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How to manage your Amazon inventory like a pro

(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…

Four Ways to Maximize Your Amazon Prime Day Profits

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.

Staples Takes Self-Service To The Next Level

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.

 

 

 

This Company Has Figured Out How To Market A Boring Product. What’s The Secret?

 

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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?

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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.

 

Five Ways to Grow Your Business Using CRM

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!

JUL 22
Tue 4:00 PM – 4:30 PM EDT
Online
Presenter: Gene Marks
Free

The Philly Post: Richard Branson Should Buy SEPTA

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(This post originally appeared on The Philly Post)

So SEPTA needs money. Lots of it. In fact, a recent report said that unless SEPTA gets more money, the system “… will be forced to gradually truncate its system and eliminate services … .”

The problem is that most taxpayers, like me, aren’t thrilled about giving these losers more of our money. Ever since I took my first ride on the Chestnut Hill Local more than 40 years ago, SEPTA has always been cash-strapped and on the brink of bankruptcy. As a student, I suffered through numerous shutdowns, strikes and fare increases. And unfortunately the problems haven’t gone away. SEPTA is still the same old bureaucratic mess it’s always been.

That’s because SEPTA doesn’t just need more money. SEPTA needs Sir Richard Branson. As he did with the rail system in England, Branson should buy SEPTA, privatize it and make our transit system effective.

Branson is the kind of person this city needs: a self-made billionaire not afraid to take risks. He flies in balloons and tries to break world records on water. He runs healthcare companies, and at the same time, sells cola and vodka. That’s the kind of money-making attitude this city needs!

Read More…

Inc.: Be Like Mitt Romney: Admit When You’re Wrong

 

 

 

(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Like many small business owners, my whole life is about being wrong.  Not a day goes by that my mistakes aren’t pointed out by an employee, a customer or–most often and gleefully–one of my teenage kids.

Fifteen years ago I was as wrong as Mitt Romney.  Back then I was doing a lot of the client service work for my growing technology company.  One client, a small manufacturer, asked me to prepare a special spreadsheet analysis of gross profit per product line from a software system we had installed.  Yes, it sounds very boring and it was.  But it was important for his business.  And so I worked on it for days and submitted it to him.  Thinking I was through with the job, I moved on to the next.  Until my client called me about a week later.  Some of the numbers didn’t make sense to him.  Some of the columns didn’t seem to add up correctly.  He wasn’t angry.  He just wanted to clear it up and correct it.

Read More…