5 Quick Tips to Get Your Ecommerce Store Holiday Ready

The holiday season is swiftly approaching, and online store owners should start planning and executing their marketing campaigns now. Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the start of the holiday shopping season for millions of shoppers – and they’re just around the corner.

Here are 5 quick tips to get you started:

1. Create a Gift Guide
The holiday season is all about purchasing and giving gifts. We’re all expected to purchase items for loved-ones, friends, and even co-workers, but how do we know what to buy? Not everyone makes a wish-list anymore, so many online shoppers are starving for gift giving advice. Take a look at Amazon’s Gift Central below – this is a smart way to suggest items to purchase for every type of person.
This is called a holiday gift guide, and they can take the form of lookbooks, blog posts, or even magazine-like articles. Amazon does a great job at suggesting gift ideas, but also check out RedEnvelope’s Christmas Gift section, or the holiday gift guide I published last year on the Business Webspring blog.

2. Offer a Shipping Calendar
Not only are consumers rushing to buy presents for everyone on their shopping lists, but they also have to manage the logistics of getting those presents to their destinations on a deadline.
Include a holiday shipping chart somewhere prominent in your ecommerce store. Let your visitors know exactly what type of shipping is required to ensure that an order will arrive on time. Take a look at Net-A-Porter’s holiday shipping cut-off chart:

It’s well designed, clear, and has all the information a hesitant shopper needs to know. Also check out this Holiday Shipping 2012 Infographic from ShipStation will help you put together a shipping calendar for your online store.

3. Offer Black Friday & Cyber Monday Discounts

Shoppers expect to see sale prices during the holidays, and this is especially true on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Not offering a discount on either of these days is the retail equivalent of Santa dropping a lump of coal in someone’s stocking. You don’t need to discount every product, but make sure you run some type of promotion.

Also, it’s a good idea to start early. Tell customers on your mailing list about your sales early on to get people excited early. Amazon already has a live countdown to Christmas and Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
It’s all about anticipation. If you’re going to send an email blast before Black Friday and Cyber Monday- don’t reveal all your discounts. Give them details on a few of your juiciest deals, and encourage them to visit your store to find out the rest. That way, they’ll be more inclined to actually visit your site, rather than deleting the email after digesting all of the information.

4. Add Live Chat
In 2012, holiday shoppers have lots of choices, and ecommerce retailers need to standout, particularly in the areas of customer service and responsiveness.
Offering live chat, gives online store owners an opportunity to connect with interested site visitors as they are making buying decisions. Live chat can significantly boost conversion rates and help to identify bottle necks in a site’s sales funnel.

5. Collect Emails For Year-Round Customers
November and December are usually the best months for selling products, but they’re also a great time to acquire long-term customers. With the influx in traffic to your online store, it’s the perfect opportunity to start collecting emails so you can market to them all year-round.

Include a signup field on your home page. You might want to offer visitors an incentive by way of a free ebook, downloadable report, or a discount on goods purchased. If you integrate with Mailchimp, it’s super easy to cut and paste the liquid code into your theme. For more tips on email marketing, check out MailChimp’s awesome “Email Marketing Field Guide” – a comprehensive guide that will teach you all the basics.
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How To Cash In On The 5 Reasons People Buy Products Online

Why do people buy products online?

eCommerce sales worldwide rose to over $600 billion in 2011.

But consumers won’t simply buy anything from anybody online. Products with a big price tag and things that are perishable are among the most difficult types of items to sell online. Not to mention products that people want to touch, smell or try on before they pull out their credit card.

But eCommerce has become a way of life and website owners that satisfy the requirements of the online shopper are fattening their wallets.

Let’s take a look at five of those requirements and how you can make them present on your eCommerce website.

1- Comparison Shopping

One of the reasons people cite most often for shopping online is that they can review and compare dozens of stores and products at once.

Rather than having to travel from store to store or aisle to aisle, savvy online shoppers simply navigate from one web page to the next comparing the stores and the wares of those stores.

They search for reviews of your products. They compare price, quality and customer service — and they can do it all online.

How To Cash In:

This is one way that small eCommerce storefronts can compete with the larger players.

Provide the information your potential buyers are looking for early in the buying cycle. If they are looking for comparisons, specs, pricing, etc. be sure to provide that information on your website.

Your SEO strategy should not be targeting only buyers that are ready to buy now. Look to connect earlier in the buying cycle when research is being done.

If you have a longer sales cycle give potential buyers a reason to give you their contact information when they are early in the buying process, primarily their email address, so you can follow up..

How Small Companies Can Compete With Amazon

Few companies can strike fear into the hearts of ecommerce merchants like Amazon. Its massive scale and focus on growth over profits allows Amazon to offer pricing that many smaller merchants simply can’t compete with.
As an ecommerce entrepreneur myself, I would have an easier time hating on Amazon if it wasn’t such an outstanding company. But unlike many huge organizations, it does a great job of providing quality customer service. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member – like I am, full disclosure – you get free, fast shipping on just about anything you’d ever want.
So how can small merchants like us compete with such an appealing giant?
Brand Yourself as a Specialist

Amazon’s massive size allows it to benefit from economies of scale, but such a wide scope can also be a weakness. With so many products for sale, it’s impossible for Amazon to offer specialized, expert guidance.
SonicsOnline founder Dave Huckabay has taken the opposite approach, choosing instead to become laser-focused with his ecommerce catalog. He focuses exclusively on ultrasonic cleaners for jewelry and industrial use, a niche most people probably don’t even know exists.

Take a product found on both his site and Amazon: the GemOro Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner. The item costs $120 on SonicsOnline, almost double the $67.95 it’s listed for on Amazon. Yet it still manages to sell well on Dave’s site.

SonicsOnline

So how does SonicsOnline compete with Amazon? Though not professionally designed, the SonicsOnline page is chock full of information, including videos, manuals and detailed specs. Perhaps most important is that customers know they’re buying from a company with highly focused niche expertise. They can get specialized help for specific questions or problems.
The combination of quality information and industry expertise is powerful and has helped SonicsOnline grow to approximately $300,000 in annual revenues. When asked about successfully competing with Amazon, Huckabay said:
When done properly, real expertise comes across in a website. You can’t fake it, and reviews by your customers are not a substitute.
By becoming a true niche expert – and successfully conveying that through your ecommerce store – you’ll be much better equipped to compete against Amazon without having to rely on razor-thin pricing.

Create Your Own Products
Creating your own product is undeniably the hardest (and most expensive) way to get started with eCommerce. But if you have a great idea and the resources to pull it off, it’s probably the best way to build a highly profitable business and successfully compete against Amazon.

Just ask Dan Andrews of ModernCatDesigns.com. He and his business partner, Ian Schoen, were surprised at how expensive – and ugly – cat furniture was. So they decided to create their own line that would blend in with modern homes. Here’s their popular ‘modern kitty litter box’ as an example:

One of the biggest advantages of manufacturing their own product was drastically better margins, which led to increased profits and growth opportunities. While many small resellers don’t have enough margin to profitably advertise, pay-per-click has been an integral part of helping Modern Cat Designs grow to approximately $120,000 in annual revenues, despite having a catalog of only eight products.
Perhaps best of all, manufacturing allows you to control product distribution and set pricing guidelines to protect your margin. On competing with Amazon and pricing issues, Andrews said:
People buy from us because our products are unique. You just can’t find them on Amazon. We also make sure that the dealers we do sell through follow strict pricing guidelines to prevent pricing wars.
Creating your own product isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great way to successfully compete against Amazon.

Sell With a Deeper Purpose
By connecting with the core values of your customers, you can build a loyal and passionate customer base that isn’t shopping based on price alone. A quick Amazon search reveals more than 330,000 different shoes for sale. Yet Tom’s Shoes has built a successful business based on the premise of donating a pair of shoes for each pair sold.
Hipcycle.com is another site with a deeper purpose: to reduce waste by selling products made from previously discarded material. The concept, called “upcycling,” is used to turn bike sprockets into bowls and computer waste into light fixtures. Here is one of their most popular products, Grey Goose Vodka rocks glasses:

Founded barely a year ago by Andrew Sell, the company already has two full-time employees and a sizable presence on Facebook.
When asked how Hipcycle positions itself to compete against Amazon, Sell replied:
We are passionate about diverting materials from landfills, and our customers want to support that. And we’re definitely in the business of building the company one customer at a time and turning them into evangelists for our brand and for waste diversion.

Notice that he didn’t mention fast shipping or insanely low prices. Instead, Hipcycle connects with customers over a deeper purpose – one that can’t be found on Amazon.
Opportunities Still Exist for Small Merchants

Amazon’s rapid growth, scale and pricing power make it a force to be reckoned with online. But despite its sizable influence, it’s still very possible to succeed as a small merchant. You just have to be smart about how you position yourself in the market.

So how do you plan to compete against Amazon? Let us know in the comments.
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Boost Your E-commerce Sales with One Letter

I’m not sure about you, but I can tell you my household bought more online over the festive season than in any previous December in history. With three kids in the house, that’s a fair amount of toys and presents, and we used e-commerce websites way more than traditional bricks and mortar stores.

As a result, we had plenty of packages arriving in December, and there was a really interesting observation I gleaned from the experience. See, I had plenty of packages turn up with a packing slip and perhaps a receipt, either inside the box along with the products, or stuck on the outside.

That was better than a few suppliers though: I even had a few packages turn up with nothing more than a return label on the outside to give me information where the product came from.

One e-commerce company had quite a different approach, which ensured that I – along with plenty of other customers – became fans of the business. I’m amazed at how simple it was.

It was a letter. That’s right, one of those paper items you used to receive before email.

One A4 page on letterhead, with a nicely merged letter thanking me for choosing them to purchase from, and welcoming me to get in contact with them should I have any questions or feedback about the products, the purchase process or the delivery experience. Even better, it was hand signed by someone senior in the business.

It cost this company one sheet of paper, and some time. Sure, it was no doubt a generic letter that everyone who had a parcel delivered last month received, but the fact is they were the only company out of a dozen or more from which we bought who wished us season’s greetings, and invited us to get in touch.

It didn’t even cost them postage – it was inside the package already being sent – yet it had the day’s date and my name throughout, so it was personalized more than a photocopied flyer for all customers.

The packaging was pretty special too – the packing tape they used had their logo printed on it, but it was the letter that really got me thinking.

If you have an e-commerce business, how could you not afford to mail merge a letter and send it with every parcel sent? The letter could be a ‘Thanks for your first purchase’ or a ‘Great to see you again!’ for those who have bought before. The data filtering shouldn’t be too hard, and it could make all the difference to the unwrapping experience.

I look forward to seeing more of these over the coming year.

Do you have a great tip for the offline experience in e-commerce? Let me know so I can share it with others; between us, we’ll make e-commerce an even more inviting space to be in..