Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What You Need to Know for A Successful eCommerce Website

Graphic showing screen shots of shopping sites and a woman using her tablet, set against clothing on hangers.

E-Commerce: The act of buying and selling goods and services over the Internet

Sounds simple enough, right? If it were simple, everyone would be doing it. The fact is, it's not simple, but by building an online store, you can find new customers and increase sales by a very significant margin.

If you have a brick-and-mortar storefront, chances are, you are already in a very good position to begin selling online. You probably already maintain some kind of inventory system to account for your incoming products and outgoing sales. If you use accounting software like Quickbooks, you are already on your way to being able to sell online. 

In order to prepare for selling online, you need to make sure you have certain pieces of information regarding your products assembled and in an organized fashion.

Here is a checklist:
·       Product Name
·       Your Product ID number
·       Manufacturer's Part Number
·       Brand Name
·       Product Description
·       Product Image(s)
·       The dimensions of the shipping box (length, width & depth)
·       The weight of the shipping box
·       Product Variations – color, size, etc.
·       Your selling price

Besides all of this, you will also need to categorize your inventory. Google Shopping and Bing Product  Ads can be extremely helpful in putting your products in front of the right buyer...no matter where they are in the world. If you plan to use either of these vehicles to promote your products, you need to assign each of your products a category from the Google Product Category Taxonomy. Luckily, Bing Product Ads use this same taxonomy, so this work only needs to be done once. 

All of the information listed above needs to be organized into an electronic document that can be uploaded to Google and Bing. If your inventory and pricing doesn't change very often, this can be done manually, at least once per month. Otherwise, you will need a system that will automatically download this information from your website and upload a file to Google and Bing on a regular basis to make sure that the ads you are showing online properly reflect your product price and current availability. Read more on Google Shopping and Bing Product Ads here.

Now that you have all your product data ready, you need a way to display your products online. You will need a shopping cart system built into your website. This is a system where a user can browse your inventory, place items into a virtual “shopping cart” and go through a checkout procedure where shipping options are chosen, applicable sales tax is applied and payment is processed. 

Graphic of a blue mouse cord shaped like a shopping cart.

Shipping: Which carriers do you wish to ship your products with? This needs to be decided before launching your online store. By giving your customers a choice of carriers and shipping services, they can know during the checkout procedure how much it will cost to receive the product and how long it will take. Check with your shipping carriers for shipping software that can be connected to your accounting software and even your shopping cart system. These programs can go a long way in reducing fulfillment time and saving you money.

Tax: This varies state-by-state, but the general rule of thumb says that you will need to collect sales tax on any order being shipped to a state where you have a business entity. Check with your accountant for advice on this matter as well as a tax table which can be uploaded to your shopping cart program.

Payments: You will need to have a credit card processor attached to your shopping cart program. This is a third-party company who will securely charge your customer's credit card and deposit funds into your bank account, less any fees associated with its use. There are alternative payment solutions available such as PayPal, Square and Stripe.

Lastly, before going “live” with your online store, you must take some time to consider fulfillment. Once you get an online order, how will it be processed?

Some considerations:
·       Who will receive the order email from the website?
·       How will the item(s) be picked, packed and prepared for shipping?
·       How will you purchase and print postage?
·       How will you get your packages into the hands of the shipping carriers?
·       How long will this fulfillment process take? 
·       How will customer communication happen after the sale?

It is important to consider the entire process before launching an online store. Order fulfillment is a key element in making happy and repeat customers. If you know that it will take 24 hours to pick, pack and ship an order, be sure to publish this fact on your website. Whether you offer same-day shipping, or it takes you 3-4 days to procure an item from your vendors, you want to let your customers know in the shopping cart how long fulfillment will take so they know when they can expect their order.  

Now that you have organized your inventory, built an online shopping cart and have a system for fulfillment, you are ready to launch your online store! But keep in mind...just because you opened your door, doesn't mean people will rush right in! You will need a plan to drive qualified traffic to your website...that will be covered in the next topic: How to Promote Your Products Using Google and Bing

Thinking of starting eCommerce or fine-tuning your current operation? Contact Brockett Creative Group by email or by calling 315-797-5088.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NEWS RELEASE: Brockett Creative Group Presents - Reach Your Business Goals Online

Brockett Creative Group (BCG), a Google Partner agency in New Hartford, NY, will present Reach Your Business Goals Online on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 in coordination with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The program will be held in room c108/110 of Kunsela Hall at SUNY Poly from 12pm-1:30pm.

The featured presenters are Google AdWords expert Fred Vallaeys and online marketing authority Matt Lawson, who will be instructing the program via live web stream. BCG President Matthew Brockett and Marketing Specialist Scott Mathias will moderate the event.

“As a Google Partner we’re on top of the ins-and-outs of online marketing, but for people who don’t work with it every day, the sheer volume of information can be daunting. This can be especially true for a small business owner with a limited staff,” says Brockett. “The whole community benefits from having successful businesses, and we want to do our part to help local small businesses grow.”

The workshops are free of charge, but space is limited and pre-registration is required. Beverages will be provided, and participants are welcome to bring lunch to have during the event. To reserve a place, visit www.brockettcreative.com/google-partners-connect.

In conjunction with The Small Business Development Center. Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. Call the SBDC at SUNY Polytechnic Institute at 315-792-7547.

Google Partner Logo

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Take a deep breath - Ad-mageddon is not upon us

News about ad-blocking software seems to be everywhere in the past few weeks. Businesses that use online advertising and agencies that provide it have been portrayed as anything from blase´ to completely melting down over both the public's gleeful anticipation for the software and for Apple's upcoming operating system that supports ad-blocking software. Fortunately for businesses that rely on advertising, this is not the Ad-mageddon that it appears to be at first blush.

What's up?

In all likelihood, the root of this issue is that consumers got really sick of pop-up and Flash ads disrupting their online experience and draining their device batteries. (Note: at Brockett Creative Group, we have always strongly discouraged our clients from using pop-up and/or Flash ads and continue to advise against their use because of the intense consumer dissatisfaction that it causes.) Ads are necessary for businesses, marketers, and the many websites that rely on them for revenue, but they should not be disruptive to the user experience. We advise our clients to use Google AdWords, remarketing, and to have dedicated advertising spaces on their websites to meet their online advertising needs. We find that this strikes a healthy balance between commercial marketing and individual online experience expectations; in other words, your product or service gets in front of many potential consumers without inciting anger in said consumers.

What does Google have to say about this?

Embedding Flash ads in a website spells bad news with regard to Google, too. While Flash ads purchased through Google don't reflect poorly on a website's ratings, other embedded Flash advertisements do. BCG's Marketing Specialist Scott Mathias explains, "For websites, any other built-in Flash has an overall negative effect on Google rankings. Flash elements have historically been responsible for website instability and security vulnerability. Because of these risks, search engines are penalizing websites containing Flash elements; and other platforms like Facebook and Amazon have done away with Flash ads completely." Fair? Maybe or maybe not, but it's important to remember that Google is, first and foremost, a business.

Meme of Larry David with his signature phrase, "Pretty good."
Larry David sees what you did there, Google.
Image from http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3pd35e

So, what's to be done?

Although it has been around in various forms for years, ad-blocking software hasn't really been tested - and by tested, I mean that the developers haven't been legally challenged yet. Matt Brockett, president of BCG, said, "I understand that this is a growing problem, where ads that are built into websites were being blocked, which may not be entirely legal. Businesses paid for that particular real estate on those specific sites, so the ad blockers could be seen as interfering with a contract and the website owners' revenue. The issue is still open for debate, but it reminds me of the early days of music file-sharing. The industry will either have to adapt, like Apple did with iTunes, or refuse to adjust like the traditional music industry did, which ended up being incredibly shortsighted. This could be a great opportunity to reinvent Internet advertising, or it could be a great opportunity for the advertising world to shoot itself in the foot. What we ultimately need is something innovative that will work for both the consumer and the commercial organization and possibly some well-thought out legislation that protects both parties that utilize this type of advertising."

The Bottom Line

There may be a little turbulence as Internet advertising adapts to this new landscape, but it's not going anywhere. Online advertising will remain one of the most effective tools - if not the most effective tool - in your marketing mix. Please email or call us at 315-797-5088 to discuss how we can help you maximize your online advertising investment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The power of the press release

As we discussed in a previous post, public relations should be an important part of your communications and marketing strategy. A foundation of any public relations plan is the press release (also known as a news release or media release).

As the name implies, this facet of public relations is designed to be distributed to members of the press, which today includes new media practitioners such as bloggers and podcasters. There are a few rules to keep in mind with regard to press releases:

  • Is it news? Be honest with yourself. If your release is locally, regionally, or nationally relevant, then send it out to news outlets. The news doesn't have to be earth-shattering; it can be about an upcoming community nonprofit fundraiser as long as people in the community will be interested. If your news is more of a niche, such as your business being recognized by a leader within your industry, target it more toward trade publications, blogs, and podcasters. 
  • When sending releases to publications and television, be sure to direct it to the appropriate reporter - the financial reporter doesn't want your release about the star quarterback. The chances of your story being picked up is much greater if you target it to the appropriate outlet and person. 
  • Along that vein, don't send news releases just to keep your name in front of the media. Believe me, reporters, bloggers and podcasters don't want their inboxes flooded any more than you do, and if you annoy them, they'll send your email directly to SPAM and your faxes right into the circular file. When planning to send, ask yourself, "Who is going to care about this?" If you can't answer that question, hold off on the release.
  • Especially in the case of bloggers and podcasters, do not send a press release in hopes of free advertising. Sometimes print and television media will devote space and airtime if you have a service or product to promote, but bloggers and podcasters have spent years building their audiences, and have gotten to the point where this is their livelihood, and a link to their blog from your website isn't going to pay their bills.
  • If possible, keep your release to one page. You want to craft it as a story - and I mean a story, not a complete article. Make it interesting, and make them want to know more. They may choose to edit and present what you send, so definitely include all of the pertinent information, but try to make them want to contact you for more information.
  • Be sure to include contact information - both phone and email, so the recipient can use his or her preferred method of contact. If you have an urgent release, say regarding an incoming natural disaster, and you have to send it at some random hour, make sure that your work phone and email are forwarded to an account you can access away from your desk. If they can't reach you for further information or clarification, they may broadcast the release as is (or how they interpret it), and that isn't your ideal scenario.
  • Make your title catchy. If your business has a very long name, shorten it so you can write something eye-catching with that real estate.
  • The people you send news releases to do a lot of reading and writing as part of the job. Proofread your releases - and even have someone else look them over - for spelling and/or grammatical errors, comprehensibility, and general quality. If you send releases that are loaded with errors, that tells the recipient that the content doesn't matter much to you, so why should they bother with it, either. A properly written release will also help reporters view you as a trusted resource.
If you don't have a public relations person on your team, you can always hire a firm to write a news release for you. To find out how Brockett Creative Group can help you with this, email or call us at 315-797-5088.