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The Art of Growing Your eCommerce Sales in 2016

It’s more important than ever to have an omni-channel strategy that expands your business’ reach and invest a little time in your eCommerce strategy.

Did you ever have a Bonsai tree when they were all the rage? The word Bonsai describes the Japanese art of growing artificially dwarfed trees and shrubs in pots. It’s a relaxing pastime, but it seems many wholesale distributors have been treating their business growth like that of a Bonsai. They’ve been keeping it stunted by not taking advantage of the very best fertiliser you could add to your business mix – an excellent eCommerce channel.

Buying behaviours have changed significantly over the last decade and companies who already have an online presence are seeing significant increases in sales as customers take advantage of easily jumping online to order what they need. As this shift continues, it’s more important than ever to have an omni-channel strategy that expands your business’ reach and invest a little time feeding your eCommerce strategy in particular.

Why not make your final resolution for 2016 to break out of that cramped Bonsai pot and grow your eCommerce sales? In the final instalment of our blog series “Top Five New Year’s Resolutions for 2016”, we’ll wrap up with some top tips on how to support the flourishing growth of your eCommerce channel over the next 12 months.

1. Zen and the Art of Balancing User and Brand Experiences

When creating an eCommerce platform, it’s easy to become focused on only one aspect, such as delivering a great user experience. This definitely helps keep customers engaged, but you also want to tie that experience back to your brand for overall consistency. It makes your business persona all the more identifiable, regardless of which channel a customer uses to reach your business. This is where the balancing act comes in.

The evolution of retail over just the past decade has transformed the consumer experience, and in turn expectations, for both online and bricks-and-mortar stores. In 2016, customers will demand B2B and B2C businesses deliver an exciting, yet seamless online purchasing experience. With so many businesses out there having invested in creating an engaging online experience with a strong focus on providing information and value, customers are becoming more unwilling to battle through an experience that doesn’t measure up. When they can quickly and easily move on to a competitor’s website or app, providing an excellent online platform for customers is now paramount.

eCommerce is no longer limited to a simple desktop established website; online stores need to work effectively and responsively across multiple platforms such as computers, tablets and mobiles to cater to consumers and business/procurement managers who constantly switch between devices. Whether your customer is walking between warehouses or stockrooms, on the bus/train to and from work or relaxing on the lounge with a wine in-hand, they can now purchase goods whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for them. That’s why it’s critical that ease of use is a top priority.

You’ll hear UX as a term thrown around when referring to User Experience and there are people out there who specialise in exactly that. However, you can start with taking some simple steps such as having a friend or family member outside of your business use your website and give you honest feedback on how easy it was to use, if menu items were where they expected, whether the sign up and ordering process made sense, etc. Often, the people within your business will be familiar with your website and therefore not provide an objective opinion. There are also Usability Testing organisations who can help you with more structured approaches and include activities like A/B testing and eye tracking. In short, the easier you can make it for the buyers regardless of where they are to complete their order and get back to their other business tasks, the easier it will be to have a happy, returning customer.

Your business’ online store is also more than just a store. It’s a persona and an extension of your brand. Your eCommerce strategy should therefore deliver a consistent brand experience; one that your customers have come to expect from you, whether it’s in store, in person or over the phone. Make sure you carry this same experience over to your online store and continue building that feeling of familiarity with your brand. This includes everything from your website design, images and messages used to colour schemes and even purchasing processes, delivery services and shipping/packaging options. Your customer should feel at home in an online environment, as though they’ve just popped in to your physical store.

If you already have a website and are looking to further enhance it, also think about functionality that could really help your customers out. Integration with your backend system or ERP, for example, can help you deliver real-time information on stock availability, order history and quantity / break pricing (which can even be applied to specific customers) if you have the right system in place.

2. The Harmony of One Platform

Wouldn’t you love to jump into 2016 spending less time organising data and more time using that data to make wise and informed business decisions to improve your eCommerce strategy? As consumer habits continue to move to the online marketplace, it’s not just about embracing the change, but also about staying ahead of the curve.

A lot of businesses still run multiple back end systems; for example, one system for accounting, another for inventory and yet another for CRM. If you’re looking at creating an excellent online platform, a really good place to start is by looking at the systems and processes which are going to tie into it. Are you able to leverage all the benefits of integration and provide real-time data to your customers with the current back end systems in place?

You’ll want to consider whether you can integrate your online orders with multiple channels such as web, POS, call centre, mobile, etc and manage them all from the one centralised system. This not only helps to provide a consistent experience for customers, but also keeps all parties informed of order and account statuses; not just your customers, but also internal staff, suppliers and partners.

Simplify your internal processes and exceed client expectations at each stage of the purchasing funnel with user-friendly transactions, faster order fulfilment and a consistent and simple return goods process. If you’re using the right ERP system, it’s all achievable and will save you time, money and a whole lot of headache in getting the right information together and managing your business and its online presence harmoniously.

3. Administration Automation

2016 is the year to start working smarter, not harder. And you can further grow your eCommerce reach and profitability by looking at which aspects of your day to day administration can be automated. If you’re receiving orders via the phone, email, or by reps on the road, an eCommerce channel can remove manual intervention and allow both customers and partners to self-serve. This also means lessening the requirement for additional admin staff down the track.

Is your business still creating orders manually each time your stock is running low? There’s an easier way to achieve improved stock turnover and reduce overhead costs with the right inventory management. Use a smart business software solution that provides complete visibility of your stock position, automations to keep stock levels optimised and manages re-ordering from your suppliers. You can simply set your preferences and stop spending time on those menial day-to-day tasks. Notifications can even be set up for peace of mind that you’re staying informed of re-ordering activities as they happen.

You can also make huge improvements to your customer service by automating order acknowledgements, emailing out delivery timeframe expectations, setting up payment reminders or even just scheduling follow up communications to ask if your customers were happy with your products or services. Not to mention eliminating human error during the process and reducing your overall processing timeframes.

There are so many possibilities for removing manual administration tasks and taking advantage of a system that can save you time and effort.

4. Finding Patterns in the Big Data Chaos

Big data is a term that means large sets of data which, when organised the right way, can reveal underlying patterns. The data collected from your digital touchpoints is hugely important in understanding your customers and, in turn, your sales strategy. Each time a customer, or potential customer, provides their details it’s an opportunity to get to know who they are, what kinds of products they buy and how much they’re likely to spend, ultimately to allow you to understand how to grow their lifetime customer value with you. Make sure you’re not just capturing the data, but are also able to analyse and report on it in a way that makes sense and is easy for everyone in your business to digest. If buyer trends aren’t easy to identify, they’ll likely get lost in your big sets of data. Have a look at how you’re currently running your reporting to identify trends and see whether it stacks up.

If you’re really looking to make things easy for yourself and reduce the time you spend running reports and collating data, make sure you’re using a system that allows regular reports to be scheduled and sent to you. All you need to do is some initial set up, specify what kinds of data you want to see, how it should be sorted, summed or simplified and leave it up to your back end business software system to send out reports to you regularly. Ideally, you should also be able to pull together your marketing, online sales and inventory data to see if there are relationships between the different trends you’re seeing. For example, did move a lot of one product line after a successful marketing campaign? Are there some products performing better online than in your physical store?

You can also see a wealth of data about your customer demographics such as the age groups they fall into, job roles and industries or geographic concentrations. Businesses commonly rely on marketing databases and social media channels for these types of information, but even if you’re just focused on having a great eCommerce site, you can still get as much of this data as you need by using sign up forms, order details and surveys.

Pretty quickly, you’ll start seeing patterns which you can use to adjust and improve your sales and marketing strategies. And what could be more valuable in today’s business environment than having the agility and business intelligence to adapt to buyer behaviours as they continue to evolve?

5. Giving Something Back

Once you have all the other important pieces in place such as a balanced eCommerce experience, a harmonious single platform, time-saving automation and the data and reporting you need, it’s time to focus on the value you’re going to provide back to your customers. This includes helpful information, opinions on your products and services and details that may be hard for them to find anywhere else.

We’ve talked about changes to buyer behaviour already, but what does that really mean? Well, it used to be that a customer who had questions about a product or service would contact your company and speak with a sales person about the options, prices and recommendations. But with the explosion of the internet, mobile and tablet use and the saturation of web connected technologies in our everyday lives, it’s become a whole lot easier for customers to access this information themselves. It’s been shown from a number of independent research sources that buyers are now spending 60-80% of their entire buying experience researching products and services on their own, before even speaking with a sales person.

So what can you do to have the edge against competitors and make sure customers come to you when they’re ready to talk? The best way is by anticipating and providing what they need, before they need it. Give your customers details on your products that may be hard to find elsewhere, full specifications and comparisons with similar products, product guidelines and images galore. You can also exceed their expectations with short demonstration videos of your products and reviews which compare products and provide an honest opinion on the pros and cons.

The objective is to make yourself not only a supplier of products, but a valuable and trusted resource that customers can turn to when making their purchasing decisions. The easier you can make it for your customer, the easier it will be to keep them coming back for more.

In 2016, we’ll certainly continue seeing buyer behaviors mature and further utilize the technologies they have at their fingertips. Is your business going to be a Bonsai, stuck in a pot with little growth, or are you going to use the power of a great eCommerce channel to wow your customers and continue to feed your business growth?

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