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Welcome to part 4 of the complete guide to starting your online store. So far we've covered the basics of planning, registering your business and finding suppliers. Last but not least we've discovered the importance of developing your fulfillment operations.
By now you have an idea of what your online store will pe selling, you already have some pretty sweet deals in place with your suppliers and the fulfillment team is hopefully ready to process and ship the orders. But wait: you have no actual store. So let's get started with building a brand for your company, finding the right software for your web store and adding products and content to it.
What is a brand? Is it a name? Is it a nice logo that people like and recognize?
I will not get academic on you and I will try to cut beyond all the buzzwords you might encounter when building your brand.
The brand is all those mentioned above and more. The name, the logo, the colors and everything else is there to remind your customers of how much they like you and why. The brand is that feeling you get when you think of someone. You don't know whether it's the clothes, the color of their hair, their personality or anything else. You just feel in some particular way about that person. That's the brand. The way people feel about your company.
Now, to build a brand you need some special ingredients. Some are easy to come by and some are harder. However, once you got that main ingredient on the table, the others will be easier to implement. Here they are, ordered by their importance:
This is "who" your company is. You have to decide right from the start what type of personality you will be showing to the world. Are you young and enthusiastic or maybe mature and conservative?
What does your company stand for, except for … you know … selling stuff? What is your purpose for being in the market? You have to answer these questions and maybe more to find out what is the right personality for your brand. Remember – people will most likely never meet you or any of your team members in person so you have to focus on sending out the right message in the digital world.
One of the best use cases of building a great brand personality is Warby Parker. The company designs, manufactures and sells beautiful eyewear at an affordable price. Not only that but sales fuel its humanitarian efforts in providing developing countries with quality eyewear and means for individuals to self-sustain.
They have an extensive section in telling people WHO Warby Parker is and why they're a great fit for society. Branding goes beyond just commercial info and showcasing the products. It projects an image and a personality so customers can have the feeling of actually interacting with a real person. A great one, that is.
Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Things are what they are. The names are secondary. Once you know what your online store stands for, once you know what your brand's personality is, you can put a name on it.
For example, Jeff Bezos named its famous company Amazon because Amazon is the largest river by drainage. He envisioned the largest store in the world right from the beginning and named it accordingly.
The name you will be choosing is extremely important. Out of all the other components in building an online store brand, this one is the one most likely to turn into a real asset. Your brand personality may change, so could colors, shapes and slogans. But your name has to stay the same. The reason is the Internet is built this way. Web pages get bookmarked, indexed and remembered by their name.
Amazon for example changed its personality and graphic cues throughout its history. But the name stayed the same. So did all other brands that managed to catch the customer's attention.
When choosing a name for your online store do check for available:
Once you've designed and presented your online store's personality, you need to code this personality through visual cues.
The brain perceives images faster than sound and letters. Images deliver powerful messages almost instantly whereas sound and text take longer to be perceived.
That's why companies compact their messages in some iconic combinations of symbols, colors and letters: logos. The logo is the basis to building your store's visual identity. We use symbols because our brains are wired to connect shapes to meaning. Color is usually added to further identify a given company. For example you probably don't remember what's the exact shape of the Coca-Cola logo, but you do remember the red-white combination.
Once the basics of visual identity (shapes and colors) are set, more elements are usually added to the list of brand identifiers:
Once the visual identity is set, it will be communicated through a brand manual, or brand usage guidelines collection. You can have a look at Amazon's brand manual here to get a feeling of what you can incorporate in your visual identity.
Once you've got all those above ready, you can begin expanding your brand to other areas. There are two large areas your brand needs to shine in, and they are independent from one another:
1. Within the company: what does your brand mean for your team? What is the message you are sending to your employees? For example Zappos strongly supports handling customer service in the best way possible. Zappos customer service went so far as to register a 9h and 37 minutes call with a customer that needed support on choosing the right shoes.
The brand can be implemented within the company through signage (remember the large company logos in call-centers or warehouses), company communication but mostly through the culture the company will build.
2. Outside the company: Your brand will meet your customers. There are some very important touch points you will need to keep in check and see how the customer perceives your online store:
(Examples of Amazon using its brand on different supports)
When everything is in place and you have your brand ready to go out and face the customers, it's time to build the online store.
To do so you will have to go through:
Ecommerce applications are usually targeted at two types of users
I will not get into too much details regarding what large retailers use but if you want too, you can check them out here.
Instead, I will focus on guiding you through the four most popular options for small and medium retailers. In the end, you will have to decide which one is best for you.
Before I go any further I would like you to have a look at this chart from Google Trends showing how many searches for each of these applications have been registered in the past. This is a great way to see how popular each of them is and what could you expect in the future.
The graph above shows how the four most popular solutions for ecommerce have evolved throughout the years in terms of Google searches. You can see Magento at the top, Prestashop right beneath it, WordPress ecommerce at the bottom and Shopify growing like crazy. Let's have a look at what ech of these tools has to offer.
Magento is owned by Ebay Inc and works as an open-source application. It first hit the digital shelves in 2001 so it packs quite a lot of experience.
It is estimated that roughly 250 000 stores are now powered by Magento. It is usually used by medium sized retailers because of these reasons:
There are however, some cons:
Long story short: Magento is fit for medium to larger retailers. It is usually installed on your own hardware (server) so beyond development costs you will also need to take into account hosting costs. Development and server costs usually top everyone else on this list. However, it makes up in stability and features what it lacks in cost structure.
There are now more than 200 000 stores using Prestashop. The company started in France and is now a global player that aims for Magento's spot. Unlike Magento, it can be used both as a hosted solution (on your own server) or as a cloud solution (where you pay a standard monthly fee for the right to use it).
It's easier to find developers that can handle Prestashop's structure so development costs could be lower. It's targeted at smaller retailers (usually startups) and you can read a full review here.
All in all Prestashop is a great choice for small to medium online stores so it's definitely worth checking it out. It may not get you to $1 billion in sales but performs great for startups. It's highly customizable and easy to manage.
Shopify is the great challenger on this list. It works great for small startups, you can start using right away, its pricing structure is great and you get tons of apps you can use on your store. It is the fastest growing solution right now and it is used by 150 000 online stores.
Not only that but the company is really well funded. It recently received $100 million in venture capital and now it aims to work as a cloud platform for both online and offline small sellers. Although it started as an online store solution, it now works for offline retailers through its Shopify POS solution.
The fact is Shopify is the most promising solution on this list. It is well funded so it probably won't close shop any time soon, it is the fastest growing and its app and themes ecosystem makes it perfect for the ecommerce entrepreneur. You may need to switch to another solution once you go big but until then – everything works just great.
Although WordPress is not technically an ecommerce application, it evolved beyond its blog youth and its content management adulthood. Using ecommerce themes such as these, shop owners can easily extend WordPress beyond content management.
What WordPress lacks in native ecommerce support it more than makes up in developer community, theme and plugins support. At the moment 74.6 million websites rely on WordPress. Out of this huge figure more than 50% are self hosted.
There are 40 translations for WordPress and WordPress.com receives more traffic than Amazon. These facts and others make WordPress quite a great platform for shop owners just starting up.
Unlike other ecommerce applications that are built with commerce processes in mind, WordPress is great at managing content. Products can be described in so many ways and content can be easily published. This does wonders for search engine optimization and communicating with your audience.
Oh, and remember that figure above? Check out the difference in searches on the term "wordpress" only, as opposed to the other applications:
That blue line up there, dwarfing all others, is WordPress. It has a huge user base and these users can turn their blogs into online stores.
Wordpress is a great way to get your store off the ground quickly and at a low cost. But if you want something more, you will probably need to look into other solutions.
( A visual comparison between Magento, Prestashop, Shopify and WordPress for ecommerce )
For all those solutions above, you will most likely need two types of support:
To do so, you will need to find talented and effective designers and developers on established online marketplaces. The freelancing marketplaces are pretty straightforward. Think of EBay for digital jobs. You post the requirements and freelancers will bid for your online store requirements. There are dozens of places to find designers and developers for hire but some really stand out:
Elance.com is one of the oldest and most popular places to find great programmers and designers from all over the world. There are currently 260 000 programmers and 190 000 designers listed on Elance.
Guru was founded in 2001 by Inder Guglani and now boasts more than 1.5 million members worldwide and $200 million worth of freelancing jobs processed through the marketplace.
Smashing is a very influent online magazine for designers and developers alike. As talent naturally gravitates around other talented people, this community jobs site is a great place to find those great freelancers to get your online store up and running.
All of the ecommerce software solutions listed in this post rely on themes and plugins to customize the layout and improve the functionality of your online store.
Both themes and plugins are offered by their respective developers either free or for a premium. You can think of plugins and themes as building blocks that you can attach to your online store and get it to either look or behave better.
You can find plugins and themes on special marketplaces as well as developer's plugin shops.
The best places to look for themes and plugins are the following:
When you've chosen the application you are going to use to manage your online store, contracted the right developers and designers and chosen the appropriate theme and plugins, you're ready to implement your online store. If everything is set so far, the freelancers you've contracted will know what to do. The overall process will be, in a simplified manner, the following:
Once the process is complete you will have an up and running online store, without any products or any type of content.
Content is any text, image or rich media that you will be hosting on your online store. As a startup, great content can mean great sales. There are two converging reasons for this.
The first reason is search engine optimization. Many of the people that will be visiting your online store and hopefully buying, come via search engines. You probably know a bit about how Google works, you may have heard a thing or two about search engine optimization but the fact is content is king. Great content is better indexed by search engines and can provide you with visitors you can turn into customers.
The second reason you should pay great attention to content is the customer. The customer needs to get as much information on your products and on your company as possible. Upload beautiful images, write extensive product presentations and say everything you can about your company.
And go beyond …
Here you'll find three great strategies to conquer your market with content. Explain your customers how to use the products. Showcase the lifestyle around your products and brand. The more content you will be pushing towards your customers, the more credible your brand and online store will be.
When you've added all the products and the relevant content, don't stop there. Optimize your product descriptions constantly. Start a blog and get people to send you their stories. Content is king and it will stay like this for a long time.
Once everything is ready to go live, you still need to do one thing: train the team. Segment your fellow team members and train them according to their responsibilities. For example order management personnel won't be handling product information so there's no point in showing them how to use these features.
The main areas where you will find features that team members need to learn using are:
Most of the ecommerce applications have their usage guidelines either online or can be provided to you when required.
So training should be done according to responsibilities, it should be done in an interactive manner and team members should be provided with a form of software manual or written guidelines.
Once the online store is set up and reflects your brand, the products are all online and the team members are familiar with the ecommerce software, you are ready to go live!
Wow – we've covered a lot of ground and by now you should be ready to have your store online. But there's one last chapter to our journey. Meet me next week on the final part of this guide, covering marketing, extending sales channels, testing and fine tuning.
You’ve chosen the best products for your customers, you’re spending top dollar for advertising and your customer service works great. Yet something seems to be missing. Your online store does not yet stand out. If so, you may be in need of some content marketing.
Now content – this is a rather big word and it may mean lots of things for lots of people. For me, content is about more than keywords stuffed on product descriptions or carefully changing your product title to match whatever Google is into these days.
It’s about your shop’s personality. It’s about standing out and standing up for something. It’s your story to the world.
So let’s have a look at five ways to build great content for your online store:
What do you do when you meet someone? You try to look as interesting, smart and great looking as possible. You wouldn’t just go ahead and show them your ID card and recite a bunch of boring facts about you.
You tell a story.
Ecommerce sites all have a story. At some point someone thought - hey, I can do better than my competitors. They decided to stand for something. Yet most of the times they miss the opportunity to show this. They get lost in boring and useless “About us” statements that fail to transmit anything else than the fact that someone bothered to fill in some words on that page.
Others, however, they make it personal. They tell everyone what they stand for and why should you choose them. Meet Warby Parker:
Warby Parker decided they would have none of that boring “About us” corporate double talk. No sir. They went on and shared everything the company stands for. The history, their social responsibility program, even why they’re named Warby Parker (Turns out they’ve named the company from two characters in a Jack Kerouac book).
The point: tell a story, not just a few facts about the company. After all, your customers are people, not robots.
So you’re selling lots and lots of products. That means you should be some kind of expert on how they could be used. As shocking as you might find this, your customers are probably not.
So tell people how to use your products.
Even the products have their own how to’s and user submitted gallery:
The point: make your customers understand how to use the product. You probably know a bit more about the products than they do.
You know who’s the best at saying great things about you? That’s right. You.
Don’t rely on others to say great things about your products. You know they’re great. Otherwise – why would you sell them?
Build a magazine for your niche and stick to it. Explain what your customer should do to look better, feel better, spend better. After all, you have already picked those “whats”. The times where media was owned by large corporations and they alone could make or break your business – those times are gone.
Just go ahead and build a blog and fill it with great advice, just like the good folks at Gilt.com did. The Gilt MANual is a great resource for men interested in fashion. It’s ran by Gilt and very popular.
And Gilt is not the only case where ecommerce sites built their own media outlets. Bonobos publishes great fashion advice on Equateur. Alex and Ani, one of the fastest growing online retailers in the US runs a great blog that showcases events, company news and things customers would take interest in.
The point: start writing and earn media instead of paying for it. It’s a great way to share insights with your customers and build relationships.
We’re reaching that point in the world where technology has evolved to a micro-level. Computers that used to be the size of large walls are now as sleek and light as a stack of papers, and what was once a brick-sized mobile phone has become the size of a small child’s palm. By now, computers are practically mobile phones.
More people in America use and own mobile phones than toothbrushes. Fifty-four percent of these phones are smartphones, and by 2017, there will be over 10 billion mobile devices. As mobile traffic rises, so too does the need for mobile apps. With 90% of Tweets and 40% of Google searches coming from mobile phones, the way to get and spread day is becoming handheld. While two years ago most of this traffic was coming from teens with cell phones (teens increased mobile consumption in 2012 by 256%, with the standard teen sending an average of 3339 texts per month), mobile usage has extended far beyond teens. Most recently, with the continual creation of mobile apps reaching out to various targeted consumers, many companies have begun a new form of marketing for the mobile online shopper.
In fact, four out of five consumers use their smartphones to shop, and the majority claim that shopping from their phones is more enjoyable than shopping in person. No more long lines, parking tickets, unnecessary purchases, or exhausting traffic jams – consumers can buy what they want, when they want, how they want. And it gets shipped straight to their homes. 56% of consumers use their smartphones to search for a store’s location and directions, 51% to look up product information, 59% to do price comparisons on products, 45% to write up product reviews, and 41% to search for coupons. Smartphones make shopping easy and reliable, even more so than shopping in person. With many stores creating apps or green “Buy Now” buttons, shopping no longer requires physical salesmen.
Not only do mobile apps make shopping easy, but it also allows for information about products to be spread more reliably. 78 – 84% of consumers rely on social networks when researching new products. By 2015, it’s predicted that the amount of goods and services consumers purchase through their mobile phones will total roughly $119 billion. Mobile coupon usage is expected to rise to 53.2 million, and retailers say that 67% see a greater value in having their customers use mobile apps to shop rather than shopping in person. Overall, mobile apps bring five times more engagement – both in the product being sold and in the dialogue between targeted consumers.
Ivan Serrano is a web journalist and infographic extraordinaire from Northwest California. He particularly likes to write about the technology world, social media and global business.
For a very long time publishers have been struggling to face a new, harsh reality: their business models becoming obsolete. As traditional customers were switching to the internet, publishers found themselves in a very tough spot. Their product, the information – became a commodity. Anyone with an internet connection and a blog became a potential competitor. News and content became freeware. It wasn’t quality content but people were reading it. For free.
Soon advertising money started to flow another way. More and more ad revenue got directed to internet companies by media buyers and marketing VP’s. Subscriptions kept dropping. People were now subscribing to these new thingies – RSS feeds and email newsletters and a bunch of other stuff. But they were all free.
Some publishers moved with the trend. Although a little late to the party, they moved online. They’ve opened web outlets and although it was a harsh decision – most had to give away content. They’ve tried to charge readers for reading the content they would otherwise find free. It was a failure.
Then came the freemium model and some had a bit of success with it. These were mostly financial-related publishers that addressed a information-hungry public ready to pay for quality content. The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg built sustainable not-for-free online business. Others had to find new ways to get paid.
The classified ad model and the job board came first. The solution was right there for anyone willing to see it. The classifieds were a model that worked great online, combining the need for C2C advertising and micro-payments. Jobs – everyone looks for one at some point. So why not charge people to post their openings. And guess who could target those willing to pay for these models. That’s right. The publishers.
Large newspapers and magazines alike were popular. By going online their readership increased. Using classifieds software they used the otherwise unprofitable traffic to increase revenue streams. It worked great. In 2013 UK publishers registered almost 30% increase in revenue with recruitment and classifieds.
But there was still room. The publishing industry noticed that a lot of those ads shown to their readers were ran by online retailers. With online retail you didn’t have to have the whole retail logistics to be able to sell stuff. You needed media and a partner to provide the right services.
As publishers saw their revenue switching hands, they too got ready to switch to new models. Below you’ll find a list of 4 models that now help publishers to sell merchandise to their customers. Some more than others.
The Atlantic decided to try selling merchandise online but was unwilling to build a whole logistics chain to handle sales, customer support and fulfillment. They did partner with Zazzle, a platform allowing on demand ecommerce fulfillment. The Atlantic forwards the traffic and endorses the store. Zazzle provides merchandise sourcing and fulfilment.
Among the products available on the store you’ll find clothing items, cards and postage, office products and even electronics.
CNN decided to go “big” with this whole ecommerce thing everyone’s talking about. Although it’s clear they’ve put a lot of effort in manufacturing a lot of stuff with the CNN logo on it – it really doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the 90’s web design or the CNN Store 9 to 6 open hours for the *online* store. These things really don’t cut it.
While it might not seem like a lot right now I bet the store was the bomb when people used to access it via dial-up.
While the New York Post seems to try harder than CNN, it’s still not proper. Although I am sure people just love to walk around in a $24 “New York Post” T-shirt , I doubt this is the right formula.
The merchandise listing is targeted at really die-hard fans of the New York Post… which I figure is not much of a market.
Cracked.com is one of the most popular humor websites in the world and provider of fun to american readers for over 50 years. Their store is built around the audience. It features witty copy t-shirts that appeal to readers.
The store is clearly a very important revenue driver (at least is expected to become) for cracked.com as the publisher promotes it heavily.
The New Yorker knows what readers love about it. It is The New Yorker’s style, elegance and wittiness that make it so successful. The store features products that people would love, just like they love the brand: elegant diaries, printed comics, beautiful covers and … well … umbrellas (?!).
Just like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair is a part of Conde Nast media holding. Its store is packed with beautiful premium photographic prints, illustrations and covers, items fans would love to own.
The National Geographic is in a league of its own. Not only has the brand built a strong online store but it also features its own collections, it sells merchandise that appeal to children as well as adults. Its gifts are wonderfully presented and really in tune with the brand identity.
Moreover NG runs a network of retail brick and mortar stores in the UK and US. As a multichannel retailer The National Geographic shows it can build a great retail experience, as well as provide the world with astonishing information on wildlife.
And that’s not all. Customer purchases enable The National Geographic to walk on a noble path. Its mission – to inspire people to care about our planet. It does that by helping cultural preservation, exploration and research and others you can find out about here.
Talk about a great selling proposition – buy stuff and save the planet. The National Geographic shows you can be a great information outlet AND build a great business model. It also shows the online store is a viable option for publishers trying to improve their revenue streams. If they try a little harder.
Long gone are the days people would wait in line to buy tickets. Conferences, plays, movies, sports events – they all have one thing in common – the business model implies selling tickets and organising the event. With innovative solutions event managers and venue owners can now leverage the power of cloud solutions, CRMs, mobile apps and a bunch of other buzzwords.
In this post you’ll get a look at the champion and the challengers. The market is split between marketplaces (such as StubHub), ticket retailers (some of which are rather large – see Ticketmaster) and solutions providers, such as Xing Events.
Let’s start with number 5 and count down to the king of the hill:
Cvent was founded in 1999 and since then it grew into a multinational company. Cvent is now present in more than 100 countries. It employs than 1400 people worldwide, and it just had its IPO in 2013. Hooray!
It’s mission is “to transform the events and meetings industry”. To do that it lists more than 200 000 hotels and venues all around the world.
As for its IPO – Cvent is doing damn well on the market. Unlike some other companies (cough.. cough… Facebook) they’ve had a steady growth right from the beginning. After listing their common stock at a price of $21.00 per share in august 2013 they had spectacular growth and they are now at $36.00 per share.
The company was cofounded by Reggie Aggarwal (CEO), Chuck Goorah (Sales and Marketing), David Quatrone (CTO) and Dwayne Sye (CIO).
Cvent may not be quite Mr. Popularity. I guess it has something to do with all corporate, suit and tie attitude their projecting, as opposed to a more Californian look. Nevertheless they are one fast growing tech company and they did steal the spotlight in 2011. That’s when they managed to raise $136 million – the biggest software investment deal since 2007.
After growing at a pace of over 50% every year until 2011 the company wanted to make sure they continue growing. In 2012 Cvent bought 2 mobile event management companies: SeedLabs (rebranded CrowdTorch) and Crowd Compass.
The company formerly known as Amiando was purchased in 2010 by Xing. Later on it was rebranded Xing Events. It’s worth mentioning that it was probably not a great exit for the company. Rumor has it that the €10 million paid for Amiando was not at all satisfying for early investors. Then again the company seems to be doing great in the last three years since the purchase.
Xing itself is not an overly popular company. It is a competitor to LinkedIn and that is a tough spot to be in. Being a german company they are doing pretty well in Germany. Zee Germans make up for 76% of Xing’s traffic. 90% of it’s traffic comes from german speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland).
It seems the joint venture took the best of worlds. In the last three years since the acquisitions, Xing, the social network, has been providing less value to Amiando than Amiando has been providing to Xing. Some fairly popular conferences organize their events and ticket sales using Amiando /Xing Events. One of them is Le Web, probably the most popular tech conference in Europe.
Xing Events’ best features are its integrated ticket sales / mobile app / entry management solution. It allows its users to create event websites, customized ticket shops and process payments.
The product is now an end-to-end solution for event management and ticket sales and it’s growing fast, allowing Xing to expand its presence outside Europe.
StubHub, now a subsidiary of Ebay, is the world’s largest marketplace for secondary market tickets. It was founded in 2000 by Eric Baker and Jeff Fluhr, former investment bankers.
From the largest ticket marketplace in the US it quickly grew into world’s largest ticket marketplace, now serving US, UK and Canada. It is now the go to place for anyone looking into selling and buying tickets for sports events , concerts, theater and entertainment events.
After being featured in 2006 in Fortune 500’s fastest growing companies, StubHub was quickly purchased by Ebay for a reported $310 million . The company has now over 1250 employees and it’s expanding its operations quickly to keep up with growth. The mothership, Ebay, is actually forwarding ticket sellers to StubHub, in an effort to consolidate the market.
Interestingly, on of StubHub’s competitor, Viagogo, a company that has so far raised $65 million, was founded in 2005 by Eric Baker. Sounds familiar? It should. He’s one of the two guys that founded StubHub.
Eventbrite is a self-service platform for managing and marketing events, selling tickets promoting events across social networks. It allows event managers to promote events and attendees to find these events and buy tickets.
The company was founded by Kevin Hartz and Julia Hartz back in 2006. Legend has it that after the two got engaged (notice the “Hartz”?) Julia moved to the Bay Area and helped setup the company . The platform was developed by Renaud Visage, current CTO and third co-founder. At the time the company was just a startup, Renaud was the only developer so for one year he developed, designed and maintained the platform.
Years later Renaud is still the CTO of Eventbrite. He is generous enough to provide those in the lookout for a roadmap to an $1billion company. Technically speaking. Here it is bellow:
In 2013 the company reported a total of $2 billion in total ticket sales, with $500 millions in the last 6 months. The company actually sold more in the past 6 months than it did in its first five years.
How did that happen – how could such a growth happen so fast? Two words: global expansion. Eventbrite started in the US but it’s now available in 7 languages and used in 179 countries.
“We… are ready to put even more power into our global presence” said Julia Hartz – Eventbrite President
Eventbrite has also acquired some companies on its way to the big payday (expect something big with this company). Eventioz and London-based Lanyrd were both acquired in 2013, after Eventbrite secured a $60 million investment, led by Tiger Investment Global. The reason? Same as above – Global Expansion. Both companies listed above are doing great in the global presence department. Eventioz is an event planning and ticket sales leader in South-America. Lanyrd is a great resource for anyone looking into adding small and medium events such as “conferences, workshops, unconferences, evening events with talks, conventions, trade shows and so forth“.
Ticketmaster is the granddaddy of all ticket sales and event marketing companies. It’s been founded in … get this … 1976. It’s the oldest and biggest company on the list. It has paid $388million for its three latest acquisitions, Front Line Management, SLO Ltd and Ticketsnow . That figure is 2.7 times bigger than Eventbrite’s total funding to date ($140million).
The company is the king of the hill when it comes to ticket sales for concerts. In 2010 it merged with Live Nation to create Live Nation Entertainment. Maybe you haven’t heard about the company but you’ve definitely heard about its operations. Besides its creepy “One nation under music” tagline, the company sports some of the most popular artists in the world.
The company manages artists, merchandise, tours and ticket sales for a bunch of artists you may have heard of: Jay-Z, Madonna, Beatles, U2, Justin Timberlake and more. Among them – this year’s media sensation: Miley Cyrus.
On the company board sits mr. Greg Maffei, a seemingly not very important person, as he seems not worthy enough for his own Wikipedia page. He is, however, worthy of being the chairman of Live Nation Entertainment AND president of Liberty Media. Just as with LNE – you might not be very familiar with the company – but you do know its subsidiaries. Among them: Associated Press, Barnes & Noble, Time Warner, Viacom and others. Mr. Maffei seems to also be a pretty hard working guy: In 2012 he was the 3rd best payed executive in the US Media ($391mill). You may want to have a look at his payment sources (see previous link).
So that’s where Ticketmaster hangs around. With the big guys. It has the backing it needs, it has its ticket sales outlets, it has two fulfilment centers in Texas and West Virginia. It has it all. So much that in 1995 Perl Jam accused Ticketmaster of excersing “a monopoly over ticket distribution and used its market power to gouge consumers with excessive service fees.“ [see source]. The Justice Department, of course, cracked down on Ticketmaster’s unlawfully practices … oh wait… it didn’t.
The Justice Department abruptly dropped the investigation without further notice. Of course that was a great decision for Ticketmaster. At the time the JD had its Antitrust resources stretched thin as it was investigating another company – Microsoft. Guess who owned 80% of Ticketmaster at the time? Well if it wasn’t Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Ticketmaster is still the leader after a not so glorious past. Its practices are often frowned upon. Scratch that – Ticketmaster is actually one of the most hated companies in the US, its competitors are catching up and the company hadn’t had a stellar year in 2013. The company is a leader in its field. A hated, feared, sieged leader and it is a matter of time until it loses supremacy.
So these are the top 5 ticket sales and event management companies. There are, of course, others out there but this is a pretty good place to start if you want to get an understanding of ticket sales and event management industry.
If in need for a more graphic overview on this post – click here to have a look at the “Ticket Sales Companies Infographic – Who’s Who”.
The next post will focus on the anatomy of these companies, their business models and trends that will change the way we sell and buy tickets.
Pinterest has been growing steadily for the past year and some think of it as a possible competitor to Facebook’s social media turf. That means they do very well in the growth department.
Money isn’t a problem either (at least not for now), as Pinterest is slowly digging through $200 million in funding, but it still has to come up with a monetizing plan.
Last year’s try with Skimlinks probably looked great in a board meeting pitch but it caused quite a stir when word got out that Pinterest was changing it’s users’ links into Skimlinks affiliate leads. The company was accused of making money of its user generated content (which everyone understood, as … you know … servers cost money), without their consent or an explicit disclosure (which seemed to be not so easy to understand).
That was definitely a failed attempt at monetizing Pinterest’s growing userbase and they seemed to have learnt a lot from that. In the post announcing the new feature CEO Ben Silbermann promises ads will be:
- “Tasteful. No flashy banners or pop-up ads.
- Transparent. We’ll always let you know if someone paid for what you see, or where you see it.
- Relevant. These pins should be about stuff you’re actually interested in, like a delicious recipe, or a jacket that’s your style.
- Improved based on your feedback. Keep letting us know what you think, and we’ll keep working to make things better.”
Pinterest is first of all popular. Not just in the US. All over the world. Users devote time into building, curating and browsing through handpicked photos of products, dreamy locations, fashion photos and many many others. Most things people collect and see pinned onto their boards do have one thing in common – they can be bought. And boy does it show:
All in all – Pinterest is the biggest social player when it comes driving relevant (and by that I mean paying) traffic to online stores.Yet not all industries are equal – some will benefit more than others when using Pinterest Ads.
You are probably guessing the leading industry but first here are the runners-up:
Travel pins account for only 2.5% off all pins but don’t let that small percent fool you. Pins get shared and in an industry where everything is judged by the numbers it helps improving your margin with a little thing called emotion.
Pinterest is great at instilling positive emotions and shifting purchase options towards recommended / shared locations. While it it was hardly worth the trouble to orchestrate a social media campaign that gets some kind of traffic rolling now everything will get easier with sponsored pins.
Home is the most popular category on Pinterest, with 17.2% of all pins categorized as home items. Not surprisingly either: 80% of all Pinterest users are women, more inclined to look into home lifestyle items and 50% of them have kids.
With an annual household income of over $100 000 or more for 28.1 % of Pinterest users, you can be sure that this is the place where you can market home related items. Brands such as Crane & Canopy actively engage Pinterest users and draw new products inspiration from the things they see trending on the social network.
The big winner is of course Fashion, for both men and women. When it comes to style, beauty and clothing, 11.7% of all pins are pinned under Fashion and those pins usually come from popular users, influencers and fashion media outlets and bloggers.
Think the previous numbers are pinteresting? Well get this – Sephora’s Pinterest users spend 15 times more than their Facebook counterparts.
Sephora’s Julie Bernstein is unforgiving when it comes to Pinterest vs Facebook:
“The reality is that when you’re in the Pinterest mindset, you’re actually interested in acquiring items, which is not what people go to Facebook for,” Bornstein said. “Facebook continues to be just a great customer interaction tool that gives us the real-time ability to dialog with our customer; it’s a big customer-service venue for us.”
There’s no denying that Pinterest is here to stay when it comes to online retail. It probably helps to be pinning even if you’re not dealing into Fashion, Home or Travel as pinners are buyers. But if you are selling these products then Pinterest Ads, a great addition to your Pinterest marketing policy, will probably bring a great deal of new customers to your business.
Twitter has recently hired Nathan Hubbard, former Ticketmaster president, to lead the charge on its commerce operations. This move is a part of Twitter’s efforts to pass the $1 billion revenue threshold by 2014. With its current revenues coming almost exclusively from advertising, Twitter figured it can unlock its social commerce potential, a market that is still untapped by most social networks.
While Twitter’s intention is not exactly disruptive or unexpected, it is interesting to have a look at some of the subtle nuances. Hubbard recently declared in an interview that…
“We’re going to go to people who have stuff to sell and help them use Twitter to sell it more effectively. One of the hallmarks of Twitter’s entire approach has been partnering. We’re going to take the same approach with owners of physical and digital goods.”
– Nathan Hubbard
Taking into account Hubbard’s words and the recent developments in social media and eCommerce some things are to be expected:
There is a high chance that Twitter’s commerce efforts might not be all that spectacular, as even the mighty Facebook seems to be running around in circles when it comes to commerce, but I am personally looking forward to see where their efforts take them.
Less than a couple of years ago Facebook Commerce seemed to be inevitable. It just seemed one of those things that are just waiting to happen. Yet it didn’t. After a promising start, e-Commerce’s wonder child just stopped being interesting.
How did that happen? After all – so many were jumping the wagon and everyone was just eager to tap into Facebook’s social market. Well … Facebook’s IPO happened. Its market cap dropped. It got dizzy and greedy. All of a sudden Facebook stopped being a revolutionary product. It stopped valuing its users, be them companies interacting with customers or users (sometimes) willing to have a virtual conversation with a company.
In may 2012 Facebook introduced “Promoted Posts”, marketed as another way for page owners to advertise their pages. It slowly, but surely, grew into a steady source of income and a few months later the company allowed page owners to promote pages not only to fans but also friends of fans.
It didn’t stop here. Sponsored stories were introduced in august 2012 and suddenly Facebook Walls stopped being ad-free.
Meanwhile, the Big Daddy of all social networks thought … “hey, there’s a lot of spam out there and people kind wanna spam each other on Facebook too. What if … “.
5 minutes and absolutely no second thoughts later, Facebook introduces … get ready … the option to send unsolicited messages to complete strangers. If paid. Wait a minute … isn’t this spam? Oh, yes it is.
While allowing advertisers to post ads on walls of people completely unconnected to their page, send messages to anyone on Facebook, whether they opted in or not, and generally ignoring the concept of privacy, the company still has the nerve to say … “The problem we face with the news feed is that people come to Facebook everyday, but people don’t have enough time to check out absolutely everything that’s going on” (Will Cathcart, Facebook’s News Feed Product Manager).
Really, Will? Really? So basically I, a Facebook user, don’t have the time to check everything. Unless it’s paid for and then I have the time to check it, even if I never subscribed, liked, opted-in or even thought about that particular piece of content.
Given this approach, where Facebook showed absolutely no consideration for either users or advertisers, it was of no surprise companies were going to pull back a little bit on their Facebook spending. Facebook Commerce, potentially one of the greatest streams of revenue the company could have tapped into, given the rise and rise of online commerce, was badly affected.
Payvement, a company providing retailers with access to F-Commerce features, just announced it will shutdown Payvement and its partner website Lish.com. The market reacted quickly to the news. Media’s backlash focused on Facebook Commerce but the bottom line is not just about commerce. It’s about Facebook’s vision. We know Mark Zuckerberg wants his company to usher in a connected world, with no communication restraints and no privacy. We also know that those who invested in the company early on are now pushing for financial results. What we do not know, and probably Facebook’s management doesn’t either is – what is Facebook all about? Now.
In order to address F-Commerce issues the company may need to take into account a different perspective on its product and market. It has to address some issues such as:
Right now the usual Facebook page post reaches approximately 7% of all fan base. Let’s say a Social Media Manager has the audacity to wish for its message to reach all of its fans. Remember – these are people that willingly pressed the “Like” button, knowing that means they will receive updates.
In the mean time – Facebook decides reaching the audience is unethical if unpaid for. Yet if you are a brand and you are willing to pay you can reach your audience easily. And their connections. And their inboxes. And soon enough – their mobile phones.
What is wrong about this is that Facebook never mentioned anything about promoted posts or limiting reach when the companies were developing their Facebook pages through ads, Facebook contests, Facebook content and others that were directly beneficial to the social network.
If you were a large retailer you would think twice before moving your ecommerce operations to a company that neither cares for your business nor does it have any clear development strategy.
The social network concept is out there. Facebook is not innovating anymore. At least nothing useful and visible. Soon enough it will be replicated by a company with a better vision and greater care for its users and advertisers. It is not the first social network and it certainly won’t be the last. Judging by current events Twitter and maybe MySpace (the new one is just amazing) might actually stand a chance at Facebook if they keep on this way.
Facebook is an engineers company. Trial and error was fun back in the day and it probably worked when there weren’t 1 billion users actively using it. If you think about it, Apple is also an engineers company but it evolved a human approach. They listen to their customers, even when they are not speaking. Unlike Apple’s, Facebook’s customers, the advertisers, are not really glad about their purchase.
How about the company puts a little more effort into improving its user and customer experience and less into imposing new features that usually help no one?
Facebook needs to think a little bit more on its overall strategy. It really has to figure out what the “F” in F-Commerce stands for. Mark, you gathered 1 billion people, you got this far, don’t “F” it up!
After dropping more than 50% since the IPO, Facebook’s market cap restarted growth following Mark Zuckerberg’s on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt. The company closed today with a 7.62% increase in its share price. Several factors could have lead to this fortunate turn of events but the keywords are: mobile, social search, photos and iOS integration.
On stage, Mark Zuckerberg made it very clear that Facebook is focused on mobile growth. A very bold statement, probably targeted at investors that so far have had their fair share of drama, was “On mobile we are going to make a lot more money than on desktop”.
Facebook has more than 488 million mobile users and the numbers are growing fast, due to increase in smartphone and mobile internet adoption. Recently the company introduced new ways for advertisers to target mobile users through sponsored stories. The advertisers were not so fast to switch to mobile ads, however: although mobile revenues are estimated at about $72 million this year, the figures are below Twitter’s estimates.
This situation is sure to change as Facebook’s focus seems to follow the mobile trend.
Probably the most important thing Zuckerberg mentioned was the fact that Facebook now serves 1 billion search results per day, “without even trying”. To put that in perspective – that is 10 times the number of Bing searches and approximately 30% of Google’s searches. Imagine that – 30% of the world’s largest search engine.
With social input Facebook search can potentially deliver better results than Google. After all, Google is not really good at answering questions but rather locating information. Facebook users usually ask their friends for help on different issues and this type of behavior creates a huge pool of data Facebook can use to answer questions in a very efficient way. Even “without trying”, Facebook has recently started monetizing its searches through contextual ads.
Zuckerberg mentioned that there is no hidden agenda in Instagram’s acquisition. They want to help the app grow and so far they increased exposure by 1100%.
Photos seem to be a very important area in future Facebook development. Although it’s obvious that photos have a positive psychological effect on users and increase revenue through photo-page delivered ads there is probably something that we don’t know yet.
iOS is the most popular mobile operating system on the Internet, with an astonishing 65.27% of all mobile internet users. Today Apple announced several news, including the long awaited iPhone 5, the new iPod touch and some social features based on Facebook and Twitter social relationships.
Having been integrated in the world’s most popular OS means big exposure for Facebook. Even more – it means an increase in revenues.
As I mentioned a few days ago Apple and Facebook were planning and started rolling out a deeper iTunes integration. Although Facebook is just starting monetizing its mobile users, Apple is one of the best at this game. Using Facebook’s social features Apple can sell even more, bringing a new stream of revenues for both companies.
It seems as though George Soros knew what he was doing when he purchased Facebook stocks…
Print is dying. You don’t have to be fortune teller to understand this. You just need to be rational enough to accept the facts.
After all print was never about the technological print process. It was about written content, ideas, news, thoughts. Along the way some people failed to grasp the changing media landscape and technology made the printed media obsolete.
The internet let individuals and smaller media companies reach potential readers. With low overheads such small editorial operations let the founders survive on advertising alone. “Free” content meant a larger access to potential readers. The increase in internet adoption, increase in online publishing websites popularity and increase in advertising revenue meant that in a very short time these websites became serious threats to print industry’s revenues.
Print publishers failed to adapt on several key moments:
1. The internet made online publishing possible: This was the most important moment. This was the moment a certain key element previously reserved to large media companies became publicly available. Anyone with access to a computer, internet, a few bucks could potentially start a online publishing company. Of course, funding was scarce, especially after the dot-com crash, advertising revenue was almost impossible to reach so most publishers decided they weren’t going to join the club. At the moment the decision may have sounded rational as there was no point in spending money on something that many considered a fad. There were no economic incentives so the publishers decided they were not going to risk established business over some geeky internet stuff. It was all downhill from here.
2. Online independent publishers started monetizing their audience: Through advertising online publishers started making at least some kind of money. With low operational costs some of them reached break even. However large media companies were still dismissive of this new trend as revenues were still way below their radar. Were this companies to seriously consider the online alternative they may have just detracted the public from the “free” advertising sustained model independent publishers adopted. Maybe, just maybe, a paywall solution could have been accepted were it proposed and generally introduced at the time. In my opinion Rupert Murdoch’s idea of pay per written content is not feasible on a large scale. It may work on a select few buyers that need accurate financial information, for example, but it’s pretty hard to impose such a model on, say, a daily news website.
3. Print revenues started declining: Even when revenues started declining large media companies were not able to seriously consider the online alternative. With a short term vision they treated their, by now existing, online division as the “town freak”. Rather tolerated then encouraged and developed. Focus was (and with most print-based companies still is) the print. That’s where the revenue (still) came from – that’s where they thought they should focus on. Wrong. Readers switched sides. Advertisers switched sides. The whole world switched sides. After all, Amazon is already selling more ebooks then hardcover and paperback books. Why wouldn’t newspapers and magazines get the same treatment?
The print companies faced denial, denial, denial and now they face survival. They now face the sad truth that print is going to die and there’s nothing they can do about it. Maybe just survive the crush.
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