Five Ways Customers Can Find You

Building your brand online and offline

When we are an ecommerce business, we tend to think of being found online only. Fortunately for us, there are other ways that customers might find out about our business and help us grow! See how your business rates on each – and which ones you can improve on.

ONLINE

Well of course this is probably the number one way that customers might find us. How does your ecommerce business rate for each of these:

  • SEO – Also known as search engine optimization – it’s the process of getting your web site found by the search engines. Take a few of your business keywords and plug them into the search engine. Are you on page 1 or page 21? If  you are not on page 1, chances are you are not being found by most people.
  • PAID SEARCH – On Google, the ads you see on the very top and on the right of the results page are paid advertisements. Most small businesses find they burn through a ton of cash before they figure out what makes sense for their business. Many businesses (with a strong web site and strong SEO efforts) may even find they don’t need to advertise on the search engines. Find out what works for your business.
  • LOCAL RESULTS – All of the major search engines place a lot of emphasis on providing relevant local results. Even if you don’t have a storefront, you may find that it is very valuable to get your business address into the search engines. This is particularly true for niche markets where there is not as much competition.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA – Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can help people find your business. The secret is finding out which one works the best for your particular niche and brand. It’s smart to try a few and figure out which sites give you the best ROI. Not every business is going to do well on Facebook!

COMMUNITY

Are you active in your local community? Do you sponsor any local club or events? Do you belong to any local organizations such as your town’s Chamber of Commerce? These are all ways to help promote your business and get the word out about you. Consider sponsoring a little league team or high school football band. They are all looking for sponsors and often will have print programs and/or banners that will get your business name some exposure.

TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING

Offline advertising can be very effective even for online only businesses. Consider traditional media such as yellow pages, directories, radio and TV. Does your product line lend itself to a catalog format? Building a mailing list for catalogs can be another means of promotion and sales. Of course with a web site, you should have an email marketing campaign for little or no cost but supplementing it with a traditional mail campaign might work for your business as well.

PHYSICAL LOCATION

Maybe you also have a storefront – so of course you have another means to promote your online business. But those ecommerce business that have a warehouse can also use outdoor signage to be visible to those that pass by your location. How about company vehicles? Use bumper stickers or vehicle wraps to promote your products and web site.

BRAND

Last, but definitely not least is your brand. Do you have your own packaging with your logo and tagline? Do you mark the outside of your packages with your website and logo? Consider all the ways you can build brand awareness with your packages, signage, banners and more. Don’t forget to include business cards with your logo and contact information – they help build your brand for very little effort and money! QR codes that lead visitors to your web site (or even a special page with a discount) can be very effective for building brand recognition and sales.

So how did your e-commerce business rank?

What does extreme networking look like?



At last week’s ASD trade show in Las Vegas, our partner Vendio hosted a night of ‘extreme networking’ in the IMA’s hospitality suite. Even without the fine selection of gourmet cheeses and generous supply of wine, this night would qualify as a major success for anyone in e-commerce. Over 100 people came through our hospitality suite doors that evening armed with business cards and a willingness to mingle.

One of the most popular questions that was asked was ‘So where do you sell online?” and usually followed up with “What do you sell?” When the ecommerce merchants weren’t chatting with their fellow sellers, they were seeking out the advice of service providers like Alibaba, Vendio, SingleFeed, M-Shopper and TextBroker.

Do you want to be a part of our next networking event in Las Vegas? Head over to the IMA website and click on ‘Join Us’. It’s FREE to join the IMA as an ecommerce seller! Be sure to also check out our newly launched Facebook Group where there is a ton of great information shared every day. And get ready to join us in Las Vegas during the next ASD show when we will again be getting together with our members and business partners for another extreme networking event.

IMA Announces Educational Sessions at ASD for March, 2013

IMA has lined up some great speakers for attendees of the ASD trade show for March 18-19, 2013. As always, our speakers will be providing educational classes for both ecommmerce newbies and advanced sellers. If you are an ecommerce seller, this is a great trade show to source new product and learn about the latest in ecommerce! Here’s the current lineup:

Monday, March 18, 2013
9:00 – 10:00
Mike Effle, CEO Vendio

Online Triple Threat: Selling on Amazon, eBay and Your Web Site

Selling to customers online can be compared to having multiple store locations in the offline world. If you are selling on one online venue, it’s probably time you considered diversifying. Just as with brick and mortar businesses, your online business can grow exponentially the more locations you have. Mike Effle, CEO at Vendio, will help you discover the most effective ways to use eBay, Amazon and your own web site to boost your online sales.

Join Mike, a long time industry veteran as he guides you in developing a strong online marketing strategy that will make your online presence known and your sales soar.

Monday, March 18, 2013
10:30 – 11:30
Liam Supple, Product Marketing, SingleFeed

Google Shopping – Get the 800 Pound Gorilla On Your Side

Using Google Shopping may be the best way to get your products noticed. With so many changes to the comparison shopping search landscape, Liam Supple of SingleFeed will show you some expert techniques for getting your products indexed into Google Shopping for the maximum impact.

Getting your products found on the internet is tough! If you are ready to submit your product listings to Google Shopping, then you owe it to yourself to attend this session with Liam Supple of SingleFeed.

Monday, March 18, 2013
12:00 – 1:00
Harry Hirschman, VP of Marketing and Business Development, Vendio

Mobile Commerce and “Showrooming”: Win Business From The Big Box Stores

The reality of competing against Big Box Stores is that there are some things you will never beat them on but there are just as many strategies that you can implement where you can have the upper hand!

Join Harry Hirschman, Vice-President of Marketing and Business Development for Vendio as he discusses the ‘Showrooming’ phenomena and how you can win business from the Big Box stores. Harry will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Big Box Retailers and what you can do as a small to medium sized business to up your game.

Monday, March 18, 2013
1:30 – 2:30
Marc Gorlin, Co-founder & Chairman, Kabbage

Funding Your Expanding Ecommerce Business – Case Studies

Raising funds is something most businesses don’t like to do. Sometimes it’s because the lending landscape has changed and it appears difficult – if not impossible – to raise capital and sometimes the reason is that small businesses don’t believe they should be raising funds at all.

Marc Gorlin, the co-founder and Chairman of Kabbage will present some case studies of growing businesses and how and why they raised the capital to fund the expansion of their businesses.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
9:00 – 10:00
Rick Wilson, President/COO, Miva Merchant

Devour Your Competition: Building the Best Web Site

Building a web site is easy; building a GREAT web site that has all the features that customers like takes some skill and knowledge. Even if you think your web site already has it all, Rick Wilson, President of Miva Merchant has some ideas and suggestions for creating the kind of web site that customers have to come to expect in ecommerce shopping – and the kind of web site that will help you devour your competition.

We love knowing that customers are visiting our ecommerce site, but how do we turn a browser into a buyer? For most ecommerce web sites, less than 4% of all visitors actually make a purchase. So how can you increase your sales conversion rate when the odds are against you? With over 13 years in ecommerce, Rick has the expertise to help guide you – and your buyers – in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
10:30 – 11:30
Liam Supple, Product Marketing, SingleFeed

Comparison Shopping Engines 101: Getting Your Products Found

Maybe you’ve heard about comparison shopping engines and want to learn more. Perhaps you’ve never even considered them for your ecommerce web site. In either case, this is the session for you to attend to learn the basics of comparison shopping engines.

In this beginner to intermediate level class, SingleFeeds’ Liam Supple will give you the knowledge you need, teach you the ins and outs of comparison shopping engines and show you some expert techniques to getting your product indexed on the comparison shopping engines.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
12:00 – 1:00
Rick Wilson, President/COO, Miva Merchant

The Rise of Tablets – How Responsive Web Design Is In Your Future

Your web site needs to be accessible and usable for everyone even as the number of devices, platforms and browsers that are used to access it continue to expand every day. Incorporating a responsive web design represents a fundamental shift in how web sites are built now – and into the future.

Join Rick Wilson, President of Miva Merchant as he discusses the explosive growth in tablets and how you need to be making changes to your site now along with things you need to consider as you redesign your ecommerce web site in the future.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
1:30 – 2:30
Marc Gorlin, Co-founder & Chairman, Kabbage

Personal Credit vs Business Credit – What’s the right type to grow my business?

Many small businesses rely on their own credit to fund their business. But when is it prudent to consider a business loan? And what are the differences between business credit and personal credit? Most businesses find that it’s important to maintain a business credit profile that is distinctly separate from your personal credit profile.
Building separation between the two can help your business develop the credibility that matters to banks, suppliers, and other creditors.

Join Marc Gorlin, co-founder of Kabbage as he discusses the differences between the two so you can decide which one is right for you.

What people buy online

ecommerce salesAccording to data from the US Census Bureau, more than 74% of electronics are purchase online, followed closely by 74% of music and videos. Surprisingly, furniture, which many ecommerce sellers shy away from selling for logistic reasons is in 3rd place (65%) with the massive clothing category right behind furniture. What categories could you be expanding into to take advantage of the enormous growth in ecommerce?

Product Sourcing Ideas – Dropshipping

When you are beginning your ecommerce business, one of the first hurdles is deciding on what you will sell.

There are a variety of places and means to source product – you need to decide which one will work best for you and your business. Today’s blog post will address a low cost way to enter the market: dropshipping

Sometimes this is the easiest and lowest risk way of getting into an ecommerce business. Simply put, drop shipping is the process of listing merchandise for sale that is owned and warehoused by a third party. Once you sell the merchandise, you notify the drop-shipper who will ship out the product to your customer for you. Sounds easy, right? The secret here is finding a RELIABLE and TRUSTWORTHY source with a product line that is IN DEMAND.

Most legitimate drop shippers will not require a minimum purchase or charge a monthly fee, but there are exceptions to even that rule. Do your homework – research potential drop shippers by entering the dropshipper’s name into a search engine and add the words “complaints” “sucks” “reviews”. Also research what the fees are and figure out if there is a market for their products and what the going rate is. Take a look at private web sites, ebay and Amazon to start. Figure out if it is worth it to sell their products after you factor in the fees that each marketplace charges, the fees from the dropshipper and the cost of the merchandise.

Next up: distributors

An ecommerce home based reality check

So you want to sell on the internet and you want it to be a home based business. What do you do first?

We will be beginning a series of blog posts on starting a home based ecommerce business just to provide some information to newbie ecommerce sellers that need some basic information and guidance.

As always, you are welcome to join the Internet Merchants Association where you can network with others that have been in your shoes.

In our first blog post, we will be addressing product sourcing. Do you have any requests for things you’d like to see us cover in a future blog post? Leave a comment below and we’ll see if we can accommodate your request.

Reflections on the 2010 IMA Conference

I budget a lot of money on seminars every year, I feel my education is important to me and my business. Although IMA is fairly a new trade association, I continue to be impressed with the conferences that is put on. This year’s conference, which I’m still thinking about, was no exception.

I didn’t have the opportunity to go to all of the ASD & IMA seminars (this photo by IMA president Fred Neff is of just one of the well-attended seminars).

Because I’m familiar with videos and blogging, the rest of the social media venues and networks intrigue me most. So I found this video extremely powerful, and I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.

I keep remembering what Rick Wilson of Miva Merchant (an IMA diamond member) said: social media is a “circle of life.” It’s about the three C’s: connections, then conversation, and then conversations. So if we can build a community of supporters for our businesses and give them good content, they can help us tremendously with our marketing.

Here are some free tools I learned about at the conference:

  • Backtype.com, which is a real-time tool for you to keep tabs of what people are saying about your business
  • Alterian has a freemium version of its monitoring service for you to monitor your social media venues
  • Here is a free tool that helps you with documents, www.docstoc.com
  • And another for PowerPoint presentations, www.slideshare.net

What did you enjoy most about the conference? Please share your learnings.

Top 6 Reasons for E-Commerce Merchandise Returns

Written by Pat

It’s a cost of doing business and a headache for a lot of online sellers: accepting merchandise returns.

There are valid reasons that we get returned merchandise from our online customers, but there are some times that costly returns can be avoided or prevented.

According to a recent Distribution Center Operations Report from The Supply Chain Consortium and Reverse Logistics: Returns, Refunds and Recalls Hot Topic Report, the top six reasons for customer returns were:

1. The customer ordered incorrect product or size
2. The customer decided the product was not needed or wanted
3. No reason for return given
4. The product did not match the description on the Website or in the catalog
5. The product did not fit the customer’s expectations
6. The company shipped the incorrect product or size

e-commerce shoppers

So, as an e-commerce company, how can you stem the tide of product returns?

At first glance, it would seem that the merchant might be responsible for only #6:

The company shipped the incorrect product or size

This, of course, is generally a clerical error that might be avoided with improved systems and procedures and employee training.

However, there are quite a few steps an e-commerce seller can take to prevent returns based on some of the other reasons that were cited.

How about these reasons?

1. The customer ordered incorrect product or size

4. The product did not match the description on the Website or in the catalog

The number one reason is incorrect product or size and the fourth most popular reason is that the description was not accurate. How can you as an online seller prevent this?

Ask yourself:
How clear and accurate is my description?
How many pictures do I have for each product?
Do the pictures show the product from various angles?
Do the pictures show relative size with a ruler or other measurement of scale?
For clothing items, are there sizing charts available?
Do I link to the sizing charts from the respective product page?
Do I provide measurements?

Another way to avoid having customer returns is to allow customers to leave product reviews.

Besides providing descriptive language that will help the search engines better index your products, reviews left by past customers can help shoppers make the best decision based on their experience. Who better to know that a pair of shoes runs small and to order a half-size up? Or that the orange shown in the picture is just a little bit brighter than the actual color of the purse?

As an e-commerce website, we will always be susceptible to returns, but it is possible to greatly improve your company’s return rate by improvements to your site and product descriptions. These changes will not only lower your merchandise return rate, but provide a boost to your customer satisfaction rate as well.

IMA Member Spotlight: The Gentle Bath & Company

Brenda Collins owns The Gentle Bath & Company, and is a textbook case study in branding and marketing an e-commerce business. We sat down and talked with her.

How and why did you start selling online?

Before launching my business, I was an RN. I suffered an injury which forced me to “retire” from nursing, so to amuse myself, I sold items from around my house on eBay. That, coupled with the computer and marketing skills I’d learned in Hospital Education, and the design skills I developed through scrap booking when my son was born, set the stage for my launching an e-business.

Initially I opened an eBay store in the Bath/Spa category in March 2007 – and began to sell items within an hour! I chose that segment because I had a very hard time finding quality items when redecorating my own master bath. I ordered a set of Bamboo Blend bath towels on a whim; I ended up loving them so much they became the foundation of my store. I started out with less than 20 items, gradually adding to them (now I carry around 250 items). After the first year, which was full of growing pains, I launched my own website, and sales soon surpassed those of my eBay store. I closed the eBay store in 2009 at the end of last year and am concentrating on my own website now.

Tell us about your company.

The Gentle Bath & Company offers luxury bath items at affordable prices. Our tagline, “Transform your bath into an oasis”,  says it all. We carry a variety of bath-related items from luxury towels to bath caddies to Lady Primrose Bath and Body. We aim to provide our customer with an exceptional internet buying experience.

What were some of your biggest mistakes? How did you overcome them?

I’ve had some white elephant products in my inventory; it’s been hard to pinpoint exactly why they don’t sell. I’ve found that sticking with more “known” brands helps with search and sales. I have a clearance category and put some of the items in that, which I’ve been able to return other items to the manufacturere even though I had to pay a restocking fee.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when first starting your business?

Where do I begin?! Probably the biggest thing would be building a website sooner than I did. Starting a store on eBay is a great way to begin with a limited investment, but now there are so many quick and easy website options that I think I could have opened a website sooner than I did.

Another would be how much time a good shipping program can save you. When I implemented my shipping system (Shipworks) with a dedicated thermal label printer, I cut my package processing time by 200% or MORE!

“It is vital when choosing your shopping cart that you investigate the shipping processes available for the cart.”

What three things would you tell aspiring entrepreneurs?

a. Research research research – your products, your choice of carts and your choice of payments, everything about your business should be researched and then chosen based on what is the best fit.

b. Always try to exceed your customers’ expectations; they will remember you for it and refer their friends and family to you if they trust you will treat them right.

c. Join groups such as IMA and the Internet Retailer Association. You can learn so much from others who’ve been there longer than you, and get feedback and information about many cutting-edge practices in the field of Internet sales.

What has been your greatest business success?

I think the “branding” and “packaging” that I’ve built is what I am known for.  In addition to my products it is my packaging that stands out from many other Internet companies.  I have often talked to customers about their orders, and apart from my products it’s the packaging that they remember and is what stands out when they think about their order.  It is this attention to detail that often leads a customer to refer their friends and family to my store.

What are your goals for your company?

My goals are always changing as my business evolves.  My long-term goal for my company is to maintain profitability as I focus on my website for my sole source of income.  My short-term goals for 2010 are to:

  • change my merchant account from PayPal to one that is more economical,
  • choose and implement an email marketing  program, and
  • take advantage of my new WordPress blog theme and implement all the Google advertising opportunities that are built into the themes framework.

What are some of your favorite business resources?

1. IMA – they have so much to offer on their website in addition to one of the most helpful member forums available for the Internet retailer.

2. Facebook Fan Pages – one of the best free advertising you can get for your business.  I also think their paid ads have some of the best returns for the money.  You can build your fan base and then have a captive audience to communicate with directly regarding all facets of your business. In fact, I find the Facebook interface to be one of the most powerful and easiest to use of all the social networks out there.

3. SCORE – Service Corps of Retired Executives will provide a small business counselor free of charge.  I have met with mine a few times and that’s been very helpful for me.  Their website is also loaded with resources for the small business owner.

Finally: why did you join IMA and has it been worth it?

YES YES YES!!  I was looking for a group that both understood eBay but also focused on business outside of eBay. I found all of that and more in the IMA.  In fact, the member forum is the most helpful forum that I  belong to.  They’ve also started offering more education and that has been very helpful as well.  For the small internet business owner there is no better group to belong to than the IMA!

Brenda, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Best wishes in 2010 and beyond for The Gentle Bath & Company!

Edited by Shonali

IMA Announces 3rd Annual Conference Agenda

The Internet Merchants Association has announced their conference agenda for 2009 in Las Vegas, NV in conjunction with the ASD/AMD Trade Show.  There is still plenty of time to register, so be sure to go to www.imalasvegas.com right now and get signed up. You do not want to miss this conference packed full of information for increasing your online sales!

AGENDA: Updated 3/11/09

NOTE – The IMA is still adding more speakers, so times and speakers are subject to change.  In addition to the agenda below, there will be a Networking Suite open at Bally’s on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights where you can meet the speakers and ask more questions!

March 16-18 Internet Merchants Assn. Las Vegas register @ , www.imamerchant.org & www.imalasvegas.com Don’t miss out – Register TODAY!

Monday, March 16, 2009 – Internet Merchants Assn Workshops for ASD/AMD
Conference @ Sands Expo Convention Center Rm 107

8am – Marketing My Website on a Budget – Crystal Wells-Miller,Senior Marketing Manager, Vendio
930am – Successful Email Marketing –Charlie Bass, President, Las Vegas Int. Chamber of
Commerce
11am – Make Shipping Easy With Today’s Tools – Seth Birnbaum, Endicia
1230pm – Understanding Search Engine Marketing – Chris Finke,  Orange Soda

FIRST IMA EVENT:
ZAPPOS ON SITE TOUR:
3:30 p.m – 5:30 IMA Pre-conference on-site tour, Zappos.com
Meet in front of Bally’s hotel for transportation, reservations must be made in advance and are first come, first serve.

Hospitality Suite Open, Ballys Resort : 8 p.m. – midnight

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 – Sands Expo Convention Center Rooms 302/303

7:30 – 8 :15 am exhibits open & coffee

8 :15 am – 8: 45  YES WE CAN –case history, Mike Terpin, Social Radi’us Agency

9am-9:40am – Maximizing profit: How to make more money despite the economy – Sarah Brubacher senior manager of eBay’s top sellers programs,
Seth Birnbaum, Endicia and Charles Steinmetz, regional director CISCO

9: 45am-10 15 – Multi-channel Selling, Anthony Musselwhite, AuctionBlox

10: 15am- 10:30am – snack break

10 30-11: 00 am –  How to cash in on TWITTERMANIA , Dan Hollings Twitter Guru

11: 00 – 12:00 ROUNDTABLE #1 & exhibits area open

12 – 1:00 Lunch Exhibits open

2:30- 2:45 pm Snack break

2:45pm-3:30 pm – Driving traffic & attention with Video & Podcasts & online radio
in your marketing & ad mix: Mariana Danilovic, Hollywood Portfolio( former EVP Mediazone). Networks, Andrea Mitchell, Podcast Go, Charlie Bass, Host Vegas Talk Radio

3:30pm-4 00pm – Comparison Shopping Sites; Greg Haslam, Become.com

4:00pm- 4:30 pm Joyce Schwarz, Matchmaking for Business, JCOM, www.joycecom.com Marketing, PR & Joint Ventures

4:30 – 5:30  pm ROUNDTABLES #2

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 – Sands Expo Convention Center

8 am- 8:45 a.m. Morning Networking/continental breakfast

9am-10am – IMA Business Meeting /elections

10am-10:30am – Getting the Most from Your Websites –  Michael Levit, EVP Marketing & Business Development, Vendio

1045am-11:00am – snack break

11:00am-11 45am – “Rich” Email Marketing & Video that sells  Ron Cates, Regional Director, Constant Contact, Dave Boufford, creator of the viral video “THE DASH” 40 million views & counting.

12 pm to 12:45 LUNCH inspirational speaker. Author & poet, Linda Ellis,www.lindaellis.netTHE DASH which sold 200,000 books (only online) and online film that attracted 40 million viewers and counting.

1- 2 p.m. Zappos Keynote: Business Development 2.0 Business Development
at the cross-section of commerce, content & community, Aaron Magness, Zappos, www.zappos.com

2: 15 – 2:45  Subject TBA – Phillip Mulloy, CEO frooition, www.frooition.com  & Burne Hill, US Regiion Manager, frooition

3 – 4:45 Roundtables, workshops & demos & exhibits open

4: 45pm-515pm –-“SEO Link Building Techniques“, Alex McArthur, VP of Search, Orange Soda

5:15 – 5:30 – Closing Comments & Awards

Register today!  Get your business on the fast track to success! www.imalasvegas.com