May
31
Posted on May 31, 2017
Filed Under (Ecommerce) by jennifer

Experts in online sales and marketing share their tips regarding how startups and smaller ecommerce sites can compete with larger businesses – and use their size to their advantage.

With ecommerce and mobile commerce booming, many would-be entrepreneurs, as well as owners of small brick-and-mortar stores, have set up shop online. But competition in cyberspace can be brutal. So what can small and/or new online businesses do to attract eyeballs (and sales) and beat out their much larger (and better bankrolled) competition? Here are 11 suggestions.

1. Choose your ecommerce software/platform wisely.

“SMBs should do their research when choosing the software on which they build their ecommerce store,” says Jason Woosley, senior vice president, Product & Technology, Magento Commerce. Instead of automatically picking the cheapest, most basic option, new ecommerce business owners should “consider platforms that are scalable for future growth…, offer security measures and are equipped with marketing and analytics tools. The key is to identify the business’s unique goals and select the… software [or platform] that enables both immediate and long-term growth.”

2. Make your branding stand out (unique).

“The first and foremost thing to [help you] stand out from competitors is to have an original and unique brand identity,” says Daniel Shane, a branding expert at LogoOrbit. This should start with your logo and include your website and how you “represent your business visually.”

3. Use original photos and content.

Don’t use stock images, or product images supplied by the manufacturer. Instead, “take professional photos and edit them so that they are visually appealing and clearly highlight the item for sale,” says Gwen Schlefer, PR manager, Bonanza. “There are tons of free tools to help elevate photos to a professional selling level. Gimp has a massive suite of tools to help with all your editing needs and the Background Burner is a powerful tool that removes all background imagery in order to only display the foreground object.”

Similarly, when writing product descriptions, don’t cut and paste the manufacturer’s copy. Instead, write fresh, original copy to describe products – and try to update copy regularly.

4. Feature user-generated content.

“Ask [customers] for images and videos [of themselves using your product] and display them on product and category pages,” says Theresa O’Neil, senior vice president, Marketing, PowerReviews. “Eighty-eight percent of consumers specifically look for visuals, such as photos or videos submitted by other consumers, prior to making a purchase.”

5. Make your site search-engine friendly (SEO).

“To stay on top of your competitors as an ecommerce business, you need to have a strong SEO strategy,” says Matt Franks, managing director, Dreambooth. “Optimize all your website’s pages with relevant keywords. Give your products detailed descriptions, which include keywords – [and] have a detailed description of your company on [your] Home page, which explains who you are and what you do.”

6. Have a mobile version of your site.

“If brands aren’t focused on mobile optimization, they’re already losing,” says Ed Burek, director of Solutions Marketing, SiteSpect. “Mobile continues to play a key role in online shoppers’ journeys. For [small] ecommerce businesses looking to provide a compelling customer experience, they need to [think about] the… way consumers browse and make purchases” and ensure they’re meeting customers where they shop.

7. Use marketplaces in addition to a standalone website.

“All merchants have a desire to increase conversion, but the goal is unattainable if you can’t drive traffic to your site,” explains Deniz Ibrahim, a product marketing principal at BigCommerce. “The most successful understand that consumers aren’t inherently going to visit a website they have no experience with. As a result, they work to drive higher brand awareness by putting products in all the places their customers make shopping decisions.”

That’s why “55 percent of product searches today start on Amazon,” he says. “Listing on Amazon doesn’t hurt your brand, but rather opens it up to a huge opportunity. The same goes for eBay, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Giving your customer as many opportunities to interact with your brand (consistently) in a channel they are comfortable with only serves to build a stronger connection, and, in turn, drive traffic.”

That’s why new ecommerce businesses “should consider an online marketplace,” says Marshal Kushniruk, executive vice president, Avalara. “Etsy and Amazon are the best known ecommerce platforms, but there are other online marketplaces to consider, such as Bonanza, Jet, Overstock and even niche marketplaces.

“Platforms that already attract a solid or targeted customer base may enable smaller businesses to bring their products to market faster and reach new customers more easily,” he explains. “These platforms may also help smaller companies solve, or guide them through, many of the complex legal and technology issues small businesses face – such as managing digital payment options, sales tax management… and more.”

8. Make customers feel special by providing superior customer service and support.

“One of the biggest advantages of being a small retailer is the ability to connect with your customers in a way that a big box retailer like Target, Walmart or even Amazon never could,” says Ibrahim. “For them, the 1:1 connection simply can’t be replicated at scale, giving you an opportunity to connect in a personalized way.

“The simple act of engaging with your customers via social media channels and responding to messages, or leaving a handwritten note in product packaging, can create a lot of added value for the customer,” he explains. “People want to interact with other people, so humanizing the brand provides a leg up in the crowded ecommerce environment.”

Similarly, provide customers with multiple methods to contact your business should they have any questions about your products or service pre- or post-sale. And be sure you staff your customer service and support areas with people familiar with your products or service who can quickly respond to customer queries, whether they come in via phone, text, email or social media.

9. Keep the checkout process seamless and quick.

“When an online shopper is ready to buy, a simple checkout experience is crucial,” says Jamie Domenici, vice president of SMB Marketing, Salesforce. “Companies must keep it linear and move customers toward completing a purchase. For example, avoid asking shoppers to create an account when they are confirming their order. Minimizing the amount of work they have to do can help ensure shoppers won’t abandon their cart.”

“Shoppers expect ultimate convenience, and any small annoyance, like needing to re-enter a billing address or clicking between keyboards on a mobile device, [can] lead them to just give up,” adds Andy Barker, senior director, Strategy & Growth, Global Payments, Magento Commerce. So make paying simple – and mobile friendly.

“There’s an abundance of emerging convenience-first-based payment methods, from Apple Pay to PayPal [and] Venmo,” he explains. “So SMBs [can find the] solutions that best suits their customers, [which] can be the difference between a sale made and a sale lost.”

10. Connect with influencers.

“Connecting with experts and influencers within your specific field is important for staying relevant in the market,” says Jenni Macleod, brand awareness manager at Love Crafts. “At Love Knitting and Love Crochet we love connecting and collaborating with knitting and crochet designers, [which] adds value to our content and user experience.”

11. Reward customers for shopping with you.

“The single most important thing a business can do to stand out from the competition is to implement a strong rewards program,” says Alex Keats, customer loyalty specialist, Sweet Tooth. “In an environment where the boundaries of competition are becoming lower and lower, retaining your customers and keeping them loyal is becoming more and more important.”

According to Sweet Tooth’s research, retailers that run a customer rewards program enjoy much higher revenue than competitors who aren’t rewarding customer loyalty. “As ecommerce continues to evolve and brands struggle to differentiate themselves, it will become imperative to show your customers appreciation by rewarding their loyalty with a rewards program.”

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May
12
Posted on May 12, 2015
Filed Under (Ecommerce) by jennifer

ecommerce_iconIn today’s super competitive, I-want-it-now mobile world, you only have a few minutes (or seconds) to engage online shoppers. And if your site isn’t mobile friendly, considered trustworthy or a dozen other things online shoppers deem important, that potential customer will go elsewhere.

So what steps can small business owners to ensure their ecommerce websites aren’t costing them customers? Here are 12 things to watch out for.

1. Your site isn’t mobile friendly.

2. Your site is too slow.

3. You site is clogged with banners and ads.

4. Visitors don’t feel your site is safe or trustworthy.

5. Your site is difficult to navigate.

6. Your photos sucks.

7. Your copy is boring or difficult to understand.

8. Customers consider your shipping too expensive.

9. Checking out is a pain.

10. Help and contact info are hard to find (or don’t exist).

11. You bombard customers with email.

12. You don’t engage with customers on social media or don’t have a social media presence.

For detailed explanations and remedies, read my article “12 easy ways to lose your ecommerce customers” on CIO.com.

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Apr
08
Posted on April 8, 2015
Filed Under (Email Marketing) by jennifer

Small business owners often spend a lot of time getting people to opt-in or subscribe to their email newsletters and lists. However, they often don’t exert the same effort to ensure that these customers they worked so hard to get stay engaged. And then they are puzzled (and annoyed) when an “unsubscribed” notification shows up in their in box.

So what can small business owners do to keep customers from unsubscribing from their email lists? Here are the top seven reasons people opt out of email.

1. They never signed up, or didn’t realize they signed up, for your email list.

2. You’re emailing them too often.

3. They can’t properly view your email.

4. Your email is too cluttered or looks unprofessional.

5. The content isn’t relevant to them.

6. You’re always trying to sell them something.

7. They feel your content is boring, unoriginal and/or repetitive.

To find out what you can do to avoid these email marketing issues and keep customers from clicking that ‘unsubscribe’ button, check out my article “Top 7 reasons people unsubscribe from your email list.”

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Dec
05
Posted on December 5, 2014
Filed Under (Advice, Marketing, Networking) by jennifer

Help me please!I have been writing for print and online publications for over 20 years, and I am always on the lookout for great sources for my articles. I also spent several years (more) doing pubic relations (PR) on both the agency side and for a variety of businesses and have an excellent track record of getting my clients cited by reporters. So I am intimately familiar with what it takes to get a reporter’s (or writer’s) attention.

Yet I am constantly amazed — and annoyed — by how many PR people, especially in the modern digital age, when finding out the names of reporters, the areas they cover, and what they are working on, has never been easier, waste my time.

Herewith…

11 Ways to Piss Off a Reporter (and ensure she will never quote your clients)

1. Don’t bother to Google the reporter, to find out what she writes about — or actually read any of her articles (even though they are easy to find and plentiful).

2. Add the reporter to your email list without her permission and bombard her with emails and press releases that have nothing to do with the beat(s) she covers.

3. Do not follow the reporter on Twitter. (Because if you did, you would know what she was working on.)

4. Do not look for her queries on Help a Reporter. 

5. Repeatedly email the reporter to ask what she is working on. (See above.)

6. Ask the reporter to ping you whenever she is working on an article — even though chances are you will be working with different clients or at a different agency six months from now (or less).

7. Pitch her ideas that have nothing to do with her beat(s). (See above.)

8. Send replies to her Help a Reporter queries that have nothing to do with her query — and/or clearly demonstrate that you, the PR person, have not taken the time (less than 5 minutes) to read any of the reporter’s articles.

9. Send an angry or whiny email to the reporter questioning why she didn’t quote your client in her article.

10. Do not thank the reporter for including your client in one of her articles.

11. Do not promote the article on social media. (FYI: Many, probably most, writers these days get paid based on the number of page views their articles get. So we really appreciate when sources and PR folks publicize articles on social media and put links to the article on their websites.)

Also, be sure to read “How to Pitch to a Reporter (and Get Good Press for Your Business or Client).”

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Nov
17
Posted on November 17, 2014
Filed Under (Email Marketing) by jennifer

holiday_ecommerceHanukkah and Christmas are just around the corner. And if you are planning to entice shoppers into your online or bricks-and-mortar store via email marketing this holiday season, you need to make sure your email marketing campaigns stand out from the hundreds of other holiday email offers.

So what can small business owners do to increase the likelihood that their holiday email messages will be opened and clicked on? Follow these 11 tops tips from small business owners and email marketing pros to make sure your email marketing delivers this holiday season.

1. Make the most of your subject line, by being specific about what it is you are offering — and using words like holiday gift ideas, sale, and free shipping.

2. Put the most important information in the first two sentences of your email, so it will show up in preview.

3. Include holiday-related photos, especially ones showing your product in a holiday setting — better yet, being opened as a gift.

4. Make your copy clear and concise — and don’t forget a call to action and link to a landing page.

5. Notify customers of delivery deadlines, to make sure gifts are received on time.

6. Use limited-time offers to spark interest and create urgency.

7. Give back to your most loyal and returning customers, by offering them a discount, free shipping, or a small gift for ordering from you this holiday season or referring a friend.

8. Make sure your email campaigns are mobile friendly, i.e., can be properly or clearly viewed on smart phones and tablets as well as laptop computers.

9. Segment your email, targeting customers based on previous purchases, geography, or interests.

10. Don’t bombard people’s in boxes — and avoid peak work and family times, sending email early in the morning, at lunchtime, at the end of the work day, or on weekends, when people have more time to read them.

11. Create a seamless experience, so that your email branding and messages matches the branding and messaging on your website and social media pages.

For more information about each tip, please read my article, “How to Use Email Marketing to Increase Sales This Holiday Season.”

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Sep
22
Posted on September 22, 2014
Filed Under (Ecommerce) by jennifer

No ecommerce site is perfect, especially when it first goes live. Even if you choose an ecommerce solution that promises to be straightforward or foolproof (i.e., designed specifically for small business owners), problems are bound to occur. And while it’s hard to predict problems, there are certain common ecommerce problems, say the experts, which can be prevented — or fixed relatively easily.

Herewith, 11 of the most common ecommerce mistakes small businesses make (larger ones, too).

Mistake No. 1: Choosing the wrong ecommerce shopping cart.

Mistake No. 2: Not making sure your site is secure.

Mistake No. 3: Unintuitive or cumbersome site navigation.

Mistake No. 4: Bad or no search capability.

Mistake No. 5: Poor images/photography.

Mistake No. 6: Using stock product descriptions.

Mistake No. 7: Having a confusing or lengthy checkout process.

Mistake No. 8: Having only one shipping option and/or carrier.

Mistake No. 9: Not having a mobile or mobile optimized version of your ecommerce site.

Mistake No. 10: Not making content easily shareable on social media, especially on Pinterest.

Mistake No. 11: Making it hard to contact you, the seller.

For detailed explanations of each mistake and how to avoid or fix them easily, read my article “11 Common Ecommerce Mistakes — And How to Fix Them.”

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Let’s face it, no one likes having to update or tweak their website — or (shudder) having to redesign it. It can be time-consuming and expensive. But if online sales have been slipping, and even if they haven’t (yet), it behooves small business owners to periodically and objectively evaluate their web or ecommerce sites — and make the necessary fixes.

So what are some signs that your web or ecommerce site needs a bit of tweaking (or a major overhaul)? I queried dozens of ecommerce, web design and analytics experts to find out. They identified nine giveaways that your small business web or ecommerce site is in need of some help — and how you can make the necessary fixes without spending a lot of time or money.

If any of these problems sound familiar, it’s time to update your website!

Problem No. 1: Your Traffic Isn’t Converting Into Sales.

Problem No. 2: High Bounce Rates.

Problem No. 3: Your Site Takes Forever to Load.

Problem No. 4: It’s Difficult to Add Content or Update Your Site — Without Having to Pay Someone a Lot of Money to Do it for You.

Problem No. 5: Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly.

Problem No. 6: No Way to Opt In/Sign Up to Receive News or Promotions.

Problem No. 7: Stale Content.

Problem No. 8: No Social Media Linkage.

Problem No. 9: Your Buttons Look Dated.

(To see explanations of each tip/problem and learn how to inexpensively update or freshen up your web or ecommerce site, read my article “9 Signs It’s Time to Update Your Website (and How to Fix It.”)

By the way, after researching this article, I realized my ecommerce site, Prepster Pineapple Clothing, which sells Hawaiian-inspired cotton clothing, was in dire need of some tweaking, especially on the Home page. But I was loath to spend a lot of money or time doing it. Fortunately, I found SiteTech Media, a small but eager web design/developer that specializes in Bigcommerce stores.

Don’t know anyone? “Elance and oDesk both can connect you with hundreds of qualified freelancers who will compete and bid to work on your website,” for just a few hundred dollars, says Simon Slade, CEO and cofounder of SaleHoo , a platform for building your own online store and an online wholesale directory of over 8,000 prescreened suppliers. And if you are thinking about redesigning your whole site or want to give your business a new look, to save some money (and time) “shop at template marketplaces, such as Envato and Creative Market , which both offer stunning website designs for as little as $4,” he suggests.

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Jun
12
Posted on June 12, 2014
Filed Under (Advertising, Ecommerce) by jennifer

Google_AdWords_exampleIf you are like many (most?) small business owners, you have probably used Google AdWords and quickly became frustrated with the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising service. Or you’ve thought about using Google AdWords but were worried about not getting enough (or any) bang for your buck.

As a small business owner, I feel your pain. Which is why I decided to investigate whether there was a proper way, or better way, to run an AdWords campaign, and if there were some tricks or tools that could help improve the odds of a campaign being successful (i.e., getting qualified clicks — and, more importantly, sales).

In querying dozens of fellow business owners and AdWords pros, I learned a lot. Following are their 10 Tips for Creating a Successful Google AdWords Campaign.

1. Have a clear goal.

2. Keep your target customer in mind when writing your ads.

3. Don’t mislead customers.

4. Use negative keywords.

5. Target your ads.

6. Don’t ignore mobile users.

7. Always be testing.

8. Implement conversion tracking.

9. Monitor and tweak your campaigns.

10. Use Google’s Remarketing feature.

For detailed explanations of each tip, along with links to helpful tools/pages, please read my article “10 Tips for Creating a Successful Google AdWords Campaign.”

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May
20
Posted on May 20, 2014
Filed Under (Marketing) by jennifer

social-media-iconsToday, businesses have more ways — and places — than ever to market themselves, online and off. But deciding on a marketing method, particularly when you are a small business with a small budget and limited resources, can be difficult. While social media marketing is generally free, it can be time-consuming; and the same goes for blogging. But traditional print advertising, as well as digital advertising, can be expensive.

So how — and where — are the best, most inexpensive ways to market your small business? I queried dozens of small business marketing experts. Their top seven  marketing strategies for small businesses appear below.

1. Add a blog to your website (or create a standalone blog that links to your website, and vice versa) — and write not only about your products and services and promotions but about topics and trends that are of interest to your customers and prospective customers.

2. Create a Facebook business page for your small business and be sure to update it regularly (at least once a week), with either new products or helpful tips or articles. Also consider Facebook advertising.

3. Post photos and videos of your products on Pinterest and Instagram.

4. Establish a Twitter presence, in your own name or your company’s, and tweet not only about new products and promotions but share links to articles that would interest your followers.

5. Use email marketing. A monthly or quarterly newsletter is a great way to let customers know about new products or promotions as well as a way to share helpful tips — and there are many inexpensive email marketing services that cater to small businesses (e.g., Mad Mimi, Constant Contact, Campaigner, Emma).

6. Try pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, e.g., Google AdWords — making sure to do some keyword research and decide on a budget first.

7. Don’t forget about press releases/PR! Don’t underestimate the power of a well-written press release, especially if you use a wire service to share it/get it on all the major search engines and major news sites. PR Newswire ,PR Web,  and SBwire all have inexpensive options for small businesses, as well as templates and writing tips, that can help you reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers around the world, or right in your own backyard.

For additional information and tips, as well as detailed explanations of each small business marketing strategy, read my article “8 Expert Online Marketing Tips for Small Businesses.”

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May
07

video_iconHaving a video that tells prospective customers about your products or services is now considered a must have for businesses of all sizes. But what if you are a small business with a small business marketing budget? Is it possible to create a video that looks like a million bucks for only a few thousand, or a few hundred, dollars?

The short answer is “yes” — as I learned from creating my first video, for my company Prepster Pineapple Clothing — if you follow these simple tips from video marketing experts.

10 Tips for Creating a Successful Business Video

1. Know who your target audience is.

2. Have a solid concept and script (before you start shooting).

3. Have a clear, simple message — and minimize (or cut) the corporate jargon.

4. Keep it short — typically under two minutes (though there are exceptions).

5. Film in a quiet place (preferably with professional-grade equipment) with good lighting — or hire someone who knows how to shoot a video.

6. Add music.

7. Include a call to action — and a link to your website or preferred landing page.

8. Brand your video with your logo.

9. Post your video to YouTube.

10. Share your video(s) on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ — and with existing and prospective customers (via email newsletters).

For explanations of each tip, as well as additional tips, read my article “14 Tips for Creating Business Videos Customers Will Want to Watch.” For video marketing tips, check out my article “How to Make Video Marketing Work for Your Business.”

By the way, as one small business learned, your video doesn’t have to go viral to be successful. It just needs to get to the right people.

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