E-Commerce

Are you ready for mobile commerce?

If you’re anything like the typical ecommerce merchants I talk to, you’re probably obsessed with site statistics. Within the space of a few years Google Analytics has turned rational thinking retailers into stats-aholics.I recently spent a day with a merchant who could tell me everything about his customers: where they lived, the browser and ISP they use and most importantly the paths customers take through the site. However, the one fact he couldn’t tell me was how many people visited his site from an Apple iPhone. Come to think of it he wasn’t sure if iPhone users could even use his site.Mobile commerce is hot business and (stats junkies in the room please note) the data backs it up. Yahoo reports that there are 48 million total mobile users in the UK and that leaves out all of the people with more than one device.During 2009, IMRG reported that one per cent of all UK ecommerce sales were conducted via a mobile. The US reports similarly small numbers with three to five per cent being the consensus level. However in the more forward-thinking markets of Asia, the front-runner Japan scores 30-40 per cent of all transactions via a mobile device. Impressive stuff.Is your website mobile-friendly?So, how do you get your site mobile-ready? Well the really good news is that in some ways it probably already is. Apple led the touch phone revolution with large glossy devices with plenty of screen estate. Suddenly it has become possible for RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) to be displayed in their full glory.According to Apple’s 2009 fourth quarter results, 7.4 million iPhones were sold in a three-month period. That’s a massive 34.3 million units since launch, and that’s just one device! Looking at the road map for all the major devices, they all are planning a similar path — from the excellent Google Nexus One to the Blackberry Storm 2 and Nokia 900 series. Screen estate is in, cramped browsing conditions are out.That’s not quite the end of the story. Small screen, low-tech devices are not going away. In fact only 14.1 per cent of the 48 million mobile devices reported by Yahoo are classed as smart phones. However the expectations that you can do everything from your mobile are going up, so this is an opportunity for retailers, not a problem.Do your researchMaking your site mobile-ready is no different to any other web project; it’s all about the demographics. Questions you need to be asking include:

  • Who are you trying to reach?

  • Where and how are they visiting your website?

  • What does the typical visitor do at your site?

These may sound like simple points but they are crucial if your mobile site is to be a success.Answering the “who” is fairly easy — with one in five of us now regularly using mobile devices to surf the web there is a very good chance your customers are already looking at your site via their phones. A great first step is to analyse this data, look for trends and make that the basis of making the mobile experience better. Thankfully getting your hands on this important data is fairly easy. Most mobile web browsers now have the ability to run java script meaning Google Analytics can track mobile usage.Worst case scenarioDiscovering the “where and how” is a little harder. People use mobile devices in so many different ways and in so many different places; the long-standing mantra has always been to make your site usable under the worst conditions possible. Now this may not sound particularly appealing but your mobile site needs to work on both fast WiFi and the slower GPRS signal. It’s the same with screen estate and input devices: cater for both large touch screens as well as smaller devices that may require a stylus or keyboard.This is a problem. Creating stand-alone sites for different browsing conditions could be costly and frustrating. The internet is littered with lots of advice on how to tackle this, but there is little consensus. While it’s technically possible to detect the conditions people are browsing in and redirect them to specific sites, my advice is to go back to the research, pick a battle and win it. Choose the device or screen resolution that’s most popular and make sure your site is optimised for that experience.Understanding how your customers will use your mobile site is also critical. Are they using their mobiles to purchase goods, check prices or simply looking for store information such as an address?A tale of two sitesAs an example let’s look at two very different mobile experiences, Amazon and eBay. Amazon knows the vast majority of customers come to its site to browse then purchase, and the decision-making process often isn’t made until the user is on the site. This is reflected in the design and layout where immediate, uncluttered access is given to products and product categories. There is clever use of recommended goods based on previous purchases and clear calls to action. The whole experience is about browsing quickly and efficiently and then making it easy to purchase.eBay is a little different. Unlike the typical Amazon user, eBay customers generally come to the site already knowing what they are looking for. This is reflected in the site design as its search features are central to the user experience. There is very little product on display until you have at least entered some core information, but the whole process is very sleek.Both Amazon and eBay have done their research into their user base and the results are impeccable. Interestingly, both are reporting mobile commerce as their biggest growing market.Mcommerce is on the rise and to understand who, what and how, you need to do your research. Think like your customers. Put together an action plan. What are you waiting for?

Using social networking to build sales and improve customer relations

  1. How can social networking through Twitter, Facebook etc benefit your business?Social networks allow entrepreneurs to track down their target customersUsing the websites you can also improve your sales and customer serviceBut it's important that you listen to what your customers are telling you

I’m sure you’ve heard about social networking websites. Chances are even better that you’re on a social network yourself, especially as you consider that Facebook alone has 250m active users. Putting that into perspective, if Facebook was a country it would be bigger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy put together, and growing at about one million users per day!This is a staggering level of growth. The average Facebook user has 120 contacts and 5 billion minutes are spent on the site each day worldwide. That’s a lot of socialising.So, how can businesses use social networking effectively? In this article, I explore some of the possibilities for leveraging social networks in order to build sales and improve customer relations.So, what does this mean today?Obviously social network sites give users the ability to communicate with each other and share information, but they also enable users to find like-minded thinkers. In contrast to traditional communication tools, it’s much easier to expand your network with relevant people, or communities based on mutual interests. These communities have brought an almost unparalleled amount of power to individuals. It potentially heralds a seismic shift from company to consumer.The growth of social networks demonstrates that business can no longer rely on the traditional mediums of print, TV and radio. Whether it’s to sell, support or market products, enforcing the company view of the world has become a whole lot harder.However, it’s not all bad news. Used correctly social networks can become a real business enabler, helping you to find and identify current and future customers and respond to problems quickly and effectively.Find your customersThe first thing any business needs to do is research. No doubt you already know, but social networking can be a time sink. Researching using the medium takes real effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Check your demographics and find out if your customers use social networks, and if so which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don't forget LinkedIn, Twitter or FriendFeed. Ask customers what they use.Don't talk, listenOnce you have found your customers sit back and listen. Social networking is renowned for its real time opinions, use this to your advantage and employ search engines to find people talking about you or your company. Even better take it a step further and listen for your competitors’ names, or search phrases that relate to your products or services.Depending on the size or type of business you're running there will be a lot of information, often too much. The challenge is to identify the wheat from the chaff and to capture good information in such a way that it benefits your business.When you do talk, be smartA person’s online social space is sensitive; respect it by being smart and polite. You wouldn't expect to barge into a normal conversation with blatant advertising, and social networking is no different. Instead, join in the conversation and offer advice that’s practical. Within my business we actively spend time helping customers. We direct people with queries to our own online resources such as our knowledge base and advisory articles.Realise the potentialSocial Networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and FriendFeed are brilliant for asking questions. The open nature of these communities allows for anyone to ask, view or respond, so the potential for sales is obvious. Once again it’s important to play by the rules. Companies such as Ford and Dell do this incredibly well, building relationships and being proactive. Helping with enquiries boosts the perceptions of your brand, or service.The key is to remember the connected nature of social networks, recommendations prove to be the best type of sales lead and social networks can act like a mega phone for both praise and condemnation.Despite the obvious opportunities, many sales professionals I talk to remain very uncertain about social networks. While it’s true that traditional sales methods don't always apply in this brave new world, it’s important to remember the art of a good sales team is to identify and leverage the next competitive advantage. It may feel like it is taking focus away from core sales activity, but social networks allow both a greater insight into a prospect and an alternate method of communication. When I receive a cold call I am instantly put out. However if I am introduced via a common contact I am much more receptive.SummaryIt’s important to realise that web-based social networking is not a black art; it’s really about common sense. Often the first hurdles to be overcome can be one’s own preconceived ideas. If your business is still questioning the relevance, let me ask a question: Do you want to be part of, and influence the conversation that’s already occurring about your market place right now, or do you want to be left to one side? If you engage, sales will follow. If you don’t, your competitors will be making the running.

Get real with Augmented Reality

One of my all time favourite films of the last ten years is the futuristic action movie Minority Report. I remember watching in fascination as our hero John Anderton passed through a shopping centre of the future. The whole sequence was brilliant. Billboards and advertising changed as people walked past, tannoy systems in shops welcomed you back and asked how your last purchase was working out. It was both a scary and tantalising view of the future.Minority Report was released in 2002 and only eight years later Augmented Reality (AR), the blending of the real and virtual world, has exploded into popular culture. Some of the highlights include iPhone apps that use the camera to overlay directions to your nearest Starbucks, and interactive kiosks demonstrating yet to be manufactured products at trade shows. For business in general, and retail in particular, it seems that the opportunities are endless.I have a t-shirt at home with a slogan "RL has rubbish FPS". Translating, this means that real life isn't as good as virtual. Sadly my t-shirt is right, the real world is still light years away from the possibilities of Minority Report. Where are the interactive billboards? Where is the personalised voice?However, with smart phone adoption going stratospheric, developers are finding new ways to supplement real life. For retail, my current favourite augmented app is Google Goggles. Goggles allows you to take a picture of a product, logo or landmark and look it up on the web.Surfing the web via real life items is a revolutionary concept. Not only will this allow you to look up online pricing while arguing with the sales person in your local garage, but it also means that you can discover more about the sculpture and its creator while on a museum trip, just by taking a photo.The ecommerce world is getting in on the act too. Several major online clothing companies are rolling out the "Magic Mirror" feature. It allows you to try clothes on via your webcam from the comfort of your own home. This Christmas Hugo Boss also trialled an impressive online and offline marketing campaign based around a game of blackjack, using both the real tangible items and virtual pixelated content. And we’re just at the start of the possibilities.Why don't you see for yourself and give one of the following augmented experiences a go:1. www.layar.com - A free application for your mobile phone. This shows what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of reality using the camera on your mobile phone.2. Watch a YouTube video about the augmented reality and motion capture shopping applicationI am not yet expecting my embarrassing shopping habits to be blurted out over a loud speaker as I walk into Tesco. But some aspects of the future have definitely arrived already. Brace yourself for the ride, it’s going to be exciting.

What’s Happening in Mobile Commerce?

Mobile-commerce has been touted as the next big thing for years. However the reality has failed to materialise. Or has it?In years gone by whenever I talked to anyone about mobile commerce I often got the impression it would be more realistic to discuss the latest sighting of Nessie, unicorns or alien abductions. Most people believe it to be a myth.Mobile commerce has been the next big thing for longer than I care to recall. I remember making some very grand claims in 1997 when WAP launched, that the wallet would be obsolete within years. However the reality has failed to materialise. So is the future for m-commerce bleak or is it the next big thing on the verge of taking off? Maybe it’s the Sinclair C5 of the internet.Last week I was dashing for the Tube and realised I had left my wallet at home. Highly irritating and a complete show stopper, apart from honing my busking skills the only real alternative is to go home. It was this exact moment I understood the power of m-commerce.Again another example was the time I was away from my computer and remembered that the eBay auction I had been tracking for weeks is ending and I’d forgotten to bid. If either of these situations sound familiar I have good news, there are already mobile commerce solutions that provide solutions to these situations.In Asia the use of the “mobile wallet” is a reality. The Tokyo subway already allows for contactless payments akin to our Oyster cards. In Finland the mobile manufacturer Nokia is trialling RFID and Bluetooth instant payments. The idea is simple; your phone is connected to your bank or credit card. Then when you go shopping your phone uses contactless technology to pay for the goods. Quite amazingly for a new technology, a single framework has already been agreed. The next step is surely world-wide roll out?According to Gartner, almost 500 million mobile transactions will occur in Asia during 2009. In the Philippines it’s easier, cheaper and faster to transfer money via text message. South Korea is the world leader in true multi-channel retail, allowing orders to be received in-store, online or via mobile and then sent to friends and family.However, the West is finally catching up. Looking towards Silicon Valley it’s once again Apple showing the rest of us how m-commerce should work. While many people believe the iPhone revolutionised the mobile industry, it’s the surrounding eco-system that has transformed the company from hardware provider to media vendor. The iPhone app store currently has 70K apps available and 1.5bn apps have been downloaded, and paid for via a mobile device.So, what’s next?I believe the mobile is the ultimate ubiquitous device. The facts are obvious; a device that just a few years ago was only being used for making and receiving calls has morphed into a camera, media player, mobile office, wallet and more. What’s more, thanks to the investment of the carriers, advances in wireless connectivity, these devices are online 24/7, and UK penetration of phones is over 100% -- more people have two or more than don’t have a mobile.Starting with payments, how many times have you bought something online and wondered how safe the site you are using is? While the banking industry is pushing schemes such as PCI DSS, I can see a future involving the mobile. The vision is this. When you buy online the store contacts your bank for approval, and this is then sent to your mobile for confirmation.That’s a completely disconnected device, separate hardware on a separate network. Without approval the payment is rejected. This would make online card fraud virtually impossible.M-commerce may not be everywhere and it’s certainly not as wide spread as many predicted. However, its growth is being fuelled by the gradual adoption of pragmatic technical solutions to real problems. There are no flights of fancy or Alien abductions involved.

Creating your first online store – tips for success

Everywhere we turn at the moment there seems to be economic doom and gloom. It’s almost impossible to open a newspaper without reading how the high street is fighting for survival and retail is a fast track to the breadline. However, even with the current downturn there is one area of retail that’s booming - ecommerce.Despite many predictions of a slowdown, ecommerce is still showing double-digit year-on-year growth. Online sales for December 2008 were in the region of £5bn, this was up 15% on the previous year with many analysts believing the December 2009 figure to be closer to £7bn, despite a struggling economy.So what are the key considerations in developing and managing a good and successful ecommerce site?There are three important parts to selling on the web:Getting people to your siteMaking it easy and compelling for them to buyProviding great customer service.It’s important to realise ecommerce is not about the technology, it’s about having the right product and the gumption to sell it. It’s exactly the same as with bricks and mortar stores.Successful ecommerce sites tend to have two things in common; they are well marketed and they sell from the moment you arrive. How you market and merchandise your ecommerce site must be foremost in your mind. This means knowing who your customers are and understanding their needs. You need to know which hot buttons to press in order to get people interested. This must be the entire objective of your site design.Good designResearch shows that website visitors make their mind up about a store in three seconds or less. In those precious moments your site needs to make a great impression, establish your brand and build trust. It's a tall order, and the only way to do this is through the design of your site. If you are setting up a new ecommerce store it’s worth choosing software that works well out of the box. You can also invest time into understanding design principles or just hire a competent designer.Prototype and test your design, spend time with friends, family and (if you’re feeling brave) customers, and get some input. The question you should be asking is ‘How would you approach buying from this store? The question is not ‘What do you think of the design?’.MarketingIf your store is going to be a success, people have to know about it. You need to find out how people search on the internet. What are the key words that they use for your type of product? What other ways do they look online? Talk to lots of people and try to understand a bit more about it all.A great place to start is the Google Adwords keyword tool which gives you a great insight into search engine trends. You can also find lots of useful information at www.searchenginewatch.com, searchmarketing.yahoo.com, and www.webmasterworld.com (look under 'Ecommerce' and 'The Marketing World').There are lots of other ways of promoting your web site. The most basic is to make sure that your site address appears on every piece of paper that your business produces. If your web site offers an improved service to existing customers, you must tell them about it.Ironically, there is a certain amount of evidence that traditional marketing (advertising, PR etc.) is more effective at generating online sales than internet-based methods. Certainly it’s crucial to integrate the promotion of your web site with everything that your business does offline.Multi-channelIn our own research at Actinic we found more than two-thirds of small online retailers take orders via mail, catalogues and the telephone and more than half of them process more than 50 per cent of their orders this way. It could also be the case you have a traditional bricks and mortar store too. If you fall into these categories then whatever solution you adopt for your online store should be integrated across all of the sales channels.The largest retail operations very often have very similar requirements to smaller business. It’s just a question of scale, and a great example is Argos. With Argos a customer can order online, in store or via the telephone and then choose a method of delivery, or opt to collect in person. Argos has developed the concept of multi-channel retailing to such an extent that it is now becoming a widespread expectation.Getting your channels into synch with each other is not an easy task. If you are selling in more than one place any ecommerce solution really should have multi-channel capability. If you are coming into ecommerce from the traditional retail world the irony is your online store could be the catalyst your business needs to search harder for a competitive advantage.Up-sellingAs with a physical retail store there are various merchandising techniques available to maximise shopper revenue and encourage customers to keep coming back.One approach is to offer more for slightly more money. Offer a great deal if they buy something else at the same time. 'Buy two and get one free' or 'Buy X and get Y half price' are a great way of increasing the overall order value and benefiting the customer without eroding your margins.Provide the ability to buy associated products. Make sure customers buy additional accessories from you by making it easy for them to buy everything together.Keeping in touchUse opt-in email. Offer a newsletter with exclusive offers and useful extra information for regular customers. This can build a sense of community and strengthen the relationship between you and your customers. You can use special links in the email to trigger special prices for products on offer. It’s also a great idea to invest time and effort with social networks. There you can find and talk to your customers directly.The single most important things, as with any type of business, is to always be adaptable. Explore new ways of selling products and find the tangibles, the items you can measure your success or failure by.So while it’s looking decisively chilly out on the high street, ecommerce is still providing retailers something to be smiling about. What are you waiting for?

Commissioning your ecommerce website (part two)

The first impression someone gets when arriving at your site has little to do with how good you are as a retailer. It's all about how good you look; in this game aesthetics are everything. However, a good e-commerce implementer will remember that the number one goal of your site is actually to sell. Everything else — and this is often a bone of contention with designers — is of secondary importance.How good is the design?Research shows that website visitors make their mind up about a store in only three seconds. In those precious moments your site needs to make a great impression, establish your brand and build trust. It's a tall order, and the only way to do this is through the design of your site. It’s a difficult balance but a good designer should have no problems.Once you have a prototype of your design, spend time with friends, family and (if you’re feeling brave) customers, and get some input. The question you should be asking is ‘How would you approach buying from this store? not ‘What do you think of the design?’.If your designer is mocking up an HTML prototype, ask them to use a heat map such as Click Heat and ask people to spend time surfing around your new site. Click Heat is a free visual heat map of clicks on a web page displaying both hot and cold zones. Ensure all of this research is available to your designer and tweak the design to ensure maximum performance. If they are not interested, maybe they aren’t right for you.What about multi-channel?In our own research at Actinic we found more than two-thirds of small retailers take orders via mail, catalogues and the telephone and more than half of them process more than 50 per cent of their orders this way. You may also have a traditional bricks and mortar store. If you fall into these categories then whatever solution you adopt for your online store should be integrated across all of the channels where you sell.The largest retail operations very often have very similar requirements to smaller business. It’s just a question of scale, and a great example is Argos. With Argos, a customer can order online, in store or via the telephone and then choose a method of delivery or opt to collect in person. Argos has developed the concept of multi-channel retailing to such an extreme that it is now becoming a widespread expectation.Getting your channels into synch with each other is not an easy task. A good e-commerce designer should have multi-channel experience, so you need to review them and only opt for a solution that fits. Could your new commerce store be the catalyst your business needs to offer a competitive advantage?How will you handle payments?If you are planning to sell online, it’s more than likely you will require the ability to accept credit and debit cards. This can be an absolute minefield and highly confusing for those new to e-commerce. It’s important you ask lots of questions and do your research. Card security and banking regulations such as PCI-DSS are your responsibility, not the designers. It will be you that’s fined by the banks if the solution doesn’t comply.If you are in any doubt, discuss the situation with your bank. The simple shortcut is that by using a Payment Service Provider (PSP) such as Worldpay you will be pretty much fully compliant.Don’t discount other payments services such as PayPal and Google Checkout — research shows they can add up to 10 per cent of sales.How will the site be maintained?The RSPCA is always telling us, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Well, it’s the same with web designers; their job is not finished just because they have handed your site over.It’s important to obtain a clear picture about what happens after you’re in control. Do this before the end of your project and definitely before they have moved on to new clients. Very often I talk to frustrated store-owners complaining about their lack of ability to add products or content. If you are planning on managing the site yourself, discuss training and devise a long-term plan that makes you independent of the designer.Last wordRemember, not knowing what you want from the beginning will cost a lot of money, either by retro-fitting features that weren't planned, or by paying for features you don't need. Arm yourself with as much information as possible, research and reel in the sales!

Commissioning your e-commerce website (part one)

If you’re just starting out in e-commerce, then choosing a web designer to turn your business concept into reality can be one of the biggest and hardest decisions you will face. Before you go trawling through the Yellow Pages, there are a number of questions that any business owner needs to answer.What are your goals?It’s absolutely critical that you understand the goals and ambitions for your site before you even approach a designer.What are you trying to achieve with your site — is it for selling or a marketing driven portal?What is the proposition and image you are offering to your customers?It’s important to define your goals and objectives. However, be careful not to shackle your designer with too rigid a set of requests up front. If you are hiring a good designer, they will take your requirements and work creatively with them. Don’t try to do their job, or you will diminish their value.Who are you hiring?Web design is a fairly ad-hoc business. There is no common acceptance of any pre-requisite qualifications and anyone can set up as a designer. As an example, I was a little shocked to discover that my dentist has a side business in web design. I spent a pleasurable 30 minutes in the dentist chair grunting at his comments about CSS. So it’s important you understand who you are hiring!Getting references and checking out the websites that designers have produced is always a good idea. But remember these are the sites that your designer wants you to see, so do your own research. It can be very beneficial to talk to a designer’s previous clients.It’s even a good idea to try buying a few items from previous e-commerce stores that the designer has worked on. That way, you can get some first-hand experience of being their customer’s customer.How will people find your site?Once you have chosen your website designer, don't be tempted to jump straight in at the deep end. It’s easy to let enthusiasm run away by discussing site aesthetics before giving any thought to how people are going to find your website in the first place.Discuss Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and ensure that your site is designed to maximise its visibility with search engines. It's vital that SEO is part of the creation and deployment process from the start. Many sites look great but fail the basic test of attracting visitors, and often retro-fitting SEO features can be an expensive addition.If you are planning to use Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising such as Google AdWords, discuss this with your designer. Larger design agencies may even have a dedicated Internet marketing consultant who can help determine how your new site fits into your overall marketing strategy. Again, the key is to make sure you get this up front and not as an expensive add-on.What solution is being implemented?It’s more than likely that a designer will implement an off-the-shelf package. It could be a dedicated e-commerce package or a free CMS (Content Management System) with an e-commerce plug-in.Choosing a boxed solution brings many advantages — it should keep costs down and ultimately save time. It will also mean you should be able to look after the site yourself, and if the designer moves on, your site still has a future.Don’t be afraid to ask what it is you are paying for — the answer you are looking for is a specific product and vendor name.I am always amazed when people opt for bespoke or badly-maintained open source solutions. If your business is a success, this software will become mission critical. Unless you have a substantial long-term budget or a real desire to reinvent the wheel these approaches are best avoided.

Twoogling, goodbye HMV and a Google mobile: Predictions for 2010

I don’t know about you, but for me 2009 has been a very interesting year. Looking back to this time 12 months ago it’s amazing how quickly the pace of business and technology has kept up. So, in my last post of the year I would like to make my 2010 predictions!Small business2010 is an election year, and while governments of both sides are playing the prudence card I believe this election will be good news for small businesses. Both major parties are looking for obvious cost savings and thankfully the fattened calf of bureaucracy is looking like a slow and easy to hit target. What’s more, whoever inherits the keys to 10 and 11 Downing Street has five years of hunting behind the sofa for loose change, so I expect both parties to be promoting themselves as fiercely pro enterprise, today’s one man band is tomorrows multinational. Supporting small business with low cost tax breaks and incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship will help everyone, unless you’re in traditional retail.The traditional retailer, a.k.a bricks ‘n mortarNot good I am afraid; my crystal ball grows murky at the thought of what’s in store for the traditional retailer. If you managed to survive 2009 well done, if your business grew that’s exceptional and if you haven’t already I suggest you break open that bottle of Black Tower you were saving for Christmas.I am afraid I am going to predict even tougher times and I fully expect another major retailer going to the dogs, HMV is an obvious worry. However I don’t think its all bad news, 2010 is going to be the year multi channel retail finally becomes an established. We are all so used to buying online, over the phone or even, shock horror, in a shop it will become a very common practice. Those that adopt will probably thrive. As small retailers continue to look at innovative ways of constraining cost and the technology is now available at a low cost it just makes sense.TechnologyPredicting technology trends is almost an impossible task, so I am going to be a little bold and predict four major happenings, and they are all going to be about Google so please excuse my indulgence. If I get one of these correct remember this is where you heard it first.Twitter will finally reveal its revenue plan. It will be hastily constructed on the side of some Swiss cheese then purchased by Google for a cut price deal.Google will face a huge mobile carrier revolt at the launch of its Nexus One Android device. The phone, which Google are rumoured to be selling direct and unlocked will finally challenge the status quo. The share price of HTC, the manufacturers of the Nexus One, will rocket, which will then be invested back into Google’s new real time messaging service Twoogle. We will all mock but slavishly use it.Google Chrome OS will launch, there will be lots of hype but little traction as the 95% of computer users who don’t understand what utility based cloud computing is (real people) suddenly realise Minesweeper and Solitaire have been left out of this slimed down window to the web. Google will panic, rebrand Android as Chrome Mobile, there will be lots of hype, BusinessZone.co.uk’s website will crash under the traffic this post brings them.Steve Ballmer will be spotted Twoogling on a yet to be released Chrome Mobile device while holidaying on Thunderbird Island with Sergey Brin. When challenged, Steve will reveal himself (in Scooby Doo style) as none other than Bill Gates, the original investor in Google. The EU will spend £4bn in fax toner sending Bill the latest anti trust papers

Is Your Business Benefiting from Social Networking?

Whenever I talk to web businesses, there is a topic that comes up time and time again: social networks. Love them or loath them, 2009 really was the year social networking went mainstream. The pessimists will have you believe this is fuelled by our celebrity-obsessed culture and almost narcissistic fascination with ego searches. However, social networking is bigger than Stephen Fry’s breakfast and hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to bring some real business benefit.Twitter, the biggest phenomenon of the genre, operates around the open questions “What's happening?”, and you only have 140 characters to answer. Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless. I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information turns Twitter into a surprisingly powerful tool, especially for business.There are lots of companies doing some quite incredible things. Dell recently announced it has made nearly $6.5m in sales directly from its Twitter presence and has over 1.5m followers. Ford too has a great set of Twitter streams and US cable company Comcast is rewriting the customer service manual with its exploits on Twitter.So we have established that big companies are setting up their stalls within these social networks. Where these businesses are throwing vast sums at establishing a presence we should all be able to learn from their experience, regardless of the size of our business.First, check your customer demographics: Find out if they use social networks, and if so which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don't forget Twitter is key to some and there’s Linkedin and FriendFeed too. Ask customers what they use.Next, I believe it is also important to do as much listening as talking, and this is where a lot of companies come unstuck. Use the search engine on each social networking site to find who is talking about your company. The Twitter search is incredibly powerful and can really give some amazing insight into your brand, products and customers.Also extend your searches to include competitors and anyone respected in your sector. Track what is said about the products or services they supply and what they are promoting. What can you learn?Remember that the heart of social networking is engagement. If you find someone talking about you or your products, then get chatting. Ask questions and listen to the feedback. This is an incredibly empowering process for your customers. No matter how big or small your company, we all like to feel that someone cares.A great example of fantastic engagement is the US cable company Comcast, a brand that has been synonymous with poor customer service for years. However Comcast in 2009 became a completely different animal.One change has been to embrace social networking. Comcast is on all major social media sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc. This presence gives it direct access to its users. Searching for examples returned hundreds of satisfied customers and barely any dissatisfied ones. Two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Engaging closely is one thing, but remember that a person’s online social space must be respected: Be smart and polite. Don’t go butting into someone’s conversation with a blatant plug. This is a fast track to achieving the exact opposite result and being blocked. Far better to offer advice that’s relevant and of interest to your audience.While most people now have some sort of online presence, the biggest complaint I hear is, “I haven’t got enough time.” It’s understandable and depending on your business and the social networks you intend to have a presence on, you’re bound to drop some plates. However, there are free tools that can really help. A good one is the brilliant Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck connects up to a number of social networks (Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin, Facebook), its power comes in the ability to define searches or groups of people to watch. These searches are organised into columns that aggregate the data.Social networks are not just the preserve of those interested in Britney’s personal life, it’s a mine of information. If you’re not using it I can guarantee your customers are already talking about you. And your competitors are probably talking to them.So, what are you doing?

The psychology of selling

Written for Business Zone, you can view the original here.We are all creatures of compulsion. When we find something we like, we go back for more. Once we think we can get something we want, we perform the actions to get it. Slightly disturbingly, this pursuit of rewards isn't that different to our pets.There have been plenty of studies conducted by psychologists into our shopping habits, particularly based around this pursuit of rewards. Classic results encourage the careful placement of fresh flowers and baked bread in a store, and fresh coffee just brewing when a prospect views a house. We provide a pleasant experience (reward) for the buyer to associate with the product, making them more likely to return or buy. These principles can also be applied to the ecommerce marketplace, although the details are somewhat different.We all like treats. In ecommerce this might mean giving away a free gift with all orders for a short period. These gifts could vary from small low cost items to large valuable goods, depending on your own average order value.I have seen this work to great effect with several merchants who gave away prizes as wide ranging as free postage and packing to a holiday in the Maldives. Not only does this grab attention, it also creates excitement. A relevant treat can transform the casual browser into a buyer.However, as an etailer your best market is always your existing customers and selling to them is much easier than converting non-believers. Doing this is all about compulsion and association.Starting with compulsion, let's not be under any illusions; making an online store compulsive is difficult, so every possibility must be explored.For instance, when emailing customers, try to change the email subject line and body text based on who they are (if you know) or their buying habits, to make opening the communication more compulsive. A tennis coach may be attracted by a subject headlining cheap tennis balls, then go for a deal on fake tan once the email has been opened.Thinking about how products are marketed is another area. Maybe you could introduce limited product runs. So tell your existing customer base that the widget they bought in pink last month is now available in blue, but in limited numbers. The idea of shortage can create a gripping reason for customers to return.This leads us on to association. We all like our experience to be relevant to our own preferences. The retailer Amazon utilises this to great effect. As soon as you visit their site you are given recommendations based on previous shopping habits and browsing history. Creating that personalised one-to-one service helps turn a faceless shopping site into an extension of your life. The site knows about you, who you are and what you like. The potential for up selling is enormous.Like it or not, we respond to rewards. When running an online store, failing to recognise this fact is likely to lead to falling behind on the curve.