Holiday Sales: Four Ways to Capture the Budget-Driven Consumer

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The recession has had a telling effect on the marketplace and online spending levels are at an all-time low. More than ever, customers are looking for deals. Therefore, instead of complaining about it, ecommerce merchants need to adjust accordingly.

Even though the number of people with access to the internet grows day by day, the spending levels have not increased proportionally. This is because people communicate. They are talk to each another, checkout product reviews, and compare prices on social media sites. This is a critical matter, which you can take advantage of for the sake of your online business. Try these four simple ideas out this season and see how it works for you to capture budget-driven consumers.

Offer specials and incentives – Anything from 50% off the next purchase to a Teddy bear could be the dealmaker. Figure out: “What will make this customer buy MY product, here and now?”

Use social media to your advantage – Advertising over this medium will give you some success, but your true winner will be when you engage the customer. Nothing sells better than the feeling of one-to-one communication.

Match offers to landing pages – Give the customer exactly what they are looking for. For example, if your banner or text-ad advertises kids t-shirts, the page they land on when they click the ad HAS to have ONLY kids t-shirts.

Integrate – Customers will readily click on a display ad or a paid-search ad if they recognize your brand from a social site or natural search results.

Conversion: 15 Reasons Why Consumers Will Leave Your eCommerce Site

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A sale in an online store is easy to make if:

1. the customer can easily find the product page, and
2. the customer can easily proceed to the checkout page.

This is as simple as it gets. The following 15 guidelines will help you avoid common mistakes which can complicate the sale process.

1. Do Not Require Registration – The somewhat unnecessary process of registration will only act as a deterrent. If the customer has clicked on Checkout, they have more or less made the decision to buy. Do not delay them after that. Get the sale, and then present them with a registration option.

2. Write for Humans – Make sure your content and product descriptions are people-friendly. Content that is extremely SEO-focused tends to alienate your customer. Ranking on Google is useless if you cannot make a sale, so strike a good balance with your descriptions.

3. Watch Out-of-Stock Items – If you do not have it with you, make sure the customer knows about it early.

4. Delete Empty Categories – If you currently do not have any product in certain categories due to some reason, make sure you disable those categories.

5. Clean-up Your Home Page – “If you have it, flaunt it” is the wrong sentiment to follow with your homepage. Do not show everything on your homepage. Be selective and focus on a few key promotions or products.

6. Establish an Arrival Date – It does not take much effort to put this piece of code in, but people will appreciate tremendously. Along with the shipping date, try to include an estimated arrival date.

7. Do Not Over-Recommend – Once the buyer adds something to the shopping cart, show the cart to the customer before you give any more recommendations.

8. Be Careful with Email Addresses – If you collect the customer’s email address at the point of checkout, make good use of it. Do a follow up email to see if the product arrived safely or request for review of the product or your service.

9. Do Not Change Negative Reviews – Negative reviews can also help positively in your business. It shows that you are unbiased and lets customers know what to and what not to expect from the product.

10. Disclose Final Price Early-on – Give the customer the total final price including shipping and taxes early on. This helps avoid any surprises in the final stages.

11. Avoid Duplicate Entries – If you have asked the customer to enter any data (e.g. Zip Code) do not make them enter it again. If you need to, present the data and ask them to confirm it and not enter it all over again.

12. Help Customers Reach You – Display your contact information prominently. This is imperative in the case of a hotline. If the customer knows that they can get in touch with you easily, then their confidence in you grows.

13. Do Not Ask for Too Much Information – If you ask the customer for their credit card number, then you do not need to ask them what type of card they possess. This can be figure out when you analyze the number. You can however present the credit card type and just ask for a confirmation.

14. Simplify Security Checks – If you are using security such as Captcha, keep it simple without expecting the customer to decipher a 10-character Captcha image.

15. Turn Off Advertising – Focus on selling your products. AsSense type of ads will either take customers out of your site or raise questions about how serious you are about your products.

Overall these guidelines have one basic theme: Close the sale fast. Keep that in mind, and you will see an immediate improvement in your sales.

LLC, Sole Proprietorship or S Corporation?

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Worries about accounting, liability, filing regulatory documents, choosing a shopping cart and finding sources for inventory can cause you to abandon your plans for an ecommerce business even before you get it off the ground. Knowing about how businesses work and making a smart choice in the beginning will make life easier for you. U.S. based businesses have three choices when starting a new enterprise.

Sole proprietorship – If you are the sole person investing in and running the business, this is the best choice for you. It is the easiest business to form and manage with no corporate taxes, but there is taxation on all profits. The risk involved here is there is no legal distinction between you and the business. As a result, you have no personal protection if your company if a member of any lawsuit, and are liable for all debts incurred by your business.

S Corporation – An S corporation (the “S” refers to a subchapter of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code), can be formed with a minimum of one to a maximum of 100 Shareholders. The company itself never pays income taxes; instead, each individual shareholder has to declare their pro-rated profits or losses in their own income tax returns. With this business, there is a clear distinction between you and your company. If the company is sued, you will not be held liable personally except in the cases of gross negligence, fraud or sloppy record keeping that commingles personal and business affairs,. This also applies to LLC’s, the other company you can form.

LLC (limited liability company) – As the name itself suggests, LLC ensures that your personal risk is low. While similar to S Corporation’s in that manner, this business is a little different in other aspects. It needs less paperwork and record keeping because it is not a corporation and the stakeholders in the company are as Members as opposed to Shareholders. Taxation is according to the members’ pro-rated ownership in the company.

In conclusion, Sole proprietorship is risky if you expect your business to grow and be sustainable over time. LLC would be the safest way to start and can be easily converted into an S Corporation when the need arises. The best way to get started would be to consult your accountant, file your business online on the secretary of state’s website, get a good insurance plan and get to work!

Guidelines for Outsourcing

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If you want to outsource your warehousing, shipping, and returns processing, the following guidelines could help you to make a better decision in your search for a vendor with a fulfillment service.

Gather Your Facts And Figures – Collect the following data: monthly order volume, your average SKU (stock-keeping unit) an order, average number of items an order, typical package weights and the number of first class mail vs. priority mail packages.
Draw up Your Request-for-proposals List – Armed with data, begin your search. The Yahoo! directory of fulfillment service providers is a good place to start, with listing of different types of fulfillment services. Shortlist some companies and request for quotations based on your requirements.

Compile Results – Once you have received the quotations, put the figures onto a spreadsheet and compare the prices, terms with your
usages factors. Shortlist some vendors from the spreadsheet and interview their sales reps or even tour their facilities.

Location – To reduce zone-based shipping charges, make sure that your provider is close to your customers.

Apart from these guidelines, there are some tips you should keep in mind:

1. Analyze the contract
2. Watch storage fees
3. Consider the size of the Jiffy mailers/ cartons
4. Avoid split orders
5. Get specialized cartons
6. Options for Returned Goods
7. Consider the shipping account; sellers might be able to give you a better rate.
8. Check the terms of service
9. Allow gift wrapping by prewrapping the product.
By starting on a small-scale and following these guidelines, you can find a seller and improve your business intelligently.

Pay-per-click Advertising: Seven Pointers for Smaller Campaigns

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Working with a low budget (for example less than $3,000 a month) pay-per-click campaign is, more often than not, a difficult task. The following checklist will help you get the most out of a small budget PPC campaign.

1. Use Negative Keywords to Block Irrelevant Traffic – Negative keywords are filters that disqualify ads from appearing on search queries. For example, if “Laptop” is a keyword, every time a user runs a search on that keyword, it will display your ad. The result will be the same even if someone searches for “faulty laptop”, “damaged laptop”, etc. By adding words such as “faulty” and “damaged” to your negative list you can avoid a similar problem. This will also improve the quality of traffic produced by your PPC campaign.

2. Research Long-tail Keywords – Keywords such as “buy laptop” or “get laptop” represent purchase intent and clicks created by these keywords such as these are more likely to turn into buyers.

3. Separate Search Network from Content Network – Primary search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! Offer search distribution and content distribution. Do not assume that both are the same. Content channel traffic is of different quality when compared to search generated traffic.

4. Split Keywords into Tightly Organized Ad Groups – It is important to organize your keywords in a logical order. Do not mix keywords associated with one product with keywords from another. For example, If your business sells cheese and fruits, the keywords associated with these products should not be in the same Ad Group.

5. Include Different Match Types – Since Match types match your keywords with user search queries, it becomes an excellent tool to improve the quality of traffic to your website. Keep in mind that Google and MSN allow Broad, Phrase and Exact match (the three match types) to run simultaneously, but Yahoo! does not.

Starting a PayPal Business Account

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You can setup a PayPal Business Account in minutes. Simply go to the PayPal homepage and select “Business” as the account type. You will see several PayPal merchant services plans to accept payments online. To accept payments online, PayPal has two plans on offer, both free of set-up and cancellation fees; Website Payments Standard (WPS) and Website Payments Pro (WPP). The former is easy and fast to set up and has no monthly subscription fee. Selling single or multiple items, offering subscriptions, accepting donations or selling gift certificates, are easy to setup with a simple “Buy now” button. You could even use a preintegrated shopping cart created by Shopify or ASecureCart. Based on a sliding scale governed by the total purchase price, fees range from 1.9% to 2.9%, as well as a transaction fee.

Website Payments Pro keeps Visa and MasterCard users on the e-commerce site during checkout. Combining a payment gateway and payment processor, this plan has a great feature that includes the option to add the Virtual Terminal service. This allows online businesses to accept orders by phone, fax, or mail order. WPP costs $30.00 a month as well as a transaction fee.

To accept e-mail payments without a website, PayPal offers professional invoices that created from the PayPal business account. This plan too does not charge set-up or cancellation fees nor does it charge a monthly fee. Sending an invoice is simply a matter of inserting a payment button into an Outlook e-mail or clicking on the Request Money option in the PayPal business account.

Free Ecommerce Option for Small Business

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The amazing growth of big businesses like Wal-Mart and the popularity of cheap imported products have given small business a daunting task when it comes to competition. Most small businesses are simply forced to close up because they cannot provide a quality product at a competitive price. Ecommerce provides small businesses a valuable option by reducing the cost of overhead required to open a storefront. In the current web context, developing an online store has become easy and cost effective and also provides the storeowner the ability to offer goods and services not only to the immediate geographic area but to the whole world.

Many web hosting services provide web services to create an ecommerce store for a trial period. Fees for creating and maintaining these stores can also increase with time and the amount of volume sold by ecommerce website. However, eCrater provides business the alternative of creating and maintaining a website for free. eCrator stands out by promoting itself as a absolutely free marketplace.

Sellers are provided with a free online store that has unlimited capacity, which can be customized using text and photos. eCrator is also part of a popular online community, therefore many eCrator customers will find that their store is visited by many members of the eCrator community without having to promote or advertise the new online store at all.

Ten Great Ecommerce Ideas for November 2009

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Following are 10 great ideas from eCommerce industry insiders for you to use to increase your website’s conversion rates and performance this November.

– Localize Site content – in the same way that offline stores are localized to provide local items and prices, you should use IP mapping to localize your online store and provide products, services and prices that are local. This can be a powerful tool to entice users across the world to use your website and its services.

– Keep your message above the fold – make sure the important aspects of your website are kept above the fold (middle of the screen). Use this space to include newsletter signups, special offers, navigation menus, reviews call to actions. Chances of users seeing this information more if it is above the fold.

– Include expert testimonials – customer testimonials and user-generated product reviews are great to provide reassurance for your online store. Take it one step further and use actual testimonials from experts in the product field.

– Help non-profits and they help you – for a donation, many local groups, especially team sports, will help you with projects such as taking online inventory, washing windows, or cleaning company vehicles.

– Use Ning to target customers – Ning is a web service that hosts thousands of social networks and it is a great place to target niche customer segments.

– Create an FAQ page – that will educate your customers about your products and services in a clear and concise manner.

– Define your business objectives – clearly define your business objectives and make them achievable and measurable.

– Detailed images appeal to sophisticated shoppers – studies indicate that today’s shoppers expect retailers to provide not only textual product information, but also detailed, zoomable images, videos, and alternate product views.

– Use creative commons for SEO value – use old imagery such as a model or product photos, which you are no longer using and submit them to image-sharing sites under a Creative Commons license. Many users will credit you when they use it and provide SEO value by linking to your site.

– Improve your onsite search – many shoppers who know what they are looking for will use your site search. Include a category dropdown or suggestions to make their search narrower.