Preparing for E-Commerce Peak 2021 – Are You Ready?

Prepare for Christmas

What will Christmas look like for online sellers in 2021? How can you prepare?

Last Christmas, the holiday season saw two years’ worth of growth in a single year for e-commerce. A year on and COVID, winter colds and flu are still concerns, so online businesses are set to take up centre stage once again. After recent fuel shortages, empty supermarket shelves, a shortage of delivery drivers and the impact of a last-minute lockdown in 2020, experts are predicting that concerned shoppers will buy their gifts even earlier this year. Many say they are aiming to tick off most of their list before December is even underway. So, how can e-commerce businesses set themselves up for success?

Be Prepared for Early Shoppers

Shopping early is good news for online sellers. It means that if you manage your stock well, you really can make the most of the season, but you do need to be well prepared for an earlier rush. Dayna Johnson of Etsy is going as far as to advise that “it’s not just the product that small businesses need to be mindful of, as they’ll need to replenish supplies of packaging, tape and labels to get gifts to customers quickly and safely”(Forbes). We’re currently seeing shortages of cardboard worldwide, so do get your packaging orders in early to make sure we have what you need available.

Prepare for Christmas

Address Delivery Concerns

Aside from managing your product stock and your supply of despatch and packing materials, there are a few other things you can do to prepare.  With the much-discussed driver shortages, customers are worried about delivery times this year. Make sure your Shipping information is clear, up-to-date, and easy to find on your website.  Publicise your last shipping date for Christmas widely as it gets closer – on your website, Social Media and advertising.

Get Your Website Ready to Compete

With 2020 a boom year for many e-commerce businesses, it may be a struggle to meet the same figures in 2021.  Although the e-commerce share of the retail market remains high, competition has grown in many sectors.  You may find that you have more competitors this year, and that existing competitors have upped their game.  What can you do to prepare for this? Take a fresh look at your website. Is it easy to buy from on both mobile and desktop? Does it highlight the products you really want to sell? How does it compare to the competition? Are you also ready to sell through Social Media stores which are playing an even bigger role this year?

 

Check Your Marketing Activity is Ready

Marketing teams are working a lot harder in 2021 to compete. Are you advertising in the right places to bring in plenty of sales?  Do you have cart abandonment emails set up to catch customers who get distracted mid-shop? Have you set up delivery time reminders? Do you have strong image and video content for your Social Media channels? Christmas is prime time for “discovery shopping” when people are looking for gifts, but not necessarily clear on what exactly they want (Criteo).  Make sure potential customers can easily discover your products, on search engines, on Social Media and through any offline channels where they might find you.

Upscale Your Customer Service

Customer service may also need ramping up through the next few weeks.  Are enough of your team available to deal with any enquiries? Do you have chat enabled on your website to handle urgent queries? Do you need to increase cover at evenings or weekends?  If you are struggling for staff, what can you add to your website to address common customer service queries? Is there any information missing? Do you need to fix anything that is a common cause of problems?

Let Forms Plus Help

With Black Friday under 6 weeks away and Christmas just 10 weeks away, we are currently well-stocked with labels and packaging and ready to receive your orders. Do get in touch to get yours in early.

Improving Your Business – What to Consider When Changing Your E-Commerce Platform

E Commerce Platforms

Are you thinking of changing the e-commerce platform you use but nervous of the migration process? In our latest blog we will look at everything you need to consider, how to decide if you really need to re-platform and the plans you should put in place to make the switch as smooth as possible for your business and customers.

Why Re-Platform? Do You Need to Switch?

Before doing anything else, make sure you are clear WHY you are considering migrating to a different e-commerce platform.

Common reasons for re-platforming include:

  • Costs – If it is costing you too much to run your current platform, and you are not growing to support that cost, it might be time to move.
  • Difficulties with Development – If you have trouble finding developers, the platform is no longer well supported or just can’t keep pace with the innovations you want to make, that is another reason to migrate to something more flexible.
  • Performance – Is your e-commerce platform slow? Difficult for customers to use?  Suffering from outages? None of these need to be an issue in 2021. There are plenty of reliable options you could switch to.
  • Growth – Do you need to improve your e-commerce platform to accommodate more products, more categories of product, more users or users in more territories? All great reasons to change. 

Whatever your reasons are for re-platforming, make sure you have them down in black and white, so you can be sure that the new platform will meet those requirements. 

E Commerce Platforms

How do I Choose an E-Commerce Platform? 

Look at why you are moving and all the options available. Think about where your business is heading and choose a platform that should accommodate you for at least 5 years if your plans work out. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does the new platform meet all our requirements for changing?
  • Does the new platform work with our existing online presence – blogs, other website content, Social Media, marketplace listings?
  • Does the new platform support any integrations we need such as CRM, warehouse management APIs, email marketing, Trust Pilot and your preferred payment methods?
  • How much will it cost? Alongside development costs, consider the ongoing costs. These will include platform subscription costs, fees for Apps or Plugins, processing fees for payments and, for some platforms, hosting fees. 

Get it right this time, you do not want to migrate again. 

Which Are the Best E-Commerce Platforms?

Have a look at a range of online shop platforms before making your choice. The most popular in the UK include:  

  • Wix – OK for small stores and beginner friendly if you are building the site yourself.
  • Squarespace  – also mostly used for smaller stores but growing and with more design options than Wix.
  • Shopify – by far the most popular e-commerce platform in the UK. You can choose from many existing themes or have a bespoke designed store.  Integrations with other tools such as Live Chat, Facebook/Instagram and Email are excellent.  Fully integrated payments and options to sell offline too with Shopify POS are also helpful. 
  • WordPress and WooCommerce – can work well where the site is both a “brochure” for your company and needs a shop section, done via WooCommerce. You will also need hosting.  This is what Forms Plus use for our Online Shop.
  • BigCommerce – ideal for growing, purely e-commerce businesses wing. Variety of themes to help you get going quickly or bespoke options.  Detailed reporting and product management processes. 
  • Marketplaces – another option is to avoid setting up a site yourself and build your store on an existing marketplace such as Etsy, Ebay or Amazon.

Most platforms offer a 14-day free trial, so use that opportunity to explore the options and get a feel for any you are considering.

Check How Data Will Be Migrated

A key question for your developers will be how to migrate your existing data.  Do you need to move across all your customer data and sales history?  How far back should you go?  You do not want to inconvenience customers by asking them to set up new accounts on the new site if you don’t have to.   

Can your product data be migrated? Most platforms will give you the option to export all your product descriptions and imagery and import swiftly into the new site but do check. If not, you may have a large job on your hands.

Plan Your Migration Date and Time

Choose developers who are happy to work out-of-hours and make the switch late at night or a time that is quiet for you.  Do not make any big changes at peak times, for example in the months before Christmas. Make the swap when people are around to monitor any issues – early to mid-week is often best. No matter how well you have planned, something is bound to cause teething problems.  There is only so much you can test on a development site. Some issues will need to be ironed out live and you’ll want the team on hand.

Check Your SEO and Advertising

If your current site is getting found by search engines, preserve that.  Work with a professional to ensure your website pages are redirected properly and to avoid broken links when you change platform.

If you are using tools such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager or the Facebook Pixel, make sure those are moved across properly so your marketing switches smoothly. Most importantly, make sure everyone involved knows about the planned change so you can work together to prevent and manage any issues. 

Use Re-Platforming as an Opportunity to Upgrade

When you move to a new e-commerce platform, you are rebuilding a large section of your website, if not all of it.  Can you use this opportunity to improve your imagery? Upgrade product descriptions? Check the tools and integrations you use are still the best option?  It may be that the new platform works better with a different email system, means you can run new types of marketing or try different payment methods. What else needs to change in addition to the platform and can you manage that?

There is clearly a lot to consider, but by taking the time to prepare and research for your change of e-commerce platform, you can make sure you make the right choice and migrate your online shop with minimal disruption.  If there is anything we at Forms Plus can do to help along the way, do get in touch.

Improving Your Business – How to Add and Manage Reviews on Your Website

Reviews and Star Ratings

After an extremely busy year for e-commerce, these quieter Summer months before the Christmas rush, can be a good time to address those business improvements that may have been on your to-do list for some time.  This is the first in a series of blogs aimed at helping online sellers improve their business’ performance.  We hope they will be helpful to you.

The first topic we are looking at is Reviews – specifically, why you should have Reviews on your site, how to add them and how to manage them. 

Why Should You Include Reviews on Your E-Commerce Site?

Reviews are a powerful tool in converting browsing website visitors into customers.  According to a survey in 2020,  91% of people read reviews and 84% trust online reviews as much as they would trust a friend. The facts are simple – customers trust reviews. According to Inc.com, simply reading between 1 and 6 reviews can persuade someone to buy. 

For some types of business, such as hospitality, fashion and healthcare, reviews are even more important.

How Do You Add Reviews to an E-Commerce Site?

There are many ways to add reviews to your site. Which options are available will depend on the platform you are using.  Shopify sites have the option of a free Product Reviews App. The App is easy to add and customise, SEO friendly and simple to manage. Other recommended options for product-level reviews include Yotpo, and Okendo .

To make your choice, investigate the pricing, how the App works with your theme, and if you like the look of the management interface.  Some Apps bring in additional User Generated Content, such as photos of the customer wearing your product and most have reminder options using email or SMS.  Many also work with Google, to bring your reviews and star ratings into your Google listings. 

If you are looking for reviews of your business, rather than for specific products, you might decide to use platforms such as TrustPilot, Feefo or Yelp. These have the benefit of being visible both on your site and on the review platforms own listings.

At Forms Plus, we recently started using Trust Pilot.  Our MD, Victoria Andrews told us:

“Trust Pilot reviews have given us useful insights into what our customers actually think of our products and service. We have been extremely pleased with the consistent 5-star reviews we have received, confirming we are good at what we do. It is also always helpful to hear where there is room for improvement or changes that would help our customers.”

For overall reviews of your business, you should also definitely be gathering reviews on Google My Business.   This will help your profile within Google Search and is often the first review someone will see of your business.

Reviews and Star Ratings
Star Ratings are an important part of every review

Which Elements of Reviews Matter to Customers?

Research shows that the parts of a review that customers pay the most attention to are:

  • Star Rating – A one-star increase on Yelp consistently leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue
  • Recency – when was the review written?
  • Legitimacy – was this a real purchase?
  • Sentiment – is the review overall positive, negative or neutral?
  • Quantity – how many reviews do you have? Customers may read up to 10 reviews before deciding, most read at least 4.

How Do I Get More Reviews?

This one is simple… Ask! According to Bright Local, 73% of consumers who were asked to write a review for a business wrote one.  Make it as easy as possible by sending a direct link to the review platform. If you have a reviews app, set it to automatically ask for a review a few days after delivery (or when you think most appropriate). 

You can ask for reviews by email, by SMS, in person at the point of sale, on your despatch note or receipt, via Social Media, via handwritten notes in your delivery package or over the phone. 

Do be careful however if you decide to offer an incentive for writing a review.  Rewarding customers for writing reviews goes against many review sites’ guidelines and could soon even become illegal in the UK. 

Importance of E Commerce Reviews
What do you have in place to make sure you gather enough reviews?

What Do I Need to do to Manage Reviews?

The main thing is to keep an eye on your reviews and respond quickly.  You may choose to thank people for positive reviews and use them to highlight your strengths. For negative reviews, you will almost always need to reply and to do so promptly.

If a bad review is the result of a known fault or mistake, apologise and put things right.  If you need to, take the discussion to a private platform, but always reply publicly as well, so other readers can see you have responded.  See a negative review as an opportunity to put things right and turn the negative into a positive. Most importantly, be human and try to avoid sounding like a corporation.  You might choose to include your first name in your response, to help the reviewer feel they are talking to a real person who takes their issue seriously.

If the review is unfair, profane, a personal attack, fake or just a troll, don’t be afraid to report it and remove it (if you can). You don’t need to waste your time trying to fix reviews like that.

In summary, reputation management through nurturing reviews should be a major part of your marketing strategy.  Asking for, monitoring, and responding to reviews can be time consuming but can also have a major impact, reduce advertising costs and help you build a loyal customer base.

If you would like to leave a review for us on TrustPilot, we’d be very grateful. You can do so on the TrustPilot Site.

Mental Health: Returning to the Workplace after COVID

Back To Work at Forms Plus

At Forms Plus we take pride in our Healthy Workplace Gold Award and work hard to support the physical and mental wellbeing of our team.  As we adapt to the changes enforced on our working lives by COVID, we have been looking into advice for moving out of lockdown and into the “new normal”.   

A recent survey by The HR Director of over 2000 people found that:

  • 68% believe that we should now have the choice to work from home
  • 76% do not want to go back into an office full-time
  • 41% say working from home helps improve our mental health
  • 50% still do not feel safe returning to work
  • 23% would consider resigning if forced to work from an office full-time

Office-based companies such as Forms Plus, and many of our clients, have had to consider what these responses mean for us, and how to help our staff settle back in after so much change. We thought we would share our research in case it is helpful to you and your teams.

Connection

Connection has been very important throughout the pandemic.  Whilst many of our team did manage to continue working in the office, due to shielding and caring responsibilities, some could not.  We made a real effort to encourage those at home to stay connected.  We included them in office treats, such as “Flapjack Friday” and ensured they were able to keep in touch via calls, Zoom and email. 

We have also tried to stay connected personally, checking in on how individuals are feeling and coping with the pandemic, as well as managing work matters.  That need for connection remains, so we will continue these practices for anyone working remotely, part-time or full-time, going forward.

Back To Work at Forms Plus

Routine

Loss of routine has been a major cause of mental and physical health challenges during COVID. Maybe you didn’t have to get up as early as usual, without a commute to work, or to get your children off to school.  Getting back into a normal routine is hard after a brief holiday. We acknowledge that will be even harder after a year of disruption.

For many, balancing home schooling and remote working led to strange hours at the desk.  Re-establishing a normal bed and wake-up time is important. Sticking to that at weekends too, for a little while, can help you get more rest and feel more able to manage the workday and enjoy your downtime.

Getting back into the swing of a normal routine does not take long but in the early days, some employers are offering flexible start and finish times to help their teams adjust.  Not such an issue here in Cornwall, but varying hours could also be helpful for anyone who is anxious about the infection risk of using public transport at peak times.

Managing “Re-entry” Anxiety

We all want our teams to be confident about returning to work and it is only normal that some will be anxious about coming out of their home “bubble”.  Of course, we have implemented all the COVID-secure workplace guidance for our team. We have also upped precautions to reduce risks from visitors – with hand sanitiser, temperature checks and increased hygiene in shared areas. Making these measures seem “normal” is all part of the job of helping everyone adapt and be relaxed about coming back to work.

Other than that, it is about accepting that everything we have heard on the news, and the impact of illness on our own friends and family, is inevitably going to cause some levels of anxiety.  Some team members may be more concerned than others. We encourage everyone to be open and let us know if they need more social distance, would prefer to keep wearing a mask or would rather not engage with external meetings. 

As always, our Mental Health First Aiders are on hand for chats and walks to talk through any worries and offer support as appropriate.

Covid Thermometer testing for visitors

Finally, Time for a Wardrobe Refresh!

One favourite piece of advice for individuals returning to work is to have a bit of a wardrobe makeover. After a year in sweatshirts and leggings, a couple of new outfits or just the odd piece to refresh your look can be a real mood booster, helping you feel more professional and ready for action. Just remember that feeling of having new school uniform in September and you’ll see where we are coming from!

After the immense disruption of the past year, it is inevitable that people will reassess how they feel about work.  With our own spacious, purpose-built premises in Cornwall, we have been lucky throughout COVID to have the space to socially distance and the ability to enjoy the great outdoors.  We are also lucky that many of our staff have been with us for sometime. We really value their knowledge and experience so will support them all, the best we can. 

We wish you all the best of luck as you adapt to your own team’s changing needs. Do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our Healthy Workplace strategies – or indeed if we can help with labels or packaging.

For further advice on managing mental wellbeing as we emerge from lockdown, you may find these resources useful:

Has COVID Cancelled Christmas? Not if you work in eCommerce…

Christmas eCommerce 2020

With gatherings of more than 6 people looking unlikely and many Christmas events cancelled, it would be easy to think Christmas might be cancelled this year.  To the contrary, a recent survey from Yieldify showed that 34% of us plan to increase our spending year on year, across Black Friday (27th November), Cyber Monday and Christmas itself.  Despite fears of unstable household income and lockdown restrictions, we are clearly still very keen to celebrate. Sending gifts to loved ones who we cannot meet up with in the usual way, will play a major role in that celebration.  

With COVID-19 serving as a catalyst for rapid growth across many eCommerce sectors, delivery companies have been building their teams to cope with a permanent increase in demand. In September, Royal Mail announced that parcel volumes are up 34%, with 117 million more parcels sent in 2020 than last year. DPD, Hermes, Amazon and DHL have all hired thousands of new delivery workers to cope with what DPD’s CEO described as a “tsunami of parcels”. 

Christmas Delivery 2020

On the flipside, high street retail has been hit hard, with 125,000 jobs lost in the UK as retailers closed stores and, in some cases, went into administration. Whilst the high street has started opening up again, with local lockdowns, long queues and unease around travelling to shop in closed-in spaces, it seems that Christmas is not cancelled. It has just moved online.

Research from eCommerce platform, Magento shows what online shoppers are looking for this season. Their main concerns are:

  • Ethical eCommerce and philanthropy
  • Safe shopping
  • Ways to re-create the “in store” experience
  • A joyful online shopping experience
  • Great mobile eCommerce experiences

Magento “Unwrapping the Gift of Christmas” guide for 2020

The Yieldify report also looked into how retailers are approaching their marketing.  Despite the consumer growth predictions, only 45% of marketers feel positive about the season ahead.  Decisions are being made much later than normal and around one third have decided not to participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  This could mean great opportunities for those that do step forward confidently.  If you are planning to go ahead with discounting, shipping offers, free gifts or other promotions, now is the time to get organised. 

Christmas eCommerce 2020

Our recommendations for preparing for peak season 2020 under these unique conditions are:

  • Use your existing email lists to keep in good contact with your customers, letting them know about upcoming offers and holiday promotions. Keep these going throughout the seasonal period.
  • Highlight any ethical or sustainability messages you can. For example if you are using our eco-friendly packaging, make that information clear on your site.
  • Get going now with any last-minute work you can, to make shopping on your website easier and more enjoyable. If you also sell in-store, is there anything from that experience you could add? Is your site easy to use on mobile?
  • Check you have optimised the way you capture leads, so you can continue to market to any new customers you gain over the holiday period. Email sign-ups with a discount for the first order are a popular and effective way to do this. Plan now what you will do with those addresses once you’re through the festive season.   
  • Contact your suppliers to make sure your inventory will be available and ready for shipping around the peak holiday dates. You may well sell more than you expect.  While you’re doing that, check you have enough forms and packaging too.

In conclusion, whilst the pandemic has posed huge challenges for all types of retail this year, the peak season ahead clearly offers an opportunity for eCommerce.  We wish you all luck embracing that opportunity and will be here to help along the way. 

Do get in touch if you need any help with your packaging and print needs or have any questions along the way. 

10 Things We Learnt When Building Our New Website

Website Development for Forms Plus

Forms Plus had a brand new e-commerce website last year – here are some things we learnt along the way

This time last year, we had just started the process of commissioning the new Forms Plus website (the lovely one you are looking at now).  It was a long and complicated process and we learnt a lot along the way.

Thankfully we don’t plan on building another site any time soon but we thought that seeing as so many of our customers run e-commerce businesses like ours, it might be helpful to share our top tips for website projects.

So, if you are thinking of updating your online store, building a brand new e-commerce website or even just having a bit of a refresh, do read through our tips below. We hope you will find them helpful.

1.Write a detailed brief

We sat down with our own team, marketing agency Sam Amps Marketing and web developers Elephant to ensure we wrote a really thorough brief.  This helped develop a very clear idea of everything we needed and communicated that clearly to our web builders.  As the site approached completion, we went back to the brief to check all our requirements had been met. 

The brief really helped us stay on track, but we also needed to be flexible as some areas changed along the way. For example, we made our decision to stock packaging materials alongside forms and labels not long after the site build got underway. 

Website Development for Forms Plus

2. Plan for plenty of time

Plan plenty of time to build your website, especially if you are trying to launch it to a deadline. If you want to rebuild your site before Christmas, start now.

Be realistic with your timelines. Some things, especially writing, proof reading and the final testing, took a lot longer than we thought.

3. Involve your team

Everyone at Forms Plus was involved in the web project to some extent. Listening to the views from people in different parts of the organisation really helped us ensure we had covered all areas and considered everyone’s views.   

Our team were able to provide really helpful feedback from the briefing stage up until final testing.  This helped everyone appreciate the amount of work involved for those closest to it, reinforcing team spirit and making the best use of our team’s wide knowledge and experience. 

Forms Plus’s new website was a great team building exercise for us too!

4. Make a plan for photography and video

A new website won’t really look like a new website unless it has new imagery.  Our products are not the most visually exciting, so we did our research and found a great photographer, Pip Hayler, who was able to help us make the most of what we have. 

Each shoot was carefully planned, with a clear list of what needed to be photographed and how, meaning we got exactly the right selection of images in the sizes and shapes we needed.  It did take a few goes to make mailing bags look interesting though!

Mailing Bags for Shipping Magazines or Books

Our site doesn’t make heavy use of video content, but if yours does the same obviously applies for that.  Know what you want and where you want to use it, then shoot accordingly.  For example, our new video was perfect for showing off our new offices and warehouse.

5. Keep clear communication lines open

Throughout the process make sure you have clear, open and honest communications with your agency.  Both sides need to be realistic about what is possible within time and budget limitations. We had regular catch ups, internally and with our agency using screenshare tools, and used Trello to share information.

Branding and Logos

6. Review your branding

A new website is a good time to review your overall brand.  We realigned some of our products and launched our packaging products, which meant reconsidering our strapline (“print that delivers”) in some contexts.  We also subtly changed our colourways to make the site less pink and green. 

Whilst you want to still look and feel like “you”, this is a good opportunity for an update. 

7. Use the opportunity to declutter

Setting up a new website is a bit like moving to a new house – a good excuse for a clear out.  As well as thinking about what you do want on your new site, think about what you can cut out.  A clean, tidy site without excess content will be easier for your customers to use, and simpler for you to manage.

8. Don’t forget about SEO

We were concerned from the start about making sure we didn’t lose any of our search ranking in rebuilding the site.  Throughout the project, we worked with our SEO consultant Sam Amps, as well as our web developers, Elephant, to make sure this was covered.  For example, any pages that we culled as part of our clear out were redirected to the right place on the new site to avoid broken links.

E Commerce Website Editing

9. Test, test and test again before going live

None of us really anticipated how much testing we would need to do, so we were lucky we had the time.  We all tested the site in-house, on different devices and browsers, and for the different tasks we all use it for.  We also asked some of our customers to help with testing. 

Even once it went live, we still found the odd glitch so plan for that too – you don’t really know it works until your real users are logging in and ordering!

10. Understand it will never be “done”

Finally, there will never be a perfect moment when the site is totally and utterly finished.  Websites and companies evolve so the launch day will not be the last day you change anything.  Your site will need adjustments for issues you don’t spot until it’s live, changes in your offer, new technologies or just better ways to do something that you hadn’t considered – so keep that relationship with your web agency going beyond launch date. 

Best of luck if you’ve read this far because you are working on your site and appreciate the advice.  Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us further or have any other ideas for improving our site.   

E Commerce Round Up: Top Ten Trends from 2019

Personalisation in e commerce

What was new in e commerce in 2019 and what’s coming up for 2020?

As the TV schedules fill up with highlights of the year, we thought we’d take a look at some of the major changes in e commerce in 2019, and have a sneaky peek at what’s coming up for 2020.  Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten E Commerce Trends for 2019.

Buyable Pins, Shoppable Posts – Shopping Got Social

Social Media is growing as a Sales Channel, especially with younger shoppers. 31% of people who use Social Media have clicked to purchase direct from a Social Post.  Have you got your catalogue set up on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest so people can buy from there direct?  If not, now is the time.

Taking on the Marketplaces

87% of online shoppers compare what they find on a brand’s site to Amazon. (Episerver Report) It is more important than ever to use your social media, ads and website, even your packaging and paperwork to build strong brand awareness and relationships with your customers, so they come direct to you to make their order.

Hey Siri, Order Me a …..

Voice-assisted search is growing, with more and more shoppers asking Alexa, Siri or Google to order something for them. You need to make sure your website is optimised for voice search and the terms we speak rather than type, as well as your normal search keyword optimisation.  It is estimated that by the end of 2020 more than 50% of searches will be voice searches according to Quora Creative. Are you ready?

Personalisation in e commerce

Hyper Personalisation

If a customer walks into a store, it is easy for the sales assistant to ask about their interests, lifestyle and budget to recommend suitable products.  E commerce companies do this by making the most of online data.  Using cookies and purchase history, your site and emails can be automated to make personalised recommendations based on data such as search queries, page visits, previous orders and interests, in language most likely to appeal to the customer.

Ultimately data could mean that we all see a slightly different version of every ecommerce site, dynamically set up so it appeals to us as an individual, based on our online history.  True personalisation.

Can I speak to your (human) manager?

Chatbots have joined the workforce alongside human teams in e commerce stores this year.  From handling simple enquiries to discussing complaints, artificial intelligence assistants are boosting customer service for many online retailers. 34% of customers now say they are happy talking to them. (E Commerce Platforms)

Beyond the Product Photo

Technology is providing far better tools for visualising products.  Retailers can now cut down any doubts consumers might have by showing off products using virtual reality, 3D imaging, augmented reality, and at least, engaging product videos alongside high quality photos.  Do you sell sofas? Can you show customers exactly how this sofa will look in their living room? IKEA can.

Getting Dynamic with Data

Aside from personalising the customer’s experience, data can now help retailers respond quickly and effectively to trends and market changes.  We can predict what customers are likely to want and when, enabling more dynamic marketing, that is ultimately more valuable to customers.  For example, advertising and email offers can be geared to the weather forecast to promote products most likely to sell on a snowy/rainy/sunny day.  Woolly jumper/umbrella/ice cream anyone?

Sign Me Up!

Subscription models have been all the rage in 2019.  From Dollar Shave Club, shaving supplies, to BarkBox, dog toys and treats, you can now subscribe to regular deliveries of almost anything. Toilet roll? Laundry detergent? Cheese? Coffee? Just a “hug in a box” once a month? Sign us up!  Could your products work on a subscription model? You’ll be surprised what can.

Eco Friendly E Commerce

Going greener…

Since the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 in November 2019, 88% of those who watched it have changed their lifestyle to use less plastic.  Customers are no longer happy to receive a mug, in a box big enough for a freezer, wrapped in layers of plastic.  Have a look at our packaging pages  for protective packaging to suit all sizes of products, produced with the highest environmental standards we could find.

Some retailers are taking this even further and ensuring their items are also delivered by sustainable transport.  Amazon has recently ordered a fleet of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles!

New Ways to Pay

With mobile consumers now making up more than 60% of e-commerce traffic, it is perhaps no surprise that e-wallets like Google Pay, Amazon Pay and Apple Pay are now used by around 16% of UK adults, and growing fast.  “Buy now, pay later” tools such as Klarna are also on the up and helping customers pay in instalments, or only pay once they have decided which items from their order they wish to keep.

And so to 2020?

Many of these changes have kicked in during 2019 and still have some way to go, so expect further developments in all these areas in 2020.  Where to next?  Predictions vary but drone deliveries, major growth in B2B e commerce and the rise of the second-hand e commerce market are all on the cards.  We will share our favourites as we spot them!

 

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.