Selling online is a great subject to write about as it is constantly changing and evolving. Each month new start-up businesses bring in new ideas. There are lots of opportunities to improve your online business for B2B or B2C.
If you have any questions about eCommerce try our FAQs and Ideas Center or just send us a comment or email.
Every year we hear of stories about retailers who leave the preparations for the Holiday sales and Christmas to the last minute and then wonder why they don't do well. Christmas is the biggest retail sales period of the year for the vast majority of businesses. Sales increases related to holiday spending start in late September and peak late November to early December. There are heaps of issues to think about so start early and be prepared!
This year it is expected that the latest that you will be able to order online and expect delivery before Christmas will be Wednesday 20th December for most Australian deliveries. Australia Post have already advised for the international sea-mail cutoff dates however they have yet to announce the Australian dates.
We often get asked for recommendations for online tools and providers to help small businesses grow and succeed. We thought we might compile a list of the various tools we either use ourselves or recommend for businesses looking for new or more effective ways of managing their day to day tasks.
eCorner will look to keep adding to this list as we find new products and solutions which complement your online stores and can be used to help make your business successful.
In a recent report that was produced by SAI Global Online Retail was rated as the 3rd least trusted industry in Asia Pacific. This aligns with similar reports that have been done internationally.
To some consumers this does not come as a great surprise but online retailers are asking why?
Often we see in forums or hear people ask "why don't visitors buy from my online store?".
Of course there are many potential answers to this question. It could be issues like design and user experience, maybe the prices are too high, maybe it is shipping cost.
Understanding why people do not buy can be hard. The starting point is to use a good web analytic system to track what your visitors are doing and then use the results to improve your business and conversions. This can often show that visitors will start a basket but then abandon it before checkout. By looking at the step of the drop out you can often find a cause.
Feedback from your customers is also a great tool to understand what they like and don't like on your site. While it can be difficult to engage with customers in the online retail space, tools like surveys can be used very effectively to identify problem areas and let your customers feel like they are involved and being heard.
Every week we have new customers come to eCorner, some have never had a website or online business before and for them it's the beginning of a long and challenging journey.
For those that have a website and an online business and are re-platforming, we often find that they are not prepared for the change that is coming to their business and have made a snap decision to change without fully considering the implications.
Of course we never like to turn away a new customer but we always ask these questions to ensure they are making the right decision and will get maximum value from their move to our platform.
Sometime the answer is vague and this can often mean that the change has not been fully thought out.
"Change is as good as a holiday? Not always…"
A good parallel to draw is a home owner that needs to up-size (or down-size). Families outgrow the family home and need more space, comfort or a different location, or maybe it is retirement time and you are down-sizing.
When this happens it is a huge decision and impacts all the family. It can be time consuming and expensive. Mistakes in the process or bad decisions can often be life changing or cause ongoing problems for the whole family.
On the other side of the coin it is also very exciting. Moving to a new neighbourhood, suburb or city can open up new opportunities. Moving in to that sparkling new house with all the new space and fittings can be a buzz.
It is a decision that takes analysis and planning and not one that it undertaken lightly - do you move, renovate your current home, or is it better to just stay put. The choice often depends on a number of factors like availability, time, cost and life-style impact.
Moving also invariably comes with a long list of things to do like change of address, change phone, internet, digital services, power, water and the list goes on.
Bottom line: it’s a major decision that needs careful consideration. Moving your online businesses home should be considered just as carefully.
Consider that your website is just like the digital home of your business. When it comes to a decision to change, the impact can be as lasting as changing your family home. You need to look at the options and ask the right questions to ensure you aren’t making the wrong decision or missing some critical factor in your decision making process.
Once you feel you have all the information then build a plan that will help you transition through the change. You may find once you’ve done your diligence that a move isn’t the right option and you should simply renovate your online home or leave it as it is and focus your efforts elsewhere.
If the decision is to move (i.e. build a new website), then your plan becomes the core of the process with all your key information, including all the necessary requirements that can be provided to the companies that can build your website.
This is really an important question to ask as change is not always your friend.
If you are a business owner or manager then you invariably get pounded with emails and calls from SEO and Digital Agencies telling you how bad your website is and how “easy” it would be to rebuild. This should never be the reason why you change websites, building a new site is never “easy” (or cheap) and there are a range of flow on issues that should be considered in formulating your plan.
The key reasons to change are in general a need for new features or some failure in your current site.
Main reasons for change:
The downsides of changing should also be considered.
There is a risk with any site change that your search rankings will be lost or reduced, content may be lost or not be able to be migrated to the new site and there will likely be a huge investment of your time both as part of the build process but also to learn the new system and change your business process to adopt the functionality of the new platform.
The first consideration that you need to make is to build a simple plan to cover the change process. This way nothing will be missed and your decision to renovate, move or do nothing will be much easier.
There are some key questions that you can ask and you should consider all stake holders involved in the process.
Who are your stakeholders:
Once you establish the list of people that can impact (and will be impacted by) the change then you can get their input which will help make the process (project) simpler.
"If it’s not broken then don't fix it..."
Don't laugh! The first and most important thing to consider is do you need to change at all.
If your website or online store is delivering results then changing it may negatively impact the business. You can use your website analytics to determine how your website is performing.
Website performance is often thought of as how many people find your website but in reality that is generally more about marketing and search engine optimisation. The website's performance is really about what people do once they find your website, how many become buyers or customers and are the business results meeting expectations.
For example, if you're concerned you aren’t selling enough but your statistics show that a large percentage of users on your site buy products (i.e. high conversion rates). Then problem to fix isn’t likely to be the site itself, but the way customers are find or are driven to your site. Then your time and money may be better spent reconsidering your marketing strategy or on a new pay-per-click campaign (like Google AdWords).
If you know what is being achieved then you can set targets for improvement in your plan, and that can be communicated to your stakeholders, to ensure that any changes you make are for a purpose which is measurable.
My advice is to start by talking to your existing web developer or web service provider.
You've likely already committed time and money on your current site, and making your existing website more modern or improving user experience may be much more simple and less expensive than a full rebuild. Just like renovating a bathroom or adding a bedroom versus moving house it will come with a far shorter list of things to do and also have less risk of failure.
There are situations where the previous web developer has disappeared or gone out of business, or maybe the existing website has been a catastrophic failure. So the only real alternative is to start from scratch.
What questions do you need to answer?
Consider seeking feedback from your customers as part of this process, that will allow you to ensure it isn’t just your potentially ‘bias’ view of the site that is incorporated but also the needs/desires of your customers become the core of the build process.
Once you have developed your plan for the future of your website, there will likely be an obvious answer to whether you should move, renovate or do nothing.
If not, having conversations with your existing provider and other similar providers in the industry will help you analyse your plan and determine your next steps.
We, as a provider, will never advise someone considering a change to their online store that it will be a "quick, easy process", nor that it will be risk free. Unfortunately, not all providers and agencies in the industry are as unscrupulous. So ensure you take all advice with a grain of salt, and are comfortable with your decision before you move forward.
By having a plan and a clear view on the objectives, costs (both money and time) and risks of the change, it will ensure you make the decision for the right reasons not because the grass is greener on the other side of the digital fence.
If you are planning a change and want some help or don't know where to start then the eCorner Assist team has services available that will help you review your existing website.
It was coming up to our end of week team meeting on a quiet afternoon in August 2015. Discussions were about what the weekend would be like with everyone looking forward to winding down and how we would spend our family time. Somewhere thousands of kilometres away someone had a different idea (ominous music plays).
It all started as a blip on the radar with our incoming data charts starting to show excessive activity. That is not necessarily unusual as we often see spikes in activity. However before long we knew the prolonged and aggressive spikes meant a potential attack. Then the phone calls and emails from our customers started to roll in and the rest of the weekend went downhill fast…
What started as a Friday prelude to the week end was an attack that lasted (on and off) for over a week. It impacted most of our customers’ websites, it was a large attack that was relentless. It disrupted customers and cost a great deal in time and money before it was eventually beaten. No one asked for money, there was no vulnerability uncovered, it was done solely as a business disruption.
Starting an online store or business, or extending your bricks and mortar business online can be a real challenge for many people and is much more complex than most new business owners understand. There are lots of forums where the general feedback will tell you how easy it is to build you website and sell online. How often do you see: “Your products will sell because you have a great looking website! Customers will just turn up and buy from you! You can do it all for free!”
Well sorry to tell you, but it is all basically rubbish!
Making the most from your online store or website means making sales. In order to make sales your visitors have to find you and also understand what your business and products deliver. So what do we mean by structured content and how does it improve how your website or online store appear in search engines?
Search engines like Google look for clues in your content to the meaning of the page and the importance of content in the page. These can often be referred to as "snippets" and Google provide great advice on best practice. It is also useful to remember the important basic issues when you are writing your website. Additionally website structure is very important for both your visitors experience and also for search engine optimisation. MOZ provide excellent advice on how best to structure your website. Of course ePages will do most of this for you.
The first element that is often used is the Title tag which appears in the HTML head area on each page as <title>...content here....</title> this is one of the main clues that search engines use. The Title should be generally around 65 characters long and contain a good description of the main content. It will appear in search results and when you mouse over the tab in your browser.
There are other snippets like the Meta Content Description that is used in the search displayed results. The META Description is created in ePages when you add a description (first or short) to any page or product. The description should be meaningful and typically around 160 characters long. Longer descriptions will appear on the website in full but would be truncated in search engine results.
There are other tags like the Image alt tag, which is the "Alternative text" in the ePages Image Properties, that help search engines understand the content that cannot be read in this case images. The "alt" tag appears in the HTML and should contain meaningful information and keywords about the image to which it is associated.
TIP: Make sure that the ALT tag makes sense and relates to your content and keywords
All these snippets help with your search engine results by either improving search engine optimisation or by helping the search engine to show more meaningful information about your page to the person searching.
Website webmasters, content managers and owners need to help search engines understand what the content on a page is all about. In this case we are talking about the content that appears between the <body> </body> tags.
In HTML there is a concept called <H> tags these are structured from H1 to H6 and are used to structure content.
On the webpage the main title of the page should be the H1 following that the content is broken into sections so that the H1 section can contain many H2 tags. H2 sections can contain many H3 tags and so on.
With most good Content Management (CMS) or eCommerce Solutions editors the system will help you setup default formats for H1 through H6 tags so that you have consistency of font, font size and font colour.
Then when creating content it is very easy to format that content with the correct H tag.
ePages has built in an editor that will allow you to make styling changed to the content of your website as well as the ability to add images, videos and other rich content. When you want to edit you content always use the expanded editor window which allows more options and also provided you with in-content search.
Once you have expanded the window you will need to shrink it down in order to save your content changes.
So you can see from this example using that I can select the content I want to format and then select the H tag that I want applied and it is done.
TIP: There should only be one H1 tag on a webpage, or at least carefully used.
By styling (colour, font and size) the H1, H2, H3 etc tags differently you can give a visual indication of the structure. The H1 might be larger font (or different) than the H2 which might be larger than the H3. Always make the font and font size of the content consistent so as to help make the webpage visually appealing. You can also use other HTML markup tags to emphasise the content for example by using the <strong> (important text) </strong> tags. Again these different tags should be available in your CMS or eCommerce Solution editor.
TIP: Don’t overdo the styling and limit the number of fonts you use so that content is consistent.
One of the most important aspects of getting results and sales from your website and online store is to have good content. Lack of content will effectively result in lack of sales.
When writing content always have another person review the content before you publish it to your website. Everyone makes mistakes in spelling and grammar. Your view of good content and the opinion of your website visitors may vary dramatically.
A common mistake made by business owners who understand their products and the terminology around them is to write content they understand. However someone looking for information about your product or service may not understand buzz-words or technical terminology. Your product descriptions needs to meet the information needs of an uninformed buyer and not an expert.
TIP: Ask someone to read your product description and tell you why they should buy your product.
In face to face communication words make up around 7% of the understanding while tone (38%) and body language (55%) make up the rest. There are many words that can convey multiple meaning or even lead to disbelief or distrust. When verbalised tone and body language pay an enormous part in the meaning. There are some great tips for writing good product content that sells available also on MOZ.
When you are presenting information about your product online, words are not enough and need to be supplemented with photos that don’t just show the product but that also relate to the description.
TIP: Product images are essential for online sales
This is a mistake that almost ever website content editor will make from time to time. Generally think that less keywords in content can be better as long as they are well used.
MOZ Beginners Guide to SEO has some excellent advice on the issue:
“Not surprisingly, a persistent myth in SEO revolves around the concept that keyword density—the number of words on a page divided by the number of instances of a given keyword—is used by the search engines for relevancy and ranking calculations.”
Content and structure can be the difference between a successful online store or website and no sales. Spend some time reviewing and improving structure and content every day. Ultimately it will mean better results for your business and will be time well spent.
Right now there is a lot of speculation that retail in Australia will be impacted negatively by international eCommerce players like Amazon. The general view seems to be that retail is under threat and there is nothing that we can do!
We aren't convinced that this is true! Retail has undergone several evolutions in the last 50 years and if anything the market has always got bigger and better each time. The retailers who embraced the changes and accessed the new opportunities flourished, while those that resisted missed out (or went bust).
Each stolen record costs retailers USD$172 on average in the event of a data breach, according to the latest Cost of Data Breach Study, the gold-standard benchmark conducted by the Ponemon Institute – and this figure is on the rise. Cyber security should therefore be front-and-centre for any business operating on the Internet, and we are regularly asked to advise on how to manage and mitigate the risks of operating online.