Making E-commerce Easy

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Helping businesses do business online

Ecommerce Logistics – The essentials

Picking a courier company / logistics partner is probably one of the most critical decisions for an Ecommerce company. They are the last mile of your interaction with the customer, and as a result you need to be really careful about that experience. So please consider the following points as you select one or more logistics partners for your ecommerce business.

1. Pin Codes covered - The more the merrier.  You would be surprised the remote corners your customers can come from.

2. Delivery times for Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities / regions - Most of your customers are going to be from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. So ensure that your logistics provider commits to delivering your products in these cities in super quick time. Ideally next day. Worst case within 48 hours.

3. Own Network vs 3rd Party Network - Ask your logistics provider about details of the network they cover. How much of the pincodes that they cover is by their own fleet, and how much is outsourced to a local 3rd party provider. The difference in quality would be stark between the two, as will be the accountability.

4. Dedicated Relationship Manager – Demand for one. You need someone senior to service your account. Depends on the size of your business, but still demand it and get it.

5. Rates - The all important one. Shop around and consider all the factors on this list, and not just this one. Yes it needs to make sense for your business. But you don’t want to pinch pennies here at the cost of your customer’s experience.

6. Technology support – Check out how much information they can provide you and your customers with their technologies. Courier tracking and on demand status are the minimal service they should provide. They should also provide your customer support team to find the status of a bunch of Airway Bill Numbers.

7. Reconcilliation – This one is crucial to your accountant. Make sure they offer you on-demand reports of how many packages were picked up, how many delivered, send you the proof of delivery receipts, as well as all cash collections for Cash-on-Delivery orders. Also settle with your logistics company once every fortnight. In my experience, the longer the period of settlements the more the number of issues that crop up.

8. Damage and Return policy - Read this part of any contract you sign very carefully. Who is liable in case of damages to the products? What is the maximum amount of liability taken by the logistics partner? What is the insurance coverage provided? Please factor in these points when you publish your return and refunds policy.

9. Weight vs Rate – When you are considering a logistic partner, please check how their rates goes up with respect to the weights of the shipment. Does the increase seem justified? Or do they plan to make a killing when the shipment weight goes up? When you formulate your own shipping policies please factor in these costs.

10. Cash on Delivery – Extremely important in India. COD is still the preferred method of payment for many online customers. So please pick a logistics partner that provides you this service. Also do the homework in checking out the reputation of your partner when it comes to settlement of the COD amounts. This is really crucial as they become your collection agents and any delays on the logistic partners’ part in settling payments would then impact your cash flows. But still this is extremely important. And cannot be ignored.

KISS Principles in Ecommerce

In an Ecommerce business you have a lot of variables that can steal the focus away from your core activities. For example Business Heads at various E-tailing / Ecommerce companies have to constantly dabble with issues like evolving technologies, optimizing search results for a new category, site design and re-design, a new A/B testing campaign, competition’s discounts, Social media campaigns, bugs on the site that refuse to go away, etc.

Its easy to get distracted and lose sight of the bigger picture sometimes. And thats why its so important that we stick to the basics and adopt the KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) principle. An Etail Business Head should obsessively focus on the following:

1. Drive Traffic to the site

2. Ensure the site is fast and easy to use

3. Provide fantastic value to your customers

4. Ensure GREAT customer service

5. Deliver your products on or before time

6. Ensure post sale engagement with your customers / Get customers to come back

If you do the above right, everything else will fall into place. So ensure that you’re spending your team’s energy equally, in the above areas. And remember, the bigger the dream, the more important the team.

So depending on the size of your operations / revenues, start creating teams that revolve around each of these areas. There are a lot of other areas that can be listed above such as managing vendors, accounts, legal, etc but thats where the KISS principle works so well. Take care of the basics and everything else will fall into place. Focus on building solid foundations.

Why Retailers should be part of Shopping Portals

Whats different between DLF Mall and Rediff.com? Obvious answer: One’s brick-n-mortar, the other is purely online. And thats where the differences end. Both house a huge number of brands, provide lots of choice to their visitors and are major retail destinations today, involving huge amounts of high value daily transactions.

Like with the case of malls across the country, there have been a surge of virtual malls in the country. Some of the better ones are rediff.com, indiatimes.com, ebay.in, naaptol.com, indiaplaza.in, infibeam.com, indiavarta.com, and homeshop18.com.

So why should a retailer care about competing in these shopping portals? For the same reason he decides to rent a store in a mall. Attract customers. Brand awareness. High sales. Here are a few advantages.

1. Brand Awareness - Put your brand out there online. Gain brand recognition and be known by the online customer as a choice.

2. Attract Traffic to your brand – With the Shopping portals, you have a lot of traffic coming to the sites. Get noticed by putting out great offers, discounts to the visitors. Entice them with offers. Wow them with the experience. Dazzle them with the service. And rule a portion of their wallets for a lifetime.

3.  Acquire visitors in Shopping Portals and then get them to your own site – Shopping portals are great places for customer acquisition. It lets people from all over the country to know your brand (not just in the cities you are present in) and test you out. If they like your products and service, they will look you up directly, come to your store and increase your direct traffic to your own dot com.

4.  Learn online strategies at the marketplace - As a vendor at these shopping portals, life isn’t easy. You need to compete with aggressive pricing on the popular items. You need to provide great service, quick response times to customer issues, ensure good post sale service to have good vendor ratings on these shopping portals. So in effect you can constantly view what your competition is upto on the same platform. And thats great learning for you. You get battle ready to take on your competition directly with your dot com.

5. Focus on the business, leave the rest to the Shopping Portals - One huge advantage for smaller retailers is that they  often don’t have the resources to worry about technical stuff and thats where the portals come in so useful for their online strategies. Coz they can forget about technology, logistic, driving traffic, payment gateways but instead focus on the core of what they do.

Next Blog post: How to setup an E-store at a Shopping Portal

What to look for in a Payment Gateway provider

One of the first things most businesses do when they start an online business is to sign up with a payment gateway. Here are some of the key things you should look for in a Payment Gateway provider / partner.

1.  Commission and fees – The most important part of decision making. There is choice today. So shop around. All the payment gateways quote high percentages. Don’t give in easily to their demands. Remember, this decision has long ranging impact so negotiate hard.

2. List of participating banks – This is important, because this will open up the choice of paying through the bank of their choice. So ideally you want a PG that accepts all banks.

2.  Netbanking – Ensure that this is enabled for your account.

3. Integration – Ask details of time taken and complexity to integr ate your site with the Payment Gateway provider.

4.  Enrollment Process – How long does it take for the paperwork to come through. What documents do you need to submit?

5. Security Measures - Do you have to buy a SSL certificate? Most gateways would request you to buy one. If not, then how would you ensure the safety of your customers transactions and details.

6. Sandbox – What kind of a testing / stage environment does the Payment Gateway provider make available so that you can test out the entire system? Insist on a sandbox in which your developers can test the integration.

7.  Time to transfer the money to your account – Please get written commitments from the PG provider about this period. What documents, if any need to be provided to ensure the transfer of funds into your bank account.

8. Time to transfer the money to a customer in case of refunds – Please clarify this very clearly with the PG provider, as you would need to answer pointed questions from the customer in case of delays in refunding the money.

9.  Ease of reconciliation of accounts – How easy is it to reconcile accounts with the Payment Gateway transactions. Do they provide you easy access to download reports? This is important otherwise, as the transactions grow on your site, your accountant would find it difficult to tally things. What kind of online interface do they provide? Is it easy to look up transactions from previous months?

10.  Responsiveness towards Conflict Resolution – Every once in a while, a customer will argue that money has been debited from his account, despite your systems saying that the transaction was declined by the bank. In such cases, you need to be able to quickly check in your online panel. It is possible that the panel might back your data, but the customer could still be right. In which case you should be able to call a contact manager at the Payment Gateway provider and check with her / him about it.

11. Customer Service – Most importantly, you want a payment gateway provider that really provides excellent customer service, right from registration to integration to operational issues. Ideally, always ask and get to know a few people in the company well, so that you can reach them easily.

12. Backup – Sign up with more than one payment gateway. Highly recommended. Good to have backup of such an essential service.

13. Cash on Delivery / Cheque Payments - Lastly, and very importantly, Ecommerce still works very heavily on non-payment-gateway transactions in India. Ensure that your business has as many payment options that your customers can desire.

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Important Dates in the Indian Ecommerce Calendar – Part 3 (Final)

Okay…so we started with Diwali, Children’s day, but here is a summary of the most important dates in the Indian Ecommerce calendar that a retailer should not ignore. So make sure you plan your promotions in advance. Monitor the performance of your promotions, analyze your earnings and learnings and get ready to better it with the next event in the calendar.

1. Dussera – Kick start the holiday season with this 10 day long period. Lots of money gets spent around this time.

2. Diwali – The ‘big-daddy’ of Indian festivals. Make a lot of noise around this one with your offers and promos.

3. Christmas – Lots of money gets spent on the lead up to this day. Make sure you get part of that dough.

4. New Years – Excellent time for renewed energy. Start the new year with the right deals with the goal to engage the customer throughout the year.

5. Pongal (Tamil) – You don’t want to miss out on the 2nd largest festival in the country’s most prosperous state. Get regional, get local and gain the goodwill.

6. Valentine’s day – Shiv Sena might oppose it, but the online community absolutely goes nuts over it. Spending surges for the 3 – 4 days before it. Good time to attract young customers.

7. Republic Day – Spruce up your site with saffron, green, white and blue. Give your discount coupons a patriotic angle. :)

8.  Holi – Holi is big for gifting. Across India and from the NRI community. Make sure you’re part of it.

9.  Mid – April (New years day in Southern India and parts of North India) – Gifting is part of the tradition especially within the family. So apparel and accessory related sites would be well advised to offer discounts and partner with discount stores.

10.  Independence Day – Time for you to ‘bleed blue’ in your discounts. Believe me, its a good thing. Target the patriotic sentiments. Ensure you have products / discounts to go for the occasion. If you’re an international brand, its a good time to score local brownie points.

11. Gandhi Jayanthi – Promote all things ‘desi’.

12. Cricket Fever – You cannot be part of the Indian Ecommerce scene and not be affected by cricket fever. Rather than worry about low traffic on big match days, embrace the cricket fever and become a part of it. Your customers will love you. Create memorabilia that can be bought from your site, or given free on certain conditions with every purchase, or some other interesting cricket related promotions.

Important Dates in the Indian Ecommerce Calendar – Part 2

Diwali really kicks off the major holiday season in India which lasts till February. During this time, typically sites would find that even though they don’t do anything different, orders normally go up. And thats largely because its the season of sales and spending in the Indian market. Some of your best discounts in electronics come out around this time.

New models of electronic gadgets, new cars, new season full of clothes on the racks of retailers, gets the Indian consumer’s wallet out and the retailer’s tills ringing. Basically the same is witnessed online. Online retailers try to keep up with their brick-n-mortar brothers-in-arms and online shoppers really benefit from it all.

Children’s Day:
A uniquely Indian event. And thats why this is important. If you’re in a business that also caters to children, then make sure you grab this day. Marketed right, you can get customers to spend on well discounted products. This isn’t a must-buy time, so remember to use this time to give some heavy discounts on your items that aren’t moving too well. Good campaigns successfully use this event to increase the brand recall with the site, especially useful with the approaching Christmas / New Years / Holiday gifting season.

…to be continued

Expanding Online vs Offline? Interesting Article

This is one of those fairy tale stories. Think they kept things simple and just provided excellence at all customer touch points (online and offline). Read on.

http://www.bnet.com/blog/smb/why-i-blew-130000-on-a-new-website/4121

Cheers to them.

 

Important Dates in the Indian Ecommerce Calendar – Part 1

In India, like in other countries Ecommerce has its key periods in a year, in which site visitors seem to be running around with their wallets in hand, eager to punch in their credit card numbers and buy something. Show them a discount during the diwali season and they are twice as likely to buy.

The sites that do the best business during the ‘season’ are the ones that are best prepared for it. It really helps to identify and anticipate the days / weeks / months during which customers are more likely to spend.

Here are a list of dates during which you will get a spike in your sales

Diwali – This is the big daddy of holiday sales in India (the closest equivalent to Christmas holiday season in India). This period starts off almost a month or two before Diwali. If you’re smart, you’ll target the corporates for corporate gifting orders a couple of months before Diwali. Give them e- gift vouchers of your site at discounted rates. Take bulk orders for attractive discounts. More importantly become part of the corporate gifting market, as this is going to grow significantly in the years ahead (its already HUGE).

Target NRIs during this season.

Tie up with gifting sites which are popular destinations for NRIs to come and search for gifts during Diwali.

People spend a lot of time around Diwali on facebook, wishing their families, looking at pictures of their friends, so it helps to spend money on advertising on Facebook.

….to be continued

 

 

Checklist for your E-commerce store

If you’re the owner of a retail business and are taking your business online, here is a quick checklist:

1. Business Plan – Set the budget, make the goals, treat this as a different business.

2. Get the processes in place – Take the time to invest in this, as effort here will result in lesser troubles

3. The bigger the dream, the more important the team – Recruit a person who knows the online space and is passionate to take the responsibility of taking your business online.

4. Platform – Select the right technology platform. There is a lot of choice. Find technology partners who know the ecommerce space, have a good mix of experience and passion. Make sure the platform is optimized for Search Engines.

5. Order Management Systems – Ensure that the orders you receive are turned around in no time.

6. Right packaging for your orders – The importance of this cannot be overstated.

7. Payment Gateway - Pick the partner that makes it easy for your customers to pay, and for your business to afford.

8. Logistics partner – Very important. Pick a company that takes customer service very seriously. Bad experiences for your customers with courier companies will reflect directly on you.

9. Marketing Plan - Must include a plan to get and stay on top of search engine rankings. Set aside budgets for search engine marketing.

10. Social Media – Scream about your new online business on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Build a following. Offer your fans some compelling reason to keep coming back.

11. Customer Service – Be the Amazon.com of your business. Beat your competition when it comes to customer service.

How much to discount online?

No businesses like to offer too much discounts, if they can help it. But since customers love discounts, what choice do you have? :)

And in a price, sorry discount crazy country such as India, the question that gives the most sleepless nights is: How much should I discount online? How much (discount) is enough?

Well, here is my answer depending on what kind of a business you’re running.

If you’re just launching online and want customers to come in: Discount heavily.
Beat the big guys amazed at your aggressive rates. Shout about these rates at the top of your voice wherever you can: Blogs / Facebook / Twitter. Partner with SnapDeal.com / Koovs.com / Sosasta.com / Groupon.in and announce these heavy discounts. Remember you just want traffic to build, your brand to be known, so treat the discounts as a marketing expense, as a customer acquisition strategy.

If your online business has been around a while and you’re trying to grow the subscriber base: Discount and compete with your competitors on pricing.
Be cheaper than them on the items that are in the ‘buzz’, that drive customers to your site, but don’t discount on the other items. Take advantage of your business experience in knowing which products to discount, which to bundle, which to offer as discount to repeat customers only, etc. Basically use your online business experience to be smarter than the start-ups.

If your online business is amongst the leader: Don’t stress on discounting. Stress only on the service.
Keep the customers happy and let them be your evangelists. Be aware of the online price wars, but beat your competition by providing best-in-class customer service. Deliver outrageous service. You cannot go wrong with this. Use the Keep-It-Simple-Stupid principle. And importantly, remember to use your financial muscle power well.