Rick Watson is the VP Operations for Merchantry, an Amazon Webstore Solution Provider. Merchantry provides cloud-based marketplace software that empowers retailers to launch and expand their own online marketplaces.
Consumers are increasingly discovering and engaging with brands through user communities such as Pinterest, Polyvore and Instagram. From your best friend to Beyoncé, users are creating content that can come in the form of smartphone photography, collages, ratings, reviews, lists and more. This global network of passionate consumers discovers, creates and shares what is in vogue and on trend. With so many brands and retailers to shop from, these sites help consumers hone in on their preferences and needs — and expedite the purchase cycle.
Coinciding with New York and London Fashion Week, Merchantry recently hosted panels on the topic of eCommerce for fashion businesses. Panel members talked about how shopping has always been an inherently social activity (recall your teenage visits to the mall) and consumers frequently seek validation before making a purchase. Web-based social sharing communities make this easier than ever.
So what can your brand do to engage with social sharing sites? Here are some tips to increase user engagement with your brand:
- Create accounts and publish content: Brands and retailers can create accounts on these sites and participate in the conversations and content that are of interest to the users. A profile on Lyst can offer a selection of current season merchandise, descriptions and images, as well as pricing and store locations for each product. On Polyvore, fashion brands can create their own “sets” and some sites, like Pinterest, offer fashion businesses tools they can use to encourage and improve audience engagement.
- Partner: Many of these sites are looking to build marketplace or affiliate relationships with brands and retailers to generate revenue. Depending on the business model, you may be able to provide product, pricing and inventory data so consumers can purchase your merchandise directly from the site, or link directly to your site for purchase.
- Advertise or sponsor: With so many images and products available to users of these sites, it can be difficult for your brand and products to break through. You can “pay to play” (by buying media in prominent locations on the site) or get preferential ranking so that your products show up first. There are also opportunities to partner to co-develop events and content.
Like any other marketing or sales channel, you should evaluate the audience profile of each site and determine the participation level and mix that is right for your business.
Photography in eCommerce is almost a foregone conclusion. Of course great photos are likely to help you sell products online. And yet, spending just a few minutes looking around the eCommerce world, unexpectedly few have put the time and effort into making their photos spectacular. This is surprising, as images on the product page are a customer’s most direct contact with what you’re selling—a good image isn’t just a good image for your product, it’s a good image for your company.
1. Use only professional, high-resolution photos. Even the best product looks unappealing in a bad picture. Make sure that your photos are taken professionally—if you’re not sure what that means, refer to other tips we’ve given on good product photography here—and at a high resolution. You likely won’t be able to display the image at full size directly on your product page, so make sure the image scales well also.
A professional photo should be taken with the customer in mind. Because online shopping removes the element of direct interaction with your product, the photo itself should provide that interaction. It should answer common customer questions about your product, by displaying features like texture, color, and fit.
2. Enable features that let the user see more. As a high-resolution image usually doesn’t fit in the space allotted on a normal webpage, you’ll need to include features like mouseover zoom, color swatches, and quick view. You may also consider more advanced visual effects, or something as simple as allowing a user to click a color swatch to change the color of the product image.
Essentially, these features give your customer the chance to see the product in more depth than they would with just a single photo. As the main product image answers basic customer questions about the product, these additional features answer more in-depth questions the customer may have.
3. Back up the images with quality website organization. Paying attention to the little things like search features, social media widgets, and “breadcrumbs” will make it so that customers can find the right product pages. Images will do no good if the customer is frustrated and can’t find the right product.
Consider what Alternative Apparel does with their search features, where a search for “white shirt” immediately returns a search for “shirt” filtered to just white products. Look around at other eCommerce sites for these little features that make it easier to find just the right thing, and implement them right away (many of these features may be available out of the box with the right eCommerce solution).
In the end, the most important thing to keep in mind about product images is this: they need to be as accurate and detailed a representation of your product as possible. The goal of your eCommerce site should be to help potential customers decide on which products to buy as quickly as possible. If they have to squint, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Image Credit: Shermeee, New Camera, December 1st, 2008 via Flickr, CC-BY 2.o
Search engine optimization (SEO) can often seem complex and difficult. With so many different experts and tips it’s often difficult to know where to begin. In reality, yes, some aspects of SEO are very complicated and based on deep insights from analytics and other sources. But quite a bit of SEO comes down to thinking logically about how your web site is set up, experimenting wisely, and keeping on top of both site maintenance and the latest trends. Here are three tips that you can implement right now to get your site more optimized for natural search:
● Get your URLs in order. The first rule of SEO is: make your site accessible to humans. The goal of Google, Bing, and other search engines is to deliver the most relevant content for the user’s search at the top of the search results. One of the attributes that the search engines use as a ranking factor is your URL. A good URL format will describe the topic of the page and therefor have the key search terms right in the URL. Additionally, Google prefers that canonical URLs are in place (go here for the ups and downs of canonical URLs). It’s also important to avoid trying to stuff keywords or add duplicate keywords in your URL, so www.domain.com/womens-slippers-ruby-slippers is not a good choice. Sites built on Amazon Webstore have these considerations built in. Product detail pages have the product name in the URL by default, for example, and canonical URLs are taken care of behind the scenes for product and browse pages.
● Link to your best selling products from your home page, for example you can add a section on your home page that links to these product pages using the product name as the link anchor text. Links from higher-level pages are crawled more frequently and allow you to distribute the link equity (“link juice”) of your hope page to your most important products. If you sell relatively few items, you may want to consider putting links to all of them on your home page, but only if it doesn’t make the site difficult for your customers to use. Whatever you do, focus on linking to these on these hot products from your strongest pages.
● Build links to your website by thinking outside the box for link placement. Perhaps you could pitch a story related to your company to a local paper, a trade magazine, or a business journal. Maybe there’s a blog out there that is interested in a product you carry. Hit all the angles—every inbound link from reputable outside sources, especially a well-known one, is good for your SEO. Just be sure to keep your inbound links natural, don’t engage in link exchange networks or respond to requests from people you do not know for reciprocal link exchanges. The goal of the search engines is to return the most relevant content, and by participating on the websites and social networks related to your business or industry you will have no trouble obtaining relevant links that are good for both users and ultimately improve your natural search rank.
Bonus tip: Look into ranking for phrases including the color of the product you’re selling. A lot of people search for “black iphone 5” or “red gucci belt”. While we don’t necessarily recommend having different pages for the different colors, considering the effects of color words in search terms is definitely advisable.
In the end, the best advice for anyone interested in improving their natural search rankings and optimizing for search is the simplest: Make your users love your site.
This is the first in a three-part series about communicating with customers.
In a physical store, you’d have salespeople. On the Internet, you only have words. Plain words, in plain type, on (hopefully) an attractive backdrop. Those words have to do a lot of work if you’re planning to move units anytime soon. Whether you’re a copywriter or you’re in charge of hiring the copywriter, you need to know how to distinguish excellent copy from decent copy. (Bad copy is usually fairly self-evident.) So, without further ado, here are the best practices, gleaned from the best of the best:
1. Headlines and continuous attention
A good headline leads the reader to read the first sentence. A good first sentence leads the reader to the second, and so on. (This is the advice of copy guru Joe Sugarman, who mentored Copyblogger’s Brian Clark.) Headlines take advantage of people’s need to solve problems, figure things out, and get resolution.
The headline is the opening statement, the “ad for the ad”. As in a novel or a short story, a piece of ad copy has a conflict and a resolution. The headline and the opening sentences should be written so that they set up the conflict, driving people to read attentively to arrive at the resolution. Some headlines leave out information, are jarring, or are humorous to this end.
2. The Promise
Clark goes on to say that every piece of copy must make a promise to the reader, then fulfill that promise with claims that are authoritatively backed up. The promise is a small part of the copy, as is this list item.
3. Clarity and Structure
The copy you write should be utterly clear. Upon reading it, there should be no doubt in the reader’s mind regarding the message, especially the call to action. Copywriter Michel Fortin calls the lack of a clear call to action one of the “seven deadly sins of website copy”.
Fortin extols the virtues of the “power of one”. In his words, that means “one message, one audience, one outcome”. Some simple, actionable things that can help the clarity of your copy include:
- The basics: Grammar and style should be perfect.
- One voice: Having a style guide and a branding guide will help.
- Revision: Never just type it and forget it. Read it aloud or even hire an editor.
4. Support and fulfilling the promise
As mentioned, every piece of copy needs a resolution. This means your call to action should really solve the problem you exposed. This, in turn, means you need to make sure your audience believes you. So, back up your statements with credible proof. No matter how short, your copy will fail if your audience doesn’t believe it.
In sum, everything in your copy should be laser-focused on showing your solution to a real problem facing your audience. This will put attention on your call to action, which in turn will activate the salesperson hidden in these words on your website.
Image credit: Robert Neff, “Fifth World Art” via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Rick Watson is the VP Operations for Merchantry, an Amazon Webstore Solution Provider. Merchantry provides a cloud-based marketplace platform that empowers retailers to launch and expand their own online marketplaces.
As an eCommerce retailer, you juggle all sorts of challenges each day:
- Complaining customers (where’s my stuff?)
- Escalating competition (where did they come from?)
- Lack of website activity (not enough traffic!)
- Performance challenges (too much traffic!)
Retailing has never been an easy business. Couple that with the pace of technology change and it has never been harder to be a top-tier eCommerce retailer.
But when you entered the business, it all seemed so easy; set up a store, load your products and start shipping. What happened?
Here are three reasons your current retail strategy might be stuck in neutral:
1. Your competition manages technology better than you.
That new social sharing widget on your site is not likely to be the one thing that makes or break your business, so while it’s a good thing to implement, keep looking at how to constantly improve your online offering. The battle is won over the long term and whoever can roll out the most interesting and useful enhancements (those that customers actually value) can keep them returning. This requires the integration of technology into your long-term strategic plan.
2. You’ve lost sight of your goals.
Lost in the shuffle of running your business is your raison d’être: why are you here? What are your business goals? Have you strayed from your mission?
Try this simple test: Look at the things you have personally done in the last two weeks, and all of the enhancements you have made to your business in the last six months. Do these directly support your business goals or not?
If they don’t, this could be a clue as to why you are moving sideways—customers may not perceive you are true to your own mission.
3. You need more expertise in key positions.
Sometimes the problem is not technology or processes, it’s people—a topic not often addressed when talking with eCommerce retailers about their key impediments. While smart but inexperienced people are energetic, they often don’t know what’s possible and can spin their wheels in the wrong direction.
A single experienced eCommerce hire can change the entire complexion of your business and make all your investments more efficient.
Ultimately, getting your eCommerce business back in gear can require taking a step back and looking at the larger questions—including the role of technology in your company, your long-term business goals, and the people that are entrusted with the company’s direction. By pulling yourself out of the day-to-day mechanics of your business, however briefly, you can tackle the larger challenges and set your business up for long-term success.
Image credit: Titanas, “Toyota Auris 2007” April 13, 207 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
We’ve all heard that when customers have a good shopping experience they tell their friends, who then tell their friends, and so on. In our new social networking age, you can enable customers to tell not only a few friends about your products, but hundreds of thousands of them, simply by adding social networking buttons to your product pages!
As of July, 550 million people visit Facebook each day, Foursquare has 20 million registered users, and Twitter has 500 million registered accounts. Tying your Webstore into these major social networks is a quick and easy way to let customers point their social connections to your site. Many eCommerce site owners, however, are unsure how to begin. Here are a few ways to get started leveraging social media on your Webstore:
- Create a Facebook page for your site: From the Facebook login page, in the footer, click Create a Page. Choose the type of page you want (Business, Company, or Brand\Product). Once you’ve chosen a type, you’re asked to provide additional information such as category and your business’s name. You’ll need to add some graphics and text, and a link back to your store. Once it’s set up, you can Like your page, and invite friends and customers to Like it as well. This is a good first step to getting the word out. You can also now add a Facebook button to your site’s home page so that customers can Like your store right from your site. That way, each time you announce a promotion, your customer receives a notification in their Facebook Newsfeed.
- Set up a Twitter account for your store: From the Twitter login page, under New to Twitter, enter your name, e-mail, and password, and then click Sign up for Twitter. You may need to abbreviate your business’s name, as Twitter supports only 15 characters for the name. Once your account is set up, and you have a few followers, you can start tweeting about your store. You can even set up your Facebook page so that your tweets are automatically posted there as well.
- Create collages on Polyvore: Polyvore is an up-and-coming site that allows people to create collages of products from any online store and share them with the public. Polyvore retains a link to the site from which the images came, as well as the pricing information, so that customers can click on an item to go buy it from the store that sells it.
- Add social networking buttons to your product pages: Amazon Webstore makes this easy with the Social Widget. You can place the Social Widget on your Product Detail Pages to allow customers to post your products to their social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. Learn more in the help documentation (Seller Central login required).
- If you also have a brick-and-mortar store, join Foursquare: With Foursquare, when customers check in to your store they can publicly announce it to their Foursquare and Facebook friends, which is free advertising for you. You can also allow them to unlock discounts or other SWAG based on the number of check-ins or mayorship. This encourages them to come back and check-in often.
Getting started with social media tools is just the beginning—from there, there’s a whole world of social media strategy to dive into. In today’s fast-moving eCommerce world, tying into social networks is no longer a nicety—it’s something customers expect to see. The good news is that it’s not only good for them, but it can be key to driving traffic to your site as well.
Image credit: imanka, “Take The First Step” April 20, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Providing good customer service can be key to a successful company’s selling strategy. Self-service solutions, like putting customers in touch with each other in online forums instead of directing them to a staffed customer service department, are becoming prevalent and popular. In this case, giving your customer what they want means helping them to quickly and efficiently find answers.
“The vast majority of survey respondents (75 percent) find self-service is a convenient way to address customer service issues. Additionally, 67 percent of consumers prefer self-service, over speaking to a company representative.” - Nuance Research
Choosing a solution that works for every customer is becoming more and more challenging, both because of the multitude of learning styles and because there are so many different ways to provide service. When looking over the menu of self-serve customer service options you can offer, remember that using the most popular might be more efficient and effective than trying to provide every available option.
Built-in help, like FAQs or help documentation in the product or on your company’s website, is the first place many customers go to find answers. This is the cornerstone of your help options; consider having a goal that most of your customers should be able to find the answers they need in the built-in help. Calling out the help link in your navigation can help make sure users go there first. Creating an FAQ or Top 10 list can float the most common questions and answers to the top. In your help button or menu, provide options such as forums, blogs, YouTube, online service support and a phone number. You could even provide a “rate this page” feature that, over time, would allow you to tailor your support to the needs of your customers.
Forums have become a popular way of providing help to customers. They allow your customer support staff to interact with customers and the public in a non-real-time format that can be easier to staff and maintain. In addition, you may be able to tap your dedicated customer base—which may have significant expertise with your product—to answer questions alongside your official representatives. Your company can run a support forum using a number of free or paid platforms such as vBulletin, phpBB, or getSatisfaction.
Blogging gives your company a voice. Blog entries are often written in a more informal manner than marketing copy or technical documentation, and many companies use a rotating cast of subject matter experts and writers to keep the content fresh and topical. Writing a post for the company blog can bring writers closer to understanding their customers. Managed correctly, a blog can be a win-win for both sides of the table. Like the options in forum software, there are a varieties of blog platforms to choose from (such as WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad) and in many cases the service is provided free of charge.
Finally, using social media platforms to provide support has become de rigueur. Gartner has predicted that by the end of 2012 more than 60% of the Fortune 500 will “actively engage” customers on Facebook, up dramatically from 20% in the fourth quarter of 2011. The statistics on adoption of YouTube and Twitter are similarly impressive—try on these 23 Startling Social Media Statistics provided by Parature.
Delivering good customer service can be both challenging and a risky business. Companies must be available to help their customers across all channels. Those who are most successful are those who do their best to remove obstacles and friction that waste their buyers’ time and try their patience.
Regardless of how you choose to provide customer service, doing it well and making it easy to use is a good start to leaving a positive and lasting impression on your customers. Doing it wrong, creating unnecessary complexity, may result in unforgiving customers. Well-run businesses provide world-class self-support because they focus on the endgame: attracting, engaging and retaining customers.
Image credit: Polycart, “Plastic Self Service Carts Nested” May 6, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
You have likely spent months or years optimizing your website to drive search traffic to your website. As eCommerce professionals we have been conditioned by the online industry and by SEO companies that to sell products we must optimize around this highly coveted search traffic. Previous posts in this blog showed how to gain both search traffic and client conversion value from something as simple as quality product descriptions. With all of this optimization focus, can we apply these principles to our social presence as well, and yield new clients and revenues?
With a focused effort on key aspects of your social activities, you likely can! When we talk about optimizing for social we are referring to your social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ (among others). In this post we hope to provide some key insights into how optimizing your social profile can impact your overall results.
Picture yourself shopping in your favorite shopping mall. Once you’re inside one of your favorite stores, take a look around—it’s been optimized for your visual and emotional cues. Savvy retailers have their items displayed in specific locations with imagery that can invoke emotional responses and engagement. Brick and mortar retailers have usually optimized their stores to make sure you don’t leave without buying something. Our optimization efforts online often mimic this approach with driving targeted traffic and leveraging imagery, descriptions and engagement options to move us to make purchases.
On the other hand, think of the purchases you have made because of conversations you’ve had with friends, business associates, or people that you consider an expert. This person may have been raving about a book that changed their life. Based on this testimonial you’re more likely to buy that book. It wasn’t something you planned on purchasing, but you did. Thanks to the power of persuasion and social influences, you were moved to make an unintended purchase. That purchase reached a new audience that would have never been discovered by traditional marketing tactics. This happens every day, so how do you make that happen for you? You need to socially optimize!
Optimizing starts with the implementation of a social strategy. This strategy will be created to drive the right and consistent set of activities for maximized social success. It provides a high-level map for organizational clarity on your overall objectives, expected impact, and resources needed to execute. Once you have this in place you can engage in tactics, measure results, and move to deliver on your objectives.
One of many tactics to support your objectives could be to open a Facebook store. This provides a perfect situation for social conversations about your products, and can even integrate other popular social platforms like Twitter and Pinterest. Look for ways to ignite quality conversations across all of your platforms.
The information you put out in the social universe has to be meaningful and engage your fans so that they will share and engage with you. The social marks and conversations are often included in your search rankings as part of recent updates by major search engines. This can help drive more web traffic to your products and services. Many clients are finding that referral traffic to their websites has been growing from their social sites. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for you to become an authority or expert figure for your brand which can bring more clients to your site.
What does all this mean for you as a merchant? Likely your website does a great job of selling products to your clients when they are in the shopping mall. However, a considerable volume of sales can be influenced during social opportunities such as a discussion with a friend, a business dinner, a cocktail party, on the golf course, and now on social platforms. Without social optimizing you will miss those unique opportunities that can be so meaningful for your business. It may be time for you to tee-off on social selling!
Image credit: Brendan Landis, “Asian Clothing Store” January 2, 2003 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Many of us have found that, in the world of eCommerce, having good product images is essential (In fact, we talked about images a bit in our recent blog post, Increasing eCommerce Conversion: Product Merchandizing). But knowing how to produce those excellent images—especially if you don’t have a professional photographer on staff—can be a bit of a challenge.
Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you create product images that you can be proud of and that your customers may find compelling:
- Make “clean and sharp” your image mantra. Take care to set up the right environment for shooting the photos: a solid white background, good lighting, no shadows or highlights on the product, and with the product itself taking up at least 80 percent of the image area. There are very good resources online that discuss in detail how to configure a photo shoot. For example, take a look at the “Four Steps of Product Photography” section on this page from Smashing Magazine.
- Resist the impulse to purchase high-end photographic equipment unless you have reasons—other than just your eCommerce site—for wanting pricey cameras and accessories. You can produce excellent photos with basic equipment, and you won’t have to worry about the learning curve you’d have to go through to use the complex equipment.
- Consider providing multiple alternate views of the product, taken from different angles or sides, and showing details of the product that might not be clearly visible in the main image.
- If your eCommerce site allows for it (as Amazon Webstore does), include “swatch” images for products like clothing or other items that come in different colors or finishes. The swatch image is a close-up that gives the customer a clear picture of the texture or color of the item.
- Make sure that the images you post include only the item or items that the customer will be receiving. For example, if you include accessories in the image, they ought to be accessories that come with the product rather than accessories that can be purchased separately.
- It may be tempting to jazz up the images by including borders, text, decorations, or animations. But a crisp, simple photograph is almost always a better option. Anything that distracts, or that obscures the product, may cause your customer to choose to search for the product on a competitor’s site. eCommerce is all about trust; customers need to feel certain that what they see in the product image will be exactly what they find in the package that arrives.
- Once you’ve found an ideal size and resolution for your product images, stick to it. Your site will look more professional if all of the images are the same size and resolution.
- Depending on the type of product you’re selling, it may be helpful to include a product image that shows the relative size of the product. For example, if you’re selling a purse, consider including an image of a hand holding the purse.
Image credit: geishaboy500, “Studio Work” March 2, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Kevin Richards is the founder and CEO of AbsoluteWebstores.com, an Amazon Webstore Solution Provider that specializes in the design, development, and marketing of Amazon Webstore sites. Absolute Webstores is a part of Ventura Web Design, a custom eCommerce firm that has been helping small business clients since 1997.
A common question, when a business owner or eCommerce manager is building out their new Amazon Webstore, is whether they need to use all the available bells and whistles. The self-serving answer from a web design company is yes, you absolutely must use every feature possible—because that allows the designer to charge more for the extra effort.
Having been in the eCommerce business for 15+ years, let me assure you that from my perspective this is simply not true. In my experience, store owners should install the right set of features to accomplish two goals: increasing usability and driving more revenue.
First, a new feature should increase usability and ease of use for the particular demographic that visits your site. Designing your site as a one-size-fits-all, both in feature set and messaging, may be giving up your most compelling competitive advantage. If you’re a small retailer with a niche website, you can maximize your edge over other retailers by moving quickly to adopt new technologies and designs that make your site easier to shop than larger, less nimble stores. For example, if you sell home medical supplies and your primary demographic is men and women over 50 years old, you may not need to include the latest cutting edge technology. Rather, you may need to focus on making the experience simple, easy to read, and informative. If your target demographic likes your site better than those less-targeted sites, you’re much more likely to gain your customers’ long-term business.
Second, in my view the decision to include any feature on your site should be directly tied to its ability to generate additional revenue by providing a value-added service to your customer. Features like cross-selling and call-outs to bestsellers are likely things that you’ll want to consider including. If you add five new features that each increase sales by just 2%, you’ve taken small steps but increased your overall revenue by 10%. This concept can also apply to design techniques, merchandising, and other improvements to your site that can have a similar effect on your bottom line.
As an eCommerce storeowner, especially in a small business, you likely wear many hats. Try to remember to put on your customer hat—your most important one!— and think like your best customers as often as you can. Ask yourself how you can improve their shopping experience, and chances are good that they will reward you with their business. If you need help, the experts at Amazon Webstore can provide guidance, or provide a referral to a solution provider that can give you a kickstart in the right direction.