Top 10 Ways to Scupper Your Ecommerce Business

1. Don’t plan, Just dive right in!

If you don’t plan for success you’re planning for failure.

An incredibly common mistake made by rookie ecommerce webmasters is to dive straight in and launch a site with an expensive URL long before they’ve actually taken the time plan out what their business proposition actually is!

Without a clearly defined business model and a well-formatted business plan you are inviting problems at every step of the way. Without having your company ethos, your funding details, your policies and procedures recorded clearly in black and white you really will have nothing to go on. After all, you can’t exactly show your expectations and optimism to investors or, worse, the dreaded bank manager.

Do your homework, plan your attack, refine your plan and then refine it some more. Seek help from a business professional with the formatting of your business plan and make several back-up copies!

2. The internet is huge! There’s an audience for everything, right?

Well, yes and no. The internet is huge and is, of course, bigger every day. No matter how unusual the site you can bet there’ll be at least a small number of people interested in it somewhere.

But will they be willing to pay for whatever it is that you’re selling? Or if you’re not strictly in the ecommerce game, can you be sure that your pride and joy will get enough visitors to stay afloat on advertising revenue alone?

Domains cost money, server space costs money, EVERYTHING costs money.

If you don’t take the time to get to know who your prospective audience is well in advance of launching your site you may as well dig a hole at the side of the information superhighway and pour all of your money in to it.

Study the market, learn from your competitors, find your online niche and make sure that your site really stands out from the crowd. Find a good, reputable web marketing firm who can advise you and listen to what they say!

3. Flashy borders, big pictures, lots of frames, job done, yes? No!

Have you heard the story ‘the emperor’s new clothes?’ To make a short story shorter it is the tale of an emperor who relies so much on style over substance that he doesn’t even notice when some mean-spirited (but enterprising) tailors sell him a whole heap of nothing, describing it as a stylish and trend-setting new outfit that only the wisest men can see.

Is that how you want your online presence to be viewed? If it is, you may as well stop reading now.

On the modern internet, content is king! End of story. The big winners of the last decade of web evolution have been those sites that populate their sites with interesting, unique content and keep adding more and more interesting, unique content.

Think about it!

How successful would Facebook be if it was never updated by anyone?

What if the Internet Movie Database decided to stop writing about new films?

Flashy graphics, a cool URL and all the whistles and bells you can muster will draw some traffic to your site, but top quality content is what is going to keep those visitors coming back for more and, crucially, telling their friends about your amazing site.

Be interesting. Be unique. Be prolific!

And if you can’t write good copy yourself, employ someone who can!

4. No SEO, No Problem?

Imagine a clothes shop. One unlike any you have ever visited. The staff is friendly and funny and make you feel really welcome from the second you walk through the door. They have the latest fashions at unbelievably low prices, much lower than any of their competitors and they have exclusive designs from some of the biggest names in fashion.

Now imagine if that clothes shop isn’t situated in the heart of a busy city centre shopping street but is actually located at the back of a dark field, in the middle of an impenetrable forest, in the middle of nowhere with no sign pointing towards it.

How long is that shop going to stay in business?

Exactly.

A sad fact of modern internet business is that in 99.9999% of cases whatever it is that you’re doing has been done before by people with more experience and more financial backing than you. People who are more established and who know how to get people to visit their online business and who strive everyday to do so. These are the businesses that succeed, the ones that know how to play the game with the big 3 search engines and how to climb up those rankings!

Launching a site with no understanding of SEO is a guaranteed way to fail, and fail quickly.

Search Engine Optimisation is not witchcraft, but to people who don’t understand it, it can often seem like it is. Do your homework, seek advice, do some more homework, get more advice and then integrate SEO principles into the design of your site from day one, and on every day that follows!

5. There’s no such thing as bad advertising.

Want to bet? Just ask some of the many, many famous politicians who are no longer politicians but remain very, very (in)famous.

Yes, there are many ways to advertise, but some really are worth their (virtual) weight in (real) gold!

Good PPC campaigns (pay-per-click, like AdWords, those four-line adverts you see at the right hand side of Google’s results pages) are used by all the big companies and used to tremendous effect.

When Google AdWords campaigns are run well they work really, really well. And when they are run badly they are an excellent way to burn through your whole advertising budget in no time at all, and with no benefit to your business to show for it.

With AdWords, as with everything else in the online world it is vital that you don’t just jump right in with the best of intentions and nothing in the way of planning.

Do MORE homework, understand your product, know your place in the market and seek advice from a reliable source with experience of running successful PPC campaigns.

6. Small companies don’t need to worry about branding.

Hang on, I’ll stop you there!

Every business needs to think about branding. Why? Because it is your brand that communicates everything about you to everyone out there!

Google’s online dictionary says that “The branding of a product is the presentation of it to the public in a way that makes it easy for people to recognize or identify.”

Easy to recognise. Easy to identify.

Is it a coincidence that the logo for Microsoft Windows looks like – hello! – a window?

No, it was carefully considered, probably by a team of highly skilled designers and marketers. It was then, no doubt, refined, experimented with and finally locked down as the design that we all know and see everywhere. Since then it has been used in a consistent manner to reinforce the brand. And let’s face it; there aren’t many brands that are more recognisable in the computer software business than Windows.

So take this away with you: your branding communicates everything about you to everyone out there, right? Well that door swings both ways. It’s just as easy to repel internet users as it is to attract them; in fact, it’s probably a whole lot easier.

Think about your brand from day one. Carefully design and refine it and then make sure that it is used in a consistent manner to reinforce your brand in the minds of your visitors. Research other brands and how they came about and remember that brands need to evolve. You don’t get anywhere by standing still!

7. Lights, Camera, Call to ACTION!

You’ve designed a beautiful, elegant site.

You’ve populated it with unique, interesting content that you toil over long and hard, and update regularly.

You’ve tempted a multitude of visitors to your site and in return you’re getting…

Nothing?

That can’t be right.

And it isn’t!

One of the easiest mistakes to avoid is to not let these visitors take what they want and then leave without giving you something in return.

If you’re in ecommerce, you want sales! If you’re promoting a hotel, you want bookings! If you’re trying to promote your beloved rock band you want people to pay to come to your gigs, right?

Without a clear ‘call to action’ on EVERY PAGE of your site, you can’t blame any of those visitors for taking what they want from your site and then just leaving.

Now think how many times you’ve seen examples like the following on websites:

– Click here to sign up for our free newsletter!

– Item out of stock? Click here to be notified when it’s back in stock!

– Register now for updates!

– Click here to download our latest brochure!

This seems so simple when you see it in black-and-white but you’d be amazed how many webmasters make the mistake of forgetting to call their visitors to action.

Now make sure you’re not one of them!

8. Customer Relationship Mismanagement.

So your visitors are now all obediently leaving their details so you can contact them (soon!) with the exciting news of how your site is surging ahead into the glittering future of internet superstardom?

And how are you keeping track of all those names, email addresses and the like?

In an old, dog-eared notepad?

Scrawled on napkins and thrown into a drawer?

Good luck with staying in business!

A good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System will help you to keep track of all of your contacts. It will let you collect relevant data about them and help you to better streamline your marketing programme.

In short, a good CRM package will help you to better serve your customers and to keep attracting new ones.

And if you can’t be bothered with all of that, think about this old cliche:

Look After Your Customers Or Someone Else Will!

Still don’t think it matters?

9. “Our operators are not standing by!”

Yes, more and more business is conducted online every day.

Yes, ideally a great website (SEO optimised & marketed well!) will be all you need to become the next Donald Trump.

BUT!

As far as your customers are concerned, the best website in the world is very often no match for a friendly and well-informed voice on the phone.

Everybody expects it to take hours if not days for a corporate site to respond to an email enquiry, and THAT can be a very big turn-off when they’re choosing who they’re going to spend their money with.

That’s why even the most dyed-in-the-wool internet businesses have telemarketers, customer service advisors and other telephone operators working for them!

People will always use the phone, and there are many millions of people out there that will always prefer to pick up the phone than to send an email or fill out an online contact form.

I’m not saying that you should open a huge call centre, employing thousands of advisors in a state-of-the-art modern facility, but you should make it easy to have your customers contact you by phone, if not 24 hours a day then at least during the traditional business hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.

And how would you feel if you had to repeatedly call a business whose operators don’t:

– Answer the phone in a polite and consistent manner?

– Mention the name of their business so you know you’re through to the right people?

– Speak politely?

– Listen attentively?

– Try to be helpful?

– And, most importantly, have all necessary information to hand there and then?

Exactly!

Distinguish yourself and your company by being approachable on the telephone; by being polite and helpful and by getting help and advice from a company that can oversee all this for you if it is just not practical for you to do it yourself.

Just as well you took my advice about getting a good CRM system, eh?

10. Just sit back and hope for the best!

Are you mad??

You will get NOWHERE by sitting back and simply expecting things to go your way, all the time.

You need to know who is visiting your site!

You need to know how they found you!

You need to know which pages they looked at!

You need to know to this so you can streamline your business and MAKE MORE MONEY!

But that’s all impossible, isn’t it? How could you possible know those things?

Simply, by employing a Web Analytics tool (or company) to do all that for you!

By analysing all aspects of your site’s performance you can make it perform better. Just like a coach scrutinises every pass and every tackle made by the members of his football team.

You monitor, you analyse and then you plan a way to improve.

This last point is something that you really will need help with so find yourself a good authority on web analytics and let them take the strain for you.

Only THEN will I let you sit back and hope for the best!

SaaS – Ecommerce Sites – Twitter Case Provides Critical Lessons in Administrative Security

In June, 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled charges that Twitter’s micro-blogging site had engaged in lax security practices that amounted to “unfair and deceptive trade practices”.

While previous cases brought by the FTC for lax security procedures focused on lax electronic controls, the Twitter case focused on lax administrative controls. Webmasters of SaaS and ecommerce sites who fail to learn and apply the critical lessons of the Twitter case do so at their peril.

Twitter Case Facts – Two Hacks

The FTC’s complaint against Twitter alleged that lax administrative controls for data security permitted at least two hackers to acquire administrative control of Twitter resulting in access to private personal information of users, private tweets, and most surprising – the ability to send out phony tweets.

Here’s how the hackers got access to Twitter. According to the FTC, hacker no. 1 was able to hack in by using an automated password guessing tool that sent thousands of guesses to Twitter’s login form. The hacker found an administrative password that was a weak, lowercase, common dictionary word, and with it the hacker was able to reset several user passwords which the hacker posted on a website that others could access and use to send phony tweets.

Hacker no. 2 compromised the personal email account of a Twitter employee and learned of the employee’s passwords that were stored in plain text. With these passwords, the hacker was then able to guess the similar Twitter administrative passwords of the same employee. Once into Twitter, the hacker reset a user’s password and was able to access the user information and tweets for any Twitter user.

Twitter Settlement Lessons

The FTC noted that Twitter’s website privacy policy promised: “We employ administrative, physical, and electronic measures designed to protect your information from unauthorized access.”

Focusing on Twitter’s administrative controls (more accurately on the lack thereof), the FTC alleged that Twitter failed to take reasonable steps to:

* require employees to use hard-to-guess administrative passwords that they did not use for other programs, websites, or networks; * prohibit employees from storing administrative passwords in plain text within their personal e-mail accounts;

* suspend or disable administrative passwords after a reasonable number of unsuccessful login attempts;

* provide an administrative login webpage that is made known only to authorized persons and is separate from the login page for users;

* enforce periodic changes of administrative passwords, for example, by setting them to expire every 90 days;

* restrict access to administrative controls to employees whose jobs required it; and impose other reasonable restrictions on administrative access, such as by restricting access to specified IP addresses.

* The FTC settlement included (among other things) the requirement that Twitter set up and manage a comprehensive data security policy that will be reviewed by an independent auditor periodically for ten years.

Conclusion

The FTC represents consumer interests to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices. Privacy and data security have been high-priority issues for the FTC, as evidenced by the 30 cases brought over the last few years for lax data security practices.

In its investigations of data security cases, the FTC looks at 2 standards:

* what the FTC considers as “standard, reasonable” security procedures, and

* what a website’s privacy policy promises to consumers regarding data security.

If the website’s actual data security practices do not measure up to either of these standards (a worst-case scenario would be the failure to measure up to both), the FTC concludes that the website has engaged in lax security practices that amount to “unfair and deceptive trade practices”. A complaint and costly lawsuit may follow.

The reason that the FTC publishes the results of its settlements is to provide lessons to others regarding what the FTC regards as an “unfair and deceptive trade practice”.

Do you know if your site measures up to the two standards?

Copyright: 2010 Chip Cooper

Microsoft Great Plains Integration Scenarios – EDI, eCommerce

Microsoft Dynamics GP, successor of Great Plains Software Dynamics and eEnterprise is very popular ERP platform, deployed as accounting back office and integrated with various business management system. Among the most typical scenarios of GP MRP integration are Electronic Document Interface EDI and eCommerce. Let’s consider and compare the methodologies, integration and software development tools, programming techniques and customization option

1. EDI. Electronic Document Interchange is relatively matured technology and typically it is realized in the form of fixed length text formatted files or text streams. Newer approach may consider new generation of similar to EDI in concept XML streams. When we are talking about GP, we should expect two types of EDI integrations – when you are vendor (in this case you receive EDI formatted either Sales Order Processing orders or invoices or Accounts Receivables invoices); and when you are customer (in this case you place EDI purchase orders to your vendors). From the technology standpoint, EDI is not really difficult in standard and even custom realization and programming. Microsoft Dynamics GP, starting with version 8.0, is supported on the only DB platform – Microsoft SQL Server. Current version of Microsoft Great Plains is 10.0, available on MS SQL Server 2005 or 2000. You program EDI streams with SQL select command, and you format text fields with cast or convert constructions. When you import external EDI streams you, it is when you create SOP Invoices, you should consider utilizing eConnect

2. eCommerce. If you are e-commerce programmer, please invest your time in eConnect technology learning. You probably heard about eConnect and about the fact that it was dedicated initially to e-commerce software developers. We would like to sort of popularize eConnect and say this – if you do eCommerce integration from scratch, you have to feed eCommerce orders and invoices into GP tables: SOP10100, SOP10200. However, you should know that eConnect already has this job done for you in eConnect business objects – encrypted stored procedures. There are several situations when you should break through eConnect restrictions. First one is the fact that eConnect replicates Dexterity business logic (DYNAMICS.DIC is Microsoft Dexterity dictionary, where all the core modules business logic is stored) and even trusting astonishing SQL Server performance, you can still have concerns that eConnect might be a bit slow, if you transactions volume crosses thousand records per session. If eConnect performance is in question, you may consider doing simplified integration in SQL stored procedures using insert into logic. The second eConnect limitation is absence of posting logic – in order to post SOP batches you will need to deploy Albaspectrum posting server.