How to Write a Marketing Plan

In a recent survey I conducted, it was discovered that ⅔ of people starting an online store are doing so with little to no customer acquisition plan.

Common answers given when asked “What is your overall customer acquisition strategy?” included vague responses, such as:

  • Social Media
  • SEO
  • Friends & Family
  • Paid Advertising

While these seem like perfectly reasonable answers, around 60% of the participants in the survey indicated that they had never sold a product online before.

Conversely, the other ⅓ of participants in the survey responded to the same question with more concrete and tangible answers such as.

  • Going to Trade Shows
  • Building a Pre-Launch List
  • Creating a DataBase of Bloggers for Product Reviews
  • Reaching Out to Magazines for Reviews

Of the people in this ⅓ group, about half indicated they had already made their first sale, or were actively building up a group of prospective customers to launch their store to.

Looking at some of our other historical customer data, I know that stores with launches that bring in at least 100 new customers in their first month have a tendency to grow more sustainably within the first 3 years, whereas everyone else may acquire between 20-30 new customers a month for the first 2 years, and watch that number slowly decline over time.

All of this got me thinking…

What do we really know about developing a marketing plan that attracts, retains, and even steals customers from the competition?

Furthermore, how many of us are honest with ourselves about what it realistically takes to achieve whatever goal it is we have for our store; be it a steady side income or becoming a game changing market leader?

Without a solid marketing plan, too much is left to chance. When you rely on “hope based marketing” you’re at very high risk of losing money, time, and traction, because nothing is strategic and everything is reactive.

As the old adage states, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail”

Before we dive in, there are three key areas you must be brutally honest with yourself about:

  1. Budget – How much are you willing to invest to get the word about your product (or store) out there? This includes anything from advertising spend to hiring people to fill necessary roles.
  2. Talent – What strengths and assets does your team currently have at their disposal? This could mean anything from having a large rolodex of industry contacts, to being extremely saavy with PPC, having a keen eye for design, or a knack for making sales in person.
  3. Your Limitations – Don’t know a lot of people with access to larger groups? Don’t have a lot of money? Time?

It’s important you know each of these things up front, because it will guide you into being realistic with yourself about your goals and what it will take to reach them.

I’ve seen plenty of first time entrepreneurs say they’ll “do SEO” as their primary means of acquiring customers, completely oblivious to the notion that SEO is a rich man’s game. That’s not to say that it’s impossible, but it’s probably not the best use of time if you don’t already have the talent, budget or time to execute a fully fleshed out SEO campaign.

All that being said, this guide is intended to help you make informed, grounded decisions based on your current position, strengths and limitations.

As you create a marketing plan for yourself, please accept that several areas of this will ask that you do considerable research on your market, your competitors, and your place in it. This takes time, but it is time that will help guide you and keep everyone on same page and moving in the same direction.

Executive Summary

This is exactly as it sounds, and should be the last thing that you write.

It will summarize the other sections in the document and provide you, your employees, your advisors, and your (potential) investors an overview of your plan.

Section 1 – Goals & Objectives

This is where you set the stage and paint a broad picture of what your marketing activities will be focused on for the upcoming year.

Goals might include (but are not limited to):

  • Penetrating or Creating a Market
  • Stealing Customers From an Established Competitor
  • Expanding Product Distribution (on or offline)
  • Launching a New Product or Product Line

Karen Albritton of marketing firm Capstrat says, “If your business goal is to grow revenue, what marketing objective will accomplish this? Adding more customers? More repeat customers? Higher expenditures?”

As you define your objectives, use real numbers to add gravity to how you plan to achieve the goal.

If the goal is “Grow Revenue by 25% each Quarter ” your objectives might be:

  • Add 40 new customers/month
  • Increase repeat purchases by 10%
  • Increase AOV by 15%

Don’t worry about getting into the “how” just yet, but rather let this Goals & Objectives summary set the stage for the rest of the marketing plan. As you flesh out the next few sections, you’ll build the case for why the market will be receptive, and how to achieve these objectives tactically.

Part 1 – Organization Mission Statement & Value Proposition

This is typically a finely-honed paragraph that considers the following:

  • A stable, long-term vision of the company and answers questions like:
  • Why are we in business?
  • What markets do we serve and why?
  • What are the main benefits we offer our customers? ( Low prices? High quality? Hand-crafted? Carefully curated?)
  • What does the company want to be known for?
  • What does the company want to prove to the industry, customers, partners, etc?
  • What’s the general philosophy for doing business?
  • What products/services does the company offer?
  • Company History
  • The companies age, how/why it was started, product evolution, markets served
  • Resources & Competencies
  • What are we good at?
  • What’s special about us compared to current and future competitors? (no need to name names)
  • What gives us a competitive advantage?
  • What are our advantages in terms of people, products, finances, technical, partnership/supply chain, etc

Not all of these things need to make it in to the mission statement of course, but having an awareness of each of these elements can help you to choose what is most important to the organization.

For example, there’s an old, high end men’s shoe store in my town. If they were to launch an online store, I would write their mission statement to say:

“Since 1915, Lexington Shoes has outfitted gentlemen with luxury, hand-crafted footwear. Our founder Charles Lexington believed the only way to deliver a premium experience was to make eye contact, listen deeply and make recommendations based on the person, not the products on the shelf.

100 years and 3 generations later, we stand by this value and feel its increasing importance in our ever connected, too busy to slow down and see each other world.”

The mission statement differs from the value proposition, in that the value proposition is a concise promise of value. Peep Laja of ConversionXL says:

“[A value proposition is] the primary reason a prospect should buy from you.
In a nutshell, value proposition is a clear statement that
  • explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy),
  • delivers specific benefits (quantified value),
  • tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).
You have to present your value proposition as the first thing the visitors see on your home page, but should be visible in all major entry points of the site.” Read More on Value Propositions.

Section 2 – Target Customers

In this section of the marketing plan, detail everything you can about your target customer or customer groups.

This includes any relevant customer demographics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Income
  • Purchasing Power
  • Family Status
  • Or any other quantifiable data

This article on Entrepreneur is a phenomenal primer on customer demographics. If your customers are U.S based, it recommends using the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor’s website to gather the information. I’ve also found City-Data.com to be an excellent source of quantifiable demographic information.

The target customers section should also include relevant psychographic profile information:

  • Hobbies
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Websites
  • Lifestyle
  • Television Shows
  • Magazines

All of this will influence a wide range of areas in your business, including brand positioning, advertising creative, ad placement, local markets you want to penetrate and more.

Being able to more clearly identify your target market will help you to “speak the language” of your prospective customers, and get a higher return on your investment for your creative assets.

Using this, describe your target market approach. Are you using a mass-market strategy or speaking to a niche?

When evaluating your target market try to answer the following questions:

  • What are the needs/benefits sought by the market overall?
  • Who uses the product?
  • Why do they use the product?
  • When do the use the product?
  • How is the product used?

You should also use this section to discuss how customers perceive your product in relation to competitor’s products or the other solutions they use to solve the same problem. What are their attitudes toward your company, and to the general product category you serve? (i.e “I wish more furniture sites offered X,Y, Z feature)

Describe their purchasing process as well:

  • What does the decision-making process involve?
  • What sources of information do they seek?
  • What’s the timeline for their purchase?
  • Who actually makes the purchase?
  • Who or what influences the purchase?

And finally, provide market size estimates for those included in your target market.

  • What is the largest possible market if everyone bought?
  • What percentage actually bought from you in the past?
  • Given the current timeframe for the plan, how much growth do you think is possible in the next year and longer?

If estimating the market size seems daunting, Rastislav Turek – CEO of Pexe.so gives an exellent response on Quora that breaks it down in very simple to understand terms.

Section 3 – Situational Analysis

This section of your marketing plan is to provide a snapshot of where everything stands at the time the plan is presented.

This section in particular can take a significant amount of time as it scrutinizes multiple levels of your business, your market, where you stand, and how your competitors are doing.

If you’re running an established business, this is where you take inventory of what’s currently working and what isn’t. For new businesses, this is the research you that’ll help you understand the market you’re getting into. (See Also: Preparing A Market Study)

This includes an analysis of the following areas:

1. Current Products

Product Attributes

What are the main features of the products, and major benefits received by those using the product, current branding strategies, etc – If you’re selling the same product other retailers, the “product” would be in how you’re positioning the product category and the benefits of buying from you instead of everyone else.

Pricing

Describe pricing used at all distribution levels, including the pricing to final users, wholesale buyers, the incentives offered, discounts, etc

Distribution

Talk about the various ways the product is made accessible to final users, including the channels used, major benefits received by distributors, how the products are shipped, process for handling orders.

Promotion

Describe the promotional strategies and tactics in terms of advertising, sales promotions, personal selling, public relations and how the product is currently positioned in the market.

Take inventory of which promotions exceeded expectations in the previous year, and which did not perform to expectations. Include hard numbers when possible.

Services Offered

Discuss the various services offered to final users and distributors before, during & after the sale.

Include performance and/or usage metrics of each service, and impact it’s had on the bottom line. (i.e: Customers who use our personal styling service tend to spend 4x more than customers who do not. Wholesalers who use the quick order function in the ordering portal process 2x more orders than wholesalers that do not.)

2. Distributor Networks

Evaluate how your company’s product is currently (or will be) distributed.

This includes your own website, any third-party marketplaces you might sell on, physical retailers, pop-up shops, affiliates, referrals from existing customers etc.

For your own website, it’s also worth breaking down which traffic sources brought the most sales in the past (i.e Adwords, Facebook Ads, Organic Search etc.)

List out each of the channels in the supply chain and provide an overview of their performance.

Be sure to include the needs/benefits sought by distributors. This might include referral fees on marketplace sites like Amazon or Etsy, or the need for localized co-promotion with a physical retailer.

Also include your product’s role within the distributor’s business.

  • How important is it to their strategy?
  • How do they position it in relation to the competition?
  • How do they make their purchases & who influences their purchase decision?

When evaluating distributors, be sure to list the type of distributor, their size, geographic region, and the markets they serve.

3. Competition Analysis

This is where you’ll examine your primary competitors serving the same target market.

You’ll want to analyze direct competitors:

  • Target markets served
  • Product attributes
  • Pricing
  • Promotion
  • Distribution & Distribution Network
  • Services Offered

You’ll also want to discuss their strengths and weaknesses including

  • Financial standing
  • Target market perception
  • R & D capabilities

Finding this will take some digging. Audienti has a great article that can help.

It may also be a good idea to provide a S.W.O.T analysis on your competitors to provide an overview of their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

4. Current Financial Condition

Using charts, tables, and graphs along with a brief paragraph explaining what you’re looking at will prove invaluable for making the information easy to digest.

Current Sales Analysis

Overall industry sales and market share:

  • Total market sales
  • Total for your company’s products
  • Total for competition

By segments/ product categories:

  • Total for segments/product categories
  • Total for company’s products
  • Total for competition

By distribution channel

  • Total for each channel
  • Total for company’s product by channel
  • Total for competition by channel

By geographic region:

  • Total for each region
  • Total for company’s product(s) by region
  • Total for competition by region

Competitive information might be difficult to obtain on your own. Depending on where your business is at, It may be worth working with an agency to conduct the competitive intelligence for you.

Profitability Analysis

In addition to the sales analysis, you’ll want to look at how your expenses impacted those sales, and identify the areas where you should scale back or double down.

Marketing expenses:

  • Direct – those that can be tied back to the product. (i.e ad spend, spend on creative assets, etc)
  • Indirect – expenses that are tied to talent and technology fees.

The point of this is for you to evaluate if certain channels, markets, geographic regions, etc are worth it moving forward.

For highly detailed plans, this may need to be broken down by individual products or product categories.

5. External Forces

These are the areas you have no control over that have a (positive or negative). This could include product trends, natural disasters, seasonality, etc.

Other areas to consider are:

  • Social & cultural
  • Demographic shifts
  • Economic considerations (i.e housing market crash, rise in oil prices)
  • Technological
  • Political
  • Climate
  • Legal, regulatory, ethical

If you’re an established business, consider these from the previous year and discuss if/how this impacted certain rises or drops within specific markets/channels.

If however, you do not have your own historical data to consider, measure the known impact these external forces have had on established competitors and those in your market.

Being prepared for external factors could lead to major opportunities. Think – having enough snow shovels on the shelves during a blizzard, or having enough medical supplies during a natural disaster, or having a protocol in place for upcoming regulatory changes within an industry.

Being prepared for external forces is where a company can catch it’s competitors sleeping.

6. Summary Of The Situational Analysis

Because there is so much to take in with the situational analysis, it’s good to provide a summary of everything you’ve just talked about.

Discuss the opportunities that may arise as a result of any of these factors, what you’d like to spend more on, and where you should spend less.

Section 4 – Pricing & Positioning Strategy

In this section of your marketing plan, detail the positioning you desire within your industry and how your pricing will support it.

Using the information you’ve collected in your situational analysis, pricing will likely need to be adjusted by distribution channel, competitor positioning, geographic region, and so on.

Pricing on channels you own should not also be overly competitive with distribution partners who sell the same product. If you’re selling for 20% less than a highly visible partner for example, you could risk upsetting the partner and losing their distribution.

When discussing positioning, you may also want to briefly discuss how you’ll want to position your product with your existing distribution partners. Don’t worry about going into too much detail on the positioning here, as it will covered in detail in the next sections.

Do you develop exclusive product lines with specific distributors? Will you include special bonuses for customers who buy through that partner? Are certain items only available when a customer orders direct?

Tie all of these adjustments and changes into real numbers and how it impacts the bottom line.

Do this showing the impact of:

Customer sales

  • By volume and growth percentage
  • By customer segments

Channel sales

  • By volume and growth percentage
  • By channel

Also show the margins associated with working with each channel and how profitable potential price/positioning changes will be.

Because this relates specifically to your existing channels the goal is to show how these changes will attribute to the objectives outlined in Section 1

Section 5 – Distribution Plan

This is where you detail how & where customers will be buying from you.

Are the buying directly through you? Are they buying from other retailers and distributors? Are you doing pop-up shops or selling in person?

If you’re working on a large scale, it’s worth organizing your distribution touch-points into various regions.

Section 6 – Promotions Plan

This section is where you’ll give an overview of your overall promotion plan, providing a summary on existing and new channels you’d like to add to the mix and how it could impact your growth.

This is where you discuss your positioning within each marketing channel (old & new) and specific & detailed plans for each distributor.

It is important to calculate the both the monetary and time costs that will be associated with each channel, and how it will impact growth.

For Example: You currently work with a smaller marketplace site, and for $1,000/day, you’re able to receive front page & sitewide promotion to the products you sell with them. Estimated traffic during the time frame is X. If existing conversion rates are Y and there is a Z% increase in traffic, it could result in ___ new revenue.

Make sure you include all possible channels you want to explore including but not limited to:

  • Partnerships
  • SEO
  • Facebook
  • Referral
  • Affiliate
  • PPC
  • Street
  • Magazine/Print
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Direct Mail
  • Physical Retail
  • Blogs
  • Other Social Media

Please Note: At scale, each of these channels has a real cost to be done properly. For as much as you can build backlinks and perform keyword research on your own and maybe get early traction, at some point, you will need to hire somebody who knows what it takes to break into more competitive serps.

I highly recommend reading Nick Eubank’s article on Realistic SEO as it will show you just how difficult SEO can be to break into competitive verticals.

I bring this up, especially for early stage entrepreneurs, depending on your budget, skillset & time, the channels that seem “free & easy” are typically even more challenging to break through the noise.

For each area that falls under “Online Marketing” you may want to create separate documents for each, as these plans can be quite detailed on their own.

Section 7 – Marketing Assets

This is the creative used to promote your content to current and existing customers. This may include:

  • Your website
  • Ad creative
  • Design Talent
  • HD Photography
  • Business cards
  • Catalogs

Identify what you already have, and what’s needed to successfully execute the promotion strategies discussed in the previous section.

Section 8 – Conversion Strategy

Once you get people to yours or one of your distributor’s sites, how do you plan on converting them to paying customers?

On sites you don’t control, this could include, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Improving sales copy
  • High quality photography
  • Testimonials

On sites you do own, you’re free to experiment with iterative testing, such as making the search function easier to use, improving the value proposition, and increasing the visibility of features that prospective customers need to feel comfortable buying.

Using what you know about the different customer segments you’ve identified (i.e High Ticket Spenders, Frequent Buyers, etc) propose a handful of ways you might be able to get them spending more & more frequently in this section

Conversion optimization is an ongoing process that is too encompassing to boil down to a handful of tactics. However, if you’re providing an overview here, it’s a good starting point for a separate fully fleshed out document for later.

Section 9 – Joint Ventures & Partnerships

This is where you identify the agreements you’ve made with other organizations to help reach new customers or better monetize your existing customers.

When you see McDonald’s co-promote Coca-Cola, or when you buy a remote and it includes Energizer batteries, this is JV and Partnerships at work.

Think about what other purchases your customers are making before, during, or after they buy from you. Make a list of the companies that provide those solutions and reach out to secure them.

Section 10 – Strategy For Increasing Orders

Here, you detail you’ll make more revenue per customer:

This could include using:

  • Free shipping thresholds or
  • Free shipping membership program (flat rate membership)
  • Product bundling
  • Subscription services
  • Increase prices

In this section, be sure to reiterate any relevant qualitative research or data you’ve found that would support a need for the program. Also provide estimates of how much each program might cost to implement and projected impact it may have on growth.

Section 11 – Referral Strategy

How to you incentivize existing customers to refer new customers?

A strong referral marketing program could do wonders for your business, however it requires careful planning and needs to ensure the rewards for joining are valuable for your existing customer and whoever they’re referring.

Which customer segments will be the most receptive to taking action with a referral marketing program, and at what point you should reach out to them. Frequent buyers, for example, may be a good starting point.

Section 12 – Financial Projections

Here is a final summary of all of the expenses incurred from each of the previous sections as well as their projected growth rates and timelines.

While these will never be 100% accurate, they will provide solid guideposts for your overall marketing strategy and goals to achieve.

As you progress through the year, work off of this document and create parallel documents to track the success/failure of certain campaigns. With any luck, you will exceed your own expectations and have even more budget to play around with the next year.

Conclusion

There is a lot of work that goes into a full marketing plan. For entrepreneurs who are just starting out with the dream of being “the next big thing” it’s important to see what kind of planning goes into successful entry in the market.

It’s also very easy to see how a budget can get stretched incredibly thin. If you’re just starting out, it’s recommended you only work with a small handful of channels until you’re profitable enough to expand.

If you’re well established and using multiple channels, take the opportunity early in the marketing plan to discover which channels & segments are wasting your time.

Regardless of who you are, don’t try and run a business without a detailed marketing plan.

The True Power Of A Hash Tag

Hi all.

If you read my last post, you would of known that I went to my very first book sale on Saturday. I went because they were having a $1 bag sale. They had a box of paper grocery bags and let you fill up as many bags as you wanted.

For being the last day of the sale, there was still a lot of books. They weren’t picked over either. I only got two bags worth. It would of been nice to get 5, what I was expecting, but I’m not complaining. Got about 30 books, averaging 15 books in a bag. That comes down to about 7 cents a book! I scanned all of the books and the ones I bought were in the top 5% (under 1 million sales rank, based on 51 million books listed on Amazon at a given time.) I got them all listed and labeled within an hour of getting home.

It was defiantly worth the 45 minute drive one way tho! The weather was nice, and I actually showed up a little early so I went on a walk down by a river. Then I stopped at a local Goodwill there. Found a few mugs, was really on a budget a few bucks. I would of gotten some shirts tho. Saw an older Nike one. Which brings me to my next topic, reselling clothes.

IMG_0307

Tomorrow is earth day, and Goodwill is running a promotion for Southeastern Wisconsin, 25% off any clothes. So I am defiantly going to research tonight what to look for and give it a shot at a few Goodwill tomorrow. I plan on getting bright and early to go out and about, hitting up about 3 or 4 of them. Which should be enough, hopefully!

Week in Review

I stayed up late last night, fixing my prices on all of my 250 Amazon listings. And all’s I have to say is, wow. I had my best week, every and its been only a day. Hopefully this week will be great!

I’ve been promoting a lot of my eBay listings on Pinterest and Twitter. This seems to be extremely helpful. Not only did I see the number of views on some of my mugs go way up, I’ve gotten 2 bids on 2 different auctions I am having right after posting a few items. I only have one board for my items, and all’s it takes on pinterest is the tap of a button on an iPhone. Simple as 1-2-3!

And as for Twitter, you just need to use relevant hash tags. No one has bought anything yet, but people are clicking on the tweets, and a few are re-tweeting. It is really all about the exposure!

The power of a hash tag is huge, it truly is!

That’s all for tonight! I’ll keep you updated about my little venture into clothes!

How to Turn FBA into a Fulltime job

Setting the Goal of Full-Time FBA

What is your goal for selling through FBA? Is your goal to make FBA your full-time job? Some of you may already be there, and for that I commend you. For others, full-time FBA seems daunting. I want to encourage you that full-time FBA is completely attainable — I and many others are a testament to that. So let’s talk about the first steps towards making FBA your full-time job.

You might be thinking that the first steps are how to get the best and most affordable inventory. Or you might think that this post will be about all the tools, programs, or gadgets that help make an FBA business easier — but in fact, I’m going to start somewhere else entirely.

Full-TimeFBASign1

If the goal is to make FBA your full-time job, then you need to think about how you want to get there. As with most destinations on a roadmap, there are many ways to get to the same place. When taking a road trip, some people like to get there fast, with as few stops as possible. Others like to take the scenic route and make the journey just as much fun as the destination. Everyone’s path to meet their goals will be different, and that’s OK. Let’s look at how to getyou on the best path towards full-time FBA.

1. Understand How to Make “SMARTER” Goals.

  • S – Specific – The better you know your objective, the easier it will be to attain it.
  • M – Measurable – Can the results be measured and compared to the goal?
  • A – Achievable – Is this goal attainable given your resources?
  • R – Realistic – Are you both willing AND able to meet your goal?
  • T – Time bound – When do you want to accomplish this goal?
  • E – Exciting – Do the goals get you excited about your future?
  • R – Relevant – Do these goals match up with the season of life you are in?

2. Set Your Main Goal

What is the main thing you want to accomplish and when do you want to accomplish it?

Example: I want FBA to be my full-time income source within 18 months.

3. Set Mini-Goals

What are some mini-goals that help lead you closer and closer towards your main objective? Maybe your mini-goals are something new every month or every quarter.

Example: I want to send in 400 items for the first month, 800 items the second month, and 1200 items the third month, etc. Or you may want to have income based goals. Example: I want to make $500 the first month, $600 the second month, $700 the third month, etc.

4. Write Your Goals Down and Post Them

The research proves it:  if you write down your goals and post them where you can see them, then you are much more likely to achieve what you are setting out to do. Put your list over your desk, on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door — wherever you’re most likely to notice it.

5. Adjust your goals as needed

Give yourself permission to update your goals as you move closer towards your main objective. If the first mini-goal was way too easy, then make sure your next mini-goal stretches you and is harder to reach. On the other hand, if you didn’t even get close to your first goal, then it’s OK to update your other goals with objectives a little easier to complete. The journey towards full-time FBA will be filled with both road-blocks and open highways. Adjust your course, if necessary.

Take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas for your main goal and mini-goals. No, really. Do it now. Don’t let goal-setting be something you read about and then never do. You will be amazed how much setting goals will help improve your productivity AND income! If you want to, feel free to share your goals in the comment section under this blog post.

Planning A Thrift Shopping Road Trip

I had an idea come to me last week. It was one of those crazy ideas I have laying in bed. It was to go on a thrift shop road trip. Really to build up inventory. I was thinking maybe just do a day trip, when I get a full time job and could afford to do so. (I should have one by next week.) I figure I would spend a whole day hitting about 10 Goodwill’s, and other thrift shops, all in Southeastern Wisconsin (where I live.) I looked up online how much traveling that would be, and it came out to be about 300 or so miles. And total time would be around 5ish hours. That gives me about 6-7 hours of actual sourcing inside of these Goodwill’s. Although my primary “niche” right now would be books for Amazon FBA, and coffee mugs for eBay, I plan on learning what to look for from now until then. I have to admit, having 50-60 coffee mugs active right now, and I’ve only sold about 2 or 3 the past week, I don’t plan on these as my primary sellers on eBay. And books are really moving sluggish on Amazon. I have over 200 items, selling a few a week.

On a different blog I was reading about these guys doing a 5 day road trip. That’d be insane. But they sell vintage t-shirts. Just the thought of going through a lot of clothes at Goodwill seems boring. I shouldn’t say that, I’ve never really sold clothes other than a few old t-shirts sitting in my closet. And those I didn’t really care how much I got them for, just as long as I made something after fees and shipping. Next time I go to my local Goodwill, I’ll have to give clothes a shot. I remember I found a maroon colored Hollister shirt for $4.99, but I got it for $2.50 because it was 50% off yellow tag sale, listed it the other day at $2.49, and within an hour got a bid, and later during the day someone bid $3. It’s got a few days left, hopefully I’ll get something more for it!

20131010-Fall-Book-Sale24

This day trip I am planning will be really focused around a book sale. Preferably one that has a bag sale going on. Tomorrow will be my first time going to a book sale. I heard about on booksalefinder.com and there having a bag sale for just $1 a bag. Thats crazy. Its only about 50 minutes away from me, so I plan on hitting up a few Goodwill’s in the area. I’ve been told by other book sellers on a Facebook group that some book sales can crazy. One person even referred to a sale to Black Friday. It’s almost guaranteed that other booksellers are going to be there. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find anything good! To be honest, I’m just worried about building my inventory up on Amazon. I plan on scanning most of what I am throwing in my bag. But I just may say screw it, and just fill up as many bags as possible, and sort through the books when I get home. All the worthless ones can get donated to Goodwill for a tax write off. Hopefully, its not too crazy. About 20 books can fit in one paper bag, and I plan on buying about 10 of them. So right around 200 books I’ll have to sort through. This should give me at least a days worth of work to do!

Stay posted! I’ll be sure to write a post tomorrow about what I’ve found!

Free Shipping & Returns: 8 Resources To Get You Started

Free Shipping & Returns: 8 Resources To Get You Started

“Free Shipping & Returns.”

It’s a dream when you see it as a customer, because it means what you see is what you’ll pay. If you don’t like it, send it back without any hassle.

As a seller though, thinking about these four words can be a logistical nightmare.

Do you absorb the costs and eat into your profit margins? Do you add a free shipping threshold? How much money will you lose on sales that are returned?

It’s a mess to consider especially when you’re considering the risk vs. reward of adding “Free shipping & Returns” as a part of your buying experience.

The good news is, there is an overwhelming amount of research that indicates that improving logistics has a positive impact on order quantities, loyalty, and average order values – likely because it strengthens your value proposition, and works in tandem with several of psychological triggers of persuasion.

In this article, I’ll share with you my 8 favorite articles and resources on offering free shipping.

Whether you’re just getting started or are already an established seller, this will get you thinking about how including “Free Shipping & Returns” will impact your bottom line.

8. Can Shipping Costs Affect Online Sales?

This article on Compete.com shares several findings from a survey asking customers their primary barriers about shopping from an online retailer.

As you can see from the graph above, free shipping & returns is the largest influencers in what would encourage people to buy more online.

Other findings include:

  • Why people aren’t satisfied with their shopping experience
  • The % of people who want faster shipping options
  • Why customers choose the “ship to store” options when it’s available

7. Recovering Lost Profits by Improving Reverse Logistics

This guide by UPS brings a lot of clarity to the returns process and the various ways you can repurpose your returned inventory.

Given the data from the Compete study in the previous section, it comes as no surprise that some companies have found that making their “Free Returns” policy visible increased their profits by 357%.

Of course, this might not be the case for everyone, however given that other studies have shown that 90% of customers are loyal to companies that make the returns process easy, it’s worth investigating how free shipping & returns can be incorporated into the foundation of your business model.

6. Debunked! Top 10 Online Apparel Returns Myths Ripped Apart

This is a great round-up of research on the True Ship blog that debunks 10 common myths behind returns in the apparel space.

The debunked myths include:

  1. Returns cost me money
  2. Returns are a hassle for everyone
  3. Most customers don’t read our returns policy
  4. Returns are usually the customer’s fault (they aren’t)
  5. Most returns are made by one-off shoppers
  6. The returns policy doesn’t affect sales
  7. Shoppers don’t really think about the returns process
  8. People don’t care about free return shipping
  9. My returns policy doesn’t affect my future sales
  10. Plenty of stores get sales with a bad returns policy

The answers to many of these myths will surprise you and make you rethink your current returns policy.

5. Profitable Guide To Free Online Shipping For Ecommerce Stores

Nate Shivar breaks down the logistics of offering Free Shipping to your customers, and helps you analyze the actual dollars and cents benefit of what it could mean for your business.

In this article, he cites a case-study by SitePoint that found offering Free Shipping improved conversions by 50% overnight.

He also offers alternative Free Shipping strategies that smaller companies could use that wouldn’t eat into their operating costs.

Nate also created this handy free shipping & profit calculator to help you get a better sense of the numbers associated with free shipping.

4. Adding Free Shipping Threshold Increases eCommerce AOV by 7.32%

In this study by VWO, it discusses how beauty retailer NuFACE A/B tested offering a free shipping threshold in the site’s navigation.

The end result was that orders increased by 90% and the average order value also rose by 7.32%, meaning not only were people ordering more, but they were spending more to reach the free shipping threshold.

3. Customers Prefer Free Shipping To Percentage Off Discounts

In this article on the Retention Science blog, in a study of more than 100 million transactions, it was found that free shipping was 2x more effective than percentage discounts when sent through email.

The research also explores the time of day and day of week that received the most response from the email offers.

While I wouldn’t recommend following the data blindly in your own testing, as every market is different, the research provides a nice framework for you to learn more about your own audience and what (& when) these kinds of offers may work best.

2. Free Shipping and Repeat Buying On The Internet

In this academic whitepaper, marketing professors Yang, Essegaier and Bell explore a data based perspective the relationship between free shipping offers, threshold based shipping offers, pricing and their influence on order values and repeat purchases.

It’s a much more academic read than the other articles on the list, the model they create shows the how shipping thresholds are affected by the item costs, and how these numbers can be tweaked to influence the overall lifetime value of the customer.

“A firm with already low prices, relative to the model, should drop prices further when lowering the [shipping] threshold. A failure to do so would give consumers a benefit at the firm’s expense, Bell said, because consumers would hit the free shipping threshold more often.
Conversely, a firm with high prices should increase them further when lowering the free shipping threshold, since the company is likely to be paying shipping costs more often.
“In the latter case, people pay more for the products, but they will more often get free shipping. In the other case, they will pay less for the products, but more for shipping,” Bell says. “So, the total cost of products and shipping cost will net out to be the same in both cases. … Ultimately, the rational consumer is indifferent.”’

The disclaimer on this research however is that the study was analyzing restockable goods.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, it seems to align with the research from the previous section that found that Free Shipping is more important to customers than % discounts.

It also is in line with other studies that find people are willing to pay more for the exact same item, if the overall brand experience is aligned to the customer’s preference.

1. How the Offer of Free Shipping Affects Online Shopping

“For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10, says Wharton marketing professor David Bell.”

“ Approximately 60% of online retailers cite “free shipping with conditions” as their most successful marketing tool.”

This article on the Wharton School of Business’s website has several insights, and an easy to understand podcast, that’ll get you thinking more strategically about offering free shipping.

(Bonus) Shopping Cart Abandonment: Why It Happens And How To Recover Baskets Of Money

A while back, I wrote this article on ConversionXL and found that the primary reason people abandoned their shopping carts was because they were presented with unexpected costs – usually related to shipping charges.

This article explores the growing trend of companies offering free shipping, and the impact it has on customer expectations as a whole.

My favorite finding is a study by Deloitte that found 20% of customers believe “free shipping” is the top reason to shop with a retailer.

Conclusion

While offering free shipping & returns might seem like a headache, the research is in favor of it being a way to increase your overall sales revenue and profit.

If you’re hesitant to roll out free shipping & returns on all of your products, try selecting a few items from your inventory and A/B test an email to your customers with the free shipping offer featured in the subject line.

Compare the opens, clicks, and conversion rates of those items. If you see a significant an improvement, run the test again in the future with additional items in your inventory. If you continue to see improvements, calculate what the impact would be on your overall business.

My guess, you’re going to like what you see.

Must Have Phone Apps You Need If You Want To Be Successful Selling on Amazon

A smartphone is a must have if you want to sell successfully on Amazon. And if you have one, there are a few apps that are a must have if you want to make money. If you don’t want to be wasting your hard earned money on useless items, then I suggest giving these apps a shot!

Amazon seller app

This app is for both iOS and Android phones for free. This app allows you to scan items, and it will give you the sales rank, how many FBA sellers there are, how much you would get after fees and much much more. I use this app all the time when I’m out sourcing for books and other items.

garage sale finder

With Garage and yard sale season in full season since last weekend, this app is a must. This app allows you to find garage sales around you. You can get directions using Google Maps. This is for iOS, not too sure about Android devices. Since I’m from Wisconsin, our garage sale season is only about 3-4 months of the year due to the freezing weather we have the other 8-9 months of the year.

Wunderlist

I love this app. This app allows you to make a to-do list and it syncs with your laptop, tablet, and phone. Its free for both iOS and Android devices. I use this app after a long day of sourcing, and I don’t feel like listing right away.

eBay app

I have a bigger inventory on Amazon than I do on eBay. But I still look for stuff to sell on eBay. Mostly being coffee mugs. The eBay app allows you to research items while your out sourcing, just like the Amazon one.

PayPal

This app is perfect if your selling on eBay. Not only does it tell you when you receive payment, but it will show you the stores around you that accept PayPal a form of paying. This is great if you want to treat reselling as more of a business, and want to keep accounts separate.

PayPal card reader

The PayPal here is a simple credit card reader for your phone or tablet. If you ever have to host a yard sale for the items that have not sold on eBay, this app is for you. How many garage sales do you see that accept credit or debit cards? That’s right. None.  They’ll send you a free card reader that would plug in simply to your headphone jack. They charge a 2.7% fee though.

Hope this helped! Until next time!

10 Overlooked Places For Sourcing Books

The #1 question for anyone looking to make money reselling stuff online is Where can I get inventory that will make me good profit? 

It the single most greatest factor for those who make 6 figures selling books and those who go to Amazons bookseller graveyard. Where can you really get a great amount of book inventory? Simple, go where no else does. So here’s is a list of 10 places that your competition is probably not doing.

Universities

Universities are great for non-fiction books. The trick is making a stunning flyer offering to buy a large lot of non-fiction books. Why large lots? Because typically people ask way too much for worthless books. And the odds of you finding some books with good sales rank and a pretty good profit. Personally, I use Canva. Canva is a simple website for those who want to make banners, flyers, etc. It’s really great for those who aren’t really the web designer type. I then just print them off at home. I only really print 20 at most, at a time. Try and target faculty and not students here. And as an added touch – to really save your butt from anyone calling you and rattling your cage for ‘advertising’ on campus- give it a pretend business name. A good one would be “Broke College Student Books.”

Used bookstores

A lot of booksellers overlook bookstores. The main reason is that they think they know the value of the item already. That’s really subjective. Some companies don’t look up the prices on Amazon or have their own calculation on how to price books for reasons unknown to me. As a result, there leaving a lot of money left on the table. This made really easy if you sell via FBA, because you can price your books and other items a little higher than seller fulfilled And the other nice thing is that Used Bookstores typically price new books as “used.” And if you have bought any used books from a library, you know you can get these for such a low price, it’s almost criminal. Just go prepared, you won’t be paying thrift store prices, so bring a decent amount of money.

dumpster diving

I heard on a Amazon FBA Facebook group from a large bookseller that he knows a guy who makes over $30,000 a year selling books he finds in the dumpster. People’s biggest objections about dumpster diving is A) the gag response and B) Not knowing where to look. It’s true that it can be very well inconsistent. That’s really what makes it lucrative. You could come out of a dumpster with hundreds of dollars of items to sell, or you could come out with a bag full of orange peels. Some consistent source of good books around me include a library in an upscale neighborhood, University library dumpster and a local thrift store.

Craigslist

Every day I check the free section and the book section on Craigslist. Typically I ignore all the single listing books, unless there textbooks. People around me ask a really good price to turn a profit on some of the textbooks. And there typically in great condition. Other than that, I look for large quantities of books. Another tip if too look for booksellers that are going out of business and listing their entire inventory under For Sale > Business.

University surplus

This is an overlooked and often highly lucrative way of getting books. You just have to figure out where their surplus goes, because if it is a decent sized school, they will have quite the amount of valuable books. Typically, universities will have 3 ways of liquidating their surplus books. And they are an on campus surplus store, online auction, or standard auction. As we speak, there are thousands of auctions going on, on hundreds of websites. Universitysurplus.com is one. You’re welcome.

recycling centers

All’s you have to do is go to your nearest recycling center and inquire about purchasing books by the pallets. Odds are they go through a lot of books. And who knows, you could be the first person to actually inquire about this. Rather than just going to one recycling center, go to a few. And try a few consignment stores as well. It’s all worth a shot!

Direct mail

Someone I know who lives in a major city who worked for a bookseller who sourced all of inventory through direct mail campaigns to “educated” zip codes. The way to do it is identifying zip codes populated by formally educated people. The postcard would have what they accepted, and what they didn’t want. The request called for collections of 500+. Of course it included all their contact info for inquiries that met their criteria. The cost of the postcards came to be about 50 cents each, and they did mailings of 10,000. This of course requires some significant capital upfront, but just imagine the returns.

eBay arbitrage

Look for large lots of books. Assuming that no one will want to ship more than 500 books, it will probably be local pickup only. This is good, eliminating most of your competition. Search by location, and identify large lots in driving difference. Another thing you can do is looking for relatively smaller lots that would be on your route to the large lot, then flipping the valuable books on Amazon and getting rid of the rest.

Thrift store overflow

Like I touched on a little earlier, thrift stores are often another good source. Thrift stores don’t view books as a profit center. Their heavy, cumbersome, and don’t bring in a lot of money. A lot of people have had success approaching thrift store managers asking if they have more books they can handle. They often do. And they will typically let you in the back room to look at them before they hit the shelves. Or if they don’t at the time, give them your name and number so they can give you a call next time they receive a large donation of them. Offer to pay by the lot for a lower price-per-book rate if they just want them gone, or cherry pick through what they have and offer more than their usual book price to make it worth their time.

freecycle

Sign up for freecycle and watch your inbox blow up for free things people don’t want.

Freecycle rocks!

Treasures and a nice chunk of money is out there. You just have to work for it.

Things To Look Foward To This Week on The Arctic Thrifter Blog:
  • I’m planning a thrift shopping day trip, hitting up at least 10  Goodwills in my area and a few book sales, and other thrift stores. I plan on traveling a little over 300 miles of the Southeastern part of my state, and will likely spend more than 10 hours shopping and driving, combined.
  • Keywords for those eBay listings that aren’t selling.
  • Diversifying your FBA inventory.

Building Backlinks: The Backbone of Your Ecommerce Business

Building Backlinks: The Backbone of Your Ecommerce Business

Search engine optimization, when implemented properly, can help your store rank higher in search engine results and deliver a steady stream of traffic and sales, day after day, week after week, month after month. This makes SEO ultra-valuable for ecommerce merchants in a world where paid ads keep getting more expensive.

SEO in its most basic form can be sub-divided into on-page and off-page. On-page SEO involve optimizations you do with each of your webpages to help search engines understand what your site is about so they can show it at to the right people, at the right time.

Unfortunately, there’s likely hundreds, thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of sites very similar to yours. So how do the search engines choose who to show on the first page?

That’s where off-page SEO comes in. Off-page SEO and the many elements that make it up, further help tell the search engines who’s more relevant and important. A core part of this comes from backlinks. Backlinks are simply links from other sites that point to your site.

The act of getting links from other websites is called link-building and is a core SEO strategy that most online businesses should be devoting time to each and every week.

Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal

Backlinks fall into one of two categories which are referred to as follow and nofollow. A follow backlink is simply a link that helps your SEO. It’s a link from another site that tells search engines, “I endorse this website”. Alternatively, a nofollow backlink, is a link where the person/website giving the backlink is saying “I’m acknowledging they exists but I’m not vouching for them”.

To make a link nofollow, an author simply needs to add an extra bit of text to the HTML of the link. By looking at the HTML you can also tell if a link is follow or nofollow:

Example of a “follow” link:

Example of a “nofollow” link:

For reference, low-hanging fruit like links from Facebook, Twitter, blog comments and forums are almost always nofollow links. From a sharing and exposure perspective, these are still great links, but recognize that it’s generally accepted in the internet marketing community that these links won’t give you any boost in search engine rankings.

Some Backlinks Are Worth More

Think of each link as a vote for your store, except one key difference, it’s not a democracy and peoples votes have different weight and authority. For example, a link from CNN is worth more than a link from someone’s personal blog that they just started three months ago.

How to Determine the Value of a Link?

There are several factors that go into how much value and impact a backlink could have for you. Some of those key elements are listed below:

  • External links from high quality and relevant sites have a much bigger impact than irrelevant and smaller sites.
  • Links from unique domains are more important than links from sites that have linked to you before.
  • Links using relevant anchor text pass more keyword focused value. For example, a link is generally more value if someone links to you from keyword rich text like “men’s leather wallets” vs. “click here”.
  • A page containing a high number of links will pass less value per link.

If you want to get a sense of how much authority a website has, thus, much impact a link from an external website could have, check out the tool Website Authority Checker. This tools will give you a few metrics which you can use to compare against other sites to understand how valuable a link from a particular site might be worth to you.

Never Buy Backlinks

We mentioned that backlinks can carry different weight, but it’s also important to note that some backlinks are just plain bad. Backlinks from scammy websites that search engines see as really low quality or websites that exists solely for the purpose of trying to manipulate search engine rankings can get your store penalized or delisted altogether.

Buying backlinks and backlink packages are not a good idea these days. There’s really no substitute for hard work and getting legitimate backlinks from credible sources.

Set a Backlink Goal

Backlinks won’t just happen. It’s something you need to be putting work and effort into building over time. It’s a long-term strategy but an important one at that. The best way to approach the process is to give yourself some goals to work towards. When you first start out, setting quarterly goals probably will work best.

5 Ways to Get Started with Building Backlinks

So, not that you understand the importance and types of backlinks, how do you get them? Below we will list five ways to get started building backlinks for your store. Keep in mind there are dozens, even hundreds of ways you could build backlinks and it’s worth researching all possible options and understand which methods will work best for your business and brand.

1. Create Content That’s Impossible Not To Share

In it’s most basic form, content marketing is simply creating really great and compelling content, whether in written, visual, video or audio form that is so compelling, people naturally want to share it. This has been and continues to be one of the best ways to get a landslide of backlinks to your store.

“Create a site with high value information that elicits links by virtue of its awesomeness. That, my friends, is content marketing.”
Neil Patel

As an example, Wendy’s Lookbook, a popular fashion blog, created a unique and comprehensive YouTube video on 25 Ways to Tie a Scarf. This interesting piece has so far received over 30 million views on YouTube.

Since her video was so well received, she created a blog post on a behind the scenes of the making of the video. That post alone garnered 117 backlinks (85 Follow and 32 Nofollow).

2. Have Your Products Reviewed

One of the most popular ways for getting backlinks and high quality traffic to your store is to reach out to bloggers to review your product. This will naturally garner a link back to your site.

To start, You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the blogs in your niche and their relative size. Spend some time getting to know the authors and engage with their current posts to get on their radar.

Once you have built some rapport with the authors, you’ll want to pitch them on your product. You can use the script below by making some minor modifications to it.

Dear Hailey,

My name is Richard and I am a (your info) who also sells (your product). I’m a fan of your blog on (focus of the blog), and especially enjoyed a recent post on (focus of a recent blog post).

I just wanted to let you know that we’ve recently opened an online store to sell (your product). Our products are special for the following reasons (list two or three reasons why they’re special).

I’ve sent a sample of (your product) the address listed on your contact page. If you love it as much as I do, perhaps you’ll consider sharing with your audience? Please let me know if you’re interested in learning anything at all about these. My direct number is: (direct number).

Richard
yoursite.com

3. Write Guest Blog Posts

Maybe one of the most common approaches to getting a high quality and relevant backlink is to write a guest blog post on popular blogs in your niche. This approach works well for all parties because it provides the person and blog you’re reaching out to with content, and you receive exposure to their audience as well as that valuable backlink from it.

When pitching a guest post, keep the following in mind:

  1. Keep the email short and to the point.
  2. Always try to pitch via email. If you don’t have the blogger’s email, use this trick to find it.
  3. Lead off with a specific compliment about the blog or more specifically, a recent article.
  4. Clearly state that you’d like to guest post for the blog and offer three potential guest post ideas.
  5. Link to a sample of your writing online and share any applicable credentials.

4. Get a Link From your Manufacturer

For many ecommerce businesses that sell another companies products, it only makes sense to get a backlink from the manufacturer who’s products you’re carrying. Many times, it’s just a matter of sending them a polite email and asking them to add you to their directory of partners or retailers.

For example, Beardbrand lists all the retailers of their beard oil, both offline and online which not only help those retailers sell more, but helps with their SEO by way of a backlink from their high ranking domain.

5. Get In The Press

Getting in the press, even a local publication can provide a powerful backlink from high ranking news domains. There are multiple ways to achieve this, but depending on your product you may want to start with a smaller, local publication, slowly working your way up to larger publications.

That’s exactly what a Toronto street wear sock company, Huley, did in Toronto. By first getting in a smaller local publication, it helped open the doors and get the attention of progressively larger publications, garnering more and more backlinks and credibility.

Lots of Ways to Build Links

There’s many other ways than listed above to building backlinks for your store and some will work better than others for your store.

Check out Point Blank’s comprehensive list of link building strategies to get started on additional methods.

Conclusion

Link building is one of the most essential and important elements of any store’s long-term SEO strategy. There’s only so much you can do to tell the search engines that your have a great store and products. Ultimately though, you need others to vouch for you, and that’s exactly what backlinks do.

Set a goal and devote a few hours to link building each week. Over time, you’ll build a much stronger domain that will rank for more keywords and deliver a ever-growing steady stream of traffic, day in and day out.

Don’t Fear Analytics (I’ll Make It Simple For You)

The following is a guest post by Grigoriy Kogan.

Recently, I analyzed the Top 100 ecommerce sites using BuiltWith.com and found that they use, on average, 14 different analytics tools to collect various bits of data on their customers.

The data they collect helps them improve their website, messaging, product(s), and services to get more customers and revenue.

Despite the effectiveness and availability of such tools, the majority of ecommerce businesses still aren’t leveraging data to improve their sales. A study by MECLABS found that only 37% of surveyed ecommerce businesses use historical data to improve their ecommerce sites.

Everyone else, in the meantime, resigns to making business decisions the old-fashioned (and less effective) way: opinions, intuition, and copying what the competition is doing.

If you’re one of the 63% of companies that aren’t taking advantage of analytics tools, then you’re leaving money on the table. With free tools like Google Analytics and Shopify’s easy installation instructions, everyone (including you) can start leveraging data from site visitors to increase sales and revenue.

In this article I’ll share with you the two key insights I’ve found for using analytics tools successfully. But first, I’ll explain why some companies try and fail at using analytics, so that you don’t fall into the same trap…

Why Companies Fail at Using Analytics

There are two pitfalls many companies fall into, which prevents them from leveraging analytics in a meaningful ($$$) way:

  1. Assuming that an enterprise-class tool like google analytics will automatically track everything important right out of the box.
  2. When looking at analytics, the amount of data and features are overwhelming. This keeps people at a very shallow level, looking only at basic metrics like pageviews, averaged across all visitors.

Does this sound familiar?

Only two things can come from this; neither of them are good.

1. You Make Business Decisions Based on Insufficient Information

Imagine designing a bridge across a river if you only know its average depth. Intuitively you know that the ground underneath will have different peaks and valleys, yet your supports are only measured towards the “average” and you pray for the best.

That’s what you’re doing when you make business decisions based on average pageviews, average visit durations, average checkout rates, and so on…

2. You See Little Business Value at The Shallow End of The Data Pool…

…so you give up.

The frustration of putting all that effort into being data-driven is understandable, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a payoff.

Not all is gray and hopeless. Having consulted with tons of companies who found themselves in these situations, I found that the damage can be reversedㅡor avoided.

The Keys to Effectively Using Analytics

Here are my two key ideas for effectively leveraging analytics tools to get actionable insights that lead to more revenue, instead of being a passive data dump.

  1. Your site is a funnel, not a hierarchy. Think of your entire site as a funnel, not as an org chart. As a funnel, your site receives visitors from one end, and churns out some percentage of them as customers from the other end.
  1. To get good answers, start with good questions. The analytics are only actionable if you know what you’re looking for, and that means starting with a question. The better the questions, the more valuable the answers. As written by Douglas Adams, “once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

Let’s look at each in further detail, and how they can be applied in the real world.

Your Site is a Funnel, Not a Hierarchy

The goal of your site is to receive visitors and to convert them into customers, users, loyalists, fans, leads, and so on.

It has an input (visitors) and expected output (customer, user, lead, etc).

It is more accurate, then, to picture it as a funnel with lines that represent the flow of people, rather than as an org chart with lines that represent hierarchy of pages:

Just thinking of your site as a funnel helps you begin to make sense of visitor data.

Instead of thinking of just static pages, you can begin thinking in terms of inputs, outputs, performance rates (output ÷ input), and returns on investment (value of output ÷ cost of input) for the entire site. This is already more useful than thinking about just number of pageviews and the average time spent on each (nearly useless information, by the way).

The true value of analytics tools is in being able to:

Isolate inputs, outputs, performance, and value (ROI) by dimensions like geographic location, traffic source, marketing campaigns, browser type, and so on…

Compare the above with different cohorts. For example, what’s the value of search traffic compared to social traffic?

See trends and correlations, such as how search traffic has grown over time, and does that correlate with total revenue?

Notice how easy it is to illustrate this information… It’s not rocket science. There’s nothing to be afraid of!

Furthermore, you can get this level of detail with a little bit of dirty work:

  1. Add Google Analytics to your shop if you don’t already have it. See this detailed and easy-to-follow guide for Shopify stores.
  2. Configure goals to track primary conversions such as completed checkouts or new accounts. You can also create goals for secondary conversions (also called “micro-conversions”) such as newsletter signups.
  3. (Optional) Add event tracking for important events throughout the funnel that don’t necessarily represent a conversion. For example, some events you might want to track: adding an item to cart; conducting a keyword search; filtering search results.

By default, Google Analytics tracks the input of your funnelㅡinformation about your site visitorsㅡbut not the output.

To track the output, you must create goals (step 2 above). Remember the objective is to get information on which you can base business and marketing decisions. Without knowing the output you also cannot calculate the performance rate and ROI, and you are just left with input data, which on its own is not useful for making decisions.

Here’s how the conversion funnel looks when you have input, output, and event tracking in place.

And of course you can still isolate, compare, and see trends and correlations with this funnel.

You may be wondering where to find this diagram inside Google Analytics. Unfortunately there isn’t one. There are some reports within Google Analytics that come closeusers flow, events flow, goal flow, and funnel visualizationㅡbut they’re far from being user-friendly and are best left for advanced users.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter whether or not Google Analytics has a report that looks exactly like this. If you think of your site as a funnel, not a hierarchy, and you measure the input, output, and events, then you will be able to find actionable information to grow your conversions and revenue.

To find that actionable information, we move on to the second key of effectively using analytics…

To Get Good Answers, Start with Good Questions

Analytics tools can provide a lot of answers, but answers are meaningless if you don’t know  the question.

Unless you have an abundance of free time (you run a business, so probably not), don’t wade data without an objective, hoping something useful will jump out at you. It won’t. Instead, take the time to formulate a good question first, and only then see if you can find the answer in the data.

When you start with a good question, Google Analytics becomes a powerful solution for finding the data that provides an answer.

Although there are many tools within Google Analytics, you can find most answers by familiarizing yourself with just the following:

  1. Standard reports (Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions): Predefined tables of dimensions such as traffic source, and metrics such as number of visitors.
  2. Segments: Filter the displayed data for users or sessions that match a predefined or custom filter. You can compare up to four segments at once. Useful for isolation and comparison, and seeing correlations.
  3. Dates: Filter the displayed data by date range, and compare up to two date ranges. Useful forseeing trends and correlations.
  4. Dimensions filtering: Filter which rows are displayed.

Below are a few examples of questions whose answers can be found in the funnel data:

  • What’s the average output value (revenue) of repeat customers, compared to one-time customers?
  • How many people add an item to their cart without reaching the checkout goal? (Also known as cart abandonment.)
  • How many people start the checkout process without reaching the goal?
  • Of those, is there a step that loses more people than other steps?
  • How does the output of visitors from social media campaigns compare with that of visitors from the email campaigns?
  • When customers use a promotional code, how does their average purchase value compare with those who did not?
  • What effect, if any, does live chat support have on checkout rates?
  • What is the ROI on last month’s search advertising spend?

Notice that all of these questions are about input, outputs, performance rates, and ROI. These are all elements of a funnel.

Answers to questions like these are immensely valuable to any online company, especially to ecommerce businesses. You can get information like this without costly software or massive data science teams. You, too, can leverage modern data collection and analysis tools to get actionable and valuable information about your customers and your business.

And if you don’t, your competitors will.