Use ecommerce software to improve page navigation

Having a website that is easy to use for customers is important no matter what kind of company is being run. Econsultancy recently released its Ecommerce Best Practice Compendium, which included many tips on how to improve website usability and make navigation easier. One way companies can revamp their site is by using quality ecommerce software. The first step Econsultancy said companies should take is to minimize the number of clicks the customer will have to make on the website.

"Effective ecommerce navigation should make it as easy as possible for customers to find what they want, and get to the relevant product page as quickly as possible," the news source said. "There are a number of ways to do this, and much depends on the mindset of the consumer. If they arrive knowing what they are looking for, then your site search should do the job, returning relevant results which will take them quickly to the product page. However, a minority of users will typically take the site search option, so people will head for the navigation bar and look to browse by category."

Other tips for having a easier to use website, according to Econsultancy, include:

- Having autocomplete turned on in the search bar to minimize the risk of misspellings and inaccurate results for customers
- Giving customers the ability to filter what they want to search for, especially for companies that have a larger number of products
- Allowing people to sort results by how they are rated in order to make them feel like they have better control over the quality of what they are purchasing

A business involved in setting up websites said companies should be testing websites themselves to make sure everything is working as it should be. Business leaders should look at their website and see if they'd be comfortable putting their credit card information on the website, how easy things are to locate on the layout and if there is enough unique content on the site.

Ways to make ecommerce product pages better

Whether an online retailer is selling consumer products for the holiday season or working year-round as a business-to-business company, it is important to have an ecommerce site with good descriptions of what is being sold, according to a recent guest post on Forbes. Ecommerce software can be a great way to make sure that everything is working well and in its right place on the website.

The first suggestion of the Forbes article is to front-load ecommerce sites to make sure people get all the important information right away.

"You might want to include a short bulleted list of features before the blurb itself," the Forbes contributor wrote. "Whatever the format, make sure the details are easy to find. [One company] includes tabs below the main description: an overview, tech specs (what comes with the product, size and weight, camera and input/output info, and lots more), a photo gallery, and a model comparison chart. It’s a good solution for product descriptions that contain a lot of info."

Other ways to make sure product descriptions are effective include:

- Cut out unnecessary words, sentences and parts of each description to make them shorter
- Never recycle from other websites, businesses or parts of the company's website
- Always be thinking of what the customer will want to see from the description

Econsultancy said another great idea is to include customer reviews somewhere on the product page. This is likely easy for those that do business-to-consumer sales, but B2B companies can ask companies they've worked with to tell them a bit about their experience and use that as a website review if the customer approves.

Best practice tips for small business debt collection

Being a small company in the current economy definitely is not easy. SMB's financial uncertainty is exacerbated when customers don't pay outstanding bills. Because of this, it's wise for a company to implement collections software to prevent this money owed from accumulating.

"It’s a hard pill to swallow, but some of your company’s policies and procedures could be hindering the debt collection process," a blogger wrote on a software company web page. "In any case, it never hurts to take a hard look at them. Are you being clear about payment due dates? Are you sending complete, professional-looking invoices? Are you sending payment reminders on a regular basis? If not, customers might not take your debt collection efforts seriously."

Other advice from this writer included:
- Always keep cool with collecting debts. After all, it is a business transaction and should not be made personal.
- Stop doing business with those who don't pay in a timely manner often, as it will only cause trouble in the long term.
- Have a policy for working out payment plans with those who owe money, as it is for the best to get this money back gradually than to lose the whole amount.

There are a wide array of debt collection resources and strategies that can help bring in the money businesses are owned, but each company has to understand what will work best for it, and how to most effectively integrate a credit collections management software solution. In-house collections are usually fairly difficult, but business can make this much easier by adopting some quality software to help take much of the burden off of the process.

Tablets growing more influential in ecommerce world

Although purchases made from desktops and laptops have long dominated the ecommerce game, one ecommerce software firm found that tablets are starting to erode the share of buys from other devices, with the Apple iPad taking the lead, according to AppleInsider. This is important for general ecommerce, whether B2B or B2C, as these companies need to know what devices potential customers are using most frequently.

According to the breakdown of traffic from devices, the company saw desktop and laptop traffic drop from 92.33 percent to 81.6 percent of all buys in one year, as mobile devices and tablets doubled their shares. For the quarter ending in September, tablets made up 8.37 percent of all ecommerce website visits, up from 3.16 percent the previous year. Smartphones jumped from 4.51 percent to 10.03 percent of all visits in that same span. The chief marketing officer of the company that did this report said the trend should continue as these devices and others continue to flood the market.

"I truly believe that the tablet is best used as an 'in-house' mobile device – it's a replacement for the desktop or the laptop," the executive told AppleInsider, adding that smartphones are often used for purchases made on the go, while tablets are often used in the home, often while a user is also engaged with some other type of media. "The mobile device is really that second screen experience; it's really married to [a user's] media experience in a different way than the desktop."

Another important fact to consider is which devices are being used, and the report found that nearly 90 percent of all website traffic from tablets came from the Apple iPad, with Android tablets accounting for 6.34 percent of visits.

According to a recent infographic cited by Sales Chase, between December 2011 and April 2012, the mobile share of ecommerce doubled. The average order value is about $123 via tablets, which is more than the $102 average via desktops or laptops. Companies should look to cater their ecommerce software to these devices to make sure they are making the most of their web presence.

Cloud options increasingly popular with ecommerce, B2B

Across all industries and companies, cloud computing has become a hot topic. A recent survey by North Bridge Venture Partners shows that more than 50 percent of respondents believe that technologies such as ecommerce software, CRM solutions, social media, and business intelligence products will be affected by cloud computing. A partner at the venture capital company spoke to ZDNet and said that 12 percent of respondents feel the cloud still needs to mature, but B2B businesses and ecommerce companies are starting to flock to the technology.

"So I'm encouraged by those results," he told the news source. "The next obvious thing that comes out of the survey is how many people are still experimenting. About a third are experimenting, 34 percent to be precise, with concepts in the cloud, driving applications, and using the cloud in some innovative ways."

The North Bridge partner told ZDNet what he found to be the most exciting result was that general ecommerce is one of the top industries starting to make its way into the cloud. He said cloud-based applications and software for ecommerce are being used by major vendors and brands. These companies are overcoming fears of having payment information in the cloud as they are realizing they can track the nature of their business in real-time and are starting to see how important ecommerce software is, as a lot of money would be lost if they didn't have this kind of solution in place.

Even on the B2B ecommerce side, there is "tremendous potential" for cloud computing to grow, according to what the partner told the website. He said B2B companies are starting to utilize cloud-based solution to improve supply chain management, for example. With the cloud, he told ZDNet, companies get an "economy of scale" with their software and will be more easily able to collect data, analyze it and get insight that can be acted on in a timely manner.

Businesses may be turning to legal collection too soon

While many small businesses have taken to the legal system to collect money that is owed to them, using credit collections software may be a better solution. Simply Business said new research from a debt recovery company found that legal claims regarding unpaid bills rose 17 percent over the third quarter compared with the previous few months while the average claim size fell 15 percent. With these smaller debts that are owed, companies with collections software may have a great advantage over other businesses just by being able to automate communications and otherwise take efficient and effective steps to collect payments.

"As economic recovery continues to falter, we’re seeing more businesses taking a harder line on late payment to protect themselves from the risk of bad debt," said the managing director of the company. "There are many headlines about late payment being the biggest risk facing small businesses, and that message certainly seems to be spurring firms on to exercise their legal rights much more than before.”

Late payments do put smaller companies in a bind. With fewer overall resources available, not knowing when money will come in can be a dangerous and frustrating state of affairs, but Simply Business said it is important for companies to understand that moving to the legal system is usually considered a last resort. Before even making a loan or sale, the website said, companies should make the payment terms clear and even consider credit checking.

As soon as invoices are due, companies should begin their communications with those who owe them, clearly stating the timetable for payment. If the process moves beyond this, legal recourse may become a viable option.

An asset collections specialist wrote a blog post that offered some best practices for debt collection, including making sure clients are billed monthly for unpaid bills to add an "urgency" factor, having a designated person or collections software in place to make sure calls are made and emails are sent, and always requiring that customers sign a contract for high-cost purchases for legal reasons.

Companies must have good accounts receivable system in place

Whether managing late payments, loans or everyday revenue, asset management is among the most important things a company can do to ensure its success. Bethany Wesch wrote on Business 2 Community that companies need to know how they are performing on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. Quality collections software can help in this endeavor.

Wesch said keeping a ledger for accounts payable and accounts receivable is an important step for companies to stay afloat money-wise.

"This particular ledger is also known as the debtor ledger," she wrote of an accounts receivable ledger on Business 2 Community. "If the accounts payable is meant to be a detailed list of what the company owes to other companies, this will  detail all of the funds that other people or companies owe you. Your business needs this to determine how much to collect from each client."

Feed Money, a blog on managing and making money as a company, said technology has given businesses great advantages, allowing them to more effectively and easily manage their accounts receivable and collect on debts they are owed.

"The business person is now able to access his capital requirements and enable free cash flow by pinpointing the various strategic issues," the website said. "There is no need to get down deep into unnecessary analysis. In fact access to capital is a precursor for maintaining an even cash flow. It is also important in meeting the specific delivery timelines."

With good credit collections management software, companies have the crucial visibility they need to be proactive, taking necessary steps to collect on payments owed to maintain an even cashflow and plan realistically for growth.

Managing collections efficiently creates ‘lifeline’ for companies

Credit collections management software may be one of the most important investments a company can make. Daily Finance said one educational company launched a video on how to manage collections effectively, as many companies have struggled in this area. With quality software, collections can easily be automated and make operations much smoother for the business.

"Quite often, business owners feel they are spending an inordinate amount of time tracking customer payments, monitoring customer credit and making uncomfortable collection calls," the website said. "The problem facing many businesses is that it can take weeks, if not months, to collect payment on shipped goods. These delayed payments can cause a liquidity crunch that could lead a company to miss its own financial obligations, like paying suppliers or employees."

An official from the educational company called efficient collections management a "lifeline of any business," and said it is critical to the financial stability of any company, no matter which industry it is trying to thrive in.

Collections software becomes extremely important for businesses to be able to plan for shortfalls, easily measure what kind of revenue is coming in and improve how receivables are handled.

Brands are combining B2B and B2C online

Companies have been searching for ways to get the best possible branding and online presence, and the U.K.'s Marketing Week said one way companies can do this is by combining business-to-business marketing with consumer-focused campaigns. With good general ecommerce software, companies can easily create their website with a focus on both these aspects, with the hope of drawing in more business than ever.

The website said one restaurant booking website is starting to ramp up the B2B side of its game by offering more data to restaurants, which is valuable enough to charge for. By having technology in place that allows for the collection of this data, the website can offer information of value to restaurants and increase its own revenue. Having custom ecommerce software can allow companies to get creative in pursuing various sales opportunities.

“Using this approach seems to [be helping us to] buck the broader economic trend," an executive from the restaurant booking website told Marketing Week. "Online bookings for restaurants went up almost 7 per cent between February 2011 and February 2012. Aligning B2B and B2C so closely has allowed us to accelerate that growth."

There are other brands using this technique as well, according to the news source, as it is becoming a way to ensure future success and better utilize the ecommerce portion of a website to expand business. Working with both consumers and businesses online allows companies to essentially do much more without having to invest significant resources.

The Ecommerce Times said by adopting more of a B2B stance, companies can create the impression of a much larger business footprint, become much more efficient online, realize cost savings and give customers a much better overall experience.

B2B ecommerce website needs to be ‘consumer-like’

Those who are buying from a B2B website now have different expectations when it comes to what kind of experience they want, according to CMSWire. The article stated business buyers expect the experience to be "consumer-like" and that B2B websites should be compelling to use, which is something companies should be able to achieve with ecommerce software. To support this assertion, the CMSWire contributor pointed to a new study that found eight in 10 B2B buyers would opt for a supplier that offered online ordering over a supplier that offers a print catalog.

"Procurers find the main advantages of the ecommerce option to be that it allows them to do business with their suppliers at their convenience (89.4 percent), it saves them time (84.6 percent), and it enables them to be better informed about the state of their order (80.7 percent)," reported MarketingCharts. "Many also see informational benefits to ordering products from suppliers’ websites."

Other numbers from this report show:

- When finding business supplies, 84.4 percent of respondents said it is easy to find information via ecommerce versus 70.7 percent who said the same about print
- 88.6 percent said it is easier to track orders via ecommerce versus 62.7 percent who said the same about print
- 37.3 percent of buyers said they believe print catalogs are "outdated"

CMSWire stated that suppliers who have yet to upgrade or create an ecommerce website may lose business altogether. The report shows that 40 percent of respondents switched suppliers because it was hard to find what they wanted, so adopting ecommerce software could be a key move for B2B companies.

European ecommerce retailers under heat

With mobile payments becoming increasingly popular, ecommerce companies have to be vigilant about security related to these payment methods. The managing director of European operations for the Merchant Risk Council (MRC), an international trade association, told BankInfoSecurity that the future isn't clear when it comes to security and fraud in ecommerce, so companies must have a quality ecommerce software solution to be sure they are keeping their own information and customer information secure. While security must be a primary concern of etailers everywhere, the issue may be especially urgent for sellers in Europe.

"The first thing is that there was a massive shift last year in security, because although it's true that the main challenges were observed in the U.S. at first, we observe that it's now moving to Europe," the director told the website. "The reason is that you guys in the U.S. prosecute fraudsters and hackers much better than Europe. If you're a fraudster or a hacker, you would prefer to do all your activity in Europe now, because you know that you won't have the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service on your back. The first observation we have is this shift from the U.S. to Europe."

With regard to making sure payments are secure, he said there are many options on the market right now. The best ecommerce solution is one that will take compliance into account, as a big upcoming issue is what kind of cards and payment technology people are using. The MRC managing director stressed that PCI compliance is non-negotiable, even for small companies.

IT Security Column provided some tips for making sure that a website is as safe as possible, including encrypting data via SSL, backing up the website as often as possible, changing passwords regularly and always using a reliable payment gateway. Following these steps and implementing robust ecommerce software will help ensure best-in-class security for an online retail site.

Returning customers extremely valuable to ecommerce

For general ecommerce companies, drawing in returning customers is a key goal. Econsultancy.com said 73 percent of online retailers in Europe believe the experience they have on an ecommerce website influences whether customers come back, showing the true importance of ecommerce software that creates a positive experience for buyers.

A separate Econsultancy article said attracting a new customer might end up costing five times as much as keeping an existing one.

"Of course, the fundamentals are important," wrote the Econsultancy contributor. "Among other things, you need a great product,and you need the right kind of pricing (not necessarily the cheapest), and to offer excellent customer experience."

Other tips the website provided included:

- Make it easy for returning customers to log back onto the website or easily retrieve credit card numbers
- Give customers incentives to register for the website so that they can get updates via email and easily make another purchase later
- Offer incentives for purchasing again
- Communicate via email, social media or text message to show appreciation for the purchase and ask the customer to come back again

With the holidays coming soon, Econsultancy said, this is a critical time to make sure customers are getting the best experience, as many times people will try out new websites during this season to get a unique gift item. Online retailers should be adopting good ecommerce software to make sure they are giving the best possible view of their products to win first-time business and turn those buyers into loyal customers.

Ecommerce continues growth over third quarter

Anyone who has made a living selling goods or services online has seen a big upward trend over the past couple of years, and according to a recent report by comScore, that has continued over the third quarter of this year. For July through September, ecommerce reached a new record for the months leading into the holiday season, totaling $41.9 billion. Those who want to make improvements to ensure they are getting the most out the holiday season itself may want to look to ecommerce software to make sure their website is at its best.

Year-over-year, these numbers were up 15 percent, the report said, with the positive growth marking the 12th quarter in a row of yearly growth. This is also the eighth consecutive quarter of double digit growth, something that is especially impressive during a down economy. Digital content and subscriptions, consumer electronics, event tickets, apparel and accessories, and computer software all saw at least 16 percent growth from the third quarter of 2011 to the same time period in 2012.

“The Q3 growth rate of 15 percent growth remained in line with the prior quarter and provided confirmation of the strength in the ecommerce sector, despite a few negative headwinds in the macroeconomic environment during the quarter,” said comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni. “Such performance offers some optimism as we approach the holiday season, especially given recent improvements in consumer sentiment."

Fulgoni said with the housing market also starting to show signs of recovery, retailers and businesses in general should be looking forward to reaping rewards this holiday season.

VentureBeat said the report also shows consumers have been price checking via their smartphones and tablets while browsing in-store, which is known as "showrooming." This is where ecommerce software can come in handy, as traditional companies can make sure their solution is up to par and they have a mobile site that will make them competitive with online-only sellers.

Panel provides tips for collecting payments

A panel of accounting and finance professionals recently convened by The Guardian provided some tips for small business owners to help them better manage their cashflow. The panelists' advice included some strategies for effectively handling debt collection.

The first step to getting paid faster is to get invoices out faster, said a financial fitness coach on the panel. Having the right credit collections software in place can make a big difference in terms of how fast bills and invoices can be sent out. It's also crucial that invoices are accurate, with correct details such as contact name and purchase order number. This will prevent slowdowns caused by customer inquiries. The coach also suggested breaking down large invoices into smaller ones and following up with customers within four or five days of an invoice being sent.

A November 2011 Globe and Mail article about best practices for collecting payments also stressed being proactive in following up with customers after invoices are sent. According to that article, it's a good idea to have all the relevant information on hand during these calls – including a copy of the invoice in question – so that customer questions can be swiftly answered. The caller should also take detailed notes that can be referenced if a dispute over payment arises.

An accounting and financial consultant on the Guardian panel advised SMB owners to gather information about how customers' payment processes work.

"Understanding the nuances and the systems they use, and establishing a relationship, has proven very helpful because they can always tell us where the invoice is in the process," the consultant said, according to the Guardian. "It has made a big difference, especially when the vendor is small and the customer is big."