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With Black Friday right around the corner, the holiday shopping season is rapidly shifting into full gear. According to Forrester Research, online sales for the 2011 holiday season are expected to hit $59.5 billion which would be a full 13% increase over last year. With this said, the 2011 holiday season offers online retailers significant sales growth opportunities.

The following tips will help you create an online shopping experience that’s conducive to increasing sales for the holiday season. So if you haven’t already applied all of the following recommendations, there is still time to start taking advantage of them.

Dress Up Your Online Store for the Holidays
Adding holiday themed banners and ads to your site can help increase holiday sales since they convey to your shoppers that your site is up-to-date and ready for the holiday season. Dressing your site up for the holidays also naturally encourages your site visitors to think about shopping for friends and family on their shopping list.

Enticing Holiday Promotion Offers
Actively promote your holiday promotions by email and with on-site ads that reinforce your offers. Make sure that the products you promote are popular items that will convert into sales and that they include strong offers such as free shipping or percentage off discounts, since these types of offers convert at higher rates. Also, make sure your holiday promotions have strong calls to action and that they direct shoppers to landing pages where they can immediately take action and make the purchase. Keep in mind that many holiday shoppers turn to the internet for both simplicity and savings. Make sure you’re giving them a great reason to buy from you now and make it as easy as possible!

Promote Suggested Gift Ideas
Develop a department on your site that’s focused on gift suggestions and promote it throughout your site. The reason for this is twofold. First, many of your visitors will come to your site to shop for themselves and by seeing the suggestion of gift ideas they may be further influenced to make gift purchases for their friends and family as well. Second, many visitors will land on your site who are actively gift shopping and the easier you make it for them to find gift ideas quickly, the more likely they will be to buy.

Product Images & Content that Sells
Review your product images to ensure they showcase the perceived value of your products. Consider adding additional product images as applicable that offer alternate views of the product. Lifestyle shots can also help increase your online sales. People naturally relate to products they see other people using and enjoying. Also, make sure your product descriptions are well written and address the questions your site visitors are most likely to be concerned about before making a purchase.

Up Sells & Cross Sells
Suggestive selling is a powerful marketing tool that can increase your online sales immediately. Up selling and cross selling should be applied year-round and further refined for the holidays. For example, if you offer a product and related up sell products are available, make sure to offer the up sell items as suggested items. Also, if you have products that have add-on accessories available, make sure you’re offering the add-on products as cross sells. Don’t leave these valuable sales opportunities on the table.

Work Your Social Networks
Let your social networks, such as your Facebook friends and Twitter followers see that you’re in the holiday spirit. Add holiday related content to your wall posts and tweets. Consider updating your profile pictures and backgrounds (where applicable) to incorporate holiday themes. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many people will end up connecting with your site due to creating this top of mind awareness that you’re there for them for the holidays. Also, don’t be afraid to occasionally promote offers through your social networks such as special coupon codes for your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You might be surprised at how many of them will appreciate this and share these with others.

Dressing up your website for the holidays and providing enticing holiday promotions will generate more interest in your site during the holiday season and ultimately more sales. Make sure you’re maximizing your selling opportunities by suggesting great gift ideas, refining your product content, applying effective cross sells and up sells, and actively cultivating your social networks. Creating an effective holiday presence requires some extra planning and work, but the potential rewards are well worth it. And if you’re doing it right, it can be a lot of fun for both you and your customers.

Happy Holidays!

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EPORIA Serves Up D’Artagnan Gourmet Food eCommerce Website with Unprecedented Results

EPORIA and leading gourmet food purveyor D’Artagnan announced that D’Artagnan’s eCommerce website, which was launched in October on the EPORIA platform, generated higher online sales for the months of December and January than the company has ever seen, with January seeing double digit sales growth over 2009.

“Launching in time for our busiest season was key for us, so we could capitalize on holiday traffic and convert visitors on the new platform,” said Katie Holler, Director of eCommerce for the 25-year-old gourmet food company. “EPORIA helped us every step of the way, from design to implementation, and met our tight timeframe with a week to spare!” The two companies collaborated closely to accomplish this feat. “As a result,” says Holler, “we had the best December online in the history of the business, and the month of January was up 17% over last year.”

Recognizing the desire for increased online sales and a richer online presence for its expanding clientele, D’Artagnan selected EPORIA for their focus on results, and for the platform’s robust feature set, which is perfectly suited to an elite gourmet food brand like D’Artagnan.

The website’s extraordinary results began immediately after launch. EPORIA’s search engine friendly platform and comprehensive SEO expertise led to rapid indexing of the new website’s pages–nearly 90% of the new pages were listed in search engines within just days after launch. “We were extremely impressed with the results,” says Holler. “Just two weeks after launch, our rankings on the first three pages of search returns increased 400%. I’ve never seen a site index so fast.”

“From the day we launched, our daily order volume and average order value have seen double digit increases and our conversion rate has already nearly tripled,” Holler reports. In the due diligence phase of researching potential eCommerce solutions and partners, Holler often told the EPORIA team that the EPORIA eCommerce solution sounded “too good to be true.” Since the launch, Holler confirms that “we can now see the results for ourselves, and it’s true—EPORIA really is that good. And on top of it, they offer a great value for your investment.”

Read the complete story for more details

Contact us to learn about how we can help grow your business online.

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Your eCommerce website should be ready and rolling for the holiday season and online Christmas sales. Whether you believe your site is ready or not, review the following Holiday Season 2009 eCommerce Sales & Marketing Checklist. If you find anything below that you haven’t already addressed, now is the time to make it happen!

  1. Take advantage of your home page primary banner and ad spaces to present strong and attractive holiday imagery and feature your holiday season best sellers.
  2. Make sure your best selling products are also featured in the top positions of your department category pages. Make it as easy as possible for your visitors to find what they want and buy from you.
  3. Optimize your content for the holiday season. Make sure you’re using the right keywords on your pages for both visitors and the search engines to let them know about your holiday offers.
  4. Use strong calls to action with an emphasis for your customers to buy now. Experiment with limited-time offers (“Three days only!”) and other variations (“While supplies last – order now!”).
  5. Make sure product images and product page content are rich and enticing.
  6. Maximize cross selling opportunities by suggesting the most relevant items related to each product right on that product’s page.
  7. Ensure that your email marketing campaigns have a strong focus on your offerings and present your brand in the best light. Make sure to include “forward to a friend” links to capitalize on viral marketing.
  8. Make the most of your site’s ad positions. Ensure that all ads on your site only feature your best selling holiday products or offers positioned as giftable. This is not the time to promote lower converting merchandise.
  9. Don’t skimp on promotions. People are actively searching for special offers online during the holidays such as free or discounted shipping, percentage or dollar amount discounts, special offer promotion codes via email and affiliate programs, and cross promotions (buy one get one free).
  10. If you have membership or club groups, create specials that are designed just for them and make sure you let them know with email marketing pieces that make it clear that these special offers are only available to them to add perceived value to their previous purchase and keep them coming back to buy more.
  11. Review your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) and work at updating your most important pages for the holidays.
  12. Make sure all of your pay-per-click (PPC) ads, such as Google AdWords ads, are using the best keywords for the season and that you’re also applying negative keywords to reduce wasted clicks and ad budgets.
  13. Ensure affiliate ad materials for your affiliate networks are enticing and up to date with your most important and most likely to convert holiday offers. Think in terms of click-through and conversion.
  14. Publish new online articles, content pages, and blog posts, optimized for the search engines, for your most important holiday product or service offerings.
  15. Get social. Make sure to let those who follow your blog posts, tweets on Twitter, or other social media efforts know about your special holiday offers and give them an incentive to click through to your site and buy.

How many of the above items have you already implemented to maximize your online sales for the 2009 online holiday shopping season? It’s not too late! Optimize for the holidays and convert more with your seasonal promotions.

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A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that despite a slower economy (and traditional in-store retail sales being significantly down) eCommerce retail sales are still growing at a strong pace.

The chart below shows estimated quarterly U.S. retail eCommerce sales as a percent of total quarterly retail sales from the 4th Quarter of 1999 to the 2nd Quarter 2009.

onlines-ecommerce-sales-082709

If retail eCommerce can go against all of the current economic odds, just imagine how much more growth there will be as the economy improves.

 View Complete U.S. Census Bureau Report

Contact us to learn more about how eCommerce can help your business.

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If you’ve read any of our previous blog posts you’re probably starting to pick up on a theme; being successful online takes effort. As a matter of fact, building a thriving ecommerce business takes the same amount of hard work and discipline as building any other business, if not more so.

The following tips will help you to grow your ecommerce business into a success if you apply them on a constant basis.

  • Plan ahead for everything – It isn’t uncommon for a lot of ecommerce companies to miss significant selling opportunities due to not being ready ahead of time. This being the case, everything should be planned at least three months in advance. This includes seasonal promotions, product offerings, PPC and SEO campaigns, site design elements, etc.
  • Make continuous improvements to your site – Many online businesses start with an incredible amount of enthusiasm only to fizzle out due to unrealistic expectations. Once your online store is up and running this isn’t the time to sit back and see what happens. This approach is guaranteed for failure. In order to be successful online, you need to apply the same mentality of the major players of constantly improving and growing your website. Keep in mind that search engines as rule like larger sites and they thrive on quality content. With this said, make getting big fast and continually growing your content resources a top priority.
  • Keep it real – Some business people still view the internet as something different from their physical business locations. In other words, they think it’s OK to do things online that they wouldn’t do in the real world such as questionable marketing tactics to generate sales. Contrary to the “old school” way of thinking, your web presence is just as important, if not more important, than your physical business location. In today’s wired world, most potential customers will find you via the internet opposed to driving by your business or finding you in the yellow pages. If your online presence is not coming across as the most reputable and professional in your field, your competitors are only a click away.
  • Promote, promote, and promote some more – If you are not actively working on marketing your online business every day, the odds of success are not in your favor. Like any business, you don’t set up a store, load it with products, and wait for something to happen… This methodology does not work in the traditional retail world and it will not work online either. Any successful online business is constantly marketing their site 24 hours a day 365 days a year. In addition to online marketing methods such as SEO and PPC marketing, think about other things you can do such as sending out flyers and bumper stickers with your orders. Having strong email signatures that promote your business. Using signage on your physical locations and vehicles. The options are endless, and the more you market your business – the more successful it will be.
  • Don’t scare customers away – Have you ever visited a website, found their offers interesting, and then they got too nosy? You’ve seen these sites that want your zip code, your email address, etc. before providing any of the information you want. If you’re like most people you simply leave. With this said, if you apply such tactics, your potential customers will do the same. Don’t ask your customers to provide more information than necessary and by all means do not force them to set up an account to shop with you. This may have worked in the past, but today’s online shoppers aren’t going to do this as easily, which will result in lost sales for your business.
  • Be the expert in your industry – The quickest way to gain ground on your competition, online or off, is by being an expert. However, this is even more so the case online where people are seeking information on products and services before making a purchase. Now, if you were a consumer and a site attracted you with the informational content you were looking for, and they also offered the product for sale, this would be a double win since these folks know what they’re talking about and they sell exactly what you want or need. This comes back to what was said earlier about making continuous improvements and maximizing your content opportunities. Simply showing a little picture with a blurb of text about your offering is not going to put you in a competitive position with leaders in your industry that offer online instruction manuals, lists of complementing products and accessories, additional product views, detailed product specs, etc.
  • If you don’t know ask – If you feel your website isn’t living up to its potential, your marketing isn’t effective, or you aren’t applying strategic site development that works – by all means ask a professional for help. Sometimes all it takes is a minor change to make a website more successful and in other cases it may require setting up a new site that is up-to-date to compete in today’s online savvy world. Remember there’s no shame in asking for help, especially if doing so saves your business money and increases your online sales.

The above principles should be a major part of your core thought processes and actions on a daily basis. Again, you can’t win in ecommerce without commitment, planning and continuous effort. If you’re not sure where to begin let us know. We can help you get started in the right direction.

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When selling online a picture isn’t just worth a 1000 words – it’s worth 1000’s of sales. This thought holds true for every picture you post on your website. As the old Nike slogan goes, “Image is Everything”, and nowhere is this more true than online.

The images your website uses are among the first things that affect whether or not a site visitor is going to continue exploring your site or leave. This is even more important at the product level where the sale is being made. If your product images are less than desirable, so is the perception of your product offerings.

With today’s technology, providing excellent product images shouldn’t be any problem. Digital cameras can take thousands of photos that are ready for immediate use in the attempt of capturing the perfect image. Also, if the perfect photo isn’t quite perfect it can usually be made so with some crafty image editing software. Sometimes all it takes is a little cropping and brightening to turn an image from blah to buy!

Keep in mind that the better the quality of your product photos, the more confidence you provide your potential customers to follow though and make a purchase. If applicable, provide additional photos of other colors or designs available and alternate views.

In some cases, taking a picture of an item yourself may be impossible or simply impractical. If this is the case, ask your suppliers if they can provide you with images for your website. Most manufacturers have professionally done web ready images available simply for the asking.

Remember, on the web your product images can make the difference between getting the sale and losing it. Make sure you’re making the right impression with all of your product images and converting your site visitors from shoppers to buyers!

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When writing content for your website keep in mind that most people scan text, they’re impatient, and they’re skeptical if they haven’t done business with you before. These three reasons ultimately lead to less sales and income for most online businesses. So what can you do to address these issues and increase your sales? Start with the page copy of your website, especially on your pages that sell a product or service.

Keep the following copywriting tips in mind when writing content for your website.

  1. Write headlines that are directly meaningful to what you’re selling. The more factual and direct the better.
  2. Order your content starting with your most important selling point and work your way down the list. Make sure your most important selling point is right at the beginning of your content – front and center!
  3. Keep your paragraphs short and only focus on one idea per paragraph.
  4. Use bulleted lists and bold text where appropriate to highlight your key selling features and benefits.
  5. Use simple language that anyone can understand and go easy on your industry jargon. If they don’t understand what you’re offering, they won’t buy.
  6. Keep your choice of words objective. Avoid exaggerated claims or heavily promotional language. The more factual your content is written, the more people will believe it’s factual.

Selling online is like any other form of sales communications; you need to be direct, clear, and easily understandable. The easier you make it for your potential customers to understand what you’re offering and what’s in it for them, the more likely they will convert into paying customers.

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