Category: E-commerce

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We get it.  We’ve been there.  Starting a new business can be as daunting as it is exciting.  If you’re a typical entrepreneur, cash flow is at the top of your worry pyramid.  In fact, it goes without saying that when you run out of cash, you run out of business.  As a means of preserving cash, you may do what many of us do, and trade your valuable time (“soft cost”) for the costs of actually investing into tools and much needed technology (“hard cost”). After all, entrepreneurs are experts in multi-tasking and working 29 hour days. If it means saving cash we can flawlessly execute on whatever needs to get done, right?

As an example, many Shopify entrepreneurs are found caught sacrificing their time when it comes to getting e-commerce sales entered into their QuickBooks Online company.  Instead of establishing integration between these 2 key business systems, the viewpoint is typically that their business is either too small or there are just not enough sales to justify automation.  However, when you consider that you could integrate Shopify with QuickBooks Online for as little as $19 a month, the manual route could in fact prove to be the far more costly option, in more ways than one.

The remainder of this article outlines 5 key pitfalls to pay attention to when your Shopify store is not integrated with QuickBooks Online.  If you’re experiencing any of these issues, you may want to consider establishing automated integration sooner than later.

1. Time Spent on Manual Entry is Time Not Spent on Growth

When your systems are not integrated, someone, someway, somehow, has to retype your Shopify sales into QuickBooks Online.  This is a tedious, recurring task that can be as time consuming as it is a distraction from focusing on more important things, such as improving your e-commerce store’s conversions and sales.  If you are thinking that you will just have someone manually enter sales into QuickBooks Online, think about the actual cost (hard or soft) of this decision, and how that compares to just $19 a month for a fully automated solution.  

Regardless of who manually enters your sales into QuickBooks Online, statistics show that mistakes are inevitable.  Errors caused by manual data entry include transpositions and omissions, which can be costly, particularly when such errors go unnoticed for a period of time. In fact, research firm Gartner reports the average cost of poor data quality on businesses is between $9.7 million and $14.2 million.

One of the biggest concerns you might face when entering sales manually is the potential for mistakes in tax filings, and missing important tax filing deadlines. Automating the flow of accurate and timely information about sales helps to reduce tax risks and the potential for compliance penalties.

The bottom line here is that regardless of what stage your Shopify venture is, manual entry becomes a costly distraction. Having to clean up data entry mistakes, address tax filing issues, and unnecessarily draining working capital will likely slow your business’ growth.

2. Disappointing Customers with Out of Stock Items

Nothing will let the air out of your e-commerce balloon faster than having to call back customers and break the bad news that you cannot ship the item(s) they fell in love with because said items are actually out of stock.

How does this happen you ask?  Simple.  It’s another side effect of not integrating Shopify with QuickBooks Online.  When your e-commerce sales are not integrated with your backend system, there is a time lag that causes your systems to be out of sync until such time as the sales are manually entered into QuickBooks Online.  If you are already integrated but your sales are only synchronizing with QuickBooks Online once per hour or once per day, you still run the risk of overselling inventory, as integration needs to occur as instant as possible.  This problem is even more exasperated when you have multiple stores connected to a single inventory source (e.g. omni-channel).  The easiest way to think about this problem is the wider the gap between the time of a sale and the time it takes for inventory data to update, multiplied by the velocity of sales, the bigger the risk of overselling becomes.

3. Orders Ship to Customers Late or Incorrect

Once those customer orders start rolling in, you have to move promptly to deliver on time.  Customers expect (and I mean expect) top shelf service.  Any delay or mistake that flips the last mile fulfillment process sideways, can drive your customers right into the hands of your competitors.  Two of the most common logistical problems that can occur are a) shipping late to customers, and b) shipping the wrong items.

A decent integration tool with operational oversight can empower you with the basics of ensuring your shipments go out on time, inclusive of being able to establish internal Service Levels (SLAs) that bring your attention to any risks of late shipments.  Real-time integration between Shopify and QuickBooks Online brings additional value to your business process by sending your orders through the fulfillment cycle as rapidly as possible, empowering you to fulfill customer orders accurately and quickly, and strengthening your store’s brand in a competitive marketplace when you consistently deliver what customers expect, as they expect it.

4. Lack of Visibility to Your Key Business Metrics

In a marketplace where competition is fierce, having accurate data at your finger tips is essential for making intelligent, timely business decisions.  When using both Shopify and QuickBooks Online, the best way of gaining visibility into these key sales and financial metrics is by leveraging the most real-time integration possible.  Synchronization with QuickBooks Online that is delayed even by just an hour, can lead to gaps that cause incorrect analysis, and impacts your ability to make proper decisions for your business.

You and your accountant must have an accurate view of sales, inventory, cashflow and other key performance indicators that bring clarity to the most efficient and intelligent investments into your Shopify store’s success.  Efficiently managing working capital and inventory replenishment can only occur when your finger is instantly and always on the pulse of your business’ heartbeat.

5. Loss of Your Competitive Edge

Think about it this way.  If you drive a Toyota Corolla, would you think you can win a race against a Ferrari (with all due respect to the Toyota)?  It’s virtually impossible to keep up with your competitors when you’re not leveraging an automated integration solution for your e-commerce store, particularly when they are.  Your competitors will have the advantage, and a stronger handle on managing cost effective inventory that increases their profits, ensuring that items are in stock and delivered to customers on time, and maintaining a high degree of customer satisfaction.  It will be very difficult to outflank them, and they will win the race each and every time.

Conclusion

It’s exciting to have an opportunity to start and grow a Shopify store!  As you maintain good stewardship of your working capital, make sure to avoid these critical issues that can impede your plans for growth and success.  Whether you’re just getting started, or you’re well on your way, automating integration between Shopify and QuickBooks Online can prove to be one of the best investments you make. For a relatively low operating cost, it will free up your resources (including your time), help you gain competitive advantage and drive your business to success.

decide-between-dropship-and-inventory-model

E-commerce has rapidly emerged as the dominant way we do business, both as consumers and entrepreneurs. And with e-commerce growth continuing to soar, smaller businesses are required to determine their best path to success in a highly competitive marketplace.  Fortunately, with growth comes innovation, and there are multiple options available for entrepreneurs to help them get started running their online business in a way that’s right for them. 

This article is going to focus on one very important aspect of your e-commerce journey as an entrepreneur.  How to manage the products you are selling to your customers.  After deciding what you will offer your customers on your way to world domination (which is often one of your toughest decisions in getting started), you need to figure out how to get access to said products, and ensure they can be shipped to your customers as expected.

The two common options you have at your disposal are the Inventory Model (also known as stocking), and the Dropshipping Model.  Let’s take a look at the key pros and cons of each model, to help you make the best decision for you and your e-commerce store.

Inventory Model

If you decide on the Inventory Model, it’s very name suggests that you will be responsible for managing inventory (which is correct).  You take sole responsibility to source your products, receive them, stock them, ship them, wash, rinse and repeat.  

Here are the Pros:

1. You’re in the Driver’s Seat

One of the biggest factors when deciding to use the Inventory Model and stock your own products, is how much control you need or want over your business operations and brand identity.  By leveraging the Inventory Model, you are in the driver’s seat. It’s your own team that handles everything from knowing when to replenish new inventory, to receiving said inventory into your own warehouse, picking, packing and shipping.  Because you control your team, you have ultimate control to ensure everything is done right (or wrong), and ensure that products are shipped to your customers on time.

If distinguishing your brand in the marketplace is also important to you, sourcing and stocking your own inventory (and possibly manufacturing your own product) will likely be the best (and potentially only) option for you.


2. Positive Customer Experience

Because you’re in control of your operations with the Inventory Model, you have direct control over your customers’ experience.  This is not just about managing a team of pleasant speaking customer support reps.  It’s about guaranteeing success of what is referred to as the “last mile”, the phase of your customers’ journey from the time they place the order until what they’ve ordered has been delivered.  After investing all you have into maximizing conversions and sales from your website, having control over logistics with the Inventory Model allows you to ensure products ordered are both in stock, and delivered to your customers on time.`


3. Greater Profit Margins

When you stock your own inventory, you are able to take advantage of bulk discounts by buying larger quantities from your suppliers.  As you hand select the items you are selling, or manufacture your own designs, you distinguish yourself competitively and are not competing as much on price, thus allowing you to potentially set your own price.  Higher price with bulk discounts leads to greater margins.


And now the Cons:

1. The Need for Space

When you opt to stock your own inventory, you will obviously need a place to store these items.  No, your front lawn will not suffice for many reasons, although in some cases where you have just a couple of SKUs (aka items) and they are small, entrepreneurs have been known to start by warehousing in their garage or basement.  That said, neither option is scalable as your e-commerce store grows, and you will eventually need to plan for warehouse costs, as well as certain equipment and people to work in the warehouse.


2. More Working Capital Needed

To get inventory, you have to pay for inventory, typically before you have sales against that inventory (and the space along with those people previously mentioned).  This requires, you guessed it, money.  As a new e-commerce business, you may not have said working capital at your disposal.  And from a business standpoint, even if you do have the cash, you will want to ask yourself where this investment can serve your business better.  Should you tie it up in inventory, or invest into growing more sales.

3. Distraction from Growth

To manage your inventory is a considerable amount of work.  You have to monitor inventory levels, ensure you do not run out of stock (which includes forecasting and planning), order new inventory in time to ship and keep customers happy, as well as outbound warehouse operations such as picking, packing and shipping.  While this is certainly achievable, you need to ask yourself when (and if) is the best time to embark upon this initiative.  Remember, there is only one of you and your time is precious.  Every minute not focused on the growth of your e-commerce store could be considered a minute wasted.

After reviewing the above, if you are concerned about making investments into the Inventory Model but you still have aspirations of being a successful e-commerce-preneur, there is another options referred to as Dropshipping.

Dropshipping Model

Dropshipping is a great option for newbie e-commerce-preneurs, and for many has proven to be a good long-term solution. Here’s how it works: Business owners list products for sale on their site that are sourced from a third party dropship partner (basically someone who sources and stocks inventory so you don’t have to worry about this).  Inventory is held by the third party in their warehouse, and then the third-party ships directly to customers on your behalf when orders are placed on your e-commerce store.  Keep in mind though that inventory held is not exclusive to you.  It is shared between you and any other e-commerce venture who is interested, on a first come first served basis. 

If you’re new to dropshipping and not sure where to begin, not to worry.  A quick online search will find plenty of guides to help you become familiar with how to begin, including this blog from Shopify titled How to Start a Dropshipping Business: A Complete Playbook for 2021

Seems simple enough, right?  And in many ways it is.  

So let’s take a look at the Pros:

1. Easy to Manage

Because someone else is bearing the burden of the entire warehousing process (e.g. facility, people, inventory, and related costs), you don’t have to worry about any of this.  You need to manage your partner(s) to make sure they are performing as expected, but by and large you are empowered to focus most of your time on the growth of your e-commerce store.  Invest into an affordable tool that gives you clear visibility and alerts to know that your dropship partner is shipping on time or if there are issues.

2. Minimal Risks Allow You to Test and Try New Items

Leave the heavy lifting (no pun intended) to the warehousing experts.  In theory, if you have done your job to properly vet out the right dropship partner for you and your e-commerce store, you will be “plugging into” a well-oiled logistics process.  Another benefit here is that you do not need to invest into inventory itself.  Unlike the Inventory Model, with Dropshipping you invest less, and often are not obligated to pay for inventory until it sells.  This opens up a great opportunity for new e-commerce store owners to be open minded to test and try selling different products and learning what interests your target customers best.

3.   Operate from Anywhere

Want to run your business from the beaches of St. Lucia?  Well with Dropshipping you can (as long as they have internet).  You are not tied down to a physical structure, as your drop shipping partner is bearing this burden.  Just take your laptop with you anywhere you need to be, and you can work without pause, from anywhere around the globe (and convince people the mojito is necessary to help with marketing creativity).

And the Cons are…

1. Lack of Quality Control

When dealing with dropshipping, because the ownership of operations lies with your dropship partner, you have little to no control.  If you’re not on top of things (and sometimes even if you are), you may experience issues such as disappointing your customers due to no inventory available of an item they purchased, a breakdown in your dropship partner’s logistics cycle that causes shipments to be late to customers, or mistakes leading to incorrect items being shipped.  It’s important to be prepared with great customer service, apologize for the issues, and rectify them promptly (that is if you want customers coming back for reorders).

2. A Lot of Competition

Because it’s easy to get started with dropshipping, and the e-commerce industry continues growing at a rapid rate, you face increased competition from fellow entrepreneurs.  With more of your peers selling from the same pool of available inventory, it’s more challenging to distinguish yourself from the pack when compared to selling your own brand.

3. Lower Profit Margin

In the world of dropshipping, products cost you more, period.  Your dropship partner bakes in additional costs per item to cover their operational overhead (e.g. warehouse, people, process).  Combining this with potentially lower selling prices in order to compete, Dropshipping typically leads to less profits in exchange for the convenience of having another party run this aspect of the business for you.

Thank you for the info, but now what?

Ok so now that we have laid down the key pros and cons of each model, and likely made the decision process more confusing, let’s break it down with a few tips to help you think this evaluation through and come up with the best option for you.

Do you have enough capital to invest and where should it be deployed?  As previously mentioned, to embark upon the Inventory Model requires a fair amount of capital.  If you have it, great!  But also make sure to ask yourself whether that capital is best invested into controlling your own inventory, or investing into growing your topline sales (e.g. marketing, optimization, etc).

Are you prepared to invest the time necessary into running the Inventory Model?  Think about it this way.  You only have so many hours per day (yes of course as entrepreneurs we know how to extend our days to 47 hours per day), and you need to decide where best to allocate your time for the best interest of your e-commerce business.  Adding responsibility of owning the warehousing process is a sizable commitment.  Is now the right time to take this on, or is it best to defer until your e-commerce store is stabilized or grown to a certain degree of success?

How important is control of your brand identity and business?  When relying on your dropship partner for warehousing and related services, you put your destiny in their hands.  Your customers’ ultimate happiness to properly receive what they order on time is out of your control.  You can better control your overall brand identity in a positive way when you own this process.  When delivering accurately to customers on time, as well as brand product distinction are a critical core value, you may want to opt for the Inventory Model.

Regardless of which model you choose, these are clearly exciting times for e-commerce opportunities.  There is no one-size fits all solution either.  You will review your plans, your available capital, your core values, and your goals, and considering the pros and cons outlined in this article, you are well on your way.

Learn More about how weintegrate helps provide fulfillment oversight and automated integration between Shopify and QuickBooks Online.

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winning-ecommerce-success

Whether you’re a brick and mortar retail veteran, or an aspiring entrepreneur looking to make your mark, it’s hard to ignore e-commerce as a sales channel for capitalizing on new market opportunities.  According to a Statista study, “revenue from e-commerce in the United States amounted to 431.6 billion U.S dollars in 2020,” and “estimates that by 2025, revenue will increase to 563.4 billion dollars,” representing a 31% growth trajectory. 

Very exciting indeed, but if the world of online selling interests you, how do you get started?  What should you do first?  This article guides you to reviewing 4 of the most important steps in driving to a successful e-commerce business.

1. Choose the Right Product

It all starts with answering the question “what are you going to sell?”  It sounds simple enough, but figuring out what you are going to sell, and whom you are going to sell to, can very well be the hardest part of getting your e-commerce business off the ground.  Entrepreneurs often focus on their passion, and it certainly is important to be excited and believe in what you sell online.  That said, make sure to validate the market for your potential products before investing your time and money, otherwise you might be disappointed in the results.  Common ways of validating include surveys, competitive reviews, and social research.  

You will also want to determine the best means of obtaining, stocking, and fulfilling your products.  What business model will you use?  Will you distribute products from another brand, or manufacture your own?  Will you stock inventory or dropship direct to your customers?  How many options and variants will you offer?  The recommendation on the latter is to keep options minimal as you get started.  This helps keep your costs down and simplifies the decision making process for your customers, which in turn reduces friction en route to a sale.

Additional articles to help guide you into making the correct product decisions for your business include:

12 Trending Products to Sell in 2021(and Ideas for How to Market Them)

Find a Product to Sell: 12 Strategies for Finding Your First Profitable Product

From Dropshipping to DTC, Here are the Most Popular Business Models for Ecommerce


2. Locate Your Customers and Determine How Best to Market to Them

Now that you know what you want to sell and have validated the opportunity, it’s time to think about how you will market your products to your new customers.  It’s often good to start by defining a customer persona which helps you understand who your customers are, including age, sex, occupation, interests, demographics, and why they would buy from you.  Gather meaningful information to define your target audience, and then hone in on where your target audience hangs out, along with how best to reach them.

Once you find them, manage communication with your prospects by first segmenting them into 3 main stages of engagement: Top-of-the-funnel (ToFu), Middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu), and Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu).  ToFu is where prospects express interest, however they are not ready to engage you and your product just yet.  MoFu are those prospects that have engaged you, but are not yet ready to purchase.  BoFu is where prospects are ready to take the plunge, and place their first order with you.  Understanding which stage your prospects are in is critical to ensuring that you communicate with them properly and lead them from ToFu through BoFu.

The following resources can help you target your customers and increase revenue:

How to Define Your Target Market

What’s the Right Content for Each Stage of the Marketing Funnel?

4 Ways to Find Your First 50 eCommerce Customers


3. Remove Friction from the Checkout Process

You’ve been successful driving traffic to your e-commerce store, and BoFu prospects are ready to become customers.  With typical shopping cart abandonment rates between 60% and 80%, you will want to now focus your attention on eliminating as much friction as possible, so your hopefully soon-to-be-customers have a clear and easy path to checking out and placing their orders.

To keep fiction minimal, it is recommend you focus on:

Increasing site speed – statistics show that pages that take longer than 3 seconds will likely lead to abandonment.   Learn more about improving your e-commerce site performance and speed.

Optimize your store for mobile – With 31% of e-commerce sales occurring via mobile devices, ensure your store is optimized accordingly.  3 out of 4 online shoppers indicate they start their online purchase via a mobile device, as it saves time.

Make product selection easy – ensure products are well organized and easy to find.  Offering too many options may cause confusion and make the buying decision more complicated, ultimately leading to abandonment.

Offer payment options that align with customer preference – consumers have clear preferences on payment methods.  Limiting how customers can pay could become an obstacle for converting sales.  

Enable Guest Checkout – allowing guest checkout will lessen friction and lead to more conversions, however you will not have captured key customer information which could limit your post-sales marketing opportunities.  Nonetheless, less friction leads to increasing sales.  Encourage account registration and repeat customer loyalty via incentives, coupons, and exclusive benefits for signing up (e.g. free shipping).

To learn more about reducing checkout friction: 

5 Tips to Reduce Friction on Your E-Commerce Website


4. Automate Your Operations

Now that your e-commerce sales are rolling in, it’s game on!  The final mile of ensuring a positive customer experience is delivering your products to your customers accurately and on-time.  It’s important to put systems in place that automate synchronization between your e-commerce stores and your back office systems in order to track sales, inventory and fulfillments in a near real-time capacity.  For example, if an order is placed on your e-commerce platform (e.g. Shopify) and it’s not entered or synchronized into your back office system (e.g. QuickBooks Online) for an hour (or longer), this could cause your e-commerce inventory to become stale and put you at risk of selling items that are no longer in stock. 

Equally important is leveraging a tool that provides visibility into your fulfillments.  After all the time and investment made into getting your customers to buy, ensuring on-time delivery is essential for all business models, and particularly critical for managing dropship relationships.  All it takes is one negative fulfillment experience to drive your customers away from your store and right into the hands of your competitors.

Now is the perfect time to launch your online store and invest some time into ensuring you position your business for success!  Following the steps outlined in this article and maintaining good business sense, will help you to get across that finish line!


Click Here to learn how weintegrate helps provide fulfillment oversight and automated integration between Shopify and QuickBooks Online.

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E-commerce sales continue to report year-over-year growth.  As stated in a recent Forbes article, “This will be the year when online shopping explodes.”  The same article references Deloitte’s 2020 holiday e-commerce forecast where “Deloitte predicts e-commerce holiday retail sales to grow between 25% to 35% from November through January, reaching $182 billion to $196 billion in total.

If you’ve already launched your e-commerce store(s), then you’re fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, particularly if your product line caters to holiday gifting categories.  But to achieve e-commerce success takes much more than being in the right moment… This is only the beginning.

So ask yourself…are you ready?  Have you kicked the tires of your e-commerce operations?  What would actually happen if you scored a growth surge this holiday season?  Are you prepared to handle the additional work that comes with additional orders?   Without the proper systems, process, and organization in place, time consuming work often leads to mistakes, out of stocks, late shipments, and ultimately dissatisfied customers.

But not to worry.  Here are a few simple tips that can help you prepare for the upcoming holiday surge, ongoing customer satisfaction, and operational sustainability.

1. Confirm Your E-Commerce Supply Chain Strength

Regardless of whether you are a dropshipper, distributor of finished goods, or manufacturer, you maintain an e-commerce supply chain made up of vendors that impact your ability to deliver quality products to your customers.  Remember that when you have issues with inventory, your customers will care little as to who’s at fault.  As your #1 priority, you will want to confirm your vendors’ ability to meet your holiday targets without fail.  Pick up the phone, share your forecasts with them (consider inflating them by 20%), and ask for capacity guarantees. 

Additionally, it’s the perfect time to set a schedule with your vendors and ask of any known obstacles they see on the horizon or that they may have already encountered.  Get to know your vendors at a personal and friendly level.  You are not the only one vying for their commitments, and sometimes those friendly relationships may help prioritize your business needs. 

And lastly, create a backup plan.  What will you do should your supply chain break?  Hopefully you won’t have any issues, but do you have a plan?  Can your plan include having a backup vendor, or perhaps splitting your current needs across multiple vendors to balance the load?  Do what you can to prevent your business from being held hostage to this key element of success.

2. Automate Your E-Commerce Operations

According to Intuit, “over 80% of product-based SMBs [small and medium sized businesses] that sell through multiple channels still reconcile inventory using pen and paper or spreadsheets.”  This is crazy!  Why haven’t more SMBs made some form of investment into back-office automation?  While it sounds intimidating and expensive, it’s not.  There are affordable options in the market that start as low as $19 per month. A few of the top problems that e-commerce businesses face related to manual data entry, and can be resolved with automated integration include:  

  1. Errors caused by manually entering e-commerce orders into your back-office system
  2. Tedious and Time consuming administrative tasks that impede the ability to focus on more valued and strategic business needs, such as how to reduce cart abandonment
  3. Timeliness of order and inventory updates to back-office and shipping systems, which in turn leads to incorrect stock levels, as well as shipments going to customers later than promised

The following are key business issues you will want to address by implementing an integration solution:

  1. Does the solution offer near real-time sync of orders from your e-commerce platform(s) to your back-office system? This will help ensure that your inventory levels are as current as your sales, keeping you on top of your customer orders as they are placed
  2. Establish an integrated shipping system process that feeds from the same automation and empowers you to get your merchandise out the door in the most timely, efficient, and accurate means possible
  3. Have control over shipping SLAs (service level agreements), and receive notifications of orders that are at risk of falling outside these guidelines, so you can take the appropriate actions to resolve

Click here to learn more about our beta opportunity


3. Organize Your E-Commerce Operations Area 

When it comes to establishing a proper e-commerce operations process, it’s all about efficiency and accuracy.  It’s about having the proper checks and balances in place that eliminate mistakes and minimize the time spent on a particular task (so you can get to the next task, and so on and so on).  

A fairly common issue with SMBs is having a disorganized and cluttered work area, which lends itself to bottlenecks in the process.  It sounds simple enough to avoid, right?  In fact, yes it is.  A few ideas that have been proven to help include:

  1. Organize your inventory bins for efficiency.  It’s common for businesses to organize inventory in such a way that keeps the same or similar products near each other.  What would be a more proper approach, is to understand which of your items sell the most – not in dollar value but in actual physical units.  The products that sell the most (referred to as ‘turns’), represent the products that you will be fulfilling the most.  The ideal means of organizing your inventory bins is to locate those products that turn the most to be closest to your fulfillment zone, and work your way back through your turns rate in descending sequence, locating products that sell the least to be the furthest away from your fulfillment zone.  Click here to learn more about lean warehousing efficiency practices known as 5S.
  2. Squeeze as many little extra actions out of the process as is possible.  Every small little action you perform or step you take adds up into a whole chunk of waste and opportunity for error.  Therefore it is recommended to take a look at your entire operations area and see that you are well prepared to reduce these efforts.  Some examples include: a) label your inventory bins clearly, using large dark font; b) implement a barcode scanning system if possible; c) obtain enough supplies to get you through the holiday season in advance, including printer ink, paper, labels, shipping cartons, packing tape and inserts
  3. Establish zones and maintain clutter free work areas.  Maintaining clean work areas make it easier to get through daily tasks, inclusive of finding objects when you need them.  Establish specific well organized zones that create a linear physical path from start to finish, such as your storage zone to your fulfillment zone to your shipping zone.  Ideally a shipping zone is best located closest to where your carrier and parcel pickups occur, and then work backwards into your work area.

By implementing a proper marketing strategy, you may be well poised to feel a positive bump in revenue this holiday season, however keeping your customers coming back for more, will greatly depend on your ability to satisfy them better than your competitors.  Eliminate waste with integration and operational efficiency, allowing your business to establish a strong foundation for growing beyond the holiday bump up, for years to come.

With the current economic environment and continuing high unemployment, more people than ever are opening an online business.  To share some insight as to how Covid-19 has transformed the e-commerce market, here is a great Forbes article from Louis Columbus (view article)

Whether you’re a first time e-com-preneur, a brick and mortar store owner contemplating the move online to offset slowing store traffic, or a seasoned e-commerce veteran, this could be the perfect time to take advantage of expanding your online footprint.  It’s important though to make sure you take time to research what you will sell, how you will compete, put the right plans in place, and not rush out of pure excitement.  

The following tips on research and planning will help to start you down this new journey on the road to success:

1. What do you want to sell?

The first order of business is determining what you will sell.  What makes sense and what will people buy?  Countless articles of advice will tell you to find something that interests you, and there is certainly truth to this, and for good reason.  You have to believe in what you are selling and be excited to wake up everyday to grow your sales.  On the other hand, it’s important to select products that people want, and depending on your goals of entrepreneurship this may overshadow your own personal interests and desires.  There was a very successful business owner who once said that he loves sliding down a pole like you find in a firehouse, but instead of being a fireman (with all do respect to the very hard working, lifesaving heroes that risk their life every day), he would rather build a successful company and then buy a fireman pole for his mansion and slide down it any time he wants. 

Here are a few guidelines you can follow in determining what to sell online:

  1. It’s ok to include your personal interests, but don’t let this be the dominant factor.  If you’re looking to build a lifestyle for you and your family, while you certainly want to be interested and passionate about what you sell, focus on what the market is looking for and solve a problem.  Reserve the “fun stuff” for the results of the lifestyle you build
  2. Research, research, and research some more.  But don’t get so bogged down in research that you never get started (don’t get cooked in the squat).  Go through product reviews and see what customer feedback and gaps exist in the market, what improvements can be made and where the opportunities are for offering a rock solid alternative.  
  3. While there is nothing wrong with capitalizing on trends if you can time it right, try to avoid starting a business based on them.  If it makes sense though, then go for it.  Just proceed with caution on your investment, efforts and launch, as trends do come and go (by definition of a trend).  The last thing you want is to miss the best part of the trend cycle and get stuck with excess inventory while trying to grow a business (that’s working capital that could have gone into a more lucrative opportunity)
  4. Like all great businesses, think narrow and don’t start off too broad.  Find just that one great product or service, and deliver it better than anyone else. Then upon success, you can expand from there with related goods and services while you continue to establish your brand and your store.

For some help on what type of business might make sense to start, here are ideas from Shopify https://www.shopify.com/blog/online-business-ideas

2. Conduct market research

Before you make a huge investment into your new business venture and products you want to sell, you should do what you can to first test the market.  One of the most costly lessons is to be excited about a product, spend all your precious time and money on your new idea, promote your launch, and then after launch first find out that no one is interested in what you have to sell. 

There are several options you can take advantage of to validate your ideas before making any sizable investment.  Be creative and explore opportunities to gauge customer interest in advance.  Obtain customer feedback and ask the tough questions for answers you may not want to hear.  It’s ok though, because it is better to get the direct feedback now from those that would potentially buy your product than after you waste your oh so valuable capital.  The better aligned you are with satisfying a market need, the faster you will be on your way to achieving success!

A few ways you can obtain customer feedback and test your ideas include:

  1. Take pre-orders from customers.  This allows you to set up your store without having to invest in inventory.  Position your store to take pre-orders of what you might sell along with the appropriate lead times.  This is a great way to offer a group of product options to customers and see what’s of interest as well as which products may prove to be most popular based on actual demand.  If customers are willing to pre-order and wait for you to create or obtain the merchandise, you potentially have something great!
  2. Leverage Drop shipping.  Instead of investing into your own inventory, perhaps you might find it better to partner with a drop ship provider.  The advantage here is you may find a significantly lower upfront investment, the responsibility of shipping is on your drop ship partner, and you can test products easily.  Just be careful with the drop ship partner you select.  If there are quality issues or delays in shipping to your customers, this will have a negative impact on your brand, not theirs. For additional tips on drop shipping, here is a great article from Shopify (view article)
  3. Start a Crowdfunding Campaign. This will require a little investment of money and a fair amount of your time, however the tradeoff helps you validate customer interest before going full force into your product and store launch.  Particularly if it’s a product you will manufacture, you can share your plans with customers before you build it, perhaps with as little as a prototype.   Pitch your idea to a community of millions of individuals enthusiastic in helping to support the next great product.  Success will include not only validating your idea, but also an avenue for obtaining pre-orders and raising equity free working capital to help fund your plans to manufacture, launch and grow.  Equally as positive, if you do not obtain success in this community, it will allow you to rethink your plans before wasting time and money, thus saving you from potential failure.  For additional help on crowdsourcing click here

3. Write a business plan and understand your finances

The saying if you fail to plan then you plan to fail is never more true when it comes to starting a business.  While often it may appear that online business success happens by accident, rest assured this is not the case.  Understanding details about what you will sell, how you will sell it, who you are competing with, what your cash flow and profitability will look like, how you will market and what teams you need, are all part of this essential step for success.  If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may never look at your plan once you launch your business venture, however taking the time to think through how to grow your business and the impact on your cash flow will help bring clarity when you execute (we recommend however you do your best to follow your plan and compare actuals to forecasts).  In addition, your plan gives you a model to refer back to, use as a barometer, and adjust as necessary to help you improve how you run your ecommerce store.

Cash is king and understanding the flow of cash helps protect it, and your business.  Over time you need to know how your investments will pay off in customer acquisition, revenue, cost of revenue, expenses and profit.  While it is great to have an optimistic plan that outlines the potential of your business, it is critical to have clarity of a financial operating plan that is conservative and honest.  One technique you can incorporate when bootstrapping, is to inflate expenses and take a conservative position on revenue.  By confirming a “worst case” scenario as to how your cash flow will perform, you will have visibility into what is necessary to survive and grow without running into a cash deficit.

In your plan, understand what teams you need and when.  While this may require a fair amount of intelligent “best guessing” if this is your first venture, it is still an important exercise.  Your team can generally have a significant impact on your financial plans, and will have a tremendous impact on how well you execute.  Fortunately certain disciplines can be outsourced, however be mindful if you go this route to only outsource disciplines that are not part of your core brand.  If you partner with firms for some work, it can be a great way to conserve costs and leverage specific domain expertise, but make sure to manage the relationship as well as the results as if the partnering firm was on your payroll.

4. Market like you mean it

For your online venture, marketing very well may be where the rubber hits the road to success (or failure).  This discipline should not be taken lightly and can often play a key role in your market differentiation as well as your ability to succeed.  How do you distinguish your business and get the word out in a vast sea of competing stores?  It can be done, but do you know what to do and how to execute?  Is this an area of focus you are best equipped to own, or based on your budget and cash flow might it make sense to partner with a firm that has experience growing online sales?  Which marketing initiatives will have the biggest impact on your success?  Do you need creative help or do you need assistance with execution of a marketing plan and staying on top of return on ad spend (ROAS)?  Are you best to sponsor ads or leverage social media?

Here are a few sources you can review to help with proven marketing techniques necessary to grow your online store

  1. 34 Ways to Promote Your Online Shop Like a Pro
  2. 7 Things You Should Do To Market Your Online Store in the Real World
  3. Ecommerce Marketing Essentials: 17 Actionable Tactics to Drive More Sales

5. Get ready to launch (and launch)!

As we wrap up, here are some final and crucial tips to adopt as you get ready to launch your business and start making money!

  1. Establish a well organized area for which to run your online business.  If you are going online as an extension to your physical store, make sure to carve out an area dedicated to your online business.  If you’re a first time entrepreneur kicking off this venture from your home, it’s equally important to establish a business zone where you can store your inventory, and efficiently pick, pack and ship.
  2. Get traction fast by leveraging your personal and social networks.  Ask your friends and acquaintances to support your new venture by spreading the word and idealing buying your product.  Don’t be shy.  Stand at the top of the highest mountain and let everyone know you’re open for business!  This can be a great way to start building that oh so important initial momentum.
  3. Consider offering discounts and promotions, as well as test marketing well targeted ads.  Well positioned promotions can be a successful approach to jumpstarting your sales.
  4. Monitor your marketing results and adjust.  Keep a dashboard in excel, track every single dollar you spend on marketing, and compare your marketing initiatives daily to determine which are working and which are not.  Pull the plug on the duds quickly and reinvest into marketing that is yielding the best results as well as try new ideas.
  5. Obtain software to help you run your business. This includes your online store platform, accounting application, email marketing, and automated integration tools to help streamline your operation.

We hope these tips and guidelines help give you more insight into getting your online business started on the right path to success.  Remember, you will need to work hard, but also do your best to incorporate the right decisions and work smart to establish a business that is scalable.  Have fun growing your store, and may it be the first of several profitable ventures you pursue!

There is no surprise that mobile commerce, the delivery of electronic commerce capabilities directly into the consumer’s hand via wireless technology, is taking over as the go-to option for consumers to shop.  eMarketer reports that 185.5 million consumers used a mobile device to browse, research and compare products, with 53.7% making a purchase on their mobile device.

If your e-commerce site is not yet mobile-friendly, now is the time to make it so.  Take action now and take advantage of the mobile commerce shift to ensure your site is optimized for mobile well ahead of the 2019 holiday season (which will be upon you before you know it).

Here are 6 tips to help you capitalize on this pandemonium shift in e-commerce…

1. Improve Product Page Performance

The quality of your images will define this first interaction

– Shopify

The saying ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words’ has never been more impactful then when it comes to your e-commerce product pages.  Putting yourself in the eyes of your visitors, it’s the engaging images that first draw the crowd.  According to Shopify “The quality of your images will define this first interaction, the perceived value of your products, and your brand’s image.”

Make sure to use high quality images that are clear and bright, but be sensitive to image density as to not slow down your site’s load times. Incorporate at least 5 good quality images per product, and include various views that demonstrate different angles, perspectives and colors if applicable.  Include at least 1 lifestyle image demonstrating interaction with your product, while building an emotional connection.  Incorporating a short video brings your product to life, and your visitors one step closer to becoming a sale.

Support your product pages with detailed content that empowers the sale.  Ensure a meaningful SEO-friendly product title that makes it easy for shoppers to find your product.  It is recommended that you provide shoppers with all the information necessary for making an informed decision.  This should include price, compare-to-price, a detailed description, a list of important features, competitive advantages, sizes and colors, dimensions and capacity, and brand value.

2. Incorporate a Clear Call-to-Action (CTA)

A Call-to-Action (CTA) is the clear and concise next step you want your visitors to take, which in e-commerce is typically to convert your visitors to a sale.  Successful CTAs stand out in such a way that the next step is obvious.  CTAs should be direct and lead visitors to the conversion with messages such as “Buy Now” and “Add to Cart”.

Incorporate a consistent theme throughout your visitors’ e-commerce journey.  It should become subconscious to the user that every time they see this colored button the next step is to buy, in a Pavlovian sort of way.

If a secondary CTA is beneficial, such as “Add to Wish List”, incorporate a much more subtle thin link that doesn’t compete with the primary CTA.

As a follow up to items added to a cart or wish lists that never convert, incorporate email reminders that invite visitors to finish the sale.  Don’t be shy of using incentives as necessary.

3. Optimize for Mobile Engagement

Mobile friendly pages are essential to providing a positive customer experience. With mobile e-commerce on the rise, if you don’t adapt you will get left in the dust.  Even if purchases happen in store, most users will start by researching products on their mobile device.  Empower visitors to easily conduct research, find related products, make purchases, and even process returns from any mobile device.  Search engines such as Google are now optimizing search with mobile-first indexing.

Confirm page load speeds are tuned for mobile performance.  Slow loading pages will frustrate visitors and drive them to your competitors.  According to section.io, 27.4% of e-commerce visitors will bounce when page load times take 6 seconds or more.  Conduct speed tests with web performance tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights to ensure a successful experience.

4. Increase Consumer Trust with Reviews and Ratings

70% of consumers consult reviews or ratings before making a purchase

– PeopleClaim

One of the best ways of increasing conversions is to build consumer trust via product reviews and ratings.  According to PeopleClaim, 70% of consumers consult reviews or ratings before making a purchase, and 71% agree that consumer reviews make them more comfortable that they are buying the right product.

If you haven’t asked for customer reviews and ratings that you can include on your site, now is a great time to start.  It’s never too soon to start building your consumer credibility.

5. Upsell and Cross-sell Relevant Products

While you have the captive attention of consumers, don’t miss out on the opportunity to cross-sell additional products that may be of interest to them.  Perhaps as consumers read through the details of the current product page, they may determine to take a pass.  Keep visitors engaged with alternate product options utilizing a section tiled “Visitors Who Viewed This Also Viewed” and “Customers Who Bought this Also Bought.”  If visitors have a positive experience with your e-commerce site, then this technique will keep the balls in the air and potentially save the sale.

Cross-selling and Upselling helps to increase conversions and maximize the average value per customer order (known as Average Order Value (AOV)).  According to Forrester Research, upsell and cross-sell strategies are solely responsible for an average of 10-30% of e-commerce business revenues.

6. Eliminate Obstacles at Checkout

According to Forbes, the average online cart abandonment rate is 70%, and 37% of cart abandonments are due to shoppers being asked to create an account.  Customers have come to expect convenience inclusive of a quick checkout process. 

Consider offering a guest checkout option.  Customers happy with your e-commerce experience will return and opt-in to create an account when they’re good and ready.  In pursuit of frictionless checkout and a superior customer experience, include payment options such as PayPal and Venmo.

Enabling an optimized mobile experience is quintessential for your e-commerce success.  Make the necessary investments now while your business may be slower, and lay the ground work leading up to your busiest busy season yet.