Jan 122011

This is one of my first posts where I’m writing more in my element. Having worked 5 years managing a successful eCommerce operation generating $1.3 Million in annual sales, I picked up a few tricks. The 3 tips below are some things that now feel obvious, but I remember how it was when I first started. I didn’t know ANYTHING. I was constantly thinking of new ideas, researching competitor sites, trying out new things, etc. These are 3 ecommerce tips I came across that made a real difference in sales. If you are just starting out (or already running an eCommerce site), hopefully these tips will be of some benefit to you.

(taken in Helsinki museum of modern art, this was an odd exhibit featuring these bubbles you could stand in.  There was a video being projected onto the bubble (the light from the projector is the green dot in this image).  The video was of sights from a city – this bubble was Budapest I believe.  The artist also tried to capture the smell of the city, so each different bubble had a unique scent)

Ecommerce Tip #1: Free Two-way shipping

The first thing to consider when running an ecommerce store is how to convert visitors into sales. For an eCommerce business converting a sale online really comes down to “what are the barriers preventing this online shopper from clicking the buy now button?” One of the largest barriers could be your online shipping policy. When a person adds an item to your ecommerce shopping cart and then sees a shipping cost. Shipping costs were a huge problem for us when it came to dealing with cart abandonment issues. If a customer goes to all the trouble of browsing your site, adding items to a cart, and then just leaving – you have a problem that must be addressed. You’re so close to the sale, what can push it over the edge?

Free Shipping is a start, but have you considered free two way shipping? First off, with free shipping you can just build the extra cost into the price of the item – so it’s really a no-brainer. When running an ecommerce business, battling over price is huge. It’s so easy to Google a product and see a large number of sellers offering the same item. How can you add some intangible value to make them want to click “buy” in your online shopping cart when they might have abandoned another shopping cart? Free two way shipping. If the customer is unhappy with the product, you will pay for them to ship back their return. They have nothing to lose! Offer a full refund and free two way shipping, and there will be no more barriers preventing them from clicking “buy.”

In my experience running an online business our revenue was approximately 1.3 Million dollars annually. We experienced a return rate of around 10%. About half of the returns were because the product was damaged or defective. We would have paid return shipping on these orders regardless. Another 2.5% was from people ordering a product that wouldn’t work for their application (we were selling home improvement products, so for example they ordered a faucet that wouldn’t fit). This can be combated by making sure all the necessary installation instructions are VERY clear. That leaves only around a 2.5% of returns coming from people just ordering something and then deciding they didn’t want to keep it. It only cost us the shipping fees in the case of these returns which was quite minimal. The benefits to offering free two way shipping far outweighed this cost.

Ecommerce Tip #2 Quote Generator

This is an idea I came up with for keeping people in the sales funnel. If someone was not ready to click buy, I figured I had a better chance of converting the sale at a later time if they were sent an email quote. Often, people search on Google for a product they want to purchase, look through a lot of sites, price compare etc. but are not actually ready to make the purchase. Especially selling home improvement products, we had many customers searching months in advance. People who were building a new house might need to purchase something like plumbing fixtures several months before they are actually installed. Their contractor would probably have given them a schedule for when they need the items, but they would have some time before they needed to order them. I wanted to capture those sales somehow.

I knew people would be browsing and might or might not bookmark your site. This means they might just find the product they want only to purchase it later from somewhere else. Especially when selling brand name products, people might only remember to search for the name of the product, only to find many other websites offer the same item. If they visited your online store a month ago, there’s no guarantee they will find your site again when they are ready to purchase.

We created a button using PHP in our shopping cart where instead of purchasing, you could click “Send me an Email Quote.” The quote would automatically be sent pulling the product data from our data base for the items that were in their shopping cart. The Email would have pictures, descriptions and a total price with links to pay by Paypal or Google Checkout, and also our phone number and offers to help with any questions etc. This gave us two benefits. One, we got to make contact with the customer – so we weren’t just another random site they found. They now had an email from us, with the name of an actual sales person to talk to. Second, it put them on our radar for potential customers. If they had just abandoned a shopping cart, we would never know who this person was or what products they were interested in. Any advertising money we paid to drive them to our online store would have been wasted. Having them in our system gave us the advantage of being able to follow up – aka tip number 3!

Ecommerce Tip #3: Follow up system

More important than you can possibly imagine! I can’t tell you how many orders we got because of following up with people. Once we implemented the quote generator system detailed above, we needed a follow up system. Using PHP for Email allowed us to set up a web system for following up at specified time increments all automatically. They system would notify us what quotes were eligible for a follow up email (after 1 week, then after 3 weeks). By reconnecting incrementally with people we were better able to be in the right place at the right time to make the sale. At first I worried people might get annoyed at follow up emails, however many people actually thanked me for following up and felt as though they were getting more personal attention. Using PHP and setting up a follow up system was important since we had so many emails to keep track of there was no way it could be done manually.


I hope these tips have helped!  If you have any tips of your own to share, please comment.  I would also appreciate a “like” on Facebook :)  Nick

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