Key elements of the mobile retail experience

When building the best possible ecommerce solution for a company, every aspect must be well thought out and planned. For mobile ecommerce, companies need to be sure the website works well, is visible to smaller screens and, Business 2 Community said, implementing a great shopping cart may be the most vital part.

"The ultimate goal is to provide customers using a small device with a great browsing experience that makes it easy to find and purchase what they need," the news source said. "Traditional web pages are often not as effective on mobile devices because they contain too much information, that doesn’t necessarily fit onto the smaller screen."

Getting to customers on mobile devices is important due to the rise in people using smartphones and tablets. Business 2 Community said mobile ecommerce is expected to grow about 40 percent per year until 2016 and analysts predict that more than a quarter of all online transactions will be on mobile devices by 2017, accounting for about $31 billion in spending. The website said mobile ecommerce is going to become a much more important part of the industry and said it's not a matter of whether it will be a big-time money maker for retailers, but when.

Econsultancy said one key tip for making sure the mobile ecommerce solution works as well as possible is to not make registration necessary.

"Compulsory registration is a barrier to purchase anyway, but an absolute no-no on a mobile site, since every extra form field to fill in means more pain for the customer," the news source said.

Other advice for a better mobile checkout from Econsultancy is to keep page sizes to a minimum, always provide good shortcuts and keep the need to fill out forms as minimal as possible.

Social links important for ecommerce

Any company running an ecommerce website should look at the importance of social media and how it can almost certainly help improve sales. Ecommerce Bytes compiled some data from a few different studies, including one by Forrester research which said that 1 percent of transactions for new and repeat customers are from social media links. While this may seem low, businesses should still have the ecommerce software in place to make sure their website is up-to-par and able to impress those social media visitors.

ComScore said with the right ecommerce software, companies can turn people pressing "like" on their page to buyers. The website said the days of social media being on the sidelines of ecommerce may be numbered, as these websites and blogs are becoming more popular vehicles for making sales.

Practical Ecommerce enumerated some steps to making sure an ecommerce and social media integrated solution is up to par. The website said it is important to have this integration, as it is still growing, even though it may not be as quickly growing as the ecommerce industry as a whole. A few good rules for making sure a social ecommerce solution works include:

- Setting clear goals.  "Social commerce goals, meanwhile, involve revenue targets for products in different regions on different social networks. In most cases social marketing will help achieve the social commerce goals," the website said. "But there could be instances where the social marketing goals are achieved and the social commerce goals are not, indicating a tweak in the social commerce approach to meet the desired goal."
- Extend the existing store into outside social commerce sites.
- Measure the success of the company's presence in the social media world using ecommerce software and build from there.

While the integration of ecommerce and social media may still seem new and underdeveloped, companies that sell online may be remiss if they do not correctly attack social media early on.

Make an ecommerce website worthy of being linked

Anyone can sell a product online, but not every professional and company can make its product and its website look good enough to be linked to pages by prospective customers and other companies. Julie Joyce wrote on Search Engine Watch that with companies relying more than ever on social media, improving the website to make it link-worthy is paramount. Ecommerce software is something that could go a long way toward helping a website look great to all.

"If you have cool features like a 'visualize your room with our furniture' room planner or a 'see how you look with a blue Mohawk before you buy this wig made from real human hair' area, make sure they're visible on your home page," Joyce said of unique website applications and features. "These kind of features attract links. The bottom line is that with so much crowding online, you have to figure out a way to stand out if you want to attract attention (and links.)"

Other tips from Joyce include:

- Offer some sort of interactive feature to make sure users are getting the most out of the website.
- Make sure people have incentive to buy from the company. For example, not many people are going to take to a website that looks like it has the same products as others but with more expensive shipping. A great deal can go a long way for many customers.
- Factor social media into the process when possible, as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are all becoming hot spots for companies looking to spread their proverbial wings.

CIO.com said companies adding an ecommerce component to a website should consider which functions – such as integrated email marketing functions or mobile ecommerce features – are essential, and consider which solutions offer those capabilities.

Ecommerce companies seeing more losses from fraud

Online revenue is something no business can pass up at this point. More people have computers, tablets and mobile devices than ever, so having ecommerce software for a simple online sales solution can be a great way for businesses to open up a crucial revenue stream. However, businesses need to be sure to vet their ecommerce solutions provider carefully, as a recent study from Javelin Strategy and Research and LexisNexis shows that ecommerce fraud is on the rise.

The survey from these companies, which interviewed 1,000 merchants, found that for every dollar in fraudulent purchases made from an ecommerce retailer, the actual expense to the retailer is about $2.70, which is up from last year's mark of $2.30 per dollar. Only 39 percent of merchants believe higher fraudulent purchase rates will lower customer loyalty, but this may not necessarily be true.

“With the size and pattern of fraud significantly impacted by global economic conditions and the move to mobile payments, this turbulent time requires merchants to be more vigilant than ever,” said Jim Rice, director of market planning for retail and ecommerce markets at  LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “Our research clearly indicates that customers are less inclined to do business with merchants with which they’ve experienced fraud, yet a surprising majority of merchants surveyed in this study are not aware of this costly after-effect.”

Customer confidence is a key to making sales, as 33 percent of customers who fall victim to fraud end up avoiding certain companies, this report said. As such, businesses must be careful to choose the correct ecommerce software solution and make sure it as secure as possible.

Make sure the ecommerce sales funnel is working correctly

Any ecommerce company that works in the business-to-business sector knows how complicated working with a sales funnel can be, but Practical Ecommerce said the basic steps to making sure the funnel is working are the same whether the business is B2C or B2B.

The process has three steps, as outlined by the website. These are:

1) Converting target customers to visitors of the website through marketing, social media and other efforts
2) Making sure these visitors become prospects of the company via good navigation, website design and load times
3) Having these prospects move into being shoppers by offering promotions through the site, providing answers to common questions and similar strategies

Choosing the right ecommerce software is critical in ensuring a properly functioning sales funnel, as it will be a key component in making the online purchasing process smooth.

CIO.com said ecommerce software can be a great, inexpensive way for companies to add an online component to their website without having to have technical expertise or a gigantic IT staff on hand.

Ecommerce websites slower than they were

With all of the innovations in the world of online sales, it's hard to imagine websites are slower than they were a few years ago, but a web optimization company told VentureBeat that its study of 2,000 top ecommerce websites shows that today's fastest websites load nearly 340 percent faster than most ecommerce sites, and average ecommerce site loading times are slower in 2012 than they were in 2011. These findings underscore how important it is for companies to be sure they have the right provider and ecommerce software in place when building their website.

The top websites the company looked at loaded in 1.93 seconds, on average, whereas it takes about 6.5 seconds for the average ecommerce page to load. In 2011, ecommerce sites loaded in 5.94 seconds, on average. The company that did the study said businesses may see a quickly loading website on their fast business network, but "real users" at home will not, with a major reason being that websites have been made overly complex.

“We’re seeing way more complex pages,” an executive from the company said. “The problem on a modern page is Javascript … people are trying to do things on browsers that used to only be available in desktop applications.”

Smashing Magazine said there may be nothing worse than trying to find a product on a website that has confusing navigation and too much going on. Companies should leverage the right ecommerce software to create a simple page that will work better for the company and customer.

IT can help to collect and conserve money

Achieving cost savings is always a prime motivator when it comes to businesses adopting new software, and this may be especially true now, given the current uncertain economic climate. Writing on the Big Fat Finance Blog recently, Alan Redding said that managing cash flow will be especially important to small and midsize businesses in the coming years, and IT can play a role in helping these enterprises save money. 

"With the current flaccid recovery threatening to drop back into recession at every quarter and a business environment that continues to be characterized by scarce resources, tight credit, and costly financing cash has become even more critical," Redding wrote.

Redding pointed to expanding adoption of e-procurement as a way that IT can help a company achieve cost savings and better manage its cash flow. By investing in the right ERP business solution or a similar platform that will streamline the electronic purchase and sale of goods and services, a company will hold onto cash in the long term after making an initial outlay when acquiring the system.

Though Redding did not point this out, another way that companies can improve cash flow is by improving its collections process. Again, by integrating the right software, IT can play a role in this area.

A Canadian company that provides cable, telephone and internet services recently looked to collections software to help collect payments there were sometimes up to 90 days late, and has found that having this software in place has made for much more effective debt recovery. The company now uses the software to manage pre and post-charge-off accounts and the entire collections workflow.

“We’re always looking to improve our processes and effectiveness,” an executive from this company said. “[This debt collections software] best supported this mission, both through its flexible software suite and the company’s team of industry veterans."

Having localized languages could help improve ecommerce sales

Once an online retailer has its website up, its ecommerce software in place and a base of customers, there are a number of tweaks that can drive success. For example, a recent study showed that 71 percent of internet users prefer to make purchases from websites written in their own language, so companies that sell internationally may want to make their website more foreign language friendly.

"Companies that want to appeal to international markets should understand that consumers from countries with enormous consumer power such as Germany, France or Russia will not buy from websites written exclusively in English," said the co-founder and CEO of the the translation services company that performed this survey.

A previous study undertaken by the company showed that more than 50 percent of online shoppers from Germany, Japan, Russia, China and other major foreign markets only buy from websites written in their own language. The company said 72 percent of users spent most of their time on the internet browsing websites written in their own native language.

Practical Ecommerce said the fastest way to start selling internationally is to sell from the U.S.-based website and ship the order to an overseas location, although companies must learn things such as customs rules and local languages. The website also identified a few other ways that businesses can more easily start selling internationally via their ecommerce website, including:

- Selling products on an international marketplace site instead of the company's own website to start
- Shipping internationally via a third-party service
- Partnering with an overseas company to get the lay of the land

Practical Ecommerce said companies should be pursuing multifaceted localization strategies for their web presence, with translation being only the start. Companies should change their website to include local address formats, date formats and otherwise adjust the site to account for cultural variations.

Ecommerce software may help take a business international

When looking into new ecommerce software, companies may want to see what their options are for selling overseas and internationally. A recent report said that U.K. companies are beginning to sell in abroad, and there are some big advantages for businesses growing in this way.

"New technologies have become more universal making it easier to sell products overseas," the article stated. "This has also increased the number of channels, and therefore consumer touch points, the online marketer can exploit. Commercial advantages of selling into new markets include stock reduction, market creation, currency arbitrage, minimization or spreading of risk and extension of sales seasons."

While there are challenges involved in selling overseas, there are also significant advantages to expanding business in this way. Companies looking to do so should research the markets they would like to sell in, always allow some time to test out what they want to do in each market, and be sure that the platforms being considered can work in each market the business is looking into.

Companies should look to have the best ecommerce software in place for their company to start selling in a foreign market.

Ecommerce companies must adopt security to combat common threats

When investing in new ecommerce software, companies need to be aware of the security vulnerabilities that pose a threat. Businesses should look to protect themselves and customers by being sure security is up to par, The Hosting News said.

"One of the most common features of modern e-commerce systems is that they are completely automated, from the initial visit all the way to payment," the news source said. "Some ecommerce software may have a vulnerability that allows the cyber criminal to insert a lower price into the URL and essentially get away with practically stealing."

Other things companies must look out for, according to The Hosting News, include SQL injection that will attack a company's database, unsecured authentication, which can be fixed with better SSL certificates, and remote command execution, which will make companies particularly vulnerable to hackers.

A computer security company said these vulnerabilities are of more importance to companies since there is so much sensitive information and data stored in their ecommerce software and websites. The impact of ecommerce security incidents could extend beyond loss of revenue and harm to a companies reputation, as online retailers also face compliance issues with regard to how they handle and safeguard customer information.

Companies should look into ecommerce sales tax

When companies adopt ecommerce software to start selling online and across state lines, there may be more to think about than they initially realized. The Wall Street Journal said tax laws are changing and more states than ever are looking to add some extra money to revenue via taxes on online purchases.

"Conservative governors, joining their Democratic counterparts, have been making deals with online retail giant Amazon.com to collect state sales taxes," the news source said. "The movement picked up an important ally when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate – recently reached an agreement under which Amazon would collect sales taxes on his state's online purchases in exchange for locating distribution facilities there."

A chart from the Journal shows that there are states without a broad-based sales tax, including Oregon, New Hampshire, Montana, Delaware and Alaska, but many other states, including Illinois, New York and Texas, are looking to start collecting online sales tax.

Practical Ecommerce said companies may need to hire an accounting firm to figure out their position in the changing tax landscape. Enterprises could also consider Sales Tax Management System, the source stated, which could be one more reason to investigate ecommerce software integrated with accounting software.

With holidays upcoming, businesses should bolster ecommerce

In an effort to get the most out of the upcoming holiday season, companies should consider adopting ecommerce software and making sure they have a good plan to draw in customers and make sales. Independent Retailer said companies should be starting earlier and segmenting traffic to see the best margins.

"You don’t want to spend margin points everywhere … only where they help you," the news source said. "A smart approach to segmentation … is focusing on three core audiences: new customers, holiday shoppers and high-value customers. Each group has specific shopping needs and expects to be treated differently."

Other things companies should do, according to Independent Retailer, are make the most of popular channels such as email, prepare for mobile and tablet users by optimizing websites for these devices, and make sure shipping will be affordable and reliable.

In January of this year, comScore reported that there were record sales in the ecommerce industry. From November 1 to December 31, 2011, there was a 15 percent increase in spending from the previous year, with holiday sales  exceeding $37 billion, including more than $1 billion on Cyber Monday.

Considerations for cloud-based financial solutions

Before a company elects to use cloud-based accounting business software, it needs to assess key considerations to ensure the new solution is not harming the company in any way, according to an August 10 CloudTweaks article.

A typical software solution is usually installed on an in-house network. However, this centralization could potentially expose a business to harm. According to CloudTweaks, a company would have to cope without its collections software and its accounts receivable software should anything happen to its network. While a smart business would eventually be able to recover the software's information, many companies do not bother to back up financial data and thus are potentially exposing themselves to harm. One of the primary benefits of a cloud-based solution is that it reduces the risks associated with the failure of an in-house network. That said, there are still security issues that must be addressed by businesses moving to the cloud.

Before implementing cloud accounting software, a business needs to balance openness with security. While a company can realize the benefits of having employees always being able to access financial data, it needs to ensure that only authorized parties can look at sensitive business information, CloudTweaks reported.

A company may also come to the conclusion that cloud-based accounting software is not right for them. According to a 2009 Network World article, a business might not see the benefits of cloud computing its extremely high bandwidth needs makes an external cloud impractical, or if it lacks human capital eager to work on a cloud-based infrastructure.

However, despite some hurdles that companies need to consider, a cloud-based accounting solution does offer a number of unique benefits. For example, CloudTweaks reported that it may be significantly more affordable in the long run to use cloud accounting software. Additionally, Network World said it allows for greater flexibility and scalability in financial decision-making.

"Cloud storage and accounting have created a new way to account for your business," according to CloudTweaks. "Upload receipts from your phone, account for an expense while on vacation or even print out a ledger from your accountant’s office – the possibilities with cloud storage accounting are endless."

Importance of mobile ecommerce

Whether a company is looking to sell to other businesses or or to consumers, mobile ecommerce websites have become extremely important. Business 2 Community said a poorly designed mobile website can be detrimental to companies, perhaps even more than not having one at all, so businesses should invest in good ecommerce software to make sure they are not suffering from the negative effects of poor mobile optimization.

"Going mobile should be one of your top priorities as there has been a huge surge in web traffic (103 percent to be exact) to leading ecommerce websites over the past year," the news source said.

There are some things a business needs to know when considering a mobile website, Business 2 Community said, including:

- Androids and iPhones must be catered to, as these are the devices most of people will use on the website. Businesses must test to be sure their ecommerce solution works well on these devices or suffer a loss of sales.
- Having a mobile-optimized website is crucial from a marketing perspective.
- User location technology is becoming better, giving companies more information to help sell to local customers.

CIO.com said finding the best ecommerce software means looking for the solution that has a low price tag and few obstacles to implementation, with another big aspect being that the software will grow with the company over the next few pivital years.