About Jack Cieslak
Jack Cieslak has written 433 articles so far, you can find them below.
Jack Cieslak grew up in New York State where he attended the New School, emerging with a degree in Creative Writing. Seattle drew him in with its focus on personal health and fitness, as well as the environment, and of course the great weather. Three-thousand miles later he is all dug in and ready to throw himself wholeheartedly into writing of all types - including reporting new developments in e-commerce, and places where social media and e-commerce cross paths. Jack revels in a challenge, whether it's writing, running, or lifting heavy objects - Jack says "bring it."
September 12, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
"His Master's Voice"
HMV, a British entertainment media company whose name stands for “His Master’s Voice” (more about that later) has appointed Mark Hodgkinson to head up its ecommerce solution department and marketing efforts. Late of Asda (a British supermarket chain), Hodgkinson actually served as EMI’s (Electrical & Musical Industries) president of business development and executive vice president of global marketing and digital. This combined background in digital music and global marketing makes him uniquely well-qualified to helm HMV’s ecommerce solution and help the entertainment retailer diversify their revenue sources in this ever-changing digital age.
Hodgkinson fills the space left by Steve Napleton, who previously headed up their online sales department. He left HMV for Penguin, taking his years of ecommerce knowledge with him. Hodgkinson will need to act quickly to help HMV counter their eroding sales, which have been steadily slipping in recent years. The company lost another 15% in “like for like” sales for the 18 week period ending September 3rd. Total retail sales were down almost 22%, however, this was offset somewhat by the significant uptick in sales that their new fleet of stores, called “Fast Forward.”
HMV Fast Forward stores represent a new format-change experiment for the venerable music and entertainment retailer. These stores dedicate about 25% of their floorspace to high tech gadgets like tablet computers, iPods, and smartphones. These products tend to be high-value and convert well, a lesson they can take to heart on their ecommerce solution as well. Position pieces that are likely to sell where customers can see them, collect information, and effortlessly put them in their shopping carts is a proven key to sales.
Even as HMV moves to change their stores to reflect the increased sales at these new-format stores, how Hodgkinson will increase sales on their ecommerce solution has yet to be seen. As previously mentioned – he’ll need to work fast. He doesn’t even take the job for another month, entering his new position on October fifth. He won’t have much time to get the site ready for the busiest shopping period of the entire year. The phrase “Black Friday,” isn’t just a catchy name for the Friday after Thanksgiving, it got that name because so many stores finally went from “in the red” (not making enough money) to “in the black” (clearing a profit) for the year. If HMV isn’t poised for success on Black Friday (still a big shopping day, even at home!) and Cyber Monday (the following Monday where everyone messes around on their computers shopping from work instead of, you know, working…) then HMV could find themselves ending the year in the red.
HMV is one of the oldest music retailers in the UK. The name actually stands for “His Master’s Voice,” which is a painting of a dog listening rather, with a rather quizzical expression on its face, to a gramophone, which is apparently playing a recording of his master’s voice. The familiar sound coming from a strange invention is obviously perplexing to the animal, and serves as a poignant reminder of the changes that technology brings about in the world as it marches forward continually. While humans adapt to different technology, paintings like this, showing how animals interact with that same technology, can serve as reminders of a simpler time. Unfortunately for HMV, the gramophone days are over, and now they’ll have to evolve or die in the changing brick and mortar and ecommerce solution marketplaces.
September 12, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
PixelMags is an online publishing powerhouse that specializes in taking your magazine or catalog for you ecommerce solution and bringing it into the 21st Century. They can help you add other media, interaction, and other advanced features to what used to be a static document. Keeping things fluid and dynamic is the name of the game for online publications and ecommerce solutions alike. We were lucky enough to sit down with Ryan Marquis, co-founder and COO of PixelMags:
So right off the bat, let’s get into this. PixelMags is unique in that you provide a powerful service for two very different groups: retailers who want fully-featured catalog apps for their businesses, and also publishers who want sleek, functional, sharp-looking publications (I’ve got that right, right?). Can you talk a little bit about the processes that your team employs when serving these two different groups, or are they more similar than one might initially think?
They are as similar as they are different in terms of magazines and catalog clients, depending on what the publisher/client is looking for. Most clients that we have worked with haven’t evolved into what we call “interactive tablet content.” This means building an HTML5 catalog, or by using a provider such as Adobe or WoodWing. A majority of publishers are sticking to the standard PDF format, and producing a replica catalog. Where we come into play with that is we take the PDF, and with our CDS (content delivery software) tool kit, we make these PDFs into fully interactive catalogs.
We like to call the tool kit we have developed “unlimited.” Clients can have videos, slide shows, catalogs, links, 360-degree product rotation and so forth. Some of the catalogs that are utilizing these features are Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, FrontGate and LampsPlus. All of our catalogs have utilized our white label solution, which is basically saying that our logo and name are taken out of the application to make it appear is if the magazine or catalog themselves made the application out of their own office. It gives the publisher all of the identity, giving the consumer more confidence to shop and buy.
We have also integrated the catalog ecommerce system, which allows people to shop and purchase products right from the application. I am not going to put any numbers out, but Pottery Barn has seen a rise in sales and has seen millions of dollars in increased revenue. You can touch a couch on the interactive catalog, read more about it, and decide if you want to buy it without ever leaving the application.
When it comes to magazine publishers, a lot of those same features are available and have been utilized by using our CDS tool kit. Being able to pull videos from YouTube is a great feature that allows readers to take the reading experience farther than before. Of course, all of our apps are compliant with Apple’s new polices for iOS5 and the upcoming Newsstand. With all the features of auto-renew subscription SKU’s, background downloading and other specifications. We put a press release out announcing this recently in August.
Magazines present their material differently than catalogers. Magazine publishers I would say are little more adventurous than others as far as trying new interactive content. That is one of the unique things about PixelMags compared to any of the providers in our space. We have designed our approach to be a digital distribution company. When I say that, I mean publishers have the choice to upload any form of content they wish. They can start with a PDF, and three months down the line they can transfer over to Adobe. Using the PixelMags destruction platform for a publisher, it allows them to start with a PDF and evolve into interactive content, meaning Adobe, WoodWing or even HTML5. Our reader within our application accepts all forms of input, which is very critical for both publisher and consumer.
We are the only provider in our space that is currently offering this evolution process. Typically, if you have been live for a year, and you try to switch from PDF to WoodWing or HTML5, you are not going to be able to just substitute one format to the other. You would have to shutdown that application completely, build an entirely new application, and then try converting the consumers that you already have to your new application. It is not an easy process, and it can have very big consequences. With our platform and distribution model, we have alleviated that nightmare of having a consumer transfer, making the process seamless.
Who are some retail clients that you’ve found it particularly interesting to work with?
Pottery Barn has been great to work with. LampsPlus is a great client, and they are doing a lot of innovative stuff, both with their digital content and even in their store. We also offer a web-based reader for our clients, where consumers can read their catalog on a website, like a page flipper. What’s unique about our platform is that whatever a publisher creates in our CDS tool kit will automatically upload to the application and onto their web base version too. They create in one location, and they can distribute it to multiple outlets. With LampsPlus, we have built a kiosk for them. So when consumers go into their store, and they do not have an iPad with them, they will be able to go to a kiosk in the store and be able to view the same interactive content on a web based kiosk that we developed for their iPad. Once again, Pottery Barn is great, Restoration Hardware is great, FrontGate is great, and same with LampsPlus. All great clients to work with as far as retail clients go.
How was the integration with Apple Newsstand? What have your customers been saying since you brought your services to that platform?
They have all been pretty ecstatic about it actually. We have a couple hundred clients now, and it’s a very big transition. We are focusing on the bigger clients right now, like Hearst UK and other ones to help integrate into Apple Newsstand. There is a lot of confusion though on Apple Newsstand. A lot of people actually think its an application, when in essence it’s a folder that is going to aggregate auto-renew subscription SKU’s and organize your magazine subscription. We have been working with Apple now for almost three years, and recently working more closely than before, making sure that we are doing everything right for when the Newsstand launches.
But beyond Apple – your website says “Android coming soon.” The Android OS is growing crazy-fast. I know that you and your team decided to focus on the iPad and iPhone because they are such well-designed devices and use such similar operating systems (I actually read a previous interview where you talked about the complexity of writing what is essentially two different apps in one). Android has some problems in that arena: a million different devices, different versions of the OS running all over the place, etc. How are you and the team dealing with that?
Great question. Android OS is growing very rapidly, and we are getting a ton of inquires from publishers about consumers wanting the app and magazine to be available to them on the Android. You have to take a step back though, which is what we have done, and evaluate the space. To develop on Apple, Android, Blackberry or any other OS system for tablets and smart phones out there, you need to know the install base, (how many consumers have this installed) and also the user experience. Android is an open source OS that tablet manufactures no matter if you are Samsung or some random developer out of China, can run and install this OS on their tablet device. As a digital distributor, I can go to China tomorrow, have a tablet built with Android OS running on it in a few weeks. Does that mean I am going to have a big install base or quality tablet? So getting back to the question, we are focusing on Android, but we are going to developing Android OS that running 3.0 or higher, like Honeycomb, and will narrow it done to specific tablets. We will use tablets with a good consumer adoption rate and a good quality name behind it. The Samsung Galaxy tablet and Motorola zoom are the first two tablets in that market that we are going to focus on.
Speaking of the team, how big is your group, all offices included? How quickly have you had to grow? What advice can you give our readers about adding new members to your team?
We have offices in the US, UK and in the South Pacific. In the US, we have ten employees. In the United Kingdom we have 13 employees, and three people in New Zealand and Australia. We have had to grow very quickly. The company is still relatively young, we are almost three years old. It has grown from my partner Mark and I to 26 employees now.
The advice I can give to readers about adding new members to our team, or in this industry in general is that we are always looking for good people. When we interview people, we go off their work and their work history. We don’t really focus on where someone went to school; we choose to focus on performance. You need to have a strong digital background, and be on top of what is going on in our industry, especially in the tablet world. We are currently looking for Java script developers, iOS developers and Android developers.
What has been one challenge that you and the team have had to overcome that gave you all a huge sense of accomplishment? How did you do it? What was so significant about the challenge? What did you all learn through the experience?
The biggest challenge in this space is the iOS platform. When we first started the business, it was just my partner Mark and I. Our biggest challenge, to be honest and totally upfront, was just starting the business. It took us nine and half months to get our initial software application developed and approved by Apple. We probably went back and forth with Apple with dozens of revisions of how our database works with the Apple infrastructure, and how a new issue is delivered, and how notifications are delivered. Setting up the whole infrastructure, the whole content delivery network was a challenge. We actually use Amazon as our delivery method. So when someone clicks download on an application, that content is actually streamed from Amazon’s cloud streaming network. There were a lot of different pieces that had to be put together. The biggest challenge was to build the initial platform, and the ongoing challenge is of course, maintenance, and adhering to Apple’s new regulations, especially when a new OS launches. Through this process we have learned how to work hard and how to drink a heck of a lot of Redbull!
September 6, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
Having high-quality videos on your ecommerce solution can be a great way to increase conversions, get picked up in Google searches, boost SEO, and just add value to your site. However, what service to use can sometimes be tricky. YouTube is the biggest video-sharing website on the net, so for most entrepreneurs, that’s their go-to spot. Many ecommerce software packages have video hosting capabilities, but may not be optimized for search or ease of use. Plus they eat into your bandwidth, which, if you are running your store well, you should need all of to facilitate product, page views, and other user traffic.
So what is an ecommerce solution owner to do? Well, Vimeo suggests using their new “Pro” service. Vimeo is smaller online video sharing service than YouTube, but it has its own tight-knit community. Think of it as quality over quantity. Whereas YouTube has tons of users, Vimeo finds that their users are more likely to interact in more meaningful ways.
The service already had a “Plus” feature with an annual subscription fee with a number of expanded features. For starters, Plus users can upload higher quality videos than the Basic members (who already have pretty decent stats). They also get ten times the uploading space per week, unlimited HD uploads and embeds, and much more.
Vimeo Pro, however, goes beyond these features and is customized for ecommerce solutions and other online entrepreneurs. Billing it as “the best service in the Universe” (quite a boast!), probably one of the most useful features for the entrepreneur would have to be the branded video player. Users can customize their video player to match their product and corporate branding, keeping their look and feel uniform and adding to that visual brand recognition that users find so inviting.
Their “Portfolios” option allows businesses to create standalone websites filled with their videos to promote their products, services, or website. No coding is necessary, there are plenty of themes to choose from to match your ecommerce solution, and there’s no Vimeo branding at all. You can even take advantage of custom domains and built-in video SEO functionality.
Using the right tags with your videos is a key to boosting your SEO efforts. Getting your videos attention in the Vimeo community is also important. While Vimeo originally had safeguards in place to prevent people from selling on their non-ecommerce service, now they are willing to let art and commerce mingle, but only if you get a Community Pass that will allow business-specific videos cross over into the larger pool of the community.
With all these expanded features, Vimeo could be just the video-hosting service that you’ve been looking for. If your goal is to increase your site’s video presence online, drive SEO efforts, and drive conversions, then this could be the service for you.
September 5, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
The digital age has brought about many changes. Products that were usually only available in stores are available on ecommerce solutions. Items like books and CDs, which were previously only available in physical form, can now be wirelessly downloaded from remote servers and ecommerce software platforms. The retailers who previously sold these now-digital products have had to adapt or die. Even videogames have been impacted, and brick-and-mortar retailers like GameStop have had to step up their online efforts and diversify their holdings in order to remain competitive in the fluid world of the net.
Another market that has been affected by shifts to the digital has been comic books. We’ve covered different comic book ecommerce solutions before, along with which companies have “gone digital” the fastest, and how effective their efforts have been. DC Comics is the latest comic book publisher to make news in the industry, for a couple of reasons.
First off: the big story – “Day and Date Digital.” In case it wasn’t apparent enough by the name, “Day and Date Digital” means that digital comics are available on DC’s ecommerce solution for purchase on the same day that they come out in the comic book stores in printed form. There are several reasons why this is good – for DC, for comics fans, etc.
It represents progress. Information is information. If your ecommerce solution deals in digital products, then you already know this. You have the option of offering your customers hard copies or digital ones. Digital information can be downloaded quickly (almost instantly in many cases) and from almost any location. Tablets are struggling to find a foothold – they are really a “luxury” device: not as hard-working and functional as a laptop, but more useful and full-featured than a smartphone or other handheld device. However, as far as eBooks and other types of online media go, tablets and ereaders (like the Kindle and Nook, among others) are making them increasingly available and increasingly profitable. Amazon’s sales of ebooks on their ecommerce solution have steadily climbed, outpacing hardcover books, then paperbacks, then all books entirely!
DC shifting its digital comics towards full parity with print versions is the natural progression of the publishing world’s increasing integration with the digital. All books (and comics) these days, become digital at some point in their lives, before publication. Offering them for sale digitally at the same time that they are available in print just makes sense. It doesn’t cost anything extra, considering that they are already digital to begin with, and makes them available to a wider audience right away.
Younger readers who haven’t grown up with the nostalgia of printed comics, but who do read media on digital devices (tablets, etc.) may find this an opportunity to jup into the grownup world of comics. Grownups with tablets and other digital gear who want to de-clutter their lives, and stay current with the latest issues of their favorite characters may also take advantage of the new releases.
Last but not least, the news that DC comics new titles will be available in digital form on the same day as their printed editions is conveniently timed with their company-wide “reboot” of their continuity. That’s right – all the classic characters have all new comics, costumes, backstories, but keeping the most important parts of their core characterizations. Who knows how popular this will prove (comic book nerds are notorious for their hatred of change), but one thing is for certain: the “day and date” availability of all new titles on DC’s ecommerce solutions opens doors for the company that have never been opened before (I wonder if they needed a giant golden key).
August 31, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
In the wake of better-than-expected Q2 earnings, Dollar General is announcing an ecommerce software platform for their shoppers to take advantage of. In an era when economic growth is stagnant and consumer purchasing power is incredibly weak, Dollar General’s low-price model seems to have struck a chord with shoppers. Adding an online ecommerce software selling utility will only allow them to further diversify their revenue stream and increase profits.
Dollar General’s Q2 performance surpassed Wall Street analysts’ predictions. Where the number crunchers expected/wanted about 47 cents per share in profit, Dollar General delivered 52 cents per share. Revenue was up 11 percent to a total of almost $3.6 billion. Wall Street was looking for 3.55 billion. Same-store revenues for locations open for more than a year was up almost 6%. In a lot of regards, Dollar General is looking good. A statement from the company said the following:
“The volatility of the macroeconomic environment continues to pressure the consumer and impact the company’s cost of purchasing and delivering merchandise to its stores. Management continues to closely monitor customers’ responses to the economic and competitive climates.”
The introduction of an ecommerce software selling system is a logical step for the discount chain. Target and Walmart, both larger versions of Dollar General, have been significant revenue-producers for the two big-box giants. Target recently took back control of its online shopping cart system from Amazon.com. Walmart, meanwhile, extended its influence in China by investing in Yihaodian. Having multiple revenue pathways is a proven path to victory for brick and mortar retailers.
The site is set to go live on September 8th, giving the company just about two weeks to fine tune their ecommerce software. They’re going to need a smooth, easy to use interface if they want to compete with the likes of Amazon.com, Target, and Walmart. Name recognition and low prices coould help drive customers who are used to patronizing Dollar General and know what to expect from their products. Rick Dreiling, CEO of Dollar General had this to say about the new ecommerce solution:
“Dollar General is excited to meet the growing demand for online convenience and value. We have streamlined the online shopping experience, giving customers what they need, as well as what they want, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
The discount store has physical locations in 35 of the continuous United States, but their ecommerce software platform will allow them to extend their reach beyond the borders of their states. Former shoppers and bargain hunters coast to coast can now take advantage of the cost savings that Dollar General has to offer. Delivery times will vary based on location, naturally. Dreiling again:
“At Dollar General, we are always looking for ways to meet our customers’ needs. Launching an eCommerce site allows us to reach existing customers as well as customers who live outside our 35-state market area.”
August 31, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
This school year more than any other, it’s all about textbook rentals. A variety of new options have sprung up in recent months, and they are poised to take advantage of the new school year and the huge numbers of students flocking back to schools who are feeling a bit light in the pocket. With the economy in the shape that it’s in, the rise of lower-cost options, be they brick and mortar stores, ecommerce solutions, or a combination of both, is not surprising.
First on the docket is Follet textbook group. They recently doubled the size of their textbook rental system and rolled out smarter electronic textbooks equipped with their new “CafeScribe” technology. Like most textbook rental services, books rented through Follet are about half the price of buying new, and come with a variety of loan periods. However, unlike a lot of textbook rental ecommerce solutions, Follet has their own network of real world bookstores that they manage in the US and also a lineup of Canadian partners. The expansion of rental services comes at a critical time, says Tom Christopher, President of Follett Higher Education Group:
“Student loans are now the largest category of unsecured debt in America, even surpassing credit cards. To help reduce the costs associated with higher education, we’re focused on delivering a spectrum of affordable choices so every student can be successful in the classroom.”
Having their own stores adds a new wrinkle to the textbook rental game, but it’s one that campus bookstores have been adapting to, even as the tech world seemed to get the drop on them. Campus bookstores have been dying a slow death for years. The rise on ecommerce solutions selling new and used textbooks for anything from literature books to CPA school textbooks at deep discounts was something that the old fashioned stores just could compete with. Now they are getting into the textbook rental game themselves, offering reduced price rentals on the same books that online competitors are pushing. The added convenience of getting these books right from their campus bookstore might be enough to shift some users aware from online ecommerce solutions and back into stores.
Additionally there are mixed-application textbook rental offerings. BookRenter.com, for instance, has their own ecommerce solution that connects students with textbook providers and ships the books out at huge savings. However, BookRenter also has deals in place with a number of campus bookstores where the store serves as the pickup point for the student. Everybody wins: the student saves money and the campus bookstore earns money that they might otherwise have lost. Chegg also has options allowing for bookstore involvement.
Electronic textbooks and temporary electronic textbook rentals are also part of this new frontier in the education world. Follet and Amazon both offer electronic textbook downloads through their ecommerce solutions. Different rates and lengths of time are negotiable, and most textbooks are viewable on a variety of platforms: iOS, Android, tablets, PCs, Macs, cybernetic implant – you name it. Follet’s new “CafeScribe” technology makes it easy for users to highlight passages and take notes. They can also do that with any etextbook rented through Amazon – who also allows them to recall those notes and highlighted passages even once the book has been returned.
Highlighting and making notes in the margins has been a staple of the college textbook game for years. While many people would think that highlighting and writing in rented textbooks is a no-no, BookRenter is finding success in letting their renters do just that. Chegg allows renters to highlight, but not write. Either way, there’s a lot of disruption going on in the textbook world!
August 30, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
Adyen, a leader in international payment processing for ecommerce solutions and other businesses has announced a partnership with Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). The deal will extend a new suite of services to SVB client companies that will improve their ability to accept payments in different countries around the world, using a variety of currencies and payment platforms. Many ecommerce solutions and other online businesses begin selling international even when they are just getting established. Dominating a domestic market is no longer a requisite before moving out into the larger world – it’s not even a requirement at all. Companies can compete on a global scale and bring in diversified profits from around the world without ever becoming the top dog in their own countries.
SVB brings to the table their “Global Treasury Platform,” a service that allows companies selling goods via an international ecommerce solution to collect payments in many different currencies. Those payments can be deposited automatically in an SVB mulit-currency account, or to an in-country account. Adyen brings their ability to process international credit card payments. Their network of connections and security certifications makes them uniquely well-suited to providing the kind of support that SVB partners need. Teaming up with an industry leader like SVB helps broaden Adyen’s already significant reach.
Many of SVB’s business partners come from high tech, science, cleantech, and venture capital fields. The provide not only financial services, but networking connections and deep industry expertise to help their clients maximize their return on investment. They have 26 US offices and also do business through seven “international operations.”
Specializing in online payments for ecommerce solutions, Adyen is a payments powerhouse for small, medium, and even large businesses who need to know that their financial information will be handled safely and efficiently. This is a natural fit, as many of SVB’s clients do business internationally. Derrick Morton, CEO of FlowPlay, an online causal gaming site, had this to say:
“Almost half of our business is outside the US. In order to maximize international revenue, it’s important that we transact in the local currency and payment methods. Adyen has an incredible system for managing our complex currency and pricing matrix and with SVB’s international presence we are able to make local deposits of these foreign currencies.”
A casual, social, or mobile gaming business makes perfect sense to team up with a credit card payment processing partner like Adyen. Many “freemium” games are free to play, but feature in-game shopping carts to allow to buy power ups and extra items and pay for them with real money. Credit cards are the payment method of choice when using these ecommerce solutions. Adyen CEO Peter Caparso, whom we recently interviewed here at ZippyCart, said this about the partnership:
“By accepting convenient, international payments, retailers have the opportunity to create new revenue streams overseas. With SVB and Adyen services, our clients can now accelerate customer payments, minimize chargebacks, help ensure PCI compliance, and mitigate fraud and risk.”
August 30, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
The US economy has been taking a pretty solid pounding lately. The budget debacle in Washington resulted in a credit downgrade that sent shockwaves through the stock market and ended up with some pretty significant losses. Next an incredibly rare East Coast earthquake sent Twitter accounts from Virginia to New York into a flurry of excitement (which is pretty much what Twitter does best). Adding insult to injury, Hurricane Irene (later Tropical Storm Irene, but let’s not split hairs) came rolling in and may have done billions of dollars worth of direct and indirect damage to the nation’s economy.
In times of trouble, like the London riots that sent UK shoppers flocking to Amazon’s ecommerce solution to buy baseball bats, certain retailers see a spike in purchases designed to counter the crisis. For Amazon’s US ecommerce solution, the top 20 products in “Patio, Lawn, and Garden” contains two generators, one of which is the top seller. Spare gas cans and covers for those generators also ranked highly. A couple of waterproof flashlights are in the top 20 for “Home Improvement,” but they are labeled with reddish-brown “down” arrows that indicate their popularity is waning.
Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s showed big gains in the days running up to the storm, as one would expect. Some analysts say that the near total shutdown of major cities like New York could have cost retailers billions of dollars in lost revenue that they weren’t able to rake in during what should have been the second-to-last back-to-school shopping season. Savvy shoppers who choose to get their textbooks and other school gear through an app like the ecommerce solution that Amazon put together might also have had some trouble over the weekend, as circuits in the Northeast were routinely tied up with family members trying to make sure others were safe, and emergency personnel trying to coordinate the relief efforts.
Other stores beyond ecommerce solutions that were able to rebound in the days during and after the storm included an Applebees in Times Square that paid to put its employees up in nearby hotels, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks stores in heavily populated areas. As people shook off the storm, many without power flocked to these bastions of caffeine and sugar to fulfill basic human needs and just get out of their own homes for some fresh air (of course the free wi-fi doesn’t hurt either!).
Some economic analysts are saying that the days after the storm could be a mixed bag of economic conditions. While stocks were in the process of rebounding at time of writing, many parts of the northeast are still without power and the cleanup effort is still ongoing. However, even as many businesses are still losing revenue because they aren’t open, other businesses will see a resurgence.
Companies specializing in water evacuation and water damage mitigation, as well as home repair, renovation, carpet installers, and tree and debris removers will all see some money flow into their pockets. The downside could be that homeowners, even ones whose insurance policies cover storm damage, may end up paying out a lot in the form of deductibles, which they may or may not be able to afford.
August 29, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
If you’ve ever set up an ecommerce solution or have been thinking about just adding a shopping cart to your existing website, then you’ve probably looked into a variety of ecommerce software packages. CoreCommerce has been on our list of top ecommerce software companies for a long time, but they recently took a step to set themselves apart from the crowd: an unlimited free trial period (This has changed – CoreCommerce now is offering a free 30-day trial).
The way that most ecommerce software systems work is pretty simple and pretty common across the board. You do some research, maybe read some reviews, then sign up for the package that looks right for you at the company you like. Usually you get two weeks to familiarize yourself with the software and get your store set up. Now, depending on the type of store you want to set up, how many products you have, and how much time you have to dedicate to your store every day (among many other factors), two weeks might not be enough time for you to get all set up and/or decide if this is the right ecommerce software platform for you.
While most hosted ecommerce solutions work roughly the same way: tiered pricing based on bandwidth, sometimes charging a transaction fee, and of course, offering free trials, there are a few that deviate from this model. While CoreCommerce is the only one with an unlimited free trial, some other ecommerce software platforms offer a thirty day free trial for a nominal fee of something in the neighborhood of 3 or 4 dollars.
Many modern ecommerce solutions are remarkably easy to set up and get started selling online. A huge industry has sprung up around allowing anyone to sell over the internet. Emerging companies like Jumio have even rolled out products that allow users to turn their WordPress site into an online store. Even with all this ease of use, it comes down to the old adage “easy to learn, hard to master.” Fine tuning an online store until it looks and functions just the way you want can be a time consuming project, especially if your online business isn’t your only priority. With the CoreCommerce unlimited free trial, you can spend as long as you want tinkering with your online store in “closed” mode, until opening it up for business – at which point you pick a payment plan and enter your financial details. Before that point – no money down.
A good number of online entrepreneurs find themselves balancing their online store, family, other work commitments, and maybe even a social life! With all this going on, having more time to familiarize yourself with CoreCommerce’s many features could be the difference between a site that looks “okay,” and one that looks great!
And there are certainly enough features to get acquainted with. Just about two weeks ago CoreCommerce announced the unveiling of a whole array of new features designed to make their customer’s stores look and perform at a higher level than ever before. New storefront designs, complete with “hero images” to make products look as attractive as possible, allow for better appearance customization.
Users also have the ability to promote a “Deal of the Day.” Given the current craze for daily deals, this could be a huge motivator to get online sellers onto the CoreCommerce team, and help those sellers move even more products. Enhanced page load times assure that when all those customers come pouring in, the system will be able to accommodate all their orders. It’s a whole new ball game with CoreCommerce’s new ecommerce software features and extended trial period.
August 29, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
There are so many ecommerce software systems out there, it can be hard to keep them all straight in your head. Many of them offer similar pricing structures and features. Some of them even sound similar (Core Commerce or Big Commerce?). But one ecommerce solution is out to set itself apart from the crowd with a big dose of positive PR. Propell Corp, makers of “PropellShops” and their “instant ecommerce” system have helped the brand new Collaborative Arts Middle School (CAMS) in the Springfield Gardens neighborhood of Queens, NYC get their school uniform selling system up and running.
Now this might not initially seem like news. Sure, schools need to sell things (uniforms, books, supplies, fundraising stuff, etc.), and they sometimes turn to ecommerce software companies like Propell to get the job done. That’s not the story. The story is that CAMS, as a newly emerging school needed to get all this stuff in place, but didn’t have any resources to get it done – no money, no staff time. They turned to Propell because Propell is a partner in the nationwide eChalk system.
This of course begs the question “what is eChalk?” eChalk is the online communications and education technology company that specializes in technology solutions for K-12 schools. CAMS was able to get a turnkey ecommerce solution from Propell without any investment on their part or any upfront money.
PropellShops provides a number of useful services to the eChalk partner schools that they serve. One service that CAMS will be taking advantage of is a sort of “print on demand” model of uniform ordering. Propell works with schools and manufacturers to set minimum order amounts for uniforms and other goods. Then the ecommerce software selling system is opened up for students to order their supplies. As long as the minimum order agreed upon by all parties is met, then there is no charge to the school.
This is how CAMS will be outfitting their first year of students with the proper uniforms. Propell provides a similar service to other schools and colleges, non-profit organizations, businesses, and even the military. For CAMS there will also be a revenue sharing element for every item that is ordered. Apparently the setup and implementation was pretty painless, which is what any users wants from their ecommerce software. Just ask T.N. Holloway, Principal of CAMS:
“We are so grateful for the team at Propell. As a new school, we were facing many challenges, and providing uniforms was critical, but also presented expense and logistical challenges. Thanks to Propell, we are able to offer our families the convenience of at home shopping, and the school did not need to commit any financial, or personnel, resources. I’ve done this many times at other schools, and this is the best experience I’ve ever had. It’s saved us money and simplified everyone’s lives.”
Propell was also happy to be involved the process. Helping out a school or non-profit group always leaves one feeling good. Propell is obviously interested in helping those organizations, as they have partnered not only with eChalk, but also with the American Association of School Administrators. Ed Bernstein, CEO of Propell offered this:
“We’re proud to be working with CAMS and eChalk to play a role in supporting this innovative new school find an innovative way to deliver uniforms to its students. The PropellShops program lets staff focus on other things and lets us worry about everything else. We believe that Propell’s on-demand service is the ideal solution for the complexity, cost and staff time in running a school uniform program…Propell does everything, from running the shop, to making the items, shipping them, and providing customer service.”
This news comes shortly after the announcement that Propell had connected with a new PR firm to boost their brand visibility. ScMiGo LLC, a marketing firm based in the Chicago area, specializes in promoting ecommerce software and tech-related companies. ScMiGo is led by Scott Goldberg, who has made a name for himself in the marketing and promotions world by working with companies like Volvo and Disney, as well as celebrities like Derek Jeter and Paula Abdul.
August 29, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
This is a strange, uncertain time for businesses of all kinds. For ecommerce solutions, brick-and-mortar stores, and everything in between, there seems to be no surefire way to tell how your company is going to perform. You’d expect with a general recession, an unpredictable stock market, and cries of inflated values for a number of tech companies that the only news you’d be hearing about would be bad.
That’s not the case for Belk, a Charlotte, NC-based department store chain with over 300 locations in the southern US. The company just reported double the profit for this year’s Q2 , ringing it at $25 million, compared to the same quarter last year, where they brought in only about $12.4 million. Over-year profit reports like this are just one way a company like Belk evaluates its health and success.
Another important metric for a business with brick-and-mortar locations is the performance of stores that have been open for more than a year. For Belk, these stores reported growth of more than 5%. In an anemic economy where jobs, credit, and disposable income are all hard to find, doubling your profit from a year ago and increasing same-store sales by 5% is nothing to sneeze at.
While part of Belk’s success can definitely be attributed to their keeping sales, general, and admin costs down – with only a 4.3% increase over-year, CEO Tim Belk gave a lot of the credit for growth to their ecommerce solution. According to him, ecommerce, shoes, cosmetics, home, and kids products were the fastest-growing sectors of their business. He had this to say:
“Ecommerce is growing most quickly…We continue to invest in the business and are seeing the results. There are questions about fall, however, we are encouraged by the momentum from the first two quarters.”
Part of that investment has been modernization of their information technology systems and ecommerce solution. These coincided with a larger effort by the company to revamp its image and appeal to shoppers as a more modern store. Belk’s actually the largest, privately-owned department store chain in the US. Their 303 stores span 16 states and their ecommerce solution extends their reach even further. Despite having a stock ticker symbol (BLKI), the company is not listed on any stock exchange. All shares of the company are privately held by the founding family and employees.
It’s no surprise that a wider-reaching, more convenient ecommerce solution would be key to driving growth for even an established brick-and-mortar company. Target, a multinational big box store, places significant stock in their own online shopping cart system. They recently decided that too much of their revenue was going into Amazon’s pockets, as the ecommerce giant was previously running their online selling platform. Now, though, it’s switched fully over to a Target-run system, meaning all that valuable online shopping money is staying with the big red company.
Moreover, even smaller, online-only companies are opening up ecommerce solutions to monetize their businesses. While selling on Facebook has been a must-have for almost every shopping cart solution for a whle now, even WordPress is getting in on the act. A system called “Jumio” turns your WordPress site into an online selling system in no time flat. They’ve even pioneered a feature that allows users to flash their credit cards at a web camera and pay for items that way.
August 26, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
We always love it when we get a chance to sit down with a dedicated ecommerce professional and get some inside insight on their unique part of the ecommerce world. This week we’re lucky enough to have Peter Caparso, President North America for Adyen, an electronic payment solution.
You started as “President North America” for Adyen about three years ago. How did that come about? What about Adyen attracted you?
I first entered into the payments world back in 2003 when I joined Bibit, a Dutch global payment company. Bibit had come up with a strategy of connecting into local major acquirers around the world to allow them to offer localized payment methods at a minimal cost. Bibit was very successful on executing on this strategy and was eventually 100% acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland. At RBS I headed up the global ecommerce sales and account management for the card not present division for the U.S. From these experiences, I culled from merchant interactions how payment solutions needed to be more “merchant friendly” and flexible. Merchants wanted a real-time, transparent and user friendly service that did not put them indentured for multiple years. In the spring of 2008, I was attending a conference in Brussels and ran into some of the former founders of Bibit. An invitation to have a cup of coffee resulted in a four hour discussion regarding what is missing in today’s ecommerce solutions and what would make merchants selling efforts easier. In essence, Adyen embraces that philosophy while being disruptive to the legacy providers. The fact that Adyen has a significant amount of former Bibit employees working there (and the infectious can-do spirit) it was an easy decision for me to sign on board.
What are some landmarks from your time so far that you are especially proud of?
Helping our rapidly growing international customer base with innovative ways to augment and enhance their online payment process while in parallel working to maximize their online conversion rates. In parallel, opening new markets rapidly (South America and Asia) to serve merchants’ needs while actively building out the U.S. operations.
There’s a lot of goldfish imagery on the Adyen website. What’s the deal with that? For me it seems to say, “Hey, it’s safe in your little bowl, but if you want to compete in the larger world, then you need to get out of there, and we can help you.” Am I reading too much into this?
You are spot on! In today’s payment arena, often it is the merchant that is placed in a contained space, confined by legacy platforms and crude reporting mechanisms. If you have the courage to jump out of your comfort space, you can discover a whole new world of capabilities out there. This is the spirit of Adyen, a tech company that happens to play in the payment space.
Adyen seems to have a lot of certifications (Visa, MasterCard, PCI-DSS Global, etc.). What do these certifications mean for businesses that partner with you?
These are the important certifications that give our customers the safety, protection and options in their payment offerings. Adyen strives to have the right compliance in place so that our merchants can focus on their core business. For example, “Verified by Visa” means we offer a password-protected identity-checking service that takes the risk out of online retail for merchants and for their customers. Merchants get protection from fraudulent transactions and the costs associated with it and their customers get the reassurance they need to spend with confidence. Adyen supports Verified by Visa for all merchants. Another common one is MasterCard SecureCode which is a simple and secure way to protect transactions. Adyen supports MasterCard SecureCode for all customers.
The most important is being PCI-DSS certified. We host this important compliance for our clients if they opt into this service. PCI is a credit card standard for data security, aimed at preventing credit card fraud, cracking and various other security threats. Every company handling credit card data has to comply with certain levels of the PCI standard. Adyen is fully PCI certified by Trustwave.
Earlier this year, Adyen was granted a Payment Services Directive (PSD) license. This is a very exciting certification for us as it is an EU regulation designed to ensure that payment companies follow a very strict set of processing rules and confirms our commitment to be fully compliant and up to code on present requirements.
You are based in Boston, but it looks like you have staff in other places. How does the international nature of the company impact you personally, and North American operations in general?
Our multiple locations complement each other well. The breadth of our team in the Netherlands provides U.S. customers the capability to get up-and-running quickly and offer an expansive amount of payment methods all over the world. In parallel, we have local staff in Brazil, Singapore, Germany and France as well as our two locations in the U.S. Our payment platform currently encompasses a portfolio of over 75 different types of payment methods in the U.S., South America, Western and Central Europe, Russia, South Africa, Israel, and Asia. We continue to add new payment methods every month and with one of our key strategic accounts helped place them into 20 new markets in the past six months. At the same time, the U.S. presence has provided Adyen with big name customers that include, but are not limited to, ShoeDazzle, Getty Images, PopCap Games, and so on.
Do you have a number one business tip for our readers regarding ecommerce, online and mobile payments, or anything of that nature?
Over the past years we have seen many changes in the international payments industry – more and more regulation around data security, the rise and fall of various alternative payment methods and ongoing developments around the authentication of credit card payments. These developments require you to continuously review and adapt the way you accept payments from your customers. Outsource as much as you can to alleviate unnecessary disputes or breaks in your business.
Also, always remain focused on maximizing conversion. Adyen considers payments to be an integral part of the customer experience. Payment pages should be easy to use, seamlessly integrated into your site and branding and optimized per market and device for highest conversion.
Lastly, expand your revenue internationally, in convenient payment methods. We see that this international expansion is happening in a much faster pace than before. Also, the focus of the expansion is now beyond the well known international markets: emerging markets are now really delivering significant revenues.
We believe a payment service needs to support these international markets. It also needs to be flexible: the platform has to be able to deliver new international payment methods within reasonable time frames to support that momentum.
What’s next for Adyen? What can we expect in the near future?
Mobile. With the convergence of smart-phones, coupled with social networking element, I believe that our handheld phone devices will serve as portable payment vehicles even more quickly than anyone thought. We’re seeing good partnerships and leadership in this space by companies like Google and Visa, but Adyen will serve as a mobile platform for these transactions. I believe a lot of our advancements and partnerships will continue to support this $640 billion market.
August 25, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
Travelers have been making hotel and flight reservations over ecommerce solutions for many years. One of the earliest market sectors to catch on to internet sales was travel. It gave shoppers the ability to compare prices, airports, and different travel options to find the best deal, shortest trip, or some combination of the two. As smartphones started penetrating the mobile phone market, hotels and other travel companies are finding that more and more travelers are using them to make accommodations while on the road. In response to this trend, Marriott has released mobile app and a more fully featured version of their mobile site to help users get the best deal and book their rooms faster.
Apps are becoming increasingly important to ecommerce solutions and business of all kinds, really. They are great for boosting customer engagement inside stores and out. Users can check prices for their favorite products, compare them against other retailers or online outlets, and find the best prices. Mobile phone payments are becoming more and more common – either as an electronic wallet like Google and some credit card companies are trying to pioneer, or else through native apps and mobile sites.
Marriott’s ecommerce software app – entitled simply “Marriott Mobile” – is billed by the company as “the perfect travel companion.” It launched simultaneously for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices all at once as a result of Marriott’s involvement with AT&T’s “Mobile Enterprise Applications Platform.” This novel group features a platform called “Write Once, Run Everywhere.” The name says it all: in cooperation with Kony Solutions, the platform allows users to create a single universal application definition that can be launched on multiple operating systems.
For loyal Marriott users, Marriott Mobile gives them unprecedented access to hotel reservations as well as tracking their accounts and other information on the go. Besides quickly finding a hotel in the local area (including pictures), users can also check for room availability, book one, or check their upcoming reservations (made online from a conventional computer or on the phone). If you have points, you can keep track of your balance, or cash some in when making a reservation.
Shafiq Khan, senior vice president of eCommerce, Marriott International said this:
“We know that more than half of hotel reservations made using mobile devices are for same-day stays. This shows how rushed mobile travelers are; speed and choice are critical. With a few taps, you can now get immediate access on-the-go to our 3,600 hotels across 13 brands in 71 countries.”
Booking on the Go
Information gathered by eMarketer, a leading online data collection agency had a lot of light to shed on the hotel booking habits of travelers on the go. By their estimates, 2012 will see almost 30 million consumers plan out some aspect of their travel via the mobile internet. This is a fifty percent bump from 2011 levels. Travelers booking hotels, tickets, etc. on mobile ecommerce software systems is expected to jump to 15 million by 2012 – more than doubling its present rate.
The need for a comprehensive mobile app for Marriott is obvious. Up into June of this year, their website was experiencing more than 2.5 million hits per month with property-level revenue of more than 20 million dollars per month. This is a three-fold increase from a year ago.
August 25, 2011
By the ZippyCart Content Team
Online buying habits are changing. While large purchases such as TVs, videogames, and other electronics are still the leading items up for sale, consumer packaged goods (CPGs) are also on the rise. Early adopters of shopping via ecommerce software platforms tended towards major purchases because the deep discounts available online were significantly better than brick and mortar competitors. Consumer goods are now finding their way into more and more ecommerce software systems. Shoppers are turning to these options for both cost savings and convenience. One online retail company that is showing leadership in this market is Alice.com.
Alice.com is a domestic seller of consumer packaged goods. Based in Middleton, WI, they specialize in helping consumer goods sellers move their projects via online ecommerce software platforms. Some of their chief efforts include distributing free samples and coupons, as well as recording customer information and selling it off to retailers. Founded in 2009, the company recently went global, helping to provide ecommerce solutions to online shopping markets around the world. Great customer service and free shipping are hallmarks of the Alice.com program and remain in place even as they announce that they officially power the online selling sites for more than 100 consumer goods producers.
With the addition of four major players in the consumer goods marketplace, Alice.com is officially past the 100-client landmark. Solo Cup, Kellogg’s, 3M, and Ecover have all recently joined with Alice.com to leverage the ecommerce powerhouse’s online selling technology and other resources to provide their goods to shoppers worldwide.
Solo Cup, for those who are unfamiliar, specializes in “convenience tableware.” Disposable cups, plates, bowls, knives, forks, etc. Basically if you’ve ever had a picnic or cookout or been to a college party (those ubiquitous red cups? Solo) you’ve seen their stuff. Kellogg’s, makers of fine breakfast cereals, is a well-known name in the US breakfast foods market. 3M is the home of the “Scotch Brite” “line of cleaners, spongers, and other household cleaning goods. Ecover also specializes in cleaning supplies – but with an environmental twist. All the different dishwashing soaps, laundry detergent, and other supplies they produce are designed for both power and the environment in mind.
Chris Klem, Director of Marketing for Solo’s Consumer business, had this to say about the team-up:
“With so many of our customers now shopping online, our new storefront delivers an easy way for them to look for and buy their favorite everyday Solo products and find those items that may not be readily available in their local stores. Working with Alice.com, we were able to build a stress-free, uncomplicated e-commerce experience that helps us build ROI and differentiate ourselves in the noisy e-commerce space.”
Rising above the “noisy ecommerce space” is an important goal for any shopping cart solution or ecommerce software platform. Shoppers can find almost any good or service that they want on the internet. Ease of use, functional navigation, and great selection are all proven ways to drive traffic and keep conversions healthy. However, Alice.com is also bringing another proven winner to their partners who use their ecommerce software: Facebook sales.
While Google+ may be lagging behind when it comes to integrating brands and businesses on its social network, Facebook has been rapidly becoming more and more commercial and monetized. Stores have been creating Facebook pages for years now, and lately the baseline for a decent Facebook shopping experience has been the ability to fill a shopping cart and check out without leaving the store’s Facebook page. “Selling on Facebook,” is now a standard feature for most ecommerce solutions, and Alice.com’s Facebook selling capability will help keep their clients competitive.