Ecommerce for Small Businesses

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The term ‘small business’ covers a wide range of business models and brands. A small business might make seven figures and have multiple employees, or be a single mother supporting herself from her laptop. Many of these very small ‘Mom and pop’ or sole proprietor businesses find that the small business advice out there is geared toward much larger operations.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of ecommerce. Very small businesses can benefit in huge ways from expanding to the internet, but they have very special needs and considerations in doing so. Here are a few tips for running and marketing your small ecommerce enterprise

  1. Go professional from the beginning. One of the best ways to ensure that your website is a complete failure is to do a slipshod job from the beginning. Your small business logo design, brand, and website need to be professionally designed and created for easy maintenance and longevity. Even if you manage to make a success out of the situation, you will pushing your business on a rough, uphill course until the issues are corrected. Design services are very affordable, so invest in them from the beginning.
  2. Act like the big companies. This is most important in the areas of security and privacy. Customers will absolutely not feel safe doing business with you if you do not have a posted privacy policy and a secure payment gateway. The same principle applies to checkout; you will lose customers left and right if your checkout is not efficient and fast.
  3. Build your fan base. Your most important task, once your website and logo are complete that is, is to lure traffic and, more important, customers to your site. You can begin to do this in a variety of ways. Open up social networking account and beginning finding and friending everyone you know. Talk to people that you encounter throughout your day about your new web venture. Ask people to mention you; word of mouth is critical in a small business’s success, and even more crucial for very small businesses with very small marketing budgets.
  4. Be a local choice. There are many online yellow pages out there as well as sites such as Yelp that direct people to local businesses. Register with all of these sites. Even in internet sales, most people prefer to deal with local small business owners. You can also market locally by acting locally—sponsor a local team or event, join Rotary or a similar business organization, and generally make your presence known within your community.
  5. Lure new customers with special deals. Many customers will visit a website for a special deal and then continue coming back if they enjoyed the experience. Offer a special coupon, a freebie, or even reduced price shipping can encourage newcomers to take that first step from visitor to customers. Just be sure your deal is one that you can afford to extend in huge numbers—there are a lot of bargain hunters out there!

Is It Time To Redesign Your ECommerce Store?

Redesigning your ecommerce website every now and then is a necessary part of maintaining relevance and presenting a shopping experience that your customers love. However, there is a time and a place for everything. A new ecommerce website design can boost sales, but it can kill them as well if it is the wrong change at the wrong time. Here are a few ways of telling if here and now is the right time and place. 

When to redesign:

  • To boost sales. With the economy tanked, more than sixty percent of ecommerce websites are redesigning in any given year simply to maintain sales. Design services can be expensive, but sometimes they are the only way to hold onto a drifting customer base.
  • To improve the shopping experience. If there are flaws in your system that can only be resolved with a complete overhaul, there is no better time than the present to fix them. You don’t know how many customers you might be losing do to even small ecommerce website design issues.
  • Your current design is outdated. Visitors tend to see your ecommerce website design as an indication of your overall quality. An out-of-date or unattractive design will say nothing good about your business, and possibly drive potential customers away.
  • Your customers are demanding it. If surveys and emails are showing that a certain part of your design is a real problem for many customers, then you need to remedy the problem as soon as possible. 

When not to redesign:

  • Only minor problems are present. If your website has a great design that is working well for your customer base, but there are a few small issues, then do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Simply fix the problems and keep your current design until a new one is truly needed.
  • Right before your busy season. A new ecommerce website design will take time to perfect. There are always kinks—always. In addition, it may take a while for your existing customer base to acclimate to the new design and embrace it. Your busy season is not the time to experiment; there is simply too much at stake.

Making the Switch

If you have determined that a new ecommerce website design is necessary and that now is the time, then you need to make a plan. First, survey customers to see what improvements are necessary. Second, contact a design professional. This is not something that you want to undertake on your own unless you have an academic and professional background in design. Last, make small changes over time rather than hitting customers with an entirely new system. If you must make a large change, then introduce it with a site tour or tutorial that will keep existing customers from feeling lost. Some websites find that they are most successful when they roll changes first to new visitors (those without cookies) and work out the kinks before introducing the changes to returning visitors. Ultimately you will have to make a decision that is best for your ecommerce website and your customer base.

7 Ways to Keep Inventory Costs Low

One of the biggest financial challenges for many ecommerce websites is keeping inventory. You commit to a sizeable amount of inventory, pay for it, and then must pay to store it as well. This is a huge financial drain on your business, albeit a necessary one. However, there are ways that you as an ecommerce website owner can keep inventory costs a little lower, freeing up money for other aspects of your website. Here are a few tips.

  1. Negotiate with suppliers. You may look at inventory prices as a stable, set-in-stone proposition. However, many distributors view them as more of a starting point for negotiation. There is no shame in at least asking for a discount, especially if you are making a rather large order. If the price is non-negotiable, ask for other bonuses such as extended terms or a discount on shipping. You can’t get a discount if you never even ask!
  2. Take free samples when they are available. Not only does this keep you from having to use your own inventory for ecommerce website photos and/or other product testing, it gets you some nifty free stuff. Those pennies add up to dollars, especially when you are taking every sample available.
  3. Charge returns to the manufacturer. If a product is defective, that is the fault of the manufacturer, not you. You probably already need to pay for return shipping to the customer, but the supplier can foot the bill for the item itself. Make sure this relationship is made clear whenever you negotiate terms with a new supplier. You can’t afford to lose money on someone else’s mistakes. 
  4. Pay your bills early. Many distributors offer a discount to clients who pay early, and even the smallest of these discounts can really add up! You have to pay the piper eventually; why not do so on a timeline that saves a little overhead?
  5. Negotiate credit. If paying early is not an option, negotiate terms with either your suppliers or your credit cards. In the early days of your ecommerce website, it may be difficult to pay until you have moved some of your product. If you must carry credit, ensure that it costs you as little as possible. There is nothing worse than finding out that interest has eaten your profit and even cost you a bit.
  6. Order on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Monday and Friday are the busiest days for most suppliers, and there they are the days when companies are most likely to make mistakes. These may not cost you money, but they can cost you in time and even in sales (that means: money). Order on the days when people are less rushed and more likely to get it right.
  7. Communicate. If you are looking into expanding your ecommerce website, whether it is offering a few more products or an entirely new line, talk to your suppliers. They may be able to help you out, and some will offer especially sweet deals to an established customer such as you.

Ecommerce Information Management

Ecommerce information management is a crucial part of running an online retail website. However, many business owners do not know what the term means, much less how it can help them. This article will provide a short definition of ecommerce information management and why it is important for ecommerce websites.

Ecommerce information management is a vast and growing field, but it can be simply described as the practice of gathering, compiling and tracking data from website visits and transactions as well as managing the information that is on your website. Good information management allows you to see what strategies, wording and products are most successful with your customer base so you can modify your website in ways that increase your profits. It also allows you to easily manage products and new information on your website in a timely and efficient manner.

There are several ways of providing ecommerce information management for your own ecommerce website. First, many large corporations either hire dedicated and specially trained staff to perform this duty or outsource it to one of the many firms that are currently providing the service. This is an excellent way of handling the issue, but it is too expensive for a small or medium business owner. Further, most smaller ecommerce websites do not even have the amount of information necessary to necessitate this.

Another option which is more budget-friendly is to order software that provides ecommerce information management. There are many software options that will let you compile and arrange site analytic data in a way that allows you to evaluate trends. Some business owners opt instead to outsource the matter entirely by using a subscription service that offers a dashboard with quick site analytics. Many ecommerce websites are already using software that allows them to update their catalog easily and quickly. Being able to accomplish these tasks efficiently is crucial because most ecommerce website owners are short on time yet need the information.

The bottom line with ecommerce information management is that it allows you to identify and respond to your customers’ needs without a huge investment of time or huge amounts of special knowledge. They make the day-to-day running and modification of your website a simpler task. This allows you to spend your time in ways that will actually make money. It is a time saver and a money maker in one package.

A final thing that every small business owner should know about ecommerce information management is that it is essential to modern ecommerce. You need to know how your customers are responding to your website and you also need to be able to quickly modify your website as trends change.

However you decide to deal with information management for your own ecommerce website, it is essential that you develop some sort of plan. This software is not an accessory, but a vital part of running a retail website. It helps you to overcome barriers and to identify problems before they undercut your chances of success. You cannot afford to be without it.

Smartphone Apps that Every Ecommerce Website Owner Needs

Let’s face it: even ecommerce website owners have lives. You are often away from your computer, but your ecommerce business keeps running. However, did you know that you can manage many aspects of your ecommerce business from your smartphone? Here are a few apps that will make the day-to-day running of your business mobile.

  1. Facebook Mobile.You probably have a Facebook website linked to your ecommerce website, and thanks to this app you can run it from your smartphone. This app allows you to perform most Facebook networking tasks while on the go. You can post comments, talk to fans, upload photos, and more. Because it is free and available for all smartphone operating systems, you cannot afford to be without it.
  2. iAdSense.This app is also free, and it allows you to track your earnings and stats for all of your websites in one streamlined process. You can get the stats for almost any time period that interests you, and there is even a currency converter for those of you that are running multi-national sites. While this is only for iPhone, you can get a similar app called DroidSense for Android phones. Sorry, Blackberry owners.
  3. WordPress.This app allows you to blog on the go, whenever the inspiration strikes. You can also perform blog management tasks, such as moderating comments, basic editing, and adding new images and video. It is free, and available for pretty much every smartphone out there.
  4. Ego.This app costs $1.99, but it is money well spent. For less than the cost of a morning coffee, you can track web statistics from all of your accounts on a variety of websites including Feedburner, Google, Twitter and more. You can also view visitor stats from your own website. It is only available for iPhone and iPad, however. 
  5. SEO Search Ranking.If you are like most ecommerce website owners, you are constantly looking for ways to improve your SEO. This app allows you to monitor your website’s performance in this crucial area. You can track all of your websites and keywords, create graphs that show changes in trends, and narrow results by country and other criteria. It is $2.99 and available only for iPhone, although Android users can get the similar SEO Keyword Checker.
  6. FTP On the Go Pro.This is the most expensive app on our list at $9.99, but it is worth every penny because it allows you to view and modify your website’s actual code. It has all of the functions of a less mobile FTP client and works for CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and more. However, it is only available for iPhone. 

Managing your ecommerce website from your smartphone can make running your business just a little easier. Everyone needs work-life balance, and we now have so many tools for achieving it. As you can see, we purposely chose the best and the cheapest apps, to fit neatly into a tight budget. You can afford to download all of these apps today, so go for it!

5 Tips for Naming an Ecommerce Website

Our ecommerce website’s name is the first thing that many customers will see or hear about you. It will be an integral part of your business, a part of your logo design, and a part of your website. A name is how you will be known to the public, so you need to make sure it is chosen well. Here are a few tips to help you make the right decision.

  • Keep it simple.The most popular ecommerce website names are easy to pronounce and easy to spell. Sure, there are notable exceptions, but the general rule is that simple names are easy to remember. Keep your audience in mind when developing this name; what makes good sense in one region just might not in another.
  • Relate to your field.It’s easy to relate the name Facebook to its purpose. This not only helps with branding, it makes it easier for the customer to identify your market and know whether they are part of it.
  • Be memorable.Memorability is not just dependent on being simple, but on having meaning and containing a pun or other fun language device. Consider the success of Zappos (based on ‘zapatos’, the Spanish word for shoes) and Twitter. Memorable names are easy to type into the browser and can be the basis of a great brand. Would Google by any other name be just as sweet?
  • Know your competition.Obviously you have large competitors; you are probably well aware of them. However, you should avoid naming conflicts with smaller competitors as well. To do this, you need to be aware of them. You should search for terms related to your business and see what comes up. You will probably see that a lot of your top choices are already taken. However, you will also come up with a few ideas that are not completely free. You don’t need a name as good as your competition, you need one that is leagues better.
  • Look at available websites.Obviously even the best name will do you no good if the same named website is already taken. That should be a deal breaker for any ecommerce website business. Narrow your list to a short range of possibilities, then immediately cross off the ones that already have websites.
  • Test the possibilities.It’s important to test different possible names to see which ones appeal best to your market. This also will ensure that there are no unpleasant connotations that are immediately obvious to others. Gather a group of people from your target audience and have them look at your short list of names. A clear favorite should emerge. Choose the name that makes people want to buy, not the one that they merely like the best. This test marketing can be done professionally or simply from an informal gathering of people you know. Avoid getting too much feedback from friends and family who are not part of your target audience.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It might be, but it is a labor of love. Your name will be one of the most important parts of your ecommerce website, so give the matter the attention it deserves.

Gift Cards: If You Aren’t Offering Them, It Is Past Time to Start

You’d be surprised at how many smaller ecommerce websites don’t offer gift cards—at least, we are. Gift cards are a very popular gift choice, especially for that hard-to-buy-for person that seems to be on everyone’s Christmas list. People like to give gift cards not just for holidays, but for thank you’s, corporate gifts and more. Not only do gift cards add a new source of sales and profits for your ecommerce website, they also put your logo and brand out there. 

However, many people are buying not just gift cards, but virtual gift certificates as well. This makes it easy to buy a gift for that birthday you just remembered or other occasions. Coupled with an ecard, it streamlines the gift buying process to a few clicks and a few minutes. That’s a trend that the busy modern customer can get behind wholeheartedly. 

If you are not offering gift cards or another type of gift certificate, you are selling your ecommerce website short. Still not sure? Here are a few facts about gift cards that might change your mind:

  1. Over half of all shoppers buy gift cards.Could you be losing out on half of your customer base? Without gift cards, this might be the case. If you are not selling gift cards or gift certificates, you can bet that customers come to your website and then bounce. Many people are looking specifically for gift cards and will leave if they are not offered.
  2. Over the 2008 holiday season, the sales of gift cards came to over $25 billion.We were unable to find statistics for 2009 and 2010, but you can bet the sales were even higher. People love to receive gift cards; it gives them a chance to take advantage of post-holiday sales and also to buy exactly what they want.
  3. More than half of gift card recipients will spend more than the value of the card.No one likes to have store credit just sitting there; most people will spend their card balance and then some. 
  4. When you sell a gift card, you are selling more than your gift card.You are selling the opportunity to become a loyal customer. Customers who receive a gift card and are generally happy with the sale will return. They may even give a few of your gift cards at the next major holiday.
  5. Gift cards bring traffic.Not just traffic, but highly relevant traffic that has every intention of buying. If these people post on social media about their purchase or tell others, your business can start getting that valuable word of mouth advertising that we all covet.
  6. Most people no longer consider gift cards and gift certificates an impersonal gift.Modern people want to get their gift recipients what they really want or need. They value this more than the personal touch that an actual gift can offer. No one wants to force a loved one to stand in a return line or fill their closets with unwanted gifts. Gift cards are the modern, caring choice.

New Taxes on Ecommerce?

Until recently, ecommerce has existed in a strange, regulation-neutral area. Federal and state agencies have been unsure about how to tax and regulate ecommerce, and the field was too small to warrant much attention. However, with ecommerce business becoming a substantial part of the American economic landscape, the government is now looking for a way to take their (fair?) share.

Ecommerce website owners often don’t keep good records… because they really have not had to. However, you soon may be picking up a new set of accounting software, because the government is calling for greater accountability and greater taxation of your ecommerce business.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is introducing legislation that would make it easy for states to demand sales tax on ecommerce sales within their boundaries. The online tax bill is still in its earliest stages, but it is predicted to find success in a cash-strapped government. States need revenue now more than ever.

Current federal law has prevented the collection of sales tax on businesses that do not have in-state stores or distribution centers. Indeed, it is difficult to determine a jurisdiction for the internet, which makes the matter complicated. However, the new bill will lay down the law, determining which states (the home of the website or of the customer, for example) will receive taxes and how they will be collected. This will allow states to create their own internet sales tax regulation, which they will likely be quick to do.

A similar bill, the Main Street Fairness Act, was introduced last year but fizzled due to larger issues on the table. The subject is now being revisited—and your senators will be voting on it. If you want to have a say, now is the time to contact your representatives.

According to rumors, ecommerce shopkeepers would be able to keep a small (0.75%) chunk of the sales tax to cover the expenses involved in collecting and submitting the tax. Money would also be given to retailers of sales tax software so they could provide it free of charge to ecommerce websites. This may help with the day-to-day costs of collecting sales tax, but it will not make up for the likely dip in internet sales. Many customers, especially those in states with higher sales tax, seek out ecommerce websites as a way of saving the money they otherwise would be giving to the government.

However, many ecommerce websites would be unaffected by the law. The current stance is that retailers selling less than half a million dollars per year of product to customers outside their state should be exempt from the legislation. Even with this exemption, experts predict that this would give $23.3 billion in tax revenues to state governments. 

While this legislation will take away a clear advantage that e-tailers have enjoyed since the advent of the internet, it will make the playing field more level for the Main Street stores struggling to compete with ecommerce. This means that ecommerce website owners may have to step up their game and offer even more advantages in order to keep their customer base.

The Future of Ecommerce

Many people are becoming ecommerce website owners because it is a way to get income right now. Ecommerce is definitely a viable business choice in present times, but how will it hold up in the future?

There are several things to consider when creating a forecast for ecommerce websites. Here are a few issues that will be contributing to the future of ecommerce.

  • There is no end in sight to the growth.The market share is growing quickly. Customers are discovering the buying online is easy, convenient and, under the right circumstances, safe. They are pleased with the selection, the prices and the overall experience. While domestic markets are sure to peak in the near future, countries such as India and China are getting into the game. These populations have rising incomes and a rising desire for the same toys that Americans enjoy.
  • Large corporations are getting in on the action.This may be the single greatest challenge facing small ecommerce business owners. You are not competing against other little guys anymore; you are competing against huge, multinational businesses with entire teams dedicated to maximizing their ecommerce sales. You are a small fish in a very large, global pond. The other fish are getting bigger and more predatory as companies such as Microsoft and Amazon buy up smaller businesses and add them to the conglomerate.
  • The cost of ecommerce is getting lower.It used to be expensive and time-consuming to open an ecommerce website and to market it. Now, ecommerce packages are relatively inexpensive and web hosting almost free. Low cost and even free opportunities to promote your ecommerce website abound, such as social media and blogging. It has never been easier or cheaper to achieve your dreams, whatever they may be.
  • Americans are more connected than ever.In order for ecommerce to die out completely, we would have to throw away our smart phones, turn off our high speed internet, and let the laptop collect dust in a cupboard somewhere. Do you see that happening? Of course not. We are more connected than ever before, and the level of dependence on technology is sure to increase as the technology becomes more reliable and more savvy.
  • Flexibility is key.While you may never lose your market, you may just lose the market for your particular product or method of delivering it. A good example of this phenomenon is eBay. Once the go-to place for ecommerce, the company is suffering as more and more people lose their auction fever and learn to find the same deals through other forms of sales. In order to survive, eBay is looking for new ways to make their model relevant. You will have to do this as well as your customer base changes through time.

As you can see, there is most definitely a future for ecommerce. However, you will have to work at staying on top of changes in the ecommerce business and in your customer base. These are not insurmountable obstacles, but merely speed bumps on the path to success.

Does Weather Affect Ecommerce Sales?

When you have been running an ecommerce website for a while, you begin to notice trends. People seem to buy more at certain times and under certain circumstances. One thing that many ecommerce website business owners will point out is that customers seem especially affected by the weather. Here are a few ways that weather canaffect your ecommerce website:

  • Keeping customers home. Extremely cold weather makes it difficult to shop and also makes customers want to hole up in their den with a warm beverage. As we saw last Christmas, when many shoppers completed their shopping online as New England was bashed with repeated blizzard, this can be very good for ecommerce. In fact, not only will established internet shoppers explore your website on a rainy day, ones that are totally new to internet shopping will do so as well. Bad weather encourages customers to give a new shopping format a chance. As we saw last winter, it is a chance not just to make sales, but to add to your market.
  • Harming internet connections. While bad weather may make you want to stay home, it also can remove the means from shopping at home. If a customer uses a satellite service, even overcast days can be difficult. However, the real villain here is extreme weather. Not only did the recent tornadoes in the South devastate lives, they took a large section of the American ecommerce retail market off the grid. Many of these people are living without internet; even if they had it, they have better things to worry about than where to get the cheapest gadget or Pillow Pet.
  • Getting customers out of the house. While cold weather makes us want to stay home, warm weather often has just the opposite effect. When it is sunny and mild, your customers will be swimming in a lake, laying on a beach, or at the mall trying to cool off under industrial AC. Your ecommerce website is the last thing on their mind—that is, unless they have a mobile phone. While warm weather used to devastate ecommerce temporarily because it took customers away from their computers. However, no one needs to be at their computer to shop at a website that has mobile functionality. If your ecommerce website does not have a mobile component, you just might be feeling under the weather on sunny days.
  • Slowing down suppliers and employees. From a practical standpoint, it is more difficult to get to work when the weather is horrible, whether torrential winds are blowing or snowdrifts are stacking up like Legos outside.  Cold weather also brings an increase of influenza and other temporarily debilitating illnesses. This means that your business may end up with a staff shortage even as you have more customers than ever. Your suppliers will likely be dealing with the same issue, in fact! Make sure your plans for the holiday season including ways of dealing with a staff shortage and a slowdown with your suppliers.

Microconversions and Ecommerce

If you are like most ecommerce website owners, you probably care a lot about conversions. Conversions are essential for small business success, probably more so than any other piece of data. However, many business owners fail to consider that a sale is not the only form of conversion. You may be building fans, gaining exposure, and promoting your brand without actually making a sale. In fact, many of these ‘microconversions’ can lead to sales later and actually bring you more long term success than the customer who visits, buys, and never gives your ecommerce website a second thought.

What is a ‘microconversion’?

There are many different kinds of website visitors—and only a small percentage is visiting your website to buy.  There are other reasons to surf the net. Maybe your ecommerce website visitors are doing research on your product category. Maybe they need support for a similar product. Maybe they simply landed on your website and don’t really know why.

These visitors likely won’t buy, because that was never their intention. However, they may take other actions that begin to build the foundation for a long-term relationship with your company. They might become a friend in social media, subscribe to your RSS feed, link to a blog post, or register with your website. These small accomplishments—or microconversions—will add up to eventual conversions, and you should track them as yet another gauge of your success. Microconversions may not be a bird in the hand, but they just might be two (or a thousand) in the bush.

Why measure microconversions?

There are a few reasons to measure microconversions even though they do not contribute immediately to your bottom line. First, they give a well-rounded view of your website. Microconversions can show you why customers are actually visiting your website and, if you look deeply enough, why they aren’t buying yet. Tis can help you turn some of those microconversions into actual conversions. Second, they give you a better picture of your ecommerce website’s overall impact on the market.  Last, they keep you from getting frustrated with a low conversion rate. You can see that your website is indeed creeping toward success, and form a game plan for turning those microconversions into paying customers in the long run.

Knowledge is power.

Building your brand is not just about selling products. It is about making an impact on your market, building a following, and developing a long-term relationship with your ecommerce customer base. You absolutely should be watching your brand growth, and microconversions are one tool for accomplishing this. Don’t stop focusing on conversions—merely expand your focus to get a better view of your ecommerce business.

It’s easy to get caught up in making money (after all, it is probably the main reason you are in ecommerce), but focusing on this area exclusively will make you short-sighted and prevent you from getting to know your customer base. Tracking microconversions will give you valuable insight into your brand and your visitors.

Is IP Geolocation Right for Your Ecommerce Business?

More and more ecommerce websites are using geolocation. This website feature allows you to detect where a website visitor is located and tailor their experience to their precise geographical needs. However, many ecommerce business owners see this feature as a needless complication. Is geolocation right for your business? What are the major benefits and drawbacks of this tool? This article should help you answer those questions for yourself.

The Benefits

Geolocation offers several advantages. First, if your website is serving several locations, it allows you to skip the ‘global navigation’ page in which customers select their country or region. Eliminating needless steps is always a good plan.

Second, it allows you to tailor your products to a specific region’s needs. Even if you are serving one country, many of your products are likely geared to a smaller area. Selling swimsuits in Alaska in December is probably not lucrative, nor are snowblowers needed in Hawaii. You can still offer these products to a wise audience, but you can place more energy into promoting goods that are attractive to a much narrower audience. You can also exclusively offer payment methods specific to the region in question—for instance, many European shoppers routinely pay with bank transfer rather than credit cards.

If you have physical locations, geolocation tools can give your customers a list of local stores as well as maps to these locations. You can also create a lower bandwidth website for customers using dial-up connections. You can even remove hits from areas that you do not sell to when performing analysis in order to get a better look at the behavior of your actual customers.

Fraud detection is the ‘last but not least’ reason to use IP geolocation. You can flag purchases in which the location does not match the billing and shipping addresses for manual review. Sure, it’s possible that a person in Russia might want to purchase a product to be sent to Mexico and billed to an account in the Pacific, but you’ll certainly want to follow up before shipping. A lot of ecommerce fraud can be detected using geolocation and dealt with before it costs your business a single dime.

The Drawbacks

Obviously there are drawbacks to IP geolocation. It is yet another feature to install on your website, which can be a pain to the novice webmaster. In addition, it does no good whatsoever if you either are not selling to multiple regions or don’t plan to provide an area-customized experience. Some businesses simply aren’t big enough to need all the bells and whistles—or at least don’t need them just yet.

Regardless of whether IP geolocation is right for your ecommerce website at this moment, it is a good feature to at least keep on the back burner as your business grows. Even internet customers prefer businesses that are customized to their precise needs. Geolocation is just one more way of offering this made-to-order, highly relevant ecommerce experience.

Is Your Ecommerce Website Holiday Friendly

Are you ready for the holidays? This seems like an odd question to ask in March, but holidays are always coming up. Right now people all over the country are eagerly awaiting St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, May Day… you name it. Even holidays that no one really celebrates, like President’s Day, are occasions for huge sales. However, many ecommerce merchants miss out by ignoring the holidays that their customers love. Here are a few ways to celebrate the holidays, whatever holidays they may be, in a way that increases your sales.

Holiday decorations.Are you one of the many people who string lights around their homes at Christmas? You can accomplish the same holiday look on your ecommerce website with very little trouble. A holiday background or a few fun touches can add a fun feeling to your site even if they are the only holiday changes that you make. If you are confused about how to do this yourself, a logo designer or graphic designer will be able to help you.

Gift giving options.Offering a variety of search options is important for any ecommerce website. One important option to offer is to allow your customers to search by recipient and then by price. This will make it easier for them to browse and ultimately to find gifts for their loved ones. You should also offer gift certificates as an option; if your customers can’t find the perfect gift or have trouble deciding, this will allow them to complete their purchase and cross one more name off their giving list.

Shipping countdown.Many people don’t think about gifts until the shipping timelines run dangerously close. You can assure them that there is indeed time by placing a countdown on your landing page showing what shipping options will get their purchase to its destination by the next big holiday. Provide a list that highlights important “ship by” dates as well; it can inspire customers to buy now rather than later.

Holiday return options.You want your customers to buy early and preferably right now, but they want for recipients to be able to return gifts that don’t work for them. One way of overcoming this is to offer extended return times for holiday purchases. Some people shop early, and you will lose all of these people as customers if you aren’t flexible about returns.

Frills.There are certain extras that people enjoy including with holiday gifts. Do you offer gift wrapping or note cards? Many gift buyers will use these services. Stocking stuffers and other small holiday gifts can be a lucrative source of income, especially if you offer bundles or gift baskets that include them. Make sure you offer pictures of your baskets, wrapping paper, and other ‘frills’ so that people know exactly what they are buying.

Americans love to give holiday gifts to their loved ones, not just for winter holidays for year-round. By making it easy to do so from your website, you will almost certainly increase sales.

Outsourcing Your Ecommerce Website Design

Many ecommerce business owners open their websites with very little upfront financial investment. The credit crunch and the generally floundering economy have made lean business practices a necessity for many. However, there are some areas in which a little investment might be necessary. Ecommerce website design is one of these areas.

Creating an ecommerce website is complicated business—with more considerations than your average Web Design for Dummies manual can cover. You need to coordinate a variety of factors, including the aesthetics of the website and sales functionality. You need to create design that covers these bases while allowing for good search engine optimization and quick loading speeds. A professionally developed ecommerce website package has the following benefits:

Easy updates.How much time do you want to spend on basic web design on a daily basis? Ecommerce website packages usually include features that make updates easy, so you can deal with issues quickly and then go about the other tasks involved in running a business. Good SEO depends on regular updates, so this is more important that the ecommerce newbie can comprehend.

Coordinated programs.What happens when your shopping cart software does not work well with your payment programs? Your customers can’t buy from you easily, and you lose valuable conversions. Often, ecommerce website owners are unaware of the basic problems, and exhaust a variety of avenues before discovering the true problem. Who has time for that?

No need to hire in-house staff.If you dedicate an employee to the day-to-day running of your website, you will have to put out much more time and money than outsourcing would require. Why not set yourself up for success by having an easy-to-maintain website created by a true professional from the very beginning?

Higher quality feel.A high quality site makes your business feel more established and encourages customers to do business with you. It is an essential part of building your ecommerce brand. Go look at your most successful competitors’ websites; they probably have the smooth, easy to navigate feeling that only professional design can give.

Special features.There are many special features that a new ecommerce website owner is not aware of. A professional can tell you what features will make your business easier to maintain while improving the customer experience. This will increase sales and reduce your daily maintenance at the same time.

Low prices.Buying a professionally designed ecommerce software package is cheaper than you think, especially when you take your own time and energy into account.

Designing an ecommerce website takes time. Are you ready for a long and steep learning curve? Can you afford to spend time working out the kinks before you realize a penny of profit? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you should consider outsourcing the design of your ecommerce website to a professional designer and/or purchasing a professionally designed ecommerce package. This will set your business up for success from the very beginning.

Speeding Up Your Ecommerce Website

You would think that increasingly high speed internet in homes all over the world would make loading speed a non-issue in ecommerce websites, but just the opposite is true. Consumers are quickly growing accustomed to getting the information they want in the time it takes to click their mouse. Having a slow-loading ecommerce website may kill your sales faster than any other factor. Even a few seconds is too long for the modern consumer! Luckily, there are a few fast and easy ways you can take your website to Indianapolis 500 speeds without interfering with style or functionality.

1. Avoid errors.Errors are often the single largest drag in website loading time. Validate your website script to ensure that there are no errors that may be slowing you down. Even an extra line of code adds to your loading time, so make sure your code is as clean and functional as possible.

2. Choose the right image format.JPEG is the most popular image format and there is a good reason for that. It loads quickly and offers decent resolution, a combination that few other formats offer. However, you can also use PNG without bogging down your website as well as GIF for small or less detailed images.

3. Use small, inline scripts.This tip only works for websites running CSS or javascript, so skip it if you use another format. Your script should be inline to prevent an extra http request and adding time to your loading. You can also reduce the size of your scripts for either program or even HTTP by 50% without interfering with readability. It may make editing a little more difficult, but it is an easy way to increase loading time without affecting the user experience. Nota bene: we recommend backing up your website before making this or any other changes to the script.

4. Use caches wisely.Keeping a copy of your site on your users’ computer ensures that it will load quickly. This is because most of the heavy data is already there; ready to be called up with no waiting time. However, this is best used by websites that are not constantly updating. Obviously if you are changing your website every day, this tip is not for you because your customers will be saving information that is soon-to-be out of date.

5. Test in different browsers.There was a time when you could assume that most people were using Internet Explorer. However, these times are long gone. Firefox has just as large and loyal a following as IE, and there are even lesser known browsers that are picking up popularity as well. If you want to know how fast your ecommerce website loads, be sure to test it in all of the browsers that your customers use.

Having a slow ecommerce website will not only annoy and alienate your customers; it can even affect your Google PageRank and you search engine presence. These five changes are simple and easy to implement, but they can make a major difference in the success of your business.

5 Rules for Ecommerce Websites

We’ve all seen poorly designed ecommerce websites. However, it can be difficult to define exactly what makes one ‘good’. The following five rules are sure to make your site a little more customer-friendly while increasing sales.

  1. Make it easy for customers to find what they want.An intuitively designed search function is essential to running any kind of ecommerce site. Users should be able to easily search for what they need, then narrow or even un-narrow their choices. Further, functions that allow customers to sort by a variety of methods, such as price, user rating, and newest listings are essential. This will allow people to quickly find what they want and make the purchase before the urge wears off.
  2. Show, don’t tell.Your search function should yield not a page of print, but a page of pictures with relevant print details. Most customers are visual—they know what they want, but they might be confused by industry terms. Showing them the goods makes it easier to identify the right item. Further, offer multiple pictures of each item if possible, from a variety of views, inside and out, both alone and in use… you get the idea. 
  3. Provide details.Because customers can’t pick up your products, touch them, and fall in love with them the way they might at a traditional brick and mortar store, you need to provide all of the necessary details. Write them as sales copy where it is possible; remember, you are trying to encourage the impulse buying that fuels our economy. Also, be very clear about sizes, offering the dimensions of every item you sell. People like to ‘experience’ an item before they buy; giving them that opportunity will increase the chances of turning a browser into a conversion.
  4. Be clear about pricing.There is nothing worse than falling in love with an item only to find that you can’t afford it. This is especially true when it comes to ecommerce. Make the price easy to locate and prominent—include it in search results, even. Show on the sales page what the estimated shipping cost is for that item as well so people can get an immediate idea of their out-of-pocket expense. Many retailers have found success with also showing what customers are saving compared to the MSRP or competitors’ websites. 
  5. Communicate.Let people know when you have received their order, billed their credit card, and shipped the item. There are several programs that make this easy, automatically sending a form email at every stage of the process. There is nothing worse than ordering something and not knowing when or whether it will actually arrive. Many people are still a little leery of shopping on the internet, and good communication will ease these anxieties.

Designing an effective ecommerce websites means offering the tools necessary to make the shopping experience easier for both the customer and yourself. These options can be easy enough to add at the development stages, but almost impossible to do without. Don’t lose another sale to a poorly designed ecommerce site; get the tools you need to encourage sales and build repeat business.