Saturday, December 5, 2009

Location is dead in retail

In the world of retail, location matters not anymore. At least not in the traditional sense of shopping malls and home maker centres. Westfield, Stockland, and Harvey Norman - please take note. It's more about logistics, and proximity to major shipping routes for fast delivery.

No longer do you need a physical presence. Retailers can still offer great service, and better choice online. Even the barrier of being able to try something on in store has been addressed through better managed return policies, and Ezibuy and Zappos are a great testament to this mantra.

People are also preferring shopping in their own home rather than going out. Appalling parking, pushy crowds, annoying shop assistants, and the "I'm better than you" or "Are you really going to buy anything in my elite store" snobbery that can occur in the physical retail spaces can be easily avoided. How? By a nice online store offering everything you were after and more.

Better bargains can now always be found online. Better products can now be found online, through public voting review systems or star ratings, or quality "choice" reviews. Why buy a 1 star rated product when a 5 star rated product is obviously better? But where are the star ratings in a bricks and mortar store? I wont buy a book anymore from Borders or Angus and Robertson unless it has a good Amazon rating. I also just got a Kindle, which lets me buy highly rated books almost instantly.

Often, a bricks and mortar store now only serves the purpose of a "hold in the hand" evaluation, which can be further researched and bought elsewhere online. I just bought $1400 worth of baby gear (cot, pram, car seat, etc) online after checking out reviews and a couple of inspections. I saved $600 off the in store price, for the same products.

There's also the obvious benefit of convenience. Need to get a present for a birthday, for someone living far away? Choose the gift wrapping option and get it sent direct. No more worrying about buying wrapping paper, sticky tape, cards, ribbon and going to the post office. It's all done for you, and you can be back to doing your own thing in no time.

Store owners should be seriously asking themselves, why pay rent? A good online store can now be a much cheaper and more intelligent investment.


Friday, November 27, 2009

What payment gateway should I use?

A payment gateway, when attached to your online store, allows you to accept real time credit card payments and not have to worry about storing credit card details. They're great because you are also freed up from all the security baggage that comes with it. Use of a payment gateway enables you to qualify for adherence to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), because payment gateways get audited for the PCI DSS, taking the load (and expense) off you.

There are a number of Australian payment gateway solutions, each with their own way of getting to the end result of money in your bank account. There are 3 basic types of payment gateways to consider:
  1. Third Party Payment companies (e.g. PayPal, Paymate)
  2. Third Party Syndication (e.g. eWAY, SecurePay)
  3. Direct to Bank (Westpac, ANZ, St George, NAB, Commonwealth Bank)
The main reason to consider Paypal or Paymate is avoidance of a merchant account. Generally this is good for small stores with low transaction volumes, and people who have a hard time getting approval from banks for their online store idea. They are a more expensive solution though, and take a percentage of the transaction amount. They also have the ability to freeze accounts or force charge backs, and while it is protecting consumers, it must be something to consider for store owners. Australians don't yet have the options of Google Checkout or Amazon payments at the time of writing.

Using a third party syndication company such as eWAY or SecurePay is a good solution and takes the effort away from having to build your own interface to the bank, because they've already done it. Their administration consoles give the full range of services including batch payments, refunds, recurring payments, and exports to accounting systems. They generally have a setup or annual fee, plus a fixed per transaction cost (15 to 50c), depending on the company and your transaction volume on top of merchant costs from the bank.

Direct to bank is the most cost effective solution however, and cuts out the middleman. To do this you must go with one of the big 5 banks in Australia who offer payment gateway products. Each offering generally has all the functions needed (once off, refund, batch, recurring, exports). Going direct to the bank means no unnecessary fee from a syndication company is slapped on top of your merchant fees, and could save you thousands of dollars.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Silly season preparation

If you haven't started preparing your online store for the Christmas season like a month ago, drop everything and get stuck into it. Some quick tips:
  • Prepare festive graphics, promos. Don't overdo it.
  • Make sure the orders can be shipped on time. It's the worst deadline to miss if your customer's present isn't under the right tree.
  • If you're a high order volume store, have staff on over the holiday period to handle the service load.
  • Up sell appropriately. Does the toy need batteries? Bundle them in for a few extra bucks.
  • Perform preventative maintenance now, especially if you the store owner are having a few days off. Make sure your domains and SSL certificates are renewed, that there's enough hosting space available, and that your hosting company is going to be contactable.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Return Business

So I was watching the "Hotel Inspector" the other night on the telly - which is a great show from the perspective of running a business in general, and not just hotels. The lady running the show is up front, frank, down to earth, and pretty much always on the money. She speaks from experience, and doesn't mess about. She had this to say to her current incompetent subjects:

"I've been a hotelier for a good time now, enough to know that return business is GOLD. If you give them a reason to come back - they will. Good memories alone is the easiest money you'll ever come by. Nothing I've seen from you lot has enticed me to come back at all."

Here's another interesting tidbit: At Zappos, on any given day, approximately 75% of orders are from repeat customers.

What gets customers to visit again?

  • Customers come back because the experience is memorable.
  • They have more confidence in your abilities because they already know how it all works from the first time.
  • They come back because they know what they're getting.
  • Better the devil you know?

How is this applied to an ecommerce situation? There are plenty of strategies that can be deployed:

  • Give great follow up service
  • Give a little unexpected suprise in the delivery. It can be as simple as a personalise, hand written note. It could be a candy treat.
  • Deliver fast!!! I can't ephasize this point enough. It wins over almost anything else you can do.
  • Give existing customers discounts. It's doesn't have to be much, but that lost 5% in order value (or whatever you set it at) is easily made back in continual return business.
  • Give your customers something to talk about. It'll get published on twitter, facebook, or any other worthy channel.
  • Build in negotiation points into your site - give hints about vouchers and how to get them.
  • Be reponsive.

Return business is the best business you can possibly attract. Be sure to include it in your online store strategy.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Be Responsive

The key to E-commerce happiness is responsiveness. Full stop.

It's what gets you talked about positively by your colleagues, and recommended to others by your clients. It's what gets talked about on forums and twitter, if you do everything right.

But, if you go against this mantra of responsiveness - the opposite occurs. It is extremely damaging. Your name gets dragged through the pits of society, and it's even more prevalent and open in the current social web. Or you just get ignored. Either way - to get back to where you were in the first place takes double the effort. And people always remember. Or a google search will - pointing straight to the disgruntled customer venting it loudly in your chosen industry/niche forum.

So why is this so hard to apply in the E-commerce world? Your customers want to buy from you now. Or 3.24am while you're sleeping and you can't do anything about it. Not later. If they can't get what they want, a competitor is just a Google search away. My answer to why it's hard to be responsive? - it's not. It's not hard if you choose the right system and people to work with. If something happens to a product line that you're offering - you cant afford 4 hours of removing products for your website. It needs to be done now. Your system needs to be flexible to the way you do business - you shouldn't be forced to do business a certain way just because the system you chose wont let you.

This doesn't mean you have to bend over backwards and be screwed for every transaction you ever take part in from now on. But it does involve level headed negotiation, and a fair exchange, if either party is out of place.

Some simple things to apply:

  • Be upfront with everything. No shifty deals, no addition's after the transaction has taken place.
  • Deliver fast. Ship the same day an order is placed, where possible.
  • Answer questions immediately.
  • Never write an email reply to an angry customer complaint. Pick up the phone and deal with it professionally, and keep it humble. Well dealt with situations get talked about positively. Gary Vaynerchuck even posts video responses and posts them online. Deal with it and move on.
  • Apply quality control in the first place. Then you wouldn't have to be responsive to a human error emergency later. ($15 JB HiFi Samsung LCD TV's anyone?)
  • Treat everybody how you would expect to be treated.
  • Manage returns fairly, efficiently, and move on.
  • Build on reliable infrastructure. Cheap $5 hosting is a great idea until it experiences prolonged downtime.
  • Speed is a feature in the modern web. General site speed and responsiveness makes it all the more pleasurable to shop at your online store.
  • Build on flexible structure.
  • Be competitive. Service wins, but price is a big factor because it's easier to research cheaper options.
  • Build responsiveness into your company culture.

Are you ticking all the boxes? Responsiveness is the difference between a mediocre online store, and a great one. The great ones get the big customer dollars. So why wouldn't you want to be responsive?


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

50 useful eCommerce tips

Great eCommerce sites meet the customers needs in every way. I came across some excellent eCommerce tips Courtesy of webmums on twitter - I've listed them here in convenient form for your enjoyment. I've also added a few more at the end to make up a nice round figure of 50 valuable tips!

  1. Your site title is an incredibly important SEO factor. Put your keywords in there, not your shop name!
  2. You must have excellent pictures of your products. Customers will not buy if the images are low quality, its unprofessional.
  3. Establish who your competitors are, look at what they are doing and then do it a whole lot better! Or consider a joint venture.
  4. Make sure you have your payment terms displayed on your home page. This is a convenience & an added trust factor for customers.
  5. Started your email campaign? Have a sign up box for customers to sign up for your newsletter or money is being left on the table.
  6. Use a pic on your 'About Us' page if possible & add really great info. This page often gets high hits as customers check before buying.
  7. High traffic volume is irrelevant, its conversion that counts. Concentrate on using long-tail keywords for targeted traffic
  8. Try using fridge magnet style sales material in your mail outs/parcels. Most people do pop them on their fridge.
  9. Put your important & striking info above the fold. Images, Special Offers, contact details & security tested sign work well.
  10. Got a blog? If not, get one. eCommerce sites are not consistently updated with new material, blogs are and you want to attract Google.
  11. Don't send all of your backlinks to your homepage. Spread keyword rich link love throughout your site to individual products.
  12. Don't add text like 'We're a Brand New Store' or anything to suggest you are new to the biz (if you are), it appears amateurish.
  13. Make your buyers say WOW. Include a gift, send it fast, email a thank you - Anything that encourages them to remember you.
  14. SEO is important, but build your site for the customer. A block of keyword packed text is ugly plus Google will view it as spammy.
  15. Using social media creates a natural footprint for your customers to check you out. Use it wisely!
  16. Don't be boring - use your blog to show your personality. People will relate to you whilst you also build your trust factor.
  17. Don't make your customers register to see things like the 'shipping costs'. Most won't bother, they'll shop elsewhere!
  18. Educate your customer. If your product allows you, show them how to use it, create a tutorial or video, it's a great opportunity to connect with your buyers.
  19. Difficult customers dealt with in the correct manner often become your biggest buyers so persevere.
  20. For SEO purposes, make sure your product names are in the title tag of the corresponding page - before your company name.
  21. Be an expert in your niche. Don't just sell a product, blog about it, recount it's history, list facts, report on statistics. People like to buy from an expert.
  22. Don't try and sell everything, be niche specific. You are not Amazon so don't try to be, focus on niche products to a niche audience.
  23. Create loyalty by finding ways to reward existing customers, special offers, competitions, bonus points, discounts and freebies, etc.
  24. Make sure you are always updating your FAQs page with any new questions that you receive. It saves you and the customer precious time.
  25. Organic traffic is best but don't rule out PPC especially if you haven't long opened your store. Great for testing purposes!
  26. A good place to ask customers to sign up to your newsletter is on your 'thank you' screen after they have placed their order.
  27. Keep the customer informed about the progress of their order BEFORE they have to ask you. It adds reassurance, trust & loyalty.
  28. Utilize free services like Google Base as these can bring you highly targeted traffic sources.
  29. You don't have to sell your products cheaper than the next guy (who's making no profit). People gladly pay more for excellent service!
  30. Include promo material in your parcels. Discount vouchers to encourage return visits, catalogs to showcase your other goods, etc.
  31. Have a search facility available. Customers like to be able to search for products easily rather than hunt for them. A bad search facility is the height of frustration. If it returns the wrong results or no results - you lose the sale!
  32. If you often get asked a lot of questions about your products include a keyword rich FAQ's page, very good for SEO purposes.
  33. If you hold your own stock then ship orders FAST. You're in the shadow of eBays 'want it now' mentality.
  34. Put yourself in your customers shoes. Go right through your buying process. Is it easy? Are there too many steps? Does it need tweaking?
  35. Raise your profit margin and encourage larger orders by offering free shipping for multiple-item sales or orders over a certain amounts.
  36. If you're selling the same products as competitors, add something extra to your product descriptions to make them stand out in the search engines.
  37. Try new things, test & test more. You need to fail in order to succeed. If you don't try and you don't fail, you'll never move forward.
  38. Your internal links are incredibly powerful. Make sure you are optimizing them correctly with keyword rich anchor text.
  39. If your thumbnail image says "click here to see larger image" make sure that a larger image actually appears.
  40. Study your after-sales care. One off buyers don't create a business, you want a base of returning, loyal customers.
  41. Remember the 80/20 rule. 20% of your customers make up 80% of your sales - work on creating the ultimate customer experience.
  42. Be contactable. If a customer can't reach you, you'll lose the sale, but even worse - you'll lose that customer for life.
  43. Close the sale at the checkout, the time for promo X is on the product pages. Too many choices at checkout could lose you the sale.
  44. Adding additional payment methods can help in preventing abandoned shopping carts.

Plus I've got some more:

  1. In addition to 32, Write informative and keyword rich buyers guides and how to articles on your flagship product categories. e.g. If you sell digital cameras, do a how to on taking great time delay photos with the latest Canon SLR.
  2. Expanding on 36, don't just use the manufacturers product description - everyone else does, and you sink back into noise. Write your own quality content.
  3. Add a personal touch to your packages. A hand written note, some confectionery, etc. It gives your customers extra gratification and helps you stand out.
  4. Offer consistent and fast service - and always look for ideas on how to raise the bar.
  5. Best practice is good. It has to be done. But this only gets you so far. Innovative is better. How can you stand out?
  6. Make sure your site has a polished look, professional feel, and responsive user interface. Make sure it's fast. Make it intuitive.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Best practices for product search

With google ramping up their "product search" facility (which nicely compliments Google Checkout) - they've introduced new measures to get individual products listed using their Google base facility. This allows you to specify attributes for a product such as price, description, condition, etc, and keep them updated using Google Base methods of feeds or API's (or manual for the brave).

It isn't so relevant for Australian merchants aiming at the local market, as Google Checkout and Product Search haven't arrived yet, but it's only a matter of time. It is a must for Australians looking to get onto the worldwide scene with their products. Google Base product data update will definitely be a feature on the road map for the Cow Command Ecommerce system, to ensure up to date relevant results for merchants.


Monday, March 30, 2009

SEO for Ecommerce

Matt Cutts from Google giving tips on SEO for ecommerce sites - the answers keep coming back to differentiation.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Drag and drop carts - musings

I sent out a tweet recently saying I think drag and drop carts are a bad idea. This thought came from the idea that someone dragging a product from where it's listed into a box just to add it to the cart is just a waste of time and plain bad UI practice. Bad practice as it now requires the user not to just click once, but to
  • click,
  • find where the cart area is,
  • drag item to the cart box (assuming it's highly visible and has a nice chunky landing area),
  • release the mouse button.
I can see Jakob Nielson having a fit right now! If the interface is javascript (as opposed to flash), development could be a nightmare as well to match all the new browsers as they update their engines. While I still hold the belief drag and drop is counterproductive in this scenario, I've now come across sites (thanks @pipitpuch in response to my tweet) that use drag and drop not to add to a cart necessarily, but to further engage the user into designing an outfit. Some great examples - and

In such instances I think it's excellent, and if I was a clothes retailer I would be very tempted by these solutions. It would be even better if I could take a head shot of myself to load on top of the clothes dummy to get a better idea of the outfit I was designing - because I hate the thought of ordering clothes online only to try them on after delivery and not like the look.

But I can't help but think it'd be useless for any other type of retailer that's not in the clothing business? I can't imagine buying shrink wrapped box of software from citysoftware would benefit from a drag and drop site. Same for a remote controlled toy on a hobbies site. Good reviews, high quality product presentation, videos and comprehensive specifications get my attention when I'm buying such things.

My prediction - drag and drop carts have got nothing over "social" carts (the prediction - facebook is going to turn into a kind of social cart, I agree with scobleizer on that one) other than a little wow factor, unless it's engaging the customer into an activity such as "trying on clothes".

Monday, March 2, 2009

Customer experience ecommerce style gets return business

Using the online ordering system of Dominos last night got me thinking about the customer experience. It was really cool how I could waltz in past the peak hour queues and pick up my pizza straight away, attracting dirty looks from the resenting line up. Greater Union Cinemas are doing the same for the movies. For big businesses where queues are inevitable, it's a logical choice to go the online path. I'd rather buy my ticket to the Foo Fighters over any day over lining up in queue at the box office.

But while smaller businesses may not have the problems of big queues, they still have to deal with one of the biggest challenges of online ecommerce: the lack of instant gratification. When buying a product, you can't touch, feel, or smell it. Once you pay for a product - you have to wait until it's delivered.

So what can help make a good customer experience when using an ecommerce system? There's plenty of room for innovation, but it ultimately comes down to the personal touches - and making the customer feel good about what you're delivering.

  1. Choice, Product Presentation, and Research: Show a product in it's best light. Show reviews, extended information (good for the Google juice goodness of keywords and content), let customers spin the product around 360 degrees, demo it in videos, and let them compare similar choices.
  2. Acknowledgement: Matt Freedman touched on it with the first point in his article about improving conversion rates, which is to acknowledge leads immediately.
  3. Order fulfilment: Ship quick! Keep updating your customer how it's going. Have an order status indicator in the customers account screen. Get the product to the customer as quickly as possible, in the best possible condition. Is there option for the customer to pick up? Can you deliver yourself if they're just across town? Amazon has their "milk run" where they use their own trucks to pick up stock if they know it'll be quicker than the postage service. Zappos is getting legendary status on it's delivery times (shipped in 5 hours from an order placed on a Sunday night?!?)
  4. Avoid any form of disappointment: Don't give the customer any reason to let off bad word of mouth. If mistakes happen - fix it! Give over the top service, complimentary coupons / vouchers. Bad vibes are just a twitter or blog post away.
  5. Ease of use: Let the customer order the product again (useful if the product is a consumable) from their past orders in their account screen.
  6. Consistency: Give good service all the time, and understand what it takes to deliver this. Amazon employees, from the CEO down, are all required to spend a few days a year on the customer service desk. Initiatives such as this will help spread the experience your company delivers organisation wide. Develop some rules for consistency, and make sure everyone implements them and gets a chance to improve them.
  7. Encourage return business: Give them a reason to come back. Can you give loyal customers a freebie every now and then? I always go back to Gloria Jeans because of this. If you can't do freebies, can you do 10% off?
  8. Measure, Test, Review and Improve: Identify KPI's (bestsellers, out of stock orders, dispatch time, negative reviews, charge backs), conduct secret shopper tests, get feedback, and improve.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

6 ways to get more exposure for your ecommerce website

1. Demo your products on YouTube

If a product you sell is fun, or eye opening, or just plain useful, take a video of it in action. Put the website address at the bottom of the video like a subtitle, or in the closing credits. Just make sure the video is high quality, and reflects what you're all about. You can do it yourself, or alternatively there's a lot of companies like TurnHere and popping up that can help out too. I only **just** stopped myself from buying a new remote controlled vehicle the other day because it looked so cool to play with in an online video.

2. Be competitive

Comparison sites like list the same product, from different retailers, to see who has the best price. Now - I'm not suggesting you get into a price war here, as often that's a recipie for disaster. What I am suggesting though - is get listed here, but make sure your operation is more professional than everyone else. Service wins over price 4 times out of 5, and to get a sale online you need to be percieved as a trusted entity.

3. Leverage your local catalogue distribution efforts, online.

For larger retail operations - often a catalogue may be created and dropped at targeted regions to get the word out on what goodies thay have to offer. What the smart ones are also now doing is consolidating their efforts with online catalogue sites such as and All the specials in one place means more potential traffic as visitors peruse through your autumn promos, which can link directly back to your cart for a conversion.

4. Take advantage of the drive to work

How many people would you drive past on your way to work? 50? 100? Easily. Probably more likely to be double or triple that. On average, I sit in traffic at least an hour a day getting to and from work, or 6.25% of my waking hours of the day (assuming a nice 8 hour sleep). Why not make use of the time? Get a sign made up for the back window of the car. Make it eye catching, professional, and get the message across. Dont drive? sew a patch to your backpack, a sticker for your briefcase, so people see it on the bus or train. Be creative. Radio stations have already identifed the value of the drive to work - you can do the same.

5. Social Network it

Tell your friends on facebook. Create a fan club for it. Advertise - it often gets much better feedback and targeting than Google Adwords. Word of mouth is often the best way to market something - leverage Facebook (or linked in, etc) to help you out.

6. Identify and take advantage of Network Hubs

In the documentary "How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer", the main message was that in any network, there are major hubs where everything happens. I mean - come on - how can Kevin not be a major hub. Be it a social network, a business network, a special interest group, or a train station - there's an opportunity for more promotion. Getting the right kind of promotion to the right people is what needs the focus, so select your hubs intelligently and don't push any unwanted promotion to people not looking for it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

5 steps to reduce buyer anxiety

1. Eliminate all errors

Nothing scares off a paying customer quicker than an error on a website. Test your site - test every scenario and every work flow, in every browser possible. If I'm in the middle of checkout and an error occurs before my credit card details have been entered - I'm out of there. My trust level for the site plummets, and the general feeling will be shared among the rest of your customers. This includes big ugly server errors, tiny little Javascript and HTML errors, spelling errors, user interface errors, business logic errors, and plain old misinformation.

2. Product details

Other than stating the obvious here of high quality pics, good info to research, and variation options (being able to choose size, colour, etc, etc) - some things that can bolster consumer confidence are quality guarantees, as well as impartial customer reviews and ratings. If allowing reviews, remember to approve reviews about the product being sold - not the company selling the product. Just remember to give reviewers good reasons why a review might be rejected, otherwise the site's credibility goes down.

3. Cart review page

Show all information about the purchase as possible! Show a thumbnail of what the buyer is getting - right down to the colour variation if possible. If I'm buying a blue shirt, show me a blue shirt. Tell me it's large. Show me the shipping costs. Let me research the shipping costs further. Is the currency correct? Can I enter a coupon code here? Is there a merchant guarantee?
The cart review page is a pivotal point of a conversion. All you have to do is make the customer feels comfortable - all the more chance of them proceeding further.

4. Checking out

Is everything clear, concise, and easy to find? Is shipping information all stated up front? Does the product being bought usually need other things that should be bundled or bought as well? Make sure the checkout procedure is straight forward too - with easy to understand steps and intuitive interface. Don't forget security too.

5. Post Purchase

Thank you pages, order confirmation pages and member log in order status indicators are all part of keeping the customer feel warm and fuzzy. Don't forget to say thanks! It's a simple omission, but a thank you page should be exactly that. Your customer is spending their hard earned dollars here, so reassure them that their business is appreciated. Tell them what will happen next - and to expect a confirmation email (don't forget to look in the junk folder!). Give them an action to do next - either back to the home page or to their order status.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Work the seasons

E-commerce isn't about putting a bunch of products on your website for sale and hoping for the best - it's about working with your customers, and offering a convenient alternative to shopping in store. With that in mind, how could you not work the seasons? Christmas, after Christmas sales, festivus (whoa?), Valentines day, Mothers day, Fathers day, your best customers birthdays, summer, winter, Halloween or any other remotely compelling excuse to buy goods needs to be worked.

Tactics include:

  • Tailor your keywords to the season. For example - in the 2 weeks after Christmas, consider the keywords "after Christmas sale" and it's equivalents.
  • Trigger e-marketing campaigns leading up to the season - and send out newsletters to your email database with the matching criteria. (all the while being sensitive to religious issues of certain customers not taking part in certain seasons)
  • Keep immaculate records on your customers birthdays, purchases (both what, when and how much), what industry they work in (e.g. If you have a lot of customers in the hospitality industry - segment them and tailor a targeted campaign)

Article References:

Holiday Keywords: