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 3, 2011

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


Sorry June’s started off a little quiet. I am back from vacation and have more posts lined up for next week. In the meantime, check out some of these useful reads below:


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December 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:


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November 19, 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:


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November 18, 2010

Remarketing With Banner Ads

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 7:11 am

So far this week we’ve talked about what remarketing is and how you can leverage email for remarketing campaigns. Today I want to delve into using banner ads as part of your remarketing efforts.

First, a little background on how this works:

  • You place a snippet of code on the pages of your website that you want to track (i.e. shopping cart or product pages). This code is used to set cookies on your visitors’ computers.
  • The cookies will be used to create a pool of internet users who’ve taken a certain action (added items to your cart and not made a purchase, viewed product pages — it can really be anything you want.)
  • Programs like Google Adwords can then serve your ads to that pool of internet users as they hop around the internet. Your ads will appear to them as they read blogs, visit message boards, etc.

The theory is that this audience is more likely to make a purchase if they click your ads since they’ve already been to your site and know your products, brand and price points.

What you need to make use of this type of marketing:

  • Access to your website’s source code
    Etsy users will not be able to market this way, so if you want to get into remarketing, you’re going to need your own website.
  • Some degree of comfort with the technical side of online marketing.
    Truthfully, this is something you’re going to need if you want to sell online effectively. If you hate this stuff, you’ll probably want to hire an expert that’s experienced with online marketing.  Setting up a remarketing campaign means getting into your site’s source code and examining your site’s traffic reports to make smart decisions about how to set up your campaigns.
  • A statistically significant amount of website traffic.
    If you only get a few hundred visitors each month, you won’t really have a large enough pool to re-market to. Sites that are successful with remarketing campaigns like this typically average over 1,000 visitors per day. The more the better. The reason for this is that the more people there are visiting your site, the more people there are to display remarketing ads to. Imagine you only got 1,000 visits/month, your remarketing program might only manage to display your ads to a few hundred of those people. Even if you got 1% click-through, which is pretty high, you’d only get a few clicks. That wouldn’t be a statistically large enough number to rack up conversions.

How to set up this type of remarketing:
There are a lot of programs out there that do remarketing, programs like FetchBank and Advertise.com are huge, but don’t really cater to smaller businesses. There are 2 programs that are suitable for smaller businesses that I want to tell you about today:

Google Adwords
Google Adwords is nice because it’s a self-service platform that ANYONE is allowed to use. I could write a tutorial on how to set this up but Search Engine Land already did a really nice job with this so I’ll just direct you to their well-written tutorial. Google’s reach is pretty significant so your site visitors are very likely to see your ads. Another perk is that pricing works just like any other Adwords campaign. That means you set the budget you want to set and the cost per click you’re willing to bid. (Keep in mind the cost per click is auction based so a higher bid is more likely to get your ads on display).

The biggest challenge with using Adwords is that it requires some tech savvy and it doesn’t offer much tech support. The tutorial I linked above should help, but if talk about user segmenting and lifetime visitor value makes you break out in a cold sweat, this tutorial may not be enough hand-holding. If that’s the case, work with a professional to get set up.

Adroll
I just set up my own Adroll account recently and don’t have enough data to say whether it’s something I’ll be sticking with, but I will say their user support is TOP NOTCH! Their user interface isn’t terribly difficult to understand and their support guys are extremely helpful and patient. If you want hand-holding, give Adroll a shot.

You will need at least 500 users in your user pool before you can begin using Adroll, so again, you’ll need a significant amount of traffic to make this work. That said, if your site traffic is where it needs to be and you want great tech support, this is the way to dip your toe in the remarketing pool. They even offer a free trial for new customers.

A few final points on remarketing with banner ads:

  • Like I mentioned in my article about email remarketing, this stuff can get creepy. People who visit your site once may find it odd when they’re suddenly seeing ads for your site every place they turn. You may want to set up a frequency limit so the same person is not bombarded with your ads 1000 times/day.
  • It’s a good idea to set up different user segments so you can target the site visitors that are most likely to come back and place an order.  What I mean by this: people who added to cart are more likely to return and buy than people who left after only viewing your home page. People who joined your mailing list may be more likely to convert than people who simply viewed product pages. People who viewed product pages are better targets than people who only viewed the home page. You can set up different segments to differentiate people who took certain actions and display specific ads for those people (or even exclude them from seeing your ads).
  • Test different ad designs. You want to put the most clickable ads in front of people, so experiment with different ad designs and ad copy to see what gets you the best click-through and conversion rates. You may want to even put a promotion code on your ads to lure back customers who abandoned their shopping carts.

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November 16, 2010

Email Remarketing: How-tos and Pitfalls

Yesterday I explained a little about what remarketing is and today we’re going to talk about how one might conduct a remarketing campaign via email. Email remarketing campaigns are most commonly used to get customers who abandon their shopping carts to return and complete their purchases.

In order for this to work you’re going to need the customer’s email address. Here are a few ways you might get it:

1. Your checkout
This is probably the safest, easiest and most common way to get customer contact information. The scenario is simple. The customer fills out the shipping page on your cart and supplies their email address. They get to the payment page but don’t complete the order. Your cart still stores their email address and you can now use that to remarket via email.

2. Your cookies
If you have the sort of website that uses customer accounts and sets cookies for all visitors, you may be able to identify a customer even if they don’t begin checkout. For example, if you have an Amazon.com account, they’ve set a cookie on your computer (unless you delete it) that allows them to identify you every time you visit, even if you don’t actually check out every time. This means they know you added an item to your cart and were considering buying it, even if you didn’t provide contact info on your most recent visit. In theory, Amazon could send you a remarketing email prompting you to complete the purchase of the items in your cart.

3. Affiliate cookies
There are some affiliate programs out there, like Second Bite, which cookie most people who use the internet. Their network is vast and they mine a lot of data. If you work with a program like this, it’s possible that they could have your customers’ email addresses even if you do not. They can then use this information to send remarketing campaigns on your behalf.

This sounds obnoxious/creepy!
I don’t entirely disagree with this sentiment. I personally do not use this form of remarketing, but a lot of companies do. This post is meant to teach you how it works. It’s ultimately up to you to decide whether you want to try a campaign like this. Some customers probably will complete their order based on this kind of campaign. Some might find it annoying, which brings me to pitfalls…

Pitfalls of Email Remarketing

1. You might seem like a stalker
This is the most obvious problem. If you’re tracking customers who haven’t even given you their email address, it’s more likely to creep them out. You’re in a better position if they’ve actually supplied their email address at check out. You’re even better off if they ticked the “add me to your mailing list” checkbox during checkout. That means they’ve agreed to accept promotional emails from you.

Assuming you’ve got one, if not both of things in your favor, you’re probably okay to send a remarketing email. It’s important to watch your wording and frequency, but more on that in a minute.

2. You might be training customers to abandon
A common practice with email remarketing campaigns, is offering the customer a coupon to complete their purchase. This makes some sense. If you think they abandoned because shipping was pricey or your products are expensive, offering a coupon can sweeten the deal and give an undecided customer a push to complete their purchase.

You do have to be careful here, because if you do this every time your customers abandon, your best customers might start seeing the pattern and start abandoning as a matter of course, waiting to get their discount.

You can get around this issue in a few ways:
* Don’t use discounts
* Don’t use discounts for existing customers
* Don’t use discounts for the same customer twice
* Don’t use discounts consistently
* Make discount codes available on your site (This is a practice I actually like a lot. It keeps people from going off-site to look for coupons and can even be used to increase average order value. You can try offering 10% off for orders over a certain dollar value and sharing this coupon on your checkout and/or product pages. If you still get cart abandonment and want to do some email remarketing, you can offer those customers 15% off or remove the minimum spend on the coupon code you send to them. You have to do what’s going to work for you business though.)

Timing and Language
Fine tuning the timing of your remarketing email campaign and the copy for those emails is a big portion of the work involved with these campaigns. You don’t want to email so soon that you’re annoying the customer. You don’t want to email so late that they’ve forgotten about the purchase they were considering. Experiment with emails a few hours after abandonment or a day after abandonment. You’ll want to do testing to see what time-frame yields the best response.

You’ll also want to experiment with language. Some common strategies include:
* Simply reminding customers they left items in their cart
* Offering a discount to complete the order
* Emailing as a customer service courtesy to see if they ran into any issues using your site

You could even do all three. Here’s an example:

Hi John
We just wanted to drop you a line to make sure you didn’t encounter any problems while shopping on our site yesterday. We noticed that you still have a few items in your cart and we’d like to offer you a 15% off coupon to complete your order. Simply enter coupon code 15OFF at checkout in the next 72 hours and you’ll save $9.20 on your current pending order. If you have any questions or require special assistance, we’d be happy to help you. You can reach our customer service department at 800-123-4567.
Sincerely,
Jane Doe

You could even include pictures of the items that are in the customer’s cart, as a visual reminder of the items they wanted.

The technology behind email remarketing campaigns
Obviously, you’re going to need some technology to manage your email remarketing efforts. If you’re looking for a low budget and low-fi quick fix, you could just go into your website’s shopping cart data and pull the email addresses manually and email customers from your email client. If you’re running a really small business and don’t get tons of cart abandoners, this might work for you. If you want something automated, you’ll want to investigate programs like RevenueExpect. They’ve designed a simple-to-integrate solution that connects an automated email remarketing program to your shopping cart and emails sevice provider (such as Constant Contact or MailChimp). Other services that have this type of technology include Bronto, ExactTarget and probably several others.

Going analog
Some small business owners have told me they call people who abandon carts. They present that call as a courtesy call or ask the customer if they’d like to provide feedback on their site’s user experience. This is obviously going to be a little time consuming and again won’t work if you get hundreds of cart abandons every day. Still, it may be something to try for customers here and there. You can end up getting some valuable information by talking to customers in real time and you may even be able to save the sale.


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November 15, 2010

Get a Second Chance With Remarketing

This week I’m going to be talking about a really exciting topic: remarketing. In a nutshell, remarketing means marketing to people who’ve already been to your website.

Why would I want to do this?
Sometimes it takes more than one visit to get someone to make a purchase. Think about how many times you’ve stumbled onto a wesbite with cool things, thought to yourself “this is nice but I don’t need it right now” and then forgotten all about the site a few weeks later. People probably do this with your online shop all the time! Remarketing lets you remind these people that you’re there, so that when they’re ready to buy, they return to make a purchase. It increases your brand visibility and can lead to a large increase in your conversion rate, since you’re advertising to people who already know your brand.

I already do this!
Maybe you’re thinking, “well people can sign up for my newsletter if they like my stuff and then I’ll send them email every month until they buy something” or “if they really liked my products, they’d become a fan on Facebook and I could remarket to them that way.” These are both examples of remarketing, but there are many other options, including some very sophisticated ones. Today’s remarketing technology allows you to remarket to those people who don’t “like” your Facebook page or join your newsletter.

So how exactly does remarketing work?
First of all, you have to understand that remarketing can mean a lot of things. It can be done with banner ads, it can be done with email, it can be done with social media. Below are a few examples to get you thinking about how remarketing works:

1. Email Remarketing
Imagine Sarah is looking for earrings to give her bridesmaids and thank you gifts. She visits handmadebridaljewels.com and adds several pairs of earrings to her basket. She begins to check out but as the payment page loads, she gets a call from her florist, who informs her that she’ll have to pick new flowers because the flowers she chose are not going to be available for her wedding. Now in a panic, Sarah forgets all about the earrings and goes off to look for new flowers. Meanwhile, handmadebridaljewels.com hasn’t sold the 4 pairs of earrings Sarah left in her basket.

The story could end here, but if handmadebridaljewels.com has an email remarketing program they could email Sarah after 24 hours pass and remind her that she has items in her basket. The email reminds Sarah that she wanted those earrings and she goes back to complete her order.

2. Banner Ad Remarketing
Imagine you sell dresses and a customer adds a few to her cart. She realizes shipping is going to be more than she bargained for and leaves without making a purchase. If you have a banner ad remarketing program, you can serve ads to this customer while they’re reading their favorite blogs or chatting on their favorite message boards. Imagine you have an ad with a coupon code on it with free shipping for orders over $99. After she sees this ad for free shipping, she clicks to return to your site and completes her order.

A final word about remarketing:
If you’re on Etsy only, hopefully the articles I’m writing this week will give you another nudge to consider getting your own website. Sites like Etsy make it impossible to develop a sophsticated remarketing program. You don’t have access to source code or shopping cart data, so you can’t mine customer email addresses or set tracking cookies. Having access to source code and customer data is essential for this kind of marketing.

Coming up this week:
* How to set up an email remarketing campaign and pitfalls to consider
* How to set up a smart remarketing campaign with banner ads

Stay tuned!

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