The Cross-Border Commerce Boom – What will Matter in 2018!

Now we can buy anything from nearly anywhere in the world just by clicking a button on our smartphones. Yes, cross-border commerce is actually booming, and one can expect the juggernaut to continue in 2018 and beyond until the foreseeable future.

Smartphones have made shopping easier. One can expect more shoppers coming out of their self-imposed abstinence from online shopping owing to minimal security concerns nowadays. A Forrester study revealed that cross-border commerce is expected to double by 2021 with staggering revenue of $424 billion expected by that time. Cross-border sales shall include 15% of online purchases too. China’s cross-border market is expected to grow to a whopping 40% in 2021 and the country can easily fuel growth in the domain.

The McKinsey report revealed that most wealthy people in China, buy foreign clothes and gadgets that are mostly not available in China. Baby formula is quite popular here.

Why? Because cross-border shopping helps them in deriving better prices, and good protection from counterfeit goods too. Now that is a major point!

The Leader in Cross-border Commerce and the Future Prospects

The US is touted as the world leader of cross-border commerce trade – including imports and exports. The country has a trusted cross-border market worldwide and known for its product quality too. A DHL survey revealed that 75% of respondents who make foreign purchases selected the US as their ideal destination for online shopping. Now that says a lot about the US as a major cross-border commerce.

How does it augur for other countries though? Pitney Bowes recently disclosed its Global Online Shopping Survey that reported 66% of shoppers who shopped the web locally have made purchases from other countries in their recent past. Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong are top countries with most number of cross-border shoppers. On the other hand, Japan has grown its cross-border confidence tremendously in the recent years.

Smoothening the path of commerce locally!

Although the predictions are fantastic and rightly so, cross-border e-commerce is far from easy, for retailers owing to huge competition and diverse trade laws in every country. A 2016 survey by Paypal revealed 30% of consumers from different countries buying from the US, abandoned their cross-border purchase midway since they were unaware of the taxes or customs fees involved in the purchase. Here is what every cross-border commerce provider should know:

  • The exact kind of taxes and fees incurred through cross-border sales
  • Right communication to local customers in the country about the products.
  • No customers should get lost along the way, so multiple processes should work in harmony – the ordering process on site and payment methods along with calculation of taxes and alignment of government regulations
  • Communication of returns should be in clear words including the fulfillment clauses and delivery mode.
  • The return process should look seamless. For the seller, problems arise from the fact that each of the parties involved has a different level of understanding, motivation, and sense of urgency when it comes to getting the goods from one country to another.

Getting fulfillment right is the key to successful cross-border commerce and retailers know it. According to the Chinese Cross-Border Sellers survey by The Payoneer, 71% said fulfillment is highly important and logistics play a major role in this respect.

If 2018 is the year you plan to initiate cross-border commerce, ensure that the products are available locally with a good distribution in place in an international market. Also, ensure that your logistics partner is clear about the bigger picture. While consumers are driving the demand for cross-border e-commerce, get the right add-ons for your e-stores and the right domain experts to everything runs smoothly at the local level.

What is Page Speed and Why it is important

Last updated on November 1st, 2018 at 06:17 am

People usually get irritated if the website takes too long to respond. No one has got a spare time, especially when it comes to web pages that take much time to get loaded.

When the user gets his/her desired web-page loaded quickly it creates a favorable influence on his/her mind.

Waiting for a website to get loaded be like…

Tech giant Google considers website’s loading speed as a ranking factor and that’s why we should work to reduce our websites loading pace. Slow sites are likely to pay the price in terms of lower search ranking.

Also, nowadays in this competitive environment, page loading speed becomes one of the essential factors for all the websites.

Further discussion is about, why each second is essential for a web-page to get loaded?

 

IMPORTANCE OF EACH SECOND :

Here are some facts and stats from well-known sources :

  • A 1-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
  • A 1 second delay in page load time means 11% loss of page views.
  • 47% of user expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.

  • Just guess if an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost $2.5 million in lost sales every year.If your website takes longer than three seconds to load, you could be losing nearly half of your visitors, according to data from Akamai.

It is clear from the above paragraphs that why page-speed is important for a website. Now let’s see what precisely page-speed is and how does it work.

 What is Page Speed?

Let’s suppose you type a URL xyz.com and clicked enter, now the time your web page takes to fully display the content (images, videos, design…) on the requested web browser that is referred as “Page-Speed”.

The basic definition says Page-Speed is a measurement of how fast the content on your web-page loads.

HOW?

How can we measure website’s page-speed?

-Several tools are available on the internet, in that you just need to enter the URL, then the tool will analyze the content of webpage by its own algorithms and will give you results out of 100. Results are based on the how fast is the webpage on the requesting web browser.

Here are some well know web-page speed tools available. Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, GTmetrix and many more.

Let’s know in short how Google’s analyzing tool works.

Gif of “Google’s” website page-speed score

-First, open the link.

-You will be asked to enter the web-page URL.

-Once it is done, then click the “Analyze” button.

-After analyzing it will provide you the results.

 

Score            Review

80-100           Good

60-80             Needs Work

60>             Poor

The results are calculated for both Mobile and Desktop viewing. This tool will suggest you some possible optimizations, for making it more rapid.

Everyone loves a fast site. Here are some ways to speed up your website:

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  Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML

Optimize your code (by removing spaces, shortening up the long variables names into a single variable, and other unnecessary characters), you can effectively increase your page speed. Also remove code comments, formatting, and unused code.

 

CSS(Cascading Style Sheets):- It is a simple design language, which is mostly used to make the web page fit to be seen.

JavaScript:It is a light-weight dynamic programming language, whose implementations allow a client-side script to interact with the user and make dynamic pages.

HTML(Hyper Text Markup Language):- It is used for creating web-page, it also describes the structure of web-page. HTML elements are represented by tags<>.

Google recommends HTMLMinifier to minify HTML, CSSNano and csso to minify CSS, Closure Compiler, UglifyJS to minify JavaScript. Alternatively, the PageSpeed Module integrates with an Apache or Nginx web server to automatically optimize your site, including resource minification.

Improve server response time

The amount of time required to load the HTML document of a website from   a server is known as server response time

First, let’s see few factor that affects the server response time:

Poor web hosting  — One of the aspects of running a website is making sure that the website has a good uptime (availability). Slow Load Times, Low Security are also some of the characteristics of poor web hosting.

 

Increased trafficIf your website gets hits more than the capability of the server, it may be possible that user will experience slower response from the server or even error codes such as bandwidth limit exceeded.

 

 

Bloated webpages — It simply refers to the contents of a webpage which are not optimized properly. For ex: Oversized images, non-responsive images (compatible with both mobile and desktop), non-minified CSS/JS files etc.

 

Lack of caching — Cache memory stores data in volatile memory and delivers the content quickly. So if there is an issue in caching the content it decelerates the server.

 

 Ways to Improve Server response time:

While Apache is well known and attractive option, there are many other better options using something else, such as Nginx or OpenLiteSpeed.

There are pros and cons to each web server although Nginx has been known to offer better performance in many circumstances.

Putting in a bit of time, in the beginning, might seem troublesome task, but it will pay off later as you are better able to handle changes in your server needs.

 

Optimize Your Web Servers

Once you have chosen your web-server successfully, the web-server can be configured to increase performance. There are numerous techniques including web server caching, enabling gzip compression and setting cache headers that help reduce load per visitor.

 

 Improve Database Performance

There are various ways of optimizing database performance and it can potentially turn into a large undertaking depending on the current state of your existing database. In order to increase performance, you will need to monitor your database first. You can trace and then load it in SQL server profiler to find out which are the slowest queries. After that, you can concentrate on them.

 

  • Reduce redirects

What is redirect?

Redirects are instructions or methods that robotically take user of one file, to another file or location. Which means your page-speed would get affected.

How does it affect page speed?

“Have you ever asked someone where a restaurant is and when you reach the location you find that, the mentioned restaurant has been shifted to some other location? ” It is just like that.

Redirects cause your pages to load slower because it is a wasted effort to go to one place just to be redirected to another.

Everything has its own pros and cons. There are many good and legitimate reasons to have redirects but it should be kept in mind that redirects cause substantial performance and speed issues.

 Use a content distribution network

content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver pages and other Web content to a user, based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and the content delivery server.

 

CDN improves the performance, security, and reliability of a website. CDN is useful for distributing the static content of your websites like images and videos and put them in a location closer to the people you are serving the content.

Optimize Image

As a general thumb rule, larger file takes a longer time to load than the smaller files. Yes, that’s true high-quality images makes the good visual experience on the website, but at the same time it degrades the page speed and agitating visitors eagerly waiting for the web page to load.

Some of the ways to optimize images are as follows:-

-Choosing Image

-Images that you select for your content must be related to the text of the article.

-Good quality, with correct aspect ratio and size large enough to be visible on all the device’s screen.

     –Decrease the size of the image

There are numerous offline and online tools available for image editing, which decreases the image file size.

Adobe’s online image editing application photoshop.com doesn’t have all the capabilities but it covers all the basic of image editing and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Other impressive online image editing tools are PicMonkey, Pixlr, FotoFlexer.

Use Image sitemap, How to handle your thumbnails, Know Which Image File Type to Use for the Right Situations are some ways to optimize the image.

 

Conclusion:

Now I hope, it would be pretty much clear about, why page load speed is an important criterion for your web page, what happens if your page speed is slow, and how you can improve your page-speed.

If you haven’t optimized your Web page Speed yet, start on it today.

 

Which of these techniques are you going to use, to increase your website’s page loading speed?

 

 

How E-Retailers Manage Inventory and Fulfillment Across All Outlets

 

Few retail brands have managed to build empires by making the most of both local and cross-border commerce deals. Global brands do not dominate by fluke. In fact, they have to weave an intricate web of strategy, manage the system and even bring about perfect execution. They are required to deliver goods to consumers exactly when they need it.

Managing inventory effectively and efficiently is one of the prime concerns of all retailers, regardless of time zones or channels. Even if common challenges like language, currency and geographical distance are put aside, it is important to manage the inventory considering cultural differences and overall brand perceptions, making it a complicated affair.

Retailers who deal with cross-border commerce need to understand the complications and recognize consumer needs holistically and geographically too.

Regional Perceptions

Just because a brand boasts of a strong presence in one part of the world, it does not necessarily translate into quick popularity elsewhere.

For example, a U.S. based retailer might be known to offer quality brand products at low prices. But distribution issues crop up along that forced the retailer to hike prices in another country. The brand promise changes in this regard, and affects the retailer’s identity too.

Successful global brands develop strategies that support their brand promise universally while considering the varied challenges offered by these markets. They may need to chalk out another brand promise or modify its original one based on the new geographical markets.

Real-Time Insights and Transparency

Real-time visibility and insights into the inventory is challenging for most cross-border operations compared to local operations. This is because of wide customer preferences, cultural differences, geographical diversity, and much more. Retail fulfillment does not work in the sense of a one-size-fits-all model, and hence real-time data is pivotal for inventory management. Leveraging Shopify, some ecommerce solution providers have successfully delivered add-ons that aid in ensuring real-time sales insights on more levels than one.

Retailers need to optimize logistics and processes with latest tools and technologies.

  • Lidl, a European retailer consolidated its routine operations across 10000 stores in 26 countries with a robust, centralized IT system to process large data sets in real-time.
  • The synthesis of this data helps the company to fine-tune their supply chain management and also anticipate consumer preferences in any region.
  • Additionally, the central system ensures timely product availability and profitability across borders too. 

Inventory Optimization to Fulfill Demands

Beyond the required visibility into inventory, every cross-border retailer needs to optimize their operations, as one style does not fit all. Brands need to optimize inventory to sell the products effectively across multiple regions at acceptable price points too. How can one manage this?

Size, color, and style pose significant challenges especially when retailers are keen to leverage inventory across multiple geographies.

Brands optimize inventory and refine product assortments based on buying behaviors witnessed in each region. Inventory that does not sell well is promoted elsewhere or to the online channel to prevent extra stocks and price reductions. The sale is likely to happen through, if the inventory is shifted to the region where it sells well. This is tricky in terms of cross-border commerce.

For example,

  • A consumer in Ohio could order a hoodie that is stocked in Vancouver in Canada.
  • The distribution center then ships the product to the customer’s house or a pickup store in the local region.
  • But the shipment is crossing borders and hence as per compliance regulations, the retailer has to include import and export documentation, along with accurate product classification before the sale can be made.

Varied brands now take recourse to automation to expedite the product clearance through customs, and also avoid noncompliance in any measure. This automated implementation reduces costs of cross-border commerce drastically. An automated customs management system enables retailers to classify products and then calculate taxes and duties involved in selling their products beyond borders. The solution could embed import and export documentation aligned with the strict compliant standards.

Streamline your Payment Processes

When setting up cross-border commerce, retailers need to understand transaction taxes for every country with a robust system in place that can ensure that consumers are conveyed about the charges involved transparently including conversion of their local currency, taxes involved and varied cross-border fees.

A brand can meet currency challenges by stating product price in multiple currencies and languages. This is a best practice that can address the labeling problems as well as address some cross-border commerce challenges.

Conclusion

Brands must also evaluate market position when opting for cross-border commerce to any country. Those who are doing well in the U.S. may also face huge challenges when expanding into countries like Australia, India, or even China. Brands need to pay heed to local brand perceptions, implement visibility of inventory, optimize sales processes and also ensure compliance for all sorts of cross-border transactions for maximum success.

Top Five Regulatory Concerns Plaguing Cross Border Commerce in the US

Cross-border commerce in the US is booming steadily with new customers aspiring to jump on the bandwagon to boost sales and orders. With this opportunity, a network of companies and providers have come to ease up the implementation process, in terms of facilitation; logistics, payment processing, fraud identification and much more. Every process for cross-border commerce is daunting enough for retailers especially when they are mostly unaware of regulatory considerations.

Multiple parties have to work in unison to make the process of cross-border ecommerce seamless and streamlined. Every party has different understanding, reasons, motivation, and even priorities before they are completely on board. One of the biggest hurdles of cross border commerce are regulatory issues that crop up owing to the following factors:

  • Inconsistency in regulations:

At the basic level, every online business requires regulation consistency. But the challenges with the growth of ecommerce have continuously baffled regulators causing volatile changes in policies. Even in developed countries like the U.S., it is being debated whether state taxes are applicable on ecommerce transactions. The inconsistency of legal regulations is widespread in its application too.

  • Domestic incorporation:

It is a common tendency in several countries to treat domestic companies differently if they are incorporated abroad. One should incorporate locally if they are keen on selling to customers. Local customers would find such companies reliable too since they are registered locally.

  • Legal limitations to sale:

Every country prescribes the do’s and don’ts of selling and the services to be sold through cross-border commerce. Most countries consider that any transaction with minors cannot be enforceable, and legal adulthood age varies by country too. Product categories have different requirements based on the type of food, alcohol, and antiques. As part of a business, one could be held responsible for not meeting those requirements. If a country enforces a regulation of packaged food to have certain ingredients, date of manufacturing, and expiration date on its label, then it should be made mandatory. If goods are shipped from another country without meeting these regulations, your license of doing business could be suspended in violation of the laws.

  • Clarity of legal frameworks:

One is required to meet local laws but one does find it difficult to find recourse to courts when required. Several countries have a weak legal framework and even if the framework is robust, one can expect endless delays in the overall judicial process. So, even if a company wants to conduct cross-border commerce in a country like the U.S and even fulfill regulations, it might still fail to defend its legal rights succinctly.

  • Compliance Costs:

The compliance costs involved in regulation are borne by businesses for ensuring good practices. There are high costs associated with meeting consumer concerns and privacy risks. Some compliance costs ill-serves responsible businesses, which put in extra efforts and money to address privacy concerns but ultimately get provoked by unwarranted legal requirements.

Conclusion

The above regulatory concerns need to be addressed before implementing full-scale cross-border commerce operations in any country including the US. The regulations, as well as the tax structure, need to be adhered to, for smooth performance of such operations.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Organizing Cross-border Commerce Translations

E-commerce translations are important in the present scenario of cross-border e-commerce since localization is possible only when local languages are considered for product descriptions.

Depending on inventory and its volatility, dealing with translations on your own can be quite a task.

But in reality, one does not really have to go through the hassles today. With automation and translation tools for ecommerce, it is evident that the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has transformed machines to be more human than before.

Cross-border commerce & machine translation

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence indicates the simulation of intelligent behavior in machines for rendering complex tasks, and with reduced human supervision.

Machine learning is an intrinsic part of AI, wherein algorithms break down data, learn from it and then make fact-based predictions. These machines can be trained likewise to perform complex tasks.

Now coming back to international e-commerce, sellers are forced to handle manual work, match product categories, features, sizes, and so forth on a daily basis. But in recent years with big data analysis and AI, product tagging is now handled on a much larger scale owing to raw descriptions that aid AI to localize entire content, map the category, extract features or even transform sizes.

Now some vendors have introduced machine learning and machine translation, as previously humans were prone to make multiple critical errors despite companies hiring professional and trained translators. Now machines are taught to convert sizes based on diverse brands. Size conversion accuracy is now nearly pitch-perfect too. Mixing human expertise with machine learning has helped in accurately localizing product listings and maintaining consistent quality.

Role of AI & automation in international commerce!

Automation has benefitted retailers in a huge way, as many spend less time on managing catalogue and more time on clearing chinks from their business strategy, thus delivering great buyer experience.

  • Reliable automation solutions with rules and exceptions: Automatic solutions may work automatically, but creating a reliable automation-based solution is quite complex. Experts suggest that automation is not a straightforward task since one must make sure the machine understands specific rules and exceptions on a consistent basis. For example, machines shouldn’t avoid translating brand names. Otherwise, one is sure to experience hilarious effects since the brand name will be translated into different languages and named differently in diverse contexts.
  • Recognize exceptions to avoid problems: The role of AI is to teach the specific tool to recognize exceptions and avoid any faulty translation. To account for such scenarios, a human brain can teach the machine to perform the above task efficiently, correctly and precisely. A perfect blend of both machines and humans is necessary for optimal ecommerce translation. Humans carry wide knowledge but machines are fast and consistent. Technology combined with human factor can produce great results for the industry.
  • Identify right words based on SEO: The machine should also identify the right words to deliver ideal listing translations. Simply recognizing words and phrases or combining them will not suffice. The products should also contain keywords that would help in its sales too. Some things are referred to, by different words. The word you decide for use makes a huge difference considering conversion rates. For example, some online buyers might search for ‘trousers’ while some might search the same thing with keyword ‘pants’. Depending on location and language used, one of them might win over the other. Thorough e-commerce data analysis could establish the right keywords that will maximize sales of a given product.
  • Titles are of huge importance: All searchable terms on a platform owe much to the efficient titles. Use of big data techniques to examine the titles would help in correlating words/synonyms with revenue. Selecting the right words can boost transactions in more ways than one.

Using an AI-based e-commerce translation service

An ideal AI-based translation solution will leverage an AI-based, natural language processing solution to deliver affordable and automated translation efficiently. Some plugins connect to the domestic marketplace account, extracting product categories, titles, product descriptions and feature lists.

The process involves analysis of product to be localized, structure assessment, extraction of localizable components, inferences of important attributes etc. The elements of the product are localized according to the marketplace needs, length limitations, category, and sellers’ preferences.

The custom process can be fully automated with translation software tools that are based on adaptive machine translation.

Additionally, the translation systems learn from human feedback in a self-improving loop, and with time will need minimal human intervention.

Automatic translation has its own share of benefits in terms of speed and efficiency. For merchants who thrive on cross-border commerce in international markets and who need to change inventory on a regular basis, slow translation also entails losses in sales potential.

Conclusion

If you think literary descriptions of a product will guarantee successful sales, it is time to reconsider. Lengthy, full-sentence descriptions are useless without product attributes. Buyers are always looking for great product offers. The attributes and keywords form the core of strong and optimal e-commerce translation.

Automatic translation solutions might not be the norm for cross-border commerce in many e-stores, the immense growth in machine translation solutions will help boost revenue for many, who jump the bandwagon soon. A cross-border trade partner can also optimize translation processes and costs with efficient return-on-investment too.

Top mid-market considerations for cross-border commerce

Last updated on December 6th, 2017 at 02:26 pm

For mid-market brands, it is tough to prevail in many global markets since they are saturated with similar products. In this case, a full market evaluation before launch of cross-border is required, to identify competitors, take note of their activities, take note of what they fail to do and even understand the direction of the market and its perfect fit.

Winning globally for most companies is to acquire market share and retain customer interest consistently. Here are the top mid-market considerations for cross-border commerce that will ensure its success:

  • Make Technology an Enabler of Success

Automation is the key to be lean in international selling, with enough team time and space for promoting innovation.

Here are a few workflows for automation:

  1. Email Marketing – Create audience segments, and revisit them seasonally to ensure the pitch is aligned with brand messaging and as per the regional sensibilities.
  2. Product Information Management – Invest in a streamlined product information management (PIM) system to manage local content that will increase as you scale your operations. Be sure to include a repository for product information, content and media. Keep each country’s product catalog and content separated from each other.
  3. Order Processing – Do not let countries and markets get disintegrated into silos. Invest in connecting channels with strategic planning across the organization. One can even invest in ERP solutions or Shopify to get the order processing streamlined.

  • Defining Key Domains – Product Delivery, Logistics and Shipping

The core foundation of cross-border commerce is ensuring product delivery in-country. Logistics should be a vital function that needs to be addressed right from the first day. Mid-market merchants do it themselves, using warehouses or ship from a warehouse. Some use an affiliate, for the same.

Shipping shouldn’t affect profit margins. Hence it is important to localize management efforts with a dedicated resource on the ground within the region. When evaluating hiring personnel, do check how professionals understand building global teams. A key stakeholder in the place with global experience is useful in this regard.

Managing global resources from long distances means that there should be constant communication between stakeholders about the product, the brand’s tone, marketing message, vision, and the like so that specialists can mitigate any issues with localization with brand experience.

The in-country team needs to be conveyed about company’s top-level goals and how the market can help meet the goals.

Conclusion

Adequate localization, key stakeholders in-country, a local logistics provider with affordable shipping, and other regional factors need to be in place for mid-market organizations who are looking for success in cross-border commerce.

A Brief Chat about Chatbots

Last updated on November 27th, 2017 at 02:45 pm

Do you remember opening a website and a popup chatbox emerging from the side of the screen, with a “How may I help you a message?” Apparently, you do. Chatbots appear on almost all the websites these days! It is not a random feature they included for entertainment purposes. Usage of Chatbots has been evaluated over years and is observed to serve both the sides, that of buyers and sellers, quite efficiently.

What is this entire buzz about?

One significant way to grow your business is to get in touch with your clients. Chatbots help to initiate and further regulate the flow of interactions with customers for e-commerce companies. These bots simulate conversations with buyers that, in turn, replicates to the interactive shopping experience buyers get in physical retail stores.

So, now you know chatbots have been around for a long time. But it’s still a challenge to implement these because their efficiency lies in their capacity to learn, improve, and update. Artificial Intelligence constitutes the core of chatbots and the best ones have their AI process immense flow of information from literally millions of requests.

Flowchart showing chatbot conversation pattern

Online retailers who cannot manage many customer conversations at a time have to resort to calling centers for a rigid customer support. Chatbots bring a middle ground in such scenarios. Retailers still don’t have to attend all the customer requests themselves but bots on their sites handle requests and come up with meaningful responses in case of store navigation, product recommendations as well as comparisons.

..And the Misconceptions

The most intuitive definition is that a bot is software that can have a conversation with a human. For example, a user could ask the bot a question or give it an instruction and the bot could respond or perform an action as appropriate.

This definition seemingly leads to two potential misconceptions.

  • The biggest misconception that arises is that a chatbot will respond in a humane manner, in the way a human would speak with another human. And, this is not wrong to expect since science fiction has set our standards pretty high!

While this may be the end goal, our current implications of technology lag behind in providing such experience. Not only is it next to impossible, it often leads to unrealistic expectations for chatbot capabilities and what follows is a trail of inevitable frustrations when these expectations are not met.

  • The second misconception is that a chatbot communicates using only text or voice. With the rise of its usage and creativity pouring in, chatbots now allow users to interact with them via graphical interfaces. And, ‘Only Text/Voice’ is an old school now. So be the one with the trend and check out WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and Kik who allow web views on which developers can create completely customized graphical interfaces.

To understand the nature of chatbot conversations it is important to categorize it into types so that we can anticipate what type of response is to be expected.

Note that there is no content out there that is the ‘definitive guide to chatbot types’ but we will try to cover all the possible domains in which chatbots are developed and used.

Subcategories of Chatbot Types

Based on Backends

This section will mainly focus on types of chatbots distinguished on the basis of how their backends are designed.

We begin with this category because it focuses on an essential task that chatbots perform which is to respond.

Flow Chatbots

Flow chatbots are the oldest type of bots. They are tree-based. Meaning, they respond in an already determined manner and what they are going to say is fed to them by the developer. You will have the freedom to answer or question these, but the scope is limited.

Have you ever played book-based games like ‘Choices’ on your smartphone? Such games allow you to choose from certainly given options and next page of the book appears based on the choice you make. Understand that you do have the freedom to choose one of the given options, but you are still bound by the possibilities that the developer has decided.

Sample of a flow chatbot

Above is an example of a flow chatbot.

For the most part, flow chatbots include buttons, keywords, and catchphrases instead of free writing. These elements drive the client down the predefined path.

Artificially intelligent chatbots

Instead of predetermined flow, artificial chatbots rely on AI for their functioning. They let the users engage in a much freer way.

Due to an implementation of AI, these chatbots update their knowledge and perception based on their user experience or their experience of the real world.

One best example of such robot is/was Tay (which is a two way AI, discussed later in this article) delivered by Microsoft in 2016. It met quite considerable and rather horrible consequences.

Hence, it is established that Artificially sound bots implement a higher level of NLP (Natural Language Processing) to respond efficiently and also, update their knowledge base.

AI Chatbots can be further distinguished as follows.

One-Way AI chatbots implement artificial intelligence on the one side of the interaction. They decode user’s input using NLP and provide an output as defined by the developer.

The significant difference between Flow Chatbot and One-Way AI Chatbot is- In flow bot, the user response faces limitation in terms of buttons or keywords. Here, the user feels comparatively free when it comes to providing his own input. The response in both the cases is pre-fed.

Two-Way AI use AI on both the sides of the interaction. Meaning, as opposed to One-Way AI, it implements AI to provide output too.

Rather than coordinating a plan and singling out an answer from a pool of pre-made answers, two-way AI chatbots have the capacity to assemble replies on the fly – as it were.

Most two-way AI chatbots work by associating with a database of accessible data they can gain knowledge from.

Two-way AI chatbots have the capacity to process client input, comprehend the aim, at that point build the most exact answer before conveying it to the client.

As you can imagine, these chatbots can learn after some time (experimentation, better database, better data to work with, and so on.). Here and there, they fire back (Hello there, Tay).

Hybrid Chatbots

As the name suggests, hybrid bots establish a middle ground between the two elemental categories mentioned above. Right now, most of the commercial chatbots fall in this category for mainly two reasons.

  1. It is quite unfeasible to imply either flow bot or AI bot.
  2. It makes no sense if user input directs conversation because that can lead to either unfruitful interaction or catastrophic updates in AI knowledge base.

These bots essentially use AI for weaving the conversation but with their pre-fed instructions, will make sure the conversation never leaves the realm of purpose for which this chatbot is being used.

Based on Purpose

One other and an equally great way to distinguish between various chatbots is by what purpose they serve. Now you might ask, “Don’t all the chatbots offer the same purpose? Of chatting?” Well, there can be different types of interactions people keep looking for.

We distinguish these purposes into two elemental forms.

  • Functional
  • Fun

Functional

Functional chatbots perform tasks that serve as a commercial help. These optimise a process.

For example, imagine a bot on eCommerce which responses to your queries and help you navigate through your store.

Fun

On the contrary, fun chatbots are just for fun conversations. They essentially do not serve any purpose, but amusement is at the center of their working.

A working example of Funbot is Mitsuku Bot

Fun chatbots could be further categorized into sub-classes (social chatbots, mark persona chatbots, and so on.). The point to recall here is that however, a chatbot can have a fabulous time angle and still be useful, a fun chatbot has no capacity.

Audience

Last type in which we will distinguish chatbots is in terms of their audience- What type of people are going to use the chatbot and on which platform.

Generalist

A generalist chatbot is an all-rounder (Yes, pointing at Siri). They know and do it all. As you can imagine, these are very complex to implement and world’s well-known ones are developed by big companies like Google, Apple, etc.

These chatbots extract data from very deep and nested knowledge base and are generally very well versed with Natural Language Processing.

Specialist

Specialist chatbots focus on one constrained thing and do that one thing extremely well.

Without a doubt, Siri can give you data about various types of summer apparels, however, would you be able to buy those dresses in your country, will they fit you well, and do you need exactly those or some other dresses?

Expert chatbots have the one of a kind preferred standpoint of knowing precisely what they are here for. Having a sole objective to achieve is an invited confinement in the AI world. It lessens the mistake edge, makes it less demanding to comprehend client purpose, and offers helpful fallbacks.

Use Case Scenarios of ChatBots in eCommerce

Use Case Scenarios of Chatbot in E-Commerce

Chatbots can boost your marketing strategies

By developing a chatbot that is efficient in responding with various types of interactions (recognized commercially), you will have the opportunity to provide customers various services like personalized push ads, customized navigation, and responses based on buyers’ old preferences.

Chatbots can help you manage your online store

 

Along with managing interactions with your customers, live chatbots can be programmed to keep information about your inventory. This will help you very peculiar issues such as letting you and your customers know whether a particular item is in stock or not, without you getting involved and set it up manually. Similarly, chatbot can inform customers about an item they wanted to buy but couldn’t buy it earlier because it was out of stock.

 

Chatbots can join in human conversations to boost sales

Users’ Insights within Facebook’s built-in promoting platform can be a greatly helpful device for finding out about your clients’ conduct on the web. Indeed, online networking publicizing is an awesome open door for you to assemble urgent client and buy information.

By joining this with in-Facebook chatbots, organizations can supercharge their deals.

It was reported at the current year’s Facebook F8 designer conference that computerization will enable brands to propose items inside Facebook visit discussions.

Chatbots can help you cut down on customer services costs

Chatbots present many points of interest to organizations hoping to grow their operations by sparing money in specific zones like customer benefit.

Live chat applications can give a cheaper alternative to enable you to eliminate group numbers and give a magnificent administration to clients by following user chat histories and giving individuals prompt, non-earnest help. Sometimes, this can be adequate to satisfy their requirements.

If till now you are wondering if you do need a chatbot for you then we suggest you give it a shot. If you are wondering how to integrate a chatbot with your business, there are a plenty of tutorials out there. If you want some footprints on the same then go here and help yourself.

Do you use chatbots for your online business? How has your experience been with chatbots? Feel free to share your views and experiences with us!

Shopify or BigCommerce: An Ultimate Face Off

Last updated on November 14th, 2017 at 09:12 am

If you are a seller or wish to start your business, you know that people today want everything at their fingertips. In this digital era, you definitely would want to stay ahead in the race in an ever-changing and growing market. So, an online store is necessary for your commercial growth. Now the problem is that chances are you are not very familiar with programming, creating, developing and managing stuff online.

The online market is rapidly growing and e-commerce is the top priority of suppliers today. For making your tasks easier, Software developers provide you with various platforms on which you can set up your store with no to a minimum knowledge of hows, whens, and wheres of software engineering.

Setting up an e-commerce website today is a cakewalk. One is open to so many options that provide e-commerce platforms to build an online store. But what makes it a cumbersome task is all the things that come after setting up your store. What themes to choose, which package to pick and all the versatile e-commerce tools that come with these e-commerce platforms add to the confusion.

Two of the Top in the categories are- Shopify and BigCommerce.

Founded in 2004, Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce company. Shopify is known to develop for computer software for e-commerce sales and for providing point-of-sale for combining offline physical sales with online sales. Founded in 2009, BigCommerce is an e-commerce platform development company originally and initially headquartered in Australia. However, now they consider their headquarters to be in Austin.

So here, we will see two big competitors compared, not to take out a winner. However to make you more clear about your needs and which of these two can serve you better as per your needs.

We have listed a few criteria based on which we will weigh both the platforms one-by-one.

  • Market-share records
  • Plans and Pricing
  • Themes/Designs/Storefront
  • Mobile Responsive Themes
  • Payment Gateway
  • Apps to add more functionality
  • Point of Sale
  • Security
  • SEO Management
  • Some Additional Features
  • Product Management
  • Order Management
  • Miscellaneous Tools
  • Managing store with mobile-phone
  • Marketplace Experts

Market-share Records

Shopify has over 325,000 paid users and has processed over $24 billion worth of transactions. This averages out to $73,846 worth of product sales per merchant using Shopify. Big Commerce has over 95,000 paid users and has processed over $9 billion worth of transaction to date. BigCommerce seems to be lying behind in the race of credibility but Shopify has been longer in the race and this factor also plays an important role in determining transaction rate.

Plans and Pricing

This is the beginning of the set up where you have to buy a package from your online store. (resembling real site for a physical store where your physical store would’ve existed). Plans for setting up your store depending on your personal needs, requirements and expectations from the platform you have chosen, as well as from customers you desire to sell your products to. Both Shopify and BigCommerce have very elaborative terms when it comes to their plans and both of them come with a similar categorization of 4 plans varying at levels: Basic, Mediocre, High, and Store-specific- If your business tends to be very big in the market.

But Shopify has a unique “Shopify Lite” plan that cannot be used if you own or decide to own an online store, but it can be used to integrate selling products when you already have a website (not an online store)  running and it provides a “Buy from Shopify” functionality that can be added to your already running website.

When it comes to the collection of transaction fees, BigCommerce provides an aid of not charging you with any, whereas Shopify charges transaction fees ranging between 0.5-2.0% depending on the plan chosen. However, these transaction fees can be completely waived off when you choose to work with Shopify’s Stripe gateway.

In both, if you purchase an entire year worth of service, you can get a bulk discount of 10%. But for a 2-year plan purchased together, Shopify provides 20% discount.

Note that in BigCommerce, you are required to upgrade your plan if your sales exceed a threshold pre-settled by BigCommerce. There is no such limitation to any specific plan in terms of turnover in Shopify.

Themes/Designs/Storefront

The look and feel of your website decide how much value it is going to hold. No matter how much time and ideas you have invested in the backend, your frontend needs to engage an audience (or in this case potential buyers) so the selection of themes plays a very important role. You select from what’s available and both, Shopify and BigCommerce play their cards very carefully.

Shopify is a bit ahead of the game since it has a fully fledged store of a total of 170+  themes and out of these around 24 themes are free. The thing with BigCommerce themes is that their theme store has been recently updated (in 2016) and before that, all themes seemed outdated (based on reviews). So they are lagging with just 83 themes and 7 of these are available for free.

One other drawback with BigCommerce themes is you can’t get to preview themes in theme store unless you have enrolled for their free trial. (source: http://www.websitebuilderexpert.com)

The average cost of a theme in Shopify is around $100-$180. Whereas average cost of a theme in BigCommerce is around $145-#235. Also since Shopify allows freelancer theme developers, Shopify themes are always a bundle of versatility and latest trends. All themes of Shopify are mobile responsive but with BigCommerce, not all but some themes are responsive.

Mobile responsive themes

Since smartphones are convenient to carry and to use as compared to Computers, your aim should be to make your site mobile friendly. Mobile responsive websites adapt to the screen dimensions of the devices into which we load these websites. It is not just about the convenience. Many search engines use Mobile- Friendliness Test as a ranking factor. Hence, if your website is not user-friendly, your store is losing a chance of being top in the game.

All the themes available at Shopify are responsive, meaning they automatically adjust to screen ratio on any tablets, phones, and devices. Some of the BigCommerce themes are not mobile responsive.

Payment Gateway

Money exchange is one aspect that cannot be handled liberally. With everything just some clicks and swipes away, transfer of money online comes with its own set of pros and cons. Customers must find your money accepting methods reliable and secure. At times, we all have refrained from buying stuff from a particular online store because payment methods seem to be a bit deceiving or not so decent. Payment Gateway undoubtedly plays vital in customer conversion. So, in a way, choice of payment gateway plays a considerable role in determining the credibility of your store.

Setting payment gateway with these platforms comes with a lot of ease and pre-established domains. You will have a lot of various options and therefore less burden of determining what’s secure and what’s not.

Shopify offers its own payment gateway namely Shopify Payments in association with Stripe. This is reportedly a very secure system. Also, it comes with an ease of operating since you don’t need to have a separate dashboard for managing payments. Both Shopify and BigCommerce allow you to get involved with third-party payment gateways. BigCommerce offers you to integrate with over 30 payment gateways PayPal powered by Braintree, 2Checkout, Worldpay, Stripe, and Chase Paymentech. Shopify offers you 70 payment gateways like Paypal, Stripe, Authorize.Net, 2Checkout, Firstdata, Amazon payments to accept payment via credit cards from all over the world.

Apps to add more functionality

Apps are basically to add functionality to your website. Platforms provide all the additional functionalities in the form of downloadable and installable apps. If only you could get away with deciding which plan to buy and what theme to choose!

Both Shopify and BigCommerce have their app store established and both allow third-party apps to be installed and used. Shopify has a wider range of apps with over 1400 apps in its app store whereas BigCommerce has just about 250 apps.

Shopify distributes its apps in 10 basic categories while BigCommerce distributes apps in 21 categories. Shopify apps are classified in 4 Collection classes and BigCommerce apps are classified in 5 Collection Classes.

Point of Sale

Point of Sale technically means time and place where a transaction occurs. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could be able to manage your online store on any device from anywhere? Wouldn’t it lessen your burden if you could somehow manage sales of your offline store along with your online store with ease?

Shopify POS app lets you manage your store on any device. The best part is you no longer have to copy data from one place to another. This way you can manage your offline store too (if you have any) and not care about summing up the calculations of total sales anytime. BigCommerce also lets you manage multiple transactions via POS but they do this with ‘Square’ since they do not have their own personalized app.

Security

The more you work on your store, the more stuff gets added to it. The more the stuff, the more you have invested. Moreover, anything online can never be considered as completely safe. Therefore, your security measures need to be tight to ensure your investments are not swayed away.

When you’re ready to trust a platform for running and maintaining your entire business online, security is something that should always concern you. But today’s highly responsive facilities make it look like a secondary issue. Both Shopify and BigCommerce take care of all security upgrades and ensure your website is always up and running, and does not get hacked.

Also, SSL certificates are activated in both on checkout page by default for encryption to maintain the integrity of store’s information. Shopify also lets you activate SSL certificate in the storefront for ensuring security when browsing frontend of the store.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Management

You have your store on and running online and you’re waiting for the orders to patch in. Just then, you decide to test how much reachable your store is, via various search engines like Google, Bing, etc. When you search the name of your store, chances are it is nowhere to be found on first or even second page of your search results. The ambition of Search Engine Optimization is to make sure your website is reachable to the interested public, with the use of various techniques.

Some of these techniques can be facilitated by the platform you have set up your store on. Both Shopify and BigCommerce make sure you get a good worth for choosing any of these. However, the way they implement SEO is different in both.

The following list shows what facilities are available by Shopify as well as BigCommerce for implementing SEO.

  1. Editable Title tags enhance the use of words that people are using to search for the particular products that you have listed. So basically title tags help people reach to your store.
  2. Meta descriptions are brief explanations of your products that will add in improving search engine result pages. It will take into consideration all that you have mentioned in the meta description, and if it is perfectly crafted, then search engines will rank your store better.
  3. Customizable file names and ALT tags are a handful just like title tags and meta descriptions, but for images that you include. File names should be relevant and exact or nearer to what people are searching for that particular products. ALT tags contain text that will be displayed when an image hasn’t been loaded. That should clearly give the idea of the image.
  4. Canonical URL tags come in use whenever content seems to be copied or taken from a place and is displayed in some other place. Canonical URL tags can be used in two ways.
  • When you are taking content from some other website, you can provide link to that website using canonical tags and that gives authenticity to your website
  • This is the type which helps in improving SEO for your website. When your store has the same type of content or products, you can use canonical tags to determine which, among of these is the main, original one, so that it helps search engines to understand what to refer and put at the top while ranking. Otherwise, if everything appears to be similar in terms of title tags and descriptions, none of the pages get ranked by search engines.

Some Additional Features

Importing Products Format

If you have to upload products in bulk, then this feature is used. It happens to be so that we want to move our store from one online site to another, for changing platform or for setting up a feature upgraded site. The feature of importing products comes handy when we switch from one platform or site to another. Shopify does this by extracting products data from CSV files and then it converts these into products in your shop. BigCommerce does the same by extracting CSV as well as XML files.

Hosting

Ideally, hosting providers let you buy space for uploading your website on the internet. Since your business is running online and it may or may not have a physical sign of a shop, you should know where on the internet cloud, exactly it is being hosted and how. Hosting is an added benefit to both of these platforms or any Content Management System in general. Both take care of hosting very precisely taking off the burden from the store owner.

Disaster Recovery

Backup is something that may not be a primary focus when you are working on your store, but it becomes the basic most need when you are making any uncertain changes in the backend, or due to any threat, data may get altered. Both the platforms back up your data automatically at the end of every day.

Web page loading time (Pagespeed)

If you want your store’s ranking to be among the top, page speed is one of the ways to go for. Pagespeed indicates average time your site’s pages take to load in the browser, and the relation is self-explanatory. The faster the pages on your website load, the lesser will be its page speed. Pagespeed for Shopify is 1 sec which is less than BigCommerce’s 1.5 sec.

Multi-Channel Marketing

If you’re old in the business with your store set up online, you already know that the story doesn’t end to the store only. You are supposed to be where the potential buyers are and they are simply everywhere. And this is where Multichannel Marketing is implied. You need to convert as much traffic as possible. This happens when your store is visible on various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc. By providing links to your store on these platforms, people will come to know about your store and may eventually consider visiting. The platform’s capacity to hold and regulate the public from various online channels plays a vital role.

Shopify’s higher plans take care of this functionality by modifying its statistic charts and making sales channels even. While in BigCommerce, it is managed by various channel manager apps.

Code-editing

Though many apps and functionalities are available with these platforms, sometimes you may want to add your own features and advancements to the website and for that, you will have to dive into basic or even a bit complex coding. Pre-requisites for editing the code for both platforms are that you should be familiar with HTML and CSS. To edit code with Shopify, you will also need to go through “liquid” which is a modeling language.

Product Management

Products are always at the heart of any online store. Because after all, everything revolves around for what purpose you have set up your store. Both Shopify and BigCommerce have unique and precise features to make product management easy for you.

For product description, BigCommerce comes with a higher number of “options” you can use on products for adding variants of the same product (for example Size, Color, Weight, etc) whereas Shopify only offers 3 such options.

You can let customers add or inscribe text and modify products with photographs for personalized products. This is comparatively easier to do with BigCommerce than Shopify.

Shopify allows generating Smart Collections for a more managed distribution of products. For example, you have a very particular collection of clothes for summer so you can display all those products under the collection “Summer Collection”. This can be easily performed in Shopify.

Both the platforms provide various apps for variations in Product Carousel, and videos can also be displayed in place of images of products or along with images of products on the carousel.

Order Management

Setting store online is not as similar an experience as having it offline since you are bound to get orders from a considerably larger range. You put up products for sale and orders patch in. Various scenarios occur after this. You can see who has checked out and what mode of payment buyer has gone for. If the buyer chooses to pay online, you should be able to get notifications. If he/she chooses to pay cash for delivery, you should be able to mark that as ‘Unpaid’. You are supposed to keep records of how many products have been sent out for delivery and how many orders are pending to be fulfilled. Lastly, the buyer should be able to get an invoice for the order placed. The buyer could also want to keep track of the order fulfillment.

All these above-mentioned functionalities are taken care by Shopify as well BigCommerce. Both have a very simple to use Orders Page available on Dashboard only. UI in both the platforms may differ but basic functionalities are covered in both with easy navigation and precise record maintenance.

Abandoned cart option in Shopify is available on dashboard even for trial store version, while in BigCommerce, an app needs to be installed in menial versions of the package. What abandoned cart does is it displays all the orders that customers have added to a cart but haven’t placed orders for yet. This feature also lets you send emails to such customers to remind them of their abandoned cart.

In BigCommerce, abandoned cart recovery enables you to send up to 3 emails at a time and also with coupon codes to keep your buyers engaged whereas, in Shopify, the limitation is up to one email only.

Miscellaneous  Tools

Every e-commerce platform comes with a wide range of integrated eCommerce tools. E-commerce tools perform and enhance various tasks and make burden of maintaining a site easy. These tools alter working on every aspect of that platform. Both the platforms have a number of unique tools but BigCommerce is quite known for its “Out-of-box” comprehensive range of e-commerce of tools.

Following are few of the specific tools that these platforms use:

Generating Gift Cards and Coupon codes

Giving exciting offers is a trick to woo customers and keep them attached to your store. BigCommerce lets you generate and send gift cards to customers via various media platforms. Coupon codes can also be generated in BigCommerce. With the help of coupon codes, you generate activation of these codes on various products.

BigCommerce Standard package provides you with facilities like gift cards, a built-in ratings and review system, real-time carrier shipping quotes. While in Shopify, these facilities are available only in higher plans.

Multilevel Navigation Menu

Imagine you have a large number of products to display and they fall into different categories as they subdivide. For solving this, BigCommerce lets you create sub-menus through ‘Navigations’ tab. Also, there is add-on available which can let you create 1-level to 4-level subcategories to distribute your products in an understandable and fashionable manner.

Creating multilevel menus is possible in Shopify too, but it is not as easy with Shopify as it is with BigCommerce.

Tax Settings (including VAT MOSS)

It is the responsibility of the store owner to take care of tax configuration in various states and countries. Sales tax is specifically regulated by a place it is associated with. So prices of your products should vary with respect to these taxes, and it is an utter ease if your chosen platform takes care of that.

Shopify lets you adjust prices and modify tax collection settings with a lot of ease. BigCommerce has the collaboration with Avalara to take care of this functionality and together, they have made tax configuration a breeze.

Marketplace Partners and Experts

Shopify and BigCommerce both are leading e-commerce platforms. With reputation comes responsibility. The responsibility of letting store owners feel guided and supported with even the smallest of their concerns.

Both the platforms have supporters distributed at different levels. You can hire designers to help you customize your store’s look and feel, developers, to aid with functionalities. If you are a complete novice and want to setup your store then you can hire ‘Setup Experts’ who can help to start your store online from scratch. Experts also come in the category of marketers and photographers.

Shopify gives an added advantage here by listing experts that are geographically closer to you so that if need be, you can meet them personally to get a solution to your problems.

Experts in BigCommerce have the freedom to quote their own prices which sometimes adds to the confusion of which one to select. Also, Shopify has a bigger team of experts as compared to BigCommerce. This in no way implies that one’s team of experts is better than that of others.

Also, both the platforms offer 24/7 support to reach these experts or for solving menial issues through forum discussions via various facilities like email, online chats as well as calls.

Conclusion

The aim of this article is to purely draw a comparison between these two platforms so that you can choose what to and what not to keep as a feature of your online store. Since it is designed keeping comparison at the center, not all the properties of both these platforms are discussed here. So for deciding which one is suitable for you, you will have to look for all the facilities provided as well as, going for trial packs of both which is 14 days period for BigCommerce and 15 days period for Shopify.

 

 

E-Commerce Seasonal Marketing

Last updated on November 21st, 2017 at 06:48 am

Seasonal Promotions are exploited by everyone, consumers, and businesses altogether. No business should miss the holiday bandwagon, especially in current environments where e-commerce boom makes it hard for brands to remain alive.

Seasons not only bring opportunities for earnings but can also expose your brand to a spectrum of the user base that was unaware of your existence. If the experience is decent, a one-time consumer might convert to the loyal subscriber.

Let’s address the elephant in the room! Most consumers will look for deals during seasons. However, just providing holiday discount won’t do the trick. There also are several other factors to consider while preparing your online store for Holiday Season.

Why Bother?

Most e-commerce today has its way by garnering new audience over Holidays. Seasonal planning is crucial and most of the big brands revolve their marketing strategy around seasons and holidays.

Here are the key points that strengthen the side of Seasonal Marketing:

Web traffic spikes during Seasons. Average user spends hundreds of dollars in the USA during holidays. It only makes sense to reap the benefits as they are available. The total sales during holidays have been rising steadily by a decent percentage over previous years. Currently, holiday seasons mark billions of dollars in worldwide e-commerce sales.

Also, for most families and individuals, holidays provide a reason to spend in excess. Users are going to purchase something anyway, although sometimes unnecessarily, so planning over holiday season might actually sell a product that keeps dusting away a whole year.

By embracing the holiday itself, and building a promotion around it, the brand can get connected with users. Long-term thinking and good marketing campaign on Holiday can do wonders for a brand.

Seasonal Promotions

Going seasonal is not an alien concept. The specifics such as When, Where and How to go Seasonal is where one might begin.

When: Not every Holiday will be relevant to your brand.
It makes no sense for Electronics to go on sale on 4th of July or Memorial Day. Similarly, hardware and tools’ business shouldn’t set up a sale for Christmas.
The When a part is also affected by demographics and local factors. One may alternatively play it safe by looking at what industry in same niche and location does that works.

The promotion itself needs to be carefully crafted. One needs to follow all generic guidelines, and also be creative to stand out a bit. Here, caution needs to be exercised as being sloppy can backfire and hurt your brand permanently.

Where and How: Promotions are aided with adverts, with usual marketing on Social platforms and through Emails.

A recent trend has seen that lesser and lesser percentage of people arrive at large e-commerce sites through social channels. Social channels can spread the word about a Deal getting offered, but these generally spread using word-of-mouth.

Adverts might prove to be effective for some, on the Social platform, if proper targeting is implemented. Here, a successful season for newer businesses requires special effort on getting the word out, as to why people need to visit your website.
Let’s get started with the basics.

Event Categories

Traditional Holidays:
These include generic seasonal events such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other cultural and religious holidays.

National and Local Holidays:
These are based on the location and demographics that the business is targeting. Such as 4th of July or Columbus Day in the USA, or Independence Day of respective countries, etc.

Non-traditional Holidays:
These include days introduced as a part of new trends or events. Check out this list of Hashtag Holidays to see some of them. These include days like Hamburger Day, Chocolate Day, Donut Day, etc

(http://downloads.sproutsocial.com/Sprout-Social-Hashtag-Holidays-2017.pdfNo one should miss these major dates:

  • 2017
      Thanksgiving: November 23
      Black Friday: November 24
      Cyber Monday: November 27
      Green Monday: December 11
  • There is a multitude of Holidays every year. Refer this page to view the list of important dates of 2018.

    Running Seasonal Promotions

    • Platforms
      • Social
        Email
        Search
        Print
    • Promotion Types
        Branding Awareness Campaign
        Product Sale
    • Words of Caution

Platforms

Social

Social platforms can do wonders for your brand if availed in a proper way. Most businesses go with a paid advert on Holidays. This boils down to running a successful social ad campaign. Alternatively one can also plan a custom campaign, without using paid advertising.

Social Ad campaigns can be run all over the year. Holidays make it better for higher audience availability and buying intent. The successful social campaign needs all the basics, plus some add-ons to give a season/holiday spin.

Targeting: Setting targeting according to product chosen to promote and audience.
Keeping up with Trends: Use relevant Tags, Season related Infographics, GIFs, Videos and try to link your brand with recent trends. Try to be unique and original. Standing out of the crowd is necessary when the whole industry will be running campaigns.
Hint Urgency: Try to gain attention by showing relevancy and urgency.
There are numerous other strategies while running a Social Marketing campaign, and so it can be researched and planned.

Email

While Emails are generally not considered as a key platform for holiday marketing, they certainly do work. Email marketing is tricky for small businesses with fewer subscribers, but with recurring users and a decent number of registered users, it’s harmless to run an email campaign.

Emails have the following advantages over other platforms:

Straightforward execution of marketing campaign.
Instant buying options inside the email itself.
Automation and deals personalized to the user or higher CTR.
There are again a million points to consider while running an email campaign in general, such as choosing a proper subject line, making email personalized to the user, prioritizing the call-to-action content in email, etc. One may refer relevant content related to Email marketing if necessary.

Search

Search engines are gigantic platforms and most users will alternatively search the product they need to buy and look for options themselves.

Search engines can be targeted for sales during holidays by publishing fresh content, publishing holiday relevant deals and having good SEO for organic free holiday traffic.

Also, one can use Paid Advertising, with specific products relevant to the season and offer discounts and incentives. Paid advertising brings a chunk of holiday season traffic and cannot be overlooked.

To get started on paid advertising, one may consider one of the popular ad networks such as Adwords, Bing Ads, etc. Google Adwords also has a link to Google Merchant Center, which can automate the task of creating product advert and running a campaign.

Print

Although not many regions use print advertising to boost online sales during holidays, the certain audience from some regions may still have enough readerships of print media like newspapers to make sense for businesses to run print Ads.

Most countries, including USA, India, and many others have big e-commerce companies running Newspaper ads before holiday season, highlighting offers and discounts. Print media may not work for small-medium businesses unless executed correctly.

Promotion Types

Brand Awareness Campaign

One of the most effective promotional campaign types, for long-term profits. Brands always stay on through time. Take Nokia, which was literally dead, rose just due to its brand value.

Seasons are the time when Businesses generate sales, as well as give out good experiences adding to brand value. Although saying this implies that product sales might do well for the brand awareness if the experience is decent, it works the other way round most of the time.

E-commerce can be tricky, especially for new and developing businesses. You might do all you can focus on product sales, and still have things not working out. There are dynamics such as trust, store-appeal, and familiarity. By focusing on branding using Videos, Infographics and other rich media in promotions, as well as doing backend work by contribution to industry and community through deep involvement, branding campaign can be kicked off.

Here, the trust factor is quite vital in driving final product sales. Branding can not only drive your sales up but can also improve your product sales campaign.

When it comes to holidays, you have the audience eager and buying-ready. Holidays and seasons also help create an appealing campaign around the event. It being a holiday season means the greater audience that is open to ideas and products. There is greater real-time audience on almost all digital platforms, TV and online alike. The campaign can be based on something the users are experiencing during the season, providing an easy connect. This teamed up with the right amount of Nostalgia and Creativity surely books huge seasonal sales.

Product Sales

Product sales are the default mode of promotion, be it physical or digital goods. They are quantifiable, meaning you know if the promotion is going the right way or not. Also other metrics such as ROI, profits and targets are based on Sales metric, so it is appealing to be thinking of hiking sales.

Now the general way of promoting product sales, by mixing holiday juice in your promotion and slipping the product part at the right time works. It is effective in both direct and indirect ways.

Other approaches to seasonal product sales include one without direct promotion. It is the most common approach used, offering the Crazy Deal. News about holiday deals can spread like wildfire, and although it might lessen profits, there are ample overall advantages.

Firstly consumers un-heard of your business will engage with it. You get a chance to showcase how you are better than the competition.

Secondly, the discount deal generally expires quickly, and what one is left with is a bunch of traffic that spreads across other products on the website. Also, the news/posts regarding the deal spread on social platforms without any directly paid promotion, and remain on the social platform long after the discount vanishes.

The second way and the standard way of product promotion during seasons is straightforward advertising to the targeted user based on various metrics on popular advertising platforms. Readiness to buy and higher traffic during the holidays makes the campaign more likely to succeed if executed in a proper way.

In a gross generalization, sales and branding should be balanced, discount offers should be executed smartly and retention must also be desired along with acquisition.

Words of Caution

There are a few things that can make you result in a loss.

Firstly, strike a balance between branding and product sales. If the promotion is more focused towards branding, one can end up with nothing on paper.

If one has a small business, with low or no sales happening, holiday deals might seem to be a good idea to drive traffic and sales. More often than not, as soon as the deal expires, the traffic vanishes and might not return year-round. Strategic planning for medium-term is a must.

Festivals and other holidays being a great time to connect with your audience are to be handled carefully. One should avoid PR blunders due to overlooking of how the seasonal promotion might hurt someone’s sentiment. Generally, this happens when audience characteristics are overlooked and a sloppy seasonal promotion is created. In the cases where these promotions are made to spark a controversy, it is always risky as controversies are uncontrollable. Always stay away from being too funny, use hashtags after giving proper thought and stay away from risky associations.

Payment Methods 101

Ecommerce has grown exponentially in the recent years, fueled by growth in number of mobile devices and increased internet connectivity around the world.

Acceptance to new technologies is high and increasing, mostly driven by the millennials. Ecommerce growth has also led to expansion in spectrum of products or services available online. International buying and selling has also risen, with giants such as Alibaba bringing international sales services to new heights.

Among everything, Payment Methods is one aspect that is often ignored completely. Offering the correct payment method according to your consumer base can do wonders for some.

Abandoned Carts and Payment methods

Ecommerce world sees enough of abandoned carts. Reasons vary from High shipping costs, Trust Issues, Buyer Reluctance and Payment Setup. Payment methods and the way payment interface is setup play a crucial role here.

Characteristics of proper payment interface:

  • Multiple Payment Options
  • Quick Checkout
  • Simple and hassle free workaround
  • Trust on the Interface Service
  • Acceptance of payments from around the world

Multiple Payment Options

International card, Local cards, Wallet cards, Debit, Credit, Gift cards and what not, most popular websites support multitude of Payment options these days to maximize payment acceptance.

Popularity of different payment types across the globe often depends on country’s economic climate and history. In some countries, people feel convenient in using their credit or debit card to shop online, while in other countries, bank transfer is a niche method.

Hence, it is unavoidable for payment gateway providers to be as versatile as possible, alongwith ensuring maximum security. Following are some of the payment methods used worldwide, that different payment gateways provide.

1. International Credit and Debit Cards

Credit and Debit cards are the most widely accepted methods of payment locally as well as globally. Hence these are a must for eCommerce environments.

2. E-wallets

E-wallets are like your normal wallets, just digital. It stores virtual money and keeps your personal information safe and secure. It gets enabled with basic unique user info, like email id and lets you send and receive payments via secure paths.

3. Bank Transfers

Bank account holders use bank transfer for online payment and transactions through the internet banking facility provided by their respective banks. For this, customers must get their account authorized by the bank.

4. Local Bank Cards and Pre-paid Cards

Local cards work in the same way as international Cards. Pre-paid cards, as the name suggests, allow you to pay using your already stored balance.

5. Direct Debit and Direct Credit

Direct Debit is an instruction from customer’s side to concerned bank to deduct pre-specified amount of balance from cardholder’s account.

Direct Credit is a simple and secure service that is used by customers worldwide to perform various kind of transactions.

6. Cash Alternatives

Using cash alternatives is generally a safe, secure and reliable method of undergoing transactions. This is a very wide area dominant in various sectors.

The basic forms of cash alternative may include options like reward points, gift cards, credits, etc which enable customers to pay these in place of real cash. Cash alternatives hold some constant value for exchange of cash that remains same till the end of its exhaustion.

Any standard store should incorporate some or the other card based payment method, by integrating a payment gateway offered locally. This is necessary for any store, but might not be sufficient for all.

 

Easy Setup of Payment method

The service one chooses must have support for the ecommerce platform in usage. Availability of plugins or extensions makes setup easy. Also, service may be chosen which has no recurring payment charges or upfront charges. This makes usage of multiple payment options cost effective.

Trust on Service

Payment service chosen must be from a trusted provider. Users are always reluctant to enter card details on third-party websites using inline payment options or payment service that is unheard of.

Popular payment options such as PayPal, Amazon Pay or Apple Pay can simply be chosen as one of the primary payment options.

Quick / Streamlined Checkout

No one likes filling endless forms at the checkout, with personal, shipping and billing information and card details. These forms, added with the earlier steps involving choosing shipping method and shipping address make checkout a tedious process.

Payment services like PayPal or Amazon reduce these steps manyfold. All the user details are available at their end and one just has to choose from any of the saved payment options. The process often becomes streamlined and one-step.

Any standard store should incorporate some or the other form of card based payment method, by integrating a payment gateway offered locally. This is necessary for any store, but might not be sufficient for all. Before continuing, let’s have our basics brushed up on payment methods.

Payment Categories Chart

Primary Payment Methods

It goes without saying that at least few of the primary methods must be incorporated into any given store. They are the ones that most standard users will be looking for.

Card Based

Card payments have specific regulations in some countries and in most cases, standard debit cards are to be manually activated for international payments. It is wise to use a locally available card payment solution if majority of users are local. Even if that’s not the case, extra local payment option is recommended.

Service Based

In most cases, external service is used for payments. Such services offer standard payment modes such as Card payments, along with added services such as bank link, wallet and access to service ecosystem.

PayPal

PayPal is used by millions all over the world, with 188 million users as of 2016. Since its launch in 1999, it has gradually become leader in payment services. It is a must for any store or service, local or international. It has zero setup charges. PayPal has recently had many changes to maximize card acceptance.

[Note: PayPal uses international payment standards. In countries such as India, extra security implementations such as Verified by Visa may cause payment failures]

PayPal offers linking the account with bank to send back any received amount back to the bank. One can also store multiple cards and link multiple banks.

Amazon Pay

Amazon has emerged as a key player in e-commerce. It has a vast user-base. Amazon Pay enables one to avail any of the payment methods that are accessible through Amazon. This includes any of the saved cards, wallet balance or bank. Amazon Pay has active apps / plugins for popular platforms such as Shopify or woo-commerce.

2Checkout

2Checkout is one of the old and widely used payment gateways. It accepts payments in PayPal, Debit and Credit card and has a Shopify extension. 2Checkout has 16 years of working and works in most countries.

Honorable mentions: Authorise.Net, SecurePay, PaySimple, FastCharge, Payza

Based on preference one should choose at least one card based and one service based Payment Gateway. The above listed services are suggestive and one should choose based on consumer demographics and business type.

Cash on Delivery may be used when selling physical products, upon integration with respective courier service.

Alternate Payment Methods

Alternate payment methods are on the rise. Users normally have accounts on multiple different services, such as wallet based services. More often than not, someone might just buy something just to avail the wallet credit.

Take a scenario for example where one has a Gaming retail website. G2A is a huge platform for buying/selling game titles, and it makes sense to use their payment gateway on your Gaming website.

Many services here offer themselves as secondary option in cases where primary payment option has failed.

Service Based

Apple pay

Apple has a gigantic ecosystem and is widely used. Apple pay is already used by millions, and they are now pushing more for app, store and mobile based payments. It can accept credit card and wallet based payments from Apple devices. It works on Safari web browsers in iOS and Mac, with extensions for multiple platforms such as Shopify, WooCommerce etc.

Apple Pay offers one click Touch ID based payment. This makes the checkout hassle free and increases conversion rate. Not to mention the increased exposure to Apple ecosystem. Though it is relatively new, it is reliable and trustworthy for most.

Skrill

Skrill is a payment service based in UK with increased focus on international payments and money transfers. The costs for international payments are low. Also multitudes of payment options are available. There has been some speculation over trustworthiness of the service, but its payment gateway has been integrated by many global brands such as Facebook and Ebay.

Bank Based

Dwolla

Founded in 2008, Dwolla offers online payment system and mobile payment networks.

Dwolla is known for providing service containing APIs to use ACH system that use white label. Its white lable services expand from payouts to include instant bank authorization for debiting bank accounts.

Digital Currency Based

Digital currencies are virtual tokens that have value due to market capitalization and the technology behind them. Digital currencies are not linked to any bank or government, nor can they be regulated. There has been vigorous investment in Digital Currencies after 2015, with prices rising exponentially.

Bitcoin is one of the first crypto-currencies, introduced in 2009. Currently its value maxed out at around 5000$ per Bitcoin. If one is speculative about the stability, yes, prices are volatile.

But there are payment services that can take in Bitcoins and give USD, EUR or any other currency of the same value. With billions of dollars of capitalization and exponential growth of the Digital Currencies, it is undeniably given that they will be accepted widely in the future.

Even today, many popular services such as distribution platform Steam, Universities and many ecommerce platforms are accepting Bitcoins. Services such as BitPay and Coinbase are available to accept Bitcoin or similar payments with plugins/extensions available to integrate them into popular platforms like Shopify or WordPress.

Have you used any of the above mentioned payment gateways? How was your experience? Feel free to drop your views in the comment section.