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

Nov 252010

Payvment is an online Facebook app start-up company which allows users to create and operate an eCommerce store on their Facebook page.  The store allows for product searches across Facebook and employs a Facebook-wide shopping cart for accepting payment (through Paypal).  They hype the fact that it takes 15 minutes to get things going and most reviews currently state that its user interface is quite simple to use.  Payvment already has 20,000+ storefronts and over 500,000 Facebook users have shopped for products using the application.  Currently Payvment is still in a Beta stage of development and currently has no monetization channel.  During this phase the service is offered entirely free.  It is free to sign-up, and there are no percentage of revenue fees.  These aspects might change but since the service is new and they are trying to promote it, it offers a very interesting low-cost platform for a small businessperson.  I currently have nothing to sell and registered just in case one day I do, as they said if you register during the Beta stage, there will never be fees (but I digress).  In essence, Payvment transforms your Facebook page from merely a marketing platform for your company, to an actual sales platform.

Payvment is interesting for many reason.  As mentioned in a previous blog (http://eiconnect.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/some-factsstatistics-to-think-about-when-considering-why-social-media-is-important/) the numbers surrounding Facebook user-ship are astounding.   The possible market exposure alone is a good reason to consider Payvment, however they have some other quite clever ideas.  First off, they have designed an Open Cart Network, which allows completion of purchases from any Facebook storefront.  You can add multiple items from various storefronts to your cart, and pay all at once.  They also allow you to add this shopping cart to your own eCommerce website with the same functionality.  This idea is very smart when combating the issue of cart abandonment.  As a former eCommerce manager, cart abandonment was a HUGE problem.  We would spend money and time marketing our site, only to get people to the point where they actually had something in their cart, and didn’t purchase it.  Then after moving on, they may or may not have bookmarked our page and perhaps were lost forever.  The open cart idea prevents this.  If someone adds something from your site, it stays there unless they delete it.  This cart is linked to Facebook (where, as shown by the stats, people spend 1.2days per month) and next time they log in, your item is still there!  This reason alone should cause people to consider implementing Payvment into their eCommerce toolbox.  It is necessary to note, this feature becomes MUCH more interesting if Payvment becomes more widely accepted.  The more people who use their carts, the more likely your product will actually show up again.  If they never come back to a site that uses Payvment, and don’t go shopping on Facebook for awhile you’re out of luck.

Payvment allows you to add a storefront to unlimited Facebook pages and allows you to list unlimited items.  It offers fully HTML customizable home pages and product pages.  There is automated inventory control features to suspend sold out items.  The app also has an image up-loader tool so you can easily display your product images.  It also supports unlimited categories.  Payvment can be set up to integrate with your back end administrative processes as well to help automate this step of the transaction.  There is much to be desired in each one these areas, but its a start and I’m sure additional features will constantly be added if the app really takes off.  Read more here about what users are currently demanding/complaining about http://payvment.uservoice.com/forums/55494-facebook-app

Currently Payvment can only accept payments through Paypal.  This is not so bad, as it you can accept Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover through Paypal without the necessity of merchant accounts.  It also allows you to accept 20 major world currencies.  Due to Facebook’s large international language support, this platform allows you to reach users from all over the world.  There is some speculation that one day Payvment might be able to take Facebook credits as a form of payment but this is not integrated yet.  Payvment offers not only shipping calculators with quantity discounting for domestic orders, but also for international orders.  This can help truly take your store to a global marketplace.

I believe the strongest aspect Payvment has going for it, is its possible marketing/promotion uses.  Of course Facebook users are many, but Payvment offers some smart ways to give them incentives to make purchases.  If some one becomes a fan or “likes” your page, you can set up automatic discounts on purchases.  This allows you to build a following, who will help promote your store for you.  When someone “likes” a Facebook page, this is transmitted through their feed to all their friends and acts like an endorsement for your product/brand/store.  It also allows you to send them updates on new products and promotions.  A Facebook store could be the final step to converting a fan into a buyer.  There are also sections for reviews/comments on products and share features on items which should help further promote your products using the social media network.  Forbes did a study stating “Facebook Fans are 41% more likely to recommend a brand and 28% more likely to continue using them. Plus a Facebook Fan is worth on average $136.38 and spends $71.84 more per year than non Fans.”  This puts an actual numeric value on a fan.  Payvment offers you a new way to entice new fans to promote and strengthen  your brand.

Payvment offers a very interesting product with many positive attributes.  In many ways it could be compared to a telephone, fax machine, or service like Paypal.  Standing alone, with few users, all of these products are virtually useless.  When a critical mass is reached in terms of number of users, the true benefit emerges.  Through savvy marketing and smart implementation of its product features, I believe Payvment could have lot to offer an eCommerce business.