In this day and age, social media is becoming a driving force in how people communicate with one another and especially with how businesses communicate with their audience. No matter the business, if you utilize a social media platform, your audience level is going to increase. On the other hand, if your business does not take advantage of any social media platforms whatsoever, then you are sorely missing out a huge chunk of audience engagement that could greatly increase conversions.
It’s important to note, however, that not all social media platforms work for every business. Each business needs to do research and look into each platform in order to determine which ones work best for them. For example, if your business is related to fashion, there are quite a number of social media platforms that can be used. Instagram, one of the biggest social media platforms available, offers those in the fashion industry a platform in which they can harness the use of visuals to increase their audience. On top of that, Instagram offers various ways in which businesses can engage with users to create a form of communication that benefits each side.
Pinterest is another platform the fashion industry can use in order to increase their audience. Also a visually based platform, Pinterest (and Instagram for that matter) allows for users to share their favorite images, clothes, shoes, jewelry, whatever it may be, and gives them a platform in which they can create their own Pinterest fashion-related accounts that link to their favorite designers, stores, influencers, etc for future reference or style ideas and tips.
For businesses that focus on news, or content that is more text-based rather than visual-based, other social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn could be the ones to go after. It is known that posts with images get more conversion than those without. However, although these aforementioned platforms aren’t known for their visual effects, they both allow images to be placed with their text in order to promote the content. With a good image attached to even better content, you can draw in consumers initially with the image and then keep them entertained, informed, and engaged with the content.
Before you create an account on any social media platform, there are a few steps that should first be taken.
Do Your Research
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to jump onto every social platform. This isn’t necessarily a huge mistake, but it is unnecessary. Each business does not need to be on every platform. The first step to successfully using social media is to do some research as to where your target audience is and how they engage with your competitors.
Post With the Intent To Inform and Share NOT Sell
Once you’ve determined your target audience and decided on which platform(s) you’re going to utilize for your business, you’ll want to start posting content. Keep in mind, however, that each post you make should NOT be for the sole purpose of selling. Consumers don’t want products to be shoved down their throats; that’s not the reason they’re on these social platforms to begin with. What they want is to engage with their peers and follow the businesses and influencers they like and admire in order to gain some sort of informative content that helps them with whatever it is they seek. A good tip to remember is to follow the rule of 7 to 1. For every 8 posts you make, seven should be to share and inform, 1 should be sell.
Take Advantage of User-Generated Content and Peer-to-Peer Marketing
According to PulpStrategy, 92% of people base their buying decisions based on what their peers are saying. If you want to gain traction within your industry, a great step to do this is to take advantage of user-generated content. Consumers find that content produced by their peers is more trustworthy than advertisements that are being fed to them. One way to benefit from this is to do some more research into who your customers are and what they are posting. If your customers have a high following and post something that is directly related to your business or your products, it’s worth reaching out and offering them a discount or a free gift if they post your product onto their social media platforms.
Fore more information on eCommerce business solutions and ideas, check out our other articles on Genius eCommerce and feel free to post your social media success stories and tips in the comments below.
Platform Review: Does my Enterprise Business Need Magento 2?
Big, tough Magento. Its reputation precedes it as the powerful platform that rewards merchants with a ton of technical knowledge, and harshly punishes merchants without it. And, for now, Magento can seemingly afford to be selective about the kind of merchants they cater to. According to Builtwith, of the top 100,000 eCommerce sites on the web, 25% of them are run on Magento. Their next closest competitor comes in at around half of that. Magento’s largest merchants are said to do about 1 billion dollars in sales online in a year.
Magento has always been somewhat opaque to eCommerce business owners not trained in the coding arts. Now, with Magento 2 having hit the scene somewhat recently, even some experienced developers are narrowing their eyes. I usually recommend Magento sparingly, but when you need it, you really need it. If a potential client were to come to me asking if Magento 2 is the right move, I’d look out for the following aspects of businesses that need Magento.
Important Note: Magento comes in three editions. Magento Community Edition, which is free, Magento Enterprise Edition, and Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition. I’ve written this review focusing on Magento 2 Enterprise Edition, because that’s the one I’m most familiar with. Everytime I say Magento, assume that’s what I’m referring to, unless otherwise stated.
You Need Very Specific Customization or Functionality
This is the biggest reason for recommending Magento. Some merchants just have a set of unique requirements that no hosted platform, like BigCommerce or Shopify Plus, will be able to meet. Magento is self hosted. You host it, you secure it. They just provide you the CMS. As a self hosted solution Magento gives you, and your team, direct access to its infrastructure. You can do things on open source that hosted platforms can’t, because hosted platforms just can’t give that level of access.
Often, the need for something like this comes up in relation to a very specific product, or method of ordering, which is outside the norm for most eCommerce stores, but it can apply to almost any client requirement. If you want to build the fastest site in your industry, you can build a site that scores 100 on every speed test. If you want a detailed product customizer, your customer can visualize their bespoke order down to the tiniest accessory. If you can dream it, you can do it on a self hosted platform. With the right development resources, of course.
There are other options for self hosted if your requirements aren’t compatible with a hosted solution. Opencart is one many people use, but if you’re already going to spring for champagne, you might as well get the good stuff. If you need open source, because of functionality requirements, you should be looking at Magento.
You Have Development Resources on Staff
The flip side of that endless customization, is the fact that Magento is not easy to make updates and changes too. While the hosted platforms sacrifice some level of customizability for greater accessibility, Magento does the opposite. That means you’ll be responsible for things like load testing your servers, making sure your security patches are up to date, and almost any changes you make to the site will need to be made through code. If you don’t have a developer on staff, and you’re not technical, Magento will be outside of your wheelhouse.
Of course, you can hire a digital agency to be your support and maintenance partners. They can take care of the pre-planned stuff, like scheduled updates and layout changes. But this is still only a stop-gap solution. What if something breaks over the weekend? In the end it’s better to have a Magento developer on staff if you’re going with Magento.
You Can Afford to Pay More for More Features
Magento has one of the most extensive lists of features of any eCommerce platform on the market. To try to go through them all would be too much. Magento shines in customer segmentation, attribute management and sales promotions, just to name a few. Suffice it to say that this features list is the reason Magento’s rates are high, and why most of their customers are large companies. Magento’s license, which ranges between 22K and 75K, is a one time fee each year. To find out where your company will fall in that range you’ll have to contact Magento. Broken down, the cheapest license is in line with the rates for Shopify Plus and BigCommerce Enterprise month to month, but anything beyond that certainly puts Magento in a more expensive category. Not only that, but there are hosting fees and the aforementioned developer’s salary to think about as well.
If the feature you need isn’t on that features list already, chances are good someone has built a plugin. Magento has an incredibly wide array of modules and plugins available from the Magento marketplace. Because Magento is an open source system, it’s much easier for developers to create even the most niche plugins. This open source ecosystem means it’s very likely the Magento Marketplace will have an integration available for the 3rd party system you happen to use. That saves you time and money on developing something custom.
You Have a Vision for Custom Design
Magento does not offer any templates for Magento 2, which isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. After all, if you’re going to shell out the money to build and maintain a Magento site, you probably have the budget to get something custom designed as well. The custom design tools on Magento are incredibly flexible, if you know how to use them. If you need Magento purely for the functionality, and don’t care how your site looks, just know that Magento itself isn’t going to offer you a cheap option when it comes to design. However, there are plenty of third party companies, like Theme Forest, which offer templates compatible with Magento 2.
Magento is not for the faint of heart (or the shoestring of budget). But if you’ve recognized your company in any of the above sections, it may be well-worth the investment. A move to Magento is a serious conversation that you should have with an eCommerce professional, however there are a few ways to dip your toe in the water. As I said in the beginning of this review, Magento Community is free to use. Why not start by building a small store there to see if the platform works well with your eCommerce team? You can always move onto Enterprise later. Much more info can be found on the Magento community forums. If you’re an established business, with unique requirements, and a good base of technical knowledge on your team, you should have Magento 2 on your short list.
Platform Review: Is Shopify Plus Right for Enterprise Businesses?
One particularly pernicious rumor has attached itself to Shopify’s name for a long time. The myth that it’s a platform only for small and medium sized businesses. One-person operations, and Etsy stores with big ideas. I believed it myself once, but it’s not true. Shopify Plus is a hosted enterprise eCommerce platform aimed at businesses doing 1 million dollars or more per year. It hosts some of the world’s largest and most recognizable brands, like Tesla, Budweiser, and GE.
If you represent a midmarket to large eCommerce business, and are looking for a new home, you probably have a few options on your plate. Maybe you’ve heard the aforementioned myth, and you may be under the impression that Shopify isn’t in the running. I’d like to explain why that shouldn’t be the case, and what kind of online store might be a great fit for Shopify Plus.
Your Specialization Does not Lie In IT:
Every business has a comparative advantage. Something your team does best, whether that be marketing, product development, customer relations, etc. Every minute your team members are working on tasks which are not their specialty, you’re paying that opportunity cost, in addition to whatever other resources you’re using.
A SaaS, or hosted, platform like Shopify can help you save on that opportunity cost by making sure your team doesn’t spend too much time focusing on things that are not their strength. SaaS platforms take care of your hosting, security, PCI compliance and other elements of the day to day messiness of running a website. Shopify has a 99.99% uptime rate, and you’ll have a dedicated Shopify Plus account manager, should the system give you any trouble. This is the main advantage of a hosted system. They don’t give you as much freedom to customize as self-hosted solutions, but they allow your team to focus on their strengths rather than load-testing servers and fixing checkout bugs.
You Need a Robust API Integration
Regular Shopify accounts do have the ability for API integration, but on Shopify Plus you’ll have the power to make more API calls faster. Shopify Plus clients are given access to 5x greater throughput of APIs, as compared to customers on regular Shopify plans. Shopify Plus stores also get access to exclusive API calls including the Gift Card API, and Single Sign On & Multipass API for login and migration.
Shopify also has built in plugins for plenty of third party providers that would otherwise require a custom integration, like Netsuite and SAP. In fact, of all the hosted providers, Shopify may have the most thriving ecosystem of more than 1,300 third party plugins and apps to choose from.
You are Growing an International Brand
This is where Shopify Plus truly shines, in comparison to it’s hosted brethren. In addition to your original, Shopify Plus will give you 9 clone stores for alternate languages and currencies. This allows you to deploy sites for international markets quickly and easily. Shopify Plus is the only hosted platform to offer this.
If price is no object, Magento is still a more powerful option for an international brand. It allows you to customize one site to switch back and forth between language options dynamically. However, this customization is not cheap to develop. Shopify includes your clone stores with its monthly rate. Keep in mind though, this means you have to manage multiple stores. So if you update the main domain, don’t forget to change the clones too.
You Like Predictable Pricing:
Pricing for Shopify Plus starts at $2,000 per month. That’s not peanuts, but it is pretty much the going rate when compared with other enterprise level options. Take Magento for example, where you have to buy a yearly license. For Magento 2, that license starts at $22K, which works out to $1,833.33 per month. BigCommerce keeps their enterprise pricing a little more close to the vest, but they’re usually in the same neighborhood.
The Shopify Plus rate can go up depending on your volume, but once you sign on, pricing stays constant month in and month out. When you compare that to hosting fees, and keeping a web developer on the payroll, $2,000 per month starts to look pretty sweet.
You Want a Little More Freedom on the Checkout Page:
Anybody who’s worked with a SaaS eCommerce platform in the past will tell you that, when it comes to customization, the cart page and checkout pages are kept under the tightest lock and key. Hosted platforms, because they have more skin in the game than open source systems, have a vested interest in making sure you don’t do anything too crazy, or shady, to your checkout page.
Simply look at Shopify store on a standard account to get an idea. Merchants are limited to adding a logo, custom colors, some conversion tracking script, and that’s about it. But Shopify Plus merchants have a lot more freedom. Shopify Plus stores have a checkout which is fully customizable when it comes to aesthetics, and even elements of the checkout process itself. However, Shopify will always recommend that you use the checkout process that they’ve tested and optimized for conversion.
You Are Established Brand Looking to Test Something New:
Shopify Plus is a great fit for a ton of enterprise businesses, but not all. Stores with massive numbers of SKUs, or complex product bundles with a lot of product options, are probably better off somewhere else. However, that doesn’t mean that big brands with their main store on Demandware or Mangeto, don’t still have use for a hosted solution like Shopify Plus.
Often when a larger company wants to launch a proof of concept for a new brand or product, they need a site for it that can go up more quickly easily and cheaply. After all, this is just a test, no need to sink a bunch of resources into this project before you know it will work. That’s where SaaS comes in.
A hosted platform like Shopify Plus already has most for the development work taken care of for you. That means you don’t have to commit as many development resources to the new site. The site can also get up a lot quicker. A Shopify Plus site can be up in as little as a few weeks, where it make take a few months or more to develop out an on-premise site. Brands like Budweiser have used Shopify Plus in this way to test out the market for their branded Red Lights.
If you’ve recognized your own business in any of the sections above, Shopify may be a better fit for you than you might think. Hosted platforms are quicker, more agile and cheaper than open source solutions, while still packing a powerful functionality punch. Of course, I recommend you contact an eCommerce professional before you make any big decisions regarding the eCommerce arm of your business. If you were to call me with any of the above requirements, you can bet Shopify Plus would be part of our conversation.
Platform Review: Is BigCommerce Right for Your Store?
During my time as an eCommerce professional, I’ve worked with clients in all types of industries, running stores on every eCommerce platform available. Often people will call my office and ask, “What platform do you recommend? Which one is the best?” The truth is, I can’t give a really good answer to that question, at least not at first. I need to get to know what kind of business the person on the other end of the phone is running. Each eCommerce platform on the market has different strengths and weaknesses that make them a better match for one type of business or another.
In this article I aim to talk about what kind of business is right for the extremely popular eCommerce platform, BigCommerce. Please bear in mind that you don’t have to fit into all of these categories perfectly to work well with BigCommerce. These are the triggers that I would look for when deciding if BigCommerce would be a good platform to recommend to you.
You Are An Established Mid-Market Business
By mid-market, I mean that your business earns somewhere between one and 20 million dollars per year. That’s not to say that businesses bigger and smaller don’t run perfectly well on the platform, but BigCommerce is developing their platform with the goal of becoming the leading eCommerce platform for mid-market businesses. Many of the changes and improvements being made to the BigCommerce platform are being made with this goal, and these customers, in mind.
You Don’t Have an IT Professional on Staff
BigCommerce is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, also called a hosted platform. SaaS is defined as a software that is owned and provided remotely. In BigCommerce’s case, from the cloud. As opposed to Magento, BigCommerce’s biggest competitor among mid-market businesses, which is an on premise platform, also known as an open source platform.
The reason SaaS is better for businesses without permanent IT help, is that much of the messiness of running a website day to day has been taken off of your hands. BigCommerce takes care of hosting, security for the site, as well as updates. They also back their platform up with a support team, just in case you do run into trouble. Hosted platforms are also designed to be easier to edit without working in HTML or CSS. SaaS platforms are quicker to launch, and less complex to manage day to day. With an on premise solution, like Magento, you will need someone on hand, who is familiar with coding, to fix bugs and make updates as necessary.
There is, however, a double edge to this sword. Because a SaaS platform has to be as generally usable as possible, there are limitations to what a merchant can do with SaaS that don’t exist for open source platforms. On open source, you’re responsible for your own hosting and your own security, but that means you have a lot more free reign to customize your own store. SaaS platforms, like BigCommerce, need to restrict what their merchants can change, because they have more skin in the game. When BigCommerce merchants need customization, they have the option to seek out help from third party development partners. That’s where people like me come in. However, we will never be able to customize a hosted site as much as an open source site. Also, once you do customize your site on a hosted platform, you give up some of your freedom to make updates and changes at will. A platform update, made without consulting your developer, could end up wiping out all the customization work you just paid thousands of dollars for.
If you’re running a fairly straightforward eCommerce store, BigCommerce can reduce your cost by taking much of the day to day work of an on staff IT professional off your hands. This does not mean, however, that you will have zero maintenance costs. You will most likely need to reach out to a third party development partner from time to time to keep the store running smoothly. If you’re in need of unique customization, reach out to a development partner to make sure your requirements are possible before deciding on any hosted platform.
You Expect Your Business to Grow
Who doesn’t? Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing this. But scalability is a concern for serious eCommerce merchants, and I think that BigCommerce has attacked this issue in a particularly interesting way.
Each hosted platform has a different way of charging bigger merchants more. Shopify charges transaction fees, so the more sales you make, the more you pay them. Volusion enforces bandwidth limits, so the more traffic you get, the more you pay. BigCommerce prices their plans based on gross merchandise sales. In short, if you make over a certain revenue ceiling they will have you upgrade to the next level. You can see those ceilings here:
BigCommerce Standard: $50,000
BigCommerce Plus: $150,000
BigCommerce Pro: between $400,000 and $1 Million
Anything above 1 million dollars qualifies for BigCommerce’s Enterprise plan. The Enterprise plan has no annual sales limit, and the price is discussed with the business’s BigCommerce representative.
The reason I like this method more than the other two hosted platforms, is because this is the most direct way of charging based on value. While the other two platforms attach their price increases to common indicators of value, BigCommerce has developed their price structure around value, and based it on mutual success.
You’re Willing to Pay More for More Features
BigCommerce plans are more expensive than their hosted platform competitors, but they come with more functionality. This is perfect for businesses who are already established, can afford a slightly higher price point, and might appreciate having a store with a more robust set of features.
One great feature, is BigCommerce’s abandon cart emails. They are probably the best in the business at the moment. This tool allows you to create up to 3 automated emails that will fire off to a customer who gets a portion of the way though the sales process, but does not complete their purchase. Abandon cart emails have been shown to dramatically increase conversion rates, and require very little extra effort.
Another feature advantage of BigCommerce is product reviews. Though it may seem hard to believe, not every eCommerce hosted platform comes with the ability for your customers to leave reviews. Instead, they require you to purchase a third party application to enable reviews. All BigCommerce plans come with review functionality.
BigCommerce’s feature set also shows it’s merit in it’s ability to set product variants. Shopify stops you at 3 product variants, before you need to purchase a plugin or find a workaround. If you know how to use BigCommerce’s product rules and product options correctly, you can set up a nearly endless number of product configurations.
I could go on about other features in which BigCommerce is stronger than it’s competitors, but that would be the entire article. When doing a price comparison, I think you’ll find that if you need anything more robust than a simple eCommerce store, the price of BigCommerce is worth paying for the extra features it buys you.
You Sell on Multiple Channels
Each eCommerce platform offers different levels of integration with the web’s biggest eCommerce marketplaces. Some will have a natural integration with one channel, but require a third party integration to sync with another. If multi channel selling is a particular concern of yours, BigCommerce has options, and limitations as well.
BigCommerce offers BigCommerce Channel Manager, which merchants can use to list products, and monitor sales on Facebook, Pintrest, Ebay, and Amazon. However, because many of these integrations are new, there are limitations which you should be aware of. For example, as of now, BigCommerce merchants can only list their products in a limited number of Amazon categories through Channel Manager. They are:
Arts, Crafts & Sewing
Beauty & Personal Care
Health & Household
Home & Kitchen
Toys & Games
We expect this integration to grow, and include more categories, as time goes on.
Interestingly, BigCommerce is one of the few eCommerce platforms that can currently boast an integration with the Chinese eCommerce giant, Alibaba, but for buying not for listing. Currently BigCommerce merchants can browse and buy products wholesale from Alibaba’s 300 Gold Suppliers (vetted suppliers) for resale. The BigCommerce merchant is still responsible for arranging and paying for the shipping from China. As of now, this is not true drop shipping.
If multi channel selling is your priority, you’ll want to grill your platform’s sales rep on the particulars of their platform’s integration. BigCommerce, like all eCommerce platforms, has strengths and weaknesses in this area. You’ll need to assess how strong they are in your high priority channels.
If you’ve recognized your own business in any of the descriptions above, BigCommerce might be the right system for you. Of course, your business is unique, and this doesn’t cover everything you might need out of your eCommerce platform. Not by a long shot. You can start doing more in depth research by:
Signing up for a free trial: Each of the hosted eCommerce platforms have two week free trials that allow you to get used to that platforms admin area. Sign up for more than one, and perform a head to head test.
Ask for a demo: Sales reps at BigCommerce, and its competitors, are often more than happy to set up a time to go through their platform with you, and show you what it can do.
Call a professional: If you have specific and unique requirements, I would recommend that you get in touch with a 3rd party eCommerce professional, like myself. We may be easily able to endorse, or eliminate, some of your options.
More info on BigCommerce can be found on the BigCommerce community forums, and you can sign up for a free trial on their homepage. Every online business is different, but each business has one thing in common: with a little research and a lot of elbow grease, your eCommerce store can succeed.