The Pros and Cons of Selling on Amazon and eBay

The Pros and Cons of Selling on Amazon and eBay

At first glance, online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay seem to be a creation of mutual benefit. Ecommerce store owners gain increased exposure for their products, and the marketplaces gain an expanded product range without having to increase inventory.

On closer inspection, the mutual benefits remain, but the reality is more nuanced. Should you expand your presence beyond your online store and start selling your products on Amazon and eBay?

The answer is… it depends. A marketplace strategy may be a boon for some retailers and a bust for others. There are a lot of variables that need to be taken into consideration, including the type of products you sell, the intensity of competition in your category, marketplace fees and restrictions, and so on.

There are, however, some pros and cons that apply across the board. In this post, we’ll explore those pros and cons so you can make the decision of whether or not to sell on marketplaces well-informed of the upsides and the downsides.

Note: Thinking about selling on Amazon? Eligible Shopify merchants can now list their products on Amazon.com by adding the Amazon sales channel.

The Pros of Selling on Amazon and eBay

1. Increase Sales From a High Traffic Channel

The chief draw of selling on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay is the scale of their online presence. Amazon alone draws nearly 184 million visitors a month—that’s a heck of a lot of eyeballs! And those eyeballs can translate into higher sales volumes.

According to an Amazon executive, sellers report an average 50% increase in sales when they join Amazon Marketplace.

2. Acquire New Customers

Nobody visits Amazon or eBay searching for your store. But they may be searching for—and discover—your products. Products they may not have discovered otherwise, or that they may have purchased from a competitor.

Once you’ve got a customer in the door, even if it is through a marketplace, you’ve got a chance to win repeat business through excellent service and fulfillment. This is especially the case if you’re selling products in a category that encourages frequent, repeat purchases, such as hobby supplies or fishing gear.

3. Many People Prefer Shopping Via Marketplaces

Marketplaces are all about strength in numbers. This is as true for online marketplaces as it is for real world examples like farmer’s markets, shopping malls, and food trailer parks.

The variety and all-in-one aspect of the marketplace can draw in lots of customers who prefer that kind of shopping experience. Online marketplaces also bring the additional layer of single-stream checkout and fulfillment support in order to create a seamless experience for buyers.

Cons of Selling on Amazon & eBay

While there are some significant upsides to selling on marketplaces, there are also some drawbacks that need to be considered.

1. Marketplace Fees

Setting up shop on a marketplace can potentially supercharge your sales, but it also exposes you to another cost center: marketplace fees.

Most marketplace fees are deducted as a percentage of each sale and can vary from site to site and even category to category.

In highly commoditized, low-margin categories, the numbers may just not add up.

Before selling your products on a marketplace, you’ll want to make sure you have a good sense of your margins and a firm understanding of the marketplace’s fee structure.

2. Limited Control

While the marketplace infrastructure has many advantages, it’s important to remember that it can cut both ways. Marketplaces don’t exist to help you, but to help themselves. They want the focus to be on the products, not the sellers. And that means they might restrict the degree to which you can brand your presence, communicate with customers, dictate what items you can and cannot sell, and so on.

Additionally, there’s nothing to stop marketplace owners—in the case of Amazon, Sears, and so on—from going around third-party sellers, identifying popular products, and stocking them themselves.

3. Keeping Inventory in Sync

A marketplace is essentially a second point of sale. And one that sometimes can’t be configured to talk to your shopping cart. In effect, both draw down the same inventory but don’t sync with one another, making it challenging to understand your stock levels without lots of manual reconciliation.

Note: Eligible Shopify merchants can now list products on Amazon and sync their inventory automatically using the Amazon sales channel.

How to Choose a Marketplace

As you weigh the pros and cons of selling on a marketplace, it’s also worthwhile to consider which marketplace you would join.

The tempting answer is “all of them!”, but each marketplace has its own system, its own processes and limitations and quirks. Learning to navigate those can take time you probably don’t have, so it’s best to stick to one or two marketplaces unless you know you can support more.

Two of the largest and most well-known marketplaces are Amazon and eBay.

Amazon

Amazon’s Marketplace takes the sharper retail tack, and as a retailer itself Amazon provides tools to help third-party sellers become part of a seamless shopping experience for consumers.

Some things to consider when selling on Amazon include:

  • Fulfillment by Amazon, which involves sending your inventory in bulk to Amazon and letting them handle shipping and fulfillment.
  • Amazon Prime membership, which incentivizes shoppers with free 2-day shipping, along with a reputation for fast and reliable order fulfillment.
  • Built-in comparison shopping on Amazon (for better or for worse) pits you against other sellers.
  • There is usually a monthly fee for listing your products on Amazon; referral and other fees are charged upon making a sale and vary depending on your product category (a 15% commission for most categories).

Be sure to check out the fees for selling on Amazon and factor that into your margins when you consider selling in their marketplace.

eBay

eBay, on the other hand, is essentially a massive marketplace. Where Amazon focuses on the Amazon shopping experience, eBay offers seller tools and features that make it easier for you to feature your brand in an eBay store.

Consider the following before you decide to sell on eBay:

  • eBay is still mostly considered an online auction house that lets you put items up for auction to the highest bidder, which will attract many shoppers who are looking for used, unique, or hard-to-find items.
  • You will need to figure out shipping as eBay offers far less in the way of fulfillment services (though they have tried to enter the game with their Global Shipping Program).
  • There is an insertion fee per listing, per category, but sellers get a fixed amount of “free listings” per month depending on their eBay account type. However, there are also Advanced Listing options that you can pay for to spruce up your listing.

Be sure to check out the fees for listing and selling on eBay if you’re considering selling here.

Final Verdict

Between Amazon and eBay, when it comes to marketplaces to sell on, Amazon seems to be the clear winner with a larger user base and services that attract both sellers and buyers.

Keep in mind that selling through your own store doesn’t mean you can’t also sell your products through a marketplace as well to reap the benefits of both, nor does selling in one marketplace mean you can’t also sell in another.

Many successful merchants do just that—”owning” their business and brand online, while also gaining the exposure and sales from the large volume of traffic found on online marketplaces.

[Free Report] Opportunities, Threats, and A Future Consumer Electronics Retailers Must Prepare For

[Free Report] Opportunities, Threats, and A Future Consumer Electronics Retailers Must Prepare For

Despite being more important to people than sex…

Smart phones, as well as other popular consumer electronics, are industry segments experiencing maturation that is likely to hamper growth in the second half of the decade and beyond.

Tomorrow can’t come fast enough for the consumer electronics industry…

After nearly a decade of turbocharged growth in a variety of segments the consumer electronics industry appears to be slowing despite demand for new electronics and technologies such as:

  • Virtual reality
  • Wearables
  • Internet of Things

However, demand for tomorrow’s consumer electronics in the medium term, according to research, is not likely to be great enough to offset stalling growth in traditional segments.

While the industry will continue to battle cannibalization, such as tablets replacing laptop computers, it will also set its sights on higher growth and higher margin opportunities likely such as smart cars, smart homes, and even smart cities that become increasingly connected and personalized.

But how exactly do you survive today’s industry deceleration and live to thrive tomorrow?

This post is a preview of our newly released Industry Report outlining the trajectory, trends, and technology that are or will shape the consumer electronics industry. The data and each of the images are just a sliver of what we have for you in the report.

 

It’s insight and imagination you can use to power your business tomorrow and beyond.

Pivot to Profit

While overall consumer electronics industry growth is expected to slow to 1.5% in 2016 from years prior…

Opportunities for accelerated growth exist outside developed countries like the United States.

Emerging markets such as China and India, assuming manufactures can offer electronics at affordable prices, are expected to grow at double-digit rates in the coming years. However, consumer electronics manufactures will also likely confront strong headwinds currently impacting developed markets such as:

The United States is now the second largest market for consumer electronics with a user

base that is forecast to spend more than $55 billion USD in 2016, significantly less than

China which is forecast to spend more than $64 billion USD:

In addition to the industry’s pivot to Asia, merchants who are also focused on ecommerce will position themselves to grow faster than the overall industry. Worldwide, ecommerce sales of consumer electronics are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 12.5% through 2021, from more than $210 billion USD in 2016 to more than $379 billion USD in 2021:

Retailers of consumer electronics with the foresight to pivot toward Asia and ramp their ecommerce efforts position themselves to grow faster than the overall industry.

However, new growth opportunities must also be identified as the industry’s standard bearers mature and decelerate.

Discovering Hidden Growth: At Home and In the Car

The smartphone is maturing…

Despite research that suggests some people are more willing to go without sex rather than their mobile phones, only about half those recently surveyed say they plan to purchase a new phone:

How might merchants offset deceleration in one of the industry’s hallmark products?

While immense opportunity still exists in developing markets and emerging middle classes as well as newly minted millionaires in China, consumer electronics makers looking toward the future are increasingly finding opportunity in the home and automobile.

The smart home segment includes:

It’s important to note that a $7 billion dollar industry in 2015 is now forecast to grow

to a more than $32 billion dollar industry by 2021:

In addition to the home, the consumer electronics industry is also forecast to drive future growth by increasingly connecting the automobile. Technological advances are forecast to more than double revenue in the connected car market from more than $10 billion USD in 2017 to more than $21 billion USD by 2021:

The always-on connectivity demanded by tomorrow’s consumer of electronics is also
expected to nudge manufactures to more closely work with one another to create ecosystems that allow consumers to remain seamlessly connected regardless of device or platform choice and without performance sacrifices as they navigate among various electronics in the home, vehicle, and beyond.

Imagining the Future: Seeing Tomorrow’s Technology Today

Tomorrow’s technologies are about to collide…

Significant shifts in consumer preference, behavior, and geographic centers of affluence will influence how those technologies are used for commerce.

What will the consumer electronics industry look like when ultra-personalized customer experiences powered by next generation beacons that recognize individuals collide with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and next generation wearables to create opportunities for commerce that do not exist today?

Or consider what might be possible in a future where context-aware consumer electronics devices are equipped to anticipate and predict a user’s needs and actually improve a person’s overall health.

Advances in machine learning, natural language processing, and technology that can
detect our emotions as well as interpret personal health data in real time will likely
combine in ways that make it possible for next gen consumer electronics devices to be
context-aware on a much deeper level than they are today or will be in the near future:

Are You Ready For a Future Like This?

The future, at least as we’ve imagined it, will demand more of successful merchants…

Surviving the industry’s current deceleration, pivoting to higher growth opportunities, and positioning yourself to capitalize on a high-tech future poised to create opportunities for commerce that don’t exist today will require brands to seamlessly operate in a variety of worlds (digital and physical), realities (AR and VR), and with a degree of personalization (AI, Advanced Cross Channel Analytics, and Next Generation Segmentation) that create 1:1 customer experiences between brand and consumer.

Are you prepared to capitalize?

WARNING: If you’re focused on the technology of today you’re not likely able to narrowly focus on the technology that will power commerce tomorrow and beyond. If you’re spending your time and treasure on costly and time consuming design and development you’re not investing in your future:

Ready to focus on the future rather than technology?

The trajectories, trends, and technologies outlined here are just a snippet of what you’ll need to obtain a deeper understanding of the state of your industry, the trends impacting its direction, and the technologies that will influence how you position, market, and sell tomorrow and beyond:

It’s why we’ve created an Industry Report just for merchants in the consumer electronics space.

The industry snapshots, shifts in consumer behavior, and emerging technologies briefly illustrated in the report have been included solely to provide you with actionable insight you can use to make data-informed decisions that powerfully differentiate your brand and help you intelligently chart a strategic course for the future.

Get your copy here

13 Essential Instagram Tools for Social Media Marketing

Instagram is more than just a casual pastime: It’s a powerful marketing platform for business owners everywhere.

With over half a billion monthly active users, Instagram has opened up huge opportunities for brands to find new customers and get their products seen. Tactics like running Instagram ads and reaching out to influencers are effective, but, without the right tools, it can be tough to get the results that you want.

To help you turbocharge your Instagram account, we’ve put together a top-notch toolkit of Instagram apps that will set your business apart and drive more customers to your online store.

Let’s get into it.

Tools for Taking Gorgeous Photos

One of the most important parts of having an effective Instagram presence is loading your feed with stunning visuals that clearly communicate your brand’s identity and the value of your products. But if you don’t have a fancy camera or professional training, taking great photos might seem out of reach.

Even if you aren’t a professional photographer, you can still create great Instagram content with just your smartphone and a few key apps:

VSCO

Cost: Free

instagram tools vsco

Image credit: VSCO

While Instagram’s default filters were once the bleeding edge of mobile photo editing, VSCO has emerged as the reigning champ of creating beautiful photos on-the-go. Part photo editing platform and part social media network, VSCO should be at the heart of every Instagram strategy.

VSCO has an in-depth editing suite and a slew of high quality default filters that can take your smartphone photos to a completely new level. There’s also a huge library of filters available for purchase, giving you endless potential for customizing your photos and setting them apart from the pack.

VSCO is available for iOS and Android.

Snapseed

Cost: Free

snapseed instagram tools

Image credit: The Next Web

Snapseed is another photo editing app that gives you the option to fine-tune your photos. While Instagram’s default filters edit your entire image at once, Snapseed lets you apply your effects with a brush so that you can perfect the details of each photo.

Snapseed’s Stacks are another great feature, letting you save groups of filters as a template. These Stacks can then be applied to future photos, giving your entire feed a consistent look and saving you time.

Snapseed is available for iOS and Android.

Afterlight

Cost: $0.99 – $1.39

afterlight instagram tools

Image credit: Afterlight

Afterlight is a photo editing app that boasts a default set of 74 filters, 78 textures, and 128 frames, giving you tons of different options for tweaking your photos right off the bat. The app also includes 15 different tools for adjusting and editing your photos until you get them just right.

With its sleek and straightforward design, Afterlight is an easy-to-use, must-have tool for making your Instagram photos pop.

Afterlight is available for iOS, Android, and Windows.

Boomerang

Cost: Free

Developed in-house at Instagram, Boomerang is an app for creating fun, 1-second long videos with no audio. Basically, super short GIFS that loop back and forth. While it might sound a little silly at first, the results are fun and eye-catching—perfect for making casual scrollers stop in their tracks.

The best part about Boomerang is that it requires little-to-no-thought to create something that looks great. Since Boomerang videos don’t require a plot or dialogue, you simply need to capture the vibe of a single moment and click share!

Tools for Making Your Instagram Shoppable

This has probably happened to you: You’re scrolling through Instagram, a shot of someone’s outfit catches your eye and you wish you could buy everything that they’re wearing instantly.

While that might sound like a pipedream, it’s actually totally possible. With the right tools, you can transform your Instagram feed into a fully shoppable experience, letting your customers buy everything that they see and helping them get a better idea of how your products look and feel in real life.

If you have a Shopify store (and an Instagram feed filled with jaw-dropping product photos), you can use these handy apps from the Shopify App Store to make your Instagram shoppable:

Shoppable Instagram by Foursixty

Cost: $50 – $100/month

With Foursixty, you can make all of your Instagram photos fully shoppable, complete with links that attach every featured product to its product page and the ability to embed your feed directly onto your online store. Your customers can even add products to their cart without having to leave your store’s gallery.

Foursixty also lets you integrate curated Instagram feeds for specific products onto their respective product pages, giving your customers a look at your products in action and get suggestions for other related purchases.

bando shoppable instagram

Image credit: ban.do

Brands like ban.do, a fun retailer that sells everything from iPhone cases to apparel, use Foursixty to show off their products in everyday life shots, curated sets, and professional photoshoots.

bando shoppable instagram

Image credit: ban.do

When a customer clicks on a photo, they’ll be given a detailed breakdown of all the products in the photo along with “Add to Cart” buttons that let them make purchases immediately.

pura vida bracelets shoppable instagram

Image credit: Pura Vida Bracelets

Pura Vida Bracelets is another example of an online store using Foursixty to give customers a closer look at their products. They use inspiring lifestyle photos to show off their bracelets and give their customers ideas for how Pura Vida Bracelets might fit into their wardrobe.

Like2Have.it

Cost: $20/month

Like2Have.it is a great tool for creating embeddable Instagram feeds outfitted with links that drive customers directly to product pages.

With Like2Have.it, you’ll also be able to create embeddable feeds featuring photos of your current customers using your products. These user-generated feeds work well on product pages by giving shoppers some social proof and a gentle push towards adding products to their carts.

underables shoppable instagram

Image credit: Underables

Underables, an apparel shop for ethically-sourced sleepwear and intimates, uses Like2Have.it to show off their products with a dedicated feed on their store.

underables coupon code

Image credit: Underables

They’ve even used Like2Have.it to slip exclusive discount codes to curious shoppers browsing their Instagram feed.

Showcase

Cost: Free – $29/month

Showcase is similar to the two apps featured above, but what really sets it apart is its price point and, more specifically, its free option.

With the free version of Showcase, you’ll be able to embed a customizable Instagram feed onto your online store which can still help your customers make more informed purchasing decisions. However, to add links to product pages and make your feed truly shoppable, you’ll need to upgrade to the premium version.

kz gear shoppable instagram

Image credit: KZ Gear

KZ Gear, an adventurous brand that sells sunglasses for outdoor living, uses the Showcase app to show customers a wide array of fun-in-the-sun lifestyle images.

Want to learn more about how social media can help drive sales? Download our free, curated list of high-impact articles.

Send me the free reading list

Tools for Measuring Your Performance

A successful marketing campaign on Instagram doesn’t end with sharing a photo. Diving deep into Instagram analytics is crucial for getting the most out of your business’ marketing strategy. You need to be able to analyze and refine your store’s performance every step of the way.

While Instagram only recently started to launch its own analytics tools, there are many platforms out there that make managing your Instagram marketing campaigns easy:

Sprout Social

Cost: $59 – $500/month

sprout social instagram tools

Image credit: Sprout Social

Sprout Social is a social media management platform with extensive content scheduling and publishing tools. Sprout Social also offers in-depth Instagram analytics, giving you access to detailed reports about how your latest posts have been performing.

With Sprout Social’s analytics, you’ll be able to track engagement and compare the success of your store’s account against the success of other accounts that you manage.

Additionally, Sprout Social has tools for monitoring hashtags and comments, helping you keep your fingers on the pulse of your community and find new opportunities for engagement.

Iconosquare

Cost: $28.80 – $499/year

iconosquare instagram tools

Image credit: Iconosquare

Iconosquare is an analytics platform dedicated to digging deep into the performance of your content on Instagram.

With Iconosquare, you can track regular engagement data like followers and likes as well as get specific statistics about your followers including their location and level of social media influence. By identifying your most influential fans, you’ll be able to discover new opportunities for influencer marketing and outreach.

Iconosquare also gives you the chance to compare your performance against your competitors, helping you get a better idea of where you fit into your industry landscape.

Websta

Cost: Free

websta instagram tools

Image credit: Websta

Websta is a free tool for managing your Instagram account and getting easy-to-understand analytics about your engagement and growth.

Websta also aggregates every hashtag on Instagram. This handy feature lets you search through all of Instagram to track down the best performing hashtags in your target audience. You can also get recommendations for hashtags that are related to the ones that you already use to help you branch out and find new audiences.

Tools for Scheduling Your Posts

To grow your audience and give your current fans a reason to stick around, you need to be updating your Instagram with fresh content regularly. But, let’s face it, constantly updating your profile with new photos takes a lot of time—something most entrepreneurs are already short on.

Thankfully, there are a bunch of great platforms out there that give you the resources you need to schedule your posts in advance keep your profile well-stocked with great content.

Schedugram

Cost: Starting at $20/month

schedugram instagram tools

Image credit: Schedugram

Schedugram is a scheduling platform with a wide variety of features, including web browser-based scheduling, for running more effective campaigns.

In addition to browser-based scheduling, Schedugram also comes with extensive photo editing features. Using either its built-in editor or Canva integration, you can tweak and fine-tune your photos well beyond Instagram’s default filters. Schedugram also allows for mass uploading, letting you schedule batches of photos at once and shaving time off of your social media marketing efforts.

Schedugram is priced on a sliding scale starting at $20/month, depending on your number of accounts and total Instagram followers.

Later

Cost: Free with Premium Plans starting at $19/month

later instagram tools

Image credit: Later

Later, formerly known as Latergramme, is an intuitive mobile, tablet, and browser-based Instagram scheduling platform.

Later comes with a diverse set of features for planning out your campaigns including the ability to explore hashtags and share user generated content. Later even lets you organize your posts with a handy content calendar and get a preview of your Instagram feed before publishing, making it simple to visualize exactly how your strategy will unfold.

Hootsuite

Cost: Free with Pro Plans starting at $9.99/month

hootsuite instagram tools

Image credit: Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a powerful social media management platform that can also schedule and publish Instagram posts.

While Hootsuite has made a name for itself by streamlining marketing for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, its Instagram tools take social media management one step further. Hootsuite lets you schedule your Instagram posts in advance, sending you a push notification when they’re due to go live. Once you’re notified, you can go straight to the app to publish your post.

Start Shooting

Now that you have the right tools for the job, it’s time to get out there and start taking amazing photos that really show the true value of your products!

Have any more questions about Instagram marketing? Let us know in the comments below!

5 High-Impact Strategies for Getting More Traffic

“How do I drive more traffic to my online store?”

That thought crosses the mind of every ecommerce entrepreneur at some point.

Maybe you’ve just sunk time and effort into painstakingly setting up your store, only to open up shop and wonder where your sales are. Maybe you’ve seen steady growth over the past 6 months, but just hit a plateau. Or maybe you’ve built a million dollar business and now you’re setting your sights on your next big goal.

Whether you’re trying to attract your first customer or your 10,000th customer, generating more traffic to your online store is a crucial part of growing your business. If your site is properly optimized for conversions, getting a jump in traffic could mean more customers and more sales.

To help you increase traffic for your online store, we’ve put together a list of 5 proven, high impact tactics for driving more traffic to your online store.

1. Run Paid Social Media Ad Campaigns

To increase website traffic for your online store, you need to be able to get your business in front of your ideal customers. With paid social media ads, you can create highly targeted campaigns that serve tailor-made ads to the customers who are most likely to click through and purchase your products.

If you’re thinking about running paid social media ads, here are some platforms you should consider:

Facebook Ads

facebook ads

Image source: Facebook

With 1.65 billion monthly users, Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world and filled with opportunities for you to reach new customers and drive them to your online store. Facebook’s robust advertising platform allows you to target users based on their interests, behavior, location, and more.

Using Facebook Dynamic Ads, you can even serve automatically-generated ads to customers who have previously visited your website, featuring the products that they’ve already looked at or added to their carts. These powerful ads can help you bring users back to your website, so that you can make the most of the traffic you’re already getting.

Instagram Ads

instagram ads

Image source: Adweek

Instagram is an incredibly popular platform, especially among Millennials. In fact, 73% of its half a billion monthly active users are between the ages of 15 – 35, making it the perfect choice for businesses whose target audiences skew younger.

With its recently expanded tools for business owners, Instagram is quickly becoming the platform-to-watch for social media advertising. It’s actually pegged to rake in a whopping $2.81 billion by the year 2017 on mobile ad revenue alone, beating out both Twitter and Google.

So, even if you’ve already built an army of followers on Instagram, you aren’t really using it to its full potential until you’ve tried its advertising platform.

Pinterest Ads

promoted pins

Image source: Pinterest

Pinterest plays a key role in the purchasing decisions of its users: 93% have used it to plan purchases and 52% have purchased something online after seeing it on Pinterest first. It’s also extremely popularity among niche groups like DIY crafts, home decor, and fashion which is ideal for businesses hoping to make in-roads with these markets.

Pinterest is home to Promoted Pins, a form of paid advertising that pushes your Pins to the top of your customers’ search results, helping you stand out from the crowd. Promoted Pins blend in with the rest of Pinterest’s content, making them a great tool for capturing your customers’ attention and pulling them to your online store.

2. Use SEO to Increase Your Store’s Discoverability

Can your customers actually find your store online?

When customers search for your products online, you want your store to be one of the top results for that search, especially since ⅓ of all clicks go to the first organic result on Google. That prized top position is a key ingredient for generating sustained, qualified website traffic for your online store.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of fine-tuning your website to increase its chances of ranking highly in search results for relevant keywords.


SEO is a fine science and only works when you put in time and effort into learning the rules that govern search engines like Google and Bing, so that you can apply those rules to the structure and content of your site.

3. Reach New Audiences with Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is the process of building relationships with influencers to get your online store in front of new audiences.

With influencer marketing, you can harness the creativity and reach of relevant influencers in your industry while leveraging the trust that they’ve already formed with their audiences.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BIPwoH0Adca/embed/captioned/?v=7

Image source: Estee Lalonde on Instagram

Bloggers and social media celebrities like Estee Lalonde are highly trusted by their followers, so getting them to feature your products is an effective, organic tactic for increasing your traffic. According to Nielsen, 92% of customers actually value word-of-mouth recommendations from people they trust over any other form of advertising.

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4. Drive Excitement with Contests and Giveaways

While many of these methods may seem like long term solutions for increasing your traffic, there are ways to give your business a short term boost in numbers as well.

With viral contests, giveaways, and sweepstakes you can quickly drive more traffic to your store by offering exciting prizes in exchange for your customers’ participation. Prizes and rewards are powerful incentives for getting both current and new customers to actually visit your store.

gleam example contest

Image source: Gleam

Using tools like Gleam or Woobox, you can embed giveaways into landing pages or blog posts on your store. These contests can even use social sharing as a method of entry, giving your sweepstakes a higher chance of going viral and spreading around social platforms. Once participants are on your store, you can use different techniques to guide them to your products, like exit intent popups featuringcoupon codes.

5. Attract Customers with Content Marketing

Content marketing is about more than just having a blog.

By creating interesting, informative, and engaging content, you can organically attract customers to your online store. From videos and podcasts to guides and ebooks, there are endless opportunities for your business to branch out into the world of content and capture new audiences.

Original content helps position your business as an industry thought leader and build a lifestyle around your brand. Your business’ content strategy can include anything that your customers might find relevant or interesting—don’t limit yourself to posts or guides that include or focus on your products. Instead, consider any and all topics and resources related to your business that your customers would find useful.

google adwords keyword planner

Image source: Google AdWords

Content marketing also gives your store the chance to conquer search results beyond product and brand keywords. Using free tools like Google Keyword Planner and Keyword.io, you can identify new opportunities for your business to rank in search results and get in front of larger audiences.

Get More Traffic, Get More Customers

With these tactics in your ecommerce marketing toolkit, you should now be able to generate more website traffic for your online store.

More traffic to your online store means more opportunities to turn those casual shoppers into paying customers. Once you’ve increased your traffic, consider trying out Conversion Rate Optimization as a next step.

Have any questions about how to increase website traffic for your online store? Share them in the comments below!

How to Create a Press Kit That Gets Publicity for Your Business

Getting your business or product featured in a major publication or website can be huge. Imagine the largest publication in your industry or a local news affiliate giving you free press. Now imagine the kind of exposure and traffic this would bring to your business.

Besides the potential sales press can generate, getting mentioned on established websites allows you to borrow the trust of these publications and gives your website social proof by allowing you to place their logos on your website.

via jimmyCASE

How can business owners make it easy for websites, magazines and publishers to want to publish content talking about your business?

With a press kit.

What’s a Press Kit?

A press kit, also known as a media kit, is a page on your website that contains resources and information for reporters and publishers. A press kit makes it really easy for reporters to quickly learn about your product and brand, and access photos and marketing materials they can use in their content. You’re letting them know “hey, we love the press, here’s everything for you to put your story together as well as how to best reach us”.

FiftyThree’s press kit
via FiftyThree

A press kit isn’t strictly only for reporters or publications either. Anyone who wants to talk about or promote your business has the tools to make it easier for them. Whether that’s someone with a podcast, someone with a personal blog, or someone sharing your story in a community they are active in.

However, a press kit is not a way to guarantee press for your business, it’s a way to make getting press a little bit easier. When you’re networking and reaching out to publications, you will always have your press kit to refer to and direct reporters to. When you do most of the work for reporters up front, they’ll be more receptive to your pitch for press on their website or publication. Plus, it looks  professional and makes you more appealing to write about.

Besides directing reporters to your press kit page, your press kit page should be easily accessible on your website. You might not want to put a link to it in your main navigation, but it’s a good idea to include a “press”, “press kit” or “media kit” link in the footer of your website. Most reporters and publishers will know to look for it there as that is a common place for the press kit link.

via Holstee

What Makes A Good Press Kit?

What you put in your press kit will vary depending on your business and what you have to work with. There are a few essentials that I recommend as well as a few “nice to haves” if it is possible or available to put in your press kit.

Essentials

  • Your story: Share your story, how your business came to be and a little about yourself and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • Company facts: How many customers have you served? How long have you been in business? How many units have you sold? What year did your business start? Any other facts or figures that you can share with reporters? Where is your business located? Where is your product manufactured?
  • Large, high-resolution images of your logo and branding: Make it easy for content publishers to use your logo or create graphics using your logo by providing options. Provide high quality, high resolution graphics that also include a transparent background to make your graphics easy to use for nearly any purpose including print. If applicable, include a download to the raw, vector file.
via FiftyThree

  • People in your team: If there’s anyone else in your business besides yourself, share their story and their role and how they got involved in your business.
  • Samples of articles/press: Show reporters other articles and publications that you or your business has been featured in or talked about. These can be blog posts, interviews, magazine articles, press releases, and articles on other websites. This gives people interested in talking about your business on their website, something to work from.

Optional

  • Separate press/media email: A separate email address specifically for reporters, journalists or publications to contact you. For example “press@business.com”.
  • Name spelling/capitalization: If your business has unique spelling or capitalization, specify how you wish your brand name to be printed. For example, if you are CompanyName and not Company Name or companyname, make it clear!
  • Audio/video interviews/segments: If your business has been mentioned on a podcast, on the radio, or on a local news station, link to the clip or embed the media on your press kit page.
  • Awards/recognition: Share any awards or recognition your business has received.
  • Non-profit and volunteer involvement: Lastly, include any charities or non-profit work your business has been involved with.

Press Kit Examples

If you need some inspiration or need a better idea of how these press kit pages look and what they contain, check out some of these ecommerce businesses doing it right.

Get Press

It’s your turn now. When you’re considering putting together a press kit for your website, think about the websites and publications you want to be on and think about what you can put together in your press kit that will make it easier to get press there.

Remember that you still need to go out there and network and put yourself out there if you want to get press coverage for your business. A press kit only makes it easier for reporters to talk about you. You still need to do the work to make it happen.

Comment below and share your press kit pages if you already have one. If you don’t, comment below with your questions and I’ll be sure to help out. I engage and respond with everyone.

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.

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.

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.