I have recently been spending a lot of time thinking about product launches. My employer, Actinic , is a few weeks away from rolling out a major update to one of its ecommerce software products. While we have the advantage of an existing user base, many of the fundamentals for launching are the same whether it is an existing product or something completely new.1. Understand the Unique Value PropositionIf your product is sat on the launch pad I would hope by this stage you know what it is that makes your offering different from the rest. The importance of your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) cannot be understated; it’s the lifeblood of any product launch. Review, discuss and research until you are totally convinced you have got it right; you only get one launch window.2. Talk to prospective customersGet out there and talk to the very people you want to sell your product to. Discuss your plans for the product, both now and in the future. Get their feedback; it could be you missed something.3. How are you going to sell and market?Choosing where to market your product can be difficult. Make informed decisions based on research. It might even be a good idea to run several small pilot schemes to see where you get the most success. However prepare to be ruthless if you’re not seeing the results. It’s easier to make decisions before you have spent the entire budget on something that’s not working.4. Make yourself heardFind out who the influential people are in your space and hustle, annoy and pester them. That is until you get a chance to demonstrate why your product is the best. Nothing is better than a personal recommendation regardless of the product or service. Go to events, chat to people and network, network, network!5. Bring the whole team on the journeyA successful product launch requires commitment and understanding throughout your organisation.When President Kennedy visited NASA in 1961 he came across a cleaner, and asked him what his job was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir”. Now that probably is the greatest launch of all time.
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?
In the old days life was fairly simple. You had a place of work; which probably had a desk and all the essential office equipment: desktop computer, phone, calculator, Spice Girls calendar, etc. However, roll forward a few years and its amazing how that model has changed. Thanks to technology and a certain amount of liberalisation, most people can work anywhere.I am one of those people. Armed with my laptop, 3G stick and mobile phone I tend to work wherever and whenever it suits, on the train, in the office or at home.However there is a disadvantage to this nomadic lifestyle; keeping everything in sync can be difficult. Having a process is essential otherwise things fall through the gaps, and quickly.While I haven’t perfected it, here are my three essential productivity tips for nomads:1. In-box zeroAfter years of fighting, this has become a bit of a revelation to me.The principle is simple; the only things in your inbox should be the things that need your attention. To achieve this you need to learn to love your delete button. Like me I am sure you get tons of email and most of it, including (shock horror) things from colleagues only need our attention for a short space of time. My mantra is read, action, delete, or file if you think it might be important.2. Task listsI have started to become really obsessive about task lists; there is nothing worse than forgetting to do something. Use Post-it notes, scraps of paper, some smart software, whatever works for you, but it is essential to keep a list. However here is the thing most people forget, for a list to be useful you have to look at it regularly!Personally I consider myself in the upper echelons of the world’s note takers; I have ‘to-do’ lists everywhere. However I am terrible at reviewing them. To solve my conundrum I turned to Google Tasks. It works well for me and basically annoys me into submission.3. PresenceMost of us work in some sort of team and there is nothing more frustrating than a team member going AWOL. My third tip is about presence. Set up a simple way of letting everyone communicate their availability. At Actinic we tend to live in Skype chat, so there is always a constant stream of information going between the team members, but we also use an internal message board for keeping each other updated. Why not try something as simple as an open diary allowing people to log their week?While all of these tips may sound obvious, keeping all the plates spinning can be difficult. As nomads, our effectiveness in these areas defines us to our colleagues. While some of us are fastidiously organised, there are just as many of us that would forget our head if it wasn’t screwed on. There are lots of ways of achieving the three points above so I recommend finding something that works and sticking to it.What works for you?
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.
In our media savvy age, advertising, marketing and brand strategies have become so ingrained into our culture, that I would argue there is no better barometer of public mood or confidence. I am sure we can all name a TV advert instantly. However, for every well executed marketing campaign there is probably an equally memorable disaster.In this article I want to look at the top five marketing disasters that have caught my eye. I’m sure that you have your own favourites and I will look forward to hearing about them in your comments.Viral campaign fail: StarbucksA confession, I am a huge Starbucks fan. It’s almost bordering on obsessive so it pains me to put my favourite brand into my top five marketing disasters’ list. Unfortunately, it’s justified.Back in the heady days of 2002 the coffee giant quickly learnt that viral marketing campaigns can back fire, and spectacularly. Starbucks issued a free coffee coupon via email to a few of its staff. The suggestion was that they “mail it to a friend”. It turns out on the internet we are all friends. Several coupon boards and photocopiers later Starbucks were in trouble.One Starbucks employee described the scene at her local store as “utter murder”. Coffee shops all over the world were literally besieged with customers claiming their essential Venti House Blend. Unfortunately for Starbucks the voucher omitted an expiry date. A few days later they had to issue numerous statements that they would no longer honour the deal.Starbucks of all people should have known that getting in the way of someone’s first cup of Jo in the morning is a dangerous sport. The company were not only heavily criticised, one angry customer even tried to sue Starbucks for over $100m. The real winners were the enterprising competitors such as Café Nero that opened their doors to disgruntled Starbucks fans by honouring the coupon, but only for a day.Product placement fail: James Bond, Die Another DayA trip to the cinema is a golden opportunity for advertisers. In the old days it started as soon as you walked into the foyer, extended into the 30 minutes of ads but stopped once the film commenced. These days however the movie itself has become the platform for advertising, known as “product placement”. Some brands even offer up to half of the production cost to make sure the hero swigs from their particular brand of cola while saving the world. I have no problem with it... when it’s subtle. In the case of the less than brilliant Bond film “Die Another Day” it was completely over the top.Bond movies have always been about material objects, the car, the watch and the gadget. However, in Die Another Day it went into intergalactic warp drive. By the end of the movie I knew which brand of Vodka went into the Vodka Martini; what life is like in BA first class; and how the perfect sweeping second hand of an Omega Seamaster could win the Oscar for best supporting actor. I would like to say that it ruined the movie but the acting, direction and script take that particular plaudit. However it felt like an exercise in brainwashing. Critics branded the movie “Buy Another Day”. It wasn’t MGM’s finest hour.Ad fail: MPAA, Movie PiracyThe anti-piracy lobby makes my list for being so out of touch with its audience it’s laughable.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA7FVHkS4to]It’s targeting the wrong people, as if you’re seeing the ad you probably rented or bought the movie. In addition, it must be the single most irritating thing that an industry has inflicted on its own paying customers. If I previously thought piracy was wrong, I had second thoughts after watching their ad, with skip disabled, for the two hundredth time. The only good news is the genius of the parody videos.TV appearance fail: Bill Gates, Windows 98In my book there are two golden rules of television appearances. The first is to have a compelling reason to be there, the second, if you are selling the virtues of a product, is to be sure that it works. Poor old Bill Gates failed on both counts during the launch of Windows 98:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9jOi_Jd2dQ]Bill looked uncomfortable in the first place but his discomfort got worse as his flagship software product crashed live on TV and the whole world got to see what a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) looks like. It could have all been laughed off, but the real-life experience for millions was of the same blue screen.Microsoft doesn’t really have a great TV track record:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGvHNNOLnCk]Spokesman fail: Brylcreem and David BeckhamSometimes when brands need a little helping hand the answer can be found with celebrity endorsement. The logic is sound; we live in a celebrity obsessed age and success by association can definitely work. Sadly as many brands have discovered, celebrities are a fickle bunch. Just ask Tiger Woods’ sponsors.My final example of how brands can get it wrong, goes to Brylcreem and its man of the hour, David Beckham. All the ingredients were in place for a happy marriage. Brylcreem as a brand was stagnant, its products generally associated with WW2 fighter pilots and anyone else over the age of 70 that had managed to cling onto their hair. Golden Balls on the other hand was on the way to the top, and the number one male icon in Brylcreem’s target market. To make things even better, his hair was an even hotter topic than his football.Sadly the marriage didn’t even last a year. To sell the product, the single pre-requisite required Beckham to have some hair, which he had decided, very publically, to shave off. Brylcreem were in trouble. The advertising campaign had just got into gear, the company was stuck with pre-bought air time, and to make matters worse every kid in the country was following Beck’s advice and opting for the more streamlined look.ConclusionIt took me a long time to distill this list. The problem is there are far too many examples of brands getting it wrong. During research for this article I asked the question on Twitter “what is the worst advert on tv?”. I had over 100 replies, each one with a different answer. However, it did strike me that the bad campaigns were often the ones that we best remember. So one final thought. Is an awful marketing campaign such a bad thing, or is it true that the only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about?
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.
Yesterday I was sitting on a train trying very hard not to listen to two elderly people engaging in a loud discussion about politics. The topics discussed ranging from our participation in Europe to the welfare state. The arguments were fairly fascinating; an insight into how life has changed over the years. I am delighted to report that the phrase “it wasn’t like that in our day” was used more than once. My initial reaction was to dismiss their opinions, but on reflection I understand their conclusions. As humans we are biased towards our own life experiences, we form our views based on our own particular past.The advertising industry doesn’t like this. In the brand-driven 21st century billions of pounds are pumped into pre-conditioning our understanding of a particular product or service. From advertising and product placement to celebrity endorsements, every brand is busy at work and the results can be worryingly influential. I have never owned an Audi but my perception of their products is one of quality, refinement and social status. I haven’t even driven an Audi, so the very idea that owning one will be a good experience is based almost entirely on the slick advertising and I’m ashamed to say that it worked on me.But there is hope. ‘Influence independence’ is one of the single most important revolutions arising from the internet. As a consumer I can now check out the nostrums peddled by the marketers. The world is connected, we all like to talk and it’s a game changer. No longer do I have to rely on my own experiences and those of the guys trying to sell me something. I can ask the world and it’s easy to get an answer.Social networks such as Twitter and independent product review services like FeeFo have enabled the independent assessment of everything from the car we drive to the movies we watch. Sticking with Audi, my perceptions were dashed when I spotted a tweet from a friend complaining that his brand new A3 was full of water after the boot seals failed. Thanks to his online commentary I also got a blow-by-blow account of the resulting customer care, product quality and after sales process and it wasn’t pretty. Certainly not the “vorsprung durk technique” I was expecting. Again I have been influenced, but this time it’s from a source I trust. Crucially it’s independent.It turns out the two old ladies on the train were right, comparing our own experiences with the realities of the world gives us a unique view point. While not everyone may agree with our views, the internet has provided us with a platform for voicing them and that’s to the benefit of everyone. In addition, when you aggregate all of the view together you end up with both an independent and statistically accurate view of the world. Now companies can’t just string a nice line, they need to deliver as well.
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.
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?
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!