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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
(This post originally appeared on Avalara)
If you’re an Amazon merchant, or plan to be, one of the most important things you need to learn is how to manage your inventory effectively. Why? Because your inventory is your biggest cost. Run out and you’ll lose sales. Buy too much and you’ll lose profit. Hold on to it too long and you’ll hurt your cash flow.
This was the topic of a conversation I had during a recent webinar hosted by Avalara with two very successful Amazon merchants: Adrienne Kosewicz, owner of Play It Safe World Toys and Valerie Milovic, owner of Better Than Coffee. We all agreed there are three key secrets to managing your Amazon inventory.
Secret 1: Fully understand the Amazon landscape. Read More…
By Gene Marks
Originally published on Avalara Blog
Here comes Amazon’s annual Prime Day. It’ll take place starting at 9PM EST on July 10 and go through 3AM EST on July 12. Prime Day is BIG. Last year, the company sold about a billion dollars of products in a single day – which was more than double the previous year – and the numbers are projected to grow significantly this year. With deals only Amazon Subscribers can enjoy, the promotion is designed to grow Amazon’s Prime subscriber base. There’s plenty of advice for shoppers on how to get the best deals possible during this giant sale, but what does this day mean for you, the Amazon merchant? In this blog post, we’re going to look at four suggestions on how you can take advantage of this enormous event and grow your business.
Start promoting immediately. If you’re only learning today that Prime Day is next week, then you know that time is short. But the good news is that it doesn’t take much time to set up and execute an online campaign. Prime Day gets a huge amount of media attention, so leverage that: create email and social campaigns that take advantage of the Prime Day recognition by inviting prospective buyers to visit your merchant site and benefit from your special promotions. Utilize Amazon’s Marketing Services to create specialized pay-per-click ads and measure keyword performance, impressions, clicks, sales, and other factors impacting your return on investment.
Test now. If your business is gearing up for a big sales day, then triple-check your site right now. Make a bunch of sample purchases from various devices to test performance, content, messaging, and images. Ensure that you’ve got enough inventory on hand and be ready to ship. Make sure your top-selling items are Prime-eligible. Consider turning on Amazon’s Bid + feature which could increase your bids across keywords on ads that are eligible for placement. Make sure the data and information about your products (and company) are completely up to date. First impressions matter, and if your Prime Day is successful, you’ll get a chance to introduce your business to tens of millions of new buyers.
Staff up. For 30 hours, things will be jumping. If there’s a problem, a question, a service issue, or a product delay, you’ve just lost sales. If you want to succeed on Prime Day, you’ve got to take it seriously. Make sure you’re staffed for the entire period, checking comments and feedback and responding quickly.
Think today…about 2018. Prime Day has been a stunning, annual success for Amazon, and all indications is that it will be another hit this year. Get a head start and assume Amazon will host Prime Day next summer, too. If you missed registering your products for Lightning Deals – a promotion where you can offer a limited number of discount offers on an item for a short period of time – mark your calendar to sign up for 2018. (The deadline to apply for Lightning Deals for the 2017 Prime Day was this past May.) Also, make sure you’re collecting the names and contact information (particularly emails and social media addresses) for everyone buying from you this year so that you can bring into your customer relationship management system. A great CRM database will then enable you to continue to reach out to these customers throughout the rest of the year, build a community, and hopefully sell additional products to these customers.
Bottom line: Amazon Prime Day can serve two big purposes for your business. It can be an opportunity to move lots of product and generate profits. Or it can be a great time to move product at cost with the objective of acquiring more customer data – with the opportunity of then turning that data into future sales. Whatever your objective, it’s an opportunity to grow your business, if you take the right steps.
Automation is disrupting our lives. You and I see it every day.
Only a decade ago, we waited in line to check out of grocery stores and pharmacies. We were forced to deal with an agent before getting our boarding pass for a plane or checking in at a hotel. We exchanged dollar bills with the taxi driver, signed receipts at the restaurant’s cash register, and called up tech support whenever we had a computer problem. In our businesses, we “called” in payroll to our outside service, mailed in tax returns, and waited for endless minutes for a customer service rep to pick up the phone. Sure, all of these things are still available today. But they’re rapidly changing. Now we have more options. We can do these things on our own: we can scan, swipe, insert, click, tap, and research without anyone’s help. As a result, we find ourselves doing things faster and we feel more productive.
Smart businesses are realizing this and investing in technologies to automate their customers’ buying experiences. It’s what we want.
For the most part, automation has been focused on the consumer – the buyer of groceries, the traveler, the diner. But more and more companies are now focusing on ways to help their business customers realize the benefits of automation. Staples, the office supply retailer that serves millions of businesses – small and large – knows this. Which is why they’re investing in self-service technologies, particularly for their print and copy services. The results are paying off.
“The growth of traditional services like printing and copying has exceeded our expectations and new services like scanning and emailing are growing at a surprising clip,” Joes Bernal, the company’s vice president of Production and Operations, recently said in this online article. As a business owner and long-time customer of the company, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m elated.
Last year, the retailer teamed up with Xerox Corporation to install more than 3,000 state-of-the-art, self-service printers at its stores across the country. The Do-It-Yourself printers pretty much accomplish everything, from printing, scanning and copying, to faxing. They have a user-friendly and familiar Android-based interface connected to a tablet so that penny-pinching business customers like me can quickly order and pay right there and then – and even take advantage of our customer loyalty cards and coupons. Most importantly, at least to me, is that the machines can access my documents in the cloud from popular storage services (or I can email the documents). This way I don’t need to worry about hard copies, flash drives, or storage disks.
For my business, the benefits have been enormous. I can do large print jobs more professionally than on my low-cost printer in the office. I have more printing, paper, and presentation choices available to me in their stores. Because my company’s business applications are all cloud based, we store our documents on the same services that Staples uses – DropBox and Google Drive – so I can access and print these documents wherever I am, even if I’m out of town. I’ve completely eliminated paying the exorbitant fees that hotels charge me to print documents. I store important documents (i.e. my passport and driver’s license) on DropBox and can print high-quality, color renditions when I travel (I had to do this once when I lost my carry-on bag).
Most importantly, I do this all very, very fast. I don’t wait in line, and I don’t need to deal with a store associate because I know what I want and can just do it and move on. When you’re in business, any amount of time saved is valuable—smart companies like Staples realize this and understand the value of self-service technologies. They also understand that by making things quicker they are helping their business customers make more money. Partners that help other partners succeed remain partners for a long, long time.
Let’s face it: our companies are selling some pretty boring stuff.
My company sells database software. I have a client that sells paper and film products. My friend sells metal piping. Your company sells industrial equipment, rubberized fasteners, corrugated containers, plastic moldings. ZZZZ. Sorry, did I just fall asleep while writing this? Yeah, it’s all pretty mundane. But this boring stuff is critical to the economy.
Now I’ve done a fair amount of research, and the words “copy” and “paper” have never been used together in a pick-up line at a bar, a Kanye West song or in any of the Star Wars movies. Copy paper is not very exciting, but that hasn’t stopped Quill.com, an online office products marketplace, from trying to make their copy paper one of a kind. Quill.com launched a campaign to sell more copy paper – and they’ve successfully figured out how, using those same Star Wars movies, to take a very, very ordinary product…and make it much less ordinary.
The company is selling copy paper – each ream individually wrapped in a special, eye-catching, Star Wars design and packaged in a reusable Star Wars themed box featuring characters from Episode IV: A New Hope that can be turned into a collector’s item or poster. Why? Because it’s not boring. It’s fun. It’s eye-catching. It adds just a little spark of life to our offices, and who doesn’t love Star Wars?
But this isn’t about copy paper. It’s really about how to successfully sell an otherwise everyday product, like copy paper…or whatever basic item your company sells. Quill.com has figured out how to do it. What’s their secret? It’s connecting it to something that’s fun and relevant in today’s society.
Star Wars is fun, popular and exciting. The movies have attracted millions of fans and generated enormous amounts of attention. The marketers at Quill.com have sought to capitalize on this exposure. They could have picked another pop-culture phenomenon. Or linked their product to a celebrity, a news story, a holiday or a sporting event. It doesn’t matter. They’ve taken something fun (a Star Wars movie) and connected it to something ordinary (copy paper) on the correct assumption that every office has employees who love Star Wars and who will get a little pleasure from seeing their heroes every time they make another copy of that week’s TPS report. Given the choice, why not buy something that’s a little more fun?
“We’re excited to be bringing Star Wars to homes and offices through our quality copy paper, Paul Bessinger, Quill.com’s director of product innovation said in a press release. “Every home or office has a Star Wars enthusiast, so this is the perfect purchase to surprise your favorite fan.”
Looking for a good way to sell your everyday essential? Connect it to something popular (psst – make sure you have permission). Have fun. And do it long term as part of an ongoing strategy and not just for a few short, forgettable weeks. This way you can differentiate your ordinary product from your competitor’s equally ordinary products and build a brand. Assuming quality and pricing are superior, you won’t need Yoda to tell you which buying experience will be better for your customers.
I’m hosting a webinar with Xero on how to utilize CRM to grown your business. Whether you have a CRM program or not, are expertly acquainted with it or not, or just want to learn innovative ways to increase sales, I’ll be offering something for everyone during this discussion!
I’ve found that although business owners are familiar with CRM applications such as Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Batchbook as a concept, about only 20 percent of the businesses I work with are fully benefiting from their CRM systems. It’s our goal during this webinar to help you join that 20 percent. This 30-minute webinar will cover what to look for when shopping for a CRM application and how to fully leverage it to grow your business – and more! Plus, if there are any questions you have feel free to leave them here in the comments and I’ll try to address them on the webinar.
Hope to “see” you there!