Friday 29 November 2013

Hot Ecommerce Trends to Watch

The number of consumers making purchases online continues to increase. It is the new wave of commerce and, depending on the industry; ecommerce represents either an opportunity for big profit or a death knell for the brick-and-mortar business. The landscape is changing, and businesses must adapt to survive. What follows are five ecommerce trends that illustrate the direction that online shopping is headed, as well as some insight and strategies that will allow businesses and consumers to better navigate the uncertain seas of web-based retail.


1. Unusual or Commoditized Products

The success of self-promoted artists who sell their work online can be attributed to the fact that it is difficult to find similar work anywhere else. These products compete on individuality and aesthetics more than price. In fact, attempting to compete on price is generally not recommended, considering the time and skills necessary to create individual works. Far more important is establishing a brand and reputation for quality that will, in turn, drive demand.  
At the other end of the spectrum, there are commoditized items, such as consumer electronics, mainstream tools and other equipment. Individuals generally will have less success selling commoditized items online, even though they are some of the most popular online purchases; consumers prefer major retailers like Amazon when buying these items online. However, some individuals or small businesses have found success through affiliations with major retailers. Lifeproof, a line of waterproof and shock-resistant iPhone cases, aligned itself with Best Buy for this very reason, and it was able to penetrate the mainstream audience, whereas before it was simply a niche product.


2. Third-Party Ecommerce Site Providers

To meet the need of creating a functional and attractive ecommerce site, third-party ecommerce providers offer the simplicity of site setup and maintenance on their end to entice businesses. Currently, the two most popular ecommerce site providers are Volusion and Shopify. Volusion does not charge transaction fees on items sold; instead, it offers a simple, tiered monthly plan. Volusion also provides a site coach for its “Gold Level” members and a 14-day free trial.
Shopify charges a transaction fee for all but its “Unlimited” memberships, but allows for sales through Amazon, and offers SSL certification at no additional fee. Shopify is predicting that its merchant clients are on track to double their combined sales this year compared to last year.
It would take an article in itself to fully compare the benefits of these (and other popular ecommerce site providers), but suffice it to say they both offer options for businesses that do not wish to manage the technical aspects of their ecommerce storefront.


3. The “Mom and Pop” Effect

The traditional “mom and pop” stores of yesteryear grow more rare as stiff competition from chain stores increases. However, in the digital realm, the smaller, personalized stores can — and do — have success. Experts believe that the mom-and-pop advantage extends beyond customer loyalty, and that there is in fact a logistical advantage, as well. They say, “Smaller stores aren't saddled with anachronistic organizational structures that segment a business by channel, such as store, catalog or digital.”
There are even a few companies catering to the moms and pops of the web, giving them the tools to compete with the big guys. SumAll is one such company, providing data analytics to small- to medium-sized online businesses. The metrics from SumAll show online retailers the real-time metrics that are having the biggest impact on their bottom line.


4. Remarketing

Static marketing is dead, and businesses of any size have to be creative to cut through the clutter. For ecommerce, a new technique is “remarketing” — using multiple touches to generate continued interest in the product. If you’ve ever noticed that ads appearing on pages you visit online are extremely reflective of your interests, you’ve experienced remarketing. “When a potential customer visits a website and then leaves without making a purchase, companies can 'follow' them on the Internet. Ads and offers will appear on other pages the potential customer is viewing.
The danger with this type of marketing is the penchant for users to become annoyed due to the “creepy” nature of ads following them around. However, if they were on the fence about an item, the ads can sway the consumer to make the purchase.


5. Mobile

Mobile devices are fast becoming the preferred method of accessing the web. According to Think Mobile with Google
·         81% of Smartphone users access the Internet on their mobile devices.
·         59% use the Internet on their phones while waiting.
For this reason, ecommerce sites that are mobile optimized, or that have a streamlined mobile application, will get more sales.
However, there is a “dark side” for physical stores when it comes to mobile devices. The biggest challenge for brick-and-mortar stores is the growth of ‘show rooming.’ For example, Target lost some suppliers because they were not receiving favorable pricing in the stores. Customers would go to Target, check out the price and then use their mobile device to see if they could find cheaper prices online.” However, this is yet another example of the benefit of a strong mobile presence, particularly if a business is able to compete on both price and value.
Ecommerce will continue to advance and evolve, and many of these trends may shift or become obsolete. One thing that remains constant is the need to build a loyal following by competing on value and providing quality customer service. Staying on top of ecommerce trends will give businesses a distinct advantage when it comes to interacting and communicating with customers.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

How to Stay Safe on Ecommerce Sites

As more consumers move online to do their shopping, the ecommerce industry continues to boom. 

This increase provides even more opportunity for hackers. The data breach investigations report estimated 174 million compromised records, 81% of which utilized some form of hacking. That's 170 million more than in last year's report.

Security measures should be the most important factor stressed in ecommerce. In order for brands and consumers to prevent attacks, they need to understand what's at stake for the brand, the consumer and the hacker.


What's at Stake?

When a hacker steals a consumer's information from a company database, who pays the ultimate price: the consumer or the brand?

The brand is held responsible for securing the customer's information. If that privacy is breached, the customer suffers consequences such as identity theft, stolen credit cards, bank accounts and other information that's of value to the hacker. 

Once a customer's information is stolen, the consumer must quickly report and cancel all accounts. Generally, the bank or company reimburses any compromised activity — this puts the consumer at a major inconvenience, but holds the seller financially accountable.
According to experts both the consumer and the brand are at risk, though there are more concerning calculations for the latter.

"The consumers has the risk of losing money either by theft of service (use of their accounts or credit cards/bank accounts, etc.) but often are reimbursed by the bank if the card has been compromised in some way. Now, if a site (company selling a service) is the source of the compromise — and it can be shown now that they have not made the proper strides to protect their clients' data — then they may end up footing the bill in some cases as well as garner large bad press on the incident and their services.

When a brand is hacked, they're not only left with financial damage to clean up, but also their reputation. Take LinkedIn, for instance. The company took a severe blow after more than 6 million of its users’ passwords were leaked online in June. LinkedIn quickly confirmed and apologized for the password breach, but was sued for $5 million.
The risk factor between the company and customer also depends on what's at stake for the hackers themselves. Most prefer the least amount of risk, but there is always the chance of getting caught.

The hacker's initial decision to break into a computer or its network to an ROI.
How much time and effort does the miscreant need to spend to get what size of reward? What's the easier route to the maximum pile of eventual cash?.

Spending months planning and executing an audacious attack on an accounts payable department might make sense if you can extract seven figures of reward. Compare that to the average phishing attack — which now lasts a few hours and nets less than a handful of victims, likely with limited funds if they are regular account holders.


What Consumers Should Do

The most common mistake for consumers is to assume that a product which has a "hacker proof" logo on it will actually keep a hacker out of it. 

In the event that your data has been hacked from an ecommerce database — depending on what data has been given to the site — Experts suggests that the consumer do the following:

1. If you have a credit card number saved in your profile, you should alert the bank and have a new credit card sent to you after cancelling the compromised one.

 2. If your email address is a primary one that you use for everything, be aware that it may now be fodder for "Phishing" attacks on you for more information. Make sure your spam filters are working and always think before you click links or open files sent to you in that account. 

3. If the site collects personal data, such as date of birth or (and this should not happen) your social security number, then you should obtain some identity theft protection that the company which lost your data should pay for. This will alert you if someone is trying to open new accounts as you obtain the data they have stolen. 

What Businesses Should Do 

Businesses commonly make the mistake of neglecting to monitor and maintain the security of their site, and software and other tools are constantly evolving. Sites often are attacked when they fail to keep good hygiene. 

Web and mobile application developers are often not savvy to payment security requirements and secure programming methods, which can create security holes that can be exploited by hackers that look for high value targets, such as ecommerce sites. 

Security should also be an important factor when mapping out the design goals of a website. Most sites do this with an SSL security certificate. You can purchase a certificate, or there are some ecommerce platforms like Shopify have a default built-in SSL upon checkout. 

Perhaps the most effective way to protect your business from hackers is to think like a hacker. The best way to do so is to hire one to protect your network and infrastructure. 

This is not always the easiest thing to do because you really need someone you can trust and who knows what they are doing. Accreditation in the Information Security business is getting better, but, in general find someone who can prove their technical worth, as well as having a proven track record in either the defense of networks or the penetration thereof.

Friday 22 November 2013

9 Tips for a Better Company Culture

Companies aren't built by individuals; they're built by teams with complementary skills. But recruiting good talent is half the battle — you also need to foster an environment in which your employees can flourish and grow.  
Here are some tips for building a great team and retaining the talent

 1.      Always Be Hiring 
Hiring is a continuous process, not a punctual hunt. Hire in tech, product or business, but only take people that really wow you. It's important to think about the person's career pat too let them adjust to new responsibilities and be mindful of where they are and where they're going. One of the biggest mistakes you can make with bright and talented employees is burning them out by giving them too much work too soon.
2.      Encourage Entrepreneurial Thinking
 Inside of a startup, each and every person needs to think like an owner and an entrepreneur, encourage people to ponder the thought, 'What would I do if I were running this company?' Getting each and every person comfortable with asking for forgiveness, not permission, allows the entire team to benefit synergistically from their talents as a team being greater than the sum of our parts as individuals.
It's also crucial to hire and cultivate the "whole person," foster open conversations about the well-being of teammates, their personal needs and situations. That might include creating a flexible work schedule for a new mom or sending a developer to a coding boot camp. In the end, it makes employees happier and healthier, makes them better at their job and increases productivity. "Always care immensely about the success of the integrated person."

3.      Remember That Your People Are Your Business
Hiring is the most important thing you can do at a company at any stage in its lifecycle. Great people versus okay people are the difference between success and mediocrity — and it is something that founders spends far too little time on early on. In the startup world, your sixth hire should be a recruiter, who can devote time to finding other fantastic hires.

4.      Lead by Example
 As a leader in a company, everyone feeds off of what you do — the culture starts with you. If you come in early, are always focused and happy, it sets the tone for the rest of the team. Show passion for the company and its mission, set goals and expectations and work hard, and your team will follow suit. A great leader is one that gives a lot, but can also expect a lot in return. Everyone should be having fun and enjoying what they do, and if the best developer out there is difficult to work with, you're better off without them. 

5.       Character Counts
Hire really good people that communicate and exude positivity, and look at someone's character, first and foremost. The employee retention will be high, and the business often promotes from within. Employees have to have the same qualities as the brand — authenticity, quality and attention to every detail.

6.      Don't Underestimate Freelancers
Hiring someone is a big commitment — and what if it doesn't work out? For some kinds of businesses, freelancers make a ton of sense. Companies can hire great talent without having to lure them away with a salary they could never afford. If you are a startup, you can move fast and treat them like you want to be treated.
Hiring college students and recent graduates also helps a lot as they're professional, eager to learn, affordable and enthusiastic. Plus, if you're in the market for help in the tech department, these young people are likely to be well-versed in the most cutting edge technologies.

7.       Listen to Your Gut
If you get a weird feeling or sense of doubt about someone, trust it — you probably have reservations for a reason. On the flipside, if you have doubts about a current employee's contributions, don't be afraid to let them go. It's the old startup adage: Hire slow, fire fast. Company culture is a proactive thing; it's not something that builds itself.

8.      Give Employees Ownership and Flexibility
Encourage everyone to holistically be happy, and excited. There is an emphasis on what you create, rather than how much you create. Encourage the team members to take ownership of the things that you make, and their role in making them. And be flexible, if any employee is taking a day or a week off, to be with family or go on a trip — then that's fine. A happy employee will be multiples more productive than someone not inspired, or stressed out about something.

9.     Work to Maintain and Build Company Culture
Arguably the most important decision you make as a startup or young company is who to hire. And this decision is no less critical when hiring your fifteenth employee than it was for your third hire. In these critical early stages, each hire should fit well and improve the company's efficiency and culture — if they don't, they're the wrong person.
While it's largely the CEO's responsibility to set and cultivate the company's culture, it's a never-ending task. The importance of this nuanced element of business can't be underestimated or neglected. Even the best products and services have fallen victim to a lapse in attention to company culture. If you constantly cultivate this as much as you do any other aspect of your business, you'll have an efficient office full of happy people.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

7 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Ecommerce Site

We've all been there. You're all set to buy something, credit card in hand, but for one reason or another you never close the deal. 

Maybe the third time you were asked to enter your credit card number you gave in. Perhaps it was the exorbitant shipping costs. Maybe the site crashed.

The truth is, there are at least seven things that send potential customers fleeing in horror from your website. If you actually want people to stick around and buy stuff from your site, you may want to take note of and avoid these common pitfalls.

 1.Your Site is Too Slow 

Every 2 seconds of load time on your site equals an 8% abandonment rate. If you drop your load time from 8 seconds to 2 seconds, your conversion rate actually jumps up 74%. 
It's easy to see why: Do you want to waste your time waiting for a site to load?
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why your site is loading so slowly. 

Many ecommerce sites are overloaded with third-party plug-ins for Facebook, Twitter and ad networks — all of which can slow a site down. Another cause is cloud issues: If you're using a content-delivery network (CDN), your site can slow to a crawl if your service provider is having issues.

2.Your Site is Too Complicated

If you're asking consumers to take more than five steps to buy something off your site, then you're asking too much. Follow the below recommendations

·         Welcome/cart contents page
·         Bill-to section
·         Ship-to section
·         Payment module
·         Confirmation/thank you page

3.Your Credit Card Entry System is punishing

Here you may also want to take. Is there anything more frustrating than entering your name, address, 16-digit credit card number and three-digit security code, and then restarting from scratch because you forgot your ZIP code? And yes why not put the country first on the scroll instead of way down at the end, as it would appear alphabetically?

There is a standard sequence of information for credit card information. If you mess with that order (by putting the credit card number before the name and address, for instance), then users are apt to enter the wrong info because they've been trained to log such data in a certain sequence. "Follow the industry standard."

 4.You're charging Too Much for Shipping

If you're charging more than 10% of the total cost of the item for shipping, then you're charging too much. "You're probably depressing your sales significantly. People are more likely to abandon your cart.

5.You're Overselling Your Tablet App

If a potential customer visits your website on her iPad, that doesn't necessarily mean that she's keen on downloading your iPad app. Don't over-invest in customizing your mobile apps. Unless there's a clear value, most people figure, 'Why bother?
An alternative is to optimize your site for the tablet experience,make it responsive something that few are doing right now.

 6.Your Site Performs Horribly on Certain Browsers

You may be a Google Chrome fan, but there's a world full of people who are using old versions of Internet Explorer. Have you tested your site on those other browsers? Many sites don't perform well across various browsers, so people abandon them.

7.You're Hitting Your Customers With Irrelevant Offers

OK, you've completed the sale. This person has indicated that they're interested in what you're selling, so it's natural to conclude that they might want to buy something from you in the future. So why not hit them with offers for things that they're actually likely to buy?
For instance, If a customer purchases a bed, the retailer besieged her with offers for ... more beds. While deals on pillows or sheets might have made sense, a bed is something you generally purchase every five or 10 years.