This post will give you some pointers about how to go about your first Web Design project. If you have limited technical ability, we always recommend working with a professional developer or agency to get your project off the ground.

Layout: Creating a layout for your website is a big part of developing a successful website. The website should follow a pattern that feels familiar to visitors. Try putting your twist on the classics.
     Do – Create a website with an intuitive layout/interface that is easy for a customer to find what they want. Research on other websites and try to identify customer behaving patterns when visiting those sites. There is a lot of research about how people browse the web out there, so look around and see what you can do to capitalize on how people navigate the web.
     Don’t – Design or build a website that is so wide that the customer has to scroll left and right to see everything. All of the content should be contained within the viewable width of most web browsers with the most important information “above the fold” or before the page needs to scroll vertically.

Navigation: Navigation is an important tool for your website. Think of who will be viewing your site and think of how to split up the content in a way that would make sense to them to look for it.
     Do – Use a top navigation or left-side navigation as these are familiar to most visitors so they’ll know where to go to get around on your site. If you’ve got a blog page, you may want to have a right column which includes the blog filters and widgets, while the main column contains the posts you’ve written.
     Don’t – Use a hidden navigation or remove navigation on certain pages. Make sure it is always easy for your customer to get around your site. You’ve probably spent a lot of time and money on your site, so don’t waste that investment by making it hard for your customer to get around.

Colors: Color can be a very useful tool to create interest and engage your customers. As in most artistic mediums, color should be used carefully.
     Do – Use colors to enhance your design and draw attention to specific elements on your site (checkout button, add to cart, etc. – more about this later).
     Don’t – Complicate your site with tons of different colors that don’t belong on the same page. You’re not creating abstract art here. Color should enhance the website, not take it over.

Think About Mobile: As more and more people turn to Mobile and tablet devices to browse the web, it’s important to have a strategy in place so customers can view your site on these devices.
     Do – Implement a responsive theme for your website. Responsive design allows you to create a website which adjusts based on the device viewing the site. This makes it ideal for websites which receive traffic from a wide variety of mobile and tablet devices.
     Don’t – Make mobile an afterthought. For most people, there is a tendency to develop a website and then implement a mobile theme separately. You’re doing your business a disservice if you follow this route. It’ll effect your branding (no matter how much you try, your mobile theme will never quite match your actual site) as well as your search rankings (two separate sets of HTML code for the same website add additional complication to your site that search engines don’t like).

Call to Action: Have a clear call to action prompting your customer to take a specific action that you want.
     Do – Prominently feature your call to action on the page and make it stand out with a bright color or a large graphic.
     Don’t – Pack your page so full of graphics and buttons that the Call to Action is lost in the shuffle.

Content: Ever hear the phrase “Content is King”? Well, it’s true. Content is an important piece of creating a successful website.
     Do – Create good, original content to engage your customers. This applies to both website copy as well as images/graphics.
     Don’t – Plagiarize or use duplicate content. Search engines want original content and know when you’re lying about it. Avoid getting punished in your rankings for doing this.

Get Interactive: Add interactive elements to your site. These can be used for specific promotions or messages to your customer. Changing/rotating graphics will keep a customer interested and allow you to draw their focus where you want it.
     Do – Use sliding banners on your homepage. These allow you to send your customer a specific message about your site (promotions you are running, new products, etc.) in a way that is easy for them to consume. These can help grab a customer’s attention and keep them on your site.
     Don’t – Use Flash. There is almost no time when a website needs to use flash these days; period. Search engines don’t like it and some Mobile devices can’t handle it (Adobe also announced that it will no longer support flash for mobile). Look to HTML5 to develop something you would normally use flash for. Also, stay away from music on your site – especially if it automatically plays. Unless you’re promoting your band or you sell music, this is just annoying.

Marketing: Having a marketing strategy in place as you build your site will help you hit the ground running with SEO and page rank for your website.
     Do – Create content that is relevant for your website and the product or service you are selling. Use important keywords that customers will be using when looking for your site on search engines.
     Don’t – Go overboard with Keywords. It is more important that your content read well than have a ton of keyword density. Even if that does help you get traffic to your site, it will turn off customers and cause them to bounce and go to your competitors.

Optimize: Work hard to optimize your website. This will ensure that it loads quickly for your customers, which will help keep them engaged and on your site.
     Do – Optimize code, use Style Sheets (CSS) and speed test your site. These things will help keep your site fast and keep your bounce rate low. It will also make updating your site easier (which means cheaper for you!).
     Don’t – Upload huge image files. You don’t want to get so caught up with image quality that you are uploading giant image files that slow down your page loads. Optimize your images for the web by compressing them – most likely, your customers won’t even notice.

Get Social: If you’re going to be proactive and update/interact regularly, think about implementing a social strategy to engage your customers.
     Do – Add Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. to your site. You can do this in the form of links to your accounts or social sharing widgets. The important thing here is to engage your customers in the way that is most familiar to them.
     Don’t – Add a blog or social feeds that you aren’t going to regularly keep updated. This will make your potential customers question your credibility. Also, if you are just starting out and have a small following on your social accounts, hold off on adding those to your site – these will also reflect poorly on your brand.

If you have any questions or need some help with your new project, give us a call!


We previously posted about what responsive design is and how to get started on a responsive design for your website. If you haven’t seen that post, you can read that here: Responsive Design: What is it and what do you need to know

This post will go into some detail about why responsive design is so important, specifically for Mobile and Tablet Devices. Originally, designers and developers only had one main challenge to deal with – maintaining the same look and feel of their website across multiple desktop computer browsers. As more and more mobile smartphones and tablets are released, things have started to get a little more complicated.

So, why Responsive Design?

Cost of Ownership
You may be asking yourself: “Why not just build a Mobile site and a tablet site?” Well, you could do that, but then you’re stuck with three different sites that you need to update as your site evolves. While there might be a slightly higher cost to implement a responsive theme, you’ll find that the cost of ownership is actually significantly lower when you factor in the cost of updating and maintaining one responsive site versus multiple sites for desktop/mobile/tablet.

User Experience is Important
Content may be king, but user experience is becoming a much larger part of the picture. A good user experience enables visitors to consume content on any website through the device of their preference at any time. As such, responsive web design is necessary to provide the optimal user experience for all site visitors regardless of what kind of device they access your site with.

Available to Anyone, Any Time
These days, people are constantly moving and on the go. Responsive design lets users access and view your site easily regardless of where they are and what kind of device they have. Early morning commuters can browse from their mobile devices and tablets, and then access the site from a desktop computer or laptop when they get to work or back home.

When Google Talks, We Listen
Google has about a 67% market share on search, so when they want something you do it. Google says that responsive design is the recommended configuration for mobile devices. Additionally, google refers to responsive design as the industry best practice (https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/).
The reason for this is because websites that use responsive design have one URL and the same HTML making it easier for Google to crawl and index the website.

Mobile Browsing Statistics
It’s easy to support implementing a responsive strategy from a cost, design and usability, or marketing standpoint alone, but beyond that the statistics for mobile and tablet website browsing are compelling enough. Statistics show that 91% of all people on Earth have a mobile phone and 56% of people have smartphones. Out of all mobile phone users, 50% say that they use their mobile device as their primary internet source. That’s over 3 Billion (yes, Billion with a ‘B’) people browsing the web on their mobile phones. Moreover, people are turning to the mobile web at much higher rates than they did with desktops in the 90′s and early 2000′s with adoption rates 8 times higher. A recent survey has shown that 80% of consumers plan to conduct mobile commerce during 2014 with over half of the respondents (57%) saying they would not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.

The graphic below shows just how much people are using tablets to consume data on the web and the expectations for mobile payment growth over the next few years.

Infographic created by www.supermonitoring.com

As the number of people with web-enabled tablets and mobile devices increases, so does your customer base. If you fail to grasp the importance of this and don’t implement your Responsive strategy right away, you’re putting yourself at a big disadvantage.

Want to talk to someone about implementing a responsive strategy for your site? Call Redstage today!

Magento is a massive system with tons of files which can really slow your site down if not set up properly. There are plenty of ways that you can optimize your site to improve performance (optimized code, upgraded servers optimized for Magento, etc.). These things can always help, but sometimes, it’s nice to have options available to you without needing a CS degree or spending a ton on hosting. This list will give you some times for how to optimize your sites admin settings to improve your websites performance.

1. Disable Logging – Logging is a feature in Magento which can be useful for testing while developing a site. It creates records of how various features in your site are working/communicating with internal and external systems. But once your site is live, logging is less necessary. Moreover, it is a big drain on your servers resources. This feature is enabled in all Magento releases by default, so you’ll need to go into the admin to disable it. To do so, go to:

  • System>Configuraiton>Advanced>Advanced
  • Expand the “Disable Modules Output” list and look for “Mage_Log”
  • Set this to “Disable” and click the “Save Config” button at the top right of the screen.

2. Enable compilation – Compilation has been a part of Magento for the last few releases (since Magento CE 1.4.x.x). Essentially, this feature reorganizes site files and scopes into a more easily accessible blocks of HTML. According to Magento, this feature can increase performance by 25-50% depending on the page requested. The caveat to using compilation is that you need to recompile the website each time that changes are made (especially if new extensions are installed – we recommend disabling compilation when installing new extensions and re-enabling it when the installation is complete). To enable compilation, go to:

  • System>Tools>Compilation
  • Clicking the Orange button to “Run Compilation Process” will turn on compilation for the site.

3. Combine JS and CSS files – This is another feature that has been around for a while now (since Magento CE 1.4.x.x). While this feature doesn’t decrease the file sizes for your JS or CSS files, it combines them into one which can yield significant improvement in browser rendering time. To enable this setting, go to:

  • System>Configuration>Advanced>Developer
  • Expand the sections for “Javascript Settings” and “CSS Settings”
  • For the “Merge Files” options, set the value to “yes”

4. Enable Flat Catalog – Magento uses the EAV database model, so loading a category or product page requires several different database queries from different database tables storing product data. Enabling the Flat Catalog allows these pages to be built using a single DB query from a single DB table. This reduces the performance bottleneck of loading a product/category page significantly. To enable this setting, go to:

  • System>Configuration>Catalog>Catalog
  • Expand the Frontend section
  • Look for the options “Use Flat Catalog Product” and “Use Flat Catalog Category” and set the value to “Yes”

Note: If you can’t set these values to yes (they are grayed out) it likely means you need to enable indexing for these features under System>Index Management.

5. Keep it Simple – This should go without saying, but it bears repeating: just because extensions are out there, DOES NOT mean you need to install all of them. The more files you add to your site, the more server resources you are wasting. Be critical about what features you want to add to your store. If you do want to try out a new feature, consider setting up a development environment so you can test that feature out without affecting your live sites performance.

Like these tips and want to know more? Contact us today to discuss your site and how Redstage can help grow your business!

With the holidays upon us, here are some helpful tips to help make the most out of this holiday season. Work on implementing some of these tips for an easy way to boost sales and profits.

1. Prepare in advance – you could receive 40-60% more traffic
Speak with your hosting company to see if your server will handle a massive increase in traffic and discuss options for adding resources to handle extra traffic. 57% of customers will leave your site if your page takes longer than 4.3 seconds to load. Limited number of warehouse staff for processing orders or customer service reps for dealing with customer communications? Staff up temporarily for the holidays to keep customer service levels high and to keep up with extra orders.

2. Go Mobile
Every year, mobile eCommerce increases by 100-150%, you need to make sure you are not missing out on this market. This could be a custom implementation by your developer or quickly installing a mobile theme that you’ve purchased from the web. There are a number of mobile solutions out there, but our favorite is MobileNow for Magento – it’s quick and inexpensive, and you get to customize the theme – (www.mobilenowapp.com)

3. Check inventory levels
You will be selling 30-40% more this holiday season, some eCommerce sites sell as much as 80% of their yearly volume in the weeks between Black Friday and Christmas. You need to make sure to have a good handle on stock levels and purchasing plans at this time of year. Have your most popular items in stock and factor in time for potential supplier delays which may affect your ability to fulfill orders promptly for your customers. Running out of items will cost you sales now and will likely affect your future sales as well.

4. Check for bottlenecks
Slow page loads will most definitely turn off your visitors and cause them to leave losing you sales! Grease the wheels a bit by performing some site optimizations or upgrading your hosting for the season. There are a number of free services out there, such as webpagetest.org and pingdom.com – which will give you a free analysis on how your site is performing.

5. Get Social
Advertising can be time-consuming and expensive. Let your customers help take some of the weight off your shoulders! Make sure you have implemented some social sharing features (facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc.) so your customers can share their favorite products with their friends.

6. Add more product media
Sometimes, just seeing a photo or two of a product isn’t enough to give the customer a full picture of what you’re selling. This is a suggestion that applies regardless of the season, but implementing videos and 360 views of your products will increase customer confidence and increase conversion. Show off your products by providing demo videos and tell your customers the whole story.

7. Ramp up email marketing
As the holidays come around, all of those newsletters that you’ve signed up for start sending out tons of emails prompting you to go their site and check out their deals, use this special coupon code or check out their new products available now. These companies do this for a reason – IT WORKS! Spend some extra time on putting together exciting marketing emails with a good call to action to push your customers to visit again.

8. Implement a PPC strategy
If you don’t already use PPC, start right away. People are searching for what you sell, they just need to be able to find you. If you can spend some money to increase your traffic and get targeted visitors, this is a no-brainer way to generate additional sales on your site.

9. Offer Free shipping & Expedited shipping discounts
Studies have shown that customers expect free shipping and are more willing to purchase from sites that offer free shipping. You don’t need to offer free shipping on all orders, but offer a free shipping at a minimum order threshold such as $50 or $100. This will encourage customers to add more products to their order to reach that minimum threshold increasing your average dollars per order. Also, there are plenty of procrastinating shoppers out there – so be sure to set up shipping options that get presents to people before Christmas!

10. Add trust logos and security
It’s very cheap to purchase an SSL certificate for your site – we like www.comodo.com. Also, add trust logos to your site once you are SSL secured, have paypal or merchant services partnerships, and add the credit card logos.

11. Incentivize your Customers
Incentivize customers to buy early – Offer special promotions to customers who purchase early. Encourage your customers to buy now rather than wait it out for a better deal by giving them a special perk for doing so: Free upgrade to Expedited shipping, 10% of gift cards purchased before December 15th, or guaranteed holiday delivery for orders placed by a certain date.

For more ways to improve your site for the holidays, feel free to contact us at info@redstage.com to see how we can help you boost your holiday sales! Good luck, and Happy holidays!

online focus groups

Let’s start with a little background.  Market research is usually divided into two types based on the methodological approach used: qualitative and quantitative research. Both of these approaches have their key advantages and disadvantages. As such, some types of data can be easily obtained from one type, while it may be downright impossible to identify from the other.

With quantitative research, a person can easily obtain data from a large sample group and focus their inquiries to get very objective responses. Thus, conclusions based from quantitative research have a high degree of probability and often hold true to the entire population. However, there are also several downsides to quantitative research. These can be classified into three general areas: complexity, cost, and time. Conducting quantitative research often requires a high degree of proficiency, as well as costly and time-consuming data gathering methods. Moreover, because of the objectivity of the responses required in quantitative research, the participant can often feel constricted in the answers he can give. Take a simple survey for example. In a question where a participant must check off one or more reasons why he dislikes a particular product, what if the participant’s reason is not provided in the given check list?

Open-endedness is the primary advantage of qualitative over quantitative research.  If you’ve ever been interviewed for a job, then you’ve participated in qualitative research. Moreover, this type of research is also much cheaper and can also be conducted much faster than its more rigid counterpart. However, the precision of the data gathered through qualitative research rests largely on the ability of the conductor. In a job interview for example, the interviewer will often base his conclusions on not only the interviewee’s answers, but also on how he says them, his body language, and other nonverbal cues.

The traditional focus group

A focus group is form of qualitative research that essentially functions like a group interview. The participants are often asked open-ended questions on their opinions on a product, service, marketing campaign, or any other company concern. According to Lindlof and Tylor, authors of Qualitative Communication Research Methods, one of effects of group discussions is that it produces data and insights that would be less accessible without interaction found in a group setting—listening to others’ verbalized experiences stimulates memories, ideas, and experiences in participants. This is also known as the group effect where group members engage in “a kind of ‘chaining’ or ‘cascading’ effect; talk links to, or tumbles out of, the topics and expressions preceding it.”

traditional focus group

The online focus group

Thanks to recent advances in technology, conducting online focus groups has been a growing trend in market research.  These online group discussions work by inviting a random sample from a large group of pre-screened individuals that represent the target market to log into a web conference with a focus group moderator. Once the group has assembled, the moderator then guides the flow of discussion using a set of prepared questions and unscripted ones. Meetings usually last from around sixty to ninety minutes, and are often viewed from a virtual backroom by other company representatives acting as observers. If the market research was outsourced, the research company’s clients would act as the observers. The observers in the virtual backroom are invisible to the participants of the web conference.

The benefits

There are several benefits online focus groups have over traditional (face-to-face) ones. Here are a few:

  • Cost. Online focus groups are often much cheaper since it eliminates the need to transport, lodge, and feed participants. Savings are most significant when company’s actually need to a focus group of participants from different parts of the country.
  • Time and convenience. Since everything is done in front of a computer screen, the researcher and participants will no longer need to travel to the research venue. They can, therefore, avoid a lot of wasted time and inconvenience involved in travelling. Moreover, this also makes the research much faster to conduct. Time saved from research can often mean a strong competitive advantage for the client if he gets to introduce a new product or service to the market before his competitors.
  • Suitable for some products and services. Conducting interviews via computer can easily help you get closer to a specific market demographic: technology-savvy individuals. If you want to conduct market research for a website or other online service, online focus groups can help you get very accurate results.  Participants are even known to answer personal questions more freely when in an online focus group. This has mainly been attributed to the anonymity participants often feel when they’re behind a computer screen.

The downside

However, because of the limited interaction of online focus groups, moderators will often find it harder to interpret nonverbal cues from the participants. This is especially true when trying to interpret body language. Unlike traditional focus groups where the moderator can easily identify cues like seating position (whether laid back or listening in) and hand gestures (whether crossed or open armed),  he is only confined to facial expressions and speech patterns.

Pro Tip: Usertesting.com

At Redstage, we have had a very high level of success with this variant of online focus grouping.  For only $49 each, you receive video and audio of a live person combing through your website and discussing any problems they face.  You can provide questions and scenarios to guide the test and even narrow down the users who will perform the tests based on demographic information.

We advise that you purchase at least 10 users for the test, which puts the entry cost for online focus grouping at a very low $500.   Visit usertesting.com here.

google analytics

With Intelligence Events, Google Analytics allows you to quickly view and define big events in your website’s traffic. Pair this service with Custom Alerts which let you receive timely notifications whenever these events occur, and you’ve got a very efficient virtual assistant that’s on the job 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

The Google Analytics blog defined the services as:

Analytics Intelligence: We’re launching the initial phase of an algorithmic driven Intelligence engine to Google Analytics. Analytics Intelligence will provide automatic alerts of significant changes in the data patterns of your site metrics and dimensions over daily, weekly and monthly periods. For instance, Intelligence could call out a 300% surge in visits from YouTube referrals last Tuesday or let you know bounce rates of visitors from Virginia dropped by 70% two weeks ago. Instead of you having to monitor reports and comb through data, Analytics Intelligence alerts you to the most significant information to pay attention to, saving you time and surfacing traffic insights that could affect your business. Now, you can spend your time actually taking action, instead of trying to figure out what needs to be done.

Custom Alerts make it possible for you to tell Google Analytics what to watch for. You can set daily, weekly, and monthly triggers on different dimensions & metrics, and be notified by email or right in the user interface when the changes actually occur.

Intelligence Events

In other words, Intelligence Events has two very important functions: it analyzes the data for you and calls your attention to the most relevant ones. Although we haven’t found much information on how the Intelligence Events algorithm works, it’s clear that the system takes a lot of variables into consideration, which really isn’t surprising when you consider that the system was made by Google. What’s more is that the system’s design and user interface, also sticks to what Google does best: simplicity and intuitiveness.

intelligence events

Custom Alerts

Custom Alerts is also a very useful service. In the age of information, speed and accuracy are everything. Custom Alerts keeps you informed of anomalies in your websites traffic all day, every day. This means that you’ll be able to take quick action whenever you might experience a sharp rise or drop in traffic.

Custom Alerts

If you use Google Analytics, you should really try giving both Intelligence Events and Custom Alerts a shot!

Are Men and Women equals when it comes to shopping?  The answer, unsurprisingly, is – definintely not. While much has changed in recent years, there are still some behavioral aspects that set these two genders apart. What this article is primarily tackles though is the difference between online buying behavior between men and women.

Despite the apparent gender equality in the workplace, stereotypes are still very prevalent in the household. A lot of families still see the male as the provider, while women (although they may also work) are still tasked with shopping for the family. As such, it really is no surprise that women dominate online retail.

Women spend approximately 20% more time browsing through shopping sites online than men. While some key categories like sports, electronics, and outdoor goods are still predominantly controlled by men, women lead almost every other retail category.

What’s more, women don’t just spend more time shopping online. They also spend significantly more money on most categories for online purchases.

As an e-commerce retailer, it’s important to not only know who your audience will most likely be, but also the factors that will affect their purchase decisions. If you’re targeting women for example, you should know that women take coupons much more seriously than men. In fact, 68% of women shoppers (vs. 60% of male shoppers) are likely to use coupons when they want to save money while shopping online. They are also more likely to shop when there are sales (49% vs. 36%), and sign up for incentive programs (33% vs. 23%).

However, one of the advantages men hold over women when it comes to online shopping is their dominance of the m-commerce market. Although there are several factors that affect this, such as the fact that men are more likely to own a smartphone than women, the point is that e-commerce merchants who focus their efforts on the mobile market should definitely cater their services to better deal with the needs of the male audience.

The two genders also approach online shopping differently. Males tend to stick to whatever mission they assign themselves when they shop online, whereas women tend to wander among different product categories. Before deciding on a purchase, men tend to search for information on the particular product’s page, while women tend to just scan the information before moving on to the next potential product. This often leads to more impulse purchases from women than from men.

Additionally, women also depend on social media more than men when making a purchase decision. Women are also much more likely to recommend a product to friends and family on a social networking site (35% vs. 28%).

Lastly, despite the apparent differences in shopping behavior though, Shoppercentric, a UK based research firm, claims that the younger shoppers, whether male or female, display mostly identical shopping patterns.

So what do all these facts and figures mean for an e-commerce merchant?

First off, if you are providing a product or service primarily for men, it’s better if it’s within the male-dominated categories. When presenting your product, make sure to give accurate and detailed descriptions of your product. Show why you are superior to your competition and provide customer reviews and testimonials proving it.

On the other hand, if you’re product or service is for the female demographic, it might be better to make your site more interactive. Give the users a chance to communicate with one another via chat, forums, or reviews. Pay particular attention to ease of navigation, filtering, and sorting. You might even want to pay more attention to creating promotions and sales in order to give female purchasers more incentive to choose your product over your competitors.

If you are catering to younger shoppers, you might want to give them detailed product information, customer reviews, and opportunities for social interaction.

ebay title

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. So why focus all your marketing efforts on a single distribution channel?

There are several compelling reasons why you should choose to make your product available on several channels. It will not only allow you to expose your products to consumers from different markets, but will also make it easier to do branding and positioning. In this article, we’ll focus our discussions on the effectiveness of using eBay as a supplemental channel for your existing e-commerce website.

First off, let’s discuss a few basic facts on what is largely considered to be the world’s largest online marketplace, eBay. The company has enjoyed a considerable rate of growth since its establishment in 1995. By 1996, the site hosted the sale of around 250,000 items. Just a year later, it hosted more than 24,000,000 auctions. The resulting growth rate was a staggering 9600%! In 2011, eBay online marketplace boasted a total payment volume of $33.86 billion, and a user-base of over 200 million, approximately 102.4 million of which are active.

increase graph

As impressive as these facts and figures are though, there is no point to investing your time and effort on eBay if your products don’t fit the market’s demand. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t sell some types of products on the site, but it’s just advisable that you focus your resources on channels that give you the most bang for your buck. To help you make a better decision, here are the top 10 item categories on eBay based on popularity.

ebay top 10

For the foreseeable future, the site will continue to be among the most popular market places on the web. For a large number of people that want to buy something online, they will turn to long-trusted websites like eBay. So if you don’t have an eBay store for your e-commerce website you may want to seriously consider it starting one. Do not underestimate the potential of eBay as an alternative channel for selling your products.

It might not be easy, but investing on your eBay store can have some real potential to turn a hefty profit.  To set you apart from your competitors, you will have to put some effort in, including:  eBay listing optimization, trendy listing designs, and eBay integration with your existing e-commerce website.

When you start selling on eBay, you may notice that the site does not allow you to use a direct link (to your own website) on your eBay product listing. This is because direct links adversely affect the traffic of the site. In addition to this, they may potentially lose some of their fees if the customer directly deals with you. If you want to attract traffic to your e-commerce site, the only way is to indirectly refer customers to it.

Since eBay allows sellers to watermark the photos of their products, use this opportunity to place your site’s URL on the watermark. This can be used to both claim ownership of the photo and indirectly refer your customers to your e-commerce site.

The only real problem with having both an e-commerce site and eBay store is the amount of time and effort required to maintain the two. Luckily though, there are several companies that provide eBay integration services that can be found online.

Let’s talk technology

Since we specialize in Magento here at Redstage, we’ll focus on technologies that integrate with Magento.

Another note: eBay now owns Magento, so the integration landscape is bound to improve very quickly from where it is now.

The easiest option will be to get set up with m2ePro, which is now free thanks to eBay.  We have quite a few clients using the system, and it seems to work well for most.

Another option is to integrate with a more robust software solution, like ChannelAdvisor.  The current integration on the Magento Connect site made by DevGento has been very poor in our experiences.  You will likely have to invest in your own integration.

Then there’s the solutions that are not quite ready, but we’re looking forward to.

  1. ChannelUnity is by the makers of the Camiloo Amazon connector.  It promises to be a very robust system to integrate eBay, Amazon, and possibly other venues
  2. eBay and Magento are creating their own integration through the new x.commerce platform.

Do your homework. With a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes you can easily find one that can suit your particular needs.  After that, prepare to invest quite a bit of energy into getting up and running.  Luckily, you’ll get almost an instant response as eBay’s hundred million customers are already shopping the site!

Title

Facebook is widely considered as the world’s largest social network, so unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, the company really needs no introduction. However, for the sake of better understanding the importance of the later portions of this article, let’s take a quick look at the company’s profile (forgive the pun).

The company was established in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, and was initially designed to be an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was an instant hit and period of rapid growth soon followed. During such time, several offers were made to buy out the company. 2006, in particular, marked a significant milestone for Facebook. On this year, one of the biggest names on the internet, Yahoo, made an offer to buy the company for $1 billion not once, but twice! It was in rejecting the offers that Mark Zuckerberg earned notoriety as the “kid who turned down a billion dollars”.

By 2011, the social network could boast an active user-base of 400 million, with over 50% going online every day. It is mainly with these impressive figures that internet marketers, especially those that focused on social media marketing, turned their attention on the potential goldmine. In fact, by the same year there were already 3 million active pages on the site. Roughly 1.5 million, or half of these pages, were owned by local business owners.

Moreover, the social network has a user-base that extends to more than a hundred countries all over the world. In fact, 70% of Facebook users reside outside the United States, and the popular website is translated in over 70 languages.

Despite all this success though, the social network never really took a step in monetizing its operations until 2006, when it struck a deal with J.P. Morgan Chase to promote a product of theirs using banner ads. Nonetheless, this deal paled in comparison to Facebook’s biggest revenue model, Facebook Ads and Pages for Brands, which launched in the last quarter of 2007.

brands

Later on, through much study and experimentation, social marketing experts found that users did not want to leave Facebook just to explore an externally-linked ad. In fact, a recent study by a reputable research company, Forrester, shows that only 1% of a typical site’s visitors come from a social media URL. Another study shows that e-mail marketing produces a click-through rate of 11% and a conversion rate of 4%, while Facebook only generates 1% and 2%, respectively. For internet marketers, this meant attempting to sell their products mainly through the Facebook platform alone, or to at least build a fan page to improve the brand’s positioning. The new social marketing channel is known today as F-Commerce.

F-commerce has been defined as the use of Facebook as a platform for facilitating and executing sales transactions. As an e-commerce marketing tool, it has had mixed reviews. Some claim that it has the potential to be lead internet marketing to new and exciting grounds. Its transactions were even predicted to supersede those of the internet giant, Amazon, within the next five years. That’s a revenue stream of approximately $34 billion!

On the other hand, there are also several studies discounting its effectiveness. A report in Bloomberg was even jokingly entitled “An ‘F’ for F-commerce?” Other studies claim that the positive reviews for F-commerce were outlandish and far-fetched. While the aforementioned Bloomberg report claims that F-commerce doesn’t work, some people might be inclined to disagree.

First off, let’s talk about, Wharton School of Business Professor, Stephen Hoch’s comment detailed in the report. Prof. Hoch says, “Whereas [brand] websites can categorize and organize social media, blogging and other engagement devices in a form that is easily navigated and searched, this is not true of Facebook, where all relevant postings are listed in a linear order based on time of posting. My guess is that Facebook is actively working on how brands can better link their brand pages to their [own] websites.”

A person marketing on Facebook will be quick to point out that the professor’s claim to a linear and chronological arrangement of posts is wrong. Facebook actually uses Edgerank, a system similar to Google’s acclaimed Pagerank system, to sort information based on relevancy. While we are definitely not discrediting Prof. Hoch’s proficiency in traditional marketing, it is fairly clear that he just misses the whole point of F-commerce. The marketing channel exists to keep users on Facebook. It is not there to encourage externally-linked ads. If it were so, they wouldn’t charge 45% less for clicks that keep users on the social network.

The Bloomberg report proceeds to quote, Forrester Research analyst, Sucharita Mulpuru saying, “But [selling on Facebook] was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

To that we simply say, “so what?” Throughout the years, businesses have been able to sell products to people while they are “hanging out with their friends at the bar.” Take hanging out at Disneyland for example. Sure you are there to have fun and relax, but at the end of the day, how much did you spend on memorabilia, food, and other purchases that were made on a whim? We could go on to discuss how people spend money while window shopping at the mall, watching popular sporting events, and attending concerts, but you probably got the point from the Disneyland example alone.

disney

People trap themselves in Disneyland much like they trap themselves on Facebook. The consumer’s aren’t there to buy products, but they do so nonetheless.

The other facet of F-commerce is actually inserting your e-commerce store straight into facebook.  There are a number of services and software packages that can accomplish this goal.  The few clients of ours that have tried it have reported lackluster results.  They will point out, though, that they’re still making some sales; however, the costs of implementation plus monthly fees from the F-commerce software are currently wiping out any profits.

Like internet marketing once was, F-commerce is still an evolving marketing channel. Sure there are a few things that need some tweaking, but as long as it persists, it definitely has some great potential. The Bloomberg report condemned it right away. That’s where it went wrong. It is premature and much of the data that has been presented there might not apply a few years from now.

F-commerce enthusiasts just need to remember to stick to the basics and concentrate on the 4P’s of marketing. Price and product already need to exist before attempting F-commerce. The place needs to be Facebook, and much like any other e-commerce store, you need to follow some rules on customizing and utilizing the features of your page. Nonetheless, the most important P to remember in F-commerce is promotion. It isn’t as simple as posting daily status updates and shout-outs. Like any other traditional marketing effort, it needs to be innovative and immediately catch the reader’s attention. A marketer, especially an internet marketer, has the responsibility to be creative and brainstorm newer, better ideas.

Like any other e-commerce effort, F-commerce simply needs time, attention, and a healthy marketing budget for it to be effective.

A little backstory…

A year or so ago I was telling clients NOT to invest in mobile websites.  Why?  Because there was no ROI in ecommerce from mobile development.  Sure, everyone’s been talking about mobile commerce as the greatest thing since sliced bread…for about 5 years now!  That’s great and all, but the money just wasn’t there for anyone but the top 50 brands.

That’s all changing…

m-commerce logo
“…we’re seeing some of our clients hitting 10% and up to almost 20% of their traffic from mobile devices. This is a drastic change from a year ago.”

The fact is that 87 percent of the world’s population now has mobile phone subscriptions. This brings the total to right around 5.9 billion people worldwide. This figure will only go higher in the foreseeable future considering that mobile phone sales are still on the rise. Android is growing at a rate of a staggering 886 percent per year, and activates 160,000 new mobile devices per day. In the US, with 9 out of 10 people owning mobile phones, individuals are more likely to own mobile phones than books! With these statistics alone, why wouldn’t e-commerce enthusiasts consider in investing in good quality mobile apps, or upgrading their website to be mobile-friendly? Well, the fact of the matter is that mobile ownership doesn’t necessarily mean that much if it doesn’t entail mobile internet usage.

According to The ITU, there are currently 1.2 billion mobile web users all throughout the world. In other words, 17 percent of humanity is accessing the internet through their mobile device! In relation to this study, Starcounter claims that these mobile web users account for 8.49 percent of website hits. In addition, most of these mobile web capable devices are smartphones.

rate of growth

Ok, let’s look more practically at the phones that will be widely used to make purchases: the smartphone.  At the current rate of growth, eMarketer estimates that smartphones in the US will number more than 115 million units by the end of 2012. Several studies agree that more than 50 percent of these smartphone users will use the devices to make actual purchases, and a similar, albeit smaller, percentage will use these devices to help them make an informed decision while considering the purchase of an item.

To add some real world experience, we’re seeing some of our clients hitting 10% and up to almost 20% of their traffic from mobile devices.  This is a drastic change from a year ago.

E-commerce on mobile devices most commonly takes two forms. The first, mobile applications, apps for short, are typically very company controlled. The developer often uses the app to create memorable customer reactions like games. Applications however, also typically have a shorter lifespan when compared to the alternative form of m-commerce, the mobile website. Mobile websites basically make the developer’s traditional website mobile friendly. This form of m-commerce is mostly used by e-commerce retailers, since this form offers more transactional abilities than mobile apps. To make the deal of investing in m-commerce opportunities even more appealing, a study by Mobile Commerce Daily claims that 41 percent of e-commerce merchants using the mobile platform have seen positive returns on their investment. Moreover, this number is even likelier to grow, considering that 32 percent of the percent measured didn’t even look into the return of their investment.

Entrepreneurs interested in utilizing m-commerce for their businesses, should consider a few things to insure a return on their investment in mobile devices.

M-commerce and e-commerce are similar in a very fundamental way. A good measuring point for the effectiveness of both approaches is to measure the traffic and time spent on a website. Even if the customers are not making actual purchases on their mobile devices, this doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t get any benefits from their visiting the website. Getting attention is also a part of effective marketing. The fact that the market knows a company even exists is already a relatively positive step in terms of marketing. However, if you are utilizing m-commerce and want to improve your interface to make the customer’s experience all the more pleasant to improve his retention and opinion of the company, simplicity is still the key. Studies show that m-commerce shoppers are more directed and have little patience for complexity. How much is the product? Does the company offer free shipping? Are there any product bundle deals? When they go online to check on a product or service m-commerce shoppers want to know the prime considerations for their purchase as quickly as possible.

m-commerce

Every merchant should consider all their options for marketing and distribution. M-commerce is simply one of them. However, according to the statistics, m-commerce will also be one marketing and distribution outlet that will definitely show massive growth in future markets. Take advantage of all marketing options available, be they digital or physical!

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