Ecommerce growing even larger

In the last few years, those who have adopted ecommerce software have experienced exponential growth every year, proving why they put in the time and money into their online solution. BGR reported that Google recently released a trends study, which found that online shopping of all kinds grew 128 percent from 2011 to 2012 after only seeing a growth of 40 percent in the previous year. 

“As far as the factors driving the ecommerce go, the Google report suggests that more than 30 percent of the shopping queries come from mobile, which shows that penetration of smartphones and the growth amongst users accessing data on mobile are contributing to the overall ecommerce growth,” the news source said. “So it is the mobile devices that came out well as compared other platforms to access these online portals.”

BGR reported that the key drivers for online shopping were the faster delivery times and discounts compared to going to a store. For B2B companies, this principle can be used as well, as these transactions should add a sense of convenience and ease to the clients’ lives as well. The feel of the product and the easy accessibility, as well as trust factors, should all be kept in mind when building a website and displaying a product or service for customers.

The U.K. should especially see a jump in their ecommerce this year, as the Internet Retailer reported that the Interactive Media in Retail Group said it would grow 11.5 percent this year to about $138 billion. This is up from $123.7 billion, showing a huge jump in the industry that all companies should be able to take advantage of with good ecommerce software. Even though the economy is still a little rough, companies would be well served by prepping their ecommerce solution for greater consumption this year.

Consider outsourcing ecommerce

Having direct control of ecommerce software to make changes on a website is great, but smaller businesses may be able to get help in addition to this, according to Manufacturing Business Technology. With the B2B ecommerce market on the rise, busy manufacturing companies are trying to move online, but many may not have to know-how. This is where outsourcing to a third party via cloud services could come in handy.

“Cloud-based ecommerce solutions have been around since last century,” the website said. “For over a decade now these systems have considered, dealt with and pioneered security solutions. Typically ecommerce solution seekers have two areas of security concerns, the safety and security of both their data and their customer’s data and the overall security and the availability of data itself from the ecommerce solution.”

As far as data security is concerned, Manufacturing Business Technology said a third party can protect payment, order and fulfillment information and help keep a company up to date with Payment Card Industry compliance standards. By segregating data, they can help give recommendations on how to do this and allow organization executives to sleep easy at night knowing they are safer than they would be by doing everything in house.

Regarding the availability of data, the website said companies need to look for a provider that can get the information to them quickly and manages their own infrastructure so the business won’t have to worry about any kind of limitations to accessing its information.

This is a big year for B2B companies with ecommerce software, as a Forrester report titled “Key Trends in B2B Ecommerce for 2013″ showed that there will be $559 billion in sales by the end of the year. Only 25 percent of companies have a solution so far, meaning those who invest in good ecommerce will be far ahead of the pack. Choosing a solution is just a matter of what will work for the company and making sure it is implemented correctly.

Tips for B2B ecommerce

When it comes to trends in ecommerce, the B2C sector dominates. However, Ryan Ruud wrote on Business 2 Community that even B2B firms can benefit from this and there is an opportunity for companies to make a lot of money if they adopt the right ecommerce software and work with clients and customers in positive ways. One area where B2B companies can see huge gains is by focusing on their customers like B2C ecommerce businesses do.

“B2B ecommerce shoppers are also B2C ecommerce shoppers,” he said. “Because we’ve learned how to shop online in an e-commerce environment, we have a set of expectations around how e-commerce should behave. This is why it’s important to consider an e-commerce focused provider over just an ERP add-on when tackling an e-commerce project for your manufacturing or distribution business. In addition, this focus on the customer and their behavior reduces cart abandonment.”

In fact, he said creating a great experience for customers is a must if B2B companies want to succeed in the new year.

Other advice from Ruud included:
- Keep up with updates and adding new features to the website, as simply setting it up and leaving it as is for a long time will not get the job done
- Get online as quickly as possible, as the competition is likely already starting to realize that B2B ecommerce is a huge avenue for sales
- Connect with people online and keep lines of communication open

IT Business Edge said B2B ecommerce should work for both the business and customer, which means it should allow for a variety of payment options and work well with other parts of the business. Organizations likely have a lot of legacy software in place, so the ecommerce software must work in concert with other technology to ensure the best end result.


Let ecommerce sell itself

When done correctly, an ecommerce website should allow the products or services on the site sell themselves. The Ecommerce Times said digital content should happen in context and occur without needing to have shoppers switch to a new format. This means having ecommerce software that allows for a seamless experience is very important for companies.

“Users should only be presented with relevant offers when selling is happening in context, rather than just a plethora of unrelated choices,” the website said. “Digital content providers can employ headless commerce, when the product itself – whether a book, magazine, game, application or even a video – is the commerce front end. With this, transactions are effected in-context, greatly increasing conversions.”

The technology that makes it easy for everyone to have access is the internet of things, where customers can buy and sell what they want with ease, Ecommerce Times said. Having a functional website allows these products or content to come to life and lets the customer stay connected to the business at all times. This means companies that are proactive, whether B2B or B2C, can have a much stronger bond with site visitors if they are doing things right on the website.

When selling digital content and goods, the website said, users must be satisfied with what they are buying. Companies should offer new approaches and enable customers to be successful as quickly and easily as possible so they will think more highly of the company.

Practical Ecommerce said it is also important for the company to be proactive with keeping customers after they have drawn them in. Following up after orders or after new accounts are created can show the customers that there is someone on the other end. Using tools such as email marketing can also be a great way to get and keep in touch with clients. However, it should all start with a quality ecommerce software solution that will allow the website to look good and bring people in.

Good photos part of a quality ecommerce website

When building a good online website for any kind of company, it is essential to have great photos. Jason Lawrence wrote on Practical Ecommerce that the way products or services are presented online will have a significant impact on sales. Done incorrectly, customers may not trust the site or will likely be moving on very quickly. With good ecommerce software, businesses can be sure their pictures are ending up how they want to them to as far as placement is concerned on the website, but there is more to it than that.

Organizations won’t need a ton of money to get better pictures either, as Lawrence said it can be done simply and inexpensively by starting with a good camera. He listed some pricier options, such as DSLR cameras, but quality pictures can be taken even without top-of-the-line camera equipment.

“Although it used to be that having a DSLR was necessary for taking quality product photographs, smartphones have dramatically changed the game,” he wrote. “The iPhone 5 has an 8-megapixel sensor and can produce professional grade shots. It’s received glowing reviews. … I strongly encourage you to explore using your smartphone after you have the proper setup before committing to purchasing a higher-end camera. You may be surprised.”

Other factors for businesses to keep in mind when it comes to photos, according to Lawrence:
- Make sure harsh backlighting is avoided and shadows are kept off products
- The products must be clean and the background helping to sell them should be as well
- Show off different angles and don’t be afraid to try new things all the time, but be sure to keep the images consistent

Another story on Practical Ecommerce by Pablo Palatnik said other things to keep in mind on these websites are the quality of the image, what kind of alternative views can and should be available and a zoom feature for those who may want to take a closer look.

Collections boosted by better analytics

Companies that are using debt collections software may be able to get even better results when looking at analytics via their program. One company said it is using software to boost segment accounts, calibrate scores and increase response times via performance updates, all of which should promote a quicker turnaround from customers that owe a business money.

InsideARM reported on one process that, after being improved, allowed users to get results from analytics reduced from three days to 15 minutes, which can help protect brands and create more leeway to how a company does business. One major client of this process said it collected an additional $265,000 from the advanced model and is seeing even better results.

“Our [programs using this system] have enabled me to compile a large volume of data in a short time, to analyze performance over time and to evaluate trends,” one professional said. “This methodology has saved me hours of compilation time and IT resources.”

A previous story on InsideARM said that with a larger pool to collect from, there is more need for businesses to use analytics to their advantage to be sure to get the maximum results from money owed. Having collections software with these capabilities can be a great step in the right direction.

Streamline ecommerce customer service

Companies that sell online generally make things easier for customers. Whether B2B or B2C, the expectation of customers is that the online buying experience will be easier than going into a store and making a purchase. This just means those businesses using ecommerce software must adopt a more stringent approach toward customer service. Greg Holden wrote on eCommerce Bytes that concerns like retailers return policies, forgotten passwords and shopping cart problems are frequent questions that they must be ready to answer.

“The simpler questions can often be addressed through a self-service community portal, knowledge base, or FAQs, all of which can be customized by each business,” Holden wrote, but for other questions, businesses must know how they can answer them and give customers solutions for getting in contact with the business just in case.

A customer service professional offered small ecommerce companies some tips and solutions to their customer service problems, including:
- Always be committed to customers first. They are the ones browsing the website and making the purchase, so the business must cater to them
- Give customers options for getting in touch so that it isn’t just a phone line or an email address, but a combination of many methods
- Make it clear and transparent how the company can be contacted. This works even better if the information is right on the home page

Practical Ecommerce said a few customer service problems can be easily solved just by putting more information on a website. Making the “about us” section on the web more expansive can be a great way to ensure questions will be answered without having to contact the business. In case there are more expansive questions that need answering, email correspondence should be readily available to respond to customers as quickly as possible.

Mobile, customer database smart business for ecommerce

It should be a big year for selling goods and services online, as everyone who has adopted ecommerce software is well aware. Terry Robinson, president of Sunovis Financial, gave some tips on how companies can better work in the industry. He said ecommerce is growing even during tough economic times and it can be one of the best investments companies can make, but businesses must make sure to stay on the cutting edge of technology and modern times to keep their organization growing. The first piece of advice from his company is to make sure the website is mobile friendly.

“With smartphone and tablet usage rising every year (and no end in sight), consumers are using these devices for shopping more and more,” the financial organization said. “If you have a website, congratulations but if it isn’t mobile friendly you could be losing customers without knowing it. The answer is to use responsive web design so your website renders properly regardless of screen size. This allows every user, from the small smartphone user to the large desktop monitor user to see your website as it was meant to be.”

Another piece of advice from the financial company is to develop an edge by having something on the website that sets it apart from other companies, including free shipping or something else unique that will draw in business. They also suggest building a database of loyal customers to learn who is a regular and will keep coming back and who the first time buyers are.

IT Business Edge said B2B ecommerce companies should be follow these rules as well, as customers want an experience they could get from any website. This means the services should be instantly available, configurable and easy to use. If the website isn’t up to par with user expectations, their business may go elsewhere.

Hospitals must work to keep up with patient payments

It never used to be a big problem, but hospitals and other medical offices now have to worry about whether patients will be paying their debts. Formerly, insurance companies took care of most of this, but as co-pays have gotten higher, so has the payment collections burden hospitals have had to taken on. Record Net said one hospital is thinking about using a private collection agency to collect the $381 million in bad debt from patients, but healthcare organizations and other companies should consider investing in debt collections software to make sure they are staying on top of what they are owed instead of letting it build up.

“These are bills racked up by people who could pay them, officials said,” according to the news source. “The hospital does provide healthcare to those who can’t afford to pay for it. But those aren’t the hospital’s only patients, which includes people who have insurance or money to pay their bills.”

The chief financial officer of the hospital said the bills are sitting in accounts receivable gathering dust. They are considering putting the money out to bid to a collections company, but they still have yet to work out that detail in full.

Healthcare Finance News said healthcare organizations must realize what the times are and communicate with patients as much as possible. One healthcare professional in Chicago said she believes this communication is the missing piece.

“It seems that some hospitals still use the traditional approach of sending out a billing statement right away to a patient,”  this healthcare pro said. “The patient often has no idea what their statement means because it’s just a summary of what he or she owes and they are usually blown away by the price they see. There’s no communication and that’s one of the missing pieces in the whole equation. Collections, in and of itself, are a very volatile and emotional thing. Coming from a hospital, it takes it makes it that much worse  -  it’s very sensitive.”

Collections software may be a helpful way to communicate payment information via email and lessen the blow of the bill to patients.

Things to keep in mind for ecommerce SEO

Every company that has used ecommerce software to create a website needs to make sure their presence on the web is felt. That means getting the attention of search engines, customers and other websites via search engine optimization. Hayden Sutherland wrote on The Drum that there are steps companies should take to make sure they have the best possible SEO plan for their ecommerce site, including making sure the product name is as clear as possible.

“Give your product the name of what it actually is, not necessarily what your design or product development team want to call it,” he said. “If your product is known internally as a ‘lace bust strapless bandeau’ and you call it this on your site (and therefore in your page title)… then you can’t really expect the page to be highly placed when someone searches for ‘lace detail dress’ or something similar.”

Sutherland also said that keywords must be used to name products if they are well known. This will help if customers are searching for an item by a description or name. These keywords can be put across the ecommerce website, including in the product copy, to make sure the website is optimized to the best of the company’s abilities.

Other tips from Sutherland include:
- Use content marketing to point out new areas of the website
- Make sure broken links are fixed as soon as possible
- Have the full catalog indexed so people can access every page from a search engine

Search Engine Journal said internally linking pages together is a must. User demands go first, according to the website, so intentions of categories and subcategories must be taken into account when shifting where different products and pages will go on the website. Ecommerce software can help with this, but companies must work to plan out how the website will look.

Blog for ecommerce promotion

Good ecommerce softwarecan mean a great website comes together as well as possible, but any kind of publicity that comes after that is all up to the company. Paul Chaney wrote on Practical Ecommerce that blogging and syndicating those posts can be a great way for a business to get their website more views online.

The first step is sharing the content on social media websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Chaney said using a social sharing feature on a blog post, creating profiles for the company and creating a social media management platform are all great ways to help make sure these posts spread across the internet. Another tip is to use online press releases services to post these blog posts somewhere else with links back to the company website.

“Create a press release based on a newsworthy post and distribute it to services such as PRWeb, PitchEngine, PRLog and others,” Chaney said. “Not only will it help get media attention, but search engine attention, as well. There is a cost associated with each of these, so use them selectively.”

Other tips include:
- Make sure RSS subscriptions are enabled so that people who would like to can keep up with the website posts
- Email out newsletters to customers that feature some of the blog posts
- Submit posts to blog directories
- Enable links on the posts
- Write guest blog posts for other websites that link back to the business

Another post on Practical Ecommerce by Stephan Spencer said there are a few big benefits to adding a blog feature with ecommerce software, including getting links spread across the net by those that read it, having a more search engine-friendly website by having a section that is consistently updated and having more visibility in Google, Bing and other large search engines.

UK sees big December ecommerce surge

December is a big month for any company with ecommerce software. While B2B companies see slightly less action than B2C organizations, the U.K. Office of National Statistics’s Retail Sales report from December showed that internet sales were up 15.5 percent from the previous year. There was a weekly average of about $1.3 billion spent, which meant about 10.6 percent of all consumer purchases were made online. As a whole, the ecommerce market grew 14 percent in 2012.

“It was a very strong finish to the year for the online retail industry, with growth coming in above expectation after a solid first half of the year,” said Andrew McClelland, chief operations and policy officer at IMRG. “In spite of continued tough trading conditions as consumers concentrate on paying down debt, we are forecasting 12 percent growth for the market in 2013 as consumers look to get maximum value from every transaction.”

One aspect that will be different for businesses going forward, according to McClelland, is that customers will be doing more research than ever before making purchases in order to get the best possible value. This points toward the amount of information now online, as customers realize they now have more options for buying online than they have ever had.

Practical Ecommerce said it’s no wonder that comparison shopping has become more popular for online shopping, as it most certainly saves money and gives more options. Jody Isaksson Hartwig wrote that companies may want to look into comparison shopping engines, as it can give more exposure to potential new shoppers and give a better measurement for success as a company.

Keeping up with a business’ credit score

While some companies use debt collections software to help get back the money they are owed, many don’t focus on building credit themselves. Survival Guide For Small Business said organizations ignore or don’t think about their credit score, a vital part of being able to expand down the road. Having good software to keep a revenue stream coming in is essential, but small business owners cannot forget about their borrowing.

“This is the perfect time to focus on your business credit score as the economy starts to recover,” the website said. “Banks are starting to ease on making small business loans and consumers are starting to spend more money. The first thing you need to do is to check what your business credit report. Make it a habit to check it once or twice a year. You should schedule this, just as you would schedule your taxes and other business reports.”

If there are any errors or misinformation on the report, companies should take immediate steps to fix it. Additionally, they should sign up for credit alerts and have a system to manage how they work with credit.

The Small Business Administration said another part of having good credit is monitoring their customers’ and vendors’ credit as well, as this will help businesses understand how much they can extend beyond their own company.

“Knowing the credit of customers enables small businesses to provide better terms to credit worthy customers and avoid doing business with customers who pay slowly – both of which can lead to improved cash flow,” the SBA said on its website.

While having good collections software is one way a business can work to keep up with the credit of customers, keeping track of their own score and making sure there are no issues is important to keep a business moving in a positive direction.

Mobile accountedfor more than 10 percent of ecommerce in 2012

Last year was a big year for online sales, as companies who adopted general ecommerce software were rewarded with an increase in sales over the previous year. A report by eMarketer showed that those who calculated mobile devices such as tablets into the equation were rewarded, as $25 billion was spent on mobile transactions in 2012, a rise of 81 percent from the previous year.

“EMarketer’s mcommerce forecast reflects a confluence of three trends: first, the expanding number of smartphone shoppers whose behavior affects commerce in all channels; second, the growing number of smartphone buyers who enjoy the immediacy of purchasing through their phone and are expected to generate roughly one-third of mcommerce sales this year; and third, the rapid rise in tablet shopping, which will produce the bulk of mcommerce sales over the next four years,” the website said.

BizReport said while $25 billion may sound like a lot right now, it’s a fraction of what total ecommerce sales in general were for the year since mobile only made up 11 percent of total spending. However, experts in the field expect mobile to account for 15 percent of ecommerce sales in 2013 and by 2016, that will reach 27 percent, or $87 billion. Whether a company is specializing in B2B or retail, it is extremely important to start incorporating mobile devices onto the company’s website.

Numbers from this eMarketer report show:
- In 2011, tablets made up $5.45 billion of ecommerce sales. In 2016, they are predicted to make up $61.06 billion
- Via smartphones, $7.5 billion was sold in 2011. This is expected to rise to $24.32 in 2016
- Other mobile devices will see a rise as well. There was under $1 billion sold on these in 2011, but that will be up to $1.48 billion in 2016

Financial resolutions for small business entrepreneurs

Smaller companies and entrepreneurs always need to make sure they are on the right track with their finances. No matter what kind of business it is, new technology such as accounts receivable and debt collections software can be used to keep a business more aware and on top of their financial goals. Fox Business said companies should be making resolutions for the new year to continue to improve, including keeping more accurate financial records, which software can certainly help with.

“Maintaining accurate financial records is not only a good practice, it is also essential to those seeking business expansion funding in 2013,” the website said. “Sales revenues, tax statements and other financial records are proof of the soundness of your business. Financial institutions will base their decisions on such data. Further, lenders will want to examine this financial information in a timely manner; getting back to them slowly on a request might be an indication you are not up-to-date with your record-keeping.”

Keeping up with the past year’s receivables, collections and other financial records can help a company plan for what type of year they will have in 2013, Fox Business said.

Other financial resolutions the news source said could be helpful include:
- Be sure to pay taxes as quickly as possible to make sure everything is squared away
- Cut costs of capital by looking at which areas can be fixed to benefit the company
- Always use software and predictions to look into the future and see what may be in store for the business

Financial adviser Randy Flatt told the Memphis Business Journal that he has been using financial software for the past couple of years and it has been helpful in showing where there may be gaps in a client’s wealth. Even a program like debt collections software can help point out and help fix areas where a company is missing revenue.