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 assessment 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.

Although social media is not the main channel for searching, it has targeted the main stream and has since 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.

RMS Titanic Insurance Claims

It is exactly 100 years since the pride of the White Star Line, the RMS Titanic, hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank with the loss of over 1500 lives.

The centenary has prompted many insurance companies on both sides of the Atlantic to publish documents relating to the greatest maritime loss to date in relative costs, mostly showing their company’s involvement with claims payouts.

When the Titanic sank on the 15th of April 1912, the Lutine Bell was rung at Lloyd’s of London, and a very rapid claims process was begun.

A few months earlier the ships owners, the White Star Line, had instructed insurance brokers Willis Faber and Co. to find cover for the hull, cargo, contents and personal effects of the ship. Willis Faber passed the ‘slip’ to their Lloyd’s mercantile division where it was assessed and subsequently underwritten by multiple syndicates and insurance underwriters acting on behalf of members.

The Titanic’s hull was insured for total loss for $5 million or just over one million pounds sterling at the exchange rate of the time. The policy also included total loss cover for cargo at $600,000 and contents at $400,000 a value equivalent to two hundred thousand pounds.

The original broking slip passed around Lloyd’s has been lost, but was photographed and can be seen in Wright and Fayles book of 1928 called ‘A history of Lloyd’s’. It shows that seven large insurance companies took nearly forty percent of the risk between them and the other sixty percent was underwritten by over seventy individuals and Lloyd’s ‘Names’.

According to documents recently released by Willis the marine insurance policy cost White Star £7500 or $38,000 to insure the Titanic at a rate of 15 shillings per hundred. Modern day rates for cruise liners are considerably lower.

The Ship was considerably underinsured for a value of only five-eighths of its replacement cost. This was apparently because the owners thought the hull to be unsinkable and were prepared to bear the additional $3 million dollars of risk themselves.

Willis state that despite the owners belief in the vessel being unsinkable, they had trouble placing all the hull cover at Lloyd’s and some forty thousand pounds was underwritten in Germany. There was also an extremely high excess or deductible of 15% of the insured value.

Four days after the Titanic sank the US senate held a preliminary investigation at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The surviving officers of the ship presented their evidence to the panel describing the events of the sinking and signed what is called a ‘protest’ which enable insurance claims to be paid.

Incredibly White Star were reimbursed for the loss of the hull within seven days of the sinking, presumably minus the excess, and fully paid up on cargo and contents losses within thirty days.

They were however grossly underinsured for their liability to others given the value of the people on board. Claims against the company exceeded their cover by over $1 million and whether they had private P and I accident cover for their staff liability, remains a mystery. Suffice to say that payouts to families of lost members of the crew, were paltry.

Claims for the loss of people amounted to in excess of five times what the value of the ship was worth, for those lucky ones who happened to have had life insurance policies or had taken out travellers personal accident cover. Although no disputes about loss of life occurred, families had to wait a lot longer than White Star for compensation.

The final payout for human losses has never been fully asserted as over one hundred and fifty different life of accident insurance companies were involved in cover, on both sides of the Atlantic. American companies took the bulk of the claims, due to the many rich entrepreneurs and millionaire family members who were drowned.

The total loss is estimated to be in the region of $20 million and one of the largest payouts was by the Travelers Insurance company of Hartford who paid out a life policy for over $1 million.

The sinking of the Titanic also brought about the first and only insurance claim for a car being hit by an iceberg, by a Mr William Carter who claimed five thousand dollars for his 25 horse power Renault, lost at sea.

How Can Email Marketing Help My Business?

You simply can not have a good online marketing plan if you do not involve yourself with email marketing. Email marketing, when done correctly, will enable your business to attract new customers, keep existing ones, upsell, cross-sell and cut costs. Let's take a look at some of the specific ways that email marketing can help your business.

It Allows You To Automate Your Business

If you're running a small business, you're probably busy doing lots of different tasks. An email marketing autoresponder acts like your silent salesperson who works for you 24/7. If you have offered something for free in exchange for somebody's email address, your autoresponder can send it immediately. Or, it can instantaneously send a welcome message as soon as someone joins your email list. It would be impossible to do this manually.

An autoresponder allows you to automate your email messages to your customers, leads and prospects. This means that messages that are educational, standard (like thank you messages) and more are created once and sent to each person when appropriate.

You Can Provide Value To Your Subscribers

When you use email to contact people who have signed up to receive your messages, you can reach out to them 24/7. This means that you can provide serious value to your customers' lives by sending them information that solves their problems or makes their lives easier. The more value you provide, the more likely they are to want to buy from you.

You Can Get To Know Your Audience Better

The best thing you can do for your business is to understand your audience backwards and forwards. The more you know who you're crafting emails for, the better you can word everything to get the response you want. Your email marketing autoresponder software will provide you with information on who opens your messages and who clicks the links.

Your Email List Is Your Greatest Asset

As you build your list of email addresses, it becomes your greatest asset. These subscribers are the people who have bought from you or have expressed an interest in your business. You need to develop a relationship with the people on your list and regularly provide them with value. This way they will see you as an authority in your niche. From the emails you send out to them, they will start to know, like and trust you and then be more inclined to buy from you.

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.