. If you want to win long term in ecommerce, stop thinking about what products you are trying to sell, and think more about how you can profitability grow your business without relying on Google, Facebook and Amazon — word of mouth, direct mail, smaller websites —  with proprietary or patented products only found on your website. Or, better yet, think about how you are going to build a new fourth competitor to the big three sites. This is where the real profits are long term, without having to deal with all the merchandising, warehousing, markdowns and other headaches that come with running an ecommerce business.

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4 Simple Ways to Use Social Media to Find ‘Warm’ Ecommerce Customers

These ‘warm’ customers are just like GoldiIocks — interested in the porridge that’s ‘just right.’ They’re also exactly the people you want to target.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Back in the good old days, businesses drove commerce by buying ads in the local newspaper, renting space on a billboard or calling people out of a phone book. Customers came to a physical storefront to do their shopping, and each business had a very limited geographical sphere that it worked in.

Related: 5 Things Ecommerce Customers Actually Want From Your Store

What a different world we have today: Many businesses don’t have a physical storefront or even see their customers. They sell to people all over the planet, and instead of buying ad space in the local paper, they compete for SEO rankings.

As the world of commerce continues to change, the role of social media in that world has only become bigger. The average person in 2018 spent 45 minutes on social media every day, and the trend toward shopping online straight and even getting there direct from social media sites continues to grow. Already, companies without a social media presence are starting to seem irrelevant …

Of course social media platforms are packed with all kinds of people, but as the leader of an ecommerce business, you probably know that most of those people shouldn’t concern you. Instead, your main source of growth is going to come from the golden and sometimes elusive “warm” customer. You know who these people are: people with whom you already have at least a fledgling relationship.

They know about your brand; they may follow you on social media; they just haven’t bought anything — yet. Though other customers have their good points,”Goldilocks” should be your focus when you’re building up your customer base. Aim for the porridge that’s not too hot (current customers who have already bought), not too cold (people with no knowledge of or interest in you), but just right. 

The problem is, it can be tricky finding these warm customers. Sure, you’re checking your follower lists and website traffic. But what exactly do you look for? What can you do to help them take the next step and buy?

Here are a few ideas to help you find them among the social media crowds:

1. Take advantage of all of Facebook’s nifty tools.

Though most companies have a Facebook page and use the platform for paid advertising, few have taken the time to figure out how useful some of the platform’s analytic tools actually can be. 

If you set up a Facebook pixel to track your website traffic (and online store purchases), you can later use that data to target your social media advertising directly at the people using your site.

You can also use Facebook to create lookalike audiences, where you take an audience you already know (people who have already purchased from your store, for example) and set Facebook to target users most similar to that audience. This means people of a similar age, interests and demographics; these are the audience members already “warmer” to you than the average Joe.

Last, you can create audiences on Facebook based on their engagement. Target people who have interacted with your Facebook page or Instagram business profile before, and you’ll be able to catch those leads who find your brand attractive enough to have checked out your social media presence.

2. Make impulse buying easier on Pinterest and Instagram.

Very often, “warm” customers are already following your social media channels or looking at your posts; they just haven’t committed enough to take the plunge and buy.

Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Ecommerce Startup Stand Out

Platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, used in the typical fashion, add lots of steps to the buying process and make it difficult. If your potential customers have to click through a generic link in your Instagram bio, then search up the item they want on the site itself, odds are they aren’t going to make the effort.

Luckily, new features on both Pinterest and Instagram enable customers to buy products straight from the app. So, start using product pins on Pinterest, and make sure that your website is optimized for the Pinterest buy button. Instagram’s equivalent feature, Shopping on Instagram, lets followers buy straight from the feed. 

If you use these tools right (and don’t overuse them), your “warm” customers will find it much easier to give your company a try.

3. Get people to engage by running a promotion or contest.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” In that light, your goal on social media should be to get your customers to do the talking for you — in a good way.

One of the most effective ways to engage current (and prospective) customers is by running a promotion or contest on your channels. Followers may share this with their friends, who’ll share with their friends; and before long you’ll have a long list of referrals — of “warm” customers.

Lance Essinos, online marketer and host of The University of Adversity podcast, said you get bonus points if you expand your promotion to include other businesses. When I reached out to him for commen, he replied in an email: “People are much more likely to act on advice or recommendations from friends they trust.

“That applies to normal referral situations, but it also applies to cross-promotions with other businesses,” Essinos wrote. “In effect, the other business has a big group of friends that like them and follow them, and they’re recommending you and your business to that friend group. It’s a total win-win for creating good relationships with customer leads.”

4. Become a thought-leader in your customers’ sphere.

One of the biggest characteristics “warm” customers can offer you is that they’re often looking for information and answers, but not products … at least yet. As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg once said in an interview with Time magazine, “Advertising works most effectively when it’s in line with what people are already trying to do.”

“Already trying to do” are the operative words here; they describe “warm” customers trying to find answers to their problems. These are people willing to go to a little effort to find the information they need — so you need to be there with the answers.

Start a blog and focus your content on helping to solve their problems. Boost the exposure of your posts by publishing or sharing on your social channels. The more unique and high-quality your content is, the more awareness and loyalty you’ll get from your customers. Soon enough, they’ll be buying things on your site.

Related: How to Handle Negative Comments and Keep Your E-Commerce Customers Happy

So, dive in to building up an impressive social media presence (and marketing to the right customers through it). Yes, it’s a process of trial and error. And it takes time and testing to figure out the right way to reach those already looking for what you have to offer. However, with the right tools and know-how, you’ll likely find that connecting to the “warm” customers who’ll grow your company will only get easier.

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3 Ecommerce Trends You Must Prepare for in 2019

The ecommerce explosion continues, but there’s also an element of evolution. To take your ecommerce presence to the next level, take advantage of these emerging trends.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Retail ecommerce sales continue trending upward, and consumer confidence has reached an 18-year high. Conditions are ripe for brands with an established ecommerce presence, but that doesn’t mean business as usual will always suffice. Instead, the organizations that excel will be those with a forward-thinking approach to ecommerce.

Ecommerce is thriving because enough companies have kept up with changing technology and consumer expectations. For example, as mobile purchases increased in popularity, ecommerce retailers began specifically catering to this shopping avenue. Mobile purchases constituted the majority of ecommerce sales in 2016, and eMarketer estimates that 72.9 percent of online purchases will be made on a mobile device by 2021.

Device preferences aren’t the only thing in transition — search methods are also quickly evolving as technology becomes more sophisticated. According to predictions from ComScore, 50 percent of all search queries will be made via voice by 2020. And it’s likely that more people will be audio searching for buyable goods soon: Devices such as Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Show are integrating voice and image search so that shoppers can see what they’re asking to buy. Ecommerce retailers that can’t cater to a voice-activated future (read: optimize for natural language search) will quickly lose ground to their rivals.

Ecommerce companies are also partnering with payment processors to make online purchases as frictionless as possible. By offering payment options such as PayPal, Venmo and Amazon Pay at checkout, customers can leave their credit cards in their wallets, so buying becomes even easier.

Related: Next Generation Ecommerce Marketplace is Here and Technology is Fueling its Growth

No matter how mature your ecommerce presence might be now, you need to keep looking ahead to ensure future success. To elevate your ecommerce efforts in 2019, take advantage of these three emerging trends.

1. Sell your wares on social.

Effective marketing is about optimizing your messaging to appeal to your target audience, but messaging won’t matter if the audience never sees it. Meeting your audience members where they spend their time is crucial, and here’s a tip: If your customer base is online, it’s on social media one-third of that time.

If you’re not selling on social media, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Most social media platforms now support integrated buy buttons that transfer users to your website to complete a sale, and apps such as Instagram and Snapchat offer shoppable stories, too.

Retail brands like Jordan have also capitalized on event-related social commerce opportunities. For the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, Jordan partnered with Snapchat to offer access codes to an exclusive sale of the special edition Air Jordan III Tinker shoe. Users could only receive a code if they were near the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and the sneakers sold out in 23 minutes.

Related: The Evolving Role of Social Media in Ecommerce

2. Remix the buyer’s reality.

Mixed reality technologies have yet to see mainstream adoption, but they have made huge strides in that direction. Vertebrae’s launch of its AR/VR ecommerce platform Axis aims to prove that the tech is much more than a novelty, and IKEA’s Place app provides shoppers with an AR-powered glimpse into what IKEA products would look like in their own homes.

“Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game changer for retail in the same way as the internet. Only this time, much faster,” says Michael Valdsgaard, leader of digital transformation at Inter IKEA Systems.

AR might not be everywhere yet, but ecommerce retailers that successfully incorporate AR capabilities into the shopping experience stand to gain a significant advantage over their competitors.

Related: 5 Ecommerce Secrets the ‘Experts’ Aren’t Willing to Share With You

3. Strengthen your Amazon strategy.

Amazon has established a pre-eminent place in the ecommerce ecosystem, and Salmon’s “Future Shopper Report” indicates that 68 percent of American shoppers head straight to the site when browsing for products. What’s more, even when customers plan to buy from another site or store, 80 percent read Amazon reviews and check prices there.

Clearly, mastering Amazon is critical. Trevor George, founder and CEO of Amazon marketing agency Blue Wheel Media, says that the only way for sellers to win on the platform is through ads: “The future of Amazon is advertising, and if a brand wants to make money now and into the future, it needs to be able to navigate Amazon’s advertising platforms.”

According to George, that means investing in auto-bidding tools such as Prestozon or Ignite, isolating the right search terms, and incorporating negative keywords so your appliance company isn’t spending money to appear in searches for Easy-Bake Ovens.

The ecommerce boom isn’t waning anytime soon, and capitalizing on it requires a thoughtful strategy that keeps your brand ahead of the competition. Keep social commerce, mixed reality shopping and Amazon advertising on your mind through 2019.

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5 Things to Compare When Choosing an eCommerce Platform

how to choose an ecommerce website

Owning and operating a successful ecommerce business is a dream for many.

You can sell products and services online without fancy face-to-face sales pitches, you don’t have to rent out an expensive physical storefront, and best of all, you can make sales while you sleep!

Who wouldn’t want to start a business like that?

The reality of ecommerce is that it’s relatively easy to get a store up and running. However, operating a successful store is a whole different ball game. This is a realization that many, many people have learned the hard way.

Ecommerce is the future of retail. In fact, it’s estimated that online sales will hit $4.8 by 2021!

Building successful ecommerce businesses starts with the right platform. In this article, I’ll discuss five of the top components to consider when you are shopping around.

1. SEO benefits

Plain and simple, if you want to enter any aspect of the online business world, you are going to need a surface level understanding of search engine optimization—at the very least.

What is SEO? To put it simply, it’s everything that goes into making sure your site is visible to search engines like Google.

Over 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. The way your online store is optimized for search has a direct impact on how people discover your website and find what they are looking for.

Now, SEO for an ecommerce website requires a great deal of due diligence by the site owner, regardless of the platform. This involves persistent keyword research, attention to link building, the creation of fresh, keyword-optimized content, SEO-friendly product pages, title tags, image tags, and so on.

When you’re choosing your ecommerce platform, take a step back and assess your SEO needs, your own skills in web development, and how you see your store in the future. If you are entering the world of ecommerce with entry-level knowledge, there are a handful of SEO features you need to understand.

Navigation links: The text that appears for your products and categories within the navigation menu of the website.

These links bring shoppers to the product listings. While many platforms generate these automatically, having independent control over these links is ideal for SEO purposes.

Page titles: The titles that are shown on the tabs in the browser. These tabs give you the opportunity to include trending search terms identified in your keyword research.

Page URLs: The words present in an actual link in the browser. The URL should give people a good idea of what the page is all about.

The proper use of keywords here gives you a great SEO advantage—both in the eyes of the search engines and the users.

Meta descriptions: This is the short paragraph that appears under your link in the Google search engine results.

This acts as a preview of the page. As you could imagine, it is a hotspot for keywords.

Image ALT tags: This tag refers to the text on an image that acts as a description for the search engine crawlers.

The keyword optimization here determines how the picture shows up on a Google Image search.

H1 headings: This is the main heading that appears on a product listing or category.

If these headings are optimized around trending keywords, it will be much easier for people to discover your site.

Canonical URLs: In an ecommerce site, it’s common that some products can be found in multiple locations throughout the catalog. When this is the case, you do not want to get penalized by Google for having duplicate content.

So, you can tag your pages with the ‘REL CANONICAL’ tag that tells Google which page should be viewed as the primary, which is known as the canonical URL.

Blogging: Blogging is one of the best ways to give your ecommerce site fresh, keyword-optimized content. Plus your blog posts give you content assets that can be used for link building.

On a basic level, the ecommerce platform you choose should include a blogging feature.

Social buttons: The search engines love sharable content.

Adding social buttons on your product pages, blog posts, or anything else on your site makes it easy for people to share it with their social networks, which in turn, boosts your SEO value.

XML sitemap: This is a file located on your website that helps the search engines index your website’s content. Maintaining your XML sitemap is crucial to your search rankings. If you have a larger catalog, you definitely want an ecommerce platform that manages this for you automatically.

These terms cover the basic elements of an ecommerce website. There are lots of platforms out there designed to make search engine optimization easier.

If you are just starting out with minimal background knowledge, mainstream platforms like Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce are a few options.

2. Payment options

The most critical part of the online sales process is payment. When you start an ecommerce business, you need to be able to accommodate a range of payment options.

Think of it this way: How often have you walked into a restaurant or diner only to be turned away because you don’t have cash on you? If you only take a select few types of credit cards or other payment options on your ecommerce site, you will end up turning potential customers away.

In recent years, the scope of payment options has grown quite a bit in the ecommerce landscape. The name of the game here is simplicity. Very few people (if any) particularly enjoy pulling out their cards, entering in their 16-digit number, expiration date, and CVV code whenever they make a purchase online. In addition to being a hassle, it gives them plenty of time to reconsider their decision to buy.

There are a number of ways you can alleviate friction. For starters, shoppers should have the ability to create an account on your website. Not only is this good practice for gaining email addresses and information, but it should also ideally enable the shopper to save their credit card information for future use. At this point, this should be one of the foundational capabilities of any ecommerce platform.

However, the most important thing here is security. Be sure the platform you choose uses SSL encryption. When a shopper sees the green lock on the URL in the browser, they know the site is safe.

In addition to credit/debit cards, your ecommerce site should accept quick and painless options like PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.

Lastly, if you paid attention to the news in the past year or so, you’ve probably heard something about cryptocurrency. As there are all kinds of benefits attached to paying with crypto (and not to mention a huge interest in it), looking into a platform that accepts this option is a smart move.

3. End-user experience

Ultimately, the end-user experience (UX) is the most important piece of the puzzle in creating a killer ecommerce site. If the checkout process is complicated, the navigation is shoddy, the product information is tough to find, and so on, people will have no problem finding the X button.

That said, a good UX needs to be your top concern when shopping around for ecommerce platforms.

This involves the following major aspects:

Utility: This concerns the very nature of your website, product listings, layout, and overall flow. Most importantly, this entails making sure every facet of your website makes it easy for shoppers to find what they need.

The ecommerce platform you select should enable you to provide users with easy access to menus, categories, customer support, and more. It should also include features like a search bar with keyword relevant suggestions.

Always remember, even the prettiest website in the world can be rendered useless if it doesn’t have the utilities needed to provide a good UX.

Usability: The usability of a website refers to how well visitors can grasp and navigate through it.

Keep in mind, today’s online shoppers are not exactly known for their patience. This is because they can simply turn to thousands of others if yours is too complicated to figure out.

A website’s usability is dependent on simplicity. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary clicks, slow loading times, or extra steps in the sales process, as these can quickly complicate things.

Accessibility: Perhaps the biggest advantage of ecommerce is operations are not limited by geographic location, time zones, or anything else of that nature. An ecommerce business can sell products all over the world.

That being said, you need a platform that understands this and can properly cater and alter the website to different demographics. This includes automatically adjusting the online storefront around location, language, currency, shipping information, and so on.

Versatility here is crucial for reaching more shoppers—and more shoppers equals more sales.

Desirability: Desirability in the UX is all about the appeal and making people want to return.

The feel of your online store should be such that it gives shoppers a welcoming vibe, as well as leave a good taste in their mouth when they leave.

Fortunately, many of the big ecommerce platforms out there have large selections of themes and customizable templates created by seasoned experts. These are designed to play to many of the common psychological triggers that keep customers coming back.

The end-user experience is the most important part of an ecommerce store and must remain at the forefront of your platform selection process.

4. IT support

Solid IT support tends to be one of the unsung heroes when it comes to the features of an ecommerce platform. Many of these platforms will try to sell you on everything being overly user-friendly to a point where you don’t think IT support is a big factor.

If your site goes down, you need answers right away.

When you are making your choice, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to support. If you go with one of the bigger platforms, there will be a large support community to help find quick answers, which is why many people go with ecommerce giants like Shopify or WooCommerce.

Next, you need to take into account the size and complexity of your store. If it’s more extensive, you are going to need a platform with dedicated support to help you whenever something goes wrong.

Another thing to consider is working with an agency for IT support. If you don’t have a firm knowledge of backend website management, having an agency specialized in ecommerce IT support is a very wise choice. Many agencies are well-versed in the major ecommerce platforms and will proactively keep a close eye on your website to eliminate issues before they turn into problems.

Prolonged technical difficulties will eat into your revenue and turn people away in droves. At the end of the day, IT support determines the life or death of an ecommerce store.

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5. Integrations and add-ons

The integration capabilities of an ecommerce platform are what allow you to customize the site around what you need and what will benefit the overall experience.

You need to take into account how far-reaching and in-depth your online store currently is, as well as what your short and long-term goals are.

For instance, if you are just starting out, an email marketing program might not seem like an essential. However, once you start gaining traction, email will be a prime communication avenue to promote things like personalized deals, product recommendations, or anything else to boost site engagement.

Regardless of the ecommerce site, the platform you choose should have these crucial integrations:

Analytics: This should include the proper reporting capability to help you gauge your traffic numbers, ranking keywords, traffic sources, and how people are interacting with your website.

Additionally, you need monetary analytics that show your revenue reports, sales volume, and all other POS data.

Payment options: To reiterate, you need a platform that has the integrations to accept a diverse number of payment options.

Marketing: This includes capabilities for things like email campaigns, social, remarketing, personalization, automation, and so on.

Loyalty: If you plan on competing in your niche, you need to have some sort of loyalty program in place. This gives people a good reason to return to your website.

It could include options for a point-based system, recurring purchase rewards, or anything else that helps gain repeat customers.

Sales funnel: The sales funnel refers to the steps people take on their way to a purchase.

In the ecommerce world, this involves integrations for things like cross-sells, upsells, conversion optimization, and more. One of the hot button items on this list of integrations is chatbots.

Review management: Everyone and their grandparents knows how important customer reviews are in purchasing decisions.

That said, having a good customer review management integration is one of the most powerful weapons in your ecommerce store. From an SEO perspective, the review management system you integrate should be a verified Google Review Partner.

Keep in mind, there are certainly more valuable integrations and add-ons that go beyond this list. However, these six need to be at the top of your list when comparing platforms.

Over to you

The world of ecommerce is a diverse, complex, and constantly-changing entity. The platform you choose to represent your online business is the most important factor that determines your long-term success.

There are lots of options out there that offer a lot of great things. However, even though your needs may gravitate to a certain selection, be sure you keep these five major components in mind. Do not make your decision lightly.

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Manish Dudharejia
Manish Dudharejia

Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego-based digital agency that specializes in website design and development, and ecommerce SEO. With over 10 years of experience in the technology and digital marketing industry, Manish is passionate about helping online businesses to take their branding to the next level.

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