Building a better multichannel system for B2B

While companies that sell to customers online have practiced their craft for years, B2B companies generally have less experience with ecommerce software. Michael Chuma wrote on MultiChannel Merchant that B2B buyers have come to expect the same ease and convenience in online buying as they have when surfing a website like Amazon or eBay, so B2B companies should have what the website calls a "multichannel ecosystem" in place.

"However, building a multichannel ecosystem without upsetting existing channel relationships is a real challenge that requires balancing the concerns of referral and resale partners with the needs of end-customers," he wrote on the website. "Aside from channel conflict, internal resistance can also make the transition difficult. Developing a direct online sales program requires carefully balancing business buyers’ needs with those of the existing channel partners and internal stakeholders."

Chuma said the right kind of technology and a smart plan will make for a successful B2B ecommerce endeavor and gave some tips, including:

- Focus on making the user experience as good as it can be by offering reviews, business benefits and easy purchasing processes
- Prioritize subscriptions and renewals to make sure returning buyers are as happy as possible
- Determine the company's objective early on and phase the rollout in order to best build momentum
- Analyze the technology in place and look to what kind of future it can have within the company and industry

BtoB Online said companies should also focus on making their content relevant and as concise as possible, as this will make the website a quick and informative read. There should also be multiple ways to contact the company via the ecommerce website, including email, phone and a chat feature. With good ecommerce software in place, a B2B organization should be able to see online success.

Consider accounts receivable software for the new year

Now that it's the close of the year, companies are taking stock of inventory, employee satisfaction and performance, and finances. A contributor wrote in the North Idaho Business Journal that the responsibility of retooling and strengthening the business for the new year falls on the company's leadership. To this end, executives and other decision makers may want to look into accounts receivable software to make sure that processes can be automated.

The Business Journal article said companies should also be asking themselves questions, such as whether they made their profit goals for the year, if they met debt reduction goals and, if not, what they need to do for the new year. For each question, companies need to take time and identify where the business could be weak and what solution can be used so the new year can be more profitable and smooth. Where needed, companies may need to adopt new technology, reduce inventory or mark down old merchandise.

"Analyze contribution margins, variable vs. fixed expenses, and break-even analysis," the contributor wrote in the Business Journal. "Track your flow of cash and stay on top of your accounts receivable. Be diligent in reducing waste and spoilage, lock in vendor pricing to minimize price fluctuations, staff based on sales activities and reduce costs by getting things done right the first time."

Companies can see big improvements from adopting accounts receivable software, as it will allow a company to make better business decisions, understand finances more clearly and improve credit management. Moving into a new year, the right software should make it much simpler for a business to operate on budget.

Ecommerce companies should use new years resolutions for a better 2013

No matter how well an ecommerce website is performing, things could always be better. A recent Practical Ecommerce article said many online retailers are investigating how they can improve in 2013. Adopting new and improved general ecommerce software can drive improvement for many organizations, as it could help make a website resonate with customers better.

Aside from how the website looks, the article said software can improve how the website serves customers. This must be a priority as the number of ecommerce businesses are growing and customer relations may be the best way to improve how any online business operates. The article suggested moving forward with a "customer first" philosophy," implementing features such as a 1-800 number or live chat feature and multiple options for payment.

Other key steps for improving the website, according to Practical Ecommerce, are increasing the website's reach through mobile optimization, using email marketing in a more efficient way, relying less on search engines and more on subscription, text and content marketing and integrating video into the website.

"Video platform maker SundaySky recently reported that 48 of the top 50 online retailers were using product video to boost sales and increase revenues," the article said. "Only 16 of those same retailers used product videos the prior year. As the trend continues, it will be quite common to see video demonstrations or explanations on many product detail pages."

According to an ecommerce blog, a company that uses video on a website can help make people feel like they are getting an "in-person demo" and the numbers show that a company is 53-times more likely to get a front-page Google result with videos in place. They also have a 41 percent higher click-through rate than websites without video, so it should be a priority to place video on a website via ecommerce software.

Ecommerce, accounts receivable solutions provide small business flexibility

Small businesses that want to thrive in the current economy need to be sure they have up-to-date software and technology. Whether through accounts receivable software or a point-of-sale solution, Small Biz Trends said small companies should be nimble enough to adapt to today's tech-savvy customers and improve their own bottom line. Even when trying to receive payments owed by using collections software or trying to create a viable ecommerce solution, companies should be flexible by accommodating the way their customers want to pay.

"As payments, social networking, and commerce continue to intersect through smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and brick-and-mortar stores, consumers seamlessly blend and coordinate their shopping activities across online, offline and mobile channels in pursuit of value, convenience and a personalized buying experience," the news source said. "Consumers are especially interested in how this can help save them time and money."

Small Biz Trends said companies should have a single point of integration for all payment types regardless of which type of device the customer is using to access the ecommerce website. Being able to adapt to different ways customers want to pay online is important, as research shows that one-third of consumers want a seamless shopping experience on any device at any time.

Beyond keeping track of the revenue coming in from direct payments from consumers, small businesses can use technology to better organize its accounts receivable. One website that helps companies compare these types of programs said accounts receivable software can be helpful by allowing companies to quickly see and track what money they have on hand and what they are owed. This will ensure the company has the best and most up-to-date information about its cash flow and understands where the money comes from, which could be very helpful for moving forward as a business.

Ecommerce trends for the new year

The retail economy is increasingly global, as companies across the world have been adopting general ecommerce software and selling their goods and services online in diverse markets. TechCircle said there is a lot of money to be made by implementing an ecommerce solution, but there are many questions being raised that must be considered and addressed by companies if they hope to stay successful. One trend is that companies have found that the hybrid approach of having a physical and ecommerce location may be a great way to go.

"One of the most common reasons for this move seems to capture the offline segment of buyers and the people who are yet to transact online," the website said. "Another reason is to reap benefits of a brand that has been built well online, offline. Another path taken to increase reach and interaction with customers has been the use of social media. Ecommerce has gone social in a big way in the past year and social shopping sites or ecommerce via social media sites has also been a huge trend witnessed this year."

Another popular trend for 2013 is the marketplace approach, in which companies don't worry about managing inventory and instead have many sellers on their website, TechCircle said. Companies like Amazon and eBay have seen success with this and it is most certainly something businesses should keep in mind when making the move online.

CMSWire said personalization will also become a key trend in 2013, as complex technology is now being made available via ecommerce software and other platforms that will allow companies to essentially directly sell to each individual who visits a website. Consumers can expect to see factors like their age, geographic location and their life stage incorporated into ecommerce websites as they shop, and sellers will want to consider how they can best leverage this type of consumer information.

Encourage customer feedback on ecommerce websites

A good general ecommerce software solution can make it easier for an internet retailer to create a positive public perception by making it easier to engage with customers online. Practical Ecommerce said using customer-drive ratings and reviews can be a great way to create buzz for a company and reassure possible customers during their purchase process.

A report by Nielsen, "Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages," showed that 92 percent of consumers said they trust their friends and family as far as recommendations are concerned over any kind of advertising, so integrating a customer rating system should be a priority for just about any internet seller.

"Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust messages on this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years," the report said.

Practical Ecommerce said one major channel for customer reviews is social media, as interaction with fans and followers can help increase loyalty and trust. Incorporating social networking features on an ecommerce site is therefore recommended. This can lead to higher feedback ratings, repeat sales and better all-around reviews, according to the website.

The news source provided some advice for optimal social media engagement:

- Use Facebook and other forms of social media to share reviews and other positive feedback about products and services. While not everyone is on these social media channels, many people who end up being loyal customers are and may tell friends or family if they have a positive experience.
- Look at what Amazon does with customer reviews and try something similar by having the reviews pop up on the product page.
- Publish both good and bad reviews and let discerning customers decide for themselves which to believe. This will show that the company has trust in the opinion of its customers.

Ecommerce software should improve SEO

Whether a company is in the B2B or B2C realm, implementing general ecommerce software can be a great step toward building a stronger online presence. Search Engine Journal said that it is critical for this software to have search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities to ensure the company will actually pop up on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. One tool the website said companies should consider is WebMaster Tools Verification.

"When first completing an SEO audit or building a new ecommerce website, there are several key steps that can set up the website for success," the news source said. "This includes the verification of the website through Google and Bing Webmaster Tool. These platforms allow you to see crawl errors, update SEO settings for your website, and more."

Other features that a company should have in place on its ecommerce software, according to Search Engine Journal, include:

- A feature for Google Analytics that will help make visible how the website is doing on the world's most popular search engine and which keywords will help the website the most
- An XML sitemap, which will need to be edited frequently as products are amended, added or removed from the ecommerce website
- The ability to edit product details and descriptions easily, because an online retailer will want to experiment to see which descriptions are most effective

CIO.com said that most ecommerce software will have the basics to get a company started, including SEO tools, an integrated shopping cart and more, but it is up to each organization to figure out what is the most important given its business model and industry. Companies that plan to invest particularly in product pages should research potential software and be sure this is a strong feature, as an example.

American consumers finding their way out of debt

It's been a tough few years for American consumers given the country's economic woes, but according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, things may be getting better. Household debt payments are now at their lowest level in decades, which the news source said is helping people stretch their paychecks further. This may help companies that have adopted credit collections software to get back money owed to them, as it means their customers will likely be more ready to pay.

"U.S. households spent 10.6 percent of their after-tax income on debt payments in the third quarter of the year, the lowest level since 1983, according to recently released Federal Reserve data," the news source said. "Add in other required payments that aren't classified as debt – such as rent and auto leases – and the figure rises to 15.7 percent, also near a 30-year low."

The Wall Street Journal said many factors are leading to these debt payments being reduced, including the fact that many families are now devoting their time to paying off debts and rebuilding savings after the housing collapse. Foreclosures and bankruptcies have played a big factor in the economic collapse and have made borrowing large sums to pay back harder, but for those who do qualify, interest rates are better than they have been. Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said for every dollar people save on their debts, they will likely use that money on other goods and services, which is a big positive for the entire economic picture.

Times are still tough and the economic climate is not certain, so companies need to have collections software in place and adhere to best practices for collecting payments. To this end, a debt collection consultancy provided a few steps, saying that companies should first look to stay in touch with those customers with outstanding invoices, and should adopt an empathetic tone when communicating with these customers.

Carefully plan for business growth

Many companies prioritize profits but without a solid plan on how they're going to earn those profits. According to the Harvard Business Review, a carefully crafted business plan that strategically outlines growth is an essential tool for developing a successful operation.

Successful strategies should include the types of technology the business needs to grow growth, such as new accounts receivable software to help with the transition to the next level of business.

According to the HBR, growth that is not accounted for or handled responsibly could actually have a detrimental effect on a company, especially one with only a few employees. Before moving their companies toward new goals, the business leaders need to factor in the operating costs and how they will evolve as the business starts to grow. Companies that get too ahead of themselves may miss certain important aspects, such as being able to tell if they have any outstanding invoices that have fallen through the cracks. Organizations can plan more effectively when they have a solid grasp of their working capital and an accurate projection of future revenue.

"Look at more than your income statement. It’s not the only index of health," Harvard Business Review said. "To get a quick pulse of how your business is doing, you need to look at other metrics besides revenue. These include cash available, status of accounts receivable, inventory, and other metrics specific to your business."

Companies always need to know what is owed to them and which customers are late, especially during periods of economic uncertainty. Finance Commerce said that communication can be the key to solving many of these issues, such as by putting the outstanding balance on an invoice and making a note of how long it has been late.

“Part of it is early intervention and assuring that you get with the customer quickly when there is a payment default to determine why,” one small business professional told the website. “If there’s a dispute about the services and it lingers for a year, it’s a lot less likely to get resolved.”

Companies that want an accurate and organized way to track what they're owed may want to research credit collections software.

Reviewing ecommerce at the end of the year

Companies that sell goods or services online should be looking at their numbers at the end of the year and figuring out ways that the company can be improved. Evaluating sales processes, traffic generation tools and ecommerce software will enable businesses to get a better idea of what worked in 2012 and what they need to improve in the new year. Dale Traxler, a contributing editor for Practical eCommerece, recently wrote that an internal review at the end of each year is one strategy the top businesses use to stay on top, as they understand not only their current state, but their history and how they got to where they are.

"Start by collecting data from each of your functional areas," he wrote. "Combine that with assessments from all the aspects of your business to gain a total view of how your business model is performing. By taking a holistic view, you can determine what worked and what did not. You will then have a solid basis to start your strategic planning for the next year."

Traxler said accounting teams should be running a review of sales, product and customer reports, while marketing units should be looking at ways to get a better return on investment. All of the business's other sectors should be looking within to identify inefficiencies and areas needing improvement.

According to a report from Forrester Research, many of the improvements in ecommerce have come from companies improving their services and websites. An analyst from the company said integrating tools that allow people to know more about the product or service and implementing more broad ways to pay, or perhaps even subscription plans, can help a company improve its bottom line. With good general ecommerce software, companies should be able to see which areas of their websites are lacking and how they can go about improving them.

Mobile ‘the future’ of ecommerce

Many Americans are struggling to find work and pay bills, but the ecommerce market seems to be on the way up. Yahoo! Finance reported that although there are struggles among the lower to middle class in the United States and across the world, many wealthy Americans are spending money on websites selling high-priced items. One of these, a flash sales website that offers discounts on high-priced items, said they have seen a surge in sales. This is something to keep in mind for any company wanting to see a rise in revenue by using general ecommerce software, especially as the CEO of this company believes mobile devices are a big reason for the sales increase.

Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research, told the news source that ecommerce sales were more than $200 billion in 2011 and said they are expected to grow to 9 percent of total sales by 2016. The high-end flash sales site said 50 percent of purchases by next year could be via the iPad, a popular tablet device.

"Given the smartphone's considerable screen size limitations and consumers' preponderance to use smartphones for research and social shopping activities, it is hardly surprising that just 2 percent of all U.S. ecommerce is actually transacted on smartphones," Mulpuru said in a report, according to Yahoo! Finance. "By contrast, the mobile sales growth opportunity appears to lie squarely with tablets."

The CEO of a website testing company told GigaOM that tablets are outperforming smartphones in the ecommerce world and tablet-based traffic should be hitting double digits in percentage this holiday season. He believes tablets offer "the best of both worlds" with portability like a smartphone but more of the functionality of a laptop. For this reason, any ecommerce website cannot forget to cater to these tablet users. With good ecommerce software in place, a website can be optimized for mobile device screens.

Records key for end of the year

For small businesses, the end of the year is an important time for making sure everything is working as it should be financially. For companies that have accounts receivable software or a similar program that helps keep track of their finances, this will not likely be much of a problem. However, the Record Online recently stressed that even for companies with these types of programs, keeping records properly is a must.

"One rule of thumb is to keep records for seven years, but that doesn't pertain to 100 percent of each file," the news source said. "You must retain purchase records longer for equipment not yet fully depreciated, etc. Separate rules pertain to how long a business must keep resumes and applications, personnel folders on terminated employees, workers' compensation accident reports, W-2's, etc."

The Record Online said companies should be moving accounts payable "paid" files and accounts receivable "paid" files to physical or online storage or elsewhere to make room for incoming files. This will make keeping records much easier for the next year as well.

Toolbox.com said companies should be adopting accounts receivable software. Having the right software in place will make it easier to adhere to best practices, such as recording sales in a timely manner and dealing with delinquent accounts rapidly.

Ecommerce expected to boom overseas

Online business is poised to expand across the world, so many companies may want to implement general ecommerce software. The Business Standard said India will see an ecommerce boom that it describes as "automatic," as innovators and those with a well laid-out business model will be the enablers and growth drivers.

"In the next two to three years, India can expect to witness a major change in the area," the news source said. "That is, there will be an entire generation that has grown up with the internet at home and school ready to spend online by 2015 or so. For this generation, the internet is the first point of contact and online shopping a given. This is in contrast to those who have made a transition to internet and online way of doing things in their working life, having not been exposed to it while growing up."

One professional said the industry won't have to do much itself to boost ecommerce, as it will see more maturity from people who have simply been around the internet for their entire life. Business Standard said in the next two to three years, the online population in India is set to grow to 300 million from the 100 to 120 million it is currently at.

For companies outside India, this means there will be many new business opportunities to leverage ecommerce software to improve overseas sales. Practical Ecommerce spoke with the chief operating officer of an ecommerce company who said the most important aspect of any website is visibility. While Google is a great way to get noticed stateside, companies should be researching and figuring out how to best gain attention in a new country they want to make sales in. Another issue is charging the correct tax rate, which is something that companies will have to adjust for every new country where they begin to make sales.

How to succeed in ecommerce

Brian Upbin of Forbes said it isn't easy for a company to get its initial footing in the world of ecommerce, but taking a shot is well worth it. He spoke with some professionals who gave key tips on how to succeed in the world of online sales, with lessons that can used by B2C or B2B professionals looking to make the most of general ecommerce software.

One rule that every online company should follow is to have an online personality and not rely on a bare-bones ecommerce site. Upbin said the company he spoke with told him that buyers are looking for functional and perhaps even colorful items and pages that will tell them what they are getting, especially if it is a unique item that most other shops online will not have.

Next, the professionals told Upbin that companies need to be thinking about mobile first. The business he spoke with said half the sales in recent weekends are from mobile devices, with 33 to 40 percent during weekdays being from these gadgets.

"The reason: fewer things to look at to distract you from buying, and touchscreens feel naturally conducive to buying," Upbin wrote on Forbes, regarding the boom in mobile commerce. "New product features get rolled out on [the company's] mobile app before hitting the web site."

One company that works with B2B ecommerce companies said there are some big, common mistakes that many end up making which need to be avoided, including assuming they know what customers want without doing the proper research, seeking short-term sales over long-term gains and ignoring customer feedback.

"In order to develop long-term relationships, you need to always be on the lookout for feedback, much of which will come in the form of comments left on consumer feedback sites and your website," the website said. "Take feedback seriously and revert to customers ASAP."

With good general ecommerce software in place, businesses should certainly be on the right track toward implementing these best practices and increasing revenue via the online marketplace.

UK leads world in ecommerce

Companies in the United Kingdom have had a lot of success with ecommerce, and Econsultancy said the driving factor has been spending on the technology and services that can turn a retailer with an online presence into a business with a strong multichannel presence. With this in mind, companies may want to implement general ecommerce software whether they are in the B2B or B2C sector, as this could go a long way toward helping to improve their competitiveness across digital channels.

The website posted numbers from a global ecommerce survey by IMRG which showed that residents of the U.K spent about $1,760 per person online in 2011, with Australia coming in at No. 2, with about $1,368 per person. So why does the U.K. lead the way? The website said not only does the English language give a competitive advantage to these companies, but so does the size of the country, as the U.S. has more than 39 times the amount of land as the U.K.

"Because of this, and the fact that the U.K. has a universal pricing system for postage (i.e. it costs the same to send an item within the country regardless of its final destination), the cost of shipping is lower and provides a greater incentive to buy and sell goods online," Econsultancy said. "It also makes it easier to provide a multichannel shopping experience. Small distances mean that it is easy to move stock to provide Click and Collect or Click and Reserve options."

Other factors that have helped the country include better customer service, early and widespread adoption of debit cards and high rates of technology adoption and lower costs of internet service.

Research from The Boston Consulting Group found that 23 percent of all U.K. customer retail spending will be done online by 2016, which is a larger number than many imagined possible a few years ago. This means about $52.9 billion will be spent online. The U.S. looks to see less dramatic but still significant growth, as 7.1 percent of all spending will be online in 2016, compared with 5 percent in 2010. This accounts for about $32.4 billion, meaning no matter which country a company is in, ecommerce software is a very smart investment.