One feature that nearly every web site should have

Do you own an ecommerce website? Great! Next question: do you have a mailing list?

If the answer is ‘no’, you are probably leaving a lot of money on the table.

Keeping in touch with your potential customers, past customers and general web site visitors is one of the easiest and most cost effective methods of increasing your website sales. You simply must have the ability to collect the email addresses of both buyers and browsers alike. Most current web sites should have this functionality built in or it could be added by the use of widgets from some of the larger email marketing companies that will do everything from collecting email addresses for you to running your email marketing campaigns.

Collecting buyers email addresses is really a ‘no-brainer’ for most web businesses. The main thing to remember is that visitors have to opt-in to get on your mailing list. Just because they made a purchase from you – that does not give you permission to add them to your future email campaigns.

Once you get the email addresses – then what? Follow some of the suggestions and ideas from the larger email marketing companies like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp and you will have some great basic email marketing ideas to start.

It’s that time again: Change your copyright date!

Update your copyright date every year!

It’s a pet peeve of mine: visiting an e-commerce web site and their copyright date is from last year – or even worse, it’s from 4 or 5 years ago. To me, that’s the sign of a web site that is not ‘fresh’ or updated. Certainly Google and the other search engines are paying attention as well.

Some software platforms will automatically update the copyright date on your website for you at the stroke of midnight on 12/31 each year, but there are still many others that it is a manual task. However, just because it’s a manual task doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked. Take a second now and look at the bottom of your web site in the footer. What does it say? If it doesn’t say Copyright 2012 – it’s time to change it.

Written by Pat

Timing is everything when it comes to email marketing

Written by Pat

So you’ve spent a day or two putting together a slick email that you are sure is a winner; you’ve edited the subject line until you were bleary-eyed and now comes the big question: What is the best time to send out a marketing email to your opt-in email list?

Sending out your customer emails at the right time is not as difficult as you would think. The trick is to know when people are most apt to read them. If you send it out at the wrong time, there will certainly be an effect on your marketing campaign. Emails sent out overnight, for example, are the ones that are most likely to be deleted without even being opened.

To get the best results, take a look at the graphic from Pure360emailmarketing.co.uk and see what time slots you should avoid for your future email marketing campaigns.

(you can click on the graphic to view it full sized)

Keeping Your Marketing Strategy Fresh

Keep your marketing strategy fresh!

Written by Pat – West Florida Components

The economy and consumer buying habits have significantly shifted in the last few years. In today’s competitive environment, it’s important to take a look at your marketing strategy on a regular basis. Evaluate what you are doing and take a hard look at what your competition is doing, too. If you’re still banking on last year’s PPC campaign to drive your business, you’re probably missing out on some valuable opportunities to acquire new customers and increase your sales.

Here are some questions and suggestions to help you evaluate your marketing strategy:

Lead Generation:

Review your email marketing efforts. Do you offer a place to sign up for your newsletters on every page of your website? How about in your physical store? Do you use social media platforms as a way to capture emails and leads?

Analyze the results of your last few emails blasts and newsletters. What is the open percentage? What is the most clicked on article? What product converted the best from your email campaigns? What is the product or article that drew the most attention in your tweets or Facebook page?

General Promotions:

Discounts and coupons – whether they are used in person or on a web site, can drive tremendous amounts of new business and encourage repeat customers. What is the coupon with the highest number of conversions? Where was it distributed?

Evaluate any rewards programs for repeat customers. Take a close look at the percentage of repeat customers before a rewards program is instituted. What is the increase after a rewards program is put into place? What is more effective: percentage off discounts or flat dollar discounts? For your web sales, use analytics software to help you find the answers.

Search Marketing:

Many businesses use Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising to generate customers and sales. When is the last time you looked at your keywords? What is the highest performing keyword? Which ones can you cut?

Review where you are spending your PPC money. Should you invest in a retargeting campaign? Would your products do well with a targeted Facebook PPC ad?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) campaigns need to be evaluated on a very regular basis. Where are you ranking for your major keywords? What new keywords need to be targeted? What changes need to made due to algorithm changes in the search engines?

This is just the tip of the marketing iceberg. All businesses, large and small need to ask themselves these questions frequently.  Remember – if you’re not measuring the success (or failure) of your marketing efforts, you’re losing time and money. You need to know what works so you can devote your resources to those efforts and cut your losses on what doesn’t work.  Keep it fresh!

ASD Educational Sessions Now Available

submitted by: Pat – West Florida Components

The Internet Merchants Association and its sponsors recently presented eight educational sessions to the ASD trade show attendees. The bi-annual sourcing show was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center with over 30.000 visitors in attendance.

Platinum and Diamond level sponsors including Vendio, Alibaba and MIVA Merchant were among the featured speakers on topics ranging from integrating social media to building effective web sites and search engine optimization.

Most of the speakers have provided their slide decks so that session attendees can review them and download them. The slide presentations are available at slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/imamerchants

The Internet Merchants Association is now accepting applications for the March, 2011 educational sessions. Speaking preference is given to all IMA Platinum and Diamond level sponsors. Interested parties can learn more about the speaking and membership opportunities by contacting Pat Pepe. She can be reached by email at pat@imamerchants.org.

Get Found with TheFind: Increase Your Online Exposure

Online shopping is growing by leaps and bounds, so it’s easy for online stores to feel lost on how to increase their visibility. With TheFind, however, getting your products found by shoppers is easy – in fact, we may already be sending you referrals!

Want to work with us to gain exposure online and optimize your store on TheFind.com? Then read on.

Who is TheFind?

TheFind is a shopping search engine – the #2 shopping engine as of ComScore’s May numbers. We’re an increasing source of traffic for merchants big and small!

Benefits:

  • Get found by the 18mm shoppers who visit our site every month.
  • Showcase your store and products for free.
  • Access TheFind Merchant Center to control and optimize your product listings.
  • How can I start working with TheFind directly?

    Registering in our Merchant Center is the way to start! Claim your store in our Merchant Center in order to use our features, like:

    1) TheFind UpFront Program: the UpFront badge is a symbol of trust for shoppers that is placed on your homepage and shares important store information with them that, in turn, helps merchants improve their conversion and click through rates. Because we value this increased transparency, we also give UpFront Members an additional boost in visibility on the site. On average, merchants have seen an increase in visibility and traffic of 10% after joining the program.
    2) Product Feed Upload Tool: submit a direct, comprehensive product feed to improve your products’ relevancy and freshness.
    3) Customizing product results: Add a promotional snippet, a store logo, or even a vanity coupon.


    What if I work with a feed partner?

    Great news – we can work with any feed management team. You’ll need to set up and verify your account in order to access our feed upload tool.

    What are the fees?

    There are no fees for registering and claiming your store, joining the UpFront Program, or submitting a direct feed!

    Let us know if you have any other questions. For technical assistance, please contact the Merchant Support Team at merchantsupport@thefind.com.

    IMA Bronze Membership Now Free

    E-commerce moves so swiftly. Seems like just the other day we were talking about Google Checkout, and now we’ve got to figure out whether or not we’re going to use Facebook’s social plugins. And the list goes on, doesn’t it?

    Because we at IMA are serious about the benefits we provide to ecommerce practitioners, we’re now offering etailers a unique opportunity to join the association and reap the full benefits of being a member—including access to the IMA’s private member forum, where you can engage with and learn from other members, gaining insight into e-commerce best practices you won’t find anywhere else.

    Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond members can also avail additional amenities depending on their membership level, including a dedicated company platform within IMA’s member-only forum, speaking opportunities, and discounted rates to the IMA’s annual conference held every March in conjunction with the annual ASD/AMD trade show.

    Effective immediately etailers can join the IMA at the Bronze level (a US $99 value) for one year. Just select the “Bronze Plan” on our registration page here, and you’ll be in.

    Go ahead, do it. Join now.

    Etailers, Are You Ready? New MasterCard and Discover Rules Coming

    As of May 1, 2010, MasterCard and Discover have released new rules that impact the way merchants who accept those cards must handle certain aspects of PrePaid Credit or Debit Cards as well as regular bank Debit Check cards.

    Going forward there are three critical issues you must be aware of as a merchant:

    1. If someone uses a PrePaid Credit or Debit Card, when you give them the receipt for their transaction you must display the remaining balance available on that PrePaid card.

    2. If someone uses a PrePaid Credit or Debit Card or a regular bank issued Debit Check Card and there’s not enough available on the card to complete the entire transaction, you must accept split payments and allow them to pay the remaining balance with another card.

    For example, suppose someone is checking out of your online store and their order costs $50 total. When they go to checkout, if their PrePaid or Check Debit Card only has $30 available on it, the system will authorize the $30 and then give them an opportunity to add another card during checkout to pay the remaining $20 balance.

    3. If your customer chooses to cancel the order in the case of #2 above, then your gateway must be able to immediately release the hold placed on the initial Authorization created for the PrePaid or Check Cards.

    So what does all this mean to you, the online merchant?

    Well for now it doesn’t mean a whole bunch for your average small- and medium-sized online merchant.

    The first step to make the above even possible in the world of SMB Ecommerce is for the common gateways we all use (like Authorize.net) to implement the tools needed to support these mandates.

    Second your shopping cart vendor will need to add support for these features specifically to your gateway; finally, you’ll need to implement these changes in your online store.

    For now all you need to do is be aware of what’s coming and pay attention to future announcements from your shopping cart provider and, more importantly, your merchant account and payment gateway provider. As of now, Authorize.net has gotten an extension from MasterCard and Discover and these mandates are not required for Authorize.net customers until June 30, 2011 (14 months from now).

    If you have questions, you should check with your payment gateway provider as the mandates and dates for compliance will vary by gateway.

    Guest post by Rick Wilson of Miva Merchant. Miva Merchant is an IMA Diamond member.

    Ecommerce Merchants: So You’re Thinking About Drop Shipping?

    One of the most common questions I hear from new online sellers, or those considering online selling, is, “Should I use a drop shipper?”

    Most experienced ecommerce merchants will immediately say, “No!” Others will say “It depends…”

    Depends on what?

    Really, it does depend – on what you mean by “drop shipper.”  Wikipedia defines drop shipping as: “Drop shipping is a supply chain management technique in which the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a wholesaler, who then ships the goods directly to the customer.”

    Hey, if you have a manufacturer that is dependable, willing, and has the processes in place to drop ship for you, then you’re on the right track.

    But if you are thinking about paying money and signing up for a “drop shipping service” than you’re on the wrong track.

    This post is going to concentrate on the latter, because that is what most people are referring to when they ask the question, “Should I use a drop shipper?”

    There are many pitfalls to using a drop shipper, especially one that advertises heavily and requires a fee to subscribe to their service. For instance:

    You think you’re the only online seller who’s heard of this company? Of course not.

    More than likely whichever online marketplace you are considering selling on is flooded with products from this heavily advertised drop shipper.  Because these drop shipper’s items are everywhere, it forces the prices down and you will be lucky to make any profit at all.

    You have no control over how your customers’ orders are shipped, or how quickly they are shipped.

    This can adversely affect your feedback on whichever marketplace you are selling. Even if you choose to only sell on your own website, slow shipping, and poor packaging, can ruin your reputation and lose you customers.

    Out of stock items.

    There is nothing that makes a customer angrier than ordering an item and receiving an email a few days later that their item is out of stock.  You have no control over your stock when using a drop shipper. Something that is in stock on Monday may very well be out of stock on Saturday when your customer purchases it from you. This is the quickest way to earn negative feedback on both Amazon and eBay.

    If you’re considering selling on either Amazon or eBay, negative feedback can quickly ruin your business, so you want to have as much control over your customer service and merchandise as possible.

    The best way to do this is to stock your own products. There’s nothing wrong with starting small, testing the market on a few products, and building from there. That is how most successful ecommerce merchants started.

    Once you get a feel for your market, and have established suppliers, you may find a supplier or manufacturer who is willing to drop ship for you.

    That is the type of drop shipping to consider, if you consider it at all.

    Image: Louis Vest, Creative Commons

    Guest post by Cynthia Lizana, immediate past president of the IMA. Cynthia is the President of TexCynGoods, Inc., which specializes in selling women’s wallets, handbags and related items online.