Five Common E-commerce Traps & How to Avoid Them

Despite reports that indicate just how high the online startup failure rate is, e-commerce startups nonetheless are all the rage these days and the flames of entrepreneurial spirit seem to be burning brighter than ever. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, you’ll want to eliminate self-doubt and be willing to accept whatever happens; a leap of faith, if you will.

Thankfully, any outcome is progress as long as you’re capable of learning from failures. This is a very important lesson to learn. Unfortunately, a single miscalculation may sound the death blow for small startups. To ensure your startup doesn’t dissolve before it even takes off, review these five critical traps to watch out for an avoid at all costs:

1. Relying Too Much on WordPress

There’s no doubt that WordPress is a great platform for building just about any site. It’s also compatible with other e-commerce platforms like Shopify Magento, and BigCommerce. However, these platforms are exactly why relying too much on WordPress is a mistake. If you always run to WordPress whenever you build a site, you’re missing out on features that will simplify your e-commerce business.

Besides, e-commerce platforms have everything you need to build a store from the ground up – from shopping cart apps to blogging extensions. You don’t need to integrate them with a content management system.

A word of advice, take advantage of free trials to determine which platform will adequately meet your needs. Once you pick one, it’ll be difficult and impractical to switch to another platform later.

2. No Mobile Presence

90% of consumers use their phones to purchase online. That said, building an online store without optimizing for mobile is like setting up shop in the middle of the desert.

Today, most e-commerce platforms and site builders already have a selection of mobile responsive themes. Apart from this, you should also run your site through the Google Mobile-Friendly Test for suggestions on how to optimize your store.

3. Store Design Doesn’t Resonate with Buyers

Success in e-commerce is all about your buyers. In addition to providing a decent experience to mobile shoppers, you also need to implement a design that resonates with buyer personas. Make sure all details – from the colors to your choice of fonts – are tailored specifically to your target audience.

It’s also important to pick updated themes and templates whenever your e-commerce platform undergoes a major update. Doing so enables you to capitalize on new features that can improve the experience of buyers.

4. Terrible Product Presentation

If you want to sell something, you need to put it in the best possible light – not blotch it with a generic description and low-quality product photos. This is not something you should skimp on. If necessary, hire a professional copywriter or photographer, preferably with e-commerce experience, to captivate onlookers and convert traffic into profits.

As rules of thumb, be sure to use high-resolution images (at least 1024 x 1024) and present the product in different angles. When it comes to the description, get straight to the point and deal with the pain points of your buyers. Avoid filler words unless they instill positive emotions into readers.

5. No Strategy for Sustainability

Growing an e-commerce business requires two things: attracting new customers and making sure they come back for more. You can’t have one without the other if you want to sustain your online store for the long-term.

A proven strategy is to build a mailing list to cultivate customer loyalty and squeeze more sales from past buyers. For this, you need an email marketing platform likeGetResponse and Aweber. In addition to list management, these platforms also feature drag-and-drop email builders and lead capture tools.   

Finally, make sure you invest in customer service to establish a trustworthy and authoritative brand. You can do this through email, live chat, social media, and other touchpoints that allow you to connect with consumers. Not only will this keep them happy, it’s also the key to generating the much-needed social proof.

Source: Tech.co, by Loren Baker

 

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Does Walmat’s E-commerce Wing Have Potential?

Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) announces earnings tomorrow where earnings expectations are $1.29 for the quarter. The large-cap retailer has been in the news a lot lately as a result of job cuts in the e-commerce division plus also an acquisition in that area. We are long this name in our portfolio due to the company being slightly undervalued but also because Wal-Mart offers a portfolio significant downside protection. This company’s low beta, strong competitive advantages and significant scale in terms of its footprint and diversification definitely bring an element of security to its shares. It may not outperform other stocks in the retail sector but with sentiment at all time highs in US equity markets at present, I feel now is very much the time to only have quality in one’s portfolio and not to attempt to swing from the fences.

Wal-Mart has just announced another dividend raise, yet its payout ratio still remains well under 50% and the equity on its balance sheet remains almost double the firm’s interest bearing debt. I have written before that I believe Wal-Mart due to the significant scale advantages that it enjoys will eventually become successful with its e-commerce operations. It’s just a matter of time. Yes, it will be work in progress for many years to come but only a fool would bet against Wal-Mart especially in the US where its bargain basement brand has been ingrained into the minds of its customers for decades. Despite the growth of e-commerce in recent times, the quickest way to buy goods (especially an area like groceries where Wal-Mart is very strong) is by going directly to store and purchasing on-site. Free curbside pickup would seem only to bring more people into the stores as Wal-Mart will target its Supercenter growth plans (and investment on existing facilities) to be completely in line with its e-commerce objectives.

The new CEO of the company’s e-commerce wing, Marc Lore, has wasted no time in putting his stamp on Wal-Mart’s online objectives. On top of bringing in his own leadership team, he recently fired 200 employees who simply didn’t fit into his plans for e-commerce going forward. I alluded to Wal-Mart’s balance sheet earlier and it is crucial as e-commerce sustained growth has been a stop-start process for the retailer over the past few years. Basically, the cash flow from its offline sales has and is being used to bolster the online division which is definitely an area that Wal-Mart needs to protect in terms of market share. However, if Lore can pull off what he did at Jet.com even only to a remote extent, then things have to be looking up for Wal-Mart.

Lore will attempt to use an algorithm to basically decrease the price of a customer’s ticket based on the frequency of purchase, fulfillment and customer service. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) may have a sizable edge over Wal-Mart in terms of delivery speeds and product range but one would have to say that Wal-Mart (especially on some of their in-house products which are sold en masse) are very competitive on price on core products. Building customers baskets around these core products will be Lore’s long term plan. Don’t underestimate either the power of Wal-Mart’s present foot-traffic. These customers, in my opinion, will at least have an e-commerce purchase history over time even if they only partially use the curbside pickup option.

In this day and age, information is king and over the long term, it is much more valuable to Wal-Mart if they have the majority of their customers online as then the company can then clearly see purchasing history. Knowing what a customer buys, when they buy and how often means Wal-Mart can over time carefully craft attractive offers, which should eventually add to margins. Remember, Wal-Mart has always been a “sum-of-all-parts” company where volume has always been the priority. If revenues increased, then margins would at worst stay the same if not increase also. Remember Jet.com had to spend a fortune to get customers to its online portal. Wal-Mart will spend but already has an army of hungry customers who are keenly attuned to price. If Lore can get these price-conscious shoppers online and also work wonders with his logarithms, Wal-Mart can make significant gains here which is why we will remain long.

Technically Wal-Mart is slightly overbought but we have decided not to sell option premium here at earnings for the premium portfolio. Shares in VF Corp (NYSE:VFC) were called away for a nice profit on Friday. We want to retain a presence in retail in case of the stock spikes to the upside on the 21st. Long Wal-Mart.

Source: Seekingalpha.com

Edited for grammar and readability.

Top 10 Causes of E-commerce Failure

E-commerce has grown exponentially in just a few short years offering fantastic revenue opportunities, the ability to always be “open”, and traditionally less overhead costs when compared to brick-and-mortar retailing. In addition, e-commerce offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to start businesses with very little starting capital – if any!

And yet, despite that, many e-commerce businesses struggle to be profitable, if not survive.

If you currently own an e-commerce business or are thinking about starting one, below are 10 critically important items to keep in mind which will likely have a significant impact on the success (or failure) of your venture.

 

1. Poor quality images and product descriptions.

When shopping online, customers are unable to pick up a product and take a good look at it. Instead, they rely on the images your store provides, along with matching descriptions. If you have poor quality photos or offer limited descriptions, you’ll almost definitely lose sales.

Always offer photos that display the product from multiple views, using only high-quality images, and be sure to include unique detailed descriptions. Don’t use generic product descriptions from the supplier. Don’t rely solely on price. Entice visitors with great imagery and product detail.

2. Missing contact information.

It seems like a small issue, doesn’t it? But not displaying full contact information, or trying to bury it deep in the site, is a major trust barrier for potential customers. Before they buy, they will look for this information, as they want peace of mind that if they need to contact you, they can. If you refuse to show location and contact information — including a phone number — you are going to have a hard time establishing trust with potential customers.

3. Complicated checkout.

Amazon pioneered the simple purchase process. And when they did, it revolutionized e-commerce. Consumers were begging for simpler checkout methods with fewer steps. A complex, multi-step checkout process is a frustrating experience for customers, and they’ll likely give up before completion.

Avoid frustration by offering a very short checkout process. Also, don’t require registration for checkout. Let customers go through the process and choose the option to register and save their details at the end, in case they want to come back. Otherwise let them checkout as a guest, without the need to register.

4. Hidden fees.

This is a big one. Cart abandonment is high as a result of this issue. Shipping rates should be shared upfront, at product selection. Hiding them until the very end is guaranteed to anger the buyer. Provide your customers with a shipping calculator that works based on the items they’re interested in and their postal code. This is technically easy to achieve, and there’s no excuse to not offer this.

5. Big screen, small screen.

We’re a society moving more and more to mobile. This is especially true for e-commerce. If your online store hasn’t been properly designed for mobile, you will be offering clutter, poor navigation options and an incredibly difficult user experience for mobile users. Make sure your site is mobile responsive.

6. Customers don’t know what to do.

Even with an e-commerce website, you need to make it very clear what you want the customer to do on your site. Non-product pages should direct the customer using a blatant and obvious call to action. The most successful e-commerce sites tell customers exactly what to do. Never leave customers to guess what the next step is. It is about guiding the user through your site, step by step, and ensuring they perform the actions you want them to.

7. Online marketing.

What use is a watering hole in the desert if no one knows where it is? You might have an industry leading e-commerce store, backed by outstanding customer service, however, without targeted traffic, you’ll not reach the heights you desire, or possibly not make enough sales to sustain the business.

Creating an inbound marketing funnel will deliver leads from social media, Google organic and paid results and referral sources. Once you build up sales, and testimonials and reviews begin flowing in, that will have another positive impact for you.

8. You’re not engaging your customers.

Being ignored is as bad as being bullied by a sales person. Engage prospective and existing customers when possible. Use social media to join the discussion, and keep your products and services in front of potential customers or those returning. Join in, or lead industry-related discussions, to show your knowledge, credibility or perhaps, quirkiness.

9. You’re targeting the wrong audience.

You may have organic and paid search campaigns on the go, along with comprehensive social media management. However, this is all wasted if you aren’t targeting the right audience. Are you targeting generic terms that may not be appealing to people looking to purchase? Research is needed here to select the right approach to generate sales. In addition, constant ongoing review and tweaking is required to ensure you are making the most of your budget.

10. Your pricing is all wrong.

Pricing is a huge factor online. People can compare your pricing in seconds, instead of having to trudge around multiple physical stores. If you are too low, customers may think your products are low quality. If you are too high, they’ll feel like you’re trying to rip them off.

Don’t forget, shipping is a factor here as well. Keep that as low as possible, and offer free shipping when possible, or on orders over a certain amount. Obviously, this is specific to what you are selling. Research and trial and error can help you find the pricing sweet spot you need to gain and keep customers.

E-commerce is a great way of starting a business with minimal overheads, however, don’t make the fatal mistake of believing it’s as simple as putting up an underwhelming site as fast as possible and putting products up without consideration. By applying the rules above, you will hopefully succeed in your e-commerce ventures, and avoid the pitfalls so many sites make.

Source: Entrepreneur.com, by Nathan Sinnott

From Inc.com: Top 5 Ecommerce Platforms of 2017

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start up an e-commerce business or a small business owner looking for e-commerce solutions to either begin selling online or as a means to scale up and grow your business, here are the top five e-commerce platforms for 2017, according to popular business news website Inc.com:

1. Shopify

Shopify hosts over 325,000 active online shops and with its focus on social commerce and mobile shopping, the platform continues to evolve to meet the growing requirements of online stores.

The Benefits of Shopify are:

  • Over 100 store templates (themes) to choose from
  • 1500+ apps (plugins/extensions) to extend the store’s functionality
  • Ability to connect your online store with your Facebook page and sell directly on Facebook
  • Built in mobile-friendly shopping cart and seller mobile apps (and Shopify provides a platform to connect store owners with app developers for the development of their store’s app)
  • 24/7 support via live chat, phone and tutorials as well as the Shopify community forum

Despite these advantages, there are some important downsides with the platform. First, if you don’t use Shopify Payment, there will be an additional transaction fee on every sale. Plus, many of the extensions for additional functionality aren’t free, so, running your store on Shopify might cost a little more than you expected. Lastly, Shopify has its own coding language called ‘Liquid’, so any customization in the system comes at an additional expense.

When is Shopify a good choice?

For beginners with conventional requirements, Shopify remains the ideal ecommerce solution. Based on your budget requirements, you can choose different packages which range from $29 to $299/month. But if you have unique features and functionalities in mind for your store, it might be better to look elsewhere.

2. BigCommerce

Launched in 2009, BigCommerce currently hosts over 55,000 online stores and is among the leading ecommerce software providers. From big names like Martha Stewart & Toyota to SMEs, the platform ideally caters to stores of all sizes. And considering the comprehensive list of built in features it offers, BigCommerce is often considered the best option for those who have little to no technical knowledge, or simply don’t have time to mess with the code.

For an even more in depth view, see my interview with Brent Bellm, CEO of BigCommerce:

The Benefits of BigCommerce are:

  • Extensive built in features including newsletters, coupons, shipping, tax, analytics, and more
  • Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce charges no transaction fee
  • All free and paid themes are responsive and offer a smooth mobile experience
  • Integrate your store with Facebook, eBay, Google shopping and a range of comparison sites
  • Powerful support with extremely helpful setup wizard, educational videos, and extensive guides with visual representations

One concern with BigCommerce is the lack of free themes. Currently it offers only 7 free themes, while most of their immediate competitors offer more than 20 free themes. However, the platform has a comprehensive list of premium themes, and it also allows customization of these themes if you want to give your store an entirely unique look and feel.

When should you go with BigCommerce?

If you want a full-fledged store, but don’t want the hassles of integrating plug-ins, editing HTML/CSS or other code, then BigCommerce is definitely the go-to ecommerce platform for you. If you are willing to compromise a bit on themes, then BigCommerce is a strong alternative to Shopify at roughly the same pricing (BigCommerce’s plans are between $29 and $199/month) without the incremental transaction fees.

3. Magento

With almost one-fourth of the market share, Magento is often considered the market leader among ecommerce platforms. For its reliability and scalability, many popular brands use Magento as the underlying technology for their online stores, including Burger King, Huawei, Pepe Jeans & Liverpool F.C. This platform is considered the best ecommerce platform for enterprise level online stores.

For an even more in-depth view, see my interview with Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento.

The Benefits of Magento are:

  • Good user experience: easy to use and manage
  • Open source platform and therefore open to all sorts of customization
  • 9000+ plugins/extensions to scale your business
  • Free extensions that enable social commerce so you can sell on social media platforms
  • Extensive resource library for store management, growth, demos, and online community of store owners as well as plugin developers you can tap for help

One of the critical factors associated with Magento is the pricing of its versions. The basic Community version is free, while the advanced Enterprise version costs a minimum $20,000/year. Needless to say, the Community version is no match for the Enterprise version, which offers many built in high-end features such as customer segmentation, a support module, 24/7 support and a much more.

Additionally, the flexible, open source nature of the platform also makes it quite complex, so you need very competent developers for customization. So even with the Community version -considering hosting, SSL, extensions, customization, etc. – it will likely cost you significant time and money to get your ecommerce store exactly as you want it.

When is Magento the ideal solution?

Magento is considered the right ecommerce platform for enterprise-level merchants with a large volume of products. Given the complexity of store setup and management with Magento, the platform is not recommended for beginners.

4. YoKart

With its feature richness and smart pricing models, YoKart is built with a specific focus on helping startups build ecommerce ecosystem easily. Think of it as the one-stop solution for launching multi-vendor stores like eBay and Etsy. Although many other ecommerce platforms also provide their multi-vendor version, YoKart does this seamlessly.

The Benefits of YoKart are:

  • A ready-to-launch multi-vendor marketplace solution
  • Other than the framework, you own the source code and can customize the portal to your requirements
    • YoKart is built on an encrypted framework. Which means that customization would require knowledge of that framework. In general, an experienced PHP developer would quickly understand the framework and how to modify it as needed.
  • Mobile-friendly platform and a dedicated Android app for marketplaces
  • Same features across all pricing packages (briefed below)
  • Comprehensive manuals for store owners and merchants, video tutorials, FAQs, and 12-month free support for store management

Being a relatively new entrant in the industry, there are no third-party extensions currently available for YoKart. But the system offers built in analytics tool, over a dozen supported payment gateways, rewards and discount coupon management features. A big drawback, however, is its lack of social commerce capabilities, meaning that that it currently lacks the features to allow merchants to sell on Facebook and other social media platforms.

When is YoKart the right ecommerce platform?

For multi-vendor stores such as eBay and Etsy, YoKart is a great choice. Its startup package is a hosted solution with one-year license, which costs $250 and allows startups to verify their business model. The advanced version is self-hosted, customizable, costs $999 (one time), and is intended for companies who have a sound business model. Switching from a startup to an advanced package is also quite easy.

5. Big Cartel

With the slogan ‘We believe in the artist’, Big Cartel targets artists & other small-scale home-based businesses run by individuals. The platform claims to have helped over a million artists in selling their creations online since it launched in 2005. This extremely simple to use hosted system is often regarded as the best ticket for artists and other creative people to enter the ecommerce arena.

The Benefits of Big Cartel are:

  • Extremely simple to setup a store and manage it
  • Facebook shop access
  • Aesthetically sound themes
  • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) code editor to customize your theme including HTML, CSS & JavaScript
  • Comprehensive Help Center (detailed guides & FAQs), useful video tutorials, support via email, and Big Cartel’s Facebook & Twitter accounts

The simplicity of Big Cartel also results in limited functionality, which is definitely a downside for those who want to do more than just sell products. Big Cartel’s theme library is limited to 12 themes, out of which only 2 are responsive (meaning optimized for mobile devices). There are limited add-ons; however, store owners can get access to 500+ apps via Zapier integration.

These challenges are due to the fact that Big Cartel targets a very specific segment, so, some of them can be overlooked. Currently, it only offers social commerce for Facebook. Given its target audience (artists & creative individuals), it will likely include other social networks in the future (or at least it should).

When Big Cartel is the right ecommerce solution?

As stated previously, this platform is ideal for individual artists and creative people (not for typical retailers). With its simplistic stores and economical pricing ($0 to $29.99/month), Big Cartel allows artists to sell things online easily with a good-looking website, thereby allowing artist to focus on creating things instead of managing their online store.

What do you think? Have you ever heard of any of these solutions or perhaps, utilize one? Let us know in the comments below!