What is Pretail and How Does It Impact Retail?

Ever thought what happens behind the curtains before a new product hits the shelf? Or what makes customers decide they love product A but definitely hate product B, although they are almost identical? Or what makes great products … well … great?

Many have and there is no clear answer to these questions. What works when Apple launches a music player may not work when Microsoft does it (Remember Zune?). There are many variables involved and no matter the size of your R&D budget, sometimes things are not going to go right.

But there’s only one way to see if the product is really fit for the market. That way used to be simple and a bit risky. Teams including marketing, product development, engineering and manufacturing experts would dream, design and build products. They would test the products on selected customer groups and if the results would look good, they would push the product to the market.

However even involving budgets, experts, consumer insights and marketing bucks, sometimes products flop.

Jamstick is a “portable guitar that teaches you to play”. It asked for $50.000 in crowd-funding. It received $792.000. Jamstick is a pretail success.

Two things changed this: crowd-sourcing and crowd-founding. Together they’ve formed a type of customer experience previously unknown: the pretail.

Testing the waters with crowd-sourcing and crowd-founding

In the past, teams were involved in trying to guess what customers would want. Now we can just go ahead and ask the them.

Pretailing is a term describing any activity introducing customers to brands or products, before the retail process. It assumes that using crowd-founding sites such as Kickstarter, inventors and innovators can test their concept before involving big budgets. Essentially they are asking potential buyers to invest their dollar-power in their product.

This, in turn, creates an experience previously unknown to the consumer. The consumer is effectively buying into a vision. Pretailing creates a new type of sales channel that works before the product is even manufactured. Unlike traditional retail, this type of commerce can shed light on what the market wants at any given time.

Pluck is a simple egg-separator and it was invented by Mark Fusco, a Quirky member.

Online stores such as QuirkyThreadless or Japan-based Muji have one thing in common. They use their communities to find the right ideas and products to design and develop. Quirky is focused on inventing cool gadgets, Threadless leverages its designer community to create t-shirts and Muji sells home&deco products designed by the consumers.

They all engage in pretailing. By tapping into the collective minds of their communities they can ask for the type of products most customers would purchase. Before they manufacture and sell, they ask what to manufacture and sell. This in turn creates a sense of belonging to the community for the customer. For the retailer, it decreases the risk of manufacturing and stocking up on lousy products.

Crowd-founding is another way of tapping into the market and pretailing. We all know Kickstarter but other, more product-oriented crowd founding platforms fare even better for this concept.

CrowdSupply and OutGrow.me are just two places where you can see what customers have backed before manufacturing. The products we can see there range from open source toothbrushes to one-wheel skateboards.

The results are amazing. With unlimited creativity comes an unlimited supply of innovation. And by tapping into a large market of early-adopters, only the products that are really fit for distribution get funded and survive.

Crowdfunding exploded after 2011.

Big retailers have picked up on the trend and are now using pretailing to test new products and improve their logistics to fit the estimated demand. Apple, for example is one of the companies that showcases products before they are available in retail stores, interacting with developers and customers to improve the experience.

Pretailing is a thing of the crowds

Beyond the crowd-founding and crowd-sourcing, pretailing can come from anything involving large numbers of potential customers. By tapping into online traces, retailers can get insights on potentially succesful products.

Pretailing can start with a simple research with Google Trends. It can be an analysis on the search trends on your own web store.

Who would have known? Apparently there is a growing demand for egg separators.

It can just as well be an overview of the most popular trends on Instagram. For example Crane & Canopy releases new high quality duvets basing their decisions on Pinterest and social media trends.

The conclusion is that in this highly competitive market, retailers need to engage their customers before they start the retail process. Pretailing means tapping into the wisdom of the crowds and extracting the perfect products before competitors do. It is not only a matter of product development but a matter of understanding the customer and providing the best experience on the market.

How to Start an Online Store: Part 5 – Ecommerce Marketing, Sales Channels and Testing

Here we are. The fifth and final part of the guide to starting your online store. It’s  been a fun ride for me and I hope it hase been fun and informative for you. Before we dive right in, let’s take a moment and go through a quick recap of the steps we’ve covered so far.

As you remember, Part 1 covered planning and finding the right business model. Part 2 was focused on registering your business, finding and negotiating with suppliersFulfillment operations and making your back office work were the main subject of our third part and last week we’ve covered branding, ecommerce software and content in part 4.

Now … it’s marketing and sales time!

During this section of the guide you’ll discover how to expand your reach through additional sales channels, market your brand and products and finally – how to test the main areas in your online store.

So let’s go ahead and have a look at…

Adding Sales Channels to your Online Store

First of all – what is a sales channel? The answer is quite simple: any method of getting products to the market so customers can purchase them. For example, your online store (the actual web store) is a sales channel. It showcases products, it tells their price and allows customers to purchase these products.

Let’s assume that by now you have already started your online shop. The web store is up and running and customers start showing up. But the web store should not be your only sales channel. Your customers are complex and their habits diverse. One day they’re browsing your store, the next they’re hanging out on Facebook and meanwhile they search product info on their mobile phone. You should be there also.

You could have your products lined up in a Facebook store. You could build a mobile app that engages customers outside your store and collects orders.

It’s not just online, either. Offline engagement shouldn’t be a taboo either. Maybe a brick and mortar showroom for your main products is not cost – effective. But you could set up a pop-up shop occasionally.

There are numerous ways you can add sales channels to increase your market reach and some are really easy to set up. Others are a bit more complicated but in the end it’s mostly about your product, your brand and of course your budget. Let’s see which are the most popular sales channels and how you could benefit from them.

Call center

Out of all the sales channels you may choose, one really complements the online store. The call center can be a simple line you for customers to demand information on products.

(Zappos’ call center is legendary and effective. It’s both a sales and suppor channel.)

 

It can just as well be a full fledged call center with operators answering calls and helping customer choose the right product, handling orders and managing complaints. It can also mean people calling prospects or indecisive potential customers or just plain cold calling sales leads. No matter the choices you will be making, the phone is a great connection to the customer and you should build a smooth phone support operation.

 

Social media

You could ask – isn’t social media more about marketing and communication, connecting and understanding your customer? Yes it is but it can work just as great as a sales channel.

For example – Twitter is testing purchase options (right now with just a few high profile retailers such as Amazon) and ways to drive targeted traffic to stores through offers. Pinterest is also testing options to drive targeted customers to your online store and they do that through their ads. That is great news as Pinterest is more efficient into turning views to sales than any other social network. It works awesome for industries such as travel, home-deco and fashion.

And let’s not forget Facebook. Being the largest social network in the world it is a place you should be digging into. For a while, the network was so popular with retailers that a term was coined to split Facebook commerce from everything else: f-commerce. Recently, the company lead by Mark Zuckerberg has focused more on advertising revenues than helping retailers get close to their customers but it is a great channel to study, nevertheless.

There are some companies that will make selling on Facebook as easy as it gets. And if a Facebook store may look like a great option for your store, this involves apps connecting your store to Facebook.

(Shopify, among others, built options for users to connect their stores to their fan pages and sell directly on Facebook.)

On the previous chapter we’ve discussed the most popular ecommerce software choices. Turns out most of them get some sort of support for a Facebook store by third party apps. Here are some of them:

  1. Shopify for Facebook: Shopify provides useful tools for store owners that want their Facebook fans to browse products and place orders directly on Facebook. These add-ons work as extensions for online stores that retailers can set up easily.
  2. StoreYa is a simple solution for owners of stores running on the usual ecommerce platforms. The company supports Shopify, Magento, Prestashop, WordPress and even marketplaces such as Ebay or Etsy. Although the Facebook Shop is their main product, they also offer other effective marketing apps for store owners.
  3. StorefrontSocial works with new and existing retailers to connect them to Facebook fans and allow for an easy store set-up. Unlike previous options, StorefrontSocial works as a standalone platform where you can either set up a new store or import existing products. It doesn’t allow for an existing platform connection.
  4. Beetailer is yet another option extending your existing store to work on Facebook. It integrates great with platforms such as Magento, Shopify, Prestashop or even Amazon Store. Plus – if you have less then 30 products, you get a free account so you can test and see how it all works.

There you have it – these applications are easy to set up and you can start selling directly on Facebook thus adding a new sales channel. And once you start adding sales channels, you now you have to look into …

 

Mobile Apps

What is the device you think customers use the most throughout the day? It’s the smartphone. Mobile usage has gone through the roof lately and its bound to continue.

(Number of smartphone users in the US (millions). Source)

So you want to be close to your customers. Mobile apps provide a special sales channel, one that’s personal and it makes impulse buying all the more attractive.

How do you add a mobile sales channel?

There’s an app for that. Actually more:

  1. Shopgate makes it possible to turn your store into an app. It connects with Magento, Shopify, Prestashop and other ecommerce platforms to enable store owners to build mobile apps. It works on both iOS and Android operating systems and provides support for both smartphones and tablets.
  2. Shoutem is not built specifically for eCommerce but among others it supports building mobile apps for your Shopify store. The interface is quite simple and doesn’t offer many options but it gets the job done if you happen to be a Shopify user.
  3. MobiCart works with established ecommerce platforms and can help you build your mobile app. They integrate with Prestashop, Magento and others.

Give mobile apps for your store a try. The more smartphones become a part of our daily lives, the more we will use them. Your store can benefit from users that are not strapped to their desktop or notebook. And speaking of that, a great way to interact with customers are the …

 

Pop-up Shops

Pop up shops are temporarily stores, in the real world, where online store owners can showcase their products and interact with their customers. The pop-up shop sales channel has really taken off recently and store owners have started adopting this online-offline connection.

(Adidas pop-up shop. Not exactly low-budget but hey – one can dream, right?)

Setting up a pop-up shop is a personal choice but works great if it’s posted either in a high-traffic area (such as a popular shopping center) or at an industry event. For example you could set up a pop-up shop at a home-deco event if you are a store selling home decorations. It is a great way to interact with customers and get feedback on your merchandise.

Companies such as Storefront help shop owners find retail space temporarily by connecting them with retail space owners. To help online stores they’ve put together an ebook that is free for download. I encourage you to have a look at it as it explains the main steps in setting up (pup-up) shop.

 

Online Marketplaces

Last but definitely not least – the marketplaces. Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Sears, Buy.Com, NewEgg.com and more. You name them. They provide lots of options to lots of users and chances are your next customers are there shopping right now.

( Ebay – the original online marketplace )

The reason marketplaces are the last on potential sales channels is because I want to emphasize just how important they are. Just like the “old” shopping centers, customers go to marketplaces because diversity means options and options mean they can find what they are looking for.

Diversity drives customers. It drives sales. So you want to be there but plan ahead before you dive in.

As an online store start-up you should be looking for as much exposure as you can get but still try to focus on the right marketplace. Amazon and Ebay are the obvious choice but before you join them you have to ask yourself:

  • are these marketplaces right for me? Not all that’s great is great for you. Just because they have traffic, that doesn’t mean you will get traffic and if you do, you don’t know whether that traffic will turn to sales. The most important aspects you should be looking for are exposure and sales.
  • can my product be found? expect to have competition. If you are among the few selling the product AND your product is popular, than the answer is YES, the product will by found by the customer. If your product is also sold by hundreds of other sellers, there are thin chances you will be the one showcasing the product. Try to make your product look special and attractive through copy, media and of course, price.
  • will my product be bought? If you have indeed managed to get customers to have a look at what you are offering, you must also get them to buy. Most important things are the way you showcase the product to create desire (“A beautiful hand-crafted lamp“), urgency (“A beautiful hand-crafted lamp in LIMITED offer”) and affordability (“just $49.50“).
  • do customers trust me? Marketplaces usually have some sort of peer-review mechanism. Customers can review sellers according to their fairness. Your reviews are your digital reputation. Positive reviews mean more sales, negative reviews can mean NO sales. So try to be as fair, effective and open with your customers.

Handling orders from marketplaces.

Listing your products on all marketplaces can seem like the right choice but it’s usually not. Each marketplace is a sales channel itself. You should be sticking to those that work for you and improve your experience there. Until your business is large enough to allow you to handle orders from more marketplaces, focus on fulfilling orders effective and quickly.

Most marketplaces offer some form of integration with your existing store and you should use those. Product information should be going out of your online store and orders should be synced with your order management system. This way, the order management team can have a single point of entry for orders instead of getting lost in a dozen of order management systems scattered throughout the marketplaces you are using.

The big ones will get bigger

Marketplace orders will continue to be a large part of your business. So large that they will, in the future, dwarf those from your online store. The reason is people tend to gather and shop where they will find diverse products and retailers. Just like in the real world. Online is even more so – marketplaces get even more traffic from search engines, have more money to spend on ads and are better at keeping customers returning.

Connecting sales channels

Each sales channel you will be adding will bring you more exposure and more sales if handled correctly. The sales channels I’ve described so far are the most popular ones right now. But they are not the only ones. As technology evolves, so will commerce. New channels will pop-up and some I haven’t mentioned here will probably increase in importance.

Think about the impact Internet of Things will have. Maybe in the future the greatest sales channel for groceries will be smart appliances. Think of a refrigerator than can place orders for customers when it’s depleted. It sure is going to be an interesting challenge to integrate those in a sales channels mix.

( Omnichannel means connecting all sales channels in a way the customer finds natural )

By adding sales channels you wil turn from an online retailer to an multichannel retailer and if all channels work seamless together you will become an omnichannel retailer. If you want to know what that means – have a look at Macy’s omnichannel strategy. And if that is not enough dive into this omnichannel report I’ve wrote to help retailers integrate their sales channels.

Marketing your Online Store

Marketing is one of those concepts that’s so hard to understand and yet so overused. Most of the times its meaning is so cluttered by useless acronyms and buzzwords that people have trouble understanding what it actually is.

I am not saying that marketing is easy. It’s not. Yet is not the Holy Grail of human knowledge either. It’s just communication. Talking, showing, describing products to the people most likely to buy it.

It’s that simple. The basics need to be simple.

If you are going to survive as an online store owner, you need to keep your marketing basics simple. You have a product. Hopefully a great one. There are people who want to buy that product. Most don’t know they want to buy it from you. You need to show them why they should buy the product you’re selling. You need to show them why they should buy it from you. And then, if everything I’ve shown you so far has been decently implemented, just let them buy it.

Everything else is gimmicks. If you’ve got the basics right, everything else will fall into place.

The market

To get people to buy your product, you need to know who these people are, what they want and how they act. Most likely not everybody will want your product. But if you’ve done your planning right, you pretty much have know a lot about your market.

Targeting demographics

Yup, your customers are “the target”. Why is it called that you ask? Well, because your communication targets them. Until the internet became the norm and we’ve started gathering more data than we can handle on customers, we used to define them through demographics. That means basic info on consumers. Age, sex, marital status, location, education … this kind of data.

( Pictured here: advertising in the 60s. Not pictured here: Google algorythms and tabacco advertising ban )

These targeting methods were made popular when mass marketing was just blooming, in the days of TV, print and outdoor ads made by the likes of Mad Men. When you ran your ad in the magazine or on national TV, you needed to know who’s going to use your product, make sure you understand their psychology and shout from the top of your lungs how cool the product is. Once the ad was approved, there was no going back. Advertising agencies would research, create and test the ad before the campaign was launched because there was no way you could change, tweak or even pull back a campaign in real time.

So demographics were the bread and butter when you would push your message to the market. But the Internet changed that into …

Targeting behaviors

Basically, if you were a mid-class urban wife with no college education in the 60’s there were slim chances you would receive ads trying to sell you repair tools for your car. Even if you were actually a mechanic. The same would hold true if you were a man and would be looking for a sewing machine to fulfill your lifelong passion of becoming a fashion designer.

You would have to find those products yourself. We’ve come a long way and thanks God, we now have the freedom to fix our own cars and sew our pants, no matter the gender

That happened when contextual marketing (the ads you might see when searching on Google), interactive marketing (information instantly delivered when interacting with say an website) or behavioral marketing hit the shelves.

The last one, behavioral marketing, is probably the single most important aspect in online retailing. Technology now personalizes marketing and responds to customer behavior.

For example Amazon’s recommended products (“See what others have purchased”) is a form of behavioral marketing that is based on a complex research on previous customers behavior before they purchased something. Simply put, when people would purchase something, their interaction trail (the products they’ve seen so far) becomes an indication that people taking the same or similar steps would most likely purchase similar products.

The ads you see on Google feature a similar concept. They are shown as to answer your needs. Some ads respond better than others at what you are looking for and thus have a better chance of getting clicked. Google trusts this system so much that they invoice advertising on clicks, rather than how many people have viewed the ad.

So basically we went from effectively targeting people to targeting people’s behavior. Still, demographics and customer profiles are very important and a lot of what you will be doing is to try to guess customer responses based on demographics assumptions. Such assumptions might mean you will favor ladies over men if you are selling women’s clothing (doh!) or rather more complex assumptions such as “Men over 32, employed and married are more likely to buy a family car”.

Indifferently of your assumptions, test them and always quantify your results with …

Analytics software

Here you go … numbers. Charts. Estimates. Hope Miss N., your math teacher, was your favorite back in school, because this is going to be damn complex. Nah, just kidding. Most analytics software is pretty much plug and play and the numbers and charts I mentioned are usually generated on the fly and in such a manner you can easily understand.

You can’t have marketing without analytics and research. Fortunately, it is a lot easier now for a small online store than it was 40 years ago for the largest companies in the world. What is not so fortunate is that it’s easier for everybody so you’ll have to dive deep and understand what your analytics are saying. So will the competition.

Once you have installed Google Analytics or one of these other ecommerce analytics software, you will probably dive in and see what your customers are doing. What you will want to look for is patterns that lead to increased sales. Special products, a certain type of copy, products featuring media versus those that don’t have media. Look for what makes your sales increase.

Targeting, knowing, marketing – the most important ecommerce marketing strategies for your online store

So you know the target, you have the analytics figures, now it’s time for the actual marketing. The web is full of resources to fine tune your online marketing understanding. I will show you which are the most effective ways of marketing so you will have a bird’s eye view on what makes an online store sell.

Search Marketing: SEO

As a startup there are really little things you can do better with smaller budgets than writing quality content and optimizing for search engines. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a really large concept and many people earn their living through SEO services. You will probably ask a SEO expert to help you find the perfect balance so your store will show up in search engine results. But before you do that, have a look at the basics. These are the things you will need to keep in check so Google will bring the right customers to your store:

  • content: write great and extensive content. For humans. Describe your product like you would want it described for yourself. Don’t do “keyword spamming” which is the result of cramming keywords in your description so more people would find you. It just doesn’t work that way.
  • code: your webstore is visible on customers’ browsers thanks to programming languages that output information in the way we are accustomed to. Search engines index this information and if you are to have your store indexed properly, you need the right code. If you are not technically savvy, better call someone who knows what they are doing. In the previous part there is a section dedicated to finding technical support when integrating your store.
  • links: get other (relevant) websites to post links to your store. Although not so important now as they were in the past, links are necessarily so search engines can find and index your web store’s content.

Email marketing

Ask your customers to leave you their email address so you can update them on news and offers. This is a great way to get people right back on your store.

But don’t annoy them and don’t do spam! Everybody hates unsolicited email. Make sure your customers give you their permission to send them emails. You can use apps such as Mailchimp or CampaignMonitor to save customers’ emails and then send them newsletters.

Social media marketing

Where would you go if you were to market a product? The answer is fairly simple: where people gather and interact. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest are now used by billions of people. That’s where your online store should be.

Just like interacting with friends, some things work better than others. Here are some tips on how to use social media to interact with potential and existing customers:

  1. listen first, talk later: social media is a great place to gather insights on your market, your products and even your brand. Some of those insights may not be friendly but you should pay attention to them nevertheless.
  2. focus on building strong bonds rather than gathering masses: it’s just like with your friends. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 or 10 000 friends. What matters is how strong your connection with said friends are. It’s better to have few, engaged fans rather than many fans that do not relate to your brand or product.
  3. find the influencers: some people wield more influence than others in their social circle. And they somehow do it naturally. You should get close to these people, develop relationships with them, show them your products and share content they might find interesting.
  4. provide value, not sales pitches: yes, your products are great but don’t bore people with constant product sales. Provide content. If you sell hats, show fans their history, tell them about the manufacturing precess, showcase famous hats. Make it interesting and valuable.
  5. be patient and constant: don’t tweet 40 times one day and than stop for a month because no one followed or retweeted you. Social media success takes time, patience and constant effort.

If your social media strategy is not going the way you’d want it to, there are always the ads. Most social networks provide ways for you to get closer to your potential customers, faster. Most people call them ads  . Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – they all provide advertiser with the possibility of engaging fans through ads.

And speaking of ads, one of the most effective way of advertising your store and products is …

Paid earch

Remember those Google ads I’ve mentioned earlier? That is Google AdWords, a very effective form of advertising that places ads on search results, ads that are directly related to your search.

For example, if you were to search for “cars”, you will be shown the natural search results AND special search ads. These ads are fueled by advertisers that pay each time someone clicks one of their ads.

You can be one of those advertisers. By carefully analyzing traffic and allocating search ad budget, you can determine with high accuracy the number of clicks you need to convert visitors to buyers. Because search ads are contextual, this means you can optimize your ads in such a way that only those interested in purchasing your product might click it.

However, paid search campaigns are usually better managed by professionals. Even though you might spend a little extra for someone to handle your ads, just leave it to the professional.

And one more thing: Google is not the only one providing the option for paid search ads. Bing does it and Amazon does it, so there’s room to play there.

Performance marketing

Performance – well that sounds nice. What is it?

Performance marketing is a broad term that means advertisers pay a fee depending on how well an action is performed. This action can mean showing an ad a certain number of times or making that ad transform into a special action. The standard actions you might want to encourage are:

  • clicking
  • downloading a certain file (say a product catalog )
  • showing interest in a product (the user becomes a lead)
  • buying a product

And because marketing people happen to love acronyms, you might find the info above coded in three-letter words:

  • CPM means Cost Per Mille (that’s Latin for thousand) – one thousands being the standard minimal block of ad views you can purchase to show an ad.
  • CPA means Cost Per Action – the generic code for any action you might define with those selling the ad space. It is used for sales and therefore sometimes referred to as Cost per Acquisition.
  • CPC means Cost Per Click – the cost you will be paying whenever someone clicks on your ads
  • CPL means Cost Per Lead – the cost paid whenever a visitor shows interest in your product

Performance marketing is sometimes used interchangeably with affiliate marketing. That is  more of a misconception, as affiliate marketing, though popular, is a subset of performance marketing. It works as a shared revenue deal, where the retailer shares a portion of the revenue with the publisher (the one displaying the ad), whenever advertising turns into purchases.

Affiliate marketing is ran through affiliate marketing services, that cover three very important aspects: they connect advertisers to publishers, they make sure all sales are registered and attributed to the right publisher and they handle transactions between advertisers and publishers.

If you decide to go along the affiliate marketing path, here are the most important affiliate networks that can help you sell your products:

  1. CJ Affiliate (formerly Conversion Junction) is the global leader in pay for performance programs. It is the home to many publishers that can help you run your ads.
  2. Rakuten Linkshare is the big contender to CJ Affiliate and a fast growing one.
  3. ShareASale is a great affiliate marketing resource for retailers. Slightly smaller as it may be, it is still very effective.
  4. ClickBank works great for entrepreneurs and content creators. It is effective and easy to use.
  5. Avangate is an young yet fast growing performance marketing company that’s focused on software and digital products.

Comparison Shopping Engines

A great way to get your product out there is place it in comparison shopping engines. These applications gather information from more online stores and show potential customers what is the best way to shop in terms of pricing.

It basically works for those that are price competitive so before you join such a program, make sure your prices are aligned with the market.

(Shopzilla is one of the most popular comparison shopping engines)

Most comparison shopping engines are CPC based and you will pay anytime people click your products, arriving at your web store. The top four most popular are Google ShoppingShopzillaShopping.com and Pricegrabber. Getting listed can draw targeted traffic and can mean a very scalable way of converting traffic to sales.

Other marketing options

So there you have it – these are the most effective ways you can market your new online store. But don’t stop here, don’t settle. Marketing in the digital world is usually a matter of imagination. Be curious and try new things that might be fit for your online store.

For example you can attract relevant bloggers to mention your store and review the products. You can put out press releases and talk to the media. You can  run contests and sweepstakes to increase reach and turn fans into loyal customers. Once you have the basics up and running, you will be ready to add more and more marketing options to your online store.

Testing and optimizing

Remember: your work is never done. If you want to keep your customers happy and sales growing, you need to constantly optimize and tweak your store. To do so you can run tests that determine what works and what does not. When testing you will be looking for either errors, bottlenecks or usability issues. Do so through:

  1. Functional testing: test your store’s functions. The navigation, user account, user login and others. Each needs to be thoroughly tested and improved
  2. Process testing: we are talking business processes here. These are things like managing orders, fulfillment, shipping or warehouse management. If your company process don’t run smooth, customers get their orders delayed, mixed or canceled.
  3. SEO testing: as I’ve mentioned previously, search engines will always be a very important factor in driving traffic to your online store. Check to see how you stand against competitors and against previous positioning.
  4. Mystery shopping: put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see how’s everything going. Place an order and see how operators behave, how long does it take for the order to arrive and more. You might find some interesting things there.
  5. Hot areas testing: some parts of your shop are more important than others. You can improve conversion rate through a careful  inspection and recurrent A/B testing of what you could call “hot areas”:
    • Homepage
    • Product page
    • Checkout cart
    • Payments
    • Forms requiring customer input
    • Mobile interfaces

Customer journey maps

A great way to see how customers interact with your company is drawing customer journey maps. These “maps” show your existing sales channels and how customers interact with them. Customers may find you on social media, browse products on the web store and place orders through the phone. This is a customer journey map.

When these journey maps get too complex you have to constantly test and look for signs of problems of sources of frustrations for your customers. It may be a poorly designed checkout cart or the voice of your phone operators. By understanding your target customers and their journey maps you can have a guide to testing what works and what doesn’t on your store.

( A blank example of potential sales channels. By connecting the channels you can draw journey maps )

Testing means improving and you should strive to make your store better and better. Little improvements and constant focus on making the customer experience better turns your store into a success. So keep testing :).

And that’s it!

We’ve got this far. Wow! Testing is the last section in our guide to starting an online store. It’s been a great ride and I hope these posts will help you build the store of your dreams. If you’ve managed to get this far I believe you are ready to start your own store. Give yourself a pat on the back for having the patience to get through all this data. It’s not easy, I know, but it is a lot easier than just starting a store and then figuring it all out along the way.

I am more than happy if I’ve managed to help you on your path to becoming an ecommerce entrepreneur. If this guide was useful to you, please refer it to someone else who may be in the need for know-how.

You’ve taken a large step ahead to running your own business and online store. You may be anxious and a bit scared but rest assured. So was Jeff Bezos when he started Amazon. Knowledge, hard work, innovation and persistence will get you far. Have a safe trip in reaching out for your dream!

 

Can Belly be an Omnichannel Loyalty Program?

Belly is a startup focused on loyalty. It launched in 2011 and has since grown to be active in 18 markets and more than 6500 locations. It aims to reach 10 000 locations by the end of this year and as things look, it might just do so.

The product works by allowing customers (aka “Belly Members”) to “Belly” every time they visit a “Belly Business”. That basically means scanning their unique QR codes every time they visit a partner location. In exchange, customers receive loyalty points that can be used to claim rewards.

The system is part old-school loyalty program and part gamification. Belly Businesses can encourage customers to keep coming back by adding increasingly valuable rewards, redeemable with an increased number of points.

Belly rewards at Doyle's Cafe in Boston
Belly rewards at Doyle’s Cafe in Boston

The product is free to use for customers. Locations that feel the product is right for their marketing efforts pay a subscription fee and get fitted with the nice iPad used to interact with visitors, belly cards and access to digital features in the app.

Belly cards
Belly cards

Features include data on visitors, social media marketing options, access to reputation management on Yelp and the ability to attract new visitors with the help of Belly Bites. These are special rewards offered by locations targeting new customers. By gathering data on users, Belly can recommend the right customers with special rewards based on previous behavior.

The company has been among the first to be featured in Apple’s Passbook and is also integrated with Google Wallet and Samsung Wallet. With these integration up its sleeve as well as its game-like approach, Belly can become one of the leading solutions in loyalty programs.

But to do that, it will have to connect both offline and online experiences, providing a truly omnichannel loyalty approach, ready for the next of innovation. That is not going to be easy as what may today means payments , tomorrow can include loyalty. Apple, Google and PayPal are hitting each other hard in this market. They can surely tackle smaller companies.

But the other way around is also an option. Loyalty can turn to payments so maybe there’s more than meets the eye for Belly.

Why is Apple Pay such a Big Deal?

Apple Pay is Apple’s take on mobile payments. It works by storing credit card data and then charging consumers with a simple tap to NFC payment devices. Most important: it’s a huge game changer in payments.

apple-pay-cook
Tim Cook presents Apple Pay

With this product, Apple unveiled its grand vision of a simple, secure payment process. It can store multiple credit cards, it’s linked to the biggest card processors AND big banks such as JP Morgan & Chase or Citigroup. For now, not all Apple devices support Apple Pay but just give Apple a little time. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus come equipped with NFC technology. So will future products.

The big news: Apple is betting big on this product and you know what this means…

The retail industry hates it.

That’s right, even though Apple Pay registered 1 million credit cards in the first week and users love it, some retailers decided they know better.

Retail chains such as Walmart, Rite Aid, Target and many more chose to bet on a different technology, called MCX. The acronym stands for Merchant Customer Exchange and it is a network of retailers offering mobile checkout options through a product called CurrentC.

Seems a bit complicated? Well the short story is that even before Apple Pay was nothing but a rumor, some retailers thought – “hey, why let Apple have so much influence on our sales? Let’s build our very own mobile payment system!” (not an actual quote)

Pictured here: Not Apple Pay
Pictured here: Not Apple Pay

So the MCX people built CurrentC. And by built I mean they have been struggling for years to come up with something that says Mobile Payments. When Apple Pay was announced, they went on and announced their own product.

The product is sliiightlty different from Apple Pay: it works only in the MCX network and works with QR codes. Plus it stores consumer personal info and connects DIRECTLY to the consumer’s bank account. No way that storing consumer data in the cloud and accessing consumer bank accounts could ever go wrong. Just ask Target (among those in the MCX) and Home Depot.

As the public decided they are not going to wait for CurrentC to show up, retailers such as Walmart and Rite Aid went on and blocked the technology that made using Apple Pay possible.

Now why would they do that? Why is Apple Pay such a big thing and why are these retailers so afraid of it?

1. Apple Pay links online and offline shopping

Amazon vs Walmart - 17 years revenue comparison
Amazon vs Walmart – 17 years revenue comparison

Ever thought of buying online and picking up in store? Or searching for an item in a physical store and asking store associates if it is available at another store? If you have you’ve probably noticed that service is lousy when it comes to connecting channels. Omnichannel retail is still in its infancy. To make things work companies have to rewire their IT infrastructure and get ready for a future where it doesn’t matter if orders are placed online, offline, in the mobile app or on the phone.

And that’s hard.

Big retailers have a problem adapting to this new landscape where the consumer is at the center of every transaction and operation. Everything is moving faster and the giants are not really that agile. For example have a look at how much faster Amazon is growing when compared to Walmart.

A large part of this change has to do with payments. Consumers now have to pay one way in the Brick-and-Mortar store. Another way in the online shop. Mobile shopping has yet another payment process. It’s frustrating and the challenge to connect all payment systems is a really rewarding area.

The mobile payments market is estimated at $90 billion and expected to grow. That’s why Google, Apple, Amazon, PayPal and even AliBaba want a piece of it.

So far Apple has managed to connect online and offline channels best. Apple Pay’s ease of use, integrated payment in Safari through the Keychain and many others make it a reasonable bet for the future.

2. Mobile Payments are happening, whether you like it or not

29% of Millennials would be willing to bank with Apple.
29% of Millennials would be willing to bank with Apple. Source

Mobile Payments may seem like a no-go right now. After all PayPal is available for quite some time on the mobile and Google has already launched and failed once with its Google Wallet. What change the future holds as to make Mobile Payments such a big thing?

The answer is Millennials.

The up and coming generation is now just beginning to earn and spend their cash but soon they will be a driving force in the economy. Unlike elder consumers, they have no problem bridging the gap between sales channels and they definitely don’t have a problem paying with their smartphones. IF it’s easy and secure.

In a recent Accenture study millennials were found to be ready to accept mobile payments. They were, in fact, driving the adoption in mobile payments. Among those surveyed, 60% did NOT use their mobile phones to pay. Their main worries: privacy (45%) and security issues (57%). Apple Pay solves both.

3. Everyone expects a revolution

The player that revolutionized the music industry.
The player that revolutionized the music industry.

Remember the iPod, the iPhone and iTunes? They are just three of the most disrupting technologies from the past decade. And they were all introduced by Apple.

The scenario is always the same: a large market in need of change. Market leaders were stuck in exploiting existing technologies. Everyone from label records to Nokia and RIM learned a hard lesson. When Apple goes after a large market, it will revolutionize it.

Apple Pay is a revolution and the MCX retailers know it. Right now they are negotiating their place in the future of retail.

4. It’s not just about the payments, it’s about the consumer

APPLE-PAY-COMIC
Apple, Pay!

Omnichannel payments is all about the consumer. Everything happens around his or her habits. The retailer doesn’t get to dictate what the consumer wants, when it wants it and how the product should be bought.

If you look at Amazon you’ll find that it’s just a very very large store. But is it? In fact, Amazon is a marketplace. An instrument for the consumer to choose from lots and lots of products (240 million in Amazon US), sold by lots of merchants.

At the core you’ll find the consumer account. The preferences, the brand loyalty to Amazon, the saved shipping addresses and others. For each Amazon user, Amazon is a PERSONAL deal.

But for now, those products can only by accessed through Amazon’s infrastructure. The big thing that Apple Pay does is putting your personal account for millions of products and hundreds of merchants where it should be: in your pocket.

By doing this Apple will take out Amazon’s and the likes most precious asset and liberalize it: The personal account. Walmart and the likes have misinterpreted Apple’s message. Their product is not an enemy: it’s the best tool they have right now against Amazon.

5. It actually works

Consumers love the fact that Apple Pay feels easy to use and most important – secure. It works online, offline, on the iPhone and on the Apple Watch.

Unlike Apple Pay, previous products were introduced as standalone products, not as part of an ecosystem and seemingly without any clear strategy and vision for the future.

Google failed and now it’s trying again with a new Google Wallet.

PayPal has maybe missed its opportunity to become what Apple Pay will probably be. Internal company battles and unclear strategy made the company lose sight of how the market is shifting.

Amazon too launched Amazon Payments but its focus on online payments makes it a NOW product. It really isn’t future proof.

Apple Pay works great and it works great for a large audience. Apple has a huge user base and this user base trusts Apple. They use the company products and are willing to allow the company to store their credit cards. In turn, Apple has not let them down: Apple Pay just works.

Top 5 Alternatives to Google Analytics, for Ecommerce

Say you’re running an online store. Chances are you are using or plan on using Google Analytics. It’s free, it’s popular and there are tons of info out there to help you get started and optimize your sales stream.

But there are downsides too. First one – Google already knows a lot about you and your customers. You might want to keep some things discreet, right?

Second – Google Analytics is an one-size-fits-all type of product. Sure, it has plenty of features but chances are you’re likely to get lost in some of those features. Even if you don’t get lost, you’re likely to spend a lot of time digging through somewhat useless data, while at the same time, missing out on very important bits of information.

Third – real time reporting is pretty limited, if you’re running the free version. Once you get over 10 million views you’ll have to switch to the paid version, costing you north of $150 000. But then you can also try some more advanced reporting tools.

Of course, there are plenty of traffic analytics tools out there. Some have really great interfaces and features. But as an online shop owner or manager, you have to look at what works best for your store. Have a look below:

1. Mixpanel

Mixpanel Funels
Mixpanel Funnels

Mixpanel is great choice for small and mid-sized business that sell. Whether we’re talking about an online retailer, a hotel selling reservations or an iPhone game developer selling game upgrades – it is a great tool.

Even the way Mixpanel tracks actions and charges users is a great fit for online retailers. Ecommerce sites don’t really need too much intel on page views. What really matter are actions – the number of times sometimes has clicked the “buy” button, the number of times users download a brochure or the number of Google Ad visitors that turn into customers.

Mixpanel calls these actions data points, and this is a great news for startups and mid-sized businesses.

It’s tailored around five basic functions:

  1. Segmentation – allows for better understanding of user behavior and splits user groups according to actions.
  2. Funnels – you might be familiar with funnels from GA. But once you get to know Mixpanel’s take on the funnels, it seems that something has dramatically changed. Funnels can be added on the fly and viewed retroactively, easily.
  3. Retention – it’s not just how much you sell, but also – who keeps coming back.
  4. People – unlike GA’s confusing take on users, Mixpanel builds profiles ecommerce store owners can understand. The system collects data that can be browsed individually or segmented. One great feature is the notifications option, where you can mail, send SMS or push notifications to users, based on automated or manually segmented profiles.
  5. Notifications – mentioned above, it is a great tool that improves the analytics platform, allowing you to also communicate directly to consumers.

Pricing

Pricing is free for less than 25 000 data points and it can go up to $2000 / month, for companies with more than 20 million data points.

 

2. GoSquared

The redesigned GoSquared app
The redesigned GoSquared app

GoSquared is a great piece of engineering and with its redesigned interface – easy to use. It serves over 40k businesses and it has a special area developed strictly for ecommerce owners.

When it comes to ecommerce, GoSquared packs a lot of power in a simple interface. Just like most other applications on this list, it puts a strong emphasis on the targeting users as potential customers and tracking their actions and behavior.

The Metrics work toward providing clear insights on how revenue is doing. The analytics tool provides info on social media influence on sales and data on best performing products.

One really useful set of tools is what GoSquared calls Predictive Analytics. Previously discussed on Netonomy.NET, predictive analytics can mix past and present data to determine possible outcomes in the future. It can be used to predict traffic, sales or best selling products, to name a few.

GoSquared also mentions their ability to send Differentiated Reports, based on specific team member’s needs. One for the CEO, one for the marketing team, one for the … well, you get the idea.

But if there is something that really sets GoSquared apart – this is the Developer API. Using this, developers can build truly dynamic online stores, that respond to customer behavior and profile. From info on previous purchases, location, language and others, online stores can be set to respond to specific customer needs.

Pricing

Pricing can be configured here and starts at $32 / mo for 100k pageviews and 100 transactions. It can go north of $640 / mo for more than 10 million pageviews and more than 10k transactions. You can test the application in a 14 days trial.

 

3. FoxMetrics

analytics-foxmetrics

Foxmetrics has some nifty features when it comes to ecommerce and online retail related options. It is light and easy to set up, it works on both web and the mobile and it is focused on helping you increase conversions.

Although Foxmetrics is not 100% focused on ecommerce related (they also provide support for online publishers), it does have some great features you can use:

  1. People – using this section you can understand customers and their actions and can sync this data into company CRM software;
  2. Ecommerce – Foxmetrics provides support for useful KPI’s and advanced reporting dashboards. Using customer data, it can build  product relationships, shopping cart reports and can respond with automated actions;
  3. Subscription is an useful tool for companies working with periodic purchases. The product can report user data, conversion and churn rate, as well as detailed info on separate plans;
  4. The Marketing and Triggers options allow for personalized marketing and response, based on referral and user actions.

Pricing

Although Foxmetrics does not provide a free option, it does provide a 14 day trial to test the features. Plans range from $50 to $120 per month and beyond, for enterprise users. However, as an ecommerce user, you’ll be stuck with the $120 plan.

 

4. Woopra

analytics-woopra

Woopra  is a great way to understand your customer and their history browsing your store. You’ll be able to get behavioral insights from customers, run advanced or preset analytics reports.

By tapping into Woopra’s Funnel reporting section you can discover bottlenecks in the conversion path.

The product also promises a good segmentation on best performing customer groups and even build segments based on funnels.

Pricing

The pricing starts with a free version that allows 30 000 actions (similar to Mixpanel’s data points). The small business plans range between $79.95 and $1199.95/mo.

 

5. KISSMetrics

analytics-kissmetrics

KISSmetrics follows a simple assumption: you must get to know your users … ahem … customers. That and the fact you should pay attention to their brand name.

The promise KISSmetrics makes is that all your data will be connected to real people, with real actions. Once setup, you can see where people are, what and why they buy your products and in some unfortunate cases, why they don’t.

Features include funnels, cohorts (groups with similar interests), revenue in real time and the metrics you’re familiar from GA. The things that really set the product apart is the data export feature for further analysis and its A/B testing options, both a great fit for customer profiling.

Pricing

Pricing for the KISSmetrics product starts at $150/mo for up to 500 000 events and goes up to $500/mo, when your webstore reaches more than 1 million events. Once you pass the upper threshold, just like all others, you get to negotiate your pricing.

 

PayPal to Process More Offline Payments

Ebay subsidiary PayPal is dead serious about taking on a $10 trillion market: the Multichannel Payments Market. To do so it will have to prove its worthiness against older companies, especially in offline commerce.

Multichannel Payments

A steady increase in Ebay's Revenue. Biggest cash cow - PayPal, 41% of total revenue.
A steady increase in Ebay’s revenue. Biggest cash cow – PayPal, 41% of total revenue.

With more than 140 million registered users already, PayPal has the sweetest spot in the online payments today. Its acquisition of global payments company Braintree secured an additional 35 million registered users. As President David Marcus puts it – this is a part of an effort to redefine money and payments into what he calls “Money 3.0” – a new way of looking at payments and how customers use them.

PayPal owner-company Ebay is at the front of what some would call a commerce revolution led by technology. Its three main branches (The Marketplaces, Ebay Enterprise and PayPal) all work together in this changing landscape.

The Marketplaces (including Ebay.com, Shopping.com and Rent.com) enable C2C Commerce, while Ebay Enterprise caters end-to-end multichannel commerce technology. Ebay Enterprise is the tech, operational management and marketing vendor for the likes of Toys’R’Us, Radioshack, Sony ant many others.

Between these two, the payment processing subsidiary PayPal leads the way in online payments. The company is Ebay’s most promising subsidiary, growing at 20% in 2013. As of 2011, it decided to go offline, allowing customers to handle their money, cards and PayPal wallets in one place.

POS solutions

paypalofflineTo increase offline usage, PayPal now offers point-of-sale solutions, mostly targeted at the new tablet-based counters. Store owners can easily implement its apps and start charging right away.

In an effort to increase adoption, PayPal started integration with third-party store management solutions such as ShopKeep POS, Booker, or Leapset.

Among its benefits for store-owners, Paypal lists security, quick implementation and an all-in-one approach to accepting payments, scanning barcodes, tracking inventory and sending invoices.

Customers willing to take their PayPal Wallet to an offline store account can pay by swiping their PayPal paycard, using their account or by paying online and picking up in store. Having a larger pool of companies accepting PayPal payments allows the company to securely handle all transactions, allow customers to receive loyalty points and handle all personal information.

Ebay and PayPal will stick together

paypal-growthSince Ebay purchased PayPal, both companies listed a successful increase in revenue. Ebay powered PayPal’s adoption to its marketplace users and in turn PayPal grew up to become one of Ebay’s most profitable subsidiaries, amounting to 41% of total revenue in 2013.

With the help from Ebay, PayPal grew from $600 million in mobile payments to $27 billion in just three years. The figures are posted on the 2014 annual shareholder meeting website, in response to Carl Icahn’s demand to spin PayPal off into a separate company.

Carl Icahn, one of the most notorious corporate raiders in the tech industry, demanded PayPal to be split into a separate company and become listed on its on. The board of directors fought his demands showing that even though the company is open to changes in the future, right now the two are working better together.

Luck would have it that shareholders reached an agreement to keep the companies together and handle the incoming commerce revolution as a whole.

“[…] we have moved aggressively to leverage PayPal’s integration with eBay to expand PayPal’s reach to millions of online retailers and to offline transactions. PayPal remains one of the fastest growing elements of the company – which helps explain why others are targeting the payments business but are far behind PayPal.”

John Donahue, Ebay CEO. Source.

 

4 Easy Ways to Better Understand Your Online Customers

understandingAdvances in technology have been revolutionizing the way businesses are conducted. They are also reshaping the landscape on how companies interact with customers. This is a phenomenon that is clearly observed in e-commerce. E-commerce is not only reducing costs but is also increasing efficiency and expanding possible revenues.

Because the Internet is facilitating interaction, it is now possible to instantly and easily understand online customers. A business need not spend much on doing traditional market research. Here are four easy, fast, and less costly ways to better understand the thoughts, behavior, and attitude of online consumers.

  1. Conduct or check out surveys.

Online surveys or polls are designed to determine thoughts and behaviors of online customers. There are many of such studies that cover your sector or industry. If you prefer results and findings that are more specific to your business, you may commission or conduct the surveys. It can be as simple as asking your customers to fill out simple survey forms online. You may also use the free online survey services that are available across the Internet. Survey results can give you an idea of how your online customers think and feel about your business.

  1. Use Web analytics tools.

To date, there are various Web analytics tools that facilitate better understanding of online consumers. The most common are analytics about specific keywords of key phrases that are most commonly used by consumers when using search engines for finding information or products they need. You can use the information to optimize the content of your own online site so that you can take advantage of opportunities brought about by higher search engine rankings.

  1. Check out customers’ testimonials.

You can find out how consumers think about products and services. Testimonials posted by businesses through their own sites may not be reliable as those could be biased. The best and most credible testimonials come from actual consumers who ventilate and air their rants and raves through online forums, discussion boards, and reviews. Check those out to find consumers’ actual opinions about businesses and products.

  1. Test the market.

This option can be quite risky and costly. It is advisable to check out the first three ways enumerated before finally testing the market. You may launch a small-scale product or service launch to determine if online consumers are really ready and are open to try out innovations and new offerings. Actual sales can be the best indication of what consumers really think. Testing the market can lead to two types of decisions: first to pursue or go on with your business activity and second, to stop what you are doing because the market is not yet receptive.

Author: Richard Fisher

About the author:

Richard has been involved in the online marketing industry for several years. After spending time working on user experience optimisation, Richard is now a strategist at Infinity Technologies, one of Australia’s leading ecommerce digital agency.

Tracking customers in-store. Where is the Privacy?

Did you know that stores use smartphone WiFi and Bluetooth connections to track your movement? Turns out that’s kind of a growing trend right now. Showrooming is ever on the rise so traditional retailers need to act on understanding customers better. Tracking phones is one way to do it.

privacy

There are some companies out there (their number increasing) that provide tracking technologies. One of them is Shopper Trak and I had the pleasure of meeting one of their representatives this week. The company uses a combination of WiFi and Bluetooth signal detection to count, profile and report on customer behavior. How do they that? By registering the smartphone’s MAC address.

What are MAC addresses? Good thing you asked. These are unique identifiers for your smartphone. Kinda like your IP, except they don’t change. That’s one great feature if you’re going to track returning customers. Of course – all of these informations are anonymized and encrypted, as Bill McCarthy of Shopper Trak convincingly told me a couple when I had the pleasure of chatting with him.

Working in tech for some time now – i’m not really so sure about anonymous data but the technology is pretty interesting and its applications can work wonders for multichannel retailers.

Being a online-first type of guy, I was surprised to see the kind of tracking you get with Google Analytics in brick and mortar stores. The first question that popped into my mind was – “Can you compare store tracking data with online analytics data?”. Apparently most of the companies that provide such a service do provide a form of data export that can be used to understand online-offline behavior.

WiFi / Bluetooth tracking is not that popular, due to privacy concerns.

The second question was “Isn’t this thing a little intrusive?”. Probably.

Comments on Nordstrom's decision to track shoppers behavior.
Comments on Nordstrom’s decision to track shoppers behavior.

Last year Nordstrom decided to find out more about its brick-and-mortar store shoppers. They thought they can get valuable intel by tracking who comes in the shop, which products customers buy more, what’s the return rate and others. You know – the kind of stuff all online shops track so they can improve customer experience and increase sales. Except they did this by tracking customer’s smartphones.

But Nordstrom did something that online stores don’t usually do – they posted a sign announcing shoppers they were being tracked. And the shoppers were not happy at all. You can see in the image on the right the kind of feedback they received.

Fearing increasing frustration with their tactics, Nordstrom discontinued the program.

Tracking in-store traffic with video cameras

Some of Brickstream's graphics are definitely not intended to address privacy concerns
Some of Brickstream’s graphics are definitely not intended to address privacy concerns

Atlanta based Brickstream uses a 2d /3d type of cameras to track shoppers inside stores, reporting on queue length and customers behavior.

Brickstream uses path tracking to understand and report customer routes. It also uses height splitting in order to differentiate between different demographics (male, female, child) and 3D technologies to “see behind obstacles”.

Their video intel is, of course, pretty efficient. Used together with mobile tracking- even more so. It is also a little scary for customers inclined to privacy concerns.

Are you are one of those customers? Than you may want to scan through info on the 8 major players in this growing market, Brickstream being one of them:

Companies providing in-store customer tracking technologies

In-store traffic traffic tracking is an industry lead by these 8 companies, with other minor companies quickly growing. The list is provided by “Future of Privacy”, a think tank based in Washington DC, focused on “advancing responsible data practices”.

Nomi tracks customers online and offline
Nomi tracks customers online and offline

One of the younger companies providing in-store analytics, Nomi, which recently received a $10 million funding, mentions the length they go to in order to insure customer privacy. The privacy principles they list on their website are:

  1. Collect, use, and share anonymous information only.
  2. Allow you to opt out of Nomi’s services.
  3. Use industry standard security practices to protect the data we collect.

So everything is cool right? Well…

Good thing you can turn of your Bluetooth and WiFi, if you’re concerned about privacy. Oh, wait…

So far there have certainly been some concerns regarding privacy. Retailers usually addressed them as quick as possible. And when that was not the case – customers could just turn off their WiFi and Bluetooth connection so they won’t be tracked.

As mentioned earlier the technology only works when there is some type of WiFi or Btooth connection that beacons can track. Without it – smartphones are basically invisible. But than Apple thought – hey, let’s change that.

One of the often left out features when it comes to Apple’s new iOS 7 is the iBeacon. The iBeacon is Apple’s response to NFC (near field communication). When an iOS 7 device comes within range with an iBeacon it emits a BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) response. It becomes trackable even when the above mentioned connections are turned off.

And Apple is really committed to using it:

Apple will track iOS users with iBeacons

The Apple Store Visits you
The Apple Store Visits you

The technology laid dormant during the past months since it was announced. Now Apple will instal iBeacon transmitters in its stores. When walking past such a device, iOS users will be notified of additional information they can read and save on their mobile devices.

The technology will offer in-store analytics to Apple, push ads and info to customers, assist in queue lines at the genius bar and of course help with purchases and payments.

Numerous other possible uses come to mind, mostly location based enhancements… Things like door opening for the blind, customized ads, personalized offers and many others will act as an usher in a new age of technology.

This new age, however, does not leave place for privacy.

Selling Office Supplies Online – 2013 Ecommerce Market Report

The second biggest online retailer in the world, Staples.com, made $24.4 billion last year. Apparently the office supplies online market is growing steadily and attracting unwanted attention from Amazon, while its brick-and-mortar counterpart is struggling with recession. Below we’ll have a look at the market overview, main sales drivers, top retailers and marketing.

staples-img

Let’s start with:

Office supplies online – market overview

Staple logo

The US market, as well as the global market for office supplies is heading to a small rebound, mostly due to a small decrease in demand and a  larger decrease in physical store space.

For example, leader Staples.com, is planning on closing 40 underperforming stores this year (out of a total of 1886 stores in the US and Canada), 10 more than previously announced. Challengers Office Max and Office Depot,  some of those late at the ecommerce party, have been blown even harder by reduced sales, as well as online retailers increased competition. The two companies are planning on closing 175 and 150 stores, respectively.

Multichannel experience through interactive kiosks at  Staples.
Multichannel experience through interactive kiosks at Staples.

On the other hand online and multichannel stores are doing great and Staples announced a new type of smaller stores that engage visitors with interactive kiosks and staff aimed at driving more sales to staples.com.

[Read more how retailers connect channels with Omnichannel Retail]

Staples.com is embracing showrooming and engaging customers offline to drive them to buy online. This means that the company is expecting a decrease in offline buying interest. It also means that the age of the behemoth stores is over and now customers will be expecting offline experience that leads them to buy online.

Office Depot also shifted focus towards a multichannel approach. Monica Luechtefeld, who’s been with Office Depot for the past 17 years restructured marketing teams into a single department, to offer a 360 degrees approach, focused on the customer.

 “Instead of looking at you as an online shopper, it’s an attempt to think of you as the customer of Office Depot. The more we look at you horizontally and look at the multiple ways you engage us and the multiple tools that you use to buy − one day a store, one day online, one day a call center − the better we’ll be able to serve you.” said Luechtefeld.

In order to counterbalance Staples’ and Amazon’s competition, Office Depot is also moving into a merger with Office Max, as WSJ reports. The two companies worth $1.3 billion (Office Depot) and $933 million (Office Max) will probably be trading stocks. With almost 60 000 employees and $17.5 billion in combined sales, the two companies will decrease costs and increase market share, if the deal pulls through. Office Depot also tried a merger with Staples in 1997, but the deal was shut down by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Until the merger goes through the US market is shared by Staples (39% market share, also the largest office supplies company in the world), Office Depot (22%), Office Max (13.5%). These companies control 74.5% of the market so they are really setting the trends, and the trends are:

  1. decreasing brick-and-mortar store space
  2. transforming stores into offline experiences aimed at converting customers to online buyers
  3. increase profitability by increasing online sales
  4. focus on customer centric, multichannel marketing

Product segmentation and best sellers in office supplies

Office supplies are some of the most sought products online, up there with computer hardware and consumer electronics. The online market for office supplies totals $22.8 in US alone but not all office supplies are created equal. When purchasing online customers spend their money on:

  1. Office and school supplies – largest portion of total office supplies category – 45% of total sales. Among these office supplies account for 80%.
  2. Office equipment (fax machines, photocopiers, computers, recorders) amount to 24% of total sales
  3. Last but not least – stationary and computer paper account for 23% of total revenue, as stated by IBIS World.

Among the office supplies the ones that stand out are the ink and toner cartridge supplies. For office supplies retailers the fact that these product sales decreased in the past year meant a hard blow to the market cap.

Ink and toner Cartridge online market – opportunities and threats

ink-marketCartridge supplies make up for a large part of office supplies retailers’ margin. In 2011 the ink market alone was worth $14 billion globally so it’s safe to say that the market is here to stay, although growth has suffered due to global recession. New developments in ink manufacturing, online retailing and customer acquisition have changed the landscape but printer ink is still one of the most needed and expensive products on the planet.

As for the vendors, a recent study by Research and Markets shows top vendors as Brother Industries Ltd., Cannon Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Seiko Epson Corp.

The study also shows that among the key growth drivers there is an increase in demand for cheap, high-speed continuous-feed inkjet printers. Recent changes in technology are making possible for buyers to expect reasonably priced color printing.

Increase in demand for ink in labeling and packaging
Increase in demand for ink in labeling and packaging

Although the overall cartridge supplies market is not doing great, thus affecting leaders like Staples, Office Depot and Office Max, a few trends have really picked up:

  1. Labels and Packaging have increased demands for ink: part due to companies expanding into emerging markets but most important due to a ecommerce growth labels and packaging show increase needs for ink and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. A slower growth can be seen in commercial printing.
  2. There is a growing demand for cartridge refills: the global recession helped increase demand for cartridge refills. Information regarding inflated ink cost and news of printers wasting ink all helped pushing the consumer into finding new ways to decrease print costs.
  3. Companies are helping consumers recycle used cartridges in a move that helps companies retain clients, fight the cartridge refill trend and position themselves as “green”. Staples announced it has recycled over 350 million cartridges through its ink and toner cartridge recycling program. Through this program customers receive $2 back in Staples Rewards points and can be used either online and offline.

As such – companies looking into expanding ink and toner sales need to seriously look into:

  1. cartridge buy back and recycling
  2. refill options for customers
  3. loyalty programs that offer incentives such as buyback points or discounts

Markets and marketing for office supplies online

When it comes to customers, the main targets a office supply retailer has are, according to IBIS World:

  • Households make up the largest share of all sales, with 50% of total revenue
  • Businesses amount to 45% of total revenue
  • Government is just a small part of office supplies sales (5%)

When it comes to marketing and customer care, it seems that most office supplies retailers are moving towards a multichannel approach as to leverage the existing stores and maximize profit. Customer care and retention, location based marketing, mobile marketing, direct marketing and social media also seem to be playing a big role when it comes to customer acquisition and retention.

Customer care and retention – loyalty programs

teacher-programA very important part in Staples.com customer care is their Staples Rewards program. Every purchase offers customers 5% back in online/offline purchases as well as free shipping. Customers can redeem rewards when buying from a physical store, online or on their mobile device, thus ensuring a multichannel experience.

As a very large chunk of the market are households, usually families with one or more children, Staples.com now offers a program targeted at parents and teachers. Parents can offer a teacher of their choice a chance to earn as much as $2000 a year, in reward points.

Office Max also offers a loyalty program – MaxPerks – that allows customers to receive 5% off every purchase in rewards,  rewards on cartridge recycling, and other bonus rewards.

Using mobile to connect multichannel customers

staplesmobileOffice supplies retailers use mobile to leverage increased mobile commerce traffic, drive foot traffic in store, helping customers find product information and help them check rewards quickly.

When it comes to mobile the largest player on the market, Staples.com is using both a scaled-down mobile version of the site, as well as native apps on iOS and Android.

The mobile experience is extremely easy to use and focuses on:

  1. hot deals
  2. store locators
  3. reward points
Office Depot Mobile
Office Depot Mobile

Office Depot also offers a mobile version, as well as iOS / Android native app but it features more information regarding products and a clearly visible “ink finder” section.

It is clear that both companies are really working on providing their customers with a great mobile experience and help them find the best deals and the right products quickly.

Staples.com has really set a target at providing the best mobile approach it can and Brian Tilzer, VP of Global Ecommerce declared:

“More and more shoppers are turning to their mobile devices as a way to research and shop whenever and wherever they want.  Staples is thinking ahead and anticipating customers’ needs, providing an offering that not only serves as an m-commerce tool but listens to, and solves, customers’ pain points.”

 

Social media

When it comes to social media there is no really big winner and tactics and strategies are really similar. Some overall trends seem to be more prevalent though:

  • social media engagement – companies such as Staples, Office Depot and Office Max are all channeling their efforts to discussing new products and  deals, occasionally engaging in social responsibility programs such as Office Depot’s “Stop Bullying”
  • deals apps – wether it’s Staples’ “Weekly Ad” or Office Depot’s “Weekly Deals”, the companies are showcasing their best offers wherever they can. That includes Social Media.
  • companies have a cross-channel social media approach, as seen here.

Direct marketing / customer targeting

Traditionally direct marketing has been one of the best marketing and sales channels before ecommerce started getting traction. Now companies need to face a world where the customer expects real-time, personalized offers.

Amazon is closing in with its beta Amazon Supply, an online store targeting office and home supplies. As such, Staples needed to find a way to fight fire with fire and acquired Runa, a California-based software company that specializes in personalized shopping. The company analyzes browsing history, previous purchases to create a virtual profile for the customer and predict what products would he be interested in.

Profiling is clearly the key to direct marketing as customers are looking into personalized offers and expect companies to provide them with it.

Key take aways:

If you’ve read so far, let’s just assume you’ve probably missed a couple of ideas along the way so let’s just wrap this report with the most important take aways:

  1. office supplies brick-and-mortar stores are struggling and will soon be gone
  2. they will be replaced by multichannel retailers that use physical stores to showcase merchandise and sell online
  3. there are three big players in the office supply market in the US: Staples, Office Depot, Office Max. They make up 74.5% of the market
  4. the office supply market has slightly decreased. So did the ink market.
  5. new trends in the ink market: increased consumption in packaging and labeling, cartridge refills are up, companies need to provide recycling options to customers
  6. mobile is a very important factor in office supplies online retail as it bridges the gap in multichannel shopping
  7. Amazon is moving into office supplies

 

 

 

An Ecommerce Guide to Improve Holiday Sales

santa-claus

The holidays are coming and for most online retailers ’tis the season to be jolly. With shoppers starting their Christmas purchases as early as september, the holidays season starts earlier for those that really want to take advantage of this opportunity.

When to expect sales? Source: ICSC Spending Survey
When to expect sales? Source: ICSC Spending Survey

Most retailers expect 20-40% of their yearly sales to happen during holidays. Here are some things you should keep in check to insure optimum online store performance and increased sales:

1. Check your suppliers and stocks

It would be quite unfortunate if your sales would increase tenfold and yet you could not ship in time for everyone to get their presents. Say Little Timmy was due to receive a brand new toy but you can only deliver on the 27th of December. Too late.

Even worse – say you have one bestseller your pushing out there on the market and demand is so big that you’re left with no stocks after Black Friday?

These things and many others can happen and can leave a big impression on your sales, profits and customer retention so make sure you check your supply chain for any problems. Here is a brief list you should have in mind when preparing for the holidays:

Check your stocks inventory and your main suppliers

Have a look at last year’s analytics and see what products were most likely to convert users into buyers. Round up the total sales per product and increase that figure so you make sure you’ll be ready to supply the demand.

After you’ve optimized your inventory – make sure the supplier won’t bail out on you if you’ll still run out of stock. You never know when you’ll get your big hit.

Have clear commitments from your shipping supplier

Everyone will expect their purchases  delivered by the 25th of December. If you can’t fulfill that – you’re likely to lose a lot of customers. As such – make sure your shipping supplier is ready to deliver on time. Push for shorter delivery terms. After you’re done with that you should also…

Be ready for a lot more pick and packing

Remember – the objective is fast delivery. The fact that the shipping supplier delivers the next day may be useless if it takes you 5 days to pick (or order) and pack an order.

The Holidays will likely increase activity in the warehouse so make sure your fulfillment team is ready to handle a lot more work than it’s used to. If not, scale up temporarily. Can’t scale up? You can outsource your fulfillment operations to a third party logistics (TPL) supplier such as Fulfillment by Amazon.

2. Holiday marketing starts in september

Of course – that doesn’t mean you have to post Santa Claus pictures, snowflakes and Christmas Carols on your Facebook page but being prepared long before your competition can work out miracles. Here are some things you should get ready for, things that usually take quite a lot of time to prepare:

Sell Christmas Bundles  to insure up-sell

Great products need less marketing and bundles are great ways to insure your customer feels he’s getting more for the buck. Your best-selling products are usually bought with other smaller accessories. You can find out which are these by having a look at last year’s purchases and analytics.

Have a look at what people bought and how they bought it. Try to look for patterns in these purchases but don’t stop there. If you see that customers bought an Xbox, two extra controllers (one to play with and one to replace the one they’ve previously smashed against the wall) and the latest GTA – make it a bundle. Go beyond that and bundle up for a Playstation gift.

It’s hard to pick presents. Make sure you offer Gift Cards

Remember that ” ’tis the season to be happy ” part at the beginning? Well – turns out that’s kind of a lie. People feel depressed and anxious during holidays. Among the reasons – media overload, crowded places and a pressure to find appropriate gifts for those they hold dear.

Of course you can’t shut down the media overload but an online store is a great place to avoid the crowd and a gift card can be the perfect gift for anyone. Have a look at what customers are preparing to buy as Christmas gifts:

• Gift Cards: 59%
• Electronics (ex: TV, Computer, iPad/Apple products): 38%
• Apparel: 35%

Gift cards are not a maybe – they’re a must.

Improve your search ratings and email database BEFORE Holidays

How will you get customers to your site? Of course – they are buying, but are they buying from YOU? If you’ve planned to increase your sales during the Holidays you can be sure you’re not the only one. However – you can improve your results by:

  1. Improve your listings in search results: there aren’t many things you can “quickly do” (heard this like a bazzzilion times) but there are some, as long as you have a fairly decent search engine positioning:
    1. Check for lack of content – some of your products may not have an appropriate description or may not have a description at all, the title may be missing or misleading. If you’re new to this, a great place to start is Moz’s Begginer’s Guide to SEO.
    2. Structured data goes a long way when you go head to head against your competitors. Showing data regarding product prices, ratings etc. directly in search results can be the difference between a sale and an user that doesn’t bother to click on your link. Better have a developer include Schema.org structured data but if you’re curious to what this means – check out the “getting started” area on Schema.org.
  2. Increase your email subscribers database: Offer discount, vouchers, products – anything really but get those people to signup to your newsletter, before the holidays. When it comes to sales during holidays, a fairly targeted, permission based newsletter can do a lot more in terms of sales than your usual display or facebook ad.
  3. pinterest-drives-ecommerceImprove your Pinterest page – people on Pinterest like to buy stuff. That’s why they browse. Here are a couple of stats (you can read more about it here) that will make you WANT to improve your Pinterest presence:
    1. Pinterest drives 41% of ecommerce traffic, 4% more than Facebook
    2. Pinterest users are big spenders – at $80.54 average value per referred customer, Pinterest is doing better than Facebook ($71.26) and Twitter ($70.17)

Make sure your Store stays open through the traffic flood

Your Black Friday program will likely increase traffic by more than 800% . Most online retailers have an larger increase and the trend just gets better by the year. That means that in order to have your store open during the surge in traffic you should:

  • move your store into the cloud so you can easily upgrade used resources when needed. Don’t know what “cloud infrastructure” means? You should definitely catch up with IT reading because these things are not IT – only territory, anymore.
  • increase call center operators if you have a support line (hint: you should have one)
  • focus mostly on client service and less on marketing when the holidays are actually there. Client service sells, marketing just drives people in the store.

This short guide covers some of the most important basics. If these areas are fully covered – you should do fine during the holidays but make sure you come back to Netonomy.NET for more information.