Thinking Outside the Box – The Challenges of E-Commerce Packaging

Packaging for E Commerce

Choosing packaging materials is about far more than simply getting your products from A to B intact.   You will be considering your budgets, shipping arrangements, and environmental impact. Alongside these practical considerations, you need to consider the impact on your customers.  The packaging your products arrive in can help support, or damage, your customers’ opinion of you, encourage loyalty and also advertise your brand to other potential customers, as they see your parcels in transit.

In this blog, we’ll look into the main points to consider when choosing packaging materials for your online store and the different options available.

Choose Packaging Customers Will Like

Research shows that e-commerce customers want their packaging to be simple and clean, to protect the product, have consistent branding and be environmentally friendly.  Would you be happy to drive around to your customer’s house and deliver that parcel in person?

People hate hard plastic packaging or anything that needs a tool to open it. For environmental reasons, consumers are very anti-plastic and pro-sustainability. Can you choose packaging products that they will like? Amazon uses what it calls “Certified Frustration Free Packaging”  and says its goal is to “invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.”

Choose Size Appropriate Packaging

Boxes, bags or other packaging should be a good fit, and just enough to protect the product. No one enjoys carrying home an unnecessarily enormous package from the collection point.  Whilst you might wrap your child’s birthday present in a comically large box to disguise it, that is not a great idea when posting goods out to a customer.  You will also find that overly large packaging results in higher courier costs, and a higher carbon footprint to deliver the items.

Make Sure Your Packaging Protects

We have all experienced the feeling of receiving a battered parcel.  Even if the goods inside are intact, it does not paint a good picture of the supplier.  Make sure your package not only looks good but really is well protected in case it is thrown around in transit, gets wet or squashed. This will help keep your customers coming back, as well as getting this particular delivery there in one piece.  From hardback envelopes, to padded bags, cardboard tubes, bubble wrap and reinforced boxes – the perfect option for your product is out there.

Consider the Cost

We have to mention it.  We all know that customers spend extra if shipping is free.  Some will not shop with you at all if you charge for shipping, so packaging costs need to be built in to pricing early on.  How much can you afford? What is the best possible option within that budget?  Can you save money if you order in bulk? Do you have appropriate dry and safe storage space for that?

Choose Re-usable Packaging

Can your customer keep the product they brought from you in the box, tube or envelope it came in? Or peel off the label and use it again? Could the customer remove and reuse the bubble wrap their item comes in, whether to post an item of their own or just as a stress reliever? Any re-use options make the packaging better for the planet and more attractive to the customer. Think of the many uses the blue IKEA bags end up fulfilling!

Take Advantage of the Unboxing Opportunity

Opening your package can be exciting for your customer and is an important touch-point in your relationship with them. Read our blog on Unboxing to find out more about this phenomenon.

Keep it simple but don’t forget to use the chance to remind your customer who they bought from. We can help by supplying branded boxes, mailing bags or envelopes, as well as bespoke despatch paperwork, where you might want to include a personalised offer to further delight your customer.

Using a consistent type of packaging can help as well.  Take the Blue Tiffany Box as an example or Selfridges yellow carrier bags.

Choose Eco Friendly Packaging

Customers are increasingly environmentally aware, particularly when it comes to plastic packaging. It can be hard to judge how eco-friendly a packaging item really is.  To help you out, we score all our packaging products out of 5, depending on whether they are recycled, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable and/or made out of sustainable materials.  Our cardboard all comes from FSC or PEFC approved sustainable sources. Our mailing bags are made from recycled materials. Choosing the right size and weight of packaging will also help reduce the carbon emissions involved in its delivery.

So, it is not quite as simple as just finding a cardboard box.  Selecting the perfect packaging for your e-commerce products can not only make sure they arrive in one piece, but also ensure the customer is happy and likely to buy from you again.  Have a look at our packaging pages to see all the options we have available.

Do get in touch if you’d like us to help you choose yours.

Which is the best e-commerce platform for your online store?

E Commerce Platforms

How do you choose between the likes of Magento, Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce and Open Cart?

Whether you are a start-up business or have been trading for years and need to change, selecting the best e-commerce platform for your business is a big decision.

With even the bargain budget providers such as Weebly and Wix now offering e-commerce solutions, through to middle-of-the-road choices such as Shopify and WooCommerce, up to expensive and complex software such as Magento and BigCommerce, it’s hard to know where to start.

The answer to our question is, of course, that there is no one answer. The best solution is going to be the platform that most suits the unique needs of your business. We’ve looked at what you should consider when choosing an e-commerce platform, the features to investigate and how some of the leading providers match up.

Value

Perhaps the most important thing is to understand all the costs involved. You’ll need to look at the cost of developing the site, the ongoing costs of license fees and hosting, any commission for the payment methods you want to enable and subscriptions for Apps and Plugins to make the site do everything you’d like. Whilst WordPress/WooCommerce and Shopify offer cheap ways to get started, how long will that package meet your needs? What will it cost to scale up? Would it be worth spending more on developing in Magento and potentially have less ongoing costs?

Integrations

What does your e-commerce software need to integrate with? Must it play nicely with your inventory management system, your POS, your CRM, your email marketing tools, your accounting software? Do you also sell on other marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay? Can it integrate with those? BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify all have many integrations. Just make sure you understand any additional costs involved.

Customer Experience

How easy is the platform for customers to use? Most e-commerce software is now built on extensive User Experience (UX) research, so there may be little to differentiate between the top providers. Look at sites built on the platforms you are considering and see if they suit your customers’ usage trends? How well do they work on mobile?
Once you have a short list, dig deeper and look at various sites built on the platform. Analyse its features more closely. If there are elements you know you want, for example reviews, a wishlist, abandoned cart emails and easy account management tools, check those are available and whether they require additional spend.

Which sites do you personally enjoy shopping on? How are they built?

Designs and Themes

The UX of an e-commerce site may be less to do with its platform, than its design. If you have a clear sense of your brand identity, does the platform have the flexibility to match that? If you are commissioning a bespoke build in Magento or OpenCart, this should not be an issue. If you are using an existing theme on Shopify or WordPress/WooCommerce, is there a theme that will be in keeping with your brand? Even bespoke templates are now highly customisable, so this is not likely to be a deal breaker but is worth considering.

Ease of Use

You’ve checked how easy the platform is for your customers. How easy is it for you? What is the process for adding or editing products? How straightforward is it to put together a landing page for a new collection such as a Holiday Essentials page for your clothing site? How will you see the orders you’re getting, look at analytics and pull data from the site? Most providers will have training videos you can look at. BigCommerce and Shopify both come with intuitive store management controls and clear, easy reporting.

SEO

You will want your store to rank highly with search engines. SEO has sometimes been a problem for e-commerce stores. Does your platform have the option for a blog? Can you independently edit page Titles and Meta Descriptions? Can you have content other than product pages? Can you choose your URL? Will you have Reviews? All will help with your SEO. Shopify, 3DCart, WooCommerce and Magento all rank highly for SEO but might require specialist help to set up.

Support

You’re going to need a hand to get started. Before you buy, it’s worth checking out the level of support available. What is the onboarding process? How quickly are you likely to be able to get in touch with someone for help? Do you have to pay for that? Shopify for example, have well written training content, a 24/7 support team and excellent forums for advice.

Scalability

How ambitious are you for your e-commerce store? Are you going to offer many more products in future? Would you like to sell overseas? Is there additional functionality you can’t afford now but would like to add? Get out your crystal ball and have a look at 5 years’ time. Will this platform still meet your requirements?

There is undoubtedly a lot to consider, and a lot of e-commerce platforms to choose between. Knowing what matters to you, your business and your customers in each of the areas above should help you make your shortlist. Best of luck with your choices and do let us know how you get on. 

If you’d like to talk to us about choosing a platform and how our integrated labels option fit with the different software solutions, do get in touch.  

 

The Serial Returner – A Serious Problem for E Commerce or an Opportunity?

Returns Labels

Online shopping has drastically changed the way we shop and how much we return.  Returns no longer mean going into a store and explaining to an assistant, why we are bringing back a product. We can simply drop our package at the post office.  This has led to the rise of Serial Returners – shoppers who regularly buy far more than they intend to keep, a way of shopping that is now causing significant problems for e-commerce sellers.

Fashion retailers are particularly affected with around 16% of products bought online being returned. According to a report from Barclaycard, British shoppers spend an average of £313 on online clothes shopping per year, but send back £146 worth of this.  

It’s not just fashion, retailers across the board report an increase over the last two years. For electronics, the rate is around 12% and returns are up by 10% across most sectors. Over the Black Friday and Christmas sales period, returns surge to 30%.

For many, returns are the new normal.


Are you a serial returner?

Why are Serial Returners a problem?

Cash flow is not easy to manage when you can never be sure how much you will have to refund.  Returns are often claimed within the last few days of the time window, almost a month after it was paid for.  In some cases, this is even longer. Over Christmas John Lewis accepted returns within 90 days of purchase!

Inventory management can also be difficult. In the “fast fashion” world, items that are returned are old news by the time the return has been processed, so cannot be simply put back into stock.  This means they often end up being discounted, or even destroyed, cutting into margins. 

Returns need to be processed, and that takes people, time and money.  Additional product handling will also require extra space in your warehouse or despatch area.    

Why are Serial Returns on the rise?

Much of the growth in returns is to do with the way we shop online. 

Unlike in-store customers, people who buy online have a right to a full refund, even if there is nothing wrong with the product. Some shoppers take advantage of this, perhaps with reasonable intentions, such as to try on different sizes. Amazon’s new Prime Wardrobe scheme is specifically designed for those shoppers, who now only pay for the goods once they have selected what they will keep.

Shopping at a distance will always bring surprises.  Products can look different in the flesh to how they appear on a website.  Sizes are often inconsistent, and details can be unclear.  One of our team once ordered a fruit bowl only to find it was more suited to a doll’s house!

Psychology also plays a part.  Research has shown that buying something new gives us a thrill, more technically a rush of dopamine, which quickly wears off.  Shopping online and returning the items is an easy way to get that rush without losing out financially – a kind of “fantasy shop” where perhaps you never expected to keep the products.


Fantasy Shopping?

Why cater for Serial Returners?

Online sellers could perhaps be forgiven for thinking about cracking down on Serial Returners.  Amazon has talked about a lifetime ban – but is yet to act on this. This could be a dangerous line to tread. 

Firstly, how would you identify a true Serial Returner vs a loyal customer?  The people who send you the most returns, may in fact be your best customers. 

A hard line on Returns could put people off shopping with you.  A quick survey revealed that most of the online shoppers we spoke to saw easy returns as a key feature of online shopping:

“Online habits are very different to shop shopping. It’s much easier to buy on impulse and you only need to walk to the post office to return.  If I had to pay to return items or take them back to shop, I would order less” – Jo

“If returns start to cost more or become more difficult, it would definitely make me think twice about buying from that online retailer. I avoid physical stores with difficult returns policies too.” – Lara

Retailers would be better advised to embrace these customers, try and understand why they return products and make it easy for them to shop, their way.  

How to Cope with Serial Returners?

If returns are currently a problem for your business, there are many ways you can improve matters.


Peel off, stick on, return…

Firstly, is your paperwork in order? Integrated Labels such as those made by Forms Plus mean that you can have one A4 sheet with two sticky labels for your shipping and returns label.  This streamlines your despatch process, and makes the Returns process easier, for you and your customer.  Providing the returns label means that the package arrives in the right place, with the information you need. You can then process it, get the item back on to your inventory, and adjust your cash flow, more quickly. 

If you do have bricks and mortar stores, could you encourage customers to “click and collect”? That way, they can check the items or try them on before they leave the store and you can process the inevitable returns immediately.

Returns are often the result of not providing enough information on the website. Could you provide exact measurements as well as dress size? Add more photos? Look at why items get returned and add info to address those reasons?

Some research shows that having a Wish List on your site can also help reduce Returns.  Adding an item to a Wish List gives the shopper a lower level thrill, and the confidence to think the purchase through before ordering.  That wait can help rule out impulse purchases that are less likely to stick. It also gives you a way to collect customer data and remind them of what’s on their list!

Free, easy returns are increasingly a required feature of the shopping experience.  Knowing they can send an order back gives buyers the confidence to buy from new brands, try new products and shop online for items that normally they would have wanted to see in store first.   Returns are here to stay, and we’d love to help you make your processes smoother – so do get in touch. 

 

5 Reasons Why You Should Use Integrated Shipping Labels

Peel off labels

At Forms Plus, integrated labels are our speciality. We have been providing despatch labels for e commerce businesses for over twenty years (and yes, some of us have been here all that time!), so it’s only natural that we assume they are a good thing for your business to have.  From time to time, it helps to drill down and question what the key benefits are, so this month we asked our Sales Team for some of the key reasons our clients choose to use integrated shipping labels. Here are their Top 5.

1.Efficiency

 

If you are currently juggling several pieces of paperwork in order to provide your customer with an invoice, a returns label and yourselves with a picking and packing slip and sticky despatch label, you will realise that you are working inefficiently.  Even if you have a well organised despatch area and these different pieces of paper are all lined up neatly next to each other, you are still spending time making sure that they all match up, and you have remembered to put them all in.  Integrating your despatch notes, shipping and returns information into one form can really help you work smarter, not harder.

2. Speed

 

Anyone working in ecommerce knows the pressure is on to deliver orders faster than ever.  Whether you are working on a next day delivery model, or even considering how you might manage same day delivery in some areas – an integrated form will really speed up your process.  Instead of waiting for 2 or more printers to print, an integrated label means you have all you need on one sheet.  What’s more, if you use our bespoke services, you can design that to be laid out exactly as you need.  This will speed up your processing time, saving you money and making it easier to meet your customers’ increasing demands for a quick turnaround.

Global packages delivery and parcels transportation concept stack of cardboard boxes isolated on white background

3. Branding

 

Your delivery note need not just be a functional piece of paper stating who has sent what and where to.  Unlike email or advertising, you know it is definitely going to arrive in front of your customer, so it can be another useful touchpoint in your marketing strategy.  A branded delivery note reinforces awareness of your brand, reminding the shopper exactly who they have purchased from. This is particularly important if you are selling through a platform like Amazon, Etsy or Ebay. Your delivery note can encourage them to come direct to your website next time. 

Your delivery note can also be a canvas on which to highlight special offers, invite an email sign up or repeat your brand promise.  You could even use it to highlight a short piece of company news, such as a new product you are launching.

 

Digital Online Marketing Brand Office Working Concept



4. Customer Services

 

Whilst your branded shipping label makes it clear to the customer who they ordered from and embeds your name so they might do so again, it also helps enhance your customer service.  Your delivery note can clearly document the returns process, include a peel off returns label and answer any frequently asked questions.  All of this will help relieve strain on your customer services team, and improve customer relations, making it more likely that the customer will shop with you again. 

Research from Bizrate Insights  shows that 72% of customers expect a refund to be credited within 5 days of sending back a returns item. Integrating returns information in your shipping label can make it much easier for you to turn that around in time.   

When you do get it right, you will build trust with customers and they are far more likely to shop with you again. Shopify research indicates that 72% of shoppers are willing to spend more and buy more frequently if the returns process is simple.  Could an integrated returns label make your returns process faster and easier for you to implement?




5. Packing Station Improvements

 

Is your packing area chaotic?  Is the noise of printers unbearable?  As well as all the obvious benefits to your clients, one side effect of integrating your shipping labels is simply that there will be less clutter and noise in your packing areas.  This should mean that your picking and packing process can speed up, but it might also make the packing station a more pleasant place to work.  It might even mean you can operate from a smaller area.  Declutter your packing station, get rid of printers you don’t need, and you’ll have a bit more space to work in and a more peaceful environment. 

If you’d like to find out more about how integrated labels could help your business, do get in touch with us at Forms Plus.  After more than 30 years in the business, we really do know how to put together the right label for you. 

 

How To Stay Healthy in a Desk Based Job – Part 2

Keith Jacka Personal Trainer

How to manage exercise, nutrition and hydration when you sit at a desk all day

In our recent blog on how to stay healthy in an office job, Keith Jacka of Fitness Wild Helston gave us some advice on posture, moving around and how to break up your day to support your physical and mental health.  This time, Keith is going to help us plan how to fit in exercise time outside of work, and make sure we are well fueled for our day with his recommendations for improving our nutrition and hydration.  

People often find it hard to plan in exercise time, especially in winter.  Working a traditional 9-5, often with travel time as well, it is easy to find your day has gone before you’ve made it to the gym, pool or even out for a walk.  Keith’s advice is to get started early. Go to bed an hour earlier, get up an hour earlier and work out before work.  Swimming can be a particularly easy way to fit in a morning workout, as you can have a shower at the pool.  Many offices now have showers, so could you cycle or run to work?  Or, if you’re near Helston, you could head to one of Fitness Wild’s notorious 6am Group Sessions!

If you’re not a morning person, the next best time is lunchtime.  Maybe you can start or finish your day half an hour earlier, and extend your lunch break to give you time to fit in a workout.  Even if you can only squeeze in an hour, could you do a HIIT session, go for a run, attend a Spinning class or run through a workout that covers the basics? Every training session does not need to be a full hour. It can be short, sharp but very effective in just 30-45 minutes. Consistency is the key and if you find yourself doing this regularly you’ll soon see the results you are looking for.

If you struggle with motivation, evenings are not a great time to work out. You’ll be tired and more in the mood to get home and settle down for the evening.  Working out first thing has a whole host of benefits, improving your mental focus during the day whilst firing up your metabolism. Of course, you’ll also feel just that little bit smug that you’ve already made the effort!

Another challenge for the office worker is managing nutrition.  If you are working out first thing, or at lunchtime, you also need to fit in a way of eating healthily.  Breakfast is called “Break Fast” for a reason. It is important to break your overnight fast healthily.  Keith’s recommendation for a quick and nutritional breakfast on the go, is to prepare a smoothie the night before, stick it in the blender before you leave the house and take it with you to drink in the car after your morning workout or once you get to work.  Smoothies can be a great way to stuff in all the goodness that can be hard to eat – kale and spinach can be well hidden!  Keith’s provided us with a smoothie recipe to get you started.

Keith’s Breakfast Smoothie Recipe for breakfast on the go:

  • 1 tbsp oats
  • 8 nuts (Brazil, Cashews, Almonds, Pecans)
  • 1 Banana
  • 1 tsp of flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp of pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 handfuls of spinach
  • 150-200 ml coconut or almond milk
  • 50-100ml water


Soak the nuts and oats in the milk overnight and blend it all together in the morning.

Keith’s Gut Positive Smoothie Recipe for a nutrient hit:

  • 2 Handfuls of Spinach
  • 220ml of Water
  • 1/2 Avocado
  • 1 Banana
  • 1 tbsp of Tahini
  • 1 tbsp of root ginger chopped
  • Juice of 1 Lemon

At lunchtime, avoid the carbs. Sandwiches (or pasties if you are in Cornwall!) are guaranteed to make you feel sluggish and reduce your afternoon productivity.  Instead aim for fish or meat and salad, and enjoy the nuts, seeds and healthy oils in dressings. If you look for it, you’ll find most places that will sell you a sandwich now also offer a low carb option. Whatever you do, get away from your desk.  Going out for a walk, having lunch with friends in the park, even walking to the staff room will help. Wrap up a task before you break and take a moment to prepare what you are going to do when you get back. Any extra time taken will be made up for by the fact that you’ll feel more awake and alert after a bit of time out.

Our last bit of advice is to consider your hydration levels.  Buy yourself a water bottle and drink from it regularly. From unicorns and mermaids, to smart bottles connected to apps and trackers there are plenty to choose from.  You can even set alerts on your internet browser to remind you to move and have a drink. Our staff have water bottles with the hours of the morning and afternoon on, to make sure we are drinking enough water across the day. 

Keep tea and coffee to the morning only. After midday, stick to water or herbal teas and you’ll find you sleep better and feel more relaxed in the evening.  Be a bit careful with infuser bottles. Mint leaves can give you a tasty bit of a zing and wake you up.  Citrus and fruit infusions can be harsh on your teeth and over acidic if you have too much of them.

If you are running your office, or working for yourself at home, be aware of tempting snacks.  Whether it is a “chocolate machine” or a “food altar” with gifts people have kindly brought in, or just your own fridge, there are often too many easy, unhealthy options at hand for snacking in between meals.  Forms Plus and many other companies like us who hold Workplace Health Awards provide fresh fruit free to our staff.

We hope our tips will help you to feel healthier and happier at work.  With better posture and blood flow around your body, powered up by the right nutrition and hydration, you should find it easier to focus and feel ready to take on the day, and year ahead.  If you feel really motivated, why not pay Keith a visit and sign up for a 6am workshop! You can find Fitness Wild Helston on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fitnesswildhelston/

 

How To Stay Healthy in a Desk Based Job – Part 1

Forms Plus Team Walk

How can you stay healthy even though you sit at a desk all day?

As we write everyone around us is making, and breaking, resolutions to lose weight and take better care of themselves.  Staying in shape when you work in a sedentary job can be a real challenge.  To help us start off 2019 with some workplace habits to support our Workplace Health Gold Award, we spoke to Keith Jacka, Personal Trainer and owner of Fitness Wild Helston for his hints on maintaining, and improving, our physical and mental health, even if we are stuck in front of a screen all day. 

In this, the first of two blogs, we will look at our physical position, good posture and how to address the issues that arise from sitting down all day. In a follow up blog, Keith helps us investigate hydration and nutrition in a desk-based role. 

In front of a computer, we’re often in the same position for hours on end.  This is often seen as a negative thing, however in some ways this can be a good thing, as our bodies are able to relax, rest and recuperate. If we plan physical activity into our day, like a quick HIIT workout first thing before work, and then simply going for a walk, run, cycle at midday whilst on a lunch break, the time we then find sat in front of the computer is actually rest and recuperation time. Desk jobs receive much negative press in regards to the development of poor posture, this is true however it is important to note that we are not designed to sit rigidly.

The first element to address is your desk set up.  If you work for a clued-up employer, you have probably already had a desk assessment.  If you are self-employed, or work from home, you need to check this for yourself. Check the angle of your head and neck to the screen, the support your chair gives you, the lighting in the room and the position of your mouse.  If you are hunched over a laptop at the kitchen table, you are probably not doing it right!  Think about how heavy your head is – on its own it could weigh around 5kg. If you’re hunched over at a 45-degree angle, it feels more like 22kg putting even greater pressure on your neck muscles, discs and spine: Here’s Why the Weight of Your Head is Causing You Problems .

Make sure you can see the screen while your head sits comfortably, aligned on top of your neck. This may involve using a laptop stand or separate screen if you don’t have a full desktop and monitor setup. If you want to go into detail you can download the HSE guidance booklet on desk assessments.

Once we have a healthy physical position set up, we need to make sure we don’t get stuck in it.  Poor posture at a desk all day will take its toll if you ignore it.  The good news is that every time you get up, even just to walk to the water cooler, you will reset your position.  In our office, we have centralised bins rather than everyone having a wastepaper basket under their desk.  This not only helps with the recycling but makes sure we get up and move around.

Even without getting up, you can reset. Simple things like setting your shoulders correctly and lifting your head from a forward position to a neutral position for periods of time will help relieve tension around the neck, shoulders and back of the head. Squeezing each bum cheek individually and rotating your pelvis into an anterior/ posterior rotated position will keep the hips active which will ease tension in your lower back.  No-one will even see these movements but practicing them, perhaps whilst on a phone call, will help you become more aware of your position and relieve tension and pressure. Think of your body as a set of lights, can you mentally and physically turn on the different switches to get each muscle to light up?

You can also look at the sedentary parts of your day and ask if you really do need to be sitting down for all of them.  At Forms Plus, we regularly hold stand up meetings.  Not only are these better for us, they tend to make sure the meeting keeps on track and happens more quickly, saving time and improving productivity.  Sometimes if we need a bit longer to discuss an issue, we’ll hold a walking meeting.  Going for a walk to work out an approach to a challenge often feels less stressful than sitting around a whiteboard. The fresh air and oxygen flow from walking can help us come up with more creative solutions.  Could you try stand up or walking meetings in your office? 


Lunchtime Walk at Forms Plus

Keith’s core piece of advice is to plan out your day with plenty of breaks.  At school you had lessons of 45-60 minutes, a break in the morning and afternoon and a longer break at lunchtime.  This kind of timetable could work well at work too.  Break up your day into chunks of no more than a couple of hours and plan what to do in each chunk of time.  To be more productive, take the last 15 minutes of each block to tidy up loose ends and plan for the next section.  Then take a break.  This way when you get back to your desk, you’ll find you’ve had some thinking time in your break and when you get back, you’re ready to go for the next task. Do the same at the end of each day, and you’ll find it easier to get going in the morning.

So, we have looked at body position, ways to keep moving and how to plan your day so you don’t end up frozen in front of your screen for too long.  Our next blog will look at what else you can do to improve your health in a desk job – including how to fit in work out time around a long work day, commute and perhaps a busy family life.  We’ll also take a look at nutrition and hydration to back up and support all the good physical work you’re doing.  Let us know how you get on!

 

Surviving Christmas as an Online Seller

Surviving Christmas as an online seller

Christmas can be a stressful time of year for anyone working in retail, whether on the high street or via e-commerce.  Not only is it busy, customers are often themselves feeling stressed.  On top of the workload, most retailers are acutely aware that a large proportion of their turnover comes in between October and January. The season can be make-or-break for many retail companies.

Much has been written about how to survive Christmas when working in a high street store.  From wearing comfortable shoes, to how to put up with the excruciating Christmas music.  Less is said about how to survive Christmas as an e-commerce seller, so we thought we would do some research.  Here is our advice for preserving your mental, and physical wellbeing over the festive sales season.

Be organised.  It may be a little late for some of this, but even if you are feeling like a headless chicken (turkey?), some degree of organisation is still possible. Ideally you will have your Christmas stock ordered, your marketing planned, offers drawn up, inventory management working, and shipping processes all sorted by late September.  If you haven’t, there are still things you can do.  Firstly, call us now on 01326 564331 to make sure you have enough stock of all your despatch forms with integrated labels.  We’ll leave the sales pitch there…

What else can you organise?  Clear the decks in your pack and despatch area.  Make sure your picking and packing set-up is as efficient as possible, with the most popular products easily accessible and the tools you need in their place.  If you are always looking for the stapler or queuing for the tape gun, get another.  If you’re tripping over boxes waiting for the courier, can you clear a bigger space for them or arrange more frequent collections?

Stay healthy.  Not only are we all very busy, we’re burning the candle at both ends.  Enjoy the festivities but try to maintain reasonable eating habits and hydration, at least during the day.  Since achieving our Workplace Health Silver Award, we have been far more aware of the danger of the “treats table” at work, and it’s usually well-laden in December.  Try to balance the sweets and biscuits with savouries and fruit.  Your staff, and your body, will thank you in the end.  If you’re much busier than usual, you may be finding it hard to make time for lunch, so plan ahead and bring in something healthy. That way you won’t find yourself fuelling your day with chocolate and mince pies.

If you’re over indulging in the evenings, hydration at work will be even more important than usual.  At Forms Plus, we all have water bottles that indicate the time of day and whether we are drinking enough to stay hydrated. It is surprising how much water you are recommended to drink. We really notice the health benefits when we do manage to keep up.

With lots going on and late nights, be aware of how much caffeine you are taking on board.  Try substituting some of your coffee intake for herbal tea. Lemon and ginger tea can give you a zing without the crash and short fuse that coffee brings on if you overdo it.

Be patient.  Your customers at this time of year may be different to the rest of the year.  If they enjoy shopping with you now, they’ll come back in the future.  Ideally make sure your website is easy to use and buying is friction-free long before December.  If you haven’t done that, what could you do now to make it simpler?

Perhaps use your Social Media to answer questions that you come across frequently from customers.  Bring more staff (or friends and family) in to help with phone calls and customer service issues.

If you do have issues with stock, delays with delivery or website problems, use your Social Media to keep your customers informed. This will help avoid negative feedback and manage customer expectations.

Don’t panic.  If your products are not selling well, it can be tempting to immediately discount heavily.  Look at the candidates on the Apprentice who always agree a sensible price at the start, then end up selling everything far too cheaply as the day goes on.  Know how much your products cost you, know your postage costs and factor in the contribution they need to make towards running your business before discounting heavily.  Just because you can run a quick advert on Facebook offering everything half price, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea – unless perhaps you’re selling turkeys, sprouts or something else that really will perish and it’s almost The Day.

Instead of discounting, have a look at your messaging. What might be putting people off your products other than your price?  Could you try re-wording your product pages? Targeting a different audience with some ads? Bundling your products in a more tempting way?  Offering free delivery for larger orders to try and increase basket-size?

Whether you are selling online, in-store or indeed both, Christmas is the best, and worst time to work in retail.  Do make the most of it this year. Happy Christmas from all of us at Forms Plus!

Where to Advertise Your E Commerce Site

Google Ads for E Commerce

It’s that time of year again, tinsel appears on the TV and suddenly you realise you need to be appearing higher up the search rankings, feeds and listings. As a small e-commerce business, where do you start with online advertising?

We asked Marketing Consultant Samphire Amps for her views. Here is her guest blog on the subject….

Running promotions for an e-commerce business can be overwhelming at this time of year. Forms Plus asked me to have a look at the best online advertising channels for online sellers, and share some advice on how to get set up.  Here are my tips on where to start if you are paying for online advertising for the first time, and need to get some ads up fast.

Facebook Ads

Most online sellers will have had a go at Facebook Advertising, but make sure you are set up properly using Facebook Business Manager and an Ad Account, rather than just using Boosted Posts. Setting up Business Manager will give you greater control over your targeting, more information on how your ads are performing and tighter control over ad design.

Facebook Ads come in different shapes and sizes, and you can choose which parts of the Facebook empire they appear on. If you’re new to this, have a go at a Carousel Ad, where you can showcase up to ten images or videos in one ad, each with its own link. In the settings you can then target tightly by interest, age, gender and other demographics to find just the audience you need. The strangest we have had to do was “well off, young professional, chihuahua owners in Fulham” – and there were quite a few of them! Don’t forget to use the “exclude” option as well if there are people who would be unlikely to buy. We’ve used that to target possible guests to a hotel, in term-time, by excluding people with school age children.

If you have a bit more experience, you could use Facebook’s catalogue manager to connect your Facebook account with your website inventory. This allows you to devise more automated ad campaigns based on the different categories of products you have for sale. Adding the Facebook Pixel to your site then means you can set up ads to retarget people who have viewed a product but not purchased it, or to upsell similar products to people who have bought something from you.

For all your ads, you can specify where to place them. Placements include the Facebook Feed, Right Hand Column, Messenger, Instagram and Stories. If your market is very competitive, you might want to try Stories as, so far, less people are using them.

Google Search Ads

Previously known as Adwords, Google Search Ads are text adverts that appear at the top of the search results. You bid on certain keywords or sets of keywords. Depending on how many people are bidding on the same words, and how relevant your site is, your ad will appear. You are only charged when the visitor clicks on your site. This is known as PPC or pay-per-click advertising. The price you pay will depend on how many other people are bidding on the same terms. “Long tail”, more specific strings of words are less competitive and so cheaper. For example, if you sell handmade pottery vases, it may be better to bid on “handmade pottery vases” than just “vases”.

You will normally set up your Google Search Campaign with different groups of ads that match the categories on your website. If you are the potter in the example above, you might have different groups of ads for vases, bowls and mugs. You set a daily budget and decide how long you are going to run the campaign for and Google will only show your ads until you have met your daily budget, so you can’t overspend.

To get your campaign set up quickly and efficiently, it is a good idea to work with a Google Partner Agency to get you started. If you have the budget, they can then also manage the campaigns for you. If not, perhaps see if they will train you up a bit to do it yourself.

Google Shopping Campaigns

Part of the Google Advertising Platform, Google Shopping is designed to show visual ads, at the top of the search feed, for shoppable products. These are growing in popularity and often now push the actual search ads and results quite far down the page.

Google Shopping ads allow customers to view your actual products as an image on the search page, together with a photo, title, price, the store name and more. Shopping Ads appear on YouTube and Google Image searches as well as the normal search results page.

 

 

To get started, you will need to set up a Google Merchant Centre, which holds your product data. This can easily be connected to Shopify, WooCommerce, Big Commerce and other catalogues using an app or plugin. You’ll then link your Merchant Centre with your Google Ads account.

As for search ads, payments are based cost per click and can be optimised for conversions once you have some data for Google to go on. You can try to set these up yourself, and there are lots of training materials on line to help you, or work with an agency.

Amazon Campaigns

If you have a Professional Seller account, Sponsored Ads allow you to push your products up the search results pages in Amazon by choosing keywords, categories and products that you want to promote. You can set these up through Seller Central. If you start by using automatic targeting, Amazon will help you choose the right keywords to bid on. Once you have some history and can see how those have performed, you may want to switch to manual campaigns, so you can target the keywords that bring you the most business.

To get started with Amazon Advertising, visit Amazon Services where you can also currently get £20 in free click credits.

Other Channels

If you are using other channels, chances are they have their own advertising options, so take a look at those too. For example, Pinterest now offer Promoted Pins and Ebay have a huge range of Ad Formats available. Whatever you choose, good luck and we hope this is a successful festive season for you.

Health, Wealth and Happiness – Can Your Workplace Provide All Three?

Forms Plus Beach Games

Toasts to “Health, Wealth and Happiness” have been practiced by almost every culture since the beginning of time. It goes without saying that most people go to work to earn a living, but have you ever considered whether your workplace also supports health and happiness?

Since achieving our Workplace Health Silver Award back in March 2018,  at Forms Plus, we have been feeling the benefits of a greater emphasis on looking after ourselves at work. Healthy team lunches, walks and exercise together, hydration challenges, and a greater focus on musculoskeletal health at our desks and in our warehouse, are just a few of the initiatives we have enjoyed as we work towards our Gold Award.

Keeping physically healthy is only part of our ambition. Stress, anxiety and depression cause more days off sick than any other health problem and 1 in 4 workers in the UK are affected every year. People who are unhappy at work are far less likely to stay with the company, while a healthy, happy team is far more motivated and dedicated. Most shocking of all, figures from Time To Change indicate that 95% of employees who call in sick with stress feel they need to give a different reason.

To help our team feel more comfortable having conversations about mental health and share their experiences, and to equip our managers to have better conversations about mental health, Forms Plus have signed up to two further initiatives. Training and support from Time to Change, Mindful Employer and Mental Health First Aid England are already helping us to build a supportive culture around Mental Health at work and give our team the tools to keep themselves and their colleagues healthy.

 

So far, all our team have received some training around Mental Health and some have become Mental Health First Aiders. We asked them what they thought:

“It has definitely helped me to realise that mental health is a serious matter. It is very important to look out for symptoms if someone around us is showing any signs as we could make a huge difference if we can help those who suffer from some sort of mental illness”.

“I have always naturally wanted to be able to fix everyone’s problems for them but after being on the MHFA course I have since found just listening and not giving my input/advice when it comes to mental health is actually more effective.”

“It made me stop and think about the impact your actions and words have on others and what is the best way to respond”

“People have got a better understanding of how mental health can affect anyone and it isn’t the same for everyone. I would like to think we are more considerate of each other.”

“The emphasis that the office has placed on mental health has led me to take a further interest in material that I would not have paid attention to in the past. The insight from those I work with who have connections to people with mental health issues have played a really big part in my understanding”

“What surprised me the most is how much just talking can help. Particular types of depression require medication but in many of the case studies we watched on the course talking therapy and support groups were the best forms of treatment.”

Adding to the physical benefits of getting outside, rain or shine, we have added a mental health element to our Wellbeing Walks. Team members can take a short  walk with a colleague to talk through any issues that are impacting on their mental health. Sometimes this is something they are going through personally. Other times it is a family member or friend who is suffering. The combination of fresh air, exercise and a listening ear are clearly having a positive impact already….

 

“I have had one Wellbeing Walk. I always enjoy getting out for a walk and a light chat and feel better for the short break. The programme is a good reminder that it is good to offload things sometimes.”

“I went on a walk recently and found it helped clear my head. I got what was on my mind off my chest and felt I could concentrate on my work better on my return.”

“I take part in all of the walks. A quick jaunt and a bit of sunshine refreshes you and refocuses your mind.”

As we write this, it is World Mental Health Day. So, to finish, here are our team’s top tips for looking after your own mental health at work….

“Remember you are human and there is only so much that you can do in one day”

“Take a break and go outdoors for a walk. It helps bring perspective back to whatever you were struggling with.”

“Talk more and be open about your feelings… No one is perfect, look for the best and be positive where you can.”

Email Marketing Best Practice for Online Sellers

Email Marketing for E Commerce

5 Ideas for an Effective Email Marketing Strategy

With slimmed down email lists following GDPR, and less crowded inboxes, there could not be a better time to check your email marketing strategy is effective. We have investigated how e commerce companies engage with their audiences via email, examined best practice and come up with our own top tips for 5 ways to start making the most of your email marketing.

1. Onboarding Emails

What happens when someone joins your mailing list? Do they wait to hear from you until your next newsletter, or have you set up welcome emails? Whether you just send one message inviting new customers to visit your website or a series of automated mails highlighting your product range, onboarding emails are a powerful tool to get new subscribers shopping. Consider including a “New Subscribers” discount, free shipping or special offer. If your product is complicated, use onboarding emails to explain it, as many tech companies do. Whatever you choose, make sure every email has a call to action.

Online retailer  Divesangha told us:

“Welcome emails are a nice way to make potential customers feel our brand cares about customer service… We added a discount code that had no expiry date and that ended up being our most used discount code.”

2. Sales and Special Offers

Since GDPR, customers are much more aware of the value of their contact data. Retailers need to reward those who give permission for email marketing. One easy way to do that is to offer exclusive discounts to loyal subscribers. Whether you choose to target your whole list, regular customers or even lapsed customers, a quick email with a discount code can help launch or finish off a sale campaign, perhaps outside of the time the sale is open to the public.

Forms Plus’ client Joules use emails to offer short term discount codes at the end of sales, that help clear stock. For customers who prefer to shop in store, the same email reminds the customer of their nearest bricks and mortar location, together with opening hours.

3. Abandoned Cart Emails

Most online shopping platforms, including Shopify and WooCommerce now include tools to send out automatic emails to customers don’t complete the payment process. Around 70% of online shoppers abandon their cart, so recovering even a fraction of those purchases could make a real difference to your business. Yes, they may have just been fantasy shopping, but equally they might have got up to find their credit card and got distracted or had an issue with their computer.

Shopify estimate that nearly half of all abandoned cart emails are opened and over a third lead to purchases back on the site. Worth a try!

4. Reactive Emails

Hot weather, cold weather, a sudden trend or even a celebrity spotted with one of your products could all be good reasons to email your subscribers with an unplanned promotion or reminder. For example, Superdry have effectively used cold weather as a reason to send out a quick promo for their down jackets and woolly hats.

5. Follow Up and Review Requests

Five Stars mean sales, so gathering up-to-date reviews for your products is crucial for your brand. Setting up your system to email a customer once they have had time to get to know your product and requesting a review, can soon generate a steady stream of supportive and fresh content on your review pages. At the same time, why not invite the customer to like your Facebook page or follow you on Instagram and share photos of their new purchase?

Lifecycle Marketing

Put all these emails together, from first sign up to post purchase and you have “lifecycle marketing”. Recognised as an industry leader for email marketing, Forms Plus’ client Boden offers fine examples of how email should be composed at each stage of the journey. Take a look at this blog by Ometria to see some examples of  Boden’s Emails.

Where does despatch paperwork fit in?

First of all, we thought this information might be helpful, as so many of our clients are e commerce businesses. Of course, you might also want to make sure that you make the most of each touchpoint by ensuring your shipping forms and labels include an invitation to your email list.

If you would like some help with branded bespoke labels and forms, do get in touch.