EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 3084 - June 11, 2013     2 of 4

Five Ecommerce Tips for Small Merchants

By Greg Holden

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Ecommerce is always changing, and much of the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) held in Chicago last week featured new approaches to marketing, ecommerce and fulfillment. Many involved expensive reorganization and reeducation for large businesses. But there were also some ideas that any business, no matter how small and cash-strapped, could implement right away.

I went around the exhibition space and asked representatives of the many Internet business providers for their best tip for small business owners to boost business and increase traffic to their websites.

Tip #1: Be Smart about Email Marketing
"One tip would be to make better use of your email program," says Karen Greenberg, Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development with ecommerce provider FitforCommerce. "Email is still very effective and it is really inexpensive. Your best customer is the one who just bought something from you. If you're an online businessperson, you know who that is. Keep slicing and dicing your email list so you understand what customer segments respond to different types of emails. Make sure your email program is healthy, not just the way that they are gathering emails, but understanding who their customer is and understanding what business communications they can market to that customer more effectively."

In other words, some customers respond to coupons; some respond to newsletters; some respond to contests. Take the time to know who those customers are and schedule the right communications to them.

Tip #2: Offer Accuracy and Speed
Brenda Le, Senior Marketing Manager with Webgility, emphasized accuracy when it comes to shipping and merchandise. One mistake can make a huge difference.

"In 2013, small businesses are looking to expand, and when they do, it's easier to make mistakes," Le said. "Make sure your inventory is integrated with software that pulls all your orders in. Make sure your bookkeeping is correct, your inventory is correct, and your shipping is fast. It's all about accuracy and speed, which contribute to good customer service. If you have a small staff, you need to make sure the pieces are all put together. Ideally, you'll pull all your stores onto one ecommerce platform so you can manage it all."

Many of the exhibitors at IRCE, including Webgility, help businesses manage multiple online and brick-and-mortar presences. But there are still lots of things managers can do themselves.

Tip #3: Show Up in Local Search
Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer with SEO agency RKG, emphasized the importance of local search for businesses that have a brick-and-mortar presence or an address from which they do business. "When people search for local results, make sure you show up in local search. Validate your business with Google Local. Google+ has a local feature as well and that's good because it's what Google's going to be doing with that in the future."

Tip #4: Use Social Channels for Customer Service
Kurt Peters, Editor in Chief of Internet Retailer magazine, said all businesses have to have a "laser focus" on their social media presence, and think about using it for customer service. Forty-seven percent of all social media users have used a social channel for customer service, he said, while 60 percent of users ages 18 to 24 have used social for customer service.

He added a tip that small businesses can implement easily: "Monitor customer review sites and respond to comments. Don't let customers be in control of the conversation."

Tip #5: Show Customers You Want to Make the World a Better Place
In a featured address, former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is an advisor to Google and sits on the board of Apple, spoke of the influence special interests have on politicians. "Politicians spend five hours a day raising money to influence special interests." He urged Internet companies to work with politicians to change the system. He suggested that if ecommerce businesses and marketplaces take a stand and get political, consumers will respond.

"People want to use their purchasing dollars to make the world a better place," he said. "The world is making your opportunities grow. We are connected not only with our dollars and our heads but with our hearts."

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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