June 21, 2011

Converting Customers from Marketplace Shoppers to Fans Who Shop on Your Website

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 8:10 am

Last week I started a discussion about how Etsy and other marketplace websites hinder customer relationships. For a couple of years now I’ve been trying to talk my readers into getting their own ecommerce websites, and not felt like I was getting through to people. I finally hit on a point last week that got some more people thinking. To reiterate, I said “when people ask your customers where they got products they purchased from you, they’re going to say Etsy, not your brand name.” If you want to build your own brand, this is a serious problem.

Last week I also talked about ways to emphasize your brand in the actual package customers receive, but today I want to talk about ways to actually get customers who found you on a marketplace site, to make their future purchases on your website.

Before we talk about this, let’s discuss the 3 things marketplace sites are good for.

1. Hobbyists
If you knit for fun and want to make a few extra bucks, sure sell on Ebay or Etsy. You aren’t trying to run a business and sites like this offer an easy way for hobbyists to make a few bucks.

2. Testing the waters
If you are thinking about starting a business, but not totally committed to the idea, marketplace sites are a great way to test drive the experience. You can see if there’s a demand for your product. You can see what it’s like serving customers, shipping orders, etc. These sites are a great place to try things out, before getting serious about a business.

3. Affiliates
Affiliate marketers are marketers that market products for other people. When the products sell, the affiliates get paid a commission. Traditionally, you would establish an affiliate program on a site like Shareasale, affiliates would join the program on their own, market your wares on their own, and get commissions as they referred sales.

Sites like Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc. can be thought of as glorified affiliates. Unlike traditional affiliates, you have to take a more active role in working with them. You pay them fees even if they don’t sell product. You have to list your stuff on their site. That said, they have a huge user community and by virtue of this, they are in a position to refer customers to you, and they do get paid a portion of your sales as a result.

Affiliates are great for customer acquisition, so if those marketplace sites are delivering sales, by all means, maintain a presence there. But don’t hand over your whole business to them. The thing they are doing for you is driving traffic to your shop. In exchange they are getting listing fees and sales commissions. That’s plenty. You don’t need to hand deliver them all of YOUR potential customers that you worked for with marketing, PR, etc. Why should they get a commission on those sales? They didn’t earn them.

So now that we’re clear on why you might want to use a marketplace site, let’s look at some ways to get customers who found you on a marketplace site, so become fans of your brand and users of your website.

1. Brand your products
I can’t state the importance of branded products enough. I’ve purchased more things on Etsy than I can remember. I can only name one actual shop I purchased from. Their name is XS Baggage. I bought a bag from them and their brand name is on a label sewn inside the bag. Every time I use the bag I open it up and see their brand name. That is why I remember them and not anyone else. Next time I need a new bag, I’m going to seek out XS Baggage, not Etsy.

Note that I say branded products, not packaging. Branded packaging is also important, but it is not the same as branding the product. The packaging gets thrown out. If you can find a way to permanently affix your brand name to the product, that is more effective. Some products are easier to brand than others. Earrings may be especially tough. You could get around it by designing a nice case or box to store the item in, like Wild Gems has done. The goal is to give the customer something they will keep that has your business name on it. You really want them to see your brand name every time they use your product.

2. Use Gift Cards and Coupons
Several small business owners reported success with using special offers in their product shipments to customers from marketplace sites. Brett from Scrubadoo says “One of the things we do to make sure our customers know that we appreciate their business is send them a hand written thank you note. We do this for everyone, no matter if they buy 1 item or 10… In those cards we include a gift certificate for free shipping at scrubadoo.com. We have had a decent amount of success with this strategy. In fact, in one of our “client feedback’s” on Amazon a client even mentioned how awesome it was to receive the note and gift certificate.”

Offering a customer a gift card or coupon code for your primary website is a great way to entice them to do repeat business with you directly, instead of a marketplace website.

3. Go Digital
Amber from XMittens says that when she gets orders from marketplace websites she sends “a personalized thank you email from my website’s email address that includes in the signature links to my regular website, to my email list sign up and to any recent press or a recent blog post. Many of my repeat customers originally found Xmittens on etsy and now shop at my ecommerce site instead!”

Following up a marketplace purchase with a branded email inviting the customer to connect with you via your blog, mailing list or social media accounts is a great way to get around the problem of marketplace sites disallowing direct links to your newsletter, blog, Facebook, etc.

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June 14, 2011

Is Etsy Hindering Your Customer Relationships?

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:08 am

Last week I wrote about the difference between transactional and relationship-based business models. When Etsy mentioned this article in their round up, it drove some readers to Smaller Box who said they were focused on a relationship-based business model, despite having Etsy as their primary venue for an online presence. While you can make this your goal, marketplace websites work against this type of business model. Here’s why:

1. The relationship is with the marketplace
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who shops on Etsy but is not a crafter. She asked why we don’t run Ex-Boyfriend through Etsy. I said “You shop on Etsy a lot, right?” She nodded.

I continued, “Imagine you found the scarf you’re wearing on Etsy. If I said to you, ‘hey that’s a great scarf, where did you get that?’ what would you tell me?”

She looked confused and said “I’d tell you I got it on Etsy.”

And that’s why Ex-Boyfriend isn’t run through Etsy. I know when Ex-Boyfriend’s customers are asked where they got their tees, they’ll say Ex-Boyfriend. It’s the only possible answer. They won’t say Ebay, Etsy, Amazon or any other marketplace website. While we do sell some overstock items via Etsy, the hub of our business is through our website, and the main reason for this is that we want the customers to have a relationship with us, not a marketplace website.

I know as a consumer, I think the same way that my friend thinks. I buy stuff all the time on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc. I couldn’t name a single individual seller who I actually bought from on those sites. The entire time I was seeing the marketplace’s logo, getting email from the marketplace website. Of course, that’s the branding that stuck with me.

If you want to build a relationship with customers, they need to know who the heck you are. If another brand name is stuck in front of their face during the transaction, how will they remember you instead of the marketplace?

2. The user experience is dictated by the marketplace
In my article about relationship-based business models, I talked about how these businesses place their emphasis on creating a unique brand experience. This starts the minute a customer steps into your virtual doors. The brand experience is communicated via the web design, product photos, website features (i.e. VIP customer clubs, virtual dressing room aps, etc.) and even on down to product packaging, customer emails, website copy, etc.

Sites like Etsy and Amazon do create a brand experience, but the experience is with Etsy or Amazon, not the people who sell products through them. Etsy looks like a modern indie website, if it had a storefront it would be in Williamsburg Brooklyn. That brand experience is conveyed through the site’s design, features, etc. If that’s not the brand experience you’re trying to create, and you sell there, you’re kind of out of luck.

Check out the different vibes cultivated at sites like Lochers vs Brooks Brothers. If the exact same products were for sale on Etsy or Amazon.com instead of those branded websites they might look like just a phone case or just a polo shirt. It’s the branding these companies have created that make their customers want their cases or shirts over the others. Those brands would be incapable of communicating their specialness if their products were featured on marketplace websites.

3. Marketplace websites inhibit lead-nurturing activities
In my article last week, I talked about how relationship-based business models focus on getting customers, not transactions. A marketplace website is designed to give you the opposite result. It might bring you sales, but since you don’t get to build a relationship with the customer and you can’t communicate the uniqueness of your brand, it’s very hard to turn one-time buyers or casual browsers into die-hard fans. Aside from the limitations already discussed, the technology is also a problem.

Marketplace websites don’t make it easy for your to direct the casual visitor to your blog, Facebook page or newsletter. There’s no single click access to any of these tools that would help you foster relationships with visitors. You certainly can’t employ banner ad re-marketing. Even if a customer makes a purchase, you can’t simply have them check a box to get on your mailing list. Repeated marketing communication with the person buying from you is almost discouraged. So how are you going to keep the conversation going with that person who was interested but didn’t buy today, or did buy today but may forget about you by next month?

What can you do about all of this?
People sell their products on marketplace websites for 2 reasons: either because those websites can send you customers since they have a large user base or because they’re easy/convenient to use. If you are serious about growing a real business, neither of these reasons is especially good. A profitable business can bring its own customers in the virtual doors, and after I talked about all the disadvantages of relying entirely on a marketplace for your online presence easy/convenient seems like a weak excuse compared to what you’re giving up for ease and convenience. So here are some options:

1. Get your own ecommerce website
Treat your business like a real business by investing some money in an ecommerce site. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog, consider ready-made solutions like Yahoo stores or Big Cartel. You will still need to invest in a web designer, but it’s still easier and cheaper than creating an entire ecommerce site from scratch.

2. Get your own website and leave the ecommerce where it is
If you aren’t ready to create your own online shop, you can at least create a website with a professional design and links to your blog, social media accounts, etc. Then you can direct customers to your marketplace store (Etsy, Artfire, Amazon, Ebay, etc.) to make their purchases. It’s not ideal, but at least the customers meet your brand before they meet the marketplace.

3. Have two online shops
If you can’t give up the traffic and sales that marketplace sites deliver, there’s no reason to leave them entirely. But treat them like an ad venue instead of the hub for your business. Create your own site and sink all your marketing efforts into that, then leave your Etsy/Amazon/Ebay shops where they are, so that visitors using those sites as marketplaces can still find you.

4. Create an experience in a box
If you are determined to stick to the marketplace entirely, you’ll need to work extra hard on product presentation. Make sure everything about the finished product that gets into customer hands reinforces you branding. You want to get your branding into your product packaging, inserts that go into the package (i.e. stickers, buttons, etc.) and the product itself. Make sure your logo is on the products, on your invoice, etc.

Your goal is to deliver a package that is so memorable and so branded, that the customer’s lasting memory about the transaction is your brand instead of the marketplace.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, I’ll show you some examples of how we try to do this with Ex-Boyfriend.

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June 10, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Happy Friday! Below are my recommended reads from around the web for the week:

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June 6, 2011

Customer Lifetime Value: The Often Ignored Metric in Your Marketing

When you think about selling your products online do you think about acquiring sales or do you think about acquiring customers? For many online retailers, in fact many business owners, the focus is on sales, not customers. This wrong-headed thinking can actually cost you money. Here are some ways this mentality gets you into trouble:

1. Short-Sighted Customer Service Policies
The number one rule of customer service: treat your customers the way you’d want to be treated if you were in their situation. Sometimes this means losing a little money in order to preserve a long term relationship. Most of us dread dealing with customer service at any business. We expect to be put on hold. We expect to hear “no”, even if the mistake was on the company’s part. It’s a nightmare. So when we have a great customer service experience, we not only have positive feelings about the business in question, we tend to recommend them to other people.

Examples of customer service gone awry that loses you customers:
I bought a ticket to go to Japan earlier this year, then a tsunami struck, causing me to change my vacation plans. What did United Airlines do? They charged me a $600.00 change fee and made me spend an hour on the phone with their customer service people. They made changing my plans expensive and inconvenient.  I hope they really enjoyed that $600.00, because this frequent traveler will NEVER fly them again. That 1 hour of my time and frivolous $600 charge (after I’d already spend $2000 on tickets), cost them a customer for life, a customer who would have spent tens of thousands of dollars with their business over the next few years. All that to get $600.00!

My husband bought a case for his new iphone 4. The company sent him the wrong case. They insisted he send back the wrong case, in order to get the correct case. Even if they reimburse for the shipping, they are forcing their customer to pay for the shipping initially, further delaying the arrival of the product he ordered several weeks ago and giving him an errand to run. Guess where we won’t be shopping next time we need an electronics case?

(By contrast, on the rare occasions that we send the wrong item to a customer at Ex-Boyfriend, we just tell the customer to keep the item and pass it on to a friend, and we send the correct item right away. As a result, we get happy customers, positive word of mouth and maybe our product ends up in an additional customer’s hands that we hadn’t planned for.)

2. Weak Attribution Management
Attribution management is one of the most widely misunderstood concepts among inexperienced business owners. First of all, let’s define the term. Attribution management, means tracking the source of your sales, with the understanding that sales often come from more than one source. For example, let’s say you run an ad on a blog. A customer clicks your ad, sees your stuff but doesn’t buy. Let’s imagine they clicked your Facebook “like” button, and a few weeks later they click a link from your Facebook page to your site and make a purchase. Which source resulted in the sale? Was it Facebook? Was it the ad? The answer is both, and this is where attribution management comes in. Attribution management looks at the first click that delivered a sale, the last click and interim clicks that served as assists.

Currently, attribution management can be tough to track without sophisticated tools or some programming skills. (I personally created my own attribution management system for my website using cookies and IP addresses.) The good news is Google Analytics is releasing attribution management capabilities pretty soon. The feature is currently in beta testing.

Why does this matter?

If you think of acquisitions in terms of sales instead of customers, you may cut off a productive marketing channel that is providing valuable assists, even if it is not contributing to direct sales. It may be effectively nurturing customer leads, even if it’s rarely the impetus to get people to buy. It may be keeping your brand name in the forefront of the customer’s thoughts, so when they Google your brand name and make a purchase, that isn’t just by luck, it’s those tools you used to foster customer relationships that put your brand name in their heads.

Examples of these marketing tools might include blogging, advertising, social media and email marketing.  Just because you don’t see direct sales from them each day, doesn’t mean they aren’t turning people into customers.

3. Lack of Customer Relationship Management
If you think of customer transactions as a one-and-done deal, you lose your chances of bringing them back for subsequent purchases. Once you’ve had someone buy something from you, the goal is to keep in touch with them, so they buy again in the future. Even if you don’t sell the kind of product people buy over and over, maintaining a relationship with past customers encourages them to recommend your business.

Now when I say keep in touch with customers I DO NOT mean sending them constant annoying sales emails. No one likes that. You need to employ a little gentle persuasion. Think about things you can do to keep them interested in you without selling to them constantly.

Here are some things that have worked for us at Ex-Boyfriend:
– Free Downloads
By offering our fans fun free products like drink markers, notecards, etc., we give our customers a fun reason to re-visit our website. Free gifts are a great way to engender a positive experience with the brand and keep our branding in front of our audience.

– A Good Blog
Notice I didn’t say blog, I said a good blog. A good blog is one with content that’s genuinely interesting for your customers. It’s not filled with sales content or boring details about your personal life and photos of your kids. It’s fine to include some personal elements and some sales copy, but if that’s the focus of your blog, no one is going to read it. At Ex-Boyfriend we share funny videos, cocktail recipes, comic strips, etc. Our primary goal is to keep our fans entertained and connect on a personal level, not sell them stuff. Getting them to shop with us is a natural by-product of having fun content.

– Social Media
Like a good blog, a good social media presence doesn’t contain non-stop sales copy. A little sales copy is okay, but the focus should be on content your audience finds interesting. This can include sharing your entertaining blog posts, asking a question that prompts conversation, sharing fun stuff you’ve found online, etc.

– Email Marketing
There are lots of schools of thought on email marketing. Some people advocate frequent contact, some people advocate regular, but not constant, contact. I think 1 or 2 mailings per month is a nice amount for retail businesses. It’s not so frequent that people will unsub because you’re spamming their inbox, but it’s often enough that they don’t forget about you.

Like social media and blogging, make sure your email content provides some value above and beyond sales messaging. You want to give people a reason to open those messages, and if they expect nothing but sales talk, they are less likely to open.


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February 4, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

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November 23, 2010

Delight Your Customers & Get in a Little Viral Marketing

Filed under: Branding,viral marketing — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:41 am

Over the weekend my partner and I designed a bunch of free downloads for our customers. We created gift tags, mini note cards and gift card sleeves. Here are a few reasons we did this:

1. Viral Marketing

All the items we designed have our company URL on them. This means everyone who downloads and prints our stuff is spreading the word about our company. We designed items that were colorful, cute and memorable, so that when someone receives a gift adorned with our creations, they’ll take notice. Even if our gift tags are used to adorn a gift that’s not from our shop, our company is still part of the experience.

2. Gives Gift Card Sales a Boost

Gift cards are usually a hit with friends and family, but delivery can be lackluster. “Here’s this piece of plastic, go buy yourself something.” We designed cute note cards and gift card sleeves to hold our gift cards. That way ordering a gift card goes from a ho-hum purchase to a gift with a little wow factor. We even linked our downloads on our holiday shipping deadlines page and our gift card page, so customers can easily find these free accoutrements if they’re planning to order a gift card.

3. Delight Our Fans

We think our customers are awesome people and we wanted a way to express our thanks for their support. Creating these downloads was a simple way to give them something fun and unexpected.

Not sure how to get started with making your own free printables? Kind Over Matter has a terrific kit for this!

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September 3, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

August 19, 2010

When Customers Attack: Dealing With Angry Customers

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 9:24 am

One of the toughest parts of working in retail is dealing with angry customers. Even though we do our best to make them happy, sometimes we can’t win. It’s important to be prepared to deal with wrathy customers so you’re not taken by surprise when they strike. Here are some our top tips that we apply when dealing with our own angry customers:

1. Be responsive
Never ignore an angry customer. Return their calls right away. Respond to their emails immediately. A fast response to a problem goes a long way, so make sure you’re not procrastinating when it comes to dealing with this type of problem.

2. Show some empathy
When a customer is mad, in their mind it’s them versus you. Coming to a resolution will go more smoothly if you can change the mindset to a problem you’re working to solve together. To get them off the offensive, let them know you understand their frustration. Thank them for calling the problem to your attention or taking the time to contact you.

For example, imagine a customer is angry that their order never arrived. You check the package tracking number and see the post office has screwed up. When you respond to the customer, you’ll want to say something like. “Thank you for taking the time to contact me about this issue. I completely understand your frustration. I checked the package status with USPS and it appears they’ve lost the package. Obviously this is very upsetting for me too. I will be filing a claim with them,  but in the meantime, I want you to have your products, so I will put a replacement package in the mail today.”

3. Do NOT lose your cool
People can be really nasty and inappropriate. They call names, they curse, they yell. There’s no need to stoop to their level. Whatever they say or do, it’s important to remain calm and pleasant. Refusing to engage with their boorish behavior sometimes even shames them into changing their tone.

4. Do not make them feel stupid
Sometimes a customer is angry and the mistake was on their part. Maybe they chose standard shipping and then got angry when the order didn’t arrive over night. Maybe they’re freaking out because they had to pay customs fees, even though it clearly stated on your website that customs fees might be incurred on international deliveries.

In these situations, the first thing to keep in mind is that people don’t always follow directions. They’re busy and distracted and maybe did not pay attention when they were shopping on your site. When we get complaints that fall into this category, we always apologize for the confusion and then explain the steps we took to try to provide them with detailed information. We close by asking them for their input on how we could do a better job communicating the overlooked information in the future.

5. Do not give in to unreasonable demands
Angry customers can sometimes expect you to bend over backwards to appease them. Emphasis on the bending over. This kind of thing is often associated with customers who are throwing tantrums. They expect their bullying aggressive behavior will intimidate you into giving them whatever they want.

If the mistake is on your part, you probably should offer them something to make it up to them. When things go awry on our end at our ecommerce company, we often do things like gift cards or free shipping. We don’t give away entire orders for free or hand over hundreds of dollars in product for compensation. You want to make sure whatever you’re giving the customer to appease them isn’t above and beyond.

At the end of the day, the most you really owe them is a refund on returned merchandise, and if someone’s truly being an implacable ass, sometimes that’s the best course of action. When we’re dealing with someone truly impossible in this situation, we’ll typically say, “I’m really sorry you’re not satisfied with any of the offers I’ve made to try to make this right for you. We’d be happy to refund your money in full if you’d like to return your order.”

6. Try to make things right
If there’s something you can do to appease the customer, and it’s not unreasonable, offer to do it. If their order shipped later than it should have, offer free shipping. If their product arrived damaged, offer to replace it free of charge and send them a coupon code for their next purchase.

7. The best offense is a good defense
If you know you’re going to have a problem, communicate with your customer as early as possible and let them decide how they want to handle it. If an item they ordered is out of stock, notify them immediately and ask if they’d like a refund or if they’d like to wait. If they want to wait, offer to ship their order for free if it’s going to be a long wait. If you know 50% of the clasps on the necklaces you sold are breaking, contact customers who ordered the item and offer them a free repair. Taking the time to warn customers about a problem before it starts usually keeps them from throwing a tantrum later.

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June 25, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

May 28, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

Note I was away on vacation last week so there will be a special “Link Love” post this weekend with extra reads. Stay tuned.

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