THE BLOG

17
Mar

Customer “Lifecycle” Emails

As their name implies, customer lifecycle emails are sent out during the ‘lifetime’ of the customer – not his natural lifespan, but the period for which he is a customer, or a prospective one. You may already be sending out welcome emails when they sign up, transactional emails like order confirmation and shipping notifications, and even marketing email in the form of newsletters. What you are probably not doing is sending out other types of emails that have the potential to increase sales, such as educational/informational emails centered around one of your products/services.

1. Shopping cart abandonment emails

If you are not sending them out yet, you should – 67.45% of all shoppers on e-commerce sites abandon their carts before checkout. The frequently cited reasons are ‘Website crashed’ and ‘Website timed out’. While these are technical factors that you may have no control over, you could win them back with shopping cart abandonment emails. These save them the hassle of not having to select the same items all over again and add them to their shopping cart. Interestingly, 44.1% of all shopping cart abandonment emails are opened and read. For some, it is the final price that is preventing them from making a purchase. They might have been enticed by the offer price, but shipping and taxes may have pushed it to an unacceptable level. A discount is all it takes to get them to complete the purchase.

2. Personalized emails

Notice how many eCommerce kings are using “Recommended For You” sections on their site? These add a personal element to return shoppers and translate perfectly into lifecycle emails. They should contain information regarding related products to your customer’s search and purchase habits. If your customers have had a great shopping experience with you, they are more than likely to buy from you again. Sometimes they just don’t know that you have that other product they’ve been looking for. A small nudge in the right direction does a lot more than a shot in the dark with general products.

3. Customer re-engagement emails

If there are customers who have purchased from your site, but it has been some time since their last purchase, you could win them back with emails that tell them they are valued customers. Emails with “Hello, how are you?” in the subject line with a personal message in the body mentioning how they haven’t shopped with you recently can prove effective in bringing these customers back. Add coupons and attractive discounts that compel them to make their next purchase. Try not to include product images or specific product discounts in the email body for personal re-engagement emails. These tend to de-personalize the first message. But general coupons with simple imagery can work well to add return incentive in a personal email.

4. How to do it correctly

The first step is to get the tone of the email right. This is best learned from experience, as what may work for one customer base may not work for another. You need to manually write emails to your customers using a variety of styles and see which ones work the best, or rather, which styles are the most suited for the types of emails mentioned above. A good trick to start writing personal emails to start testing what works better is by imagining the customer you’re writing to. Start with a name and determine little things about them that help you imagine who they are. By doing this, you’ll unintentionally write much more relationally and have a better chance of coming across as personal. Try multiple styles with separate customer blocks and test which ones have better results.

Now that you know what strikes a chord with your customers, you need to come up with email templates that still sound like they were written by a real person. These can then be programmed into an email software. You could have one that handles all your mailing, or you could choose specific software for certain types of emails.

5. The shortcut: email software

It’s really good to work through all of the above steps yourself, but that doesn’t make the tools I’m about to list any less helpful in the execution. Here are some of my favorite options for lifecycle email software:

Carthook

Carthook is an email software that specializes in cart abandonment emails. It’s a one-trick pony, and it does that trick exceptionally well.

Windsor Circle

Geared towards customer retention, Windsor Circle is a platform for sending out re-engagement emails. The cost of acquiring a new customer works out to be five times as retaining one, and so it makes financial sense to get you existing customers to buy from you again. For three of their clients, Windsor Circle manages to deliver revenues of $1.03 per email.

MailChimp

It can be used for all types of emails, including welcome emails and transactional emails. They have added product recommendations and shopping cart abandonment emails to their repertoire of features, and that makes MailChimp all the more attractive as a one-stop solution for all your needs.

Custora

This software suite takes care of all your emailing requirements. Custora makes sense when you have at least 200,000 email list subscribers already.

Drip

Drip does more than send out marketing email. It studies which visitors are most engrossed with the content on your pages, identifies them as the strongest possible leads, and then sends out email. This intelligent approach has landed their clients many new customers, and the lightweight software comes at a tenth of the price of comparable products.

Klaviyo

Klaviyo is built specifically for e-commerce sites. Klaviyo’s email templates are responsive. More and more people are accessing the internet on their mobile devices, and the number of mobile-only internet users has exceeded the number of PC-only internet users. Make sure that when your emails are sent, the ‘From’ email address is something that recipients can respond to. It should appear to have been sent from the account of a real person, not something like ‘sales@company.com’ or ‘care@company.com’. It only puts customers off when they read ‘This is a system-generated email, please do not reply’. You could even try adding ‘Sent from my iPhone’ at the end to give it a personal feel, as long as the emails sound like they were written specifically for the recipient.

Crafting a customer lifecycle email timeline takes work and time to perfect, but I think it’s the best customer-to-sales retention method out there and well worth the time and effort to setup. Let us know if you have any lifecycle email secrets that have changed the way you sell and don’t hesitate to call us if you want to talk to us about setting up a strategy that works best for you.

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03
Mar

Shopify vs. Magento: The Battle of the eCommerce Platforms

The choice of an eCommerce platform for an online shop can be one of the most critical factors in its success. Given the large variety of platforms to choose from, many online store owners tend to go for platforms that are both popular and affordable.

Magento is one of the oldest modern eCommerce platforms around, and many online store owners make use of it because of its reputation for being open-source and customizable. However, once they start using it, shop owners discover that Magento can end up being more of a curse than a blessing: it’s notoriously difficult to use and lacks decent technical support.

Shopify, on the other hand, is a SaaS eCommerce platform that until recently was known for being perfect for entry-level ecommerce and not much else. However, Shopify is now targeting the same user base as Magento. It offers several advantages that store owners are bound to love. Instead of struggling with a tired behemoth like Magento, here are some reasons why a swap over to Shopify might well be worthwhile:

Data security

Unless you’re using the uber-expensive Magento EE Cloud Edition, Magento relies on you, the store owner, to provide web hosting As a SaaS Shopify stores all customer data on its servers, so you never need to worry about whether your hosting is secure. Since Shopify hosts all the customer data, security is its responsibility. This fact can add to a shop owner’s peace of mind when running an online store; at least there’s one less thing to worry about!

Shopify is very restrictive around the checkout process since that’s where users will be sharing their confidential credit card details. Shopify has been criticized for not allowing much modification to checkout, but they do this on purpose — to ensure that there’s no way your customers’ data will be compromised, by sticking to a standard checkout flow that works well.

Ease of use

Magento offers customization options for every conceivable scenario, but integrating these options and getting them to work can be an incredible chore for an online shop that doesn’t have a dedicated IT team. Magento’s installation requires database configuration, hosting software configuration and a variety of other persistent niggles. Running Magento can be a nightmare because getting some part of the configuration wrong means your site becomes slow and dysfunctional. Shopify only requires a simple account to start running and uses minimal resources. The result? Increased efficiency and fewer headaches.

Shopify is also very customizable, with a variety of pre-designed themes to choose from. If you’d like to do a bit of coding, Shopify offers the ‘Liquid’ template engine that feels natural and very intuitive to use. The backend interface of Shopify itself is designed around ease of use and anyone can be taught the basics in a matter of hours. This is all quite unlike Magento, with its endless backend configuration options and challenging user interface. Shopify is streamlined and fun to use and experiment with.

Modules that work

Those with Magento experience will tell you that getting the various add-ons and modules to work together seamlessly can be a delicate balancing act. Unless you’re willing to design and write your own Magento extensions, you may be better off sticking with stock Magento functionality, which defeats the purpose of using a flexible platform in the first place. By contrast,Shopify takes an active role in curating their app marketplace to ensure that modules work together seamlessly.  Developers can’t access or change any core features of Shopify, which is great for most stores — fewer moving parts = fewer things that can break. With Shopify, you won’t have to worry as much about code conflicts or modules interfering with each other.

Lower costs

While it might appear that Magento is cheaper than Shopify due to the fact that Community Edition is free and open source, this is a misleading conclusion. It doesn’t factor in hosting or the IT expertise Magento requires, which can ultimately be much more of a financial drain. With Shopify, all you pay ist an easily-understood monthly fee for the platform, plus additional fees for apps you may choose to install (generally, apps cost less than $10 per month apiece!), and you don’t need to worry about unexpected infrastructure or development costs down the line.

Technical support

While Magento does offer technical support for their “Enterprise” solution, expect to pay a premium. If you’re using Community Edition, you’re really on your own! Better get a hosting company that knows Magento, plus an agency or freelancer to “keep the lights on” should the application take a bad hiccup. Nothing worse than having your storefront down when you’re in the middle of a promotion,, leading to lost sales and dissatisfied customers. The alternative? Shopify offers 24/7 technical support for all plan levels, and, as they host everything for you, you never have to worry about technical glitches.

In the final analysis, an eCommerce platform forms the backbone of an online store and most users want a platform that’s fast, easy to use and relatively customizable. While Magento offers customization at the cost of user-friendliness, security, and stability, Shopify is user-friendly, offers an intuitive interface, better technical support and a much more stable platform. It’s also sufficiently customizable to meet the needs of most online shop owners.

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12
Dec

Social Commerce Is Back and Here’s Why I Think It Just Might Stick This Time

Non-Stripe Backdrop

Stripe’s been in the general business news a lot recently since they’re getting ready for IPO. I’m not interested in discussing their valuation but rather an interesting feature they quietly released a couple months ago.

Back in September “Stripe Relay” was announced as a new way to add ecommerce into mobile apps and services. As launch partner, Twitter demonstrated a “Buy” button using Stripe Relay.

Stripe Relay screenshot

I thought about blogging about Stripe Relay back in September, but felt reluctant to do so.

Maybe a better word is cautious. After all, social commerce isn’t anything new. As a store owner you’ll probably remember the mad rush back in 2010 to figure out a way to do ecommerce on Facebook…but it never took off.

Putting products for sale on Facebook pages just kind of kills it, feels forced and awkward (if you have a Facebook store page and it’s doing great, more power to you. I’m talking about the general trend).

Shopping Mode

It’s a universal truth that people who aren’t in “shopping mode” don’t want to be sold to. Just remember the last time somebody somehow called you on your cel phone about “the latest Visa and MasterCard negotiated rates” when you were in a meeting.

I’ve been mulling it over, and the reason I’m excited about Stripe Relay is there might be a way here to allow merchants to get around the “shopping mode” mental roadblock.

Here’s my theory: with Stripe Relay, the purchase is not an interruption — it’s inline with the rest of the social media experience. Contrast this to the scenario from 5 years ago, the encouragement to “come to our Facebook store” couldn’t possibly feel natural because it was by definition an intrusion.

Starbucks at Church

Maybe this is why I have always felt weird about those churches that have a Starbucks inside them. Some of you know what I’m talking about — it’s a Starbucks literally inside the church. At church but need a coffee? It feels commercial, feels disconnected, feels like I’m at least semi-leaving the church experience to go into the retail experience and then come back out into the church experience.

Thought experiment: Imagine the coffee magically appeared in the pews, unobtrusively so it can be ignored if desired. This would be a profound improvement on the church Starbucks experience. Okay, that felt sacrilegious. Scratch the church analogy but hopefully you get the point.

Let me try to picture this a different (better!) way. Think about when you go out with friends to do something other than shopping. You may have paid for an activity or bought a drink in order to add to the social experience. But nothing is more frustrating than getting taken away from time with friends to deal with something about the payment for the meal / round of golf / whatever.

For further thought…

To me, Stripe Relay is interesting because the user never feels they’re having to transition into shopping mode…they stay in social mode. The option of buying is added with literally zero friction. It’s a “no UI” purchase experience.

And that’s as far as my thinking has gone. What do you think? Am I right about why Stripe Relay could be awesome?

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09
Dec

Magento 2 round table with 2XeCommerce

2Xecommerce-EP51-Magento2-roundtable
If you’re interested in learning more about Magento 2.0, check out the 2XeCommerce Podcast which recently featured Michael Bower from Sellry Commerce, and John Arroyo from Arroyo Labs!

The entire round table session is available here, at 2xecommerce.com. You can also listen to it on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

23
Sep

Now I’ve Really Got No Excuse

I just got back from the most impactful conference I’ve been to in years.

Double Your Freelance Conference” was an event targeting freelancers and consultancy owners across disciplines headed by the venerable Brennan Dunn. You could have guessed when I said the word “conference” that the speaker lineup would be impressive, that that would be correct — we had Brennan himself, Amy Hoy (300×50), Brian Casel (Productize), Kurt Elster (the Unofficial Shopify Podcast), Kai Davis as well as many new folks that for some reason I haven’t been exposed to (sorry if we met up at the conference and I didn’t get you in there!).

Getting away always gives me perspective, but this time it was different. Normally when I go to a conference I feel as though I’m looking up at the speakers from far away; they’re too busy to possibly get to know me and my real challenges. Not so this time; I felt up close to the speakers in a way I haven’t before at a conference.

Here’s why: I’ve followed these speakers and in some cases done business with them for over a year!

I’ve watched them all from a distance as they’ve made decisions and scaled their businesses…always impressed, and always wondering “just how did they pull that off?”. You will understand my eagerness to talk to them in person and understand how they “work magic” (insider reference to Sarah’s talk!).

What I hadn’t prepared for was the clarity I would gain about the opportunities staring me in the face, and the way I’ve been blocking my own progress.

Here’s what I discovered: these folks are working magic by doing things I already know but haven’t really been doing!

To summarize what I’m coming away with:

1. Focus on where I work magic (and never, ever work on anything else)
2. Put my best foot forward as-is (rather than perfecting the packaging)
3. Systematize and simplify (to deliver more in the same amount of time)

These may sound obvious to you (and they probably are obvious), but I haven’t been thinking this way. The last seven years of my life I’ve focused on perfecting Sellry’s delivery of an evolving suite of solutions to ecommerce merchants. By now, I’d like to think our work is pretty high quality.

Before this conference I could scratch my head and wonder. Now I have no excuse not to put into motion what I’ve learned.

Thanks, Brennan, and the rest of the gang, for getting our toes to the fire!

29
Aug

Another Look at Magento…Version 2

Like anything else that’s powerful and takes a market by storm, Magento is quite polarizing; folks either love it or hate it. It’s easy to find a reason to do either. In this post I’ll give you my very brief take about Magento’s trajectory as a platform and why you might want to .

Why users have been leaving Magento

Agencies say this: “Magento is the most robust open source ecommerce platform”.

Criticism on the street: “Magento is overly complicated and slow”.

What to believe?

In my experience, both statements are true!

Magento is truly amazing in that you can modify it and create large, complex stores with best-in-class features users expect.

However, Magento generally takes longer to set up, configure and develop on than [insert your favorite non-Magento platform here]. What’s more, non-technical managers may find their heads spinning with the dizzying array of extensions, layout and configuration choices Magento offers. Finally, even after successful launch, performance is very often a HUGE problem for Magento.

Of course, the first issue can be overcome with a solid implementation, the second with training and guidance, and the third with a knowledgeable devops team, but these don’t tend to be cheap. As a result, a lot of merchants have moved from Magento to simpler solutions like WooCommerce and Shopify. (until recently Magento was the market leader, but now WooCommerce is ahead by a few percent).

Why this trend is about to reverse

Magento 1 has been out since 2008 — with no major update. Efforts were begun on a version 2 of the application five years ago but progress was p.ain..ful..ly slow for a long time. Then something seemed to spark within the Magento team…they “got on the ball” and now we have a Merchant Beta, with General Availability slated for Q4 2015. In other words, it’s almost prime time.

Wanna see how it looks? Here’s a demo put together by our friends at Nexcess.

What’s better, you ask, about Magento 2? Answer: Just about everything. The Magento team have given the platform a total reboot / refresh. Here are some of the things I’m most excited about from a business use case standpoint:

  • It’s able to handle WAY more throughput.
  • The application is finally fully responsive in the front and backend (applause please!).
  • Performance nerds are going to be happy — static browser content caching, image compression, use of jQuery, and RequireJS for better management of JavaScript and bundling to reduce file download counts.
  • The backend has been completely redesigned and has a large number of improvements.
  • The frontend is 25% faster in general and 52% faster on add to cart.
  • It’s more modular and as a result much better to develop custom functionality on.
  • It’s no longer monolithic…it’s possible to install only some of the components, making it more streamlined and more feasible to power ecommerce within an existing project.
  • My personal favorite: the checkout now exhibits best practices. To be honest it’s still not as slick as Bonobos or even a stock Shopify checkout, but it’s way better than it was.

This is a really short list on purpose. If you’ve been unimpressed or concerned about Magento, it might be time to think again! Please feel free to email me your response or questions about Magento 2 versus whatever you’re on now.

P.S. Quick note about timeline: while the Merchant Beta is already out, the optimal time for most merchants to upgrade will probably be around May/June 2016. If you’re already on Magento, make sure to take a good look at the Magento 1 to 2 Migration plan; it’s a pretty in-depth process.

P.P.S. Hoping this post was longer? If you’re that eager, check out some more technical benefits of Magento 2.

13
Jul

You Might Not Want to Delight Your Customers

Not all customers want to be delighted!

This thought hit me while I was putting together a new (and undoubtedly awesome) email course on how to optimize your Magneto site.

Picture your favorite places to get gas, buy prescriptions and lug groceries…the BEST stores of their kind you can remember. As you think of when you transact at these locations, I’d be willing to bet you’re not feeling delighted. Calling them your “favorites” might even seem like a stretch.

If you’re like most people, you go to these common stores not because you’re delighted with them but for another reason entirely: CONVENIENCE.

Convenience is one out of many alternative motivations to delight that drive purchasing. Purchasing motivations seem to correlate by industry:

What do all these have in common? In each case, when the motivator is delivered well, the purchaser experiences satisfaction.

Here are a few things I think are true about purchasing satisfaction:

1. Satisfaction looks wildly different to different audiences. It takes some genius to satisfy many types of people at the same time.  This is one reason many businesses that do well in a single niche market fail to make an impression when expanding.

2. Satisfaction can grow or wane over time. In some cases, the value delivery just has to maintain a consistent level (think McDonalds). In other types of scenarios, the value delivery must continually increase (think movies). What would we think of a director with “consistent” movies?

3. Satisfaction doesn’t necessarily result from the first purchase (especially if this isn’t a “delightey” business we’re talking about). But satisfaction has to grow over time in order for the purchaser to feel positive and refer others.

What do you think? Does satisfaction really drive purchasing? What can you do to deliver consistently increasing value to your customers?

02
Mar

Objectively, Your Magento Store Needs to Be Fast

According to our research, a stock Magento install on decent, but un-optimized hosting will tend to load in about 5-6 seconds.

Even back when Magento came out in 2008 this was an unacceptable load time!

Consider how the stats have gotten:

It’s clear. You. Have. To. Make. Your. Magento. Fast! Thankfully this is something we specialize in. Contact us today to find out how we can make your store blazin’ fast!

23
Oct

Integrating Magento With Wombat

Spree Commerce asked us to create an integration between Magento and their new product Wombat. We really got into it.

Continue Reading..

17
Sep

Overcoming Obstacles in Magento Ecommerce Integration

Note: This article was originally posted on the Wombat blog (now defunct). It has been cross-posted here for historical value.

Introduction

As owner of an ecommerce dev + growth agency, I literally love most of the work my company gets to do for our ecommerce clients, but application integration has always annoyed me. Long story short, it’s generally Going to Be A Problem to create a working connection between two apps, even great apps like Magento.

Context (or, A Brief History of Bad Integration Approaches)

From what I can tell, for nearly all of history, small and midsize ecommerce companies running Magento have had three options for integrating their data:

Option 1: Install an off-the-shelf software integration. Found on github or the plugin community of your choice, these integrations are sometimes free, sometimes expensive, and always generic. Cross your fingers and hope that everything will work exactly the way you need. If there’s anything unique about the required workflow (and there usually is), call in an expert developer, or if possible, the original developer to create the modifications you need. No big deal if we’re only talking about a couple of these, but much more than that and things become unwieldy fast.

Option 2: Hire a developer from the get-go to build a custom integration. Now we can finally get the exact workflow we need the first time around. Wait, no…we need to tweak it for “That Other Scenario We Didn’t Anticipate.” Call the developer again…what? Because we didn’t sign up for their $xxxx monthly retainer we now have to wait three months until they’re free?

Option 3: Use a separate heavyweight “enterprise-grade” integration platform to consume and connect all the data. Check it out! All our problems will be solved! Did I just hear a groan from Finance and IT? You say this is overly complicated for our needs and too expensive?

None of these options makes much sense for a growing company.

A Marsupial Solution

Thankfully, Spree Commerce changed everything when they launched Wombat this year. Wombat is a lightweight ecommerce connection hub that integrates all the basic ecommerce data out of the box and also allows for custom data, data transformation and on-the-fly error resolution. With Wombat, it’s a matter of minutes and a few clicks to retrieve and send data between applications.

Since my company has a lot of experience with Magento, you can imagine our excitement when Spree asked us if we’d create an integration between Magento and Wombat. We got so excited, in fact, that we built not one but two ways of connecting to Wombat—a Ruby middleware app that allows for flow-based connection, as well as a Magento extension that pushes data from Magento. Just to be clear, Wombat integrations can be written in any language but we wanted to try Ruby since we spend so much time writing in php.

Musings about the Magento API

The Magento extension-building experience was uneventful since we have built a lot of those, but the Wombat middleware app was our first serious experience working in Ruby, and it was fun! In short, the app consumes the Magento SOAP V2 API2 and spits out JSON in the format friendly to Wombat, and vice versa. All in all it was pretty painless, but during the process, we learned some things about Magento you might find interesting if you’re a developer type. The code samples referenced are from Wombat.

1. Getting information from Magento

Some objects are supposed to be returned in an array format, but if there is only one item, it gets returned as a single item rather than in an array. So we had to add a function that checks if the resulting information is an Array and if not, it changes it into one so we don’t have to write multiple cases of interpreting the information.

wombat_magento-1

2. Sending information to Magento

Another issue we had was when we tried to send hash objects to Magento. If the key contains an underscore inside its name, then we had to contain that key inside two quotation marks.

wombat_magento-2

3. API Documentation Accuracy

Sometimes Magento’s API documentation isn’t correct. For example, when creating a product using the API, you need to specify the websites to which the product will be assigned. In the API documentation it mentions a parameter called websites of type ArrayOfString that is supposed to contain this information.

We weren’t successful sending this information using this approach, but after studying the API model files, we noticed that the parameter key should be website_ids and the content must be an array of arrays that contain the website id information.

wombat_magento3

wombat_magento4

wombat_magento5

Closing Notes

You can get the Magento extension on Magento Connect or Github. It pushes data (orders, customers, products, etc) to Wombat upon creates and updates. Data comes into Wombat nearly instantaneously, so this is a really fast way to get an integration in motion. At the moment, it doesn’t pull data back in from Wombat, although this is something we might add in the future. For bi-directional connections to the Magento API just use the official Wombat-Magento integration.

When developing the Magento integration for Wombat, we used Magento’s SOAP API rather than the newer RESTful API because it offers more endpoints, doesn’t require oAuth and is compatible with Magento back to version 1.3. Magento users can connect to Wombat straight from the Magento Marketplace.