One of the greatest challenges facing ecommerce marketers is finding fresh, interesting merchandise to include in each promotional campaign. If that challenge is not enough, you as the merchant must also look for special “hooks” to grab the customer’s attention and get him or her to place an order.
The following article in the Ecommerce Series puts together the ideas you need to develop an effective merchandising plan.
That All-Important First Impression
With increasing competition in virtually every merchandise segment of the ecommerce business, marketers have come to realize the critical need to continually attract new customers. But doing so on a cost-effective basis means more than just generating the click or an email newsletter subscription. The key is conversion.
One of the most important promotional campaigns you will ever direct your customer to is that first one, the first visit to your ecommerce site, dedicated landing page or email.
It is your introduction. It must present your company, products, services and guarantees, instill a credible, comfortable feeling in the customer and compel him or her to order. No small task, and there are an unlimited variety of ways to achieve it.
Merchandise selection and pricing aside, in designing this introductory campaign, you have to take the time to evaluate all of the reasons customers might have for not placing an order, and how to use every millisecond of their attention either for presenting merchandise or building company credibility and trust… or both.
This first impression is critical to getting that first order. Quality product, service and effective marketing create the repeat customer. But the introductory promotional communications turn prospects into new customers. Evaluate your “first impression” campaign. You may find it is not working as hard as it could.
How to Find New Products That Are (Virtually) Proven Winners
What do you do, especially if you wish to find good, new products at a reasonable cost? There are several productive avenues to take, but one of the most rewarding and least expensive is found while sitting behind your desk. A constant flow of new products and suppliers comes from these “behind the desk” sources of merchandise supply:
- Promotions that cost real money are most trustworthy:
- Insert packages
- Paid online ads (e.g. Facebook ads, Google Ads) – you need proper spy tools (e.g. AdPlexity, AdBeat) to discover those that are heavily promoted
- Direct response ads placed in magazines and newspapers, on TV and radio (even if you are not into these media channels)
- Your own mail box and phone
- Promotions that involve no media budget are less trustworthy:
- Amazon and similar platforms’ best seller lists in each sub-sub-subcategory
- Your competitors’ bestseller lists
- Your competitors’ email promotions
- Your competitors’ home page real estate promoting specific product categories
Do not underrate the importance of a “competitor research” program. Analyze competitors’ promotions to determine which categories of products are selling, which specific products move well, and the tune of year these products are strong sellers.
Make sure you take the subject as broadly as possible, e.g. if you are into cookware and do only selling in the US, make sure you are fully aware of infomercial / direct response TV promos concerning cookware. If possible, research such ads both in the US as well as in other countries.
(For example, although at the moment I have no clients from Australia, Ukraine, India or Egypt, these countries have a huge DRTV presence and a multitude of great products to take inspiration from.)
Many companies use paid online ads or direct response ads in any offline medium to advertise products for sale by mail for two distinct reasons that should be of particular interest to you:
- Reason no. 1: Such companies advertise because they want to acquire new names to whom they can direct their promotions for months and years to come. For their ads, they choose strong items from their product line, knowing that the buyers they attract will fit their present image (customer profile) and help build their main customer list. They understand they will not breakeven on the ad but take customer’s lifetime value into their return on investment calculations.
- Reason no. 2: Finding single product ads repeated by a small ecoms or their affiliates are like finding pure gold. In most cases the seller who runs a product ad time and again is not looking for names because it has no marketing program based on customer’s lifetime value. It has a product that is selling, one that makes money when advertised.
Finding Ecommerce Suppliers the Easy Way
Though the object of this program is to learn what sells well for your competition, another rewarding aspect of the analysis is that it provides a convenient avenue for finding new product manufacturers and sources.
After all, not all excellent products are available from supply sources that are aggregated on wholesale platforms. Some sources for these products may be “mysteries” to you. But if you see the item in a competitor’s promo, you have a good chance of discovering the source: just order the product. When it arrives, it is usually accompanied by the manufacturer’s name and address.
Frequently this information is printed on the box containing the product, on a label, a set of instructions, or even molded into the product itself. Now you can contact the manufacturer directly.
At the very least, you may find that an imported product lists only the country of origin. In this case, your next step is to contact your current suppliers of imported goods. If they do not already have the item in their lines, chances are they can find out where and how to get it for you.
Do Not Ignore These Obvious Winning Products Sources
Perhaps the most overlooked “behind the desk” opportunity is your own email and mail inbox. It is easy to delete or ignore emails or throw away direct mail ads that try to sell. Do not. Take time to look at each piece. These advertising pieces provide a wonderful opportunity to find a prized “needle in the haystack” and require little time or expense.
Also, look at emails received from individuals. Some include valuable suggestions, actual samples or amateurish snapshots of proposed products.
Use your experience and intuition to sort out the winners. And do not ignore phone calls. A few minutes of conversation can produce a winner, too. Bear in mind that telemarketing efforts are very, very expensive, even if done from overseas. If they keep calling with their product, they have to have a money-making product with high-closure rate.
These methods of new product research may seem less interesting than traveling to trade shows, but they pay high dividends and are a lot easier on the feet. Just a couple of hours a week devoted to this type of buying trip will produce a steady source of winning products.
Successful Ecommerce Item Checklist
When researching, five points you should look for in paid ads are:
- Visual Presentation. Does the product photograph well? Can you tell what it is or what it does at first glance?
- Product Benefit. Is it obvious? Does the picture or headline immediately show the benefit?
- Ad Repetition. Does your ad spy tool of choice show the advertiser spends a suitable budget consistently? Has the ad appeared in a monthly publication every month, or at least four times in a year… in a weekly, once every four weeks or more… in a daily, three to four times a month?
- Multi Media. Has the ad appeared in several different media? Search ads? Taboola ads? Facebook ads? Google Ads? YouTube ads? Magazines or newspapers?
- Your Ecommerce Image. Does the product fit your image? Is the product similar to or in the same price range as your products?
Visualization of Art and Copy: A Valuable Exercise When Considering Products for Your Ecommerce Store
When your merchandise buyers are searching for new products, they should consider the “appropriateness” of given products for sale through your ecommerce. How effectively can they be portrayed and promoted in art and copy? Your merchandising staff should incorporate the following two steps in their evaluation of each product.
Look at the product, visualize how it will appear on your landing page, email promo or product description page within your ecommerce site, and ask the following questions.
- Will the product photograph well?
- Will its benefits appear readily enough to entice the customer to read the copy ?
- Does your photographer have the skill to photograph it properly?
- Can the product be photographed so that all details and features are clearly portrayed?
Without essential details, the product may have little appeal and sales will die.
As a merchandiser, you must select products which will sell well in your ecommerce business. Part of selling is the ability to visually entice the customer to buy. A merchandiser who is able to visualize how the product will look in the marketing promos will be able to assist your photography, design and copy staff in effectively presenting the product.
Your merchandisers must visualize art for the product in the context of your business, its image, and the other products it includes.
Copy Headline Visualization
Can you imagine how the headline for a given product will read? Often when you are looking at an item, headlines will pop into your mind, possibly because of a need the product fills or because of its multiple uses.
What are the benefits of the product? A good merchandiser is trained to look for the benefits that a product will give your customer. Those benefits are best used as the bases of headlines and promotional copy.
When looking at an office desk which includes a double modular workstation, you might think, “Here’s an all-in-one home office area for two. ” Or when you are examining a body composition measurement scales that figures the percentage of fat and number of calories your body burns, you might think, “It’s a little computer for losing weight.”
When selecting items for your ecommerce, write down your thoughts and impressions of each. Go over the customer benefits and product advantages with your creative people. Isn’t thinking about art and headlines the creative department’s job? Yes – but the more information you can give them about why you selected the item and the feelings you had while selecting it, the better the job they can do.
Take Some of the Guesswork Out of Choosing New Items for Your Ecommerce
Instinct, sensing what is a marketable item and personal taste reflected in the choice of an item have started many ecommerce businesses.
Best ecoms do not begin with great ideas for graphics or copywriting. They start with merchandise. The art and copy promote and support that merchandise (and can make or break it). But the item comes first. Merchandise will always be the basis of your business. Without it, you have got nothing to sell, no matter how good your presentation techniques are.
But even though instinct and a good idea may have initiated the first item offered by an ecommerce business, those qualities cannot be the sole, continued support. Every item cannot be successfully chosen by “feelings,” and good ideas are hard to come by continually. So what do you do?
At the risk of removing the romance from ecommerce merchandising, here is one answer. Look at your success, and try to analyze (forget instinct now) its origin.
As soon as you develop a sales response, you develop customer expectations to fill “like” needs. So the place to start when choosing new items is with your own line. Begin by analyzing it.
- What is the percentage of product mix? How many kitchen items do you carry? How many tools, ladies’ accessories, household decorations? Place items into categories and see what percentage of the total items presented each category contains.
- In each category, compare the percentages of items which sell outstandingly well to those which are average or poor sellers.
Point #1 of the above analysis will tell you, for example, that your line consists of 40% kitchen items, 10% tools, 30% ladies’ accessories and 20% decorative gifts. Point #2 will tell you that 50% of your kitchen items are above-average sellers, 30% are average, and 20% are poor.
If only 10% of the decorative gifts are above average, with 60% average and 30% poor, you now can draw some conclusions. Kitchen items have an excellent chance of success in your ecommerce, and the category can be expanded. Decorative items sell less well and too many new entries in that area become risky.
Trends can be sensed within each category as well. If a tart maker, a radish rose cutter and a cake decorating kit consistently outsell the cheese grater and the toaster tongs, your customers may be looking to you for kitchen items that help them make “fancy” foods.
So when choosing to list either a set of mixing bowls or a French bean slicer, you can predict that the slicer, although not a guaranteed success, is more likely to be a good seller.
So the first area of your concern when selecting new items is determining which old items sell well, and why. You are trying to shift the odds to get a better chance of making the right decision.
When you begin to see the trends, you can develop a “formula” for new items. You will get an idea of how many new entries should be presented in each promotional set, , and how many should fall in each category.
If your ecommerce promotional campaigns have space to present 100 items, perhaps you will discover that approximately 15 percent should be new. And of those fifteen new items, you may discover that seven should be kitchen items, three should be ladies’ accessories, three should be tools, and two should be decorative items.
If you do four promotional campaigns a month, you will have to compare campaign-for-campaign, as you may find seasonal variations in your customers’ responses. Even if your ecommerce is a specialty store that presents only tools, you will find that this analysis holds. Rasps may be stronger than screwdrivers. Lathes may sell strongly at Christmas, but poorly in summer.
The issue of merchandise selection is not 100% “scientific.” It is a combination of analysis of “knowns” upon which you build with instinct and creative thinking. And do not forget that the ecommerce business is a job of repeat selling: enticing new customers to make their first purchase, luring the customer to purchase again.
If you do not have the right products for your customer database, plus a constant supply of viable new products, you may be doomed to failure.
Preparing to be a success in this weighty field of item selection involves discipline: research and analysis through systematic record keeping. Creativity and natural ability help, but they cannot sustain a continuous selection of successful merchandise.
You need a good, solid research program. And to follow up on this research, you need to:
- Get your hands on product listings from every supplier of the type of merchandise you will carry.
- You must attend trade shows, use ecommerce and advertising spy tools, and nose around wholesalers.
- Check competitors’ promotions as well as their websites to find products that are selling. Discover which products are on their way out.
- Check TV ads (especially infomercials), magazines and newspapers to find new products (yes, they are still in use!).
- Check with competitors’ customer service, especially by phone, to find about their bestsellers.
- Analyze your own ecommerce sales to see what product categories sell best for you: what time of year is best for specific products; how to stretch a product’s selling period; where to place product promotions to increase sales.
- Analyze your returns to see what causes an item to be unsatisfactory. Find out if merchandise breaks in shipping. Discover if items are shoddy, incorrectly sized.
- Listen to your customers. Your customer service department can pass on suggestions received from customers for products you do not carry. Customers will also tell you if you have a photo or copy error (which usually harms sales).
Follow this ecommerce research program and you will not have to guess about good items. You will have some of the information needed to sustain a successful merchandising process year after year.
How to Determine What Your Customer Wants to Buy: Establishing a Customer Preference Guide through Individual Product Sales
The most important aspect of merchandise selection is knowing what your customer wants. The best way to establish this is to look at ecommerce sales history in each product category. The most accurate approach is to compare ecommerce products in terms of:
- Return on Ad Spend – ROAS (for external, paid traffic sources)
- Earnings per Click (EPC) or Earnings per One Email Sent or similar (mostly for internal traffic sources like your home page, Facebook fan page, your own email database of past customers etc. or when your external, paid traffic sources cost the same per click)
To have an assessment you can manage, first evaluate categories. For instance, a kitchen supplies ecommerce might break its product line into the following categories:
- Serving pieces – plates and platters, bowls, silverware, cups and glasses
- Cutlery – carving knives, paring knives, cutting blocks and boards, shears and cleavers
- Cookware and appliances – toasters, mixers, baking dishes, pots and pans
- Kitchen paraphernalia – timers, potholders, dish towels, spice racks
- Food processing equipment – blenders, dehydrators, yogurt/ice cream makers, juicers
Once product categories are established, calculate total dollar sales derived from each category.
Then calculate total emails, clicks, SMS texts, web push notifications etc. devoted to each category of products in the store and equate into Earning per Click, for instance. Then appraise the categories according to ranking by EPC.
For example, the kitchen supplies categories might break out like this:
|Category||Total Clicks||Total Dollars||Earnings per Click|
|Cookware and appliances||6,000||25,000||4.16|
|Food processing equipment||4,000||10,000||2.50|
You have established your customer preference guide. Note that the order of preference is established by the greatest amount of dollars per click, not the largest amount of clicks devoted to a category or the greatest amount of total dollar sales per category.
Customer preference is established by how well the product category performs in relation to the clicks devoted to it. To further refine this preference guide, study the products and their sales within each category.
|Cookware and Appliances Category|
|Product Type||Total Clicks||Total Dollars||Earnings per Click|
|Casserole baking dishes||600||3,000||5.00|
|Cake baking dishes||600||2,000||3.33|
This hypothetical study shows the three most popular products within the cookware and appliances category are toasters, casserole dishes and saucepans. Expanding the number of products in these subcategories, and the amount of traffic devoted, should produce the greatest increase in sales.
Two other subcategories should be looked at carefully – cake pans and kettles. The customer preference study shows demand is low. Perhaps you should include fewer items in these categories and devote less traffic to these products, as they produce the fewest sales for the clicks allotted.
Arranging to have the supplier or manufacturer ship the item directly to your customer (rather than to your warehouse) is dropshipping. You provide the supplier with ordering information (which item, how many, how should it be personalized, etc.) plus a shipping label pre-printed with your customer’s name and address. Te return address on the label is yours, not the supplier’s.
When to Use Dropshipping
Generally, the ecommerce owner asks for dropshipping services only when he has to, because fulfillment time is lost in sending instructions to the dropshipper, and control is lost in expediting the order from someplace besides the ecom’s own location. But sometimes the nature of the item makes drop shipping the only practical solution.
- Perishable Items.
a. Nursery products. Most plants and seeds need (or benefit from) climatically-controlled storage. Some nursery products fall under government regulations that require close monitoring.
b. Food. Packaging can be complicated. Storage situations, usually refrigeration, must be maintained to avoid spoilage. Chocolate, for example, can be sent only at certain seasons.
- Personalized Items. An ecommerce store without metal engravers, printing presses, or hand lettering facilities must have an outside source in order to personalize the listings of jewelry, stationery, etc.
- Over-sized Items. Extra-large or excessively heavy items may use too much of the your warehouse space. These items may have to be shipped by pallet o rail to the customer. It is unrealistic and costly to bring heavy items in-house, and re-ship to the customer.
- Live Items. Chickens, ants, earthworms, lady bugs, etc., must be shipped by the originator. Individual country regulations must be followed closely or sales will be stopped.
- New Items. Test sales strength before committing to a large inventory on an untried item.
Not all suppliers will dropship. Planning to have all the items in your ecommerce store dropshipped automatically limits your selection. There are many advantages to dropshipping, such as delayed cash outlay and little capita! risk, but the disadvantages are plentiful, too.
Calling Attention to Product Detail: When Does It Pay?
Almost every product has details that are important but subsidiary to its main features. These main features, which can be quite simple, can be shown easily in a straight, one-product-shot approach.
But sometimes the ecommerce marketer must show the product with more than one shot, or call attention to extra details using line drawings instead of photos.
Here are three instances in which extra details should be illustrated.
Construction of Product
When a product is constructed with unusual techniques that cannot be seen immediately, it may require a second shot, a line drawing or zoom-ins.
Example: a fireproof safe with an unusual inner wall construction, or Navis Marine Jacket shown below.
These zoom-ins show six details of exceptional quality added to an already acceptable weather-fighting piece of clothing.
An ordinary photograph of this jacket obviously would show it as heavy-duty, cold weather apparel. But would it sell as well without the added incentive given by the unusual details shown in the zoom-in shots?
When a product’s auxiliary benefits carry its functions beyond those of an ordinary item, it is usually necessary to spotlight those benefits separately. Day-Timer’s business supply ecommerce store sells calendars with benefits that are additional to a calendar’s basic function.
The pictures below show seven secondary benefits of their monthly Wall Calendar. The lines in the illustration are “pointers” from explanatory copy. These secondary benefits give the product more appeal for the business person and consequently build sales.
Sometimes the benefit which the customer needs to see is not connected to a single product but to an entire product line. One poster company sells art posters at affordable prices, allowing customers to enjoy artwork by grand masters and innovative newcomers.
But they also offer skillful custom framing. The dedicated landing page of their ecommerce store is devoted to describing the type and quality of the frames and the care taken in framing and shipping the print to the customer.
The landing page includes a nine-step visual that highlights the process. These nine carefully illustrated steps encourage the customer to take advantage of the framing service, and increase the size of the average order for the ecom business.
These illustrations have called attention to product detail for one major reason: to generate additional sales. Be sure to look for opportunities to merchandise the extra details in your product line, too. It is an excellent way to build sales!
Product Education: A Clever Merchandising Approach That Brings in Dollars
The more difficult the product is to sell, the greater the payoff for educating the customer! Two basic ways to approach product education are education with the product copy and education individually highlighted within the ecommerce store.
Techniques used to make this education interesting almost always combine copy and art. Difficult-to-sell product categories may be just anything in the general consumer area. But let’s take for example shoes and seeds: shoes because of size variance among manufacturers and the importance of a good fit; seeds because they are readily available in retail stores at highly competitive prices.
Gravity Defyer, a shoe ecommerce store, devotes several of its web pages to educating the customer about its shoe technology and manufacturing process.
The picture below shows a portion of a product’s description page, which tells about foot and shoe structure and relates how its shoes accommodate the foot’s functions. This copy is supported by images and clinically-proven health claims.
Burpee’s seed ecommerce store educates the customer throughout its web pages with small art and copy blocks. Often it uses just a few words to educate the consumer about seed planting while selling a product line and referring the customer to another part of the website.
In addition, Burpee uses an interactive Growing Calendar and how-to videos discussing the best time of year to sow and whether the plants need sun or shade. The consumer cannot help but feel that Burpee offers the easiest way possible to plant a garden – a feeling Burpee has cultivated through product education, something not available with rack seeds at the supermarket.
Each of these examples skillfully “educates” the consumer into buying. If you have a difficult or overly common product line, consider educating your customer. The easier-to-sell glamour products also benefit from product education.
Tell Your Customer about Your Exclusive Products
Buyers search for unique products to call their own: products which they have the exclusive right to sell by mail, or original products developed and manufactured for their ecommerce store only. Many companies become known for having unique merchandise not found elsewhere.
Exclusivity is attractive not only because the products are unique, but also because an exclusive product is a good selling tool. But you as the ecommerce marketer must tell the customer that this product is exclusive! Not to do so would defeat the purpose of exclusivity, and a valuable sales tool would go unused.
By telling the customer about product exclusives – by specials symbols, banners, tags and categories – and calling attention to those exclusive products throughout your store and promotional pieces, you encourage the customer to look to you for these special products. Exclusivity brings credibility to your ecommerce company in a way with which other stores cannot compete.
Arranging Exclusive Listings for Products: The Pluses and Minuses of Six Different Methods
To get an exclusive product listing in your business, you need to be familiar with the types of exclusive arrangements which are available. Consider these six.
Method #1. Open-end mail order exclusive gives you the sole authority to sell a product by mail, through an ecommerce store, third-party ecommerce platforms, newspapers, magazines, television, or print catalogs. However, retail stores may also sell the product.
Plus: Mail order sales are unlimited and depend on product desirability and your marketing ability. No other company may sell the product by mail. Competition is not a worry.
Minus: Your sales volume may not be large enough to allow the manufacturer volume production. Therefore, product cost may be high. Your retail price may not be viable. Competitors may knock-off the product (make a similar product, often for less money) and capture a greater share of the sales. Retailers may use the product for a loss leader, cutting the retail price below what you can offer. If the market becomes saturated, sales will diminish.
Method #2. Ecommerce exclusive gives you permission to sell through your ecommerce store only. The manufacturer may sell to other media and other types of mail order, or may give permission to another company to do so. Retail stores may also sell the product.
Plus: Good, repeat ecommerce buyers will purchase from you. Proper paid traffic promotions can spur product sales, as well as increase the number of quality customers for your house list (customer database).
Minus: Higher product cost because of lower volume usage. The manufacturer may lose interest because of low sales volume and a binding low profit agreement. Possible knock-off situation.
Method #3. Distributor exclusive. The manufacturer gives you total sales responsibility: mail order, wholesale, retail.
Plus: You have control of the product. You can dictate where it will be sold and influence retail pricing. You need not sell to competitors.
Minus: Operation may become unwieldy. Can you deal with a sales staff who sells wholesale to retail stores? Do you have internal systems to handle wholesale and retail orders? Can you still handle your prime business, ecommerce? Many companies are not this elastic.
Method #4. Guaranteed sales exclusive gives you the sole right to sell a product by mail as long as you meet a specified sales volume within a stated time period.
Plus: You know how many units you must sell and can plan your advertising accordingly. There is no competition.
Minus: If the sales requirement is not met, you lose the exclusive and could he charged additionally for each unit because of low volume usage. Competitors could knock-off the product, selling at a lesser price and grabbing a large share of the market. If the product is a bummer, you are stuck with a quantity to dispose of, often at a loss.
Method #5. Time-limit exclusive gives you the sole right to sell a product by mail for a specific period of time. It can be six months, one year, or more, depending upon your agreement.
Plus: You have the product to sell during its initial, prime selling period (generally six months to a year). No competition. If the time period is short, knock-off fear is minimal.
Minus: The product may prove to be a poor ecommerce seller. A dollar penalty may be assessed if sales volume is not met or time period is not completed. Costs could be high because of low-volume usage.
Method #6. General ecommerce exclusive is the right to sell the product through the ecommerce channel. Other ecommerce companies may sell it too. Not sold retail.
Plus: The product is not available to the consumer anywhere else, other than by mail, so sales should he good. Retail store price-cutting is not a worry.
Minus: Other ecommerce / mail-order companies can offer the item. Product sales may soon suffer from fatigue, too many ecommerce stores carrying the product. Open competition may encourage price cutting and cheap knock-offs.
- Try to test a product before agreeing to an exclusive.
- Be financially prepared to back a product with needed advertising and traffic.
- If you are the only company running a successful product which has wide appeal, the product will not go unnoticed… competitors will knock it off within a very short time and rob you of sales. Be prepared. (Sadly, most patents offer thin protection.)
- Exclusives provide an opportunity for good sales copy telling the customer it is your very own. Many ecommerce marketers use this approach successfully.
As you can see, a sales exclusive – no matter what kind – can he both good and bad. The decision to look for exclusives is yours!
A Celebrity Endorsement Brings Instant Fame to Your Ecommerce Store or Product
Customers with special interests in areas such as food, cosmetics, glamour or sports usually recognize prominent people in those fields. This recognition factor creates a wonderful merchandising opportunity of which few ecommerce marketers take advantage – that of celebrity endorsement. This method of advertising furnishes the advantages of two major merchandising techniques: the Attention Grabber and the Authority and Credibility Builder.
While A+ celebrity endorsements may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few weeks contract, which may not be viable for most ecommerce marketers, there are a great many of celebrities of lower rank willing to sign a non-exclusive, one-year contract for less than $5,000.
This concerns both Instagram and YouTube type of celebrities (or influencers) as well as those known from TV.
Below is a landing page of a small ecommerce selling a dietary supplement with the help of a locally-known actress.
You do not have to have a large ecommerce venture to take advantage of celebrity endorsements. Perhaps this is just the technique to enhance sales in your business!
Merchandise Your Credibility: Four Ways to Increase Sales
Never before has it been so important to establish and build credibility. The rapid rate of new company start-ups has made competition fierce, and the battle for the consumer ecommerce dollar is on.
One way to get your fair share is to establish your credibility so customers feel confident in placing orders. These four elements will help you build credibility.
What year was your business starred? Your business, not your ecom’s first campaign. If you started your online store two years ago, but you have been in business for twenty-five years, tell your customer about your twenty-five-year-old business.
Even if you have started a new division of your company, it still is perfectly valid to say “in business since 1996” or “serving the public for twenty-five years.” Letting the consumer know that you are an established company is one of the best ways to merchandise your credibility.
Use a “letter” format to introduce your customer to your company and/or the individuals who run it. (Use the letter in your emails, landing pages, or on your home page.) The owner, founder, president or some other individual in your company can sign this letter, which adds to its effectiveness. What should the “letter” convey?
- age and history of the company
- your method of selecting and/or manufacturing your products (include systems and areas that are special or unique to your product line or business)
- the benefits of shopping with your company (fast service, individual care)
- the benefits of your strong guarantee
The tone of your letter should fit the tone of your ecommerce, product line, and the tone expected by the customer to whom you are trying to appeal. If you have a difficult product to sell online, such as shoes or wigs, take time in your letter to reassure the customer about product fit.
Make your guarantee as strong as possible. Almost without exception you can make your guarantee unconditional (a 100 percent guarantee to return the customer’s money if she is not satisfied). Do not be afraid that every product you sell will come back. The fact is that a strong guarantee coupled with fast service encourages a minimal return rate.
Naturally this assumes that your product is of average-to-good quality, and not a consumer rip-off.
They come from your own customers in reviews and comments as well as in your daily emails or through phone conversations. Nothing is more believable or reassuring to a prospective customer than knowing that prior customers have been satisfied with your products and service.
Testimonials skillfully placed throughout your ecommerce store, product descriptions or near the order form are strong ways to merchandise your credibility.
Points to Review:
- Company history. Are you taking advantage of how many years your online store or company has been in business? Are you ignoring this built-in credibility factor?
- Personal letter. Are you communicating with the consumer in a meaningful manner? Or are you just generalizing with empty words? Worse yet, are you ignoring completely this fine area of credibility merchandising?
- Guarantee. Are you offering the strongest one possible, or are you letting fear of high refunds
water it down with too many qualifiers? Qualifiers that can hurt would be time limits for returning merchandise, demands that merchandise be returned, issuance of credit for future orders rather than refunding cash.
- Testimonials. Are you utilizing favorable customer comments, or are you throwing this golden opportunity to merchandise your credibility into the a wastebasket? Do you have a system in place which collects testimonials on a regular basis or are just counting on luck?
If you are not taking advantage of at least two of these four elements of credibility merchandising, you are losing sales. Make it a point to see how you can use all four in next month.
Satisfaction Guaranteed! Words to Live by if You Want Repeat Ecommerce Business
What does a guarantee mean to the customer? Good products. Good service. Dependability. Credibility. It means he or she can order in confidence and get his or her money back if not satisfied.
Some would contend that a customer who has had a problem handled quickly and to her complete satisfaction can be an even more loyal continued customer than one who has simply enjoyed an uneventful transaction.
The guarantee is the all-important qualifier. The marketer determines the tone and strength of the guarantee. The following six are basic to most guarantees and can be used as guides in establishing or modifying your existing guarantee.
- Limited time period. Dissatisfaction must be expressed within a specifically stated time period, such as 30, 60, 90 days.
Users: mostly newer, medium to higher ticket online stores.
- Unlimited time period. No time period is stated for the customer to express dissatisfaction. The customer’s money must be returned whenever requested, two weeks or five years after purchase.
Users: older, established ecommerce stores, high and low end.
- Delayed payment. A “free” examination period allows the customer to determine satisfaction before making payment or returning the goods. The examination period is usually no more than ten days.
Users: book offers; subscription offers; long form landing page offers for single products; business marketers.
- Replacement. Return merchandise for exchange or credit toward another purchase (no cash refund), usually within thirty days.
Users: general merchandise, gift and clothing marketers.
- Time extension. Refund is allowed beyond the normally-stated time period. For example, hunting equipment sold before season extends the regular 30-day guarantee to 90 or 180 days, letting customers test the equipment in season.
Users: sporting equipment and garden ecommerce stores.
- Unexpired. Anytime during a subscription period, the customer may decide not to continue and receives money back for the remaining period.
Users: magazine marketers; continuity programs.
All of these guarantees should be unconditional. Whatever the reason for dissatisfaction – product, service, packaging, delivery, or no reason – payment should be returned, if requested.
Many companies add conditions to their “unconditional” guarantees, refusing refunds or returns on personalized, laundered, worn, used, or altered items, or for non-delivery to any incorrect address provided by the customer.
Some require the merchandise to be returned before exchanging or refunding goods. Decide upon the strongest guarantee you can. It is a persuasive element, assuring customers that they are safe in placing orders.
Do Not Overlook Ordering Incentives to Nudge Your Customer into a Purchase
There are seven schools of thought (at least) on ordering incentives:
- The proponents of never giving away anything. They believe that the best customer is one who does not expect something for nothing.
- Those who believe that free gifts or sweepstakes will encourage more customers, and more dollars in the long run.
- Those who will not use free incentives to make a sale, but who believe it is extremely worthwhile to induce larger orders.
- A combination of category 2 and category 3: an incentive is given to make the sale, and further incentives to increase the total dollar order.
- Those who use free samples hoping that the quality of the merchandise will create the sale.
- Users of free samples as a “hook,” e.g. “first volume free… yours to keep whether or not you keep the entire anthology.”
- Promoters of discounts or dollars-off coupons to solicit a sale.
Ecommerce marketers who would never involve themselves in free incentives feel that, once started, an incentive program can never (or not easily) be dropped. They find the thought unpalatable that they could be trapping themselves into a possibly-only-mildly-successful program.
A strong feeling exists that buyers who need those kinds of inducements do not remain good long term customers. There is an inclination to believe that, because of this, the main customer database is weak. In other words, such a buyer does not a customer make.
High-ticket, prestige ecommerce marketers do not usually participate in incentives simply because they feel that there is no need to induce a monied customer to spend it, and they do not want to tarnish the class of their image. They often think “why give something away, when the sale will be made anyway?”
In addition, it is difficult for a high-ticket online store to choose as an incentive something which falls into the price expectations of the customer, since most free gifts have to he “cheap.”
Some feel that an incentive subliminally says “our merchandise is not good enough to be purchased for itself.”
Sweepstakes Promotions for Your Ecommerce
A common myth is that customers obtained from sweepstakes do not become repeat purchasers. Not so. They do purchase from additional promotional touches, but the percentage of sweepstakes-obtained customers who become repeat buyers is lower than that of repeat buyers obtained from non-sweepstakes promotions.
So, whenever an ecommerce marketer plans to lunch sweepstakes, he or she should cautiously test the sweepstakes version of the promotion by using a non-sweepstakes version to a different segment of the prospect database.
If you use a sweepstakes, you probably will discover that it will increase your pull by at least three to four times the total number of purchases produced without a sweepstakes. But you may not necessarily produce long-term customer loyalty. You must test and analyze your back-end.
While a sweepstakes will increase the number of orders you receive, it also may reduce the size of the average order, because many of the extra sales are from those who are interested only in the sweepstakes and its prizes.
Word of caution. Do not use a sweepstakes with your current customer database. Test it first in acquiring new customers. If it boosts your average order level, as well as your new customer generation, then expand to your customer base.
Do not use a sweepstakes unless you are prepared to invest a lot of executive time in thinking it through; analyzing and projecting a campaign; becoming an instant expert; and getting outside expert guidance.
Recognize that creative and art costs for sweepstakes are greater than for most other promotions.