Put away your airline mileage card and skip the scheduling resets to be out of the office, because one of the big events attracting retailers every year is set to unfold over a computer screen. After a full year of scaled down sales, drastically altered strategies, and personal sacrifices, the National Retail Federation’s Retail Converge 2021 conference is still on, scheduled for June 21-25. The best part? You won’t need to leave home (or work) to attend.
The NRF bills itself as the “Voice of Retail.” Its annual Converge event offers networking, team building, trend information, and a host of useful ideas for making a new or existing retail business successful. Like most industry-based annual shindigs, it features a litany of great speakers from varying walks of life.
The best industry soirees take place in summer, so count on Converge to kickstart a busy sales season while focusing on tweaked strategies that adapt to the current state of consumerism. It’s increasingly happening online. With educational sessions, sponsor-led sessions, lunch-and-learn sessions, product demos, and interactive roundtables, few stones are left unturned.
Note that NRF’s 2021 marquee event is over, having attracted an impressive crowd. “Forward Together” provided inspirational material and guest speakers to whet the palate of all sellers. But they aren’t done, and the Converge event is a great way to discover how others in the retail biz are coping with this uncertain, chaotic time in history.
Get a feel for the timing and nature of each individual event on this page. It offers an easy-to-read schedule that will allow you to zero in on whatever intrigues you.
Are you feeling more connected to merchants operating in brick-and-mortar locations? You should. It seems as if each year that passes, the chasm between ecommerce and commerce-commerce shrinks. This is a telling moment in time, and a perfect opportunity for the two disparate entities find common ground.
The Converge conference is self-explanatory, as it draws a variety of merchants together to address issues related to commerce in general, including asset protection, supply chain, data privacy, marketing, corporate strategy, and leadership. It also incorporates ecommerce, digital, and mobile, to reflect the merging platforms on which merchants sell.
Tune in for motivational deliveries from Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser in the Obama administration, and Elizabeth Spaulding, president of Stitch Fix. Save time for the Speaker Spotlight address by the inimitable Diane von Furstenberg, an icon who has had to adapt to shifts in trends and regulatory influences over the decades. Other notable industry influencers are also slated to offer their expertise.
The Retail Converge conference may ignite a spark to cure the blues many are enduring after a year of uncertainty. Fees range from $395 for $595 for individuals, dependent on date of registration, and $250-$350 per person for retail team members (also contingent on timing). Register to participate here, and come prepared to experience invigoration.
The National Retail Federation’s mission statement includes the following language: “The (NRF) has represented retail for over a century. Every day, we passionately stand up for the people, policies and ideas that help retail thrive.”
Is a sustainable ecommerce business for you?
One week after Earth Day, much of its symbolism may be lost among the general public. But increasingly, consumers are listening to the growing wave of concern with respect to sustainability, climate control, and all red flags pointing to a devastating forecast for the planet’s well-being.
Whether or not you are personally committed to the cause, incorporating its elements into your business is not an unwise move. Following an unusual drop in interest in environmental conditions, Americans have expressed a sharp increase in concern for the planet’s health over the last decade. Many direct that concern beyond their personal habits and straight into purchasing decisions. This also holds for many European countries.
Meet their challenge in your ecommerce business by evaluating your operations from the ground up. Visible efforts range from sustainable packaging and shipping materials. Often resellers hone in on actual products that represent a respect for the environment. Beyond that, proactive messaging can express an honest concern even if an immediate switch to sustainability may be a fiscal nightmare in the short term.
The gradual move to online shopping, which accelerated in the pandemic year of 2020, made cardboard boxes a household staple. To many, that opened eyes and raised concerns.
Real life stories
High-profile shoe retailer TOMS went all in with a comprehensive focus on environmental advocacy reflected in its packaging (made of mostly recycled waste material and printed using soy ink). TOMS shoe products incorporate sustainable materials including natural hemp, organic cotton, and recycled polyester as an alternative. Other fashion and home-related sellers followed suit, realizing not only the PR benefits, but the ability to recruit excellent employees, and to minimize expenditures on graphic design that typically target high-end art with a range of vibrant colors. As it turns out, the fave shades of the day are brown and green.
Followed by a litany of fellow merchants, the TOMS approach demonstrates the power sellers still hold in making marketing decisions. Consumers who are on the fence about spending a bit more than planned may be convinced if a business has an honest and enduring commitment to sustainability. On the flip side, those not necessarily passionate about conservation are also not offended by green-friendly packaging. It’s a win on both counts.
So where do you start? First, you are the best judge of how much you can afford to devote to running an eco-friendly ecommerce business. Newcomers or low-margin stores may not realistically sustain sustainability, but words count. Formulate a message and make it clear in your marketing, on your page, and in personal messages to customers.
Adopting environmental-friendly business operations is a goal within reach to merchants with a solid customer base and decent revenue stream. If so moved, consider the following to begin putting your passion into practice:
It’s no secret that consumerism mirrors culture, and vice-versa. Proudly focusing on an honest desire to contribute toward a healthy planet will be more than just personally fulfilling. It will be a show of integrity that will at very least impress potential customers, and at most will earn a loyal base.
Working out the kinks in a new online store, or fine-tuning an existing one, requires a commitment of time, energy, and knowledge. Your business is your baby, but it’s also likely to be your bread and butter. Among the myriad factors to focus on is Average Order Value, or AOV. Getting up to speed with familiarity of that term and its indicators may make a difference between a boom or a bust.
Average Order Value is a metric that measures an average total of each order placed with a merchant over a set period of time. With this gauge in hand, you can map out strategies from web store layout, pricing, and how much to devote to advertising. As a rookie, you have the advantage of beginning that measuring system early. But as you proceed through a host of sales, it becomes even more important.
Of course, every sale is a good sale. But to maximize profitability, it’s essential to make the most of each shopper’s experience. Determining who buys what, when, and how the buyer may be operating when making purchasing decisions, you are instantly ahead of the game.
Find your AOV
Here’s how to calculate your Average Order Value: Divide the number of orders by the total revenues. Sound easy? It is. AOV reflects sales per order, not sales per customer. Returning customers do count, but surprisingly, not as much as it may seem.
Don’t think in terms of gross profit or profit margins. Those are strict business indicators resulting from sales, and not a marker used in increasing sales. To understand this better, think of a home goods e-seller offering three lamps priced at $24, $39, and $88, with an average AOV of $37. This figure presents two storefront trends: first, customers are not buying multiple items; and second, their sales are most often represented by the lowest-price item.
Now you’re armed with overall stats that can drive your marketing and advertising decisions and your product selection. Attracting high-volume buyers is a lofty goal, but keeping it simple and tied to proximate reality allows you to use real-time data to not reinvent the wheel.
The economies of scale prove that mid-sized and large ecommerce stores realize a much higher profitability level with sales at just a few cents per unit. Smaller entities must show a greater volume to make a difference.
Sell up and Upsell
The old-fashioned concept of romancing clients works well here. Convince customers that they should consider expanding their purchase habits by trying similar or new products. Use app features to “recommend” other products as they are both viewing and purchasing their targeted choices. Employ friendly and persuasive text, short in nature, to persuade them. Don’t be afraid to use their previous buys to suggest new purchases.
If you’ve spent time as a shopper on Amazon, you’ll understand how effective this can be. That mega-platform has a robust, built-in mechanism for displaying high volumes of similar products, even including purchases others have made after they either bought or glanced at similar items.
The more you personalize the customer experience without having to manually reach out, the faster your profitability will grow. Approached carefully, you will earn the loyalty and trust of longtime customers who get that you get them. And that goes a long way in the chaotic world of online selling. For more excellent advice, see Shopify’s tutorial.
Even rookie ecommerce merchants are keenly aware of the concept of seasonal sales. Constant reminders urge readying for the Christmas holiday, with mentions popping up earlier and earlier each year. But successful retailers and wholesalers understand that there are four seasons to every year, and a customer base that has its eye on each one.
Inventory and acquisition strategies are set in stone for big box and prolific sellers. Smaller entities operating solely online enjoy more flexibility in adjusting their plans for accommodating demands. Whether you’re a drop-shipper, a base retailer, or a customizing artist, you should develop a solid annual plan for supplying customers with products to fit the season.
Seasons are relative to a particular industry, for the most part. If your product line is limited to ski supplies or apparel, for example, you know that off-season sales are important, but incorporating warm-weather goods is probably not a priority. That said, there are ways to harness the power of customer demands based on a close following; to offer products tailored to their beloved activity.
E-commerce hits on a dynamic set of options when considered a global entity. US-based sellers enjoy a large market due to its simple population figures, but what happens when you want to expand your horizons and sales, and ship internationally?
There are factors at play, and each should be explored. Besides shipping costs and difficulties in communications at times, a major element relates to trade customs and duties. Thankfully, there is a universal code assignment system to ease the pain of having to formulate your own procedure.
Classifying products goes to the heart of custom and duty requirements, or taxes paid to governments in the course of trade. Tracking the type of goods being imported and exported is a primary function of all governments, and not every category is equal. If you endeavor to spread your sales territory across borders, get up to speed on the concept of clarifying the type of sale you’re making, and stay within the compliance expectations of various purchasers to maintain good relations. Even though the importer (seller) is technically responsible for paying customs and duty fees, purposely mischaracterizing the goods category can land you and/or your buyer in hot water. At best, it may cost your buyer more in customs and duty fees.
Minimizing the carbon footprint is not just a concept for automakers and energy producers. For average individuals, it’s also not limited to conserving water, recycling, and buying energy-efficient light fixtures. Going green is a trending strategy among merchants, influencers, and anyone who spends a significant amount of time and energy creating online content.
Today’s consumers are savvy about eco-friendliness, and often they will expect it from those with whom they do business. That includes ecommerce entities, and the ways you can make that happen may surprise you.
Just as coal-based fuels, water, and quality soils are not infinite, the availability of digital resources are limited; they take a toll on bandwidth, compromise delivery speed, and overall are a commodity to conserve. If your customers—especially the younger set—reflect a general trend, they will be most comfortable patronizing green-centric companies. They want to know that your desire to fill their needs may also translate to saving their future.
How do you make that happen? There are a number of ways.
Using video content to sell goods on social media.
The ever-expanding reach of Facebook as a town square for social interactions brings with it a prime opportunity to capture consumers, building a formidable customer base. Ecommerce merchants are learning more about its utility as they go along, both through personal dalliances in the social media realm and the due diligence required to stay afloat as an online seller.
Whether or not you are enamored of video ads on Facebook and other platforms, be aware that others are. It’s a fast-growing strategy for branding, which turns into carving out a niche clientele and – well – selling to them. It’s that simple. It’s the Ecommerce 101 concept of conversions, or turning lookie-loos into staunch customers.
What isn’t quite as cut and dried is the creative elements of this growing technology. Those who lag behind in internet usage will naturally need some hand-holding to strike out with the latest in ad and marketing efforts. Luckily there is no shortage of help to be had, expedited by a quick Google search.
But the nuts and bolts of video presentation as a medium for advertising are not altogether different from using simple photography. You need your content to be fresh, compelling, and relevant to the type of audience likely to warm up to your inventory.
Without a doubt, it’s a visual world. Sight is arguably the most profound sensory marker human beings enjoy, and much of our everyday activity revolves around visualization.
Double that for consumer choice. Making purchases online practically mandates a photo, even when the product is something generic and technological, and aesthetics are irrelevant. We all want to see what we’re getting.
Expand that to the psychology of consumerism. The best way to sell is to understand that for many people, you’re selling more than just a product. When the customer engages in a desire to acquire what you’re selling, they are shaping a narrative to work that product into their lives. They are personalizing the experience.
That’s where quality photography sneaks in. When possible, avoiding using only a manufacturer’s illustration as you provide visual illustrations. Obviously, high-volume resellers may have no choice, and that is perfectly fine. But if you’re building a niche business and your products are specialized, presenting an enticing visual image will connect buyers with them as part of the natural adherence to sensory perception.
Let’s face it, the idea of starting an ecommerce business is to sell, not to take back. But achieving ultimate customer satisfaction demands a fair and equitable way to appease clients if their purchase doesn’t fit their expectations, or worse, if it’s defective.
It’s not enough to have an informal, barely mentioned caveat referring to returns. Customers want to know upfront how you will respond to their decision to return what you’ve sold them. If you don’t have a clear, articulate, and accessible return policy available for them to read prior to purchase, you’re asking for trouble.
Keep in mind that whatever is a reasonable way for your business to handle returns, it’s essential to conduct research using figures and anecdotes from other vendors before writing up a policy.
It may sound like a sad reality; a necessary evil. But think of this: Your clear, fair return policy may actually keep a customer base and, better yet, drive sales.
Unfortunately, the escalating cost of shipping with all carriers is a critical factor. If you can’t afford to return items that are structurally sound but just not what the customer likes, you will have to spell that out in plain language. It could deter some business, but as long as the buyer understands at the outset that the purchase is permanent, you’re off the hook.
Uncle Sam puts the fear of God into just about everyone who receives income or revenues. When the Tax Man cometh, it’s not to be taken lightly.
Businesses are wise to prepare before launching when it comes to how to treat taxes on federal, state, and local levels. As you’re starting or upgrading an ecommerce venture, the pressure to focus on marketing and aesthetics is intense. But do yourself a favor and make sure your financial ducks are in a row.
If you can’t yet hire a professional accountant, pay attention to these basics of doing business. You will be liable for taxes on profits you make at the end of each business year. Typically, the formula for determining taxable revenues is this:
The government will collect taxes on your profits only, so make sure they are calculated accurately. Depending on the corporate structure you have chosen, you will experience asset protection and a separation of personal and business assets and liabilities. This is where an accountant becomes essential. You may be shortchanging yourself by overpaying taxes, and the IRS will not graciously correct your errors if it doesn’t benefit them.