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To protect yourself and your customer base, be sure your online store is pci compliant.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of information security measures for organizations that handle cardholder information, aims to reduce credit card fraud by protecting cardholder data. Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is mandatory for merchants of all sizes, but the requirements can seem complicated and perplexing. So that you’re not completely baffled, here are some easy-to-understand tips for becoming PCI compliant.
Cardholder Data Storage
A major way that PCI compliance reduces fraud is with the control objective put forth to protect cardholder data. In an effort to remain PCI compliant, you can simplify cardholder data security by not actually storing any of it. If you don’t regularly utilize practices such as recurring payments, consider utilizing a card reader, POS or payment processor that does not retain customers’ credit card data.
If you absolutely need to store cardholder data, see if you can do so on your payment processor’s system. Some processors allow you to input and store data on their systems as part of their service.
Don’t forget that, since you accept credit cards in your online store, your web host needs to be PCI compliant. Do not assume that your web host is PCI compliant if the details are not explicitly stated somewhere in their literature or their website; you’ll need to ask either the sales or support department. In regard to e-commerce applications and shopping carts, the PCI council provides a list of validated payment applications in their online document library for reference.
Keep in mind that the way servers are shared between website owners in a shared hosting plan makes it tougher to ensure PCI compliance — the cheaper shared hosting plan solution may not be the best. Consider choosing a hosted payment solution, which will forward your customers to a site that is verifiably PCI compliant when they make a purchase.
Dial-Up vs. IP-Based Terminals
Using IP-based credit card terminals is fast, but it greatly expands the environment in which cardholder data is stored, processed and transmitted. Larger networks of computers come with greater security implications, thus greater security measures must be implemented to remain compliant. To simplify, you could use dial-up terminals, which are slower. Doing so trades speed for a smaller data environment, making compliance easier.
Maybe you’ve already implemented IP-based credit card terminals. If so, consider setting up a separate network with its own Internet connection, dedicated solely to payment processing. A segregated network simplifies the security measures required to remain PCI compliant.
Mobile Card Reader Security
Accepting credit card payments via cell phone or tablet computer via WiFi or cellular data connections is a popular move, one that can pay dividends for many businesses. Many mobile card reader solutions exist, and each has various pros and cons. Current PCI DSS requirements don’t specifically address mobile card readers, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard compliance when you make your choice. Merchants are still required to ensure PCI compliance in these situations.
The PCI council has, on the other hand, published security guidelines for payments accepted on the mobile platform, also available in their online document library. They include provisions against physical and digital theft, malware, hacking and unauthorized use. It’s also important to only use apps from trusted sources, and to avoid any “jailbreaks” that could expose your device or tablet to malicious software. Whenever the device is under business control and the card reader is in use, you must be connected to your PCI-compliant network. This may seem obvious, but overlooking the connection on your device and mistakenly taking a payment while connected to the wrong network could happen.
Don’t let the technical science behind PCI compliance intimidate you. You should make the greatest efforts to remain PCI compliant, because being outside of compliance carries heavy penalties that can be levied on a per-month basis. With the right securities in place for cardholder data storage, web hosting, terminals and mobile card readers, staying within PCI compliance should be much easier.
Have any questions about PCI-compliance? We’d love to answer them in the comments below!
Guest Author Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, providers of secure payment processing. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.
You could sell the greatest product in the world, but if no one knows about it, you’re out of luck – and business. But good business doesn’t come down to luck; it comes down to marketing tools. Although social media has opened up a whole new world of free advertising and customer outreach, a marketing budget is still a must – especially for eCommerce entrepreneurs who are trying to separate themselves from a crowded field.
Follow this guide to determining your marketing budget.
Marketing tools and budgets are usually loaded heavier when your business is just getting started.
Before you get started, there are a few basic rules you can use as a guideline. First, how long have you been in business? As a general rule, in the first few years, or until your customer base is established, you should spend as much as you can afford. This expenditure will taper off as you gain and retain customers.
When they hit their stride, most companies spend 4 percent or less of their gross revenue on marketing. While many others spend 5 or 6 percent, only a tiny fraction spend double digits after three years out of the gate, and they tend to be in hyper-competitive niche businesses.
The Small Business Administration
One of the greatest marketing tools available to an entrepreneur – eCommerce or otherwise – has available to them is totally free. The Small Business Administration, or SBA, dedicates an entire section of their website to marketing and advertising strategies. In-depth calculators, articles, and expert tutorials can help you figure out everything from establishing a plan to calculating return on investment. The government provides these resources because the success of small businesses is vital to our national interest – take them up on the offer.
Social Media Add-Ons
So much of marketing is carried out on social media today that budgets previously dedicated to older formats such as newspaper and TV ads can now be trimmed. Facebook and Twitter still dominate the game. But having a Twitter account and a Facebook business page isn’t enough. Look at supplemental services that empower these juggernauts to do more.
For Twitter, check out free sites such as Twiends to help you categorize and filter audiences specific to your product or service. Once you figure out how much marketing you can do for free on Twitter, you can decide where to spend the salvaged money.
Make sure to utilize Facebook for Business, as well. Aside from building a dedicated business page, you can use their marketing tools and calculators to figure out exactly how much targeted advertising you can get with your existing budget.
When creating a marketing budget, remember that everything is variable, depending on your industry, the amount of time you’ve been in business, and – in reality – how tech savvy you are. Can you build and maintain your own website without it looking cheap or amateurish? If not, you’re going to have to add that – and whatever else you have to farm out – into your calculations.
Use the marketing tools that are free to figure out what you’ll have to spend. The key is to make every dollar count.
Guest blogger Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about marketing tools, budgeting, and gives money management tips.
Is your online store safe from the dangers of Cyber Monday?
By Cyber Monday, holiday shopping is already in full swing. The one day that die hard online shoppers look forward to all year is also a day e-tailers both relish and dread. On the one hand, capturing the flood of online shoppers is exciting, but are you sure your site is safe and prepared to handle the influx of traffic? Here are some cyber-security questions to ask your hosting provider in preparation for the big day.
- Is your site and its underlying applications and systems fully patched and ready for Cyber Monday? Ask your hosting provider to share details and assurances, such as penetration testing results or Web application firewall protection. With so much activity happening in such a short period of time, simple vulnerabilities could lead to catastrophic problems, such as site comprise or data leakage, and loss of sales.
- Is your website prepared to handle a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack? There are two types of DDoS attacks to be aware of: intentional, which means your site is the target of a professional hacker seeking financial or political gain, or unintentional, which means your marketing department outdid itself and your site is overwhelmed. For either event, is your hosting provider capable of mitigating an attack? If yes, is this already part of your contract? Be aware of the plan, the amount of bandwidth available, processing power and all associated fees upfront to avoid scrambling to manage an attack at the last minute. A quick response can be the difference between losing one sale and losing thousands of sales. Also, don’t forget about your domain name system (DNS) service. There are companies that can help protect you against DDoS and DNS issues, even if your primary provider can’t. Get this in line before Cyber Monday and for yearly security!
- Is your e-commerce platform on secured or shared resources? If something bad happens to another hosted site inside the provider’s infrastructure, is there the potential that it affects you as well? Additionally, if your e-commerce site is hosted along with your corporate website, a vulnerability in one may provide a backdoor to the other. Read your contract and know the answer to this question beforehand. As an added precaution, avoid storing sensitive information on the site. Not only is this a violation of Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards for account data protection, but this also makes you more of a target.
- What type of action plans and support are at your disposal leading up to and during the big day? If you are not sure, look at your contracts carefully and ask questions. Are there special service-level agreements (SLAs) in place for Cyber Monday? Who to call, who is responsible, the expected time to resolution in the event of an issue, and the disaster recovery plan should be well-documented in advance.
Knowing your e-commerce site is protected on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, is priceless. A good hosting provider will keep you well-equipped and well-informed about the protections it offers. Ask a security pro to help you understand the nuances of what your provider offers if you need clarification. You may need to pay that extra money, but knowing the risk ahead of time will ease the pain.
Have any Cyber Monday tips or stories to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
Guest author Vann Abernethy is the senior product manager for NSFOCUS, where he is responsible for product planning and program execution for multiple security offerings. He brings more than 15 years of experience working as both a product developer and information technology/information services director at start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Throughout his career, Abernethy has developed and deployed security, network and infrastructure management products and solutions for various companies, ranging from small-to-medium sized businesses to government organizations to some of the largest, industry-leading enterprises worldwide.
Online payments is one area of ecommerce that needs that next great idea from a genius. While the Internet has automated most processes and made it easier for companies to sell products to customer worldwide, payment remains a hassle. Even for the best ecommerce websites, the customer has to enter an address, enter a long card number and fill in other details to complete the payment. As it is, the payment process is pretty repetitive and time consuming. And, many online stores make things hard by not allowing certain payment methods or by putting a lot of conditions on payments. Payment hassle is one of the big reasons why many people choose not to shop online.
If you can make your payment process as easy and simple as possible, you can count on a spike in conversions and sales. And, who knows, grateful customers may also develop some loyalty towards your website! What can you do to make improve your online payments process? Here are some actionable tips and tricks that will help you.
- Show that you can be Trusted
I may not have any qualms about using my credit card when I am buying from a small, niche online store that I don’t know much about, I am a little wary. There is a good chance that many people visit your online store for the first time and they may feel a little uncertain. They may feel it unwise and unsafe to pay money online on your ecommerce website. So, it is a good tactic to reassure the users through clear and prominent signs on security and privacy. The most popular way of doing this is highlighting the SSL and PCI compliance symbols. Also, humanize your website with pictures of regular people with testimonials and offer live chat option allay any online payments insecurities
- Offer the Right Payment Methods
For most online stores, the most popular payment method will be credit cards or debit cards. But, there are several other ways in which users may want to pay. So, offer as many payment methods that you can provide. It won’t be possible for you to cover each and every method – there are too many. But it is best to study your target audience and see what payment methods they prefer and expect. By ensuring that a few key payment methods are available, you can make things more convenient for your customers.
- Use Simple Web Forms with Inline Validation
Ask the users only for the most essential information and use real-time inline validation to let them know immediately when the data entered in the fields is not valid. This will make sure that customers do not have to go back and make changes in the form.
- Avoid Redirecting
While savvy online buyers understand that they may be redirected to PayPal or other online payments sites, new users and less tech savvy users find it unsettling. Many users may feel that they are making the payment to some other website. They may feel insecure and leave your website without buying the product. So, as far as possible, accept the payment on your website without redirecting the users. This may require more investment in ecommerce web development, but this is essential if you are functioning in a niche where most users don’t understand online payments too well.
- Let Customers Pay on Delivery of Goods
While the above methods will help you offer better and more trustable online payments facilities to your customers, you will still not be able to reach a large number of people who do not have any way of paying money online. This is especially pertinent in the case of customers in developing markets. By offering the option of payment on delivery, you can enable a large number of such users to buy good from your website. Sure, you will have to set up infrastructure for this kind of payment, but it will give you a sharp edge over your competitors.
By using these tips, you will make payment easier for the users. Undoubtedly, this will improve the user experience and online payments substantially and help you get more conversions and sales.
Are there any other methods that you have used to improve online payments? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments!
Guest author Kinjal is working as a digital marketer and blogger with 5 years of experience. She is working with ecommerce development company – Cygnet Infotech specialize in building business apps and websites. She is always happy to share her passion for ecommerce and mobile technologies. Follow Kinjal on Twitter @adeshara_kinjal or connect with her on Google+
College Classes for eCommerce
So you’ve got an awesome website that has everything you could have dreamed of – except for visitors. Going back to school can help you learn new and updated skills that could lead to a serious bump in traffic. Yes, there are college classes for eCommerce help. You don’t need an advanced degree, but if you pick them well, a few courses could change your online life.
You’re never too old or too young to learn more so you can work smarter.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing, sometimes called modern marketing or digital marketing, is a lot more than tweeting about an update to your website and hoping someone clicks. It’s a multi-faceted skill that entails breaking down social media platforms into niche categories through searches and filters to find new customers, keeping existing customers informed and connected, integrating your website and social media accounts, and much more.
The good news is, you can learn it in school. Even a single course in social media marketing is almost certain to improve your traffic. The customer service hotline is a dying entity, as is the newsletter. You’re more likely to both reach and hear from your potential customers on Facebook or Twitter than almost anywhere else.
This is what makes Social Media Marketing one of the top college classes for ecommerce!
Newsletters never go viral. Neither do pieces of direct mail or emails or Facebook posts. When it comes to getting across a message, making an impact and having your message shared organically, there is simply nothing like video.
If you don’t have a video presence on your website, you’re fighting for traffic with one hand behind your back. Video is extremely powerful, but making good video takes skill, technique, and equipment. An A/V class will not only give you the knowledge you need, but will acquaint you with other people interested in the craft who may have some equipment or be interested in working a project with you.
No video is better than bad video. Learn how to do it right and you’ll see why Audio/Video classes are college classes for ecommerce!
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a process by which website owners and designers use keywords, metadata, links, and structure to achieve higher rankings in search engines. Study after study shows that when people enter a string of words into Google, the overwhelming majority click the first link that appears. Significantly fewer click the second, and almost no one clicks anything after that.
Search engines work hard to put the sites they consider to be authoritative and credible near the top. Taking a class in the complicated but learnable process of SEO can get your site to the top, which makes SEO classes amongst the best college classes for ecommerce!
Sociology is the study of how humans behave in groups. A rudimentary understanding of what drives people can give you irreplaceable insight into what drives them to your website. Behind every keyboard is a human being reacting to both thought and base instinct on the road to your website. Take the time to learn about the brain behind the traffic numbers. If you run a website, you are inherently in the people business.
Drawing more traffic to your website takes skill that can be learned through education.
Education can move your website from good to great. Not only will it give you skills you can apply to the real world, but education in general expands your mind and improves your quality of life. Take a few college classes for ecommerce and see the difference they make in your thought processes and profits!
What do you think are the best college classes for ecommerce? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below.
Guest blogger Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about adult education and the best business degree careers.
Alter Your Budget So You Can Hire an SEO Expert
The fourth quarter is when most businesses take real stock of their situations. CEOs and entrepreneurs look at what they accomplished in quarters one through three and what they need to do in quarter four to end the year “on top.” It’s also when they figure out what has been working and what changes need to be made. One of the most common things you will hear is “We really need to step up our web presence.” An SEO expert can help with that.
The best way to elevate web presence is to step up your SEO. The best way to do this, particularly if you’ve never really dived into the web optimization waters, is to hire an SEO expert to get you up to speed. Unfortunately, SEO experts are rarely cheap hires. Hiring one typically requires some budget tweaking.
Here are some of the things you can do with your annual budget to help you find the money to get an expert at your table.
Expertise doesn’t come cheap!
1. Find an Expert
Unlike other types of contractors, the rates for an SEO expert vary wildly depending upon how intensive you want their work to be. Spend this fourth quarter meeting with a potential SEO expert so you can get a feel for what it would be like to work with each of those people as well as how much they would charge you to improve your SEO and step up your web presence game.
When you find the person you want to hire, you can get a quote and set up a contract. This will give you the amount of money you will want to clear in your budget.
2. Retainers vs. Itemized Fees
Consider hiring someone on retainer. This might seem more expensive at the get go, but it evens out over time – particularly since getting your expert to work on your business site won’t require a series of emails, contracts, and other details to be seen to before the work can start.
It also frees up your budget a bit in that some experts will break up retainer fees by month or by quarter. This requires you to come up with less money in a single go, which makes finding that money in your budget a little bit easier.
3. Check Out Your Annual Spending
It’s something you do every year anyway – look at what you spent over the course of the year and whether or not there are any savings to be had or trimming that needs to be done. As you figure out where to cut and trim in the various departments of your business, consider, instead of simply trying to reduce spending overall, reallocating your “trimmings” to your SEO expert budget.
If only it were this easy!
Where can you trim your budget? Here are some common areas:
4. Office Supplies
How much money did you spend over the last year on basic office supplies? Did you actually use everything you purchased, or do you have a huge stockpile that would last ten years because you worried about running out of something?
Consider reducing the money you spend on supplies by at least 20%. If you aren’t already enrolled in membership programs at places like Staples and Office Depot, enroll now so you’ll have lots of coupons and discounts you can use to your advantage.
5. Printing and Copying
Consider going as close to paperless as you can. Because you’re trying to find money in your budget, you probably don’t want to spend the money required to switch from a paper-based to a paperless office place. Still, there are things you can do to reduce your printing and copying costs.
Ask people to share files instead of making copies. Keep documents on a cloud-based server so your employees can access them digitally in the field instead of having to print out forms, etc., to take with them to client meetings. Just these two things can probably save you at least 20 to 30% in printing/copying costs over the course of the next year.
6. Superfluous Employees
It’s wonderful to create jobs and keep people employed, especially in this economy. But do you really need to employ a professional landscaping staff to keep up the six plants you have in your office building? Surely you can water them yourself – or switch from live to silk and just dust them once in a while!
7. Consider Telecommuting
Allowing employees to telecommute is quickly growing in popularity. There are lots of benefits to allowing employees to telecommute even a couple of days each week. Your employees will be happier and, often, more productive. For you, it is a money saver because most employees will agree to a reduced salary in exchange for the ability to telecommute part or full time.
Note: It’s probably not a good idea, though, to cut a cleaning crew’s budget. Cleanliness is important to your professional reputation!
Reconfiguring a budget to find funds for something is never fun or easy. It is, however, often necessary. Work with your accountant and sales teams to figure out ways to both cut spending and improve profits so hiring that all-important SEO expert is possible.
Have you had good luck with an SEO expert? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Guest author Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from Portland who covers topics including (but not limited to) budgeting tools.
You walk into a store and are greeted by a customer service representative with a smile on their face, holding a tablet POS device.
“How can I help you?” they ask. And this time they really mean it.
Retail sales in particular are being positively impacted by use of tablet devices for onsite payment processing, also known as Tablet POS, which stands for Tablet Point of Sale.
There are good reasons for the transition to Tablet POS for retail and other merchants. Businesses can integrate Tablet POS with their existing accounting systems to process sales and returns, do inventory and price checks and even accept returns on merchandise. It’s all possible using “tablets” as mobile devices. That mobility is reshaping how many businesses interact with customers from the moment they walk in the door, often saving valuable time for customer and salesperson alike by eliminating the need for checkout lines.
The Benefits are Real
Imagine you want to check availability of your shoe size for a style on display at the store. Rather than sending the salesperson on a goose chase back into the bowels of the store, they can check availability of a shoe in that size and style on the spot with a Tablet POS device. If the customer tries it on and is happy, they can make the purchase then and there. That’s Tablet POS efficiency in action.
Even small merchants are using secure payment processing because customer data is immediately processed and typically encrypted through software that is compliant with PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standards. That is one of the first measures any merchant should use in assessing Tablet POS.
Tablet POS is an effective way to increase customer satisfaction with a better sales experience for merchants of all sizes, from those with just one location, all the way up to national chains.
Guest author Karen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.
According to recent data, nearly one-third of Internet users now own a tablet. By next year, it’s expected to be nearly half. The people who own them tend to purchase more items and tend to be more loyal customers. If you sell online, making sure your eCommerce site is tablet compatible is an absolute must.
Follow this guide to getting your format right for the gadget that is taking over online purchasing.
People who make purchases using tablets tend to buy more things more often.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive web design is a way to design websites that allows them to function properly whether they’re opened on a computer or a mobile device such as a tablet. Although some minor features may be sacrificed, it removes the need to have multiple sites and ensures that no matter which device your site is accessed from, it will appear in the correct dimensions, formatted perfectly for the exact device on which it’s being viewed.
When you hire someone to design your eCommerce site, insist on RWD, and if you have a site that isn’t using RWD, consider an upgrade.
All About the Images
Images that regular website use aren’t always right for tablets. New technology such as Apple’s retina display makes tablet screens far more brilliant than their less mobile cousins. Your photos must be of the highest quality, but also load fast. This means they should generally be built using CSS. Limit the number of HTTP calls the site must make to load a page to speed up load times.
The viewing surface of smartphones and tablets have less real estate than a computer screen. There is no getting around this fact. When it comes to designing for tablets, you must remove some content to account for the smaller screen. This doesn’t mean you have to omit it – it means you have to get creative with tools such as drop-down screens.
Use a single-column layout. All of your eCommerce site’s pertinent information should be stacked on top of each other in a vertical formation. If the user has to scroll from side to side and then zoom in to actually see the content he or she wants, your site, by definition, is not optimized correctly.
The world has gone mobile – nearly a third of Internet users have a tablet.
The world has gone mobile. The amount of web traffic – including making online purchases – gobbled up by the burgeoning smartphone and tablet industries grows more each month and the mobile trend is forecast to continue in the near and distant future.
Optimizing your eCommerce site is doable and absolutely necessary. If a tablet user wants to buy but is annoyed by your layout, you’re missing the point of selling online.
Guest author Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about eCommerce, digital technology, and mobile payments.
Online business ideas that come from your personal interests are the best.
Starting an online business is a creative, income generating outlet for many entrepreneurs. With the rise of online shopping and easy to use e-commerce shopping carts, it’s never been easier to get started. eMarketer reports that e-commerce sales are expected to increase at a 14% compound annual growth rate from 2012 to 2017, making an online business a great investment. However, many entrepreneurs get stuck on trying to figure out what to sell online. So, let’s talk online business ideas.
When you’re deciding between online business ideas for ecommerce, it’s important to choose a product line or industry that you are interested in. Spend time researching the profitability and projected growth for that particular segment, as well as identifying competitors and niche markets. According to eMarketer, categories that are projected to see the most growth within the next few years are apparel and accessories, food and beverage, books/music/video, and toys and hobby related items. These e-commerce segments are just starting to expand and are promising categories to get in on now as they continue to grow. If you’re thinking about starting an online business, consider these e-commerce and online business ideas:
Women’s apparel and accessories and unique children’s clothing are great online businesses for fashion savvy entrepreneurs. Niche clothing markets such as vintage apparel or specialty menswear are also sought after by consumers.
Craft and hobby related items are fun, profitable products to sell online. Many hobby enthusiasts look online to find specialty items like fabric, jewelry findings and craft supplies, just to name a few.
Home decor and housewares are good categories for entrepreneurs who love design. Consumers are shopping online for unique pieces that often aren’t found in retail stores.
Many successful onlines stores focus a particular niche, carrying a variety of products that fit within that lifestyle. For example, start an online store dedicated to all things hiking, from clothing and gear to trail guides and organic snacks. Get creative and start with a niche that you are part of already! Filling an under saturated niche market is one of the best online business ideas.
Food and beverage is a small but promising e-commerce category. In fact, eMarketer projects a 17% growth rate, making this segment very profitable in the next few years. If you’re considering selling food or beverages online, artisan chocolate or candy, coffee and specialty products are good places to start.
Tips for Getting Started With E-commerce and Your Online Business Ideas:
Find a product line you enjoy. Choose products you are excited about selling and have experience with. This will help you stay motivated and interested in your new business!
Do your research. Spend time researching different products and industries you are interested in. Consider growth projections, target demographic, profit margins and how competitive that market is in order to get a real overview of the business.
Make it official. Contact your local government to apply for necessary business licenses and permits. Check to see if your preferred domain name and social media accounts are available. If they aren’t, consider choosing another business name.
Choose an e-commerce shopping cart provider. Research e-commerce carts and find one that fits your needs and budget. The ideal e-commerce shopping cart should have a variety of helpful features, have all inclusive pricing(no hidden fees!) and be simple to use. You may start with the best online business ideas but if you don’t have the software to back your business up, your path to success will be much more difficult.
What are you favorite online business ideas? Have you started one? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Guest author Courtney Wanamaker is the Marketing Administrator and featured blogger for the award winning CoreCommerceEcommerceSolution, a top e-commerce shopping cart. She regularly writes for CoreCommerce on all topics related to e-commerce businesses, from social media to marketing strategy.
For e-tailers, finding the right technology to increase business productivity and sales can make all the difference between fast, successful growth and fast, overwhelming growth. Cloud-based tools empower internet retailers to manage remote workers, organize customer information and promote collaboration between team members from anywhere in the world – even if they don’t have large staffs to deploy or maintain technology solutions. That was the case for wholesale e-retailer Tisano, which sells brewed cacao teas. The company’s business was growing at such a rapid rate that team members struggled to stay organized and keep up with the volume of incoming orders. The customer relationship management (CRM) tool that made the most sense for the business was a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. For companies of similar size and with a variety of needs, SaaS options avoid the expense and technical burdens of on-premise technology and give employees more time to concentrate on tasks that grow sales and expand the business.
What the cloud has to offer
Employees can access cloud-based applications and software to collaborate in real-time and streamline business processes. Because cloud solutions aren’t housed on premise, businesses don’t need to worry about maintaining equipment or bringing in outside IT specialists to handle technical issues. Cloud services are simple to implement, and most make it easy for employees to transfer data. Also, because most SaaS solutions offer freemium plans, there’s no upfront investment needed, allowing businesses to try out multiple tools to find the one that best fits their needs.
There are many cloud-based tools out there that can help online retailers improve productivity and sales or solve other business challenges. The key is sifting through these solutions to find one or a combination of a few different solutions to maximize employee efforts and allow businesses to run as efficiently as possible. Tisano, for example, researched and tested multiple cloud solutions before ultimately deciding on the SaaS-based CRM tool its employees now use. SaaS tools are only as effective as the employees using them, so it’s important that each employee is committed to updating the system in real time. Finding the right solution that best fits employees and businesses will maximize productivity and, by extension, sales. To prevent wasting resources and frustrating employees, use a tool that requires minimal training and reduces data input requirements.
Getting maximum results
Businesses should evaluate and determine which tools will be most effective to help increase sales. One of the most obvious tools tends to be a CRM solution. When business is growing, it can be a challenge to keep track of prospect information and other important contact details. The sales team needs to ensure that important details don’t fall through the cracks, which is especially important when multiple people are jumping in on different projects. Tisano’s team used its SaaS-based CRM and stored client data to close numerous high-level deals with customers such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Virgin America and Whole Foods Market, all without investing in on-premise technology or IT staff.
Integrating applications into your existing SaaS tool can further optimize productivity. Companies should think about how to leverage multiple solutions together to better achieve sales goals. For example, if a business uses social media, email marketing or note-recording tools in tandem, it is easier to maximize employee productivity and increase sales.
Online retailers that implement SaaS tools can sell more products and minimize time spent on administrative tasks. Since moving most of its operations to the cloud, Tisano has saved thousands of dollars and streamlined business operations. And because employees have access to all customer information – including history details, social media profiles and more – in one central location, they can focus more attention and efforts on ensuring customers remain satisfied and loyal. Other e-tailers can see similar gains when they embrace the wealth of solutions available as cloud-based services.
Guest author Anthony Smith is the CEO of Insightly, a San Francisco-based SaaS CRM application. He built the first version of Insightly in six months from his home in Perth, Australia, after identifying a market need for a CRM solution focused on small business. He has previous experience designing and building CRM software for enterprise use. Prior to Insightly, Anthony worked as a consultant for IBM and as a software engineer for global mining consultancy Snowden.
Human translation is much more accurate than machine translation, but can be much more expensive. What’s the compromise?
Are human translation services needed for SMBs and online businesses? Only if they want to sell to a global market. As of 2010, there are an estimated 445 million Chinese, 154 million Spanish and 99 million Japanese language users online. What does this mean for small ecommerce businesses? Well, it is estimated that languages such as Chinese will fully dominate and replace English as the top online language users within a matter of time. So if ecommerce sites don’t adjust for this language shift, they will soon be left out in the cold.
Human Translation for App Developers
Since the 1940’s engineers have sought to automate translation. The rise of the internet has created a world-wide market for translation services. This has made it easier to translate material online; however the solutions provided thus far have been generally less than ideal. Since as you may know, depending on a machine to provide human translation services is not 100% guarantee for accuracy. In fact, most machine translations are grammatically incorrect and not a very useful resource for a business whose online presence is the only face they show to the public. If an ecommerce site is filled with grammatically incorrect text, chances are nobody who speaks that language will order from that site, despite the effort made to translate the text into their language.
On the other side of the spectrum, a competent professional translator has a lot of attributes that a computer would be practically impossible to train. The knowledge of the language and familiarity with the subject matter can take several years to a decade to fully comprehend. A translator should not only be bilingual but bicultural. Language is not only a compilation of words. There are numerous grammar rules in terms of generating a proper sentence. Although machine translation is evolving, it is nowhere close to human translation so it’s important to understand that machines are incapable of delivering the same kind of results as a human will.
As companies become increasingly aware of the need to localize in order to be able to connect on a global level, the effort to obtain an all inclusive solution to the language gap has significantly increased. From a small ecommerce company’s view point, machines are quicker and cheaper. Professional human translation services can be quite costly, and for a company on a limited budget, this simply is not a viable option. So it’s no wonder why many ecommerce sites still resort to machine translation, even though the quality is bad.
A more recent trend in translation and localization attempts to take the best of both worlds, so to speak, by utilizing both machine and human translators. This is commonly referred to as “hybrid translation”. Hybrid translation first utilizes machine translators to translate the bulk of the text. Afterwards, human translation takes over to review the text and correct any errors that need fixing, usually at a much lower rate. While this might seem to eliminate the problems that are inherent in both resources, the truth is that this solution creates problems of its own. While the human translators are there to review the machine translation, oftentimes the translators behind the human translation have a hard time figuring out what the error-filled machine translation is trying to say. This often leads to the translator going back to the original source and needing to translate it from scratch in order to get the meaning of the text. In other cases, the machine translation could provide what seems like a valid translation, and therefore the reviewer may not even think to refer back to the original source text to check. Meanwhile, the machine translator may have left out simple qualifiers that can significantly change the meaning of the text.
While the discourse in the online world of translation services may leave a small business feeling like there is no solution, in many ways this is exactly what is needed to encourage more innovative solutions from translation companies.
Companies such as Smartling have taken to crowdsourcing as a viable means to translate websites. Smartling created a platform where companies who wish to localize their websites can have a team of translators located all over the world log in to their system and translate the content of the customer’s website. While this solution is fast and easy, there are still some downsides, especially for a small business. The cost is still relative to that of a professional translator, and the website that is being translated must be hosted on Smartling’s servers in order for the translators to access the website.
Ackuna is another company which took the crowdsourcing process a step further. While marketed toward app developers, any company wishing to translate website content as well can use their program. While Ackuna relies on crowdsourcing to translate user’s content, the service is completely free to use, just like machine translators. However, since real humans are providing the translations, the accuracy rate is much higher. Ackuna also provides a resource for translators to practice their skills and improve them as well as promote their abilities on the site. Of course, this concept only works when there is a lot of user engagement. Ackuna is a relatively new platform, so time will tell how successful it will be. Although, the site currently boasts over 5,000 users with over 2,000 completed segments so far, so it looks pretty good so far.
Gengo is another company which utilizes the crowdsourcing model. Users can log in to their website or use their API to allocate their translation projects to a network of pre-screened translators located all over the world. Similar in concept to Smartling’s platform, Gengo focuses their attention on website translation. However, once again, Gengo’s service is not a free one, and their rates are comparable to traditional professional human translation services.
As innovation continues to expand in the online translation world, one thing for certain, small ecommerce businesses do need to localize in order to remain a competitor to the bigger businesses who can afford professional human translation services. Whichever method a small business chooses, it’s always best to do some research into which method best suites their needs. Also, a little research into which languages to localize into would only serve to help the company and curb any unnecessary costs or wasted time. This article goes into greater detail about what to look for before beginning the actual translation process.
Do you prefer human translation to machine translation? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Guest author Irina Usharenko currently lives in downtown Manhattan and is an intern at Translation Cloud. She is currently finishing her senior year as a marketing management major at Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business.
Good customer service can be as simple as offering a live chat option to your online store front.
One of the biggest drawbacks an online or e-commerce business has is that customers are unable to examine a product in person. That’s why the quality of your eCommerce customer service can either make or break your business. Regardless of the background of your customers, you need to provide them good support and treat them with respect so they become your repeat customers. With efficient customer service, you can quickly build a solid online reputation for your brand, retain more customers and boost profits.
Usually, online shoppers complain that they are unable to reach a real person via phone while contacting a company. Even when they send an email, they have to wait for several days for a reply. But good customer service goes a lot further than addressing these complaints.
Expectations of Customers
No matter what niche or industry your e-commerce business belongs to, you’ll have customers belonging to many different backgrounds, with different demographics and behavioral attributes.
For an e-commerce store owner, customer service is not something that needs to be provided only after a purchase. There are many customers who’ll need efficient support even when it comes to making a purchase decision or buying a product from an online or e-commerce store.
Depending on their behavioral traits, many customers will decide to go to another online store if they are unable to reach you via telephone or receive an email that lacks the required support or is unhelpful. Therefore, you should always prepare yourself to provide a quality customer service at just any stage a customer for your business may need it.
Right from the point a customer or an online shopper arrives at your online store, the process of customer service has begun. Whether it’s about educating the shopper about the features of a product, creating an ordering system that’s highly customer friendly, the payment system or the shipping and delivery of the product, it’s all part of customer service.
Don’t Just Sell a Product, Sell an Experience
As the owner of an e-commerce business, you shouldn’t just sell a product to buyers or customers. If you plan to achieve customer retention success, you should actually start to sell an experience.
That’s what customer service is all about.
In fact, a great customer experience is the first pillar of your business growth. Without taking good care of your customers, addressing their concerns and solving their problems in real time, you can never expect to take your business to the next level or beat out the competition.
Rather than making futile efforts to compete on price, you should start to compete on the quality of customer service.
You need to answer a simple question – Why should an online shopper buy from your online store rather than your competition’s? You’ll be able to answer this question only when you focus your attention on providing a customer service experience that’s unforgettable.
Customer Service Tips
An efficient customer service leads to creating loyal customers for your business. It’s time to think beyond selling a product or service. It’s time to work up a genuine desire to help your customers, solve their issues in real-time and keep them happy for the long term.
A few tips you can use –
- Have a good knowledge of your product or service
- Train your employees, staff, customer service reps
- Express your gratitude for every transaction
- Be courteous and respectful to customers
- Listen to their issues, concerns attentively
- Be responsive
- Ask customers for their feedback
- Offer services such as live chat, an email contact or flexible phone hours
Good customer service is the backbone of an online business. It’s your most powerful tool to beat out the competition.
What do you look for in good customer service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Guest author Obaidul Haque is a professional SEO, freelance writer, guest blogger and online marketer. Owner of HelloBloggerz.com, he works with a wide range of clients from all across the globe and helps them expand the online reach of their businesses. Music is like oxygen to him.
As a small business, you want to be found among the billions of pages on Google and other search engines. It’s critically important that you take the proper steps to enhance your page rank and website’s search engine optimize (SEO) rather than taking shortcuts or applying unethical methods. The primary reason to take the proper approach is that search engines are very strict and will penalize a site that doesn’t.
Here, we’ll share some of the top methods you don’t want to apply in your quest for SEO greatness. Protect your page rank by avoiding the following sins.
The search engine police will indeed punish you for bad SEO practices.
Okay, Sin #1. Don’t buy links back to your site from others. Why? Because Google wants to see links to your site from quality sources of content that are also related to your content. Linking to your site from irrelevant sites looking to make a dime on link-building will provide short-lived SEO, but long-term pain and poor page rank.
Search engines also have algorithms that indicate when a site is building links too quickly. You will ultimately be punished for this activity with decreased ranking, so take your time and build quality links to your website.
Duplicate content pages.
Don’t create the same page over and over again on your website. Search engines can’t be fooled by this, and you will be penalized. Create high-quality content that utilizes your keywords elegantly. Continue to improve upon your content with high-quality blog posts and get your audience to share those. That’s where the high-quality link-building starts to come into play.
Don’t stuff keywords into your pages.
Old as time is the strategy of putting your keywords at the bottom of a page in the same color as your page’s background, or using the keywords way too many times in the page’s context so it reads unnaturally. Here’s an example of keyword stuffing utilizing the keyword gluten-free:
“Gluten-free foods are delicious. Try our gluten-free products so you can remain gluten-free all of your life and feel better because you are gluten-free. Gluten-free products are the best products because gluten-free products taste great and are gluten-free.”
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it’s not going to earn you any favors with search engines.
Google and other search engines are watching and waiting for these sins to be committed. Steer clear to protect your page rank!
This is the process of delivering content to a user based on their IP address – if the site detects that the visitor is a search engine spider, different content will be delivered than that which would be delivered to the average visitor. Typically people will use cloaking with pages that have duplicate or sketchy content so as to go undetected by search engines.
In short, keep your SEO methods ethical and be patient. SEO wasn’t built in a day, and you will very likely hurt your existing page rank if you try to take shortcuts. Stay away from strategies like buying links to your site, keyword stuffing, duplicating content, and cloaking. You will wind up wasting your time because search engines gave caught on to these tricks to say the least!
Guest author Cara Aley is a freelance writer who covers a variety of topics ranging from daily reputation management to health and wellness.
Secure your ecommerce site with these important tips!
One of the biggest concerns for ecommerce website owners is security. It seems like every day another new hacker breaks into an ecommerce site to steal confidential information, such as credit card numbers. That’s why learning How to Secure Your Ecommerce Site is essential to protect your business and build customer trust. People don’t want to work with a company that has a high risk of having personal information hacked. The following tips are essential if you want to secure your ecommerce site and help prevent fraud.
1) Select a secure ecommerce platform
All ecommerce platforms are not created equally. Look for a sophisticated ecommerce program that has multiple levels of security, such as object-oriented programming language and a separation of public computer servers and administrative functions. The administration controls should be accessible only from the internal network. Secondary authentication for users within the network is an essential security measure for an commerce platform as well.
One of the biggest reasons that sites are hacked is because their software is outdated. Therefore, keep up with security updates and install them in a timely manner. As soon as patches become available, update your site.
Do your research. Read through a handful of the best ecommerce software reviews to find the perfect shopping cart software for your business needs.
2) Stay Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant
To keep up with compliance standards, complete PCI scans on a regular basis to secure your ecommerce site secure. This small step is a fraction of the effort needed if your site gets hacked. Keep in mind that PCI standards forbid storing personal identifiable information such as customer credit card numbers, expiration dates, and card verification value (CVV2) codes.
Don’t forget to clear out old data as soon as possible. The less information you store, the less information you lose in a hack. As long as you have enough information to make refunds and charge-backs, you have everything that you need.
3) Use strong Secure Socket Layer (SSL) authentication
SSL certificates are integral for authenticating the identity of a business and encrypting data in transit. This feature protects both your company and customers from potential hacks that may result in stolen financial and other confidential information. To validate credit cards, use a payment gateway with live address verification directly at the checkout. This process significantly reduces the risk of a fraudulent purchase by comparing the address given online to the address on file with the credit card company.
4) Require strong passwords
Ultimately, the ecommerce company is responsible for keeping its customer information safe on the back-end. However, you can help customers help themselves by implementing password requirements. Consider requiring a combination of case-sensitive letters, numbers, and special characters. Some companies also opt to use authentication with multiple steps. For example, in addition to a user ID and password, customers must answer a security question.
5) Set up system alerts for suspicious activity
Even when ecommerce companies set up strong security measures, occasional fraud is inevitable. It is better for customers to receive notifications of suspected fraudulent activity that turn out to be nothing than to wait until after information gets stolen to contact the customer. Secure your ecommerce site by setting up alert systems for the following activities:
Multiple and suspicious transactions from a single IP address
Multiple orders placed by one person using multiple credit cards
Orders with billing addresses and phone numbers from different locations
6) Create security layers
Several common forms of security attacks, such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and Structured Query Language (SQL) injections, can break through single layers of security. Secure your ecommerce site by putting several layers in place, significantly decreasing the risk of these attacks. Begin with firewalls that prevent attacks from invading a network and pulling sensitive information. Then add additional security layers for both the website and the applications, such as login boxes, contact forms, and search queries.
7) Be transparent
Secure your ecommerce site by sharing your security info in easy to see locations. Concealing security and privacy policies is a red flag for customers. It is in the best interest of your company to make these policies readily accessible. Don’t forget to display your company’s contact information prominently as well. Customers get peace of mind knowing that they can get in touch with you easily.
How do you secure your ecommerce site? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Guest author Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.
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