The 2 Fundamentals of Ecommerce Success

April 20th, 2011 by Kyle West

I have sold, or helped others sell, tens-of-millions worth of parts online. Because of that experience I’m frequently asked “how do I grow my online sales?” There is no silver bullet, but there are two fundamentals you must know and master. Without these, nothing else matters.

Product

Product trumps everything. Successful e-commerce operations excel at merchandising: selecting the right products, displaying them properly, providing the best information about them, and pricing them competitively. If you haven’t covered those 4 steps yet stop reading right now and get to work.

Selecting the Right Products

RPMWare makes it incredibly easy for you to sell parts from 218 different brands, but that doesn’t mean you should. Sell what you know in markets you understand. A Honda shop isn’t going to sell many parts to BMW owners, so limit your catalog and focus on your core. Only expand after you have mastered your current catalog, and do it slowly.

Display Products Properly & Provide the Best Information

RPMWare meets these requirements out of the box — our catalog is packed with tons of information from all the manufactures we support. We’re constantly improving the catalog and updating it daily.

To set your site apart consider using SEO Extensions to fine tune product descriptions, page titles, and <meta> tags.

Priced Competitively

Pricing is extremely important. You don’t have to be cheapest, but you do need to be competitive. Even your most loyal customers will look elsewhere when your pricing deviates too far from the norm. If you’ve followed my advice so far and selected the right products you’re ahead of the game — you know your main competitors and you know the going rates.

It’s dead simple to set your pricing within RPMWare. You may also consider offering free shipping; it’s a great promotional tool.

Promotion

If you’re already getting thousands of unique visitors a day and selling six-figures a month you don’t need this. If not, like most of us, you need to do some (more) promotion.

The most common misconception I hear is: opening an online store immediately opens a floodgate of orders, new customers, and untold riches. In reality, opening an online store is more like dropping a penny in the middle of a NASCAR race — nobody notices, or cares. It’s up to you to make them notice, and to make them care.

Notice

Grabbing attention is the easier of the two, there are a million ways to promote your business both online and off.

Your specific business and market will dictate the best options, but whichever you pick make sure you track your results and adjust as necessary. It’s very easy to burn cash with no results. The key is to identify and continue what works; eliminate what doesn’t.

Care

I see a lot of promotions along the lines of “We have an online store; come check it out.” These are fatally flawed by a simple, brutal truth: nobody cares about you or your business.

You’re not reading this post because you care about me or what I have to say. You’re reading it because you want to improve your business. You’re reading it because I am (hopefully) giving you something you need to make that happen — I am helping you achieve your goal.

Your customers are no different. They want you to help them achieve their goal and will respond well if you reach out to do so. Don’t promote yourself, promote what you offer your customers.

Wrapping Up

These fundamentals should be at the core of your online store. Executed well, they will grow your business. From here the possibilities expand dramatically because every subsequent move builds on a strong foundation.

I’m interested to hear what you think and what your results are once you address these points. Please let me know in the comments.

Thursdays with Tom – Gearing up for Holiday Sales?

November 4th, 2010 by Tom Masiero

The guys over at SearchEngineLand posted this great resource on gearing up a great marketing strategy for your online holiday season. In my opinion the holiday season is perhaps the most missed opportunitity in our market. We all know how big the spring and summer is but somehow we lose focus on a great opportunity during the holiday’s. Check out these 5 tips

Streamline Campaign Management

Automating many of the daily time-consuming campaign management processes reduces labor and saves valuable time, freeing advertisers to focus on more strategic issues. Managing multiple brands over several search engines and social media channels using the same system streamlines campaign management for additional efficiency.

Through automation and mass management one retailer increased the number of accounts that they were able to manage by a scale of 6 and the number of campaigns from 34 to over 140. Another retailer reported a 300% increase in workflow efficiency.

Keep Ads Relevant With Real-Time Inventory Updates

For e-retailers managing hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of SKUs, the ability to keep online ads in sync with specific daily or hourly sales objectives and actual inventory availability is challenging. What good is it to drive someone to buy an item if it is sold out? And why waste advertising spend on items that are mispriced against the competition?

Continuously updating on-line ads with feeds from back office systems enables retailers to advertise the most recent prices and promotions while ensuring that all available stock is advertised. The added bonus is the low cost per click and higher conversion rates that result from more relevant landing pages.

Use Automation To Make Quick And Easy Campaign And Promotion Changes

Year-end holidays follow one another quickly. The ability to update or pause ads on multiple campaigns and distribute those changes across various channels at one time can have a significant impact on performance. With automation solutions, advertisers can push or pause an ad across all engines at once, or can select the channels or networks of their choice and reduce the amount of heavy lifting traditionally needed to adjust to seasonal changes.

Using bulk editing across search engines and campaigns, one retailer managed the updates and changes required from Thanksgiving to Christmas through New Years in a matter of hours vs. weeks, while reaping the benefits of fully synchronized promotions.

Experiment With Conversion Attribution Models

Understanding the path to conversion is key to ensuring proper ROI measurement. Capturing that knowledge across multiple advertising channels will help in minimizing skewed data and avoiding the mistake of under estimating the value of contributing keywords. Potential customers can reach you across a variety of touch points. Why should the last click always be given total credit? Attribution models can include equal distribution to all keywords in the path or assigning equal weight to the first and last. Having the ability to test and report on these and other attribution models will allow a retailer to create campaigns that reap the most conversions and to understand which keywords are contributing to each sale.

With a more sophisticated attribution model, one retailer was able to create campaigns and keyword lists that resulted in a 100% increase in click through rates.

Optimize Generic Keywords To Attract And Convert The Most Targeted Prospects

For some retailers, generic terms can be the most effective if managed properly. By analyzing not only the last click but also each stop across online sessions and search engines, retailers can have a clear picture of each keyword that brought in new customers, including generic terms that were part of the initial search.

For example, last Christmas season one retailer added “holiday gifts” to their keywords, which contributed to a significant boost in end of the year sales.

The Bottom Line

Paid search marketing program strategies which incorporate a combination of automation, experimentation and real-time inventory intelligence can enable marketers to achieve remarkable results this holiday season. Taking into consideration that some retailers can bring in up to 80% of their yearly revenues over just these few key months, the impact of on annual sales can be significant.

If online shopping continues to grow as predicted, adding a level of sophistication to campaign management can pay off more than ever, making this a bright holiday season for savvy retailers.

Thursday’s (ok…Friday) with Tom: Seven Steps to Managing Your Online Reputation

October 29th, 2010 by Tom Masiero

Sorry for the lateness on this one.. .but I wanted to make sure you guys had a chance to check out this article from the NY times regarding this topic with the owner of B&H Photo .  I especially loved this qoute from the article ”

“That sort of no-nonsense, no-hard-sell advice is one reason the store, B&H Photo in New York, is to the cameraphile what L.L. Bean’s Freeport, Me., store is to the outdoor crowd. Of course, if you’re not close enough to New York to make that pilgrimage, you’ll have to settle for the company’s Web site — but maybe that’s not so terrible. B&H’s online sales arm gets mostly great reviews in forums and rating sites.

Yes, you read that right — a New York camera store Web site that gets good online ratings. Anyone who has hunted for a camera online knows that’s a feat that defies the very physics of online reputation management. There are few categories of product outside of porn and Viagra that have a worse reputation than the camera-sales world, with New York-based camera stores seemingly setting the standard — to read the reviews — for apparent dishonesty and shoddy customer service. “

Here is the good stuff from that article that is a MUST READ!

So how does B&H keep its ratings clean? It starts with two words: Henry Posner. Mr. Posner is a former professional photographer who started handling online customer service for B&H 15 years ago and now has the title “social media coordinator.” He is a ubiquitous presence on camera-oriented forums, blogs, ratings sites, Facebook, Twitter and wherever camera people share info and complain. If you Google any combination of “Henry Posner” “camera” “post” “complaint” and “B&H,” you’ll see much of his time is spent addressing perceived wrongs with B&H customers — with remarkable success, to judge by the ratings.

I called the ebullient Mr. Posner and asked him for advice for the business owner struggling to build a great online reputation. Here’s what he told me, boiled down to seven key points.

Henry Posner’s Plan for Positive Posts

1) If a customer complains, confirm, confess and correct:

“When customers go online and complain, the first thing I do is research what happened. I don’t open my mouth online until I have the facts. If the customer is right, I apologize immediately, and I ask what I can do as a gesture of my concern. I’m always willing to be generous when I’m wrong, and most customers are looking for something modest.”

2. If you’re not at fault, calmly make your case:

“I’m always honest with the customer, and that includes defending myself and the store if we’re right. I disagree 18,000 percent with the saying that the customer is always right — not in retail, he’s not. If he’s wrong, I explain why, speaking with confidence and authority but without being hostile or aggressive. There’s nothing I can say online or even by e-mail that’s just between me and the customer — I’m really talking to everyone who ends up reading or chatting about it. Even if the customer is terribly misguided or purposely malicious, I believe he deserves a cogent, mature response. If a dissatisfied customer’s emotions get the better of him, I just stop and wait for someone else who’s following the conversation out there to jump in to tell the customer to tone things down and refocus. It’s not that no one ever gets to me — I might mumble something while I’m typing, and sometimes I even jump out of my chair and blow off a little steam here. But I don’t put it out there.”

3. Go the extra mile for a trying customer, but not the extra hundred miles:

“You just can’t please everyone, you learn that here quickly. One customer will complain that our deliveries require someone to be home to sign for the package, and the next customer will thank you for it. In every business there are customers that make themselves expensive to service, someone who wants too low a price, or too much special attention. Every company has to decide what the threshold is for keeping these customers. Sometimes I have a frank conversation with a customer. I say, ‘This is how far I can go to help you. Now, are you going to help me by compromising?’”

4. Customers appreciate useful info, not blab:

“I try to give the overall impression that we’re not just a box house but an interesting place to do business with. I’ll let people know that the Met” — the Metropolitan Museum of Art — “is doing a photo contest, or Adobe is offering a free seminar. But I don’t try to fill Facebook pages with endless chatter or send something out on Twitter every 15 minutes — they’ll start seeing it as spam. The name of the game is quality of comment, not quantity. There’s a sweet spot, and if you hit it, the sales will come. I never forget that there’s a bottom line in this place, and everything I do has to eventually come back to it. If I’m going to ask for a raise here, I need to be able to say where it’s going to come from.”

5. Customers only think they know what they want:

“My job isn’t to help you buy something just because you ask for it. It’s to help you find a product that in my experience meets your wants and needs. It’s not about making the most profitable sale, it’s about leaving the customer satisfied.”

6. Keep your friends close, but your competitors closer:

“I dialog online with competitors all the time. That’s good for the industry and good for us. Manufacturers listen to us more closely about what we need when we’ve compared notes with other dealers. And we can help each other avoid some real customer traps out there. I get warnings about customers who place orders, make demands and then badmouth dealers in the worst possible way all over the place. And if I see a fellow retailer unfairly taking a lot of heat online, I’ll step in and try to help. Then I know they’ll do the same for me.”

7. Speak softly and carry a big rep:

“I can pat myself on the back online all day long, but nothing will have the impact of a good review on a ratings site. And then when a customer asks me to match someone’s very low price, sure, maybe I can come down a few dollars. But after that, I’ll just say, go ahead and Google that store’s name, let’s see what comes up. I never have to badmouth a competitor. If they’re sleazy, the word will be out on them online.”

5 Surefire Tips to Boost Your Sales

August 10th, 2010 by Kyle West

Success red arrow

I have been getting a lot of questions lately along the lines of “Kyle, what can I do to boost my sales?” The problem with that question is there is no single answer and no guarantee that whatever I tell you is going to work in your situation. You can, however, stack the deck in your favor by doing a lot of little things well.

Below I’ve listed what I’ve seen working. If you’re asking yourself the question: “what can I do to boost my sales” you may want to check them out.

Don’t Do It All

RPMWare makes it so easy for you to setup shop and offer your customers 200 product lines. That is an immediate recipe for failure unless you have the resources to learn about 200 different product lines. We’re not selling bubble gum here guys, and, generally speaking, your customers are going to need some support for whatever they are buying. If you can’t deliver they aren’t going to buy from you because they can’t trust you.

Bottom line: pick a niche and focus on it. You can do 350Z parts, or drivetrain parts, or product lines that start with the letter B, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is you know the lines you are selling and can speak about them intelligently when a customer gives you a call.

Set Your Pricing Competitively

Now that you’ve trimmed your offering it is time to focus on them and make your shop the go-to source. To start, make sure your pricing is competitive. You don’t have to be the cheapest guy on the block, but very, very few people are going to pay a $50+ premium to do business with you.

RPMWare makes it easy to set your pricing, and gives you a lot of flexibility in how you choose to do so. Take some time and scope the competition, see what they are charging and make sure you are in the same ballpark.

Be Original

Raise your hand if this is on your website somewhere: “We offer you the best prices and the best customer service.” Of course you do, and so does everybody else. Nobody is going to put on their website: “Our prices are 10 times higher than the competition and our customer service is crap.” You must do something that can really set you apart — your shop cars are a great example. Make it the hero of your website.

Invest In Your Website

Your site is how the majority of your customers will know you. You should spend some time to make it an accurate representation of your brand. We offer some design packages or your own designer can make your site really stand apart from the crowd.

Once it it looking good you should spend some time to add some original content. The RPMWare about us page is one of the most popular on this site. Consumers want to know who they are doing business with and are far more likely to do business with someone they like.

Take Advantage of SEO

First: please, please, please do NOT pay anyone any sum of money if they call themselves a SEO expert and promise to “get you on the first page of Google” or make any other ridiculous claims. Google is a behemoth and its first page is very valuable real estate if anyone knew the secret to getting results on the first page, they wouldn’t be after us, they would be after clients with much deeper pockets.

That said there are things you can do to get yourself moving up the ranks. The most important thing Google tracks is PageRank. It’s basically a popularity index based on what sites are linking to you and how many of them there are. If you could manage to score links from CNN, Ford, Yahoo, Digg, Facebook, Fool.com, TechCrunch and Gizmodo you’re PageRank is instantly going to be better than the guy with one link from Bob’s Muffler Barn. So get out there and get the word out. Write articles for online magazines, start a blog, submit pictures of your shop cars. Basically whatever you can do, aside from spamming, to get your name out is going to help your PageRank.

Second, invest some time and create some custom descriptions for your top selling product groups. Make sure they are absolutely awesome, loaded with the keywords (terms people may be searching for) and extremely helpful. You can do that in any product group’s detail page under SEO Extensions.

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