The Importance of Your eCommerce Site for Your Business

It is plain to see why a poorly designed website can be a major problem to online businesses, most especially during the holiday season, which covers 20% to 40% of the yearly sales.

In this regard, those who need data validation can refer to the stats that explain the importance of your brand’s presence on the Internet:

  • Before people shop at a physical store, they often check websites of online stores.
  • Customers search online for the prices and availability of goods so they would know whether to shop online or at physical stores.
  • During an economic crisis, consumers exercise caution when shopping online to stretch their budget, resulting to an increase of website traffic.
  • Shoppers that tend to purchase downloadable gifts like eBooks, music and FB credits, among others, will likely buy more.

Optimize Your Online Site Immediately

Now that you are aware of your site’s importance, what should you do before the holiday season approaches? It is never too late to try some of these strategies:

Prepare for unexpected traffic.Plan ahead of time to make sure that your site can manage all the orders. Anticipate peak loads, observe the responsiveness of your site and assess application performance way before Cyber Monday.

Increase the speed of your site. Use a CDN (content delivery network) for a speedy delivery of relevant content with videos and images to your consumers.

During the holidays, most shoppers use their mobile devices to search online before heading for the stores. Therefore, it would be wise to incorporate an in-store experience with info regarding your well-timed and relevant personalized website and mobile apps.

Find ways to let the customers easily find your products on the web. To improve exposure, submit a feed to the top online shopping comparison engine, Google Product Search. Try the Amazon Marketplace or add pay-per-click ads to Amazon Product Ads’ product and category pages. This way, shoppers will be able to view your ads when they find products that are similar to yours.

Though social media is not the main channel for searching, it has targeted the mainstream and has therefore gained importance, specifically to GenY shoppers. Transform visitors into sales channels by including social sharing in product pages. Display good customer service in public by resolving issues with customers on networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

People who are low on budget usually search online before buying, so it is a good idea to follow the example of various sites in making it fun, simple and efficient to shop on the web. Provide product filters, rich product details, comparison tools, well-designed navigation and recommendations. Enhance the images of your best-selling products, emphasize your value propositions and make sure that shipping and return policies are clear.

Fix your leaky conversion funnel immediately by adding simple and cost-efficient website usability and feedback tools.

Whenever possible, ask for the visitor’s email address and try to squeeze a lot of value out of each sign-up.

Try to employ remarketing campaigns so you can target consumers who take time to buy.

Lessons Learned From An E-Commerce Adventure

It is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all; and even more important to learn from your mistakes.

That is what I keep telling myself after having invested the time and cash equivalent to a Harvard MBA in an e-commerce start-up that has stalled and is winding down. Not a happy prospect in light of all the media pre-occupation with e-commerce success stories and the young millionaires watching their IPOs rocket into cyberspace. But the headlines ignore the more frequent stories of new e-commerce businesses that do not hit the stock market jackpot. Many of them either settle into a low-key niche or exhaust their resources and fold.

This is the story of an Internet venture that did not make the headlines, but offers some useful insights for entrepreneurs evaluating their own initiatives. The lessons learned are applicable to your own new venture or to an investment in someone else’s.

In mid-1998 we launched a new company called nxtNet (www.nxtnet.com) with the slogan … “taking you to the next level on the Internet”.

My partner and I both had prior successful entrepreneurial experience in computer products and wanted to start a new venture together. We decided to develop a business that would catch the next wave of e-commerce services for mid-sized companies seeking to do business on the Internet. After long discussions, searches for a unique service offering, and many draft business plans, we developed a market strategy and then chose Intershop Communications as our software development platform. This product had the advantages of being suitable for single or multiple online storefronts, and offered a flexible, economic and comprehensive solution. We committed to the product, staffing, facilities and equipment to start training and development immediately. The two of us provided the time and cash required to get started.

By October 1998, we had an initial product with application as an online storefront for an associated computer business. At the same time, we realized that the application had wide appeal to other computer dealers and could be sold as a multi-user database service and e-commerce resource. We had developed a consolidated catalogue of 85,000 computer products from multiple distributor product databases that allowed rapid search and comparison for product information, pricing, and current sources. Users could access the catalogue from the Internet and find a product by manufacturer, category, and part number, key word or price range and immediately see the alternate sources and prices with links to more technical information, preferred dealer pricing and actual stock levels. Additional features allowed the catalogue to be customized so that any computer reseller could present the database as his own online storefront. This option offered all the search and product information features to his customers, but showed only retail pricing and enabled the online ordering process.

The product offering quickly received positive feedback and strong indications of support from all the participants – resellers, distributors, and manufacturers. It was a comprehensive, powerful, and effective tool for buying and selling at all levels within the Canadian computer distribution channel. Resellers recognized the value in an online resource to save time and effort. Distributors and manufacturers saw the opportunity to promote their products, and major publishers in the industry wanted to offer complementary online services to their subscribers and advertisers. How could we fail with all this enthusiasm and support?

While the potential for success clearly existed, everybody had the same questions and reservations – “Who is there now?” “How many are using it?” and “I don’t want to pay until it’s bigger”.

Reasonable objections we thought, so we added features and content for free. We promoted the product with free trials and low cost subscriptions for reseller access. Then we coaxed, persuaded, sold hard, and made deals. The “contra” became the standard for obtaining press coverage, free ads, mailing lists and promotion in exchange for free participation and future consideration. Activity on the Web site and catalogue grew to 3000 visitors per month with over 800 subscribers and the distributor list increased from three to twelve.

But revenue remained near zero as most reseller subscribers declined to pay for the service. Reasons were “it should be free – let the advertisers pay”, “I don’t use it enough”, “there are lower cost options”, or “we built our own solution”. The audience did not grow fast enough even after we offered it for free, to satisfy the advertisers and content providers. Without persistent and conspicuous sales and marketing efforts, all the participants quickly lost interest. Meanwhile the costs of database maintenance, ongoing development, site hosting, Internet access, sales, marketing, and administration were increasing.

Clearly the old entrepreneurial model of controlling costs and growing revenue was not going to apply. We had to realign our profile to show how zero revenue and high initial costs could still lead to significant investment returns like other well-known Internet ventures. So from early 1999 we started an aggressive search for financing, estimating our requirements at $500,000 to $1,500,000 over the next two years before achieving positive cash flow. More business plans, spreadsheets, and glossy presentations to demonstrate future valuations up to $20 million, even $40 million.

We knocked on many doors, from banks to government agencies, from angel investors to venture capital, from stock promoters to business consultants, and again received lots of encouragement, but no financing. So the founding partners were faced with a continuing cash drain, no relief in sight, and the limits of their own resources rapidly approaching. It was time to put the project on hold. Strategic partners or investors might still be developed to proceed with the project, but the ongoing expenditures were stopped in late 1999.

So what are the lessons learned? We already knew that nothing ventured, nothing gained. We now also knew that big successes in the new economy require big investments. Entrepreneurs may start small, but large investments will be required from new sources to achieve significant success. And no one will put significant money into a venture unless it is the only remaining requirement.

The concept, product, development, marketing and staffing all have to be in place before an investor will provide the final ingredient – his cash. Exceptions are likely only where the management team has already succeeded in the same arena, or the investor himself can deliver the missing elements, such as customers or management skills. No investor is going to take the chance that the entrepreneur with a good concept or product will also be able to deliver the required management and marketing skills to succeed, after he has the cash.

Next time we will know better. And there are side benefits from this expensive learning experience. I can now admit that with the knowledge gained through our association with Intershop Communications, I was confident enough to make an investment in their stock on the German Neue Markt at 65 Euros last year. It went over 400 Euros last month and is still rising with their rapid growth and the prospect of a NASDAQ listing this year. Almost enough to recover my investment in nxtNet.

So the most important lesson is that education in the new economy is essential, and not free, but it can lead to success outside the original plan. Learn, be aware, and be aggressively opportunistic.

Your Kids Do not Need Electronic Learning Toys

We've all seen the advertisements for toys, videos, even teaching programs for babies promoting to give your child an academic edge. Maybe we've been moved to purchase those toys that teach colors, counting, and ABC's in English and Spanish. Maybe we've been consumed with guilt because we did not give our children these toys, and we'll always wonder if we are the reason they might turn out to be something other than rocket scientists and neurosurgeons.

Is there anything wrong with these toys? No, nothing at all. They are often cheerful, colorful, and include a catchy tune your toddler or preschooler will enjoy. And they do, in fact, give kids early exposure to those basic academic skills. The lights and sounds are delightful rewards for your little one who is exploring the buttons, dials, and sliding levers. All that exploring improves their eye hand coordination and hand strength, aka "fine motor skills."

So what's the problem? Well, frankly, the problem is parents expect the fancy "teaching toys" to live up to the hype, and give something back for all the dollars paid to get this toy or gadget. After all, do not the toy companies know what they are doing? Does not the app teach a very obvious skill, like matching? It sets parents' mind at ease, and they may feel the kids are getting a superior education. Some may feel the toys are better teachers than moms and dads. Some may feel that adding extra "teaching time" with the child would be unnecessary. This is a very dangerous way of thinking.

We have to ask ourselves to think – how do kids learn? Toddlers and preschoolers are not ready for lectures and power point presentations any more than they are ready for these kinds of "lessons" the so called learning toys are trying to provide. This may seem like comparing apples to oranges – lectures are obviously for teen and up, but those learning toys are fun and kid friendly, right? Wrong. How could they be likened to a lecture? Because of one key ingredient that is missing in both instances, the very thing that makes it inappropriate for a child – it is not attached to a meaningful personal experience or social interaction.

Lectures are one sided. A speaker presents information, the listener soaks it in. Sometimes the audience is invited to participate somehow, but it is usually limited. The learning toys are only slightly better. They make their noises, and some of them try to get the child to press a button to respond. The child is cheered for or asked to try again depending on how they respond. Does this count as a meaningful personal experience or social interaction? No, not at all. The child simply listening to a computer. They are not holding and working with real objects. No one they care about is sitting with them to provide the encouragement or praise. Instead they hear a computer voice that is empty and repetitive. Sometimes the machine responds inaccurately, like when the child sets on the toy and the toy cheers for the child who incidentally sat on the button that was the correct the response. Like a lecture, these toys are impersonal, use representation instead of real objects, and may even give inaccurate feedback.

Do you still think those learning toys are superior?

Let's take a look at naturally occurring learning now. You can call it the unplugged version. Junior is in the sandbox with Grandma sitting nearby. His fingers are covered in sand, providing delightful sensory input. (If you are not familiar with "sensory input" just think of all the stuff kids like to touch because it is so varied – sand, paint, jell-o, beans, rice, water). Whenever you add sensory input, you are activating more parts of the brain, which aids in memory and learning in general. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the light breeze is blowing, all the more sensory input that makes outside so much fun for kids. Junior is busy pouring and scooping sand. He plays pretend with a dump truck and uses it to transport sand to the "construction site." Grandma and Junior chat while he plays, and she gives him words to learn like empty, full, big, little, wet, dry. Junior is in charge of the play scenario. He fills up that dump truck himself. He shows how and when and where to dump it. Grandma smiles and encourages him. She challenges to make "a great big pile" of sand and applauds when he does. Junior beams with pride.

What just happened out there in the sandbox? Meaning happened. That sand was in Junior's little hands, not pixels on a screen. He scooped by using his little hands and muscles, not with a stylus tapping on a screen. He learned about physics out there, as he learned how hard to push the truck to make it go through the sand, how much pressure he needed to lift up the dump truck, what happened to the sand when the bucket was already full, how far Water splashes when he dumped it all at once. He was encouraged to keep going when the bucket was not full yet and Grandma helped him understand that full meal up to the top. He accomplished an actual physical task that he could see, touch, and be proud of. He got lost in the joy of make-believe play, which is critical for child development. Grandma's praise was genuine and accurate, and he loves that lady to pieces so he did not give up until he got it right.

So now we have seen how a real task, like sandbox digging or block tower building, with real people, is obviously better than tasks on a computer screen. But what about the ABC's, you ask? What about the counting in English and in Spanish? Times have changed drastically, and the pressure is really on once kids get to kindergarten. You want your future neurosurgeon to be ready!

OK, here's the truth. You can teach a toddler letters. You can teach shapes as complicated as "cylinder" to a two year old and she will be able to name it when she sees it a few weeks later. You will beam with pride. She can learn to count to ten, too. The question here is, should you?

It comes back to meaning. A child can count to ten, but does she understand what the numbers mean? Does she know that 8 is twice as many as 4? That 4 is one less than 5? That there are five cookies on the plate but when she eats one, that there are now four cookies? And what earthly purpose does a toddler have for adding the word "cylinder" to her vocabulary? She can learn letters, but she will not learn to read any faster. And without regular re-teaching, your child will quickly forget these things – for the simple fact that they do not hold any meaning for her. Our memories work by sorting and associating concepts with familiar things or in a way that makes sense. And all that academic mumbo-jumbo you gave her does not have a "storage drawer" inside that developing little mind. She has not got any place to store it that makes sense, so it fades quickly. So if it is not going to stick, why waste her time with it? Why not go outside and play in the sandbox? We know the lessons learned out there are going to last.

As your child approaches kindergarten, you will want to ensure he is "ready." Today's standards mean he should know a great many things, including letters and how to hold a crayon, his full name, and how to hop and skip. But starting to teach academies in baby and toddler years is not necessary. In fact, it may rob children of the time they could have spent filling and dumping a bucket of sand.

Still not convinced? Consider the child's growing mind. At one year of age, your child still thought he was an extension of you, and that he could control you. He fought, you fed him. He was bored, you played with him. You left him, he hinded until you returned. He tantrums because he can not control you any more. And he is mystified! He can not sort it out. Now fast forward to age 2. He's still tantrumming regularly. He cries because his meatballs are "all gone" even though you look in his bowl and see meatballs still there. Was that even the issue? Nobody knows! Now I ask you, is he ready to learn the complicated sound / symbol relationship of letters and begin to read? Is he ready to count in Spanish? Probably not. Research suggests kids are not ready to recognize and remember letters until … ready for this? … age five . That is shocking considering today's grueling pace. There is also some evidence that early exposure to letters and learning to read does not matter at all. A child can learn to read, and learn in a matter of months, if you wait until the child is developmentally ready to do so. That's around age seven. Of course, in America we do not wait until a child is seven to get started, the point of this is remind us that child development happens in a predictable, linear fashion. It can not be rushed. Development happens on child's schedule, not due to parental diligence with flashcards and learning videos. However, your child still has loads of things to learn. He is ready to play with you, listen and learn from a real person who loves and cares for him. He wants to please you, and wants to interact with you.

You do not have to "try" to teach a young child. Simply interact with him, talk with him, and ask him questions. Let him try things on his own and help him be successful. Learning happens in play, not on a screen or with a computerized toy. You can play pretend, build, paint, dig, hop and run, and even sort and categorize familiar objects like food in a toy kitchen. You can bake cakes and wash the bowls afterward. You can play catch and make up a simple game. You are all your child needs. Computerized toys can never replace the invaluable learning that happens when you simply play with your child. Choose toys that allow for problem solving, building, pretend play, or dress-up outfits. Do not forget about things like blocks, balls, and books. These classics never fail to entertain and to teach, too. Best of all, it is easy to join in and play with your child!

Digital and Conventional Presentation of Content

Displaying content is extremely important for any marketing agency. Ultrathin tubes have long replaced the old-fashioned and expensive Cathode-ray tubes. Internet connectivity, live TV streaming, videos, and images are the future of signage and modern marketing. Shopping malls, shops, and all other businesses prefer electronic display over wallpapers.

Digital signage applications include high-resolution display devices that are easy to use anywhere, indoor or outdoor. The modern way of displaying content includes versatility and innovation. For example, an electronic display can run a combination of media including videos, images, and text that altogether deliver a specific message.

With the passage of time, the global advertising industry is growing bigger and bigger. The electronic display has become the need of every modern business. Some of the purposes digital signage serve are:

  • Informational
  • Commercial
  • Experiential
  • Behavioral

It is rightly said that there is no success without the content. Electronic signage is considered to be a new way of displaying content to an audience. It offers variety and a number of interesting features that allow users to be creative in content management. We often see digital signs at public places and retail stores. Therefore, it has a cultural impact on customers and viewers.

A question arises whether or not signage has emerged as a new and effective advertising source. The answer is a big yes as digital signage is gradually taking over the conventional and outdated advertising solutions. However, the significance of traditional display cannot be undermined as they are cost-effective. Commercial places should be well equipped with the information that might help customers make a purchase decision.

The internet is used widely across the globe. And the information provided on a computer allows us to check back and reach the content easily. It is easy to change and manage content on digital devices. Your success depends highly on how you are advertising your business. Therefore, use digital signs to promote and advertise your business or cause. Digital signage is expensive as compared to those simple and static display means. However, digital display has become mandatory for rapidly growing businesses.

The display industry cannot keep itself apart from technological advancements. However, some of the old-fashioned signage is still being used by many businesses in developed and developing countries. For instance, a banner or a decal is a very simple type of signage. The presence of highly advanced electronics signs could not outsmart old-fashioned sign systems. However, it is recommended to use the digital and interactive form of signs which can captivate the attention of customers.