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.

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

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!

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