The Top Tools to Increase your eCommerce Sales

Want to grow your ecommerce profits this year? You can, with the help of some great technology. Here are 12 tools you’ll want to try.

Analytics and data

These tools are all about automating data processes then delivering information back to you so you can better understand what products, companies, and stores are making (or losing) you money.

Virtual Logistics — VL provides data integration between different systems for reporting on order details, shipment data, inventory, and prices. It’s designed for companies juggling different portals, spreadsheets, and partial application integrations that don’t have the resources to manage them all. Its integration and reporting tools reduce data entry errors, increase productivity, and deliver information in one portal from multiple sources at once, from spreadsheets, PDFs, in-house software, and many ecommerce applications.

Teikamatrics — An all-in-one software platform that helps retailers succeed on Amazon and geared toward high-volume Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) sellers. The application’s suite of tools and services automates repricing, advertising management for sponsored products, generation and management of product reviews, and restocking. Its visualized analytics tools help their customers check inventory levels, profitability, and purchase order and shipment status by providing year-over-year trends and variations both with products and suppliers; it also alerts for the best times and quantities to order products. The platform also identifies, alerts, and helps customers take action on stale and aged inventory.

Out-of-the-box tools — Many mainstream ecommerce platforms provide their own analytics tools. For example, Shopify’s analytics and reports give its customers the means to review their store’s recent activity, get insight into their visitors, and analyze transactions. BigCommerce’s reporting features give merchants deeper customer data insights for targeting, segmenting, and driving more sales through snapshots on store performance, orders, sales channels, and conversion rates, as well as many detailed reports that analyze both current and historical productivity of products, customers, and stores.

Email marketing

Successful online merchants know that keeping in touch with their customers – or anyone who visits their site — is crucial for generating additional sales. Most use email marketing technologies and platforms to help them do this. Here are three that work well.

Klaviyo — This platform makes it easy for ecommerce marketers to target, personalize, measure, and optimize email and Facebook campaigns. With its many integrations to popular ecommerce, point of sale, and other marketing systems, Klaviyo pulls data for segmentation and delivery based on schedules and demographics with dozens of pre-built and ready-to-go templates. The system also offers rules-based triggered emails initiated for new customers, abandoned shopping carts, and completed orders.

Active Campaign — With hundreds of templates generated from a drag-and-drop interface, Active Campaign consolidates all communication under one umbrella by providing personalized messages to customers and prospects regardless of their location. Campaign data is accumulated in one location for analysis so users can create and measure goals, integrate with other third-party applications, and pinpoint growth opportunities with detailed reports drawing on data from multiple sources. In addition, the application provides tools for site and event tracking, an integrated forms builder, a Google Chrome extension, and a strong ecosystem of support and training resources.

AWeber — If you’re not an advanced marketer or you don’t have the resources to focus on email campaigns, AWeber provides an additional level of help. It’s a more basic, yet highly regarded, email marketing service that works with more than 100,000 small businesses and helps them set up templates, campaigns, auto-responders, broadcast emails, newsletters, and promotions. The company is known for its excellent and unlimited customer support, deliverability, and educational content.

Shipping and inventory

Your products are your profits so managing inventory levels and shipping costs can mean the difference between success and failure. Here are three great systems that can help you automate these processes and make better shipping decisions.

ShipStation — A strong fulfillment tool with easy setup that enables its customers to seamlessly integrate with all major shipping carriers, shopping carts, ecommerce marketplaces, and more. Data is imported from a number of mainstream ecommerce providers (including Fulfillment by Amazon), then selling channels are used to connect to a carrier (or USPS) where batch shipping labels are created and printed, stores are updated, tracking info is automatically sent, email confirmations are generated, and branded tracking pages and a specialized portal help provide an easier experience for managing returns.

FirstMile — Using the USPS work-share program to help their customers leverage the Post Office network to get speedy deliveries at affordable rates, their service solutions integrate into common shipping platforms in the ecommerce marketplace and offer full tracking visibility. Their network reaches every state and over 200 countries and provides strong order management, detailed billing, flexible pickups, and multi-carrier labels.

ShipRush — Celebrating more than 20 years in business, ShipRush automatically import orders from over 60 carts and systems including eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify, Salesforce.com, and more, then prints shipping labels for most major carriers as well as offers discount postage from the USPS, FedEx, and others. The platform displays a unique and powerful side-by-side shipping cost comparisons in real time and provides shipping automation rules to streamline operations with easy setup.

Accounting

All of your ecommerce transactions need to flow back to your general ledger, and your accountant will need to not only analyze the profitability of sales, but how your supply and payroll management figure into your company’s overall operations. In other words, you need an accounting system.

QuickBooks Online — The granddaddy of accounting software, QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s cloud-based accounting offering, which has been available on the market for a few years and continues to grow in popularity and usage. QuickBooks Online offers a marketplace of tools that will integrate with many ecommerce platforms and handles all sides of the financial transactions from order to cash receipt as well as inventory and payables management, payroll, and general ledger.

Xero — A strong and growing competitor to QuickBooks Online that matches feature by feature, Xero is a cloud-based accounting application built from the ground up that also integrates with hundreds of third-party products and ecommerce platforms to provide a fast, mobile, and powerful interface for managing all aspects of your financial operations.

Avalara TrustFile — As sales tax collection and filing requirements have grown, so has the need for a powerful platform to automate this time-consuming process. Avalara’s applications allow customers to import and prepare an unlimited amount of sales tax data from any ecommerce or accounting platform via its dedicated connector or data upload tools. The data is then analyzed and broken down by sales tax jurisdiction and state. The software then automatically prepares and prints completed signature-ready sales tax filing forms for electronic filing from its integrated dashboard, and then migrates this data to their customers’ accounting systems (like QuickBooks and Xero).

Selling online? Hopefully you’re using a few of these great technologies. You could be losing profits if you’re not!

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Tesla fires hundreds of employees, citing poor performance reviews

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

It must be nice to be a big business! In today’s tight job market, most employers I know – especially small employers – are doing all they can to hold on to their employees. Tesla, the famous electric carmaker headed by Elon Musk, is doing the opposite. 

On Friday, the company announced that it was dismissing hundreds – perhaps 400 to 700 by some estimates – of its employees. It’s an unusual move. Many are highly sought-after and skilled people – engineers, managers and factory workers – and some who had been with the company for a few years. Was this due to hard economic times or a slowdown? Company officials say no.  Read More…

Spotify Is Accepting Ads…And Other Small Business Tech News This Week

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 — Small businesses can now advertise on Spotify.

Now you can create and manage a Spotify ad campaign to reach new customers for your small business using its new self-serve advertising platform called Spotify Ad Studio. Just launched in the U.S. in beta mode, Ad Studio makes it easy to affordably produce audio campaigns. (Source: Small Biz Trends)

Why this is important for your business: Read More…

Selling on BigCommerce this Holiday Season

If you’re selling online, or thinking of selling online, there are many great ecommerce platforms to choose from. One of the best is BigCommerce — a platform that supports more than 95,000 users and processes about $8 billion in sales annually. Since 2009, BigCommerce has become a well-known player in the ecommerce field and counts well-known brands like Toyota, Motorola, Ben & Jerry’s, and Gibson Guitars as customers.

What makes BigCommerce particularly appealing to small and medium-sized companies is its ability to serve as a powerful ecommerce platform as well as a software system that can be used in a brick-and-mortar store, with point of sale and other inventory management capabilities. “We switched to BigCommerce just over two years ago, and we immediately saw an increase in conversions in sales,” says Chris Petitt, operations manager for Burlington, Vermont’s BombTech Golf, an ecommerce company that sells golf drivers that combine top-quality materials and innovative design. “When we joined BigCommerce two plus years ago, BombTech Golf was doing below $1 million a year in revenue. This year we expect to have more than $7 million in revenue, and 2018 will break into the eight-figure mark.”

If you’re an owner of any small to medium-sized company, you know the importance of the holidays. With the gift-buying frenzy soon approaching and, for many, seasonal sales accounting for the majority of annual profits, it’s time to get your game plan set and ready. How do you win on BigCommerce? Here are a few useful hacks.

  1. Templates and themes: Use what you’re already given.

To succeed on BigCommerce (or any good ecommerce platform), follow the paths already laid out by others who have achieved success. Choose a theme that’s best suited for your business and that provides the easiest navigation for your customers. Rely on BigCommerce templates to get your site up and running as quickly as possible — nothing has to be created from scratch. Get familiar with the site’s methods for adding products and creating imagery. Also, consider revising your templates before the holidays to create a theme more consistent with a holiday look and feel. Just be careful — if you decide to customize with code you could have problems upgrading to new themes. “Simpler and easier is better,” Pettit advises.

Most importantly, you want to make sure your themes and templates are set up so you’re able to track visitor data. “The market is driven by data,” says Bill Arnold, president and chief marketing strategist for EYEMAGINE, an award-winning full-service marketing agency that creates success for its clients through ecommerce services and marketing programs. “Data is the most powerful element that you get out of any marketing tool, and BigCommerce provides you with that kind of data so you can see exactly what is resonating, what isn’t resonating, and what techniques you’re using to make it more successful.”

  1. Optimize performance: Remember the three-second rule.

The best users of BigCommerce make sure that their website is fast and responsive. They are constantly checking download speeds and the ease of the buying process. They take care to make sure their images are compressed for fast display. In today’s world of devices, most lean heavily on BigCommerce’s mobile site and functionality to ensure that search and purchases can be done from anywhere, anytime. “We go by a three-second rule,” says Arnold. “If a user can’t ascertain the value of the site — it doesn’t load quickly, it takes more than three seconds — you’re going to see a bounce.”

Arnold is also a big believer in planning and testing your site’s optimization frequently. His firm has a discovery and assessment process and he even likes to study “heat maps” on a client’s current site to see where activity is the greatest. “Over a period of time you get incremental changes, incremental improvements, and that’s really how you win in ecommerce,” he says. “Ecommerce is a game of inches.” The more traffic you’re able to generate the more impact even small tweaks may have on a customer’s buying behavior.

A fast-growing and very important part of a site’s design is the use of videos. “Literally every product page that we have on BombTech Golf has a video associated with the product, and that’s pretty important for golf clubs,” Petitt says. “If you can demonstrate the product, someone’s looking at their screen and video form, that’s absolutely going to help your conversion 100 percent.” Optimizing your site with as many videos as possible is a great way to engage viewers, particularly younger customers who — studies have shown — gravitate more to video content than written.

  1. Marketing: Make plans now.

Experienced sellers are laying the groundwork for their holiday sales today — well before Halloween.  They’ve set aside resources and created their budgets. They’re designing email promotions in BigCommerce and updating their social media sites to make sure information is integrated.

Pettit, for example, began planning for the holidays back in June, with a focus on the kind of offers and deals they wanted to make, how things are bundled, and, most importantly, how these offers are communicated. His company relies heavily on Facebook, which accounts for 40 percent of their revenue, to drive out messaging. “We drive a lot of traffic from social media,” he says. “We try to post every day, and come the holiday season we make our community very aware that we have holiday deals, especially for Black Friday and Cyber Monday for them to come check out.” Pettit also plans holiday email messages well in advance. To him, email gives him much more control over his marketing. “If you’re not building your email subscriber list, you are missing a huge, huge opportunity,” he added.

Another growing area in holiday marketing is the rise of influencers. “Influencer marketing is really key right now,” says Arnold. His research has found that people are more inclined to visit a site and buy a product based on someone else’s recommendation. “There’s so much information out there about what you want to buy and what you need to buy that people need to take shortcuts. And one of the biggest shortcuts they take in life is through what other people recommend and if they’re passionate about it.” Getting both macro and micro influencers signed up now could make a big impact on your holiday sales.

  1. Inventory: Think and plan very carefully.

Successful ecommerce sellers know that having too much or too little inventory can significantly hurt their profits. They look at past transactions and make inventory level assumptions based on prior purchasing patterns and future estimates. They have a documented and customer-friendly return policy. They make sure to bake in the costs of shipping on every order.

 

BombTech Golf relies heavily on history. Both Arnold and Pettit say they look closely at historical orders and prior years’ sales to determine how the upcoming holiday season may trend. Both also lean heavily on their company’s (or client’s) social media communities to gauge whether there’s interest in a product and what price would be reasonable — Arnold takes this one step further with a deeper Q&A research process well before the holiday season.

Pettit and Arnold are also big fans of free, discounted, and expedited shipping, if that’s what it’ll take to make the sale. “There are studies out there that show you that if you do offer free shipping during the holidays, people are more likely to buy because they don’t see the added cost,” Arnold says. “And if you offer free shipping, the conversion rates do go up typically during the holiday, so we do recommend that.” Since free shipping offers can be temporary, they often create a sense of urgency to buy before the deal disappears.

  1. Technology: Ease your burden.

BigCommerce will help make sales easy and fast both on the web and via mobile devices. But today’s ecommerce entrepreneurs are learning that there’s a lot of work to be done after the sale. One of the biggest headaches is sales tax. If items are being shipped from different states around the country, sales tax needs to be withheld and remitted and forms and documentation needs to be filed. More and more companies are using sales tax automation technologies, like the powerful applications provided by Avalara, to ease this sales tax burden and ensure compliance.

Tech tools can also ease your marketing burdens tenfold. Petitt shares that BombTech Golf uses Klaviyoto implement data-driven email marketing. He emphasizes that “the big wins really come if you can control your email marketing” and that Klaviyo is “100 percent the biggest mover we’ve ever had in our business.” Email is a direct way to interact with your customers and present holiday offers, and using technology to optimize content and increase open rates is a value not to be taken lightly.

If you’re using BigCommerce, you’re in good company. To really take advantage of this marketplace during the holidays, you’ll want to rely on optimizing themes, increasing site functionality, and thinking in advance about your marketing and inventory management plans. Smart sellers know that the devil is in the details, and the best time to address those details are well in advance of the biggest shopping time of the year.

Want to hear my full conversation with Bill Arnold from EYEMAGINE and Chris Petitt from BombTech Golf? Listen here.

These two start-ups say they can remove bias from your next hiring decision

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Business owners are human beings, and as human beings we’re all far from perfect. This becomes evident when we hire. We try to make our hiring decisions as objectively and independently as possible. But we all sometimes let our own biases seep into our decision making. I know I do. 

Is it possible to push all these influences aside so that business managers can just choose the best candidate for the job using just logic and facts? Maybe. According to this recent report in the New York Times, two start-ups have created applications that, they claim, take the bias out of hiring. How? By using artificial intelligence and special algorithms which will essentially match the best candidate for the job without letting these biases get in the way.  Read More…

Why Does This Company Gives A Free Bottle of Jack Daniels To Its Employees Every Month?

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

There’s a company located down south that gives away a free bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey to its 400 employees on the last Friday of every single month. The company? Uh…Jack Daniels. “No one misses that day of work!” Jeff Norman, Master Taster at the distillery said recently in this Total Wine interview. Yeah, I bet that’s right.

Giving away a monthly free bottle of booze to employees may raise an eyebrow or two in these days of political correctness. But the executives at the company, which was founded in 1871 and maintains its reputation as one of the top bourbon makers in the world, are proud of their product and proud of their employees. And so…why not give them this perk. Read More…

In North Korea, entrepreneurism continues to thrive

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

The rising threat of war. An uncertain government. A challenging economic environment. Yeah, we’re used to that here in the United States. Business people in North Korea also have all those challenges, and then some. But that doesn’t seem to stop them from doing business. 

Last year and according to South Korea’s central bank, the North Korean economy grew almost four percent, a number that politicians and economists in the United States can only dream about. Money is still flowing from China. There’s a building boom in Pyongyang. And, as I previously wrote back in August, there is still a middle class that seem to have enough cash to afford solar panels to help light up their homes.    Read More…