dark·​room | \ ˈdärk-ˌrüm  , -ˌru̇m \

noun

 

: A darkroom refers to a space where art and science come together to create something complete before premiering to the public. It’s where process and creativity combine to form a final product.

 

This is why we’ve chosen it as our name.

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How Ecommerce Companies Can Grow During a Recession

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on June 19, 2020.

In recent days, economists determined that the United States has entered a recession that actually began in February. And while much of the focus over the past few months has been on businesses adapting to remote work environments, there is no denying that digital brands have also been affected.

Many ecommerce companies have experienced significant disruptions to their supply chain or faced declining sales in their product categories as cash-strapped consumers focus on necessities.

The impact of this downturn will likely be felt for a long time to come, and ecommerce companies will continue facing new changes that can either serve as opportunities for massive growth or become potential stumbling blocks. But by implementing these few key strategies, you can reduce your risk and continue to scale and succeed. 

1. Create a strong brand built on a solid marketing strategy

A strong brand is the foundation on which everything else is built. The companies that continue to perform well during a recession are those that have been able to effectively communicate what makes them better than their competitors. They have a strong, easily identifiable identity that helps form an emotional connection with customers.

While certain aspects of your messaging may change to reflect current events, the core identity of your ecommerce company should not deviate. You should still show how your products are better than your competitors — whether you’re differentiating on price, product quality or something else entirely.

As Wendy Culpepper writes for Customer Think, “During and after a recession-like event, your brand relevancy and purpose will tap into a consumer’s emotions and give you the opportunity to grab or retain the brand loyalty that consumers will still be providing to the lucky recipients out there. Ensure your messaging, value proposition, benefits and actions reflect your brand purpose to garner the full value of the consumer at a time when their emotions will be heightened and have a lasting impact on their behaviors and the brands they choose for the long-term.”

Bolster your branding efforts with SEO, content marketing and email marketing. These digital tools are highly effective at communicating your brand values and reaching your customers in places where they are more ready to buy.

2. Find new ways to provide value to your customers

Many customers are currently less willing to make purchases than they normally would. A global research study from McKinsey found that 70 percent of customers expected to adjust their financial habits for four months or more — and this was in June, several weeks after many areas began to lift stay-at-home restrictions.

While these specific changes are having a greater impact on brick-and-mortar retailers, overall consumer spending tends to decline during any period of uncertainty. To offset this, ecommerce retailers must find new ways to provide more immediate value to their customers.

During low-revenue periods, you may actually be well served by offering special sales or discounts on products. You might consider waiving shipping fees or tossing in a free bonus item with purchases. Focusing on the price point can help relieve customer anxiety at point of sale.

For the most effective results, ecommerce brands should target their already-existing customers. The oft-quoted Harvard Business Review study revealing that it costs five times as much to acquire new customers as it does to retain existing customers is especially crucial to keep in mind during economic hardships.

3. Reduce overhead and strengthen your margins

It can be tempting to pursue aggressive expansion when times are good, but ecommerce companies should always cast one eye on the future. Keeping your operations lean will leave your company better equipped to survive when prolonged financial setbacks occur.

Finding ways to reduce fixed costs and overhead is key to long-term survival. For example, many ecommerce brands use a drop-shipping model so they don’t have to spend money on warehouse storage.

Outsourcing certain tasks can also reduce your overhead. Marketing and finances are often outsourced to external agencies or freelancers. The monthly rate for an advertising agency’s services will likely be much less than the cost of hiring several full-time employees. For tasks that don’t require a full-time workload, a freelancer can offer services as needed, rather than being a constant fixed expense.

Effective reduction of your overhead means you won’t need to sell as many products to make a profit. Or you could lower prices to increase your competitive advantage. Even if sales slow down, you can maintain positive margins. With any such move, however, make sure that it doesn’t reduce your ability to provide quality products to your customers.

There is no telling what new challenges and opportunities the future might bring for ecommerce companies. While you may not be able to predict every change that comes along, you can reduce your risk of getting blindsided by taking these key steps in advance to streamline daily operations and strengthen your brand.

Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Why You Should Bet On the Future of Ecommerce

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on May 22, 2020.

Social-distancing measures and business closures have significantly disrupted consumer spending habits. While this has created a period of uncertainty for many, ecommerce has instead been trending in a positive direction.

The buying habits that have been changing are unlikely to suddenly shift back to what they once were, even after things “get back to normal.” Because of this, now is the time to bet on ecommerce. Its future influence will be far greater than it has ever been.

Ecommerce purchases are accelerating

While marketers have been touting the growth of ecommerce for years, in reality, it has always been in the minority of total retail sales. Globally, Statista reports that ecommerce made up a mere 14.1 percent of volume. In the United States, that total was actually even lower, with the U.S. Department of Commerce reporting adjusted ecommerce retail sales for Q4 2019 making up 11.4 percent of total retail.

The large-scale closing down of the brick-and-mortar economy has dramatically altered this picture. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that for March 2020, retail sales fell 6.2 percent year over year. Some retailers, like clothing stores, saw sales fall by more than 50 percent.

At the same time, retailers with a strong ecommerce platform in place have seen their in-store sales replaced by digital purchases. Digital Commerce 360 reports that Target saw digital sales grow 275 percent since April, helping it be on pace for its best quarter since 2000 — even with in-store purchases declining.

This will be a lasting change

While some believe that these shifts are only temporary, consumer polling indicates that this shift to ecommerce is here to stay. Buyers enjoy the convenience of online shopping, and many will still be reluctant to return to old shopping habits even after restrictions are lifted.

An in-depth customer survey by PYMNTS reveals, “More than half of the consumers (52 percent) who shifted to digital grocery shopping say they won’t go back to their old ways of shopping, as online delivery and curbside pickup are gaining ground. And 60 percent of the consumers who shifted to digital to shop for things other than grocery items say the same.”

While the reasons why someone prefers digital shopping may vary from person to person, the end result is the same. Retailers that do not have an ecommerce system in place could lose significant revenue in the years to come as buyer habits become increasingly digitally oriented.

Online acquisition channels are growing

As more brands shift to a digital-first strategy in an effort to weather the storm, online acquisition channels are having a field day. MarketWatch reports that total messaging increased on Facebook by 50 percent in countries experiencing significant coronavirus issues.

It’s not all good news, though, as the social media giant is expected to lose money from travel companies and others pulling back on their advertising budgets. However, this is creating opportunities for other brands to step in and market their products or services to a broader online audience.

History shows that continuing to advertise during a recession can have big results. In the late 1920s, Kellogg and Post were in tight competition for the breakfast cereal market. Then, the Great Depression hit.

As the New Yorker explains, “Post did the predictable thing: It reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies … By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost 30 percent, and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.”

Strong marketing on digital platforms will allow entrepreneurs to reach audiences where they are currently spending their time, and stand out during a time of reduced competition.

Recessions spark entrepreneurship

A Wall Street Journal survey revealed that the unemployment rate in the United States might reach 17 percent by June. Millions are out of work as companies furlough staffers in an attempt to survive.

While this certainly paints a bleak picture, it is also worth considering how the extra time — and the overall effects of these disruptions — are creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded individuals. Economic downturns reveal new ways to disrupt the marketplace. They can also help entrepreneurs identify ways to streamline their business models.

Following the Great Recession, a University of Missouri study found that rates of entrepreneurship increased significantly, following a pattern that had emerged after similar recession periods. Whether the result of opportunity or necessity, the increased entrepreneurial spark led to disruptive businesses that might never have existed previously.

Savvy entrepreneurs are examining the opportunities and vulnerabilities that are emerging. If they’re paying attention, we can expect to see many more digitally oriented businesses in the future. From ecommerce to remote work, embracing these changes will likely lead to major market disruptions.

Preparing for a digital-first future

While ecommerce entrepreneurs haven’t been entirely immune from our twin public health and economic crises, the overall impact has clearly accelerated our transition away from brick-and-mortar retail. By making an active investment in ecommerce now, you will be better positioned to achieve successful market results in the future.

Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

How Ecommerce Companies Can Continue Engaging New Customers

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on April 30, 2020.

With most states under some kind of stay-at-home order, many businesses have been forced to close brick-and-mortar locations. Even when stores are staying open, foot traffic is falling as customers stay home and order online in an effort to stop the spread.

The results are significant. Data from Emarsys and GoodData show that for the week ending April 10, ecommerce revenue in the United States is up 42 percent year over year. Many countries have seen even greater growth.

Needless to say, now is the time to optimize your digital storefront or get online if you haven’t yet. Companies that are already set up for ecommerce are naturally in a better position, but every retail brand should look into how it can sell its products and services online and better communicate the option to its customers.

An audit of your ecommerce site is a great starting point. Are your calls-to-action in the right place? Are you focusing and describing the benefits of your product? Does your site take too long to load? Even seemingly minor things can have a big impact. Neil Patel reports that 40 percent of web users abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load.

Even if your site is already in good shape, it may be helpful to make adjustments that reflect the current circumstance. Keeping customers informed about how the shutdown is affecting your product availability, shipping speed and more will give them greater confidence when they make a purchase.

Adjusting your marketing strategy will also prove beneficial. Doubling down on existing customers that have purchased from you in the past and are familiar with your brand is of paramount importance in uncertain economic conditions.

Paid social and email marketing should take precedence, especially if you need to communicate certain offers that may entice previous customers. Customer-acquisition costs could also rise during this time. A smart strategy to maintain cash flow is to extend previous customers new, exciting offers to help retain them.

Making an appealing pitch 

While many people are cutting back on their spending habits, almost everyone is still buying necessities that keep them happy and healthy while at home. Unsurprisingly, food and other household essentials have seen the greatest online sales growth. In fact, an eMarketer analysis of online grocery sales found a 183 percent increase in March 2020 compared to the year before.

Certain companies may be facing the kinds of difficult conditions that prevent them from acquiring new customers, brands specializing in meal prep, beverages and other food-delivery essentials could find themselves in the perfect situation to scoop up market share and acquire new customers. Home-improvement brands have also seen major sales increases as people look for activities to stay productive while stuck at home. Video games have been moving in record numbers as well.

When promoting your ecommerce brand, keep customers’s current habits in mind. Whether you’re giving them something productive to do or helping them stay entertained, this focused messaging will help illustrate the essential nature of your products. And try and bypass stay-at-home-specific messaging to avoid inundating customers with fear-fomenting sentiments.

Remain aware of potential challenges

Even the most digitally savvy brands are subject to risk during this time. In an interview with CNBC, analyst Oscar Orozco warned, “Even though consumers are buying more products online, digitally native brands should anticipate hardships in the coming months … Sales will continue to shift from nice-to-have products to must-have products.”

Supply-chain challenges may also pose a threat. Many manufacturers are shifting to making face masks, ventilators and other necessary supplies, which could impact your own production and, thus, your ability to advertise. The increased volume of online orders means shipping delays for many brands.

Keep such risks in mind as you enhance your ecommerce efforts. A proactive approach to such challenges will help you better communicate with your customers and adapt to potentially changing preferences.

Getting through and growing stronger

While this is a period of tremendous challenges for retailers, it is also a clear reflection of just how important ecommerce has become. Brands that truly focus on optimizing their digital experience and reaching customers online will be better able to continue driving revenue. Better yet, they will also be in a stronger position when society eventually gets back to normal. Your efforts to shift strategies and improve your ecommerce options will leave you better prepared for a future in which online sales continue to play a major role.

Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

What COVID-19 Means for Ecommerce Startups

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on April 3, 2020.

A lot of small businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its global spread. I wanted to give a firsthand account of how this situation has personally impacted my company and those I work with, as well as offer some perspective to help businesses move forward.

I am the cofounder of Darkroom, a digital-marketing agency that helps ecommerce companies build their brands and drive revenue through online channels. We also work extensively with sourcing networks and are in the process of launching a luxury sneaker brand called NERA.

I was one of the early alarmists among my co-workers and friends when COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan. I was aware of how lucky we were to have avoided a total SARS outbreak back in 2002.

The writing was on the wall….

However, this didn’t keep me from traveling to Ukraine and Italy in February, as COVID-19 still seemed to be isolated to China. I shot an ad campaign at our shoe factory in Italy and finalized our production run. After that trip, however, the virus quickly escalated. Italy saw a tremendous spike in cases just four days after we had departed.

Now Italy has been under total lockdown for weeks, our factory has shut down and the United States is racking up cases at an alarming rate — particularly in my home state of New York. I have seen businesses I work with go from doing well to rethinking their entire operation, while others have gone from good to great.

Consumer sentiments have changed drastically. Luxury-goods clients have slashed creative budgets. Layoffs have begun. A lot of people have asked me how bad this is going to get. There are a couple things we must remember moving forward.

Nice-to-have products must adapt to survive

In economic downturns, consumer demand for “nice-to-have” products goes down as buyers focus on their more basic needs. Health, wellness and safety — products that fit into the lower parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — become the top priority.

For venture-backed and bootstrapped startups either pre-launch or in their initial stages, the coronavirus situation may necessitate a shift in strategy. Strands Hair Care, a direct-to-consumer custom shampoo and conditioner brand backed by data, is one example of a startup that is adapting to changing consumer preferences.

Eric Delapenha, the company’s founder and CEO, explained to me during a recent phone call that he has been very cautious with the coronavirus situation: “The way we position Strands will be paramount if we are going to go through with this. If we shut everything down right now, it would be a travesty.”

The crisis has prompted them to highlight specific aspects of the brand that are relevant to new consumer norms, and they’ve begun to test ads that focus more on the consumer and their need for self-care from the comfort of their home.

“Our customers still want to look and feel good,” says Delapenha. “Our messaging has not changed that much; we’re just highlighting different needs. We’re focusing on how to do that now.”

Overseas supply chains are bound for disruption

The World Health Organization has confirmed COVID-19 cases in almost every country. If you source products from particularly hard-hit areas, expect delays or timeline changes associated with producing or shipping as the situation evolves, if this has not already been the case.

Some factories will try to stay open. Despite the government-mandated, non-essential-labor shutdown in Italy, many factories (including our own) remained open through late March until the country finally closed them down. This will likely start occurring in other parts of the world.

Factories that insist on staying open will still experience issues. Facilities that insist on taking orders may not be able to fulfill orders and instead may be relying on immediate cash flow to hold them over.

A factory can’t move into production if virtually all of their raw material suppliers are shut down. Delays are inevitable, and as a small business, it’s important to predict these issues and make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, smaller businesses will most certainly be placed behind larger corporations for order fulfillment when production ramps up again. At our factory in Italy, which produces for some of the most notable European fashion houses, we will be considered lower priority in terms of production, potentially causing further delays.

In times like these, production diversification has distinct advantages. For those that have not already diversified, it’ll be important to prepare for when things do get back to normal.

Create new opportunities in select markets, and diversify production

COVID-19 has resulted in accelerated customer acquisition as market conditions favor certain brands. For instance, there has been a significant uptick in cannabis sales, as California labeled cannabis companies “essential businesses” for their health benefits. In this case, self-quarantine causes customers stuck at home to try new products, especially those with positive mind and body attributes.

Michael Kamins, a partner at OpenNest and the founder of Humakina, expressed to me how even a positive market impact necessitates a heightened sense of preparedness for pre-launch brands: “We have been adapting our launch strategy for a COVID world. There have been no holdups in our supply chain thus far, and we feel very fortunate for this. But we understand that the rapidly evolving developments might cause negative impacts on supply chains at any time. We are continuously monitoring the situation, assessing the impacts and preparing actions to respond.”

A fairly diversified supply chain also helped Humakina. When critical suppliers in China shut down, U.S.-based operations continued. Open communication with multiple stateside suppliers helps them prepare for additional shutdowns, a practice other businesses should emulate coming out of this crisis.

Now’s the time to move forward with confidence

Things will eventually go back to normal as infection rates decrease, markets rebound and people go back to work. However, the timing of this rebound is still unclear and might not occur for several months. In the interim, brands that don’t fit into those immediate needs discussed above may need to alter the way they communicate value propositions to their customers and look for opportunities to capitalize on changing consumer preferences.

There is a lot of uncertainty right now for small businesses, but with that, there is tremendous opportunity. Stay healthy, and use this period to your advantage to consider how you can improve your operations for the future.

Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Benefits of Shopify: What We’ve Learned From Experience

With over 800,000 stores using their platform and over $100 billion in sales flowing through Shopify every day, it’s fast become one of the largest and best e-commerce platforms on the market.

We’ve dealt with quite a few different back-end frameworks, and Shopify is one that we’ve really clicked with. It’s a very capable framework that makes things easy for both the end user and the people behind the scenes. Here’s why we love Shopify.

Add-On Modules

Like another well-known web staple, WordPress, Shopify has a wide array of add-ons available that create extra functionality while working seamlessly with the platform. Picking and choosing the features you need is easy, and there’s an active community that can help if things somehow go awry.

From Facebook selling integration to bulk tag editing, there’s an app out there that can do what your business is looking for. And if you do have someone on staff who can code, it’s possible to dig into the back end too, meaning you can extend and advance your site even more.

Ease of Use

Shopify is one of the easiest e-commerce frameworks to use.

There are other options on the market, but they often take a level of fine-tuning on the back end that Shopify doesn’t. Shopify provides the software and the hosting, leaving you free to focus on the parts of your business that matter the most to you and your customers.

We’ve used Shopify with a number of people at various levels of tech-savviness. Shopify allows people who aren’t that comfortable with programming or troubleshooting to be able to understand their e-commerce platform.

They take the guesswork out of it, and since they do all the maintenance and upgrades themselves you don’t have to worry about clients forgetting about patches or updates.

Point of Sale

One of the biggest selling points for clients with both brick and mortar and e-commerce is the point of sale functionality that’s built in to Shopify.

When you’re dealing with a retailer that’s both physical and digital, the more integrated you can make everything, the better off you are. Creating a seamless experience between the two makes it easier for both the client and their customers. If you’re struggling with point of sale integration, using Shopify can help get you off on the right foot.

Marketplace Integration

Forty-eight percent of people trying to buy online now begin a search for products on a marketplace like Amazon. That makes marketplace integration more key than it’s ever been. If you’re not putting your products up on the major e-commerce marketplaces, you’re losing out on sales that could be yours with slightly more work.

Shopify helps with that. You can sell across multiple marketplaces seamlessly—it’s like having multiple storefronts. No matter where customers begin their search for products in their buying journey, you’ll be there front and center.

SEO

Shopify’s integration with SEO is something we’ve really appreciated here at Darkroom. Shopify allows you to customize your SEO everywhere. From product photos to tags, you can set your products up the way you need to and rank quickly on search engines.

There’s also access to advanced analytics built into the platform, so you can see exactly what your store is doing at all times. We love how integrated SEO is with the platform. It’s helped us build up rankings for our customers quickly in a way that other e-commerce platforms just aren’t as good at—even on the most basic version.

Marketing

The analytics tools you use for SEO are just as useful for other aspects of marketing.

With only a little effort, you can figure out where your customers are coming from and what they’re looking at, allowing you to customize your sales funnel and tailor your offerings to fit your audience. Creating a marketing plan for both the short term and the long term is simple with the analytics Shopify offers.

Security and Reliability

Since Shopify is a third-party hosted service, its security and reliability are out of your hands. You don’t have to worry about keeping things locked down—they’ll do it for you. And Shopify does that well.

SSL and PCI compliance are easily doable through the platform, keeping valuable credit card information safe. Add-ons are vetted and screened rigorously before being added to Shopify’s app store, so you don’t have to worry about downloading a plugin that will torpedo your whole site.

There’s also active, quick-responding support, so in the rare case that something does go wrong, it’s a much quicker process to get your store back on its feet than it is with some of the other big e-commerce platforms.

The biggest benefit is that you don’t have to worry about the security so much yourself. Leave it in their capable hands and you can focus on the actual selling part of your business.

There are a host of reasons that we love Shopify, but the biggest one is this: it makes life easier for our clients. It’s scalable, secure and reliable. For the price it does everything that most stores need, and it removes most of the technological burden from the client and places it on Shopify’s shoulders.

We don’t have to worry about teaching a lot of new technology, either …

It’s one of the most seamless “plug-and-play solutions” on the market right now, and we’ve had great success working with clients on Shopify-based stores. So no matter how big or how small your company, Shopify can be a tool that helps you focus on what really matters: growing your business.

It makes the e-commerce side easier, safer, more reliable, and more capable. It lets you integrate all parts of your business together. We’ve seen the benefits for our clients—and they can be yours too, if you decide to take advantage of them. 

Take it from us—it’s worth making the leap.

*Image Credit:

-Featured Image, Unsplash

How to Become a More Skillful E-Commerce Entrepreneur

As Tiger Woods won the 2019 masters, one of his well-known quotes rang true, “No matter how good you get, you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” Even if you have a career as an e-commerce entrepreneur, there’s room to better yourself and your business.

Unfortunately, when you have a large knowledge base and a fair amount of expertise, learning how to become more skillful in your craft can be increasingly difficult. When you’re a leader in your field, it can be challenging to know where to turn for further mentorship and growth. 

Here are some of the most important revelations and pieces of advice that have helped me become a more skillful online entrepreneur:

1. Study the Market 

Markets are always changing and growing. Even if you’re very knowledgeable about e-commerce, there’s always something new you can learn.

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy researching the future of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. DTC companies cut out middlemen, which lowers their costs and allows them to offer their products at attractive prices. 

Casper is one case study of what can be done with DTC. Shoppers have long been underwhelmed with the mattress industry. Buying a new mattress is historically expensive, confusing and stressful. On top of all this, salespeople can be off-putting and pushy. 

To create something radically different, Casper made one, affordable mattress that ships directly to consumers. Casper claimed they only needed one product because their mattress was the best, eliminating the need for choice. Consumers quickly showed that this message resonated with their needs, and Casper achieved $100 million in sales in under two years

2. Continue Refining

Have you ever looked at an online advertisement that seems like it’s been made for you? Although you may think your iPhone’s been listening in on your conversations, well-targeted placements are often the result of niche targeting. 

No matter how long your business has been running, you can always look at your consumers and make sure your advertisements are reaching the right people.

You need specific consumers to know about your product and convert more than once. You should be evaluating market data, your competition and your customers at least monthly to fine-tune your business efforts accordingly.   

3. Continually Invest In Your Team

Sometimes being more skillful means hiring and retaining the right employees to support you and your company. If you don’t have a sound development program created for your workers, it’s time to create one. 

Employee churn is an expensive issue that can take your attention away from operations and hurt your bottom line. For example, replacing a $60,000-salaried employee costs a company about $30,000 to $45,000, which is roughly the expense of hiring and training a replacement. If you lose an executive who’s making $120,000 it’ll cost you around $225,600 to replace him or her. 

Development programs attract and retain great workers. In addition to improving employee satisfaction, development incentives allow you to create promotable employees, eliminating the costs associated with outside recruitment and hiring. 

4. Briefly Revisit Old Opportunities

When you were creating your company, you likely spent many hours choosing where you would sell your product or service. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, deciding whether you’d sell on your own portal or a marketplace was probably a difficult choice. 

However, down the road, chances are you haven’t dedicated any time or thought to altering your platforms. Although you made your original choice for a reason, markets change and buyer preferences might have shifted since you started selling. 

You don’t need to spend an exuberant amount of time looking into it, but thinking about what platforms you should be selling on needs to be reviewed on an annual basis. Similarly, looking back over past decisions to see if any other pivots need to be made annually can only help your company. 

5. Optimize Your Site

Even if your e-commerce platform is successful, you can always modify it to increase sales. First things first, go through your checkout process. Chances are you can make the steps required to purchase simpler. 

If you don’t have a guest checkout, for instance, it’s time you create one. Consumers are hesitant to hand over their contact info and email, especially because they want to avoid pesky email marketing.

Simply requiring someone to give you his or her email to make a purchase may kill the sale. UIE, a research, training and consulting firm that specializes in UX, was able to improve their sales by $300 million when they allowed their customers to complete purchases as guests. 

Every piece of information you require a potential buyer to give you is another requirement that might lead him or her to terminate the purchase. Of course you’ll need a customer’s address to ship the product, but do you really need to know his or her birthday, etc.?

Likely, some categories are extraneous and can be deleted. 

6. Increase Average Order Value

Average order value (AOV) matters.

Once you know your AOV, you can alter pricing and your marketing strategies to increase the average amount shoppers are spending. Although there are several ways to increase the amount people spend per order, upselling is often the most effective way to achieve worthwhile results. 

For companies that offer up-sales, 70-95 of their revenue comes from upselling.

When you convince your customers that a more expensive, better item is what they should buy, you improve your bottom line by increasing your AOV. In addition to upselling, you can use a technique called cross-selling. 

You can often sell additional, complementary products in addition to the original item your customer’s shopping to buy. One real-life example of this is Spinn, a DTC coffee maker and coffee beans company. If you try and buy a bag of coffee on their website, they showcase other options—like a coffee maker that’s available for pre-order—that might go well with your order. 

Don’t Stop Learning

Although Tiger Woods is a somewhat controversial figure, it’s hard to deny his skill when it comes to pushing himself and developing his golf game. Even as an expert in his field, he’s shown that you can continue to grow and achieve more than anyone else thought possible. 

As an entrepreneur, a similar mindset will treat you well. Even if you are established in your industry, you can develop your skills and refine your e-commerce business for the better. 

*Image Credit:

-Featured Image, Unsplash

-Image #1, Core DNA

-Image #2,  User Zoom

How to Choose the Perfect Platform for Your E-Commerce Store

As a busy professional (or so I’d like to think), the tyranny of choice plagues me more than I care to admit. I’m often faced with several solutions to a single problem, each one with its own pros and cons.

Big decisions — like what platform you should choose for your e-commerce store—can consume a lot of your time and energy. Luckily, with the right knowledge, it is possible to make the choice that’s best for your company.

Shopify

Shopify is among the most popular e-commerce platforms worldwide, and for good reason. The Shopify platform was built and designed for online entrepreneurs by e-comm entrepreneurs. With this platform, you’ll have access to seemingly countless apps, plugins, integrations and other personalization features that can help your website stand out from the competition and, more importantly, optimize it for conversions.

This platform continues to surprise me year over year by its improvements (recently, this year at Shopify Unite—their annual conference—they rolled out a new 3D visual graphic and AR product experience as well as increased storefront customization capabilities on their backend content management system). These are all positives for end users, entrepreneurs, and e-commerce enthusiasts looking to improve their shopping experiences and get things done with minimal friction.

Additionally, on other platforms, you may spend hours writing code and programming for different functionalities. With Shopify, you may have to hire a developer for specific business needs or functionalities but you can just as easily work from a template to get your store up and running in no time.  

Of course, all these benefits come at a cost. Shopify charges about $29 monthly for a standard plan—but it is a small price to pay for the value they deliver. Part of  building on Shopify means access to their ecosystem of thousands of applications—some that increase conversions through customer engagement, cart abandonment recovery, and product upsells at checkout (shout-out to my friends over at Carthook). The strength of their content management system and application ecosystem makes managing and growing an online business as easy as is currently possible (from my knowledge). 

To see if Shopify is right for your company, you can take advantage of their free 14-day trial.

You can try a free 15-day trial of BigCommerce to compare the two sites before purchasing.

Magento

To offer all the features that online stores need, Magento can seem somewhat complex to the untrained eye. If you are unwilling to learn a computer language or hire a programmer, Magento might not be the platform for you.

Entrepreneurs who are willing to put in the extra time will fall in love with Magento’s out-of-the-box and add-on features. However, I will say that Magento is better suited for well-established retail stores or merchants with a need for complex and more customizable experiences. Naturally, this comes at a higher cost and maintenance fee. For these reasons, I’d probably recommend Magento for only specific stores that fit the criteria. Even still, I am finding myself migrating more and more stores pre-established on Magento to Shopify just for its ease of use and the growing strength of the Shopify ecosystem.

Another large benefit of Magento is its enhanced security; due to its complexity and special-purpose build, the platform is one of the most secure available. In terms of drawbacks, again, if you’re not a programmer, willing to hire a programmer or going to learn some programming, Magento isn’t the logical choice for you.

WooCommerce

Many first-time business owners are drawn to this website builder because there’s no set monthly subscription fee. WooCommerce is a free plugin that allows WordPress websites (which account for 25% of the web) to become online stores.

That being said, you will likely have to pay for some of the features you’re going to need to have a successful online store. Fortunately, desired plugins are often readily available and well-coded. Still, it’s advisable to know HTML and CSS if you use this platform. Because it is free, its user interface isn’t as optimized as other platforms. 

A major drawback to WooCommerce is that the WordPress backend isn’t as organized as Magento or Shopify because it isn’t specifically designed for high-volume revenue generating e-commerce stores. For these reasons, I normally add WooCommerce onto sites that are not specifically meant for e-commerce—meaning that isn’t their main driver of revenue. For instance, we recently built a beautiful storefront for a pre-launch, posh LA restaurant Violet (the restaurant opens this Fall). The main CTA of the website is to book a table—the main driver of revenue. The restaurant proprietors also wanted us to build a custom cooking class reservation feature—for aspirational or curious cooks who wanted to stay after hours for impromptu cooking classes with celebrity chef Dana Slatkin. Here, we integrated a WooCommerce plugin for the WordPress built site to enable a checkout feature, and voilà, we have online checkout functionality and a perfect use-case for WooCommerce.

Squarespace

If you are searching for an aesthetically pleasing website, Squarespace might be the platform for you. It’s easy to use and makes picking design layouts simple. There are over 100 flexible templates — for desktop and mobile devices — that you can adapt for your needs.

Without knowing a single computer language, it’s possible to create a stunning website on Squarespace. Also, if anything goes wrong, Squarespace is known for timely and professional customer service. It costs $26 or $40 monthly to have a Squarespace online store.

One drawback of Squarespace is that it doesn’t have an app store and therefore, I can’t even consider it in the same domain as Shopify or Magento. Although you can still add apps to your site, they are not as integrated as on Shopify; main point here is that Squarespace wasn’t intentionally built for e-commerce. 

Online Marketplaces

Sites like Etsy, eBay and Amazon can boost your sales, but they shouldn’t be your only e-commerce platform. Sure, they will help your products get views, but will they ensure loyal customers? Are they worth the high fees?

An online marketplace can supplement your revenue and product sales, but it can’t be the be-all or end-all. You don’t have to discount established online retailers, but they shouldn’t represent your only product marketplace (at least in my opinion). Of course, there are high-revenue retailers that only distribute via marketplaces—and do so with great success. If you can make this work, then more power to you.

What Do I Use?

When it comes to my e-commerce businesses, I trust Shopify and Magento. I’ve worked with other sites, and I keep coming back to the two aforementioned platforms. I defer to and rely on (and recommend) Shopify for about 99% of e-commerce businesses I see come across my desk. However, Magento is a platform specifically designed for high-volume, customizable storefronts and when used for the right use-case is the perfect choice.

Still, the platforms I use might not be the right ones for your business. Based on the information above, you should be able to make a timely and educated choice for your company’s e-commerce platform.