How to start an Online Store Without Inventory: The 2021 Guide

Are you thinking about how to start an online store without inventory? Do you want to understand how such a business works and how to be on top of your game? I wrote this guide to help new ecommerce entrepreneurs get started with an online store without inventory in 2021.

My name is Mike Dragan and for the past 17 years I’ve worked with some of the largest consumer brands in the world to build and improve on their ecommerce strategy. If you ever get stuck or have some questions, do shoot me line and I’ll try to answer.

In this guide you’ll get an understanding of what makes an ecommerce business work. You’ll notice that, just like a car, the things that make an online store are usually under the hood. How you present them is obviously very important and I’ll guide you through the best apps you can use to showcase and sell your products.

As you’re starting your journey into entrepreneurship and starting a new online store the first thing you might ask yourself is – how do I start an online store without an inventory? Given the fact that you are probably low on capital this is a very important question and I’ll help you understand how to navigate this issue through finding suppliers, developing a “supply chain” and making sure you are able to fulfill your orders in a timely manner.

Here are the 3 chapters I’ll guide you through. At the end of this guide you’ll be able to start selling like a pro:

How to start an online store without inventory
How to start an online store without inventory in 2021

10 steps to start an online store without inventory:

Basically there are ten main areas you need to focus on when starting an online store without inventory. These are:

  1. Finding your niche and understanding your market. Building a go-to-market plan;
  2. Finding the right business model (how will you make money?);
  3. Registering your business;
  4. Finding suppliers, developing a supply chain, pricing the products;
  5. Developing a fulfilment operation (understanding how you or your staff will pick, pack, ship and handle product returns) and preparing for customer care;
  6. Building a brand identity and building your web store;
  7. Posting products and adding relevant content;
  8. Adding sales channels to your business;
  9. Marketing your store;
  10. Testing and fine tuning;

That’s a whole lot of bullet points but don’t worry. An online store is still a business and businesses are built by entrepreneurs just like you.

But keep in mind…

Starting your online store without inventory is hard work but you can do it.

This guide will work as a framework for you have to do to maximize your chances for success. Depending on where you are and the type of products you will be selling you may need to adapt as you go but you can rely on this framework to guide you through building your store.

So let’s dive in:

1. How to find a niche market for my online store?

“I’ll sell everything” is not going to work. You will need to find the right market you are going to sell products in. Especially if you have no inventory, your online store needs to be optimized for a specific type of product and consumer. This is called “product-market fit”. Basically making sure that what you sell has a potential group of consumers that will buy it from you.

There are three very important things to take into account when starting your online store and discovering your market:

  1. what value do you provide for other people?
  2. what type of value do you provide that other companies don’t?
  3. are there enough people interested in the products you are going to sell?

The first thing you have to understand is that your business has to provide value for other people.  Just as people do, businesses strive for purpose. Without providing value in a clear and straightforward way, you cannot expect your business to be successful.

Find out what people need or want. A combination of both is great but if you have to choose, go for need – it is way better in the long run. Find out how you can supply these products or services. This is the value.

The second thing you have to take into account is that other online stores may provide the same kind of product. Do your research. Google the type of products you want to sell. Check Google Trends to see how the terms for your products have evolved throughout the years. Compare the number of product searches with the number of companies providing the same type of value you’re planning on offering.

There is a dynamic between demand and supply that you cannot ignore. You are looking for a market that is booming but there are not many competitors. And that’s were the third point comes in: your online store has to provide value for lots of people.

You may like hoodies for cats very much. Hence the question – how to start an online store without inventory for my passion. Is hoodies for cats such a good idea? You are addressing people in your country (don’t think you’re going international just yet), who own cats, who think that dressing up cats is a good idea and who like hoodies. A pretty small market, don’t you think?

The lower the market size, the lower your chances for success.

To start an online store without inventory you need a large market you can make a dent in. The higher the market size, the higher are your chances at building a great business.

See the graph below on where you’d want to place your business in:

how to choose the market for your online store
Try to build an online store in the lower right section – few competitors, many potential customers means larger chances to success

So there are two great combinations that you can choose. Both need as many customers as possible. You should strive for a market where there are plenty of people ready to buy your product.

The best place to start an online store without inventory  is the one in the lower right corner – few competitors, many potential customers. That’s where few companies will compete with you and there are plenty of customers willing to buy your products.

To position your online shop there, you need to identify a need before the competition and quickly get as much market share as possible.

The other option to start an online store without inventory is the market where there are a lot of competitors and a lot customers. This means this is an established market and you’re more likely to succeed if you prove yourself better than the competition.

If you make small changes in the way you sell products you will be able to compete with established leaders. Later on in this guide you’ll see how to create innovative business models for your ecommerce store.

How to create a plan for my online store?

Once you have discovered the kind of product(s) you will be selling it’s time to start planning on how you’ll start your online store with no inventory. You will notice that I’m using the term “plan” – not business plan. That is because this is your plan. It has to come as a natural idea and set of targets you want to accomplish in the future with the business you’re building.

There are nine important questions you need to answer when planning your future online store. Try to be as clear as possible when answering these questions. It helps a lot when thinking about how to start an online store without inventory.

9 things to think about when building an online store without inventory:

  1. What products will I be selling on my online store?

  2. Who are my competitors?

  3. Who is my customer?

  4. How do I convince the customer to buy my products?

  5. I don’t want to hold inventory. Who will be supplying my products and how?

  6. How much will my products cost and what profit am I making?

  7. What are the costs I expect to have when running my online store?

  8. How am I going to cover the costs?

  9. How much revenue am I expecting in the first 3-5 years?

Answering these questions will get you thinking and preparing for the future. You will notice that these are actually the questions you need to figure out the answers to when building a business plan as well.

However, take your time to think through these questions. Find information to support your expectations. Question your own assumptions because the market will surely do so. If you’ve taken into account all these questions you basically know how to start an online store without inventory. Planning is an important part of building your online store.

2. How to find the right business model and make money with my online store?

You’re probably thinking the ecommerce business model is pretty straight forward. You post some goods online, someone orders them, you ship them and collect the big bucks.

Well, that is why you need to know that even if the logistics and operations may look the same in all ecommerce business, the differences can have a huge impact on how you’re building yours.

I’ll walk you through the 5 ways on ways you can make money with an online store without holding an inventory. Afterwards we’ll look through different implementations of the B2C model (business to consumer), the one you’re probably aiming for.

How to start an online store without inventory – the 5 business models I should consider

B2C online store

B2C Ecommerce is the most popular form of commerce online. The B2C stands for Business to Consumer and that’s exactly what it means.

Online stores (aka “The Business”) will deliver goods (either from their own inventory or from a supplier), post them online and sell directly to the customer (“The Consumer“). The Consumer browses an online store and hopefully buys the items posted online. When this happens, the online store team is notified. They wither contact the supplier to receive goods or they will pick the merchandise from the warehouse shelf, pack it and ship it to the consumer.

Most of the online stores you are familiar with are focused on this type of ecommerce business model. Some examples you might be familiar with are Walmart.comTarget.com or HomeDepot.com. The big difference between them and your future store you are asking the question – how to start an online store without inventory. They hold inventory and you will probably not.

But B2C is not just for the big players. Many ecommerce startups employ this type of business model. For example Bonobos.com and WarbyParker.com are doing just great selling directly to the consumer.

Bonobos is a fashion ecommerce retailer for men. The company manufactures and sells its own line of men wear and its main selling point is it makes shopping easier. How it does that? You’ll find out later in this guide.

WarbyParker.com sells stylish eyeglasses and sunglasses directly to the consumer. It is a great example of finding the right type of product at the right time and packaging it with the right type of social activism twist. When you buy a pair of glasses from them, a social mechanism makes sure that part of the money you’ve paid go to those in need of eyewear in the developing world.

But wait, isn’t Amazon a B2C ecommerce site, you might ask? Glad that came up. See, Amazon has started as a B2C online shop but since then it evolved past a single model. Most of its sales are still directed at the end consumer but Amazon also ships items to businesses (B2B ecommerce) through its Amazon Supply outlet. It also brings other sellers (businesses and consumers) in contact with its own customer database. This means Amazon is indeed the largest online retailer in the world, but it’s not just a B2C ecommerce website.

B2B online store

Another business model that works great is the B2B Ecommerce model. In this model Businesses sell merchandise to other Businesses through an online shop.

You might wonder why even mention this model. I mean, couldn’t those listed above just allow businesses to buy from their shops? Of course they could and most do. But here, I’m talking about a different type of companies, different type of products and most of all – different number of items purchased and different pricing.

how to start an online store for businesses
B2B ecommerce model

Say you’re a company manufacturing hoodies for cats. Supposedly your market is not as popular as the smartphone market and your factory can ship 1000 beautiful cat hoodies every year. You could, of course, open an online store and ship these hoodies directly to the consumer. But you’ll find out that it implies development costs, marketing costs, customer service costs and you just want to be in the factory all day, trying to finally manufacture the perfect cat hoodie.

Along come Business A and Business B. These companies are probably retailers and have an established commerce operation, with a huge database of customers and they think they can sell 500 hoodies this year. And they want everything you manufacture.

How to start a B2B online store and decrease marketing costs?

Before these companies came along you’ve done the math and thought: “My cost for each manufactured hoodie is 10$. I’ll sell these hoodies for 20$ and make a nice profit.” But then you went on and started selling on your own and saw that including marketing, shipping and other expenses your cost rose up to 18$ and you’re actually making only 2$. Not that much, is it?

But now both Business A and Business B decide they can offer you 15$ for each hoodie and they are going to buy everything you manufacture. On one hand they are offering you less than your asking price but in the end your earning 5$ instead of 2$ so you decide you’re better off selling directly to Businesses.

This simplified scenario is the basis of the B2B ecommerce business model. It means that businesses (either manufacturers or wholesalers) sell directly to businesses and offer incentives to those that buy in bulk. The usual incentives are lower prices, extended payment conditions, free shipping or custom manufacturing.

Some of the most popular B2B ecommerce sites are Quill.com, AmazonSupply.com and of course AliBaba.com, the largest B2B marketplace, connecting businesses in China to buyers all over the world.

By the way – if you are asking yourself how to start an online store without inventory – the sites above will become your go-to source to find suppliers that will send products to consumers when you receive orders. This is called a dropshipping model for ecommerce.

B2B2C online store

B2B2C ecommerce
Business to business to consumer ecommerce model

This is a rather new type of ecommerce business model. It stands for Business To Business To Consumer.

How does B2B2C ecommerce work?

Say you have your own stocks and you’re selling your cat hoodies through your very own ecommerce website and it works pretty well. But you’re thinking – why not sell more?

So you think of new sales channels, the type of opportunities where your cat hoodies can sell even better if exposed to a larger number of customers. Kinda like Amazon or eBay.

Larger retailers, such as Amazon, offer you the possibility of selling on their own website. You supply the goods and post them on the Amazon Marketplace, for example, and next thing you know -bam! – your cat hoodies can be purchased by Amazon’s customers. Same thing happens with an Etsy shop. Depending on your decision you can either fulfill orders on your own (receive orders from Amazon, pick, pack and ship yourself) or just let them handle the logistics, through their Fulfillment by Amazon program.

C2C online store

So we’ve covered businesses selling to customers and other businesses. Shouldn’t consumers sell to other consumers too? But they do and this area is actually booming.

Consumers usually meet other consumers through online marketplaces. By far, the most popular is eBay.com, the place where anyone can sell and buy anything. Even though eBay hosts businesses also, we will focus on the individuals selling their items through these type of systems.

C2C ecommerce model
Consumer to Consumer ecommerce model

The online marketplaces enabling C2C ecommerce help sellers post their goods online and buyers to find them.

There are many mechanisms in place to handle these transactions, things such as product showcasing, selling, payment and feedback. But if we were to look at what makes C2C marketplaces work this has to be the network effect and peer review. The network effect means that the more people engage in trading goods in a marketplace, the more people will come and more successful the marketplace will be. This effect also ensures seller and buyer lock-in: the more people are buying or selling, the harder it is for someone to leave the marketplace. The reason – where else will this person find so many customers or merchants?

The second big feature that defines C2C marketplaces is peer review. When you’re buying or selling through this type of systems, you really don’t know who’s on the other end. And because relying on luck and having faith in the good character of people is not the most efficient solution, marketplaces introduced peer review.

When someone buys from a merchant and they get what they asked for, they offer a positive review. When they don’t, and things take a turn for the worse, they slap the merchant with a negative review so others know the merchant is not to be trusted.

The same goes for the merchant. If the customer doesn’t pay up or somehow tricks the merchant – there’s always a bad review at hand to get things leveled.

Once these reviews start pilling up, they start working as a certificate of good standing (or bad standing). If you are a honest merchant or customer, you won’t leave the marketplace that stores this certificate. That’s because reviews are a valuable asset that help members trade in better conditions.

Why mention all these? Because building a C2C marketplace is really, really hard and expensive. For example eBay lost $100 million trying to enter the Chinese market before giving up to AliBaba. It’s that kind of expensive so I would rather advise against building a general C2C marketplace if you’re a startup.

You could, however find a niche where individuals are willing to trade with one another and cater to that specific niche.

For example: Etsy.com is famous for building the biggest handcrafted C2C ecommerce community. Uber and Lyft bring individuals in need of transportation in contact with those able to provide these type of services. In fact, Andreessen Horowitz, one of the leading Venture Capital firms lists Online Marketplaces as one of the most promissing directions for startups.

C2B online store

Yes, C2B (Consumer to Business) eCommerce is a thing. It might look a little off but there are great ways to start an C2B ecommerce business. There are also some great established services that help connect individuals to the businesses in need of their products or service.

C2B ecommerce model
Consumer to business ecommerce model

An example of Consumer to Business ecommerce model

Reverse auctions are a great way for individuals to post how much are they willing to pay for a certain product or service. A C2B Ecommerce site can collect these auctions and forward them to companies willing to fulfill them. For example – the basic model behind the likes of Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com is a combination between B2C and C2B. Companies post their offers but the consumers have to vote by purchasing these offers. If the minimal number of offers is not met, the offers are not activated.

Another great example of the C2B ecommerce model is Elance.com. The website is one of the first businesses that connected freelancers to potential contractors (usually businesses). Freelancers would go online, post their capabilities and those in need of their services would hire them for a limited time or project based.

Monster.com is another great C2B example. Yes, people posting their resumes and getting recruited is a type of commerce where The Individual is pitching The Business to buy his services (aka hiring).

If you’re an one-woman or man startup, this can be a great way to setup something quickly. In fact, most freelance developers or graphic designers practice this type of commerce. Either through large marketplaces such as Elance.com or just by posting their resume and portfolio online and getting orders through a simple contact page.

How to start an online store without inventory and sell to the government

The models above are the most popular ways to start an online store without inventory but they are not all. There is a separate class of ecommerce business models that has to do with the government. When the government wants to buy products or services from businesses it will post the tenders on a G2B (Government to Business) portal that handles auctions and offers.

If the businesses want to market their their offers to the government, they will employ a B2G business model. See that? G2B vs B2G – pretty simple stuff.

A final model is G2C – government to citizen. Using this model, government authorities can auction goods directly to the consumer. It also works as a way of connecting citizens directly to the authorities and decrease bureaucracy when issuing documents or collecting taxes.

Six innovative business to consumer ways to start an online store without inventory

Let’s say you’ve studied all these great ways of starting an ecommerce business and you finally decided on one of them. The vast majority of online shop startups are built on top of the B2C business model so the next part of this guide will focus on a few innovative ways of implementing an online shop.

The basics all stay the same. You are still an online shop owner trying to attract the right kind of consumers and provide them with products they will love. But how about some inspiration from the most innovative business models out there?

1. The right fit

Remember Bonobos.com we’ve talked about earlier? Well their whole selling point goes something like this: most men don’t really like shopping. They like to wear clothes that make them look good, without spending too much time choosing. We can make this happen.

That is especially hard when you’re an online store and your customer can’t see, touch or try on the product your selling. But it can be done. To make it happen, Bonobos mixed its great designs with few things to keep the customers happy and relaxed:

  • Ninjas. What? Well, not real ninjas but some pretty great customer service representatives that are willing and happy to walk customers through buying the right piece of clothing.
  • 365 days return. Not the right fit? Maybe the customer is too busy to return the merchandise within the standard 30 days. Why not extend that to  365 days?
  • Free shipping and free returns. This means the customer has no reason to drive up to a brick and mortar store to try on the products. Shipping and returns are free so basically everyone can try on their new chinos at home. If they don’t like them, they send them back.
  • Try on everything. Bonobos has a special kind of store – the one that lets customers schedule a “try on everything and if you are happy with what you find, you get your stuff shipped home” session. Also – preferences are saved so next time the customers wants to click-shop, he knows exactly what’s the right size.

The key take away is if you’re building an online store, it has to solve a problem. Bonobos solves the “shopping for clothes is boring” men problem and promises the right fit without the headaches of chasing a pair of pants all day.

2. Flash Sales

There’s a whole post on Netonomy dedicated to Flash Sales. Basically, these type of online shops sell discounted merchandise to registered members.

Take for example Ruelala (pic above). Customers have to provide the shop with their email address to register as a member. This means that basically anyone who enters the website is also subscribing to an email newsletter.

In exchange customers get discounted, usually designer or brand name products. If you like to know more about this ecommerce model, please click here.

3. The subscription pack

Most online shops have thousands of products listed. This is a great advantage over brick and mortar stores which have to actually stock on all those products. Online shops can stock on the minimal amount and later on deal with orders through supplier dropshipping but more on that later.

A new trend emerged that deals with showing just the right amount of products customers need in a given period and ship those products in a subscription based model.

Take Manpacks.com for example:

What Manpacks does is list just the minimum amount of products men need in any given month. Customers setup their pack and receive it every month, based on a subscription.

There are many advantage in starting such an online shop:

  • Predictability: because your revenue is subscription based, you can estimate your monthly, quarterly and annual revenue accurately. This way you can plan for the future and balance your company.
  • Economy of scales: having few products on sale and lots of customers means you can negotiate with suppliers better prices for the products you’re selling. This means you can also profit more and sell your products cheaper.
  • Marketing is easier: with few products in your offer you can simplify your marketing and communication and improve your customer acquisition (again – more on this later).

4. Community designed products

Are you familiar with the term crowd sourcing? It basically means asking lots of people to do something for you or your company. In this case, we’re talking about designing products.

What Threadless.com did was build a community around the concept of designing t-shirts. Designers would submit their designs and the community would choose what t-shirts were sold. In exchange, the website shared revenue with said designers.

Of course, going against Threadless now is probably not a great idea but you can always build a business by channeling people’s passion towards a commercial goal.

Key takeaways:

  • Community: build and stand by your community. It is the key to creating a lasting brand.
  • Share and save: hiring designers is a costly thing but if you can take independent designers’ ideas and turn them into products you can save a lot on fixed costs. But you have to be willing to share.

5. Customising for the masses

Mass customizations is an ecommerce segment that’s growing really fast. Customers want to express their creativity and they are ready to pay for this.

This type of online sales are technologically advanced and need three really important things to function:

  • a store that can handle customisation input for the customers
  • a system that transforms this input to a set of instructions to a production line
  • a operational structure that can customize products in an automated manner so costs are kept in check

For example Nike launched Nike by you, a great way to customize their products. After a successful trial period, the program extended to many of the company’s products.

If you’d like to find out more about mass customization, you can get more info at “Is Mass Customization the Future of eCommerce?

6. 3D printing

The final innovation I think you should take into account is 3D printing. Using specially designed machines you can build 3D objects and sell them to customers.

3D printing is a technology that is actually yet to take off but it sounds really promising. For certain products it can mean a reinvention of manufacturing and commerce. Imagine having your customers build the product in your store and having this product instantly printed and shipped. Imagination is the only thing that could limit what can be done with such technology.

Shapeways for example, started in 2007 as a marketplace for 3D Designers willing to design and sell their ideas. In 2012 it has passed the 1 million products sold threshold so there really is a market out there.

Because it is connecting designers to buyers, Shapeways is a C2C marketplace but probably the future will show 3D printing is not restricted to individual designers so B2C online shops might also leverage the trend.

This was the last of the six innovative ecommerce trends you could use to spark the right idea for your future shop. This ends part one of this guide. To wrap things up let’s walk through what you’ve learned here. First – the importance of finding the right niche and how you cult do that. Next, you’ve learned about the necessity of building your Plan when starting an online shop and the questions you need to answer when building said plan.

Last but certainly not least, you’ve discovered the main business models you can use to build your shop and six of the most innovative B2C ecommerce models. Pretty good for a day’s work.

See Part 2 of “How To Start an Online Store“: Registering your business, finding suppliers, integrating suppliers in your business and choosing the right product prices >>

Featured image source.

The 7 Most Important Components of an Ecommerce Business … that are usually ignored in 2021

Are you looking for the most important components of an Ecommerce Business? When it comes to ecommerce most of the information you’ll be able to find online is marketing related. Because marketing is the easy part. That’s why almost everybody assumes that all it takes to build an ecommerce operation is good marketing, a technological sound shopping catalogue solution and a lot of luck.

Listen to this post below or continue reading

Marketing and frontend ecommerce solutions are just the tip of the iceberg and in this post I’ll walk you through the most important areas you need to focus on (and you probably don’t) when building an online commerce business. Not site, not catalogue, business.

ecommerce-iceberg

What does it take to build a great online store?

No successful store was ever built on luck and marketing alone. Top online retailers got where they are selling great products at great prices, delivering fast and making sure that customers are well rewarded for their choice. That takes a lot of work in areas most of us never notice, areas such as:

1. Suppliers and supply chain management

You are or plan to be a retailer in an increasingly competitive market. It means a lot to come up with a great idea, drive good traffic and convert it to sales but you can’t do that without the right products, delivered at the right time, with a price the market is willing to pay.

Suppliers meant a whole lot when ecommerce was not around. Now – even more so. When it comes to ecommerce, suppliers can provide you with the right merchandise but they can also take the stocks burden off your shoulders. Amazon, for example, relies heavily on its marketplace partners to increase listed products number, without buying stocks for those products.

Key take away: before starting an ecommerce operation make sure:

  • you have enough and the right merchandise suppliers
  • they are financially and operational safe
  • they are able to provide real-time stock inventory
  • they are able to deliver purchased products fast

[Read more Supply Chain Management in Omnichannel Retail]

2. Warehouse operations

Post brick-and-mortar retail relies on electronic communication and product display. But when a product is bought it has to come from somewhere, right? Seal the deal with the suppliers and it’s off to the Warehouse, that magical place where online retailers pick products from the shelf, pack them neatly and prepare those products to be delivered.

Sounds simple? Well, usually, it is not. A decent store with its own warehouse operations has thousands of products at any time on its inventory, employs at least a couple of dozens of people to store products, pick and pack, and prepare for delivery. That’s why so many large companies choose to outsource their fulfillment operations to “third party logistics” suppliers such as ShipBob (cool brand, right?) or the ever-growing Fulfillment by Amazon so they can focus on what they do best (usually purchase the best assortment of merchandise, service customers and marketing).

Key Take Aways: A much larger post regarding 3PL/YPL (third party logistics) will soon be available on Netonomy.NET but until then, let’s have a look at things to consider when developing your own warehouse operations:

  • technology is the key – all 3PL service providers use technology (warehouse management systems) to know at all times where the products are, what’s the most efficient way to pick those products, who should be the person in charge for each package and others
  • think about the season – some seasons (such as the Holidays) are more operationally intensive then others. Be ready to employ temporary workforce to fulfill your orders
  • everything needs to be tracked and monitored – security and accountability are the key to handling large numbers of orders and workforce

3. Shipping and returns

Just as mentioned above your merchandise may be displayed and marketed online but it has to be packed and reach its destination in the real world. That’s why you need a good warehouse management and that’s why you need a great shipping service.

Shipping is usually an outsourced service. The best thing to do, unless you’re swimming in cash and you want to start competing the likes of FedEx and DHL, is employ one of the shipping providers and negotiate your way to a marketable shipping cost. Such a cost is likely to be, in the future, one you will be paying yourself – so pay attention.

Once you’ve contracted these shipping providers integrate their system with yours so you can streamline packaging and delivery.

Once in a while customers do not like what they’ve bought. You will need to handle the returns and reimburse customers for their purchase. Here you can team up with the shipping provider but your store has to handle all the communication.

Key take aways:

  • hire a shipping provider – It’s probably not worth it to have a shipping service of your own
  • pay attention to systems integrations when it comes to online store – warehouse – shipping flow
  • handle your returns as gracefully as possible – it may mean the difference between an unsatisfied customer and a lifetime brand ambassador

Before we skip to the next component I just wanted to make sure you’ve noticed I haven’t yet mentioned anything you would expect would be ecommerce related or innovative. So far – it’s just plain ol’ supply chain management and logistics. Got it? Great. Let’s move on to …

4. Client Relationship Management (CRM) – software and policies

Before even considering selling – you need to think about how are you going to treat your customer and keep him coming back. That’s where CRM comes in. While the term is usually used to describe a type of software, it is actually the term describing the whole policy on how are you going to handle interactions between you and your customer.

CRM needs to be “customer-centric”. Big words – but what do they mean? It just means that everything you do needs to be done “for the customer, by the retailer”. You need to understand the customer purchase patterns so you can recommend the most suited products. You need to record purchases, interests, preferred channels and basically all there is to it when it comes to understanding your customer.

Then act on that – after you’ve analyzed data make sure customer care, warehouse operations, shipping providers and even your purchase operations – all know who the customer is and what it wants.

Key Take Aways:

  • CRM is not just software – it’s a company policy on how to treat clients
  • Profiling is a must – understand as much as possible about your customer so you can serve better
  • “Customer-centric” is not a buzz-word – it’s common sense
  • There is no “client service department” – everybody working in an ecommerce store needs to know who the client is, record interactions and treat customers accordingly

5. Ecommerce catalogue and product display

Here’s one you surely expected, maybe not so down the list: your online store catalogue. Of course – this one is important. Without one we would be back to mail orders and inventing the wheel. However, as you’ve probably seen so far – it is just a small part of the whole ecommerce store business.

When it comes to it some things you really should be taking into account:

  • make sure you don’t over-design your store – your products are the most important items. Make them shine.
  • analyze and predict: predictive analytics is the practice of analyzing users behavior and predicting what would they rather buy at any given time. Read more about it here.
  • search, search and let’s not forget search: most of your customers will be using a search engine to navigate to your store (1) . Make sure your store is optimized. Once there, when in doubt, they will want to search for products (2) – make sure your site search works. Finally – when their order was shipped they will want to search for its location (3). Show them.

2020 update – Live Stream Shopping

As the world got more connected and customers began experiencing rich media on other platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat, they started expecting better shopping experience. Live Streaming became easier to do and the hottest trend for 2021 in online and offline retail is Live Stream Shopping.  With brick and mortar retailers closing stores and online retailers trying to improve the shopping experience it seems Live Video Shopping is here to stay.

6. Marketing and loyalty programs

I know, i know – one includes the other. But for the sake of the argument let’s just assume that maybe loyalty programs online are so important that they should be a separate item to marketing. Because they are.

Loyalty is really hard to acquire these days. Especially when it comes to ecommerce. Most users will be searching for the lowest price and buy from whomever the seller is. But you can fight the trend with loyalty programs such as:

  • rewarding purchases – reward your users with points they can spend on your store. It’s really effective in keeping your customers tied to your brand, as well as making them feel great about it
  • social shopping – make your customer feel like a king when he can give out discounts and freebies to its peers and friends
  • reward social media – most online users have some kind of influence in their micro community of friends. Encourage them to take part in your story, share your products and reward them with freebies, discounts and … well …sometimes “Thank you” is enough

As for marketing at large – there is an increasing number of marketing solutions you an use to market your products and store but not all are alike. Not all are as efficient. Focus on:

  • Search engine optimization and paid search results
  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Branding

They may not look like much but together the “incredible four of ecommerce” can mean the difference between a failed startup and the next Amazon.

Last but not least …

7. Showroom and offline purchases

What – you thought that brick and mortar is all gone? Of course not. Online retail is still at just 7% of total retail but growing fast. One of the things that’s helping it grow is showrooming. That is the practice of checking a product in-store and buying it (usually cheaper) – online.

Don’t think about ecommerce as online-vs-offline. Think in terms of customer. The customer wants to feel the product before it makes the purchase. So you’ll need to show it to him. Even a small offline showroom can work miracles for your online store.

So now you have it – online retail is a rather big iceberg. Most of it unseen. Check where others don’t look because that’s where you’ll find success in ecommerce.

Top 8 Online Beauty Ecommerce Stores in 2021 – How do they sell online?

The Beauty and Cosmetics category is one of the fastest moving digital commerce areas. It is a highly competitive and innovative market with large brands quickly adopting digital models and challengers innovating their way to the top.

The emergence of the ecommerce sales channel for beauty brands has seen a long wait. The time has come for beauty retailers to align with the customer’s demand and specific requests. For example, a recent AT Kearney study showed 28 percent of online shoppers use the digital media to get informed on products. They carry this information in stores where they are sometimes more knowledgeable than the store assistants, which may pose a real challenge for beauty brands.

The AT Kearney study shows that only 16% of all online shoppers are online enthusiasts. The rest either use the digital media for information or for shopping for products they are already familiar with:

Beauty shoppers split

Online shoppers are more inclined to shop for particular products, such as skin, personal and hair care. Products such as beauty tools and nail care are less likely to be purchased online, unless is a very specific product, one the customer is already familiar with:

In this post we’ll get a glimpse of the eight most important type of beauty brands that engage their users through digital commerce (also). We’ll have a look at a selection of global champions with different backgrounds and different models. From digital pure-plays to established brick and mortar brands, let’s have a look at some of the most interesting approaches to beauty and cosmetics digital retailing:

1. Amazon Beauty

As expected, Amazon leads the way when it comes to online beauty retailing also. Customers are delighted to almost 2 million products, including luxury brands.

Its Beauty category is the go-to place for most of online enthusiastic shoppers, where Amazon is available. And with Amazon’s shipment policies, that’s basically everywhere.

Amazon’s secret weapon lies in its free-shipping policy (for orders above 25$), a great motivator for online shoppers and a better threshold than challengers Sephora and Beauty.com.

Another great asset Amazon will use to gather shoppers around its beauty retailing section is the fact that more customers use Amazon (30%) than Google when doing online product research.

2. Sephora.com

Sephora is generally seen as the actual leader in the digital beauty commerce. Though it lacks Amazon’s ecommerce strength, the company is part of the largest luxury high quality goods (ahem…ahem) group, LVMH, packing a lot of beauty retailing know-how.

The company has developed a great omnichannel model that focuses on mobile as a bridge between online and offline.

One of the best things Sephora.com has implemented in its web store is the content marketing and digital assistance features. I’ve previously covered the subject and praised Sephora’s efforts to offer quality content, as praised are due.

The curated content customers find is a great choice to build loyalty. So is the Community where customers can browse among the knowledge base or post questions and interact with professionals.

As mentioned, one of the greatest assets Sephora has is its focus on digital rich content. Users are treated to:

  1. Sephora TV, the go-to area for video advice, how-to’s and trends
  2. Sephora Glossy – a fashion, beauty and style blog that offers great advice from beauty professionals in a great, visual format.
  3. The Beauty Board – an user generated gallery from customers that upload pictures to showcase how and which products they use.

Some other touches make Sephora a great choice for beauty products customers, not the least of which are the three free samples with each order (a great way to drive future orders) and the mobile apps that make us of barcode scanning to offer price info and customer reviews.

3. Beauty.com

Beauty.com is an online retailer so it has no apparent need or intention to leverage offline or omnichannel sales. It has developed specific filters and features to cater to customers that either know what they want and want the best price or they can quickly decide.

The auto-reorder option seems to be a great first step to a subscription program.

Customers can set an auto-reorder flag for certain products, which can be shipped each 30, 60 or 90 days. Before the order is shipped, customers receive an email notifying them and they can pause, skip or cancel the auto-orders. The customer incentives are savings and free shipping.One of the features that really stands out (they have a pop-up to insure it stands out) is “Auto reorder and save” option. Simply put, the online retailer has noticed the habitual purchase beauty customers take and leveraged it.

Another great feature that lets customers reach the right product is the filtering option which is set not only for product features but also customer concerns and specific needs. In the Make-up section, the eye category, one can find brand and ingredients options, but also filters such as concerns (acne, dryness or oiliness), benefits (curling, hold or smooth) and skin type. Unfortunately, the filters are not usable on the smartphone version of the web store.

Just like its direct online competitor (Sephora.com), Beauty.com offers free samples, free shipping for orders $35 and above, free returns and 5% back through its loyalty program. It also features great content areas, such as its Beauty Blog, with Romy Soleimani, The Latest Trends section reviewing product news and a Beauty Videos section, ranked according to customer reviews. A great no-no on the video section is the fact that videos embedding is restricted to affiliates only, leaving a lot of marketing potential untapped.

Download the rest of the report below:

Are Google and Walmart going into Live Stream Shopping?

It appears that both Google, through YouTube and Walmart are approaching the idea of live stream shopping, each from a different angle.

YouTube has disclosed plans to turn its large video platform into a shopping venue. It’s already used as one of the largest how-to and influencer lead marketing platforms so it’s only natural that they would consider it.

Why does YouTube live shopping make sense?

Video is big in ecommerce and live video is going to be even bigger. With its following Shopify integration, YouTube will simplify video-lead purchases.

What are the cons?

YouTube is an advertising powered platform. Simply put – it’s pay to play. Let’s say Sephora wants to market their products through YouTube. They would use influencers or their own associates. This leads towards the question – who owns the data? Not the buyer data, which will have to end up with Sephora, so they could at least fulfil the orders but the visitor data. This sits with Youtube/Google. This might have worked 10 years ago but it’s a bit of a no-no with any rational retailer. It still is a great choice for small retailers and this makes Shopify a great choice as a partner.

Walmart buys a 7.5% stake into TikTok. Why?

Oracle and Walmart have received the “blessing” for a 20% acquisition into the hottest media discovery app / social tool TikTok. It kind of makes sense for Walmart to do it but why Walmart? Are they trying to reach an younger audience and look dope?

Nope.

They want to get into live shopping. They’ve previously missed the wagon on a few ecommerce opportunities that took them a decade to get back. Now they’ve noticed the live stream shopping trend in Chine, see the need for it in the North Americas, especially US, and want onboard.

Why it makes sense for Walmart to go into Live Shopping?

Well.. duh. They are the largest retailer in the US, see a great change happening and want on board. Appealing to younger generations is a great plus. But …

What are the cons of Walmart buying into TikTok?

Walmart, as all large companies are very hard to steer. They are a behemoth of a company that takes decades to move. Yes, when they do, they crush opposition, mostly given their logistics supply chain and distribution, which is unbeatable.

Yes, they have amazing staff with amazing ideas (which the TikTok shares purchasing is). But this is still the company that beat Amazon to the ecommerce launch only to forget about the whole ecommerce thing for 10 years, because “that’s not where our customer base is”. So … You might not get a Walmart Live soon.

Top 5 Ticketing and Event Management Companies in 2021. Have a look behind the curtains.

top5ticket_thmbLong 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.

2020 Update: Click here to see the Top 5 Virtual Event Platforms as reviewed on Netonomy.

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.

SEE ALSO: Ticket Sales Business Models – The Retailer, The Marketplace, The “Enabler” Platform »

Let’s start with number 5 and count down to the king of the hill:

5. Oveit

Oveit is an innovative take on ticket sales and event management. It is feature packed and allows event planners to publish events and sell tickets on their own website.

By using an embedded technology, Oveit allows event organizers to work with a fully functional ticketing and event management app in minutes, right on their website. Some of its features are:

  • simple event setup and implementation – copy-paste implementation or click to publish to Facebook
  • direct payments (connecting a PayPal account allows event organizers to receiving payments instantly)
  • free service for free events
  • customized registration forms
  • interactive badge design application
  • seating design 
  • multiple options packed in one ticket (entry, beverages, tshirts – you name it)

Tickets are automatically issued on purchase and they are scanned using mobile apps (so no need for costly scanners). One particular piece of technology is what Oveit calls multiple access. It makes it simple to sell multi-day tickets, pack multiple perks and synchronise data between mobile scanning apps.

Oveit key takeaways

  • Oveit allows event planners to install ticket sales on their own websites or Facebook pages by just copy-ing and pasting an embed code
  • Payments flow from attendee to the organizers. No interruption needed, right?
  • It packs all the right tools in one simple to use interface
  • Though still a startup, it is the best choice on this list for mid-sized event organizers. By the way – creating a free account takes around 5 seconds.

4. Xing Events (Former Amiando)

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.

Le Web partners with Amiando to manage events / sell tickets
Le Web partners with Amiando to manage events / sell tickets

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, one of 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.

Amiando Key Takeaways

  • Amiando was purchased by Xing in 2010 and has been growing steadily
  • It is now an end-to-end solution for event planning and ticket sales
  • The company acts as a payment processor / collector for ticket sales and charges a standard fee of approximately €1 / visitor + ~6% of ticket cost (registration fee + payment processing fee)

SEE ALSO: Ticket Sales Business Models – The Retailer, The Marketplace, The “Enabler” Platform »

3. StubHub

StubHub_logoStubHub, 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.

StubHub Key Takeaways

  • StubHub is the largest ticket marketplace for sports events, theaters, concerts and entertainment events
  • It was founded in 2000 and acquired in 2007 by Ebay for $310 million
  • It’s present in the US, UK and Canada

2. Eventbrite

Eventbrite Founders. Left to right: Julia Hartz, Kevin Hartz, Renaud Visage
Eventbrite Founders. Left to right: Julia Hartz, Kevin Hartz, Renaud Visage

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:

[slideshare id=15031913&doc=dublinwebsummitpresentationrenaudvisage-121105083638-phpapp02]

Eventbrite did pretty well in 2013. 25% of its total sales up to date happened in the last 6 months.
Eventbrite did pretty well in 2013. 25% of its total sales up to date happened in the last 6 months.

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“.

Eventbrite Key Takeaways

  • Eventbrite is now the fastest growing mid-size events management platform
  • Its growth has been vastly accelerated in the past year
  • 25% of its total sales up to date happened in the last 6 months
  • Given the new investment, its fast growth and global expansion – expect something big coming up in 2014-2015. My bets are on an IPO/large acquisition deal. Maybe even trying to take on …

1. The King of the Ticket Hill: Ticketmaster

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.

Ticketmaster is a pretty big part of Live Nation Entertainment.
Ticketmaster is a pretty big part of Live Nation Entertainment.

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, Miley Cyrus and more.

"That's Mr. King of the Hill". There's no picture of Mr. Maffei not smiling but then again I think he's not the guy you want frowning.
“That’s Mr. King of the Hill to you!”.
There’s no picture of Mr. Maffei not smiling but then again I think he’s not the guy you want frowning.

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.

SEE ALSO: Ticket Sales Business Models – The Retailer, The Marketplace, The “Enabler” Platform »

Ticketmaster Key Takeaways

  • Ticketmaster is the largest company in ticketing and event management
  • It’s part of a very large conglomerate of businesses
  • It has a shady past and a gloomy future
  • Competitors will soon catch up

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.

There are also worthy mentions, interesting companies such as Ticket Tailor or Accelevents.

SEE ALSO: Ticket Sales Business Models – The Retailer, The Marketplace, The “Enabler” Platform »

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”.

ticket-sales-infographic-thumb

Top 5 Virtual Event Platforms – Pros and Cons

As the world is increasingly consuming more and more streamed content, events have shifted towards the virtual world as well. To make virtual events happen, professionals need virtual event platforms. Here’s the top 5.

As the world is increasingly consuming more and more streamed content, events have shifted towards the virtual world as well. To make virtual events happen, professionals need virtual event platforms.

As demand has increased – so has the supply. With so many solutions out there, we’ve tested the most popular ones and came up with a short list of 5 that we recommend. Below you’ll find the top 5 recommendations, with a brief intro, pros and cons.

Let’s start with…

1. Zoom

With many of us working from home, there is no wonder why Zoom became such a popular video conferencing tool. It is one of the leading video conferencing software apps on the market. It allows employees to virtually interact with their colleagues when in-person meetings are limited or restricted. It has an integrated live chat feature and it allows users to record video and audio sessions to view later. Zoom is considered the most popular video conferencing solution for companies with 500 employees or fewer, and the second-most popular solution for businesses with over 500 employees.

Advantages

  • Unlimited one-on-one meetings – Users can spend as much time as they want, without any costs involved when conducting one-on-one meetings
  • Screen sharing feature – This built in function enables users to share their own screen during live calls. This way, participants can easily understand what is presented.
  • Participants don’t have to create an account – In order to join a meeting, a Zoom account isn’t required. The only person that needs an account is the one sending the invitation links to other participants. However, it’s still important to have your own account in order to keep track of appointments and begin to host your own meetings.

 Disadvantages

  • Unpredictable video quality – According to many users, at times, the video quality on Zoom can be blurry and pixelated.
  • 40 Minute free video chat limit on group meetings – If you plan to host a meeting with more than two participants, the duration of the call is limited to 40 minutes. To avoid that, users need to subscribe and pay a monthly fee.
  • Security vulnerabilities – Even if Zoom employees are currently doing their best to solve this issue, it still seems to be disturbing for many users. It seems that random people would show up during video conferences, disrupting attendees with offensive content. Users with free Zoom accounts can avoid this by using a password for all meetings.

2. Streams.live

Streams.Live video intro

Streams.live is an innovative video-streaming platform designed to transform social distancing into an opportunity. it works great as a virtual event platform. It brings in features of traditional event management software and it enables content creators and entrepreneurs to easily monetize their work in a virtual environment. The cross-platform functionality enables hosts and viewers to access their passions from any device. The video stream can be fully customized from a simple logo detail to full background customization and viewers can participate in two-way conversations, thanks to the available engagement tools (claps, live chat, live polls and direct messaging).

Advantages

  • Paid access to streams – This feature might be the key differentiation between other streaming solutions. Content creators can simply monetize their hard work virtually. By purchasing a ticket, virtual attendees can simply input the ticket code and get instant access to paid content.
  • Live Stream Shopping – This feature is designed for businesses that seek to sell their list of offerings in a fun and interactive manner. Viewers can purchase presented products, without leaving the streamed event. Also, the chat room enables viewers to ask product related questions in real time.
  • Instant payments – With more than 135 currencies and 57 cryptocurrencies accepted, content creators don’t need to wait for their money. Streams.live has well-established partnerships with Stripe, PayPal and Crypto.com.

 Disadvantages

  • Only the host can stream video – Since this is a solution designed for content creators, as a viewer, streaming your own video is not an option. However, the engagement features (live chat, polls, direct message) allow viewers to interact with one another.
  • Onboarding process – Some users might need to go through an onboarding process to fully understand the variety of features available. However, online and phone support is available 24/7.

3. Adobe Connect

Part of the Adobe Acrobat family, Adobe Connect is a web conferencing software used for organizing virtual meetings, webinars and training sessions. Meeting rooms are organized into ‘pods’ and each pod is designed to perform a specific role (chat, whiteboard, note, etc.). Adobe Connect is meant for Learning, Webinars and for Meetings.

Advantages

  • Audience engagement tools – During conferences or online meetings, participants have several features that allow them to interact with one another. Among these features, this solution come with things such as live chat, integrated survey/quiz tool, a digital whiteboard and viewers can also share files during a call.
  • Participants can record calls – This build in function enables viewers to record calls (audio/video sync is lost if exported to MP4) with the host’s permission.
  • Virtual room design – This feature enables organizers to design their own virtual room for a more realistic experience. It can be customized with layouts, pods and content and it can be saved for further meetings.

 Disadvantages

  • Complex software with no personality – Some users consider that further support is needed to use the software at its maximum capacity. Besides that, the interface feels very corporate and impersonal, with white and grey colors.
  • It’s a bit pricey – Pricing information is limited on their website, but users seem to consider this solution a bit overpriced.

4. Cisco Webex

Cisco Webex products deliver collaboration tools, such as online meetings with integrated chat and file sharing features. This cloud-based suite of productivity tools consists of WebEx Teams, WebEx Meetings and WebEx devices. It is used for both small group collaborations and enterprise-wide deployments. For a clearer idea, here are the key offerings provided by WebEx: video conferencing, webinars (up to 3000 attendees), training sessions (instruct through a digital whiteboard and charge for your training), remote support (real-time service for customers in need) and cloud calling.

Advantages

  • Cross-platform functionality – Users can attend meetings from any device. Being a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, participants can connect from anywhere as long as internet connection is not an issue.
  • Branded devices – The Webex devices are optional and include tools designed for a more efficient team collaboration. For example, the Cisco Webex Board is an all-in-one conference device capable of sharing live presentations with a broad audience.
  • Large-scale virtual events – This feature enables users to host large-scale virtual events for geographically dispersed audiences. It supports up to 3000 attendees in a single event and up to 1000 on video.

 Disadvantages

  • Limited customer support – For the free and starter plans, customer support is limited. The free plan only provides online customer service options, while the Starter plan requires users to call a representative during regular business hours for support.
  • Internet Explorer as default browser – Webex is designed to work at its maximum capacity on Internet Explorer as a browser. For those that would rather use Firefox or Chrome, additional setting are required before clicking on a link shared through their software.

5. WorkCast

WorkCast is a platform that provides solutions for webinars, webcasts, and virtual events. This cloud-based technology enables organizers to accommodate up to 50,000 attendees. It has a good reputation for its branding capabilities, designed to have an end-to-end event experience that looks just as good as a website. Since its foundation in 2008, WorkCast has run over 8,000 events for more than 1 million attendees across 20 countries.

Advantages

  • Excellent support – Users are very pleased with the responsiveness of the WorkCast team and their innovative solutions to accommodate special request.
  • Easy to customize and onboard sponsors – The branding and customization features are user friendly and enable sponsors to get the right amount of exposure in a virtual environment.
  • Virtual open days – This feature enables educational institutions to present their university grounds to prospective students.

 Disadvantages

  • Regular updates – Even if these updates are made to deliver better experiences, users need to get in touch with a representative to find out how new features work.
  • Test events before going live – Users testify that they were better off with a couple test events in advance.

Three Web-Only Retailers with Winning Business Models

Online commerce is growing fast and innovation is key to staying relevant on the market. The simple catalog model is still here but for how long? With customers in need of customized products and personalized offers, with omnichannel gaining momentum, it’s the new and innovative startups that are defining tomorrow’s shopping standards.

To show just how important innovation is in online retail, this post will showcase three web-only business models that proved successful. Each of these companies has been listed by Internet Retailer as a top-growth retailer.

Let’s start with …

eSalon.com – custom formulated hair color products

Year on Year Growth: 200.3%

You know how cosmetics and hair care companies list so many hair coloring products? Yeah, that’s because hair color is quite a personal choice. So eSalon has made sure it stays this way. They provide a special customization form where customers can offer personal info, relevant to building the perfect hue. Hair coloring delicate and often hard to do perfect. So there really is a lot of data you have to fill in before you get the right product but I believe it is worth it.

The company’s main target are women and do it yourself hair coloring is not an easy process. Help from expert that can combine and blend multiple ingredients in one perfect hue is great. But eSalon doesn’t have to do this blending too often. Once the hair color is just the right fit and the customer is happy with it, it will probably keep coming back.

Dollar Shave Club – Shaving Blades delivered monthly

Year on year growth: 242.10%

Here they are – shaving blades. It’s the one item most men have to use daily. Dollar Shave Club manufactures shaving accessories and personal care products for men. Their main product: shaving blades, sent each month to customers, for 1-9$ subscription fee.

Blue Apron – Recipes and recipe ingredients delivered at home

Year on year growth: 550.2%

Blue Apron is the fastest growing US retailer, with a 550% growth from last year. Any kind of business that grows five times in one year has to be a pretty amazing concept. And it is.

Think of Blue Apron as IKEA for the kitchen. Cooked meals get a lot less expensive when they’re purchased as ingredients. Basically a web web grocer, Blue Apron has decided to take a special approach. By showing how ingredients fit together with recepies, they were able to increase the number of products purchased by customers.

A great concept like Blue Apron has to have a great team behind it. That team is made up of a previous VC investor, a previously technical architect and of course … a chef. A recipe for success, if i might say so.

Econsultancy / Adobe Report: Omnichannel will become a reality in 2015

Adobe and Econsultancy recently released their 2015 Digital Trends report and data shows some really interesting insights. The report is a result of interviewing almost 6000 marketing, digital and ecommerce professionals. The general consensus is that marketing is moving fast and content, personalization, mobile and omnichannel will be key aspects to maintaining a relevant connection to consumers.

Among other facts, the report shows an emergent need to understand customers journeys across multiple channels and a need to insure consistency across these channels. 97% of all respondents pointed to having a clear understanding of customer journeys across channels as being either very important or quite important. Content consistency across channels is also a key priority for 96% of all respondents. 66% of marketing, digital and ecommerce professionals list content consistency as being very important and 30% list it as quite important.

Because omnichannel success is usually a result of strategy and team effort, the report shows training teams in new techniques, channels and disciplines is very important and quite important for 95% of the professionals surveyed.

Personalization, Big Data and Multi-channel campaigns – very exciting in 5 years time

As the customer is getting more and more empowered by digital technology, results show that some aspects of marketing and retailing will become highly popular in the next 5 years. The most exciting for those surveyed are:

  1. personalization: ensuring a relevant message to the customer in terms of marketing campaigns and content
  2. big data: by using large volumes of data campaign management and marketing can be more relevant and results more personal
  3. multi-channel campaign management: addressing campaign consistency across channels seems to be a very exciting opportunity for professionals, but not really feasible right now. While 12% listed this option as very exciting in 5 years, only 7% listed it as very exiting in 2015. This probably has to do with the fact that although professionals and senior management understand the need for multi and omnichannel campaigns, there are few successful use cases that can be used as a threshold right now.

Overall, the report paints a very optimistic picture for omnichannel followers and professionals. 67% of those surveyed agree that omnichannel personalization will become a reality in 2015. 

You can download the full report at here

Ruble Trouble: Apple Shuts Down Online Sales in Russia, Before it’s Forced to Do So

Apple announced online sales in Russia will stop due to the ruble’s volatility. Indeed, the Russian currency has taken a blow recently as it plummeted to an all-time low against the dollar.

The Russian Apple online store has been taken offline while prices are reviewed and commercial activity on iPhones, iPads and other Apple products has been halted.

But how did Apple went from more than $1 billion in sales in Russia in 2013 to pulling out in 2014?

Tim Cook, 2013: “Our activations in Russia for iPhone set a record last quarter — our highest quarter ever. We’re really happy.”

The Gold Putin iPhone, a really shinny gadget.
The Gold Putin iPhone, an object of desire for any oligarch. Source.

In 2013 Apple failed to reach an agreement to local mobile operators so it went straight to retail chains and selling online. It didn’t go too bad. iPhone sales doubled to 1.57 million units. After seeing huge spikes in demand, the local operators finally gave in and agreed to Apple’s terms. Nevertheless, almost 80% of all sales came directly from retail, skipping carriers.

So basically Apple sold $800 million worth of unsubsidized products without any help from local carriers, a surprisingly good result for the Russian market. “We’re really happy“, said Tim Cook in 2013.

Yes, the ruble drop may be a problem for Apple. But why close the store? Why block sales? Why not just switch to foreign currencies only? Why leave such a huge market? Sure, Russia is struggling with an economic a crisis but on a smaller scale – so is Europe. You don’t see Apple stopping sales there.

It may be that Apple was bound to leave Russia anyway and it figured this is the best moment to do so without worrying investors.

What happens in Russia, stays in Russia

Starting January 2015, Russia will pass a law forcing tech companies to keep Russian users’ data in Russia. That means Apple will have to move some of its servers to Russia and keep them there.

Now this is obviously an unacceptable situation. With tensions between Russia and the US, privacy and data security concerns will force the company outside anyway.

It may be that the ruble collapse is the best Apple can go about a bad situation: leaving a billion dollar market and still look like its saving the day.