Hello, my name is Mark Canty, and I’m a Multi-channel Retail Consultant, here at eBusiness Guru. With January upon us, and the triumvirate of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Christmas and New Year behind us, we have a chance to slow down, evaluate our successes and failures, and plan ahead for the year to come. Like sharks, eCommerce businesses need to keep moving forward, and to learn from both success and failure if they want to grow and thrive.
I’ve put together some thoughts and ideas for sellers like you to consider for the year ahead. Please, feel free to comment or email me, if you agree OR disagree – I am always interested in learning more about eCommerce!
So please, go ahead and read the article, and from all of us here at eBusiness Guru:
Happy New Year!
Stock & Inventory
Now the days are getting longer, the mornings and evenings brighter, why don’t you go and take a walk around your warehouse or stock room to bring a breath of fresh air? Look in the dark corners and the top shelves – Find the dusty boxes, the ones that haven’t been moved in a while – Count how many there are – Maybe even use Warehouse Plus to count them!When you get back to the office, and if you’re using Linnworks, look at the report ‘Unsold between dates by Channel’ – Other packages will have something similar. Look at the stock you’ve bought and haven’t sold, as a pile, and try and calculate what it’s worth. The 2 lists, between them, are your Dead Stock – Boxes full of merchandise you have paid for, but others don’t want to.
Ideally, you’d never have Dead Stock – You’d buy just the right amount of the products everyone wants, all coming in at the right time, not too late. Not that we live in an ideal world, but we can hope, can’t we?
Next step –Can you get credit from your supplier for any of the stock you found (Especially if it’s faulty)? Will you just be putting it on sale for cost + VAT? Either way, better money in the bank account than dead stock on the shelves! Plus, don’t forget – When the customer has put one item in the shopping cart, it’s SO easy to put another in – And that may not be a Sale item!
Next, we can start looking back, to look forwards.
Using your sales reports for 2016, find the peaks in sales. Look at when. Look at how much. Then look at what SKUs made up those spikes. Did the popular items sell at a steady rate every day, or was the spike specifically for them? Did something similar occur in 2015? If there’s a repeating pattern, maybe you can use it to schedule purchases – Bulk buys get volume discounts, after all, and you want to ensure there’s enough stock for your regular clients as well as bulk buyers! Maybe look at your sales by department too – pick out the best items from each department and their best times – you can then identify
Mark on a calendar when your big sales periods are and when last orders should occur for them, based on the time your suppliers usually take to get stock to you!! Plan when you’ll order, and how much, to keep the stock moving in AND out of the warehouse – minimise the time it sits about, and it could have paid for itself before your supplier invoice is due. With constant movement of stock, you don’t need as much space to hold it, and can either put off moving to a larger (more expensive) warehouse, or start stocking new lines.
The best thing about thinking ahead now is that you’ve got a chance to allocate the buying to others, , so you can focus on the unexpected – Both Good and Bad. Don’t just use your experience – Use, and trust, your staff. That’s why you hired them, correct? Save time, and stress, and improve your customer service and profit margin, starting now.
Online Engagement and Reputation
Let’s be honest – In the 21st century, if you’re selling online and NOT engaging with your customers online with Social Media, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for new leads and customer retention. It’s a great way to encourage new customers to become regular customers, and for regular customers to introduce you to new customers at relatively low cost. And repeat customers are looking to be a goldmine for sellers that are paying attention – They aren’t just spending money with you, but they are also a great source of advertising when their friends ask why they buy so much from the one seller!
People have become used to being able to engage with brands and other businesses more organically these days – not just via email and telephone, but Facebook, and Twitter, in real time or on a whim, for example. Start by finding out what they are saying about you, as well as to you. This will let you know how much work you need to do, and where. It also means you can identify those that are For you, and those that are Not, and plan on what to do about them. Think about whether the issues they have identified (and shouted about) need to be dealt with, or if they are superficial or spurious…..
Remember to talk to happy AND unhappy customers. It doesn’t just have to be you either – Let trusted staff have access to messaging within reason so they can act as, in effect, company ambassadors. In addition, if you handle customer queries outside of eBay and Amazon, you can reduce the impact of unhappy customers on your metrics, as they only notice the questions and complaints on their internal messaging system!
At the end of the day, once you’ve attracted a first-time customer (through social media or otherwise), if you can engage with them, and get them to come back, and become a regular customer, your return is much better overall, for a small additional investment (approx. 60% higher). In addition, a repeat customer will be more likely to recommend you to others!
When promoting yourself and your business on Social Media, there are tools you can use to automate posting, and optimise your postings to occur when your customers are most responsive. Make sure you’re targeting the right platforms, though. Facebook and Twitter are pretty solid core options, but if your products are colourful, houseware, outdoors or feature a lot of design and flair, consider Pinterest(For example). Do your research, and look at what your competitors and the big brands are doing – Learn from their mistakes and their successes. And figure out how much time you can spare, whether personally or from staff that show an interest and a flare for it, and stick to your ‘budget’. Regularly assess your results and returns too, and move people on who aren’t engaging very well – That may include banning yourself!
Reputation – Think Local and Community
A key component of engaging with your customers is not just to be contactable and responsive, but to give them reasons to want to deal with you. A good option here is to engage locally with your immediate community, and with causes that will reflect well on your business and team.
A lot of people now are looking to shop with local businesses, both for economic and environmental reasons. Economically, you can show that the money remains within the immediate or greater community, taxes are paid responsibly, suppliers are local so jobs are created, etc. Ecologically, you can look at the distance travelled by your products to you from suppliers, from you to customers, etc – This may feed into point 3 (Unique Selling Point) as well.
Another option for improving your reputation, as well as engaging with and improving the local community around your business, is to look at engaging with local charities. Supporting local charities is a stronger business decision than you may think.You want to select a charity that will be popular with your target market, of course. If your target market is males 18-35, then selecting a charity that supports older people with mobility issues is morally great, but is unlikely to engage with them. Supporting a charity that helps younger people from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop and grow through physical activities, sports and team building might be a better option, for example. Then look at the charity itself – Is it something you’re happy to be involved with? Is it a charity that has a good reputation with donors, and is it open in transparent in how it uses donations?
Then think how you’ll support it. Will you sponsor a charity event, and if so, will it resonate with your target market. Will you be doing other fund raising, either internal or, external (Staff being sponsored to do runs, etc), and can you promote it? Leaflets in orders, banners on the website, etc.
Social media and traditional marketing can benefit from featuring strong charitable links for your company. Also Marketing-wise, can you co-promote your company’s products – They could act as a referral partner, with you presenting a nice cheque every quarter to them to represent monies raised in picture, in a blog post (Assuming they’re happy/think it’s appropriate to sell your product, of course), or you can sponsor co-advertising in publications. Make sure you get mentioned in media coverage as a supporter – If your support has contributed significantly to a particular project, maybe you could get it named for your company or product? Special Edition products, with profits passed on to the charity, or an option to round up your order value to the nearest pound as a donation in the shopping cart, for example.
Target Niches – If you and your chosen charity can identify a niche market that is relevant to both you and them, then consider developing a promotional campaign for that niche.Encourage customers to support the charity by purchasing items from you that are inexpensive but useful, or special edition items for the Cache of being unique?
Overall, it’s important to remember, you want your customers to feel good about buying from you, so they’ll do it more, and tell others about you. You want to engage with customers, so that if there is an issue, you can take care of it quickly and without fuss, and turn any disappointed customers into a fan, and you want people to be watching and paying attention to you, so they can be tempted to buy from you. Remember, whatever you do, it’s for a good cause, so stay positive.
Data Quality & Relevance
In the wake of the boom in sales over Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and New Year, one thing that you might want to do is look at the listings that sold well, and those that didn’t. I don’t know your business, and I’m not going to make TOO sweeping a generalisation, but likely the items that sold well weren’t just well priced, but those with nice, clear descriptions, titles and specifics, and/or good pictures. Yes, pictures are data, too!
Looking ahead to 2017, a big recommendation I can make is to ensure that the data you’re using in your listings is great quality. Clear, high res photos, no spelling errors, use the CORRECT barcode/UPC/EAN/ISBN, use the trademarks and brands correctly, ensure that sizes and other numeric details are accurate (And consistent. And present). People will be using search (Whether Google, eBay, Amazon, Alexa, or your website’s search box) to find them, and by getting as many of the details in place as possible, you’ll be found more frequently, and that means more chances that the searcher will buy. We’ve recently released an App, called Amz Peak, specifically to help Amazon sellers improve and optimise their listings to get better results.
Clear information, and clear pictures, makes it easier for people to be sure that they are in the right place. Unclear listings and bad images mean someone may decide, in a snap judgement, that they don’t WANT to keep looking at your listing. Then you have lost your opportunity, possibly forever, to sell to them. People have less patience than ever today – Most people decide in less than 10 seconds if they want to stay on your page/listing, or go elsewhere. Are your listing templates responsive? If not, give us a call, we can look at updating your template for you, and make sure it meet’s eBay’s new standards…
Remember, good quality data is not just about your customers finding your items – it’s about keeping them on your page, and persuading them to buy from you, instead of looking elsewhere. And once your customer has bought from you once, you can persuade them to buy again. And it all starts with them finding the item they want, and clicking on the Buy button.
One of the leading issues promoted about various retailers with an online presence this year has been data security breaches. Your clients trust you with their personal information, and the Government holds you liable for keeping it confidential, via the Data Protection Act (In the UK). Obviously, with so many people competing for the same customers, trust is essential, and losing trust is a lot easier than gaining it.
Security is a 2-part concern. Locally, ensure your router’s wireless is secured, and the passwords aren’t still on the manufacturer defaults; This stops people getting access to the information you have stored on your PCs, software, email etc. Password protect shared hard disks and other network storage. Ensure you have a good, reputable Antivirus or Internet Security package installed to protect you against various kinds of compromise. Check that you’re up to date with patches and updates for Windows and your Security/Antivirus software, etc(Get the patches and updates ONLY from the manufacturer or a trusted source, too!) – They’re no good if they are outdated, people keep finding new ways around to break things, so don’t make it too easy! Also, don’t share passwords and restrict access to people that don’t need it. If you have to share access to an account, or to software, consider temporarily changing the password for the duration, or setting up an alternative login for them.
If you can set user rights in software you’re using, make use of them, and give people access only to the features they need – Then there’s less chance of them:
- Wasting time.
- Changing things accidentally
In addition, if an account IS compromised, it limits the damage an intruder can do.
There’s plenty of other advice I could give, or many others, but that would go beyond the purview of this article, so feel free to build on the above points!
The Second security area of concern is to do with things stored and/or run remotely, such as your website. They should also be up to date with the latest patches, and passwords should NOT be easy to guess, with the default accounts disabled where possible to make it harder for attackers to guess their way in. Your provider can make recommendations on other security steps, or may have implemented some themselves already as a standard part of their service. For example, if you’re running a Magento website, is it up to date? Are all the plugins you use? We can help you to review and identify actions to get your website up to date – We can probably help you to speed it up, too!
Unique Selling Point (USP)
As a business, you’re usually competing with at least one other business for your customers. Maybe not directly, but it means you need to have a Unique Selling Point, that makes you easily identifiable and attractive to new customers and existing. This usually forms part of your Brand.
If you don’t know what that is, then it’s worth sitting down and thinking about it, and what it should be. Then look at how you’re going to use it when promoting yourself next year, and interacting with customers. Handled properly, it makes you not just memorable and identifiable, but it will resonate with your target customers, helping you achieve growth and retention objectives for the year.
If you know what it is, then look at your company, and what you’ve achieved this year. Does the USP still feel relevant? If not, then does your USP need to change, or does the way you’re doing business? It’s important for your company, your team and your brand to have an identity – It helps everyone pull towards a common objective, and have pride.
With a strong USP, you can attract and hold onto customers, and build a strong reputation in the area you sell. By being clear in what you represent, people will remember you, and mention you, even if they don’t need your products themselves – currently!
And once you’ve found your USB, don’t be afraid to shout about it. Reach out and touch a few thousand of your soon-to-be closest friends – Have you talked to our new Head of Digital Marketing, Lindsey? She’s only been with us 4 months, and she’s helping clients to see clearly who they are, so she can help customers to see who THEY really are, too
Firstly, the big question: “Do you have your own website, to sell your stock to customers outside of eBay/Amazon?”
That, obviously, gives us 2 possible answers. I’ll start by talking to the readers that answered “No”.
Owning and running your own eCommerce website can seem quite intimidating at first, but it’s surprising how many people want to help you do just that. Starting with Shopify and EKM, moving up to companies (like eBusiness Guru) offering full blown Magento websites, there are a range of options and capabilities available, and you can always move up from a simpler to a more complex one later – you don’t have to stick with your first choice, and can learn from experience.
But why would you have your own website? Firstly, look at it this way. How much do you pay eBay and Amazon every year? How much of each sale you make? It soon adds up, doesn’t it? Now talk to some of the people that are reputable, and offering you a way to build your own website. Look at the costs. And don’t forget, a website isn’t just a website. It’s email addresses at your own domain, not Gmail, or Yahoo, or Outlook.com. It’s announcing to the world that you don’t just have a warehouse and an eBay shop, but an address on the internet!
Yes, you pay for the website, and hosting it, but that’s fairly fixed – It will go up as you get more customers, but so will your profits! And you don’t have to play by eBay’s rules, or Amazon’s. You can also get yourself a Google Business entry, and start looking at advertising in search results, if you don’t already. It’s a lot of potential work – But so rewarding. And when it’s done right, and draws customers, they will stay there – Wouldn’t you rather be their go to site, instead of Amazon? Please, think about it this year – the multinationals don’t need the money, you can do MUCH more with it (And you pay taxes, so everyone else will be happy, right?)
And onto those of you who answered “Yes”:
OK, so – you have a website. How long have you had your website? What is it based on? Is it Shopify? Bigcommerce? EKM Powershop? WooCommerce? Magento?
Why did you choose that platform? Does it still work for you, or are you considering a move? Is it up to date and patched properly? Is it intact? Are there no dead links or missing pages? Does it respond quickly when you, or customers click on it, and when they want to buy things, does it know if they are in stock?
If the answer to any of the above questions (apart from the first) is ‘No’, then it’s time to start thinking hard and careful think about your website. Firstly, if there are dead links or missing pages, you need to ask who ever looks after the site “Why?” If it’s not keeping track of the stock levels correctly, then start looking into why, and get help if required. If the platform it’s on isn’t working for you, start looking at your options, and people, like us, that can help you move to those other options. Look at the ups and downs of the new platforms and offers, and evaluate them in light of your experiences so far. At the end of the day, you want (No, you NEED) a site that is attractive, robust, responsive, and makes people confident in your business. Today, anything less is a HUGE black mark against your company, just because modern shoppers have so little patience – They want instant gratification and a buy button.
If your website is running ok, but not up date, the question should be again “Why?” A website that isn’t up to date will have flaws and issues that are known – That means it is possible to take down or damage your website. Alternatively, and worse, it could be compromised and repurposed by another person, who would have access to your customer’s information, your information, even your stock! It’s theft the new-fashioned way, one bit at a time.
I hope you have found food for thought in the 6 points above. Whether it’s time for a clear out, time for a new website, or time to rediscover the roots of your company and reach out to your customers, 2017 is a year for change, and a year for improvement – You’re doing well already, but there is always room to do better – Just ask eBay and Amazon. There’s always room for growth and improvement!
And don’t forget, if you need a hand with moving forward this year, or it all just seems a little daunting, then why not give my colleagues and I at eBusinessGuru a call – We can discuss your business and your aims, and look at how we can help to make the future look brighter, help your workload get lighter and your customers happier.
Here’s to a bright and successful 2017!