Monthly Archives: April 2013

  • same-day delivery credit: staticworld.net

    Welcome back! This article continues our exploration of a burgeoning online retail trend: same-day delivery. Is it worth it? How have companies fared? Read on for answers!

     

     

     

    Broadened Spectrum

    What about companies that already depend on same-day delivery for perishable or time-sensitive products—what do they stand to gain? 1-800-Flowers.com is using the USPS Metro Post service to expand delivery options for products besides flowers, including gourmet food brands. While it’s too early to gauge consumer reaction, the program is generating buzz and has already spread to other retailers in San Francisco in a region covering 26 ZIP codes.

    To take full advantage of same-day delivery, it’s necessary to have a correspondingly robust infrastructure and communication system. Accurate, reliable data needs to be transmitted quickly to delivery companies in order to provide seamless service on the customer’s end. This is made much easier when companies already offer in-store pickup for online orders. Naturally, that trend is becoming common in the U.S. as well; with real-time inventory updates and intra-store merchandise allocation in place, transmission to outside delivery entities is made that much easier.

     

    Complex Operations

    The USPS Metro Post has the advantage of usage of its own trucks over courier-only services like Shutl and eBay Now, allowing it to accommodate web-only retailer like 1-800-Flowers with larger order volumes and extensive customer bases. They also use Postal Service software to calculate efficient routes for its four delivery vans in San Francisco. It can be tough to keep prices at or around standard ground shipping levels (~$10), but advertising certainly helps.

    EBay Now’s model differs significantly: using a mobile app, customers locate the nearest available shopping assistant via built-in GPS, then tracks and communicates with the shopper if necessary to deliver a specific product on time. Shoppers can take advantage of eBay’s Milo system, offering mobile users real-time availability at nearby brick-and-mortar locations. They are also considering letting retailers set the price for promotions and other material usage. Again, it’s still too early to tell whether e-tailers will take to the service en masse.

     

    Across the Pond

    There are still some kinks to work out between Argos and Shutl, which have been involved since late 2010. Tests continue to evaluate pricing and discounts in the context of minimum order thresholds. They’re also weighing the benefits of free same-day delivery.

    McCarthy is cautiously optimistic: “It is difficult to ascertain exactly the impact Shutl has had on customer conversion. The Shutl option is shown to the customer at the very end of their shopping journey and, theoretically, we have already converted the customer. However, from the repeat occurrences and the positive feedback we have received from users, it is both a fast and convenient way of getting goods to the customer, and offers yet another route that gives customers added choice and convenience."

    The cost of Shutl for retailers changes with the size of the order and the distance to the customer, but retailers can set their own price for their customers. They’ve been able to convert up to 45% of shoppers by keeping Shutl price at or below 5% of cart value.

     

    Moving Ahead with Same-Day Delivery

    As with most aspects of e-commerce, a balance must be found if same-day delivery hopes to take off. Covering e-tailers’ costs is important, of course, but everyone’s wary of repeating the mistakes of Urban Fetch and Kozmo.com. When they tried same-day delivery in the 1990s, they failed miserably because they overextended the service. Al Sambar of Kurt Salmon warns that same-day delivery has limited applications and absolutely isn’t right for every product, especially when the product itself can’t cover the cost of delivery. Convincing the customer with convenience and trustworthiness is the order of the day—only time will tell if online retailers rise to the occasion.

  • Same day Delivery credit: e-commercefacts.com

    Paul Demery, Internet Retailer CTO, recently compiled some telling observations on the successes and challenges associated with same-day delivery for e-tailers. Below, a summary of his major points. This is Part I in a two-part series; be sure to check out Part II for the full story!

     

    The latest trend in online retail seeks to appropriate a long-held brick-and-mortar advantage: receiving goods the same day you shop for them. Sure, there hasn’t exactly been an uptick in consumer demand for same-day delivery, but retailers are taking the usual “customers don’t know what they want yet” approach here; in tandem with delivery companies, they’re striving to shave overhead low enough to drum up interest. Some are even taking serious risks in an effort to jump the gun.

     

    Spreading Fast

    Case in point: UK retail chain Argos, a subsidiary of Home Retail Group, experimented with free same-day delivery for online orders just before last Christmas. The offer was made available to about half of its customers, spanning 50+ UK towns. Results were modest and costly, but ultimately deemed effective in terms of expanding the customer base. In the opinion of Brian McCarthy, Argos director of home delivery, “the whole market of competition is changing […] loyalty to brand is less; loyalty to price is stronger.”

    Argos collaborates with London-based Shutl in the delivery process. Shutl dispatches online orders to local courier services, factoring availability, location, and performance record into the decision. With outposts in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago—along with planned operations in 17 more North American cities this year—the company is poised to ride the same-day delivery wave.

    The landscape is populating rather quickly. USPS launched Metro Post last November in San Francisco, testing the waters with 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. and other retailers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. debuted Walmart to Go in five metro areas, delivering online orders by truck. The trend gained speed with eBay Now, a mobile app being tested by major retailers in New York and San Francisco, designed to coordinate local courier pick-up and delivery services. And, of course, Amazon.com Inc. has had a successful same-day delivery service in multiple U.S. markets for a few years now.

     

    A Wrench in the Gears

    In an atmosphere of stiff competition, many retailers feel compelled to at least explore same-day delivery to remain viable amongst such strong growth. But it isn’t all sunshine and roses; according to experts, the jury’s still out on whether it actually wins customers or pads profits. Compared with one- or two-day delivery and/or in-store pickup—a safer option for retailers with fulfillment centers in major markets—same-day delivery demands a premium, which naturally gets passed on to the customer. These fees average $10 for most orders, which turns out to be enough to scare many customers away. Once that threshold is passed, they’d much rather opt to inconvenience themselves by picking the product up in person. When Moosejaw Mountaneering introduced same-day delivery in Chicago and Denver-Boulder for order placed up until 5 PM Christmas Eve, no one ended up using the $14.99 service. CEO Eoin Comerford speculates that a lack of heavy promotion and customer trust may have had something to do with the lackluster results.

     

    Light at the End of the Tunnel

    That hasn’t stopped dedicated entrepreneurs, though. Shutl’s investors include UPS Inc., European delivery service GeoPost, and venture capital firms e.ventures, Hummingbird Ventures, and Notion Capital. That’s $5M+ in investments since October put toward marketing in the U.S. and Canada—not too shabby.

    And the service itself isn’t stagnant, either. Seeking to one-up Amazon, the next generation of same-day delivery providers is expanding the traditional window from 7 AM to noon to 2 PM and beyond. Walmart.com, by comparison, allows shoppers to choose a four-hour delivery window, even late at night.

     

    Same-Day Delivery in Action

    Here’s a sampling of typical same-day delivery services for online orders:

     

    •    Shutl: Scheduled to launch Q1 in NYC, Chicago, and SF. Delivery available 24/7, or when stores or warehouses are open. Fee set by retailers; Shutl recommends < 5% order value.
    •    USPS Metro Post: Customers in SF can order online until 2 PM, receiving deliveries 4-8 PM. Fee close to standard ground shipping, which for many orders is ≤$10.
    •    eBay Now: Consumers in NYC and SF test markets can have a personal shopper pick up the items ordered from a retailer's store and have them delivered 9 AM-6 PM most days, with extended holiday hours. Fee=$5, with $25 minimum order.
    •    Walmart to Go: Customers in five major metro areas—Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Jose/San Francisco, Denver—can order online until noon, then choose a 4-hour delivery window running to late in the evening. Fee=$10.
    •    Amazon Local Express Delivery: Order deadlines range from 7 AM-noon in 10 major cities—Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington—for delivery up to 8 PM. Fee=$8.99 per order or $3.99 on eligible items for Amazon Prime members, a program that also offers two-day shipping for an annual fee of $79.

     

    Read on for Part II!

  • Creating a business and running it successfully is a complex, multifaceted task, and many entrepreneurs find themselves being tugged in every direction by the assault of responsibilities the influx of data and the weight of decision making to the point at which they lose sight of the forest because they are focused on all the trees. In many cases, in fact, businesses can be pulled under or swarmed over by competitors because the principals involved are too busy treading water to move forward with the eCommerce strategies that may save them. To help fledgling e-tailers the brain trust at Practical eCommerce has distilled the entrepreneurial experience down to 4 key metrics upon which every business must focus to ensure continued success, those metrics are:

    1. Understanding the lifetime value of a customer;
    2. Monitoring customer satisfaction;
    3. Measuring your sales funnel;
    4. Determining marketing ROI.

    The Four Key Metrics of eCommerce Strategy

    Understanding the lifetime value of a customer:

    Experts suggest that instead of calculating ROI based on single sales store owners would be better served by focusing on the ROI over the life of a customer. This metric is significant because the cost of getting a new customer far outweighs those of retaining present customers. The formula recommended for this calculation is rather simple CLV = Present Value (Average profit per year x Number of years) – acquisition costs. Remember, be precise when calculating your average profits and acquisition costs or the value of the metric will quickly be diminished. Additionally, e-tailers may find value in adding some customer experience metric, like NPS, to accurately assess and predict customer retention. Once you’ve gained a deeper understanding into your customer satisfaction levels you be more able to interpret the CLV’s you’ve calculated.

    Monitoring Customer Satisfaction:

    There are many tools available to help you understand your customers – analytics software that tracks demographics and traffic statistics, for instance - but the best option may just be to actually talk to your customers. In fact, studies of failed businesses often revealed that those businesses left customer service as an afterthought in favor of more business oriented strategies, or simply had entire department outsourced. Once you’ve gotten a feel for who your customers are it is a good idea to implement some satisfaction metrics. Survey and feedback requests are a good starting point but eventually you’ll want something more robust, again NPS may be your best bet.

    Measuring Your Sales Funnel:

    Use readily available tools, the advanced segments on Google Analytics, for example, to measure the size of your sales funnel. Tracking assets like landing pages, conversion rates, and site traffic can tell you a lot about how successfully your marketing efforts have turned into actual sales. Once you’ve determined your successes and failures you’ll be able to make better decisions about which tactics to continue, which to ramp up, and which to abandon altogether. In addition, make use of tools like A/B testing to really dial into what makes you most successful.

    Determine the Marketing ROI:

    To determine the return on your marketing investment it is a good idea to chart your average acquisition cost; the formula to use is AAC = Acquisition spending/ number of customers acquired. Once you’ve generated a number that represents how much each customer has cost you simply compare that value with your calculated CLV and adjust your marketing spending until the numbers lie where you’d like them.

    Opening a business IS hard, that’s why so many of them fail so rapidly. But by studying successful businesses and mastering the shortcuts and heuristics they employ anyone can run a successful e-business.

    To find out more about how the experts at Hara Partners can assist you with eCommerce Strategy please contact us.

  • According to eCommerce development industry reports, by the end of 2013 it is expected that more people will access the internet through mobile devices than through desktop or notebook computers, and yet, only 10% of all sites are currently optimized for mobile browsers.  In addition, analysts predict that by 2015 in excess of $31 billion dollars will be spent by those accessing the internet through their mobile devices.

    eCommerce Development - Focus on Mobile Accessibility

    Companies would be wise to invest in making their sites more mobile friendly; in fact, of users surveyed, 67% said they were more likely to buy from mobile-friendly sites than their less accessible counterparts and 61% said they were quick to leave non-optimized sites in search of a more comfortable shopping experience.  According to the survey data companies attempting to become more mobile friendly should focus on two areas specifically: company info (hours, locations, etc) – with click-to-call functionality; and ease of use (bigger buttons, save functions, and fewer clicks-to-target)

    eCommerce Development - Mobile Accesibility

  • mobile apps credit: biznessapps.com

    Thanks to Baynote, Flurry, and GetElastic, we’d like to share a new infographic tracking the efficacy of retail apps for mobile. It’s important to note that consumers spent 132% more time overall using various mobile apps compared with last year’s figures—this is a growing trend, well worthy of our continued attention. Let’s take a look at some notable conclusions:

    By type, time spent on mobile apps breaks down as follows:
    •    Social: 387%
    •    Media & Entertainment: 268%
    •    Shopping: 247%
    •    Productivity: 237%
    •    Utilities: 206%
    •    Travel: 198%
    •    Gaming: 107%

    The extreme growth in the Social and Media & Entertainment categories points toward rapidly expanding possibilities both in terms of advertising and social-media-native retail extensions. And, of course, shopping apps themselves are right behind in 3rd place.

    Year-over-year, retailers experienced a solid jump in time spent per shopping category, compared with general stagnation or decline across other aspects. Between 2011 and 2012:

    •    Retailers jumped from 15% to 27% of users’ time allotment
    •    Online marketplaces fell from 25% to 20%
    •    Purchase assistants fell from 18% to 17%
    •    Price comparisons remained the same at 14%
    •    Daily deals fell from 20% to 13%

    Ultimately, the status quo is embracing design-friendly, attractive mobile apps that better appeal to users’ needs and sensibilities. Still, we must remember that mobile technology as a field is still barely out of its infancy. Further efforts must be made to convert mobile users to retailers’ apps from third-party platforms.

    mobile apps

  • Hara Partners and Michelle Obama First Lady, Michelle Obama and Hara Partners

    From the fine folks at Glamour Magazine comes a startling insight about Michelle Obama's taste in tech. Apparently—well, apparent if you're a fan of fallacy-filled syllogisms—the First Lady is quite fond of a certain New York Magento Development company (hint: it's Hara Partners).

    See, Mrs. Obama—already heralded by many in the fashion community as a haute-couture treasure-hunter of sorts for her ability to unearth fashion finds (see Wu, Jason)—was recently photographed wearing a top by the Brooklyn-based label SUNO (that’s the Mrs. O loves SUNO part of the title). What the Glamour folks don’t know is that SUNO also has impeccable taste…in Magento Development companies (oh snap!). That’s right, Hara Partners (yes, THE Hara Partners) is the party behind www.sunony.com, the clothiers’ fantastic U.S. website (that's the SUNO loves Hara Partners part).
    I'm sure those of you well grounded in classical logic don't need me to spell this out, but I’ll do it anyway for the rest of us:

    Fact 1: Michelle Obama loves SUNO
    Fact 2: SUNO loves Hara Partners (what’s not to love, amirite?)
    Ergo, (prepare for mind-blowage) "Fact" 3: Michelle Obama MUST love Hara Partners!!!!!

    Isn’t logic wonderful?

  • Magento audit credit: madcapsule.com

    Developing for Magento can be a tall order—the sheer volume of tools, users, and extensions means that you’ll inevitably run into some tough issues. That’s to be expected, of course, but getting at the root of these problems can pose additional problems in terms of time, labor, and cost. You needn't waste resources, especially when they would be better to use in furthering your business objectives. Our Magento Health Check is designed to run a meticulous Magento audit of your entire platform, ferreting out inconsistencies, bugs, misconfigurations, incompatibilities, and a host of other frustrations.

     

    I’m a store owner with little to no technical acumen. Why do I need a Health Check?

    The Health Check gives you an unbiased, informed, easy-to-grasp picture of your platform as a whole. You’ll get a clear sense of how your developers compare to standard Magento best practices, and you’ll get answers to the questions you shouldn't have to ask:

    -    Why is my store running/loading so slow? What happened to its performance?
    -    Why did my settings change when I upgraded?
    -    Why doesn't this extension work?
    -    Why do customers keep complaining about interactivity?

    You’ll walk away with a graphic-rich report, complete with advice on how to resolve all of your issues. We’ll even point out additional ways to optimize your system, which comes in handy when you have to upgrade or migrate data.

    I’m a developer working on a Magento platform. Why do I need a Health Check?

    Sometimes you don’t have time to hunt all over your platform to clear up violations. Sometimes you want to be sure that you can try a new module without disrupting a healthy status quo. You may even want to prove to your team lead that your work stands up to scrutiny. Or you may have been asked to work on a new site, and you want to know what you’re getting yourself into before committing. The list goes on! In your case, the important things to consider are the speed and comprehensiveness of our Magento Audit. We’re all blind to our own human error, after all; with the Health Check, you can be sure that your work serves as a strong foundation to a working e-commerce site.

    What Else?

    Magento audits are a great way to inaugurate a successful business relationship. We often suggest them as a way to get everything on the table, as it were. From there, it’s clear to both parties why and where work needs to be done, and we can showcase the reliability and efficacy of our team in restoring a sick Magento system. Because of its complexity, Magento daunts many a capable techie, but it’s a thing to behold when it’s running correctly—ROI, conversions, and performance all attest to that. We’re confident in our team’s ability to end Magento issues, even on custom or enterprise-scale platforms. We’ve been with Magento from the get-go, and we know how to make it sing.

    Check out our unique, effective Magento audit service today with the Hara Partners Health Check!

     

  • What is Magento?

    Magento is an open-source, enterprise level, eCommerce solution. The open-source nature of the industry's leading platform means users have greater

    Magento Magento

    control over their eCommerce sites and thus unprecedented flexibility in designing and operating them. Additionally, being open-source means that the code is available for download free of charge on Magento’s website. Along with the benefits of being open-source, Magento offers some more tangible advantages as well, like being scalable to fit even the largest company’s needs, and a massive library extension themes and add-ons, as well as others.

    Getting Started with Magento.

    The first step towards your new eCommerce store is to find the right partners to help you throughout the process and beyond; including hiring the right Magento developer, and finding the right Magento hosting company.

    Once your team is assembled the next steps are downloading ad installing the software. As mentioned above, the download is available for free at www.magentocommerce.com download, in two versions: the installer version which is good for most users; and the full version, which is for user who plan to run multiple versions of Magento simultaneously. The installation is somewhat technically advance, and to cover it in depth would be beyond the scope of this article, but in short the steps required are:

    1. Saving the files on your webserver.
    2. Creating a MySQL database and designating the appropriate user permissions
    3. Navigating PHP versions conflicts.
    4. At this point use your web browser to find your online, site-specific, Magento installation wizard (for example if you’ve uploaded your Magento files to http://www.example.com/magento/, then the wizard will be located here: http://www.example.com/magento/.
    5. Once in the wizard you can manipulate the settings to fit your site. Most of the settings will be pre-filled with best-fit answers but all can be changed if need be. At the very least you’ll need to edit the “Database connection” field to match what you’ve made in step 2 above.
    6. That’s it! Now you can visit the backend of your store and begin to configure your new eCommerce site.

    In part II of Getting Started with Magento we’ll take a look the Admin panel and begin to learn some of the jargon.

  • Financing has long been considered one of the hallmarks of retail status: when you could offer customers long-term payment options you knew you had made it to the big-time.

    Magento Extensions Now a Magento Extension

    And it’s no wonder financing is such a coveted offering, since per industry reports from Forrester Research offering financing leads to a 5.7% sales increase over a 3-year period and to an increase of 75% in average order value. Now, any Magento user can be king of his hill: Introducing Bill Me Later from PayPal now for Magento.

     

    Add the Bill Me Later Magento Extension

    Getting access to the app is simple, just go to PayPal’s website and sign up, then choose your preferred banner and embed the code in your website. That’s it - there are no added costs or risks involved and there is zero integration or installation required – everything is already contained in the standard PayPal platform you’re already using. Once you’ve embedded the code your customers will be offered Bill Me Later as one of your approved payment options, and they can choose to take advantage of up to 6 months of financing. Whatever PayPal option they choose, you’ll still get paid immediately, as usual.

    Unless you don’t like making money, I can’t see any reason why you would add this functionality. There are no risks, no costs, and no hassle – really no downside at all; this is one Magento development that we can all get behind.

    Get Bill Me Later for PayPal Now

     

    Read about more Magento Extensions from PayPal

  • Magento SEO credit: redsignal.biz

    Welcome back to Part II of our series on Magento SEO, derived from Yoast’s comprehensive coverage on their net hub. Last time, we covered the basics of configuration and technical SEO for Magento. Today we’ll cover templates and some advanced Magento SEO techniques to truly pump your sites’ optimization game to the next level. It may seem like a lot, but feel free to be incremental; as long as you’re careful, you can take these step-by-step if you need to.

    Each element does some good on its own, and in tandem they constitute a powerfully grounded Magento SEO strategy. Let’s begin!

    Magento Template Optimization

    Skins

    Magento’s out-of-the-box skins—“Default Theme”, “Blue Skin”, “Modern Theme”—aren’t all that header-friendly, so it’s in your best interest to seek out custom, blank themes with room for SEO elements.

    Headings

    You logo should be an <h1> on the front page and an <h3> thereafter. Basically, the content title should always be apparent as such. For example, on a product page, stick the actual name of the product in an <h1> tag. On category pages, reserve category names for <h1> and relegate included products to <h3>. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often this gets overlooked and how detrimental that can be.

    On the flipside of the coin, overusing headings can hurt, too. Avoid them entirely in sidebars. There’s no reason to use <h4> tags for “static” or kewordless titles—use <strong> instead. And, of course, keep your content clean, organized, and relevant with the proper keywords.

    Neaten Your Code

    You’ve got to keep your templates clean! Move your JavaScript and CSS to external files; the more cluttered your templates, the worse your Magento SEO report card will be. The benefits? Users will be able to cache those files on the first load, and search engines usually won’t have to download them. Everybody wins!

    Speed Up

    Speaking of which, the daily amount of your pages a search engine can spider is directly proportional to the speed at which your shop loads. So how do you get faster?

    1.    Enable caching via System -> Cache Management. Be sure to enable all caching features there.
    2.    Don’t skimp on hosting/server configuration. MySQL and PHP opcode cache make a huge difference.

     

    You’ll also want to reduce the number of external files, combining them wherever possible (Magento already combines most JavaScript files into one by default). Remember that each file visitors have to download requires their browser to create another connection to the webserver. A great place to start is with stylesheets, which the default template keeps separate in six different files. Go ahead and combine everything but print.css into one file.

    Modules exist which make this process easier, and some will also compress and cache, as well. Know that these may require rewrite permission and/or .htaccess support.

    Advanced Magento SEO

    You’ve come this far—don’t give up on the final lap! From here on out, it’s all about eliminating duplicate content. Unfortunately, some of our natural tendencies translate to duplicate content on Magento, which is a huge no-no when search engine spiders come around. For example, if you’ve got a certain product, it’s reasonable to expect that its page’s URL might look something like:

    www.example.com/product.html

    Which is all fine and dandy, except what happens when you link to that page from a category page further up the hierarchy? Something like:

    www.example.com/category1/product.html

    Similarly, you may end up with even more instances of “duplicate content” in the eyes of search engines, pages like:

    www.example.com/catalog/product/view/id/1
    www.example.com/catalog/product/view/id/1/category/1

    And that’s not even getting into product review subpages and the like. Long story short, this is a serious problem that falls under the radar of most casual Magento SEO campaigns. People create these issues because we all love layered navigation and other modern site practices that give more options to visitors; redundant options are eminently user-friendly, but they certainly aren’t SEO-friendly.

    The answer? Set up your site to permit spidering instead of indexing, and adjust sorting/navigation. Here’s how:

    Non-content Pages

    For these pages, use the “Noindex, Follow” protocol. You’ll need a meta module or extension to do this. This way, search engines will follow all links on these pages, but it won’t index them in the process.

    Don’t link to login, checkout, wishlist, or other non-content pages. The same goes for RSS feeds, layered navigation, add to wishlist, add to compare, or other buttons/features. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there’s no easy extension for this. You’ll have to go into your template files and manually add “nofollow” to these links yourself.

    Canonical URLs

    You’ll need an extension for this, as well. Use the new “canonical URL” tag to suggest your preferred version of the URL for each page, which helps search engines differentiate between sites it might otherwise label as duplicate content.

    XML Sitemaps

    This won’t help you rank, but it can speed up indexing because it makes it easier for search engines to find your content. You can create an XML sitemap manually by navigating to Catalog -> Google Sitemap -> Add Sitemap. From there, choose a file name, path, and store view, then press “Save and Generate”. To point search engines towards the sitemap, insert the following code in your robots.txt file:

    Sitemap: http://domain.com/sitemap.xml

    NOTE: as your inventory changes, you’ll need to continually re-generate the XML sitemap. The best way to do that is via a cron job.

    Wrapping Up

    And that’s it, for now! Because this is an evolving field, expect Magento SEO tactics to change in the coming months and years. It’s about aligning with search engine parameters, after all. Plus, Magento being the open-source platform that it is, it’s highly possible that many of these are being incorporated into Magento core even now. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions, comments, or if you’d like to see what we can do for you in terms of a Magento SEO campaign. We’d be glad to help!

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