Surviving Christmas as an Online Seller

Survive Christmas in E Commerce

Surviving Christmas as an Online Seller


Christmas can be a stressful time of year for anyone working in retail, whether on the high street or via e-commerce.  Not only is it busy, customers are often themselves feeling stressed.  On top of the workload, most retailers are acutely aware that a large proportion of their turnover comes in between October and January. The season can be make-or-break…

Christmas can be a stressful time of year for anyone working in retail, whether on the high street or via e-commerce.  Not only is it busy, customers are often themselves feeling stressed.  On top of the workload, most retailers are acutely aware that a large proportion of their turnover comes in between October and January. The season can be make-or-break for many retail companies.

Much has been written about how to survive Christmas when working in a high street store.  From wearing comfortable shoes, to how to put up with the excruciating Christmas music.  Less is said about how to survive Christmas as an e-commerce seller, so we thought we would do some research.  Here is our advice for preserving your mental, and physical wellbeing over the festive sales season.

Survive Christmas in E Commerce

Be organised.  It may be a little late for some of this, but even if you are feeling like a headless chicken (turkey?), some degree of organisation is still possible. Ideally you will have your Christmas stock ordered, your marketing planned, offers drawn up, inventory management working, and shipping processes all sorted by late September.  If you haven’t, there are still things you can do.  Firstly, call us now on 01326 564331 to make sure you have enough stock of all your despatch forms with integrated labels.  We’ll leave the sales pitch there…

What else can you organise?  Clear the decks in your pack and despatch area.  Make sure your picking and packing set-up is as efficient as possible, with the most popular products easily accessible and the tools you need in their place.  If you are always looking for the stapler or queuing for the tape gun, get another.  If you’re tripping over boxes waiting for the courier, can you clear a bigger space for them or arrange more frequent collections?

Stay healthy.  Not only are we all very busy, we’re burning the candle at both ends.  Enjoy the festivities but try to maintain reasonable eating habits and hydration, at least during the day.  Since achieving our Workplace Health Silver Award, we have been far more aware of the danger of the “treats table” at work, and it’s usually well-laden in December.  Try to balance the sweets and biscuits with savouries and fruit.  Your staff, and your body, will thank you in the end.  If you’re much busier than usual, you may be finding it hard to make time for lunch, so plan ahead and bring in something healthy. That way you won’t find yourself fuelling your day with chocolate and mince pies.

If you’re over indulging in the evenings, hydration at work will be even more important than usual.  At Forms Plus, we all have water bottles that indicate the time of day and whether we are drinking enough to stay hydrated. It is surprising how much water you are recommended to drink. We really notice the health benefits when we do manage to keep up.

With lots going on and late nights, be aware of how much caffeine you are taking on board.  Try substituting some of your coffee intake for herbal tea. Lemon and ginger tea can give you a zing without the crash and short fuse that coffee brings on if you overdo it.

Healthy Christmas

Be patient.  Your customers at this time of year may be different to the rest of the year.  If they enjoy shopping with you now, they’ll come back in the future.  Ideally make sure your website is easy to use and buying is friction-free long before December.  If you haven’t done that, what could you do now to make it simpler?

Perhaps use your Social Media to answer questions that you come across frequently from customers.  Bring more staff (or friends and family) in to help with phone calls and customer service issues.

If you do have issues with stock, delays with delivery or website problems, use your Social Media to keep your customers informed. This will help avoid negative feedback and manage customer expectations.

Don’t panic.  If your products are not selling well, it can be tempting to immediately discount heavily.  Look at the candidates on the Apprentice who always agree a sensible price at the start, then end up selling everything far too cheaply as the day goes on.  Know how much your products cost you, know your postage costs and factor in the contribution they need to make towards running your business before discounting heavily.  Just because you can run a quick advert on Facebook offering everything half price, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea – unless perhaps you’re selling turkeys, sprouts or something else that really will perish and it’s almost The Day.

Instead of discounting, have a look at your messaging. What might be putting people off your products other than your price?  Could you try re-wording your product pages? Targeting a different audience with some ads? Bundling your products in a more tempting way?  Offering free delivery for larger orders to try and increase basket-size?

Whether you are selling online, in-store or indeed both, Christmas is the best, and worst time to work in retail.  Do make the most of it this year. Happy Christmas from all of us at Forms Plus!

Where to Advertise Your E Commerce Site

Online Advertising for E Commerce

Where to Advertise Your E Commerce Site


It’s that time of year again, tinsel appears on the TV and suddenly you realise you need to be appearing higher up the search rankings, feeds and listings. As a small e-commerce business, where do you start with online advertising?

 
We asked Marketing Consultant Samphire Amps for her views. Here is her guest blog on the subject….
 

It’s that time of year again, tinsel appears on the TV and suddenly you realise you need to be appearing higher up the search rankings, feeds and listings. As a small e-commerce business, where do you start with online advertising?

 

We asked Marketing Consultant Samphire Amps for her views. Here is her guest blog on the subject….

 

Running promotions for an e-commerce business can be overwhelming at this time of year. Forms Plus asked me to have a look at the best online advertising channels for online sellers, and share some advice on how to get set up.  Here are my tips on where to start if you are paying for online advertising for the first time, and need to get some ads up fast.

Facebook Ads

 

Most online sellers will have had a go at Facebook Advertising, but make sure you are set up properly using Facebook Business Manager and an Ad Account, rather than just using Boosted Posts. Setting up Business Manager will give you greater control over your targeting, more information on how your ads are performing and tighter control over ad design.

Facebook Ads come in different shapes and sizes, and you can choose which parts of the Facebook empire they appear on. If you’re new to this, have a go at a Carousel Ad, where you can showcase up to ten images or videos in one ad, each with its own link. In the settings you can then target tightly by interest, age, gender and other demographics to find just the audience you need. The strangest we have had to do was “well off, young professional, chihuahua owners in Fulham” – and there were quite a few of them! Don’t forget to use the “exclude” option as well if there are people who would be unlikely to buy. We’ve used that to target possible guests to a hotel, in term-time, by excluding people with school age children.

What is a Facebook Carousel Ad

If you have a bit more experience, you could use Facebook’s catalogue manager to connect your Facebook account with your website inventory. This allows you to devise more automated ad campaigns based on the different categories of products you have for sale. Adding the Facebook Pixel to your site then means you can set up ads to retarget people who have viewed a product but not purchased it, or to upsell similar products to people who have bought something from you.

For all your ads, you can specify where to place them. Placements include the Facebook Feed, Right Hand Column, Messenger, Instagram and Stories. If your market is very competitive, you might want to try Stories as, so far, less people are using them.

Google Search Ads

 

Previously known as Adwords, Google Search Ads are text adverts that appear at the top of the search results. You bid on certain keywords or sets of keywords. Depending on how many people are bidding on the same words, and how relevant your site is, your ad will appear. You are only charged when the visitor clicks on your site. This is known as PPC or pay-per-click advertising. The price you pay will depend on how many other people are bidding on the same terms. “Long tail”, more specific strings of words are less competitive and so cheaper. For example, if you sell handmade pottery vases, it may be better to bid on “handmade pottery vases” than just “vases”.

Google Ads

You will normally set up your Google Search Campaign with different groups of ads that match the categories on your website. If you are the potter in the example above, you might have different groups of ads for vases, bowls and mugs. You set a daily budget and decide how long you are going to run the campaign for and Google will only show your ads until you have met your daily budget, so you can’t overspend.

To get your campaign set up quickly and efficiently, it is a good idea to work with a Google Partner Agency to get you started. If you have the budget, they can then also manage the campaigns for you. If not, perhaps see if they will train you up a bit to do it yourself.

Google Shopping Campaigns

 

Part of the Google Advertising Platform, Google Shopping is designed to show visual ads, at the top of the search feed, for shoppable products. These are growing in popularity and often now push the actual search ads and results quite far down the page.

Google Shopping ads allow customers to view your actual products as an image on the search page, together with a photo, title, price, the store name and more. Shopping Ads appear on YouTube and Google Image searches as well as the normal search results page.

 

Google Shopping Ad

 

To get started, you will need to set up a Google Merchant Centre, which holds your product data. This can easily be connected to Shopify, WooCommerce, Big Commerce and other catalogues using an app or plugin. You’ll then link your Merchant Centre with your Google Ads account.

As for search ads, payments are based cost per click and can be optimised for conversions once you have some data for Google to go on. You can try to set these up yourself, and there are lots of training materials on line to help you, or work with an agency.

Amazon Campaigns

 

If you have a Professional Seller account, Sponsored Ads allow you to push your products up the search results pages in Amazon by choosing keywords, categories and products that you want to promote. You can set these up through Seller Central. If you start by using automatic targeting, Amazon will help you choose the right keywords to bid on. Once you have some history and can see how those have performed, you may want to switch to manual campaigns, so you can target the keywords that bring you the most business.

Amazon Sponsored Product Ads

To get started with Amazon Advertising, visit Amazon Services where you can also currently get £20 in free click credits.

Other Channels

 

If you are using other channels, chances are they have their own advertising options, so take a look at those too. For example, Pinterest now offer Promoted Pins and Ebay have a huge range of Ad Formats available. Whatever you choose, good luck and we hope this is a successful festive season for you.

Health, Wealth and Happiness – Can Your Workplace Provide All Three?

Wellbeing Walk

Health, Wealth and Happiness – Can Your Workplace Provide All Three?


Toasts to “Health, Wealth and Happiness” have been practiced by almost every culture since the beginning of time. It goes without saying that most people go to work to earn a living, but have you ever considered whether your workplace also supports health and happiness?
 
Since achieving our Workplace Health Silver Award back in March 2018,  at Forms Plus,…

Toasts to “Health, Wealth and Happiness” have been practiced by almost every culture since the beginning of time. It goes without saying that most people go to work to earn a living, but have you ever considered whether your workplace also supports health and happiness?

 

Since achieving our Workplace Health Silver Award back in March 2018,  at Forms Plus, we have been feeling the benefits of a greater emphasis on looking after ourselves at work. Healthy team lunches, walks and exercise together, hydration challenges, and a greater focus on musculoskeletal health at our desks and in our warehouse, are just a few of the initiatives we have enjoyed as we work towards our Gold Award.

Keeping physically healthy is only part of our ambition. Stress, anxiety and depression cause more days off sick than any other health problem and 1 in 4 workers in the UK are affected every year. People who are unhappy at work are far less likely to stay with the company, while a healthy, happy team is far more motivated and dedicated. Most shocking of all, figures from Time To Change indicate that 95% of employees who call in sick with stress feel they need to give a different reason.

To help our team feel more comfortable having conversations about mental health and share their experiences, and to equip our managers to have better conversations about mental health, Forms Plus have signed up to two further initiatives. Training and support from Time to Change, Mindful Employer and Mental Health First Aid England are already helping us to build a supportive culture around Mental Health at work and give our team the tools to keep themselves and their colleagues healthy.

 

So far, all our team have received some training around Mental Health and some have become Mental Health First Aiders. We asked them what they thought:

“It has definitely helped me to realise that mental health is a serious matter. It is very important to look out for symptoms if someone around us is showing any signs as we could make a huge difference if we can help those who suffer from some sort of mental illness”.

“I have always naturally wanted to be able to fix everyone’s problems for them but after being on the MHFA course I have since found just listening and not giving my input/advice when it comes to mental health is actually more effective.”

“It made me stop and think about the impact your actions and words have on others and what is the best way to respond”

“People have got a better understanding of how mental health can affect anyone and it isn’t the same for everyone. I would like to think we are more considerate of each other.”

“The emphasis that the office has placed on mental health has led me to take a further interest in material that I would not have paid attention to in the past. The insight from those I work with who have connections to people with mental health issues have played a really big part in my understanding”

“What surprised me the most is how much just talking can help. Particular types of depression require medication but in many of the case studies we watched on the course talking therapy and support groups were the best forms of treatment.”

Adding to the physical benefits of getting outside, rain or shine, we have added a mental health element to our Wellbeing Walks. Team members can take a short  walk with a colleague to talk through any issues that are impacting on their mental health. Sometimes this is something they are going through personally. Other times it is a family member or friend who is suffering. The combination of fresh air, exercise and a listening ear are clearly having a positive impact already….

Wellbeing Walk

 

“I have had one Wellbeing Walk. I always enjoy getting out for a walk and a light chat and feel better for the short break. The programme is a good reminder that it is good to offload things sometimes.”

“I went on a walk recently and found it helped clear my head. I got what was on my mind off my chest and felt I could concentrate on my work better on my return.”

“I take part in all of the walks. A quick jaunt and a bit of sunshine refreshes you and refocuses your mind.”

As we write this, it is World Mental Health Day. So, to finish, here are our team’s top tips for looking after your own mental health at work….

“Remember you are human and there is only so much that you can do in one day”

“Take a break and go outdoors for a walk. It helps bring perspective back to whatever you were struggling with.”

“Talk more and be open about your feelings… No one is perfect, look for the best and be positive where you can.”

 

Email Marketing Best Practice for Online Sellers

Email Marketing Best Practice

Email Marketing Best Practice for Online Sellers


5 Ideas for an Effective Email Marketing Strategy
 
With slimmed down email lists following GDPR, and less crowded inboxes, there could not be a better time to check your email marketing strategy is effective. We have investigated how e commerce companies engage with their audiences via email, examined best practice and come up with our own top tips for…

5 Ideas for an Effective Email Marketing Strategy

 

With slimmed down email lists following GDPR, and less crowded inboxes, there could not be a better time to check your email marketing strategy is effective. We have investigated how e commerce companies engage with their audiences via email, examined best practice and come up with our own top tips for 5 ways to start making the most of your email marketing.

1. Onboarding Emails

 

What happens when someone joins your mailing list? Do they wait to hear from you until your next newsletter, or have you set up welcome emails? Whether you just send one message inviting new customers to visit your website or a series of automated mails highlighting your product range, onboarding emails are a powerful tool to get new subscribers shopping. Consider including a “New Subscribers” discount, free shipping or special offer. If your product is complicated, use onboarding emails to explain it, as many tech companies do. Whatever you choose, make sure every email has a call to action.

Online retailer  Divesangha told us:

“Welcome emails are a nice way to make potential customers feel our brand cares about customer service… We added a discount code that had no expiry date and that ended up being our most used discount code.”

2. Sales and Special Offers

 

Since GDPR, customers are much more aware of the value of their contact data. Retailers need to reward those who give permission for email marketing. One easy way to do that is to offer exclusive discounts to loyal subscribers. Whether you choose to target your whole list, regular customers or even lapsed customers, a quick email with a discount code can help launch or finish off a sale campaign, perhaps outside of the time the sale is open to the public.

Forms Plus’ client Joules use emails to offer short term discount codes at the end of sales, that help clear stock. For customers who prefer to shop in store, the same email reminds the customer of their nearest bricks and mortar location, together with opening hours.

3. Abandoned Cart Emails

 

Most online shopping platforms, including Shopify and WooCommerce now include tools to send out automatic emails to customers don’t complete the payment process. Around 70% of online shoppers abandon their cart, so recovering even a fraction of those purchases could make a real difference to your business. Yes, they may have just been fantasy shopping, but equally they might have got up to find their credit card and got distracted or had an issue with their computer.

Shopify estimate that nearly half of all abandoned cart emails are opened and over a third lead to purchases back on the site. Worth a try!

 

Email Marketing Best Practice

4. Reactive Emails

 

Hot weather, cold weather, a sudden trend or even a celebrity spotted with one of your products could all be good reasons to email your subscribers with an unplanned promotion or reminder. For example, Superdry have effectively used cold weather as a reason to send out a quick promo for their down jackets and woolly hats.

5. Follow Up and Review Requests

 

Five Stars mean sales, so gathering up-to-date reviews for your products is crucial for your brand. Setting up your system to email a customer once they have had time to get to know your product and requesting a review, can soon generate a steady stream of supportive and fresh content on your review pages. At the same time, why not invite the customer to like your Facebook page or follow you on Instagram and share photos of their new purchase?

Lifecycle Marketing

 

Put all these emails together, from first sign up to post purchase and you have “lifecycle marketing”. Recognised as an industry leader for email marketing, Forms Plus’ client Boden offers fine examples of how email should be composed at each stage of the journey. Take a look at this blog by Ometria to see some examples of  Boden’s Emails.

Where does despatch paperwork fit in?

 

First of all, we thought this information might be helpful, as so many of our clients are e commerce businesses. Of course, you might also want to make sure that you make the most of each touchpoint by ensuring your shipping forms and labels include an invitation to your email list.

If you would like some help with branded bespoke labels and forms, do get in touch.