Almost four months into a global pandemic that has thrown much of the world off its proverbial axis, virtually every facet of our lives is still chaotic, in question, and fraying nerves as we look to an uncertain future. The glass-half-full perspective on how Covid-19 has shifted our focus and tested our grit shows that we are, indeed, resilient. But denying the seismic impact on economies – both micro and macro – comes close to reflecting the horrific loss of life and health seen around the world, is impossible. Our survival depends on a strong economic status.
In the United States and elsewhere, a true trickle-down model has met our dire expectations: millions of small businesses have closed permanently, thousands of larger retailers are struggling to keep up with inventory demands, and individual consumers are faced with having to make purchases on a limited income, or with sufficient funds and a lack of venues operating in the midst of a viral epidemic.
No matter where your business is on the survival scale, there are ways to navigate through an unforeseen crisis that is benevolent to online sellers. Overall, analysts estimate that online sales have increased by 50 percent compared to this point in 2019. You’re already poised to take advantage of a gaggle of virtual shoppers, but the same obstacles facing brick-and-mortar retailers and large ecommerce sellers have probably upended your operations, as well. Here are some ways to adapt.
Seasoned ecommerce merchants likely have studied up on the various legal aspects and regulations related to the collection of consumer information, financial and otherwise. There are laws in place, both in the United States Code and in individual state statutes, with rather harsh consequences for violators.
Others of you who are small-time sellers might have given a thought to this issue, but not taken the time or effort to determine whether you are in compliance. That’s a big mistake.
Data protection is shaping up to be one of the most pressing factors of online activity in the 21st Century. Even with the advanced efforts from private entities developing new technologies as quickly as they can, it all goes awry when cracks form and bad actors create new and different reasons for these same virtual guardians to patch a new hole.
Online merchants face complicated, unusual challenges due to the lack of visibility and control over external services administering their websites, including the type and volume of data that is being collected. Even if you believe you have an agreement with a third-party, that doesn’t mean it isn’t farming out some of its duties to a fourth party with no such contractual relationship.
Ask any executive or analyst in a given sector of commerce, and you’ll hear the same answer with respect to fraud. It’s one of the most nefarious and damaging elements poised to put a dent in both revenues, trust, and even security.
With ecommerce merchants, fraud has found a ripe target given its virtual presence requiring online payments and strictly virtual interactions with customers. Fraudulent activity—both attempted and failed, and successful—has skyrocket in the last few years, hitting large ecommerce retailers the hardest, with a $10 million annual revenue loss. Mid-size merchants averaged 249 fraud attempts per month in 2018, and are on track to far exceed that as the platform grows and bad actors proliferate.
What can you do? No matter how grand or minimal your business is, you can track both payment and channel fraud. Fraud detection solutions are available for both no-cost and minimal-cost investments. Entities that specialize in online commerce fraud can assess your unique risks and advise you on how to minimize them.
Sustainability matters to people–particularly to Millennials. A Neilsen poll of over 30,000 people found that 66% of consumers– and 73% of Millennials– are willing to pay more to support companies who commit to sustainable, environmentally-friendly business practices. With Millennials set to overtake Boomers as the largest living generation in 2019, it’s crucial for businesses to pay attention to this growing trend.
In this day and age, it’s more important than ever for online stores to reduce their carbon footprint - not only to use as a selling point, but because it’s the right thing to do for our planet. And let’s face it. From gas-guzzling delivery trucks to layers of wasteful packaging, ecommerce isn’t exactly the most environmentally-friendly business model out there.
Going green may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve been in business for a while. The good news is that the more this trend catches on, the more opportunities there are for online stores to minimize their environmental impact. And this comes with the added bonus of gaining customers’ trust.
So, what are some easy steps your ecommerce business can take to become greener?
Note to ecommerce vendors: It’s never been a more exciting time to sell things.
As new and riveting internet-based platforms emerge to make the process easier, faster, and more fruitful, there’s one that’s been around a long time and is still arguably the backbone of any business.
Email. Email marketing morphs a tool invented for personal conversations into a dynamic, effective platform for pitching products and services to would-be customers who may or may not know of you. Email happens to be the most widely used of all modern communications channels. Estimates say 99 percent of all consumers check theirs on a daily basis.
And perhaps it’s a better choice than other advertising-related vehicles for the simple reason that people read their emails with a different expectation than they have when they browse social media, or even watch television. Advertising that interrupts play time is probably less palatable than direct messaging sent to an account people read knowing they are there to receive messaging.
If you’ve prioritized your marketing and outreach through social media channels, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just consider the new benefits of an old standby that won’t steer you wrong.
Start With a Plan
Forming an email marketing strategy is pretty simple and straightforward, but there are must-do’s and must-not-do’s to keep in mind.
Start with the most obvious, and develop a targeted customer list. Generating leads is easier with the development of tools like Monster Leads, which integrates marketing functions by collecting, sorting, and storing sales leads. A service like this allows you to revisit the email marketing function without having to restructure and search for new targets.
Before you stress over being “that guy” sending a ton of unwanted mail, relax. Even if one-quarter of your messages are opened, that’s a significant reach. Another way to test the waters for oversaturation is to select a sub-group of customers you feel good about, and set them up for more frequent sends, while limiting the rest of the list to occasional messaging.
Once you have a target audience, think creatively by envisioning what you might respond to favorably. Develop eye-catching graphics that are easy to read and understand. Refine your wording to be brief, engaging, and (most importantly) urgent enough to prompt consideration.
Back in the days when search engines were a sparkly new Internet feature, much was made of “vanity searches,” or typing in your name to see how important you really were. Remember the thrill of discovering information in the public domain, which back then was largely positive?
That was then; this is now. For businesses, or anyone with branding needs, searching for information on yourself is a necessity —not only to validate your good reputation, but to patch things up if it’s not so hot.
Google, the granddaddy of All Things Internet, offers its own tracking function through “Google Alerts,” a feature many use on a daily basis. It’s free, and it’s simple. It can detect mentions of you and your brand merely by entering your business name. And while it’s a decent tool, it may not be sufficient. If you’re serious about monitoring your reputation, brand awareness, or anything related to your operation, consider these alternatives that come highly recommended:
A message to ecommerce merchants: your diligent efforts to run a thriving business and gain satisfied customers may pay off in a way you’d never imagined, by just putting one strategy to use.
By now, collecting and publishing customer reviews is a household concept. Studies show that consumers making a first-time purchase decision often divert their eyes automatically to the review score, even if they do it subconsciously. This might not be a fair measure of a product or service, but get used to it. It’s here to stay.
But there’s something you haven’t considered, and it is a big deal. Customer reviews posted on your site will improve your SEO (search engine optimization) rankings. Algorithms in Google alone show how advantageous that can be.
When customers offer detailed reviews of a product, they may include a specific word string of the function or features of their purchase. Example: “I was searching for a good wireless mouse that would pair with my keyboard for smooth operation” just happens to be a keyword string that registers. The phrase “good wireless mouse” reflects a common search phrase that potential buyers enter into a search engine. Boom. You’re there.
Want some motivation to give this a try? Here are stats collected by Brightlocal.com:
How to hook buyers with a high-converting websitE
Far from the days when advertising was limited to an alphabetical listing in the Yellow Pages, or a pricey newspaper display ad, the modern era of internet-based commerce opens up untold opportunities to harness technologies and reach customers without emptying the bank account. Strategic coding formulations now digitally link sellers to buyers who may be poking around cyberspace to find just the right purchase.
But with a sea of competition, bringing your business to the attention of consumers whom you know you can satisfy is not enough. You need engagement. That requires turning a look into a sale. It’s called a conversion.
When you convert searches and page views into a proactive behavior, you begin the process of earning a customer. The critical part is learning how to use your web page to convert as many customers as possible. And here’s how to do that.
Hot tips for maximizing your sales and profits
A unique trait to e-commerce is certainly the need to embrace and adapt to changing technologies. Gone are the days when simple marketing and advertising efforts, or public interface at local events, can improve visibility and sales. We’re in a New Frontier, and it’s mind-numbing.
Learning to increase the odds that your online site is viewed by more potential customers is not a one-step process. There are multiple moving parts, and each can be critical in a different way. But adopting basics is a great start, and expanding into creative territories that intrigue you, or are pertinent to your product niche, will steer you in the proper direction.
By now you are intimately familiar with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. It’s the honey driving bees to your store. It’s the strategy to zero in on consumer specifics, helping them locate what they need in a short amount of time. And while it’s not super simple, it’s not above your learning curve.
In what analysts and experts call “SEO growth hacking,” there are several ways to organize content and text on your site to gain new visitors. Improving your search rankings and increasing conversation rates are objectives for everyone, but the successful will follow best-practice guidelines. By way of example, a well-optimized site will generate conversion rates up to 15 times greater than conventional direct mailing. Be all in.
Do your customers trust you? Do they feel comfortable purchasing from your site?
In the world of eCommerce, a trustworthy website is everything, and the gateway to this type of trust is excellent digital security.
In the wake of recent data breech scandals such as Facebook's Cambridge Analytica debacle and Marriott's passport hack, customers are protective of their data more than ever before. Here are some steps to implement into your own data security strategy in order to earn and keep your customers' trust.
Secure Your Site
For an ECommerce business, a secure website is the equivalent of a safe brick and mortar store. Customers demand safety for their data. Here's how you can ensure your customers' safety on your site:
· Implement SSL security throughout your site.
· Comply with PCI standards.
· Require two-factor authentication for the purchasing process.
· Ask customers to create strong passwords.
Those four steps alone can increase your site's security by more than 50 percent.
Obtaining a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate for your website is a straightforward yet crucial step. SSL grants your customers encrypted access to your site, ensuring that your site is trustworthy and not easy to hack.
To obtain your SSL certificate, you just have to fill out a simple form about your business and website. Once your certificate is authenticated, it will display on your site. Your URL will become an "https:" address, and a green padlock icon will appear next to the address to mark your authentication.
Not only is an SSL certificate the most reputable level of digital security, but it also makes you compliant with PCI DSS standards. this puts you on-par with financial transaction sites like PayPal.
A recent survey shows that people who do business online have an overwhelming tendency to use simple passwords. ECommerce shoppers are no exception. A simple password like "123" or "qwerty1" is effortless fodder for hackers.
Encourage your customers to choose passcodes that feature numbers, symbols, and letters. Do this by installing password parameters into your signup process, or simply display it as a reminder on your sign-in page.
Demanding strong passwords isn't always enough to keep your customers' data safe. Unless strict guidelines are put in place, customers create easy passwords for their own convenience.
Add an extra layer of protection to each account by implementing two-factor authentication. This will force your customer to supply a subset of data aside from their password. This extra layer of verification might be a security question, a code verification via text, or even a fingerprint ID. Initially, your visitors might find a two-factor authentication process to be excessive, but they'll get used to it. They'll be grateful that your business cares about their security.
Balance Automation With The Human Touch
How much of your customer experience is automated?
It's great to lower costs and favor a smooth process by offering customer service in the form of chat bots and self-checkout functions. However, research shows that customers like a balance of automation and human contact. Also, more automation means a greater risk for security loopholes.
Offer your customers a balanced approach. Automate your checkout and payment process, but let actual humans resolve customer issues. If you would rather not hire in-house customer service staff, you can always employ a small remote team to keep overhead at a minimum.
Don't Hoard Customer Data
As an eCommerce business, you have access to a lot of details about each customer. It's up to you whether to collect and archive this data, or to get rid of it until next time.
Though it's your prerogative how much info you have on file for your customers, don't get greedy with the data. Collect only what you need to complete the transaction, and
consider storing as little of that data as possible.
Every piece of data you store expands your risk and responsibility in the event of a security breach. If possible, opt against storing credit card or other payment info. You can bypass a lot of the responsibility by offering secure checkout via PayPal or a similar transaction site.
If you do have to store sensitive info, don't leave it archived on your server. Data stored online is the easiest for hackers to obtain. Archive your data offline instead. You can even choose paper archives over digital storage. But in that case, make sure to follow all appropriate confidentiality and data storage guidelines.
Whether your business is just a small eCommerce operation or a large corporate organization, a nightmarish data breach is more than a remote possibility. As long as you keep your customers' information safe by implementing the above tips, you will minimize the amount of damage a breach can create for your company.