How to Make Buying Easier for Your Customers

Today's question: Is your stuff too hard to buy?

Making it hard for customers to do business with you can drive them away faster than you can say “record low profits.” Retail sales are rebounding, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Shopping should be easy.
Shopping. From Flickr user Markles55.
If you want this year to be better than last year, then it’s time to take another look at each aspect of your business, which is why I’m asking you…

…Is your buying process easy enough? 

First, let’s look at your web site. 

How long does it take a customer to buy your product once they’ve decided what they want? Could it be faster? How many steps do they need to take?

Do you save purchasing information (contact info, shipping info, secure credit card info) for return customers? If not, why not? If you don’t have customer accounts and purchase data saved for one or few-click buying, now is a time to think about an upgrade.

Investments you make now will pay off big-time when the holidays roll around, and customers can easily buy whatever they see with one click. Price out your options (namely, with or without credit card data) and see what's really feasible. If it seems like too much, price it against the potential for missed sales (a financial pro can help you with that), and decide what's right for you.

Pro tip: Don't forget that you may also be able to ease the buying experience without some of the expense with tools like Paypal and Google checkout.

Remember, customer accounts drive loyalty - customers will return where it’s easiest to buy, especially when they’re on their mobile devices. No one wants to key in their data over and over again on a small screen when they can save it once on their bigger screen and buy anytime.

Let's take a look at your stores, too: 

Now is a great time to have your wisest friends mystery shop your store and report back. Could they find what they needed? Did anyone offer to help? Was it a consultative experience, with your salespeople offering expertise and recommendations?

How long did it take to check out? Are there places where you can streamline things without making people feel hurried? When your stores are busy, do you have the right systems and staffing in place to keep lines from getting too long?

And finally, are you capturing customers' phone numbers or email addresses, so you can communicate with customers again and track purchasing history?

Again, now is the time to upgrade, change, and rejigger anything that needs fine tuning, so your staff is used to performing at their best when busy times roll around.

Another pro tip:  Direct Mail isn’t dead yet. This recent Forbes article claims that physical marketing still leaves a deeper impression than online marketing. Time to mail your loyal fans a postcard, perhaps?

Need help getting to all systems go? Let me know. I can help.

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Do Some Spring Cleaning for Your Online Channels

So, this week is the beginning  of spring, and if you’re here in DC, the Cherry Blossom Festival is getting well under way – the warm weather we’ve had has them blooming earlier than usual.

Tulip. Photo: Leah Ibraheem.
It’s also time to start your Spring Cleaning – clear out the clutter that’s been accumulating since last year, airing out the rooms, and get a fresh start.

Yes, your online properties could also use some decluttering. 

Let’s start with your web site: 

1) Is the contact information correct? Did you add or change any locations, phone numbers, or social media feeds since your last update? Don’t let missing or incorrect contact information stand in the way of a great customer experience.

2) Are the products current? Remove any items you’re not selling anymore. It’s also a good idea to suppress things you don’t have in stock right now, but might bring back later. You always want to point customers to things you have on sale now – things they can get right away.

3) Do you need to refresh your imagery? If you’ve had exactly the same images on your web site for several months now, you might want to refresh your hero photos and stories. A web site that doesn’t have rotating content can seem stagnant, like you aren’t really paying attention.

How about your Facebook page? 

1) Have you updated with the new timeline structure? Do you have the images and other content you need to do this? Here’s a handy primer from Social Media Examiner on the new look and feel, and how to make it work for you.

2) Are you using Facebook Insights? Facebook’s reporting can tell you the basic demographics of your fan base and how engaged they are. You can use this data to get more fans by advertising to people who are similar to your fan base. You can also use this data to talk about things that will interest your core demo in a way that appeals to them. It’s critical to know whether your Facebook fans are 20-year-old guys or 40-year-old women, and if they are in Topeka, Trenton, or Tuscon.

3) Are you using Facebook Ads? I find that Facebook ads can be more effective than Google ads at driving traffic – I have the option on Facebook to advertise to fans of other brands and of specific topics, so it’s can be easier to identify prospects on Facebook than on Google Adwords, where I have to decide what keywords my audience might be searching.

What about your Twitter feed? 

1) Should you keep tweeting? I love Twitter, but it can be a time-sponge. Now’s a great time to decide if you want to invest a little more time in Twitter by tweeting and retweeting every day.

2) Are you using twitter management tools? I use HootSuite to schedule and monitor tweets, but there are other tools that help you do the same. Scheduling tweets ahead of time can save you a lot of time, and keep you from ignoring Twitter for days at a time, which can be tempting.

3) Have you thought about a Twitter event? Hosting a Q&A with a product expert can be a highly effective way to get new followers. Try it and see what Twitter really can do.

How’s your spring cleaning going? Share in the comments and let me know.

List Acquisition 101 - Which List is Right for Your Business?

As business owners and marketers look to grow their businesses, one thing we all do is search for ways to grow our customer base. After all, a strong loyalty program does have limits. Even your most loyal customers have a natural limit to what they can buy.

List. Flickr user Ex-Smith.
Thus begins the search for new customers. You can find new customers in a lot of different ways – advertising, social marketing, word of mouth, and list acquisition.

List acquisition happens when you rent a list of people and market to them. Those that respond to your marketing become members of your own house file. The ones who don’t respond can’t be marketed to past the terms of your list rental agreement, which may be for single or multi-use.

As a general rule, you can rent lists of people two ways –by demographics or affiliation. You can even combine the two. Here’s how it works:  
  • By Demographics – you can choose the age, income, net worth gender, location, interests, and a number of lifestyle and buying habits. Do you want homeowners or renters? Parents or non-parents? People with pets?
  • By Affiliation – you can also choose from a wide range of memberships and magazine subscriptions. Do you want members of AARP? People who subscribe to Cat Fancy? Graduates of certain colleges? Members of teachers’ unions?
  • Both – Work with a reputable list broker and they will be able to provide you with, for example, Cat Fancy subscribers between the age of 25 – 45 who live on the Eastern Seaboard and make more than $40,000 a year.  

What’s the difference between mailing lists and email lists?

With mailing lists, for the most part, you’ll be able to bring the names into your database and use them for the rental period as you see fit, per the terms of your rental agreement. This gives you the opportunity to send a series of promotions. Anyone who responds remains on your list after the rental period is over, even if they don’t buy.

Email lists are, in general one-time or one-campaign use, and you don’t get to send the email from your desk – the list rental company or list owner does that – you provide the creative content. Again, anyone who responds and opts in joins your house file.  

What about those coupon sites?

I have posted on this blog before about my wariness of coupon sites– after all, we all have to deeply discount our product and the customers get more and more loyal to the coupon brand – Groupon, LivingSocial, or whichever - rather than our own brand.

HOWEVER, it’s worth investigating how much this might cost –the contract with the coupon site, your discount, costs of doing business, AGAINST the costs of a traditional email list rental campaign. After all, the coupon sites’ customers are loyal to that site and thus likely to open the email with your deal. Those who sign up for the deal become your customers. Depending on your business and your offer, you may garner more customers this way.

Do the math, before you do anything else. If numbers aren’t your thing, it’s worth paying your accountant for an hour of her time to show you what’s what.

How are you building your list? Please share in the comments.

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Five Ways to Beat Last Week - Using Sales Data to Maximize Your Opportunity

If you're like most brick-and-mortar retailers, you see the majority of your sales on the weekend. So when you start your Monday morning, the first thing you do is take a look at last week's sales (you do, don't you?). This data, when used correctly, will help you to make this weekend's sales even better than the last one.

Photo: Flickr user GoodNCrazy.
Here's five steps to making the most of your opportunity:

1) Identify what worked last week.
-  What product generated the most net dollars?
-  What product generated the most net profit by unit?
- Which promotion generated the most traffic?

2) Identify what you need to sell this week.
-  What inventory do you need to move the most? What products are sunsetting?
-  What were the most profitable products you sold last week?
-  What's new on the market that needs promotion?

3) Check your calendar and see what promotions you'll have in the marketplace right now.
-  What are you advertising in the paper and local magazines?
-  What are you advertising online?
-  Did you have any emails or social media promotions planned for this week? For what?

4) This should provide you with a pretty comprehensive landscape of where you are - what's working, what you need to sell, and, based on your current marketing calendar, what you're pushing already.

5) Now, take a look at what you can adjust for the week based on what you need to sell. Adjustments you make now on email and social promotions can make a big difference this weekend. If you've ignored any of the things listed under item #2 above, then use today to adjust your email, Facebook, and Twitter posts accordingly.

Need help making sense of all of this? Let's connect and I'll provide you with a system for capturing the right data early in the week to understand your sales landscape and adjust to maximize your profitability each weekend.

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