Why Your Online Store Needs a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to Thrive


You’ve finally decided to go ahead with that crazy ecommerce business idea and decided to setup your online store.

However, after some market research you realize that a potential consumer has dozens if not hundreds of other online destinations they could choose instead of you. So, then why would they buy from you? That’s the question you need to answer as you start formulating your unique selling proposition. 

It can drive you crazy. Especially, if you’ve never thought too deeply about it. What is it about your online store that would make a potential customer shop there and not elsewhere? 

There’s got to be something about what you do that helps you stand out from the pack, otherwise, how are you ever going to stay in business? Call it “positioning”, “differentiation”, “mission statement”, “vision statement”, or insert any other business terminology in there and it all comes down to the same thing. Why would a customer choose you and not a competitor? 

Part of determining your unique selling proposition is understanding the value that your product brings to the market. One of my favourite books, “Business Model Generation” defines a value proposition as the following: 

“It solves a customer problem or satisfies a customer need. Each value proposition consists of a selected bundle of products and/or services that caters to the requirements of a specific customer segment. In this sense, the value proposition is is an aggregation, or bundle, of benefits that a company offers customers.” 

The beauty of that definition is that it forces you to take a holistic approach to your value proposition when it calls it an aggregation or bundle of benefits, meaning it doesn’t have to be just one thing. Otherwise, you’d resort to citing one of these common value adds (which are really just boosters to what you have to offer): 

  • “Free” or fast shipping
  • Discount codes
  • Gracious return policy
  • Great customer service with live help
  • and anything “everyone” else is doing….

However, rather than go down the “me-too” route, you’re going to want to carve out a unique space in your customer’s mind, one that’s reserved just for you. That may sound like a difficult or intimidating thing to do, but it’s critical – especially with Amazon a click away. 

Finding Your Winning Difference

To figure out what makes your business unique, spend some time trying to uncover what makes your story remarkable and revealing any hidden benefits that you products may have. Start by asking yourself the following questions to discover where in your business that unique selling proposition can come from: 

  • What materials is your product is made from?
  • Where did those materials came from? Who created them or produced them?
  • How are your products manufactured and assembled?
  • Who are they manufactured and assembled by?
  • What are the unique benefits your product offers?
  • What’s your personal story and how does it add value to your products?
  • What do you have to offer that no one else does? 

Once you’ve come up with answers take a look at how you can build your “unique business story”. I’ve listed a few examples of online stores who do a great job at showcasing what it is that makes them unique to give you an idea of where you can go with this. 

Bee’s Wrap Sells a “Unique Product”

Bee’s Wrap founder Sarah Kaeck created an alternative to plastic wrap for food storage on her family farm in Vermont for her own needs. Little did she know that she would be giving people around the world also concerned with the environmental impact and health safety of plastic a means to try something different and hits home on all those values. The end result was a fabric infused with beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin, and built to be the perfect alternative to plastic.  

  • USP: The “new” old fashioned alternative to plastic wrap

Hiut Denim Co. Sells a “Unique Story”

Here’s a story for you. Cardigan, a small town of 4,000 people has a jean making factory where 400 of them are employed. After making jeans for three decades, it one day closes and all those good people are laid off. What comes next is the origin of a new jean making company, Hiut Denim Co. that puts a premium on quality and has “Grand Masters” who are skilled in the ways of making jeans. The catch is, they only product 100 jeans a week. In other words, they offer hand crafted, limited edition jeans as well as the opportunity for customers to support a local economy.  

  • USP: Do one thing well, our town makes the highest quality jeans

DODOcase Sells a “Unique Concept”

It’s no secret that physical books have been getting hit hard both in demand and distribution resulting in the decline of things like the art of bookbinding. So, how does DODOcase keep the traditional alive while adapting to the digital era? Simple, make accessories for our digital devices like iPhones and iPads using the same bookbinding methods used to make books. Add local and handcrafted manufacturing in San Francisco and what you end up with is unique and high quality Apple accessories in sea of “me-too” competitors.  How can you combine wo seemingly unrelated products and bring them together to create something entriely new and unique? 

How can you combine two seemingly unrelated products or ideas and bring them together to create something entirely new and unique?

  • USP: Preserving traditional bookbinding techniques through American made cases for digital devices

Holstee Sells a “Unique Company Manifesto”

It’s not everyday that a company that started off selling t-shirts with a holster stitched on decides to dedicate itself to helping people live more mindfully. Since originally launching Holstee in 2008, the company has grown into offering uniquely crafted products and exclusive design prints while cultivating a community around its manifesto. It encourages people to do what they love and stop wasting time on everything else. Something that clicks with a generation in flux striving to find their mark in the world. 

  • USP: We live and breathe our core value: “do what you love”. Buy our products, join our mission.

Black Milk Clothing Sells “Unique Apparel Designs”

How does a self-taught fashion designer selling leggings out of his kitchen go on to creating a global brand raking in millions of dollars? By designing products so unique that they are impossible not to talk about. From prints that include everything from muscle suits, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and galaxy designs on your leggings, swimsuits, and full on bodysuits to several other eye-catching designs, Black Milk Clothing has been able to effectively carve a niche for themselves. They have also created a social media-powered community of raving fans that engage and interact with each other. 

  • USP: Bold and outrageous products that you only buy from them and access to a community of likeminded individuals.

Greats Brands Sells Sneakers at a Unique Price 

Early last year two men ventured out to disrupt an entire industry, they saw massive opportunity in creating a direct-to-consumer mens line that offered premium quality sneakers without the premium price tag. The result was the Greats Brand, and online store which sells retro mens footwear that ranges in price from $59-$99, and aims directly at global sneaker brands with cheaper yet high-quality goods with a radically shorter product development life-cycle. With the company’s sights set on becoming the Warby Parker of footwear, they’re out to be yet another game changer in their industry. 

  • USP: High quality sneakers at low value pricing resulting in disruptive industry standards

Mr. Gugu & Miss Go Sell Membership to a Unique Community

What if buying a product from an online store also served as an initiation into a community? That’s exactly what Mr. Gugu and Miss Go, a European brand that wants the entire continent to look fresh, brave, original, and self-confident does. Taking advantage of social platforms like Instagram, it promotes and sells not just apparell, but an attitude and way of life, in addition to belonging to a global collective of “Gugu People”. 

  • USP: Bring self-confidence and originality to Europe, join the club and wear the clothes


Those are just a handful of companies that have figured out their winning difference and how to make their products resonate with their target audience.

But the real question is, what’s so unique about what you’re selling? In other words, why does your company or brand matter?

Answer these questions honestly and sincerely and you’re bound to get a unique selling point that will not only stick out in your target consumer’s mind, but will have them coming back time and time again.

If you know of any other ways that ecommerce companies can stand out in the minds of consumers, let us know by commenting below. 


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5 Ways Ecommerce Sites Are Killing it With Content Marketing


This is a guest post by Emma Siemasko from Grasshopper.

Whether you’re selling t-shirts or homemade jewelry, by now you’ve probably heard that you need to be marketing your business with content.

That’s because creating valuable free content creates trust, builds your brand, keeps people informed, gives you something to share on social media and helps you rank in search engines.

More importantly, content marketing helps you attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers.

But how many companies are actually walking the walk? And more importantly, how can ecommerce companies like yours create content that breeds fans and followers?

Well, let’s look at how other online stores are managing to sashay down the content runway in style:

1. Creating How-to Videos 

How-to videos are an easy way to hook people into your content, especially if you sell a niche product on your site. Luxy Hair sells clip-in hair extensions that give you bigger, fuller hair than ever before, but their YouTube channel is as impressive as their product.

They have a ton of videos on how to use what they sell. Customers can learn how to pick an exact shade, how to store their extensions, how to clip in the hair extensions, and how to use these extensions with short hair.

But they also show people how to do stuff that has nothing to do with extensions. Women can learn how to blow-dry their hair, make a soft romantic ponytail, or put their hair in a quick and messy bun.

In other words, they’re giving something away for free (as an attraction strategy) and selling something related.


Learn from Luxy Hair:

  • Use how-to videos to explain your product (it might be obvious to you, but difficult for customers!)

  • Go beyond your product and reach your audience with how-tos

  • Never underestimate the power of teaching.

2.  Creatively Answering Your FAQs 

Many ecommerce sites have FAQ pages to deal with common questions and alleviate customer support (and rank in search engines). FAQ pages are a necessary piece of content, so go out of the way to make them awesome.

I love Zirtual’s “Examples” page that explains their service (they provide virtual assistants). They’re not ecommerce, but their personality gives you an idea of just how fun content can be:

REI sells outdoor sporting and camping gear. They field real questions from their customers and answers them in how-to videos on a YouTube channel called REI Find Out.

These videos explain how to use products that REI sells, so that when people search “How to fit your bike” an REI video pops up. These FAQ videos position REI as a camping authority, which is exactly what they strive to be.


Put another way, having an awesome FAQ page will help you engage your customers, demonstrate your expertise and show your personality.

Learn from Zirtual and REI:

  • Your customers have questions. Answer them creatively.

  • Use FAQs to fuel ideas for content and boost yourself in search

  • Stop asking your virtual assistants to find you escorts (yick!)

3. Using Photo-Heavy Content

As an ecommerce company, you’re selling products, so get out that camera and figure out how to get really awesome images in your content.

I work for a B2B company, so when I see how ecommerce companies using beautiful photos as part of their content strategies, it makes me so jealous I could scream. Just look at how VivaLaJewels, a tiny ecommerce jewelry company, inspires wows on Instagram.

One Kings Lane goes way beyond Instagram. They sell all kinds of household wares – from picnic tables to mid-century modern dressers to vintage globes. If you visit their “Live Love Home” page, which basically serves as their blog, you’ll be presented with magazine-quality images that’ll take your breath away.

One Kings Lane provides really useful content (love this one on how to paint stairs), while combining it with beautiful, well-placed images.  

Their right-hand navigation shows photos of actual products you can order. A social button as you read encourages you to get connected with One Kings Lane, too. Um, WOW!

Learn from One Kings Lane:

  • Fill your blog posts with beautiful images of what you sell

  • Flank your blog posts with products (but do it tastefully– no spammy, ugly, self-promotional stuff)

  • Paint your stairs because these look so, so cool

4. Becoming Your Own a Media Outlet 

If you look around for the best menswear blogs, you’ll find two of the most popular are run by Urban Daddy and Gilt.

To become an all-out authority in your space, it might be time to become a publisher. If you set up a hub where your audience can get info, you’ll separate yourself from companies that are giving the hard sell. Instead, you’ll inspire more trust and authority in your industry. You’ll also generate a ton of traffic through the media outlet. Cha-ching.

GetKempt and GiltMANual are media outlets in their own right, even though they’re run by sites that sell clothes.

Learn from Urban Daddy and Kempt:

  • Consider setting up separate media outlets to build trust

  • You can become a publisher just like Inc. or The New York Times

  • The content you publish does not need to be overwhelmingly branded

5. Being a Little Righteous and Staying in The Know 

Birchbox, a subscription services that sends out beauty boxes once a month, has an arsenal of blog posts focused on issues of appearance. They sell beauty products, so obviously they’re in the business of helping women look great, but they don’t shy away from the tough stuff.

Birchbox welcomes discussions about whether or not wearing makeup is even right, and how wearing makeup effects how society views women.

They report on weird beauty news and reddit threads that are getting attention. They’re not shy about addressing world issues, facing controversy head on, or diving into self-image and beauty issues.

This attitude builds respect in a world where a lot of beauty companies only care about making money. Go Birchbox.

Learn from Birchbox:

  • Take a stand on an issue – it’s impressive

  • Don’t shy away from controversy

  • Be grateful that you can choose from more than 18 haircuts!

Keep Calm and Content On

Content. It’s the material you create to inspire existing customers and the audience you hope to reach (your next customers are out there somewhere!) Ecommerce sites across the web are taking advantage of content’s power. They’re killing it– and you can, too.

Boost your search results, inspire your audience, build your brand, and become an authority – all with the help of content.

About the Author: Emma Siemasko helps small business owners and entrepreneurs up their game through writing and blogging. She’s the Content Marketing Specialist at Grasshopper, the entrepreneur’s phone system, and founder of Frog2Prince, an online dating consultancy.


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5 Must Have Features For Ecommerce Blogs


This is a guest post by Shawn Graham.

Blogging. When it comes to ecommerce, it’s one inbound marketing strategy you can’t afford to ignore. 

It’s the primary place on your website where you can share fresh content, initiate conversations, and connect with current and prospective customers.

Smart online retailers also understand that a blog can be a powerful attraction strategy for any website. Not only will creating high quality blog content help you rank for important keywords in search, it will also give you something valuable to share on social media.

But to get the most bang for your ecommerce blogging buck, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible for people to find exactly what they’re looking for (and hopefully even more). And for that to actually happen, you’ve got to have the right mix of navigation, calls to action, and social sharing.

Let’s take a look at the 5 features your ecommerce blog just can’t live without:

Calls to Action

You can write the best blog post in the history of blog posts, but if you don’t entice your visitors to actually do something while they’re on your site—you’re missing a huge opportunity. Whether it’s an email sign up, rss feed, or link to a featured product or upcoming sale, you’ve got to incorporate targeted calls to action that are tied directly to your content marketing goals.

Where should they go? Start with the top of your sidebar.That’s prime real estate and the perfect spot for an email signup. By building your list, you’ll have a way to follow up with current and prospective customers over time and that’s totally invaluable. Shopify pulled together a great post on why ecommerce sites need to build a mailing list. You also want to take full advantage of the space at the bottom of each post. If they’ve made it all the way through your content, there’s a pretty good chance they enjoyed what you had to say and are ready to take action.

Clearpath Robotics does a great job of defining what you can expect when you sign up for their e-newsletter (ex. robotics news, ideas, and more) and managing expectations on the frequency of their outreach (ex. sent quarterly).

Content Categories

Having clearly defined content categories not only increases the likelihood that your blog posts will stay on message, if you include them in your blog navigation it will also make your posts a whole lot easier to navigate for your audience. And that means they’re more likely to spend more time on your site, read more of your posts, and make a purchase.

Typically, they’ll be 5-7 broad buckets within which all of your content will fall. Pure Fix comes in just under the wire at 6 total.Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t go over the top. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with too many categories and a cluttered mess.

Recent and/or Popular Posts

One of the best ways to pull folks in and get them to check out some of your other blog posts is by including a “Recent Articles” or “Recent Posts” section in your secondary blog navigation. There’s just something about “new” that has a way of piquing our interest.  

Isn’t your eye just automatically drawn to that area on the Moorea Seal site?

And while recent posts are great for showing what’s fresh – they don’t necessarily display your best content. An alternative to displaying your recent blog posts is to showcase your most popular posts. Popular posts can be effective because you already know these posts resonate with your target audience and you get to take advantage of the power of social proof.

In other words, people will place a higher value on content they believe to be popular among their peers and will be more likely to click on it. Copyblogger does this well:

Social Sharing

Whether you want to grow your social media following for your ecommerce site, share your posts with their friends, or both—always be sure to include social sharing buttons on your blog. Just make sure any and all social sites make sense for your specific business and your target audience.

In most cases, you’re probably looking at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and possibly Instagram. Below, DENY Designs also decided to incorporate their Twitter feed into their right sidebar.


Often overlooked, incorporating something as simple as a search box (yes, a search box!) can give visitors to your blog a way to look for a specific word or phrase without having to waste time or get frustrated skimming through dozens of posts.

Here, Rare Device includes a search box at the top of their blog so people won’t have to scroll to find it.

Building a successful ecommerce blog requires more than just having the right content. Once someone clicks on one of your posts, you want to keep them there so they start to form a connection and affinity towards your business.

As you think about your audience and your blog, what features might you add to your sidebar to help make your content easier to navigate or encourage prospective customers to engage?

About the Author: Shawn Graham helps small businesses create and implement performance-driven marketing strategies. Learn more about how to improve your ecommerce blog by checking out Shawn’s new ebook Blogging for Badass Small Businesses.


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7 Ecommerce Optimization Tips to Help You Achieve Record Breaking Holiday Sales


On Friday, November 29th, 2013 and Monday, December 2, 2013, millions of consumers will get ready to reach into their pockets and shop till they drop or can’t stand the glare from the screens of their electronic devices, whichever comes first.

As the countdown to two of the biggest grossing holiday dates begins, Black Friday and Cyber Monday respectively, you’re going to want to get your online store ready and get prepared for the online blitz.

Just how big of a deal is it? Well, let’s put it in perspective.

In 2012, Black Friday online sales surpassed $1 billion in the first time in history, with 57.3 million Americans visiting at minimum one online store that day. Not be outdone, it’s not-so-distant cousin Cyber Monday 2012 shattered previous online shopping records by a landslide with roughly $1.5 billion in online sales.

Shopify merchants were especially busy those days selling nearly 200,000 products on Black Friday and doubled that with 420,000 products on Cyber Monday where we were processing 124 sales per second as a platform with near 100 percent uptime thanks to our performance and operation team.

Here’s a nifty little graph from Deepfield that shows how our Shopify merchants put up a good fight last year and held their own with the best of them, including the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Zappos.

Excited yet? Okay, here are some tips to have your store optimized for the upcoming holidays.

1. Offer Black Friday & Cyber Monday Discounts

This should probably be on the top of your holiday store optimization checklist. Consumers flock to shopping online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday specifically for the actual or perceived discounts that they’re told to expect on those days. So if you want to take advantage of shoppers with their eyes on bargain, you’ll have to provide discounts that rival top retailers to draw their attention. It’s also a precursor to taking advantage of all the other tips in the post.

2. Have a Countdown To Signal Anticipation and Scarcity

Holiday seasons and countdowns go together like peanut butter and jelly, seriously, every celebrated New Years without one? Well, same should go for every other major holiday, especially those on which the general consumer market tends to splurge on online purchases.

There’s also something about missing out on something that is a proven and potent trigger behind the psychological influence of creating scarcity in the minds of consumers. So get people excited about what you have to offer.

Amazon definitely knows the magic behind having a countdown ticker nice and prominent on its site. You can add your own with the Product Discount app from the Shopify App Store.

#3. Learn From Last Year’s Analytics

The closest you can get to anticipating the future is taking a look back and use last year’s numbers as benchmarks you can add or subtract from. Take advantage of both your ecommerce and web analytics to have a sound idea of everything from what deals and discounts worked last year to how much inventory you should have in stock. Fortune favors the bold, but it also definitely likes the folks who are prepared.

4. Own Your Email Marketing Strategy

Want to know how shoppers heard about all those awesome discounts and deals you’re planning on offering? According to research by Monetate, email clearly comes out as the winner.

However, why stop at just your holiday deals. You should also keep in mind the importance of other transactional emails that alert your prospective or current customers about everything from shopping cart abandonment to order confirmations.  

#5. Take Advantage of the Increased Traffic by Collecting Emails

Let’s face it, the holiday season is great, but you’re going to want to keep the momentum going even after they come and go to continue growing year-round. One surefire way to do just that is to collect your online store visitor’s email addresses to build both a responsive and profitable ecommerce mailing list. Once you have a list going, think about leveraging it to your utmost advantage.

Some ideas to get you started are following up with first time customers to get feedback on your website and products, asking them to share their purchase on social media in the order confirmation or receipt email. You can also ask them to0 connect with you on all the social channels in which you’re active to keep the conversation going well after the holiday craze ends.

#6. Offer Free Shipping

What if were to tell you that consumers preferred free shipping worth $6.99 in savings over a $10 product discount? Sounds bizarre, but that’s exactly what a professor at the Wharton School of Business found in a study.

Here’s a look at Target’s free shipping offer:

You can experiment with the total threshold a consumer reaches before qualifying for free shipping, but some data crunching from comScore found that when Amazon had it’s threshold set at $49, the average purchase quantity was 3.31, however, when they lowered it $25, the average purchase quantity was only 2.53. Which means you’ll want to offer shoppers a sweet deal, but make them stretch enough to want it. Amazon recently changed it’s online shipping to be free over $35, which might be a good starting point to consider.

#7. Add Live Chat

With so many eager shoppers dying to get their hands on your products and take advantage of your Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, you can bet they’ll be overly antsy and have tons of questions to ask. Which is why even if you don’t have live support year round as a smaller online merchant, you should certainly consider it for the busy holiday season. Vielle+Frances does a fantastic job with a live support window that you can pop up throughout your site. Want to add your own? The Shopify App Store has multiple live chat integration options, including Olark, LiveChat, and UserPulse.

With these tips in mind you can be sure that you’ll be making the most of the upcoming holiday season.  If you have others tips you’d like to share for how to optimize an ecommerce store for the holiday season, please let us know by commenting below.  


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A Simple Guide to Finding and Attracting Potential Customers With Google+


This is a guest post by Britt Klontz from Distilled.

With over 359 million active users and more signing up every day, Google+ is no longer a second string social media site. In fact, G+ has surpassed even Twitter in size, making it the second most populous social media site on the planet.

But it’s not just size that Google+ has going for it. Being a part of the Google empire means universal integration with the company’s many products, including Google Docs and Google Hangouts.

To get a deep understanding of how this social media platform works, we highly recommend starting with this excellent, detailed Guide to Google+ and taking the following steps to attract potential customers.

Inspire Engagement With Compelling and Relevant Content

If you want potential customers to visit your Google+ page, you need to give them a good reason to be there. That means posting engaging, relevant and interesting content rather than a constant stream of promos and obnoxious ads.

Let’s say, for example, that your business sells custom made stuffed animals. Here is an example of the kinds of steps you could take to create compelling content.

1. Determine Who Your Audience Is

You can find and follow Google+ members with a stated interest in your industry simply by typing search terms like “stuffed animals” into the Google+ search bar. Make sure to research related terms, like “crafters” or “Etsy enthusiasts” so you’re capturing the whole community. Take a look at these followers’ feeds to determine the kind of content they’re liking and sharing.

2. Get creative with your subjects

Of course, a stuffed animal seller will want to share news about their company, but it’s best to keep any kind of promotions to just 20% of your posts. The other 80% should be content you’ve either created yourself or carefully curated. Topics could include anything from instructional how-to articles to the latest industry news to photos of happy customers playing with your products.

3. Mix up the format

There are many different types of content; sharing a wide range will keep your Google+ feeds varied and compelling. Blogposts, infographics, video and photos are all great picks and be easily combined for a multi-sensory experience.

4. Share Your Content Strategically Using a Variety of Google+ Tools

In the share box, choose which of your circles you’d like to share your content with. It’s best to separate your circles into tighter knit communities, like, “Crafters” and “Frequent Buyers,” so you can direct only the most relevant content to the right places. If you’d like, you can even have Google+ email the post to your followers so they’ll be sure to see that you’ve posted.

Network With Circles and Communities

If you’ve ever attended an in-person networking event, you know there are two distinct types: those catered to every business on the planet and those that are so niche, it’s a wonder anyone shows up. While each has their place, attending smaller, more relevant gatherings that draw people together around common skills and interests tend to be more effective, as they foster much deeper conversations and connections.

The same is true for online networking: you can throw your content into the giant universe of the internet and hope someone within that mass audience likes what you’ve got to say, or you can curate your content for highly specific audiences. Google+ makes the latter a breeze to do with Circles and Communities.

1. Circles

Organizing your contacts into circles is essential for content curation, but it also is a great way to build new relationships and keep the old ones cozy. You might, for example, separate industry thought leaders from frequent customers so that you can easily drop in on them when you have something to say or share. Want to catch up with an influencer? Just pull up their circle, find their profile and start catching up.

2. Communities

Just as LinkedIn has groups, Google+ supports communities curated to suit members’ topics of interest. Creating a community for your business is a great way to gain visibility, share knowledge, encourage more +1s and even drive traffic to your website, as it allows you to establish your expertise within a community of people who really want to hear what you’ve got to say.

To create a community:

  • Hover your mouse over the red g+ symbol in the top left corner of your screen.
  • Click on “Communities” mid-way down the pull-down menu.
  • On the community page, click the blue button that says, “Create community.”

  • Determine whether or not you’d like to make your community private or public. Private groups will guard against spammers and can help you highly curate your pool, but public groups will make it easier for more of your customers to join and will take away some of the outreach workload.

  • Fill out your community about page in detail so potential followers are highly motivated to join. Then start a discussion and get going!

Alternatively, it can be useful for you to join other communities that discuss topics within your industry so that you can comment on topics that interest you, display your expertise, impress influencers and develop relationships in a meaningful manner.

To join a community:

  • Head back to the original community screen as detailed in the instructions above.
  • On the right hand side of the screen, enter the kind of community you’d like to find in the “search communities” box.
  • Click on any community that interests you and click “Join Community.”

3. Host A Hangout

What better way to engage your Google+ community then by “hanging out” with them? Google Hangouts are part chat room, part multimedia portal, part silly hats emporium. With this tool, you’ll simply create a hangout and invite up to 10 followers (15 if you have a Google Apps account) to hang out with you.

This presents a great opportunity to simply chat with potential customers so you can get to know them better. You could also address any customer service issues, or you could even perform a live how-to session. For our stuffed animal seller, this could be a live broadcast with creative crafting tips for outfitting your stuffed animals with Halloween costumes, or it could be a simple meet and greet.

Hangouts are integrated into Gmail, so anyone with an account (and if they’re on Google+, they’ve got one) can easily join in. If you’d like to include more than the ten-person limit, you can easily do a Hangout on Air, streaming your Hangout right to YouTube for a livestream that will later be saved on the site. This allows you to reap all of the benefits of a Hangout with all of the brand- and SEO-building benefits of video marketing.

To host a hangout:

  • Choose “Hangouts on Air” from the g+ dropdown menu on the left side of your Google+ profile.
  • Click “Hangouts on Air” to start a livestream.

  • You will then be asked to connect your G+ account to your YouTube channel.
  • After agreeing to the terms of service, you can simply click the button, “Start broadcast.” Your livestream will be available on your G+ page, your YouTube page and anywhere you embed the link to it.
  • Alternatively, if you’d like to keep the Hangout small, simply click, “Start a party” at the very bottom of your chat bar.

  • Invite whomever you’d like to join you, and voila! You’re ready to start engaging with your community face to face.

The Takeaway

With so many handy features and an ever-expanding user base, Google+ is a must for every business, especially those that operate within the ecommerce realm. So brush up that profile, master the tools of the platform and get going!

About the Author: Britt Klontz is a Digital Content Strategist at Distilled, an online marketing company. She thrives on planning and coordinating content marketing campaigns and is always keeping a close eye on the latest viral trends. Say “hi” and give her a shout on Twitter @Britt_Klontz, she’s always interested in having a chat about digital marketing tactics and social networking in general.


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4 Ecommerce Transaction Emails You Should Be Optimizing (And How to Do It)


When most online retailers think about email marketing, they often just think about sending monthly newsletters or information about sales.

But email marketing is so much more than that.

In fact, every email you send to a potential, current, or former customer is an opportunity to provide value and have a sales conversation.

The following are examples of how major ecommerce brands are using ‘transaction emails’ to boost their sales during the buying process – and what you can learn from them.

1. The Shopping Cart Abandonment Email

The average shopping cart abandonment rate is 67.44%. That’s a lot of ecommerce dollars being left on the table. 

What can you do to get those customers back to your checkout page so they complete their order?

For customers whose information you already have, such as those who have created an account on your website, you can send them a friendly email reminder that they left something in their cart.

Here’s a great example of this kind of email from Kerastase:

How this works is typically within 12-24 hours of your customer entering their information and abandoning their item(s) in your store, you send them a reminder that they still have items waiting for them. Often customers just want to get to the last step in the checkout so they can see the final charges with shipping costs included or they simply get distracted from their shopping experience.

The example email above in particular is great because it shows the product the customer added to their shopping cart (with an image) and gently nudges them back to the store. It’s also personalized and adds a little extra incentive with the ‘same day shipping’ offer. Finally, it uses a great call to action button which makes the desired action crystal clear.

However, there is one flaw to this email’s design. A lot of email services will hide images in email until the recipient (your customer) tells it to display them. If they don’t allow their email service to display the images for this email, all they will see is this:

As you can see, without images enabled this email conveys almost zero information.

In other words, you need to have the main message included in the email in text so that the customer will see it immediately when they open your email.

Walmart, on the other hand, takes the approach of a mostly text based email for people who abandon their shopping cart after logging in to their account. Even without images enabled, customers will know exactly what the message contains and where to go next:

But this email isn’t perfect either. It doesn’t tell the customer what is in their shopping cart. This makes them miss the opportunity to get their customer excited about the item(s) they were about to purchase.

Thus, the keys to a successful shopping cart abandonment email are the following.

  • Put the main message in text format so customers will see it right away without having to enable images. This includes a link back to their shopping cart.
  • Remind the customer about the specific item(s) in their shopping cart, awaiting purchase so they can get excited about them again.
  • Remind them about a specific incentive, such as free shipping or current availability.
  • Have a clear call to action.

Note that when it comes to incentives you offer in your shopping cart abandonment email, you might want to think carefully about offering a coupon or discount. Why? You will train your customers to put items in their shopping cart and leave so they can get money off of their item(s).

An alternative, if applicable, is reminding the customer that the product is currently on special for a limited time. This leverages the power of scarcity and will hopefully motivate them to return and make their purchase quickly.

2. The Order Confirmation Email

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70% according to Marketing Metrics. This means that once a customer has made a purchase, there’s a better chance you can get them to make another one by using your order confirmation email as a marketing tool.

GoDaddy does this well by including a coupon code for your next purchase in your order confirmation email:

What’s great about this email is the promo code is bright, bold, and above the information about the order you just placed.

GoDaddy also offers related products to choose from based on your purchase.

While this can be a great way to increase sales, be sure that you carefully consider whether trying to sell again right away to a brand new customer is worth it.

Your new customer probably won’t cancel their order just because you approached them to make another purchase, but they also might not take up the offer if they’re a first time shopper.

This may be a better strategy for your repeat customers as opposed to new ones. As an alternative, you could ask first time buyers to ‘like’ your business on Facebook which may be a more palatable option for them at this stage in the relationship.

The key takeaway is that order confirmation emails are an important opportunity to not only reassure your customers about their purchase, but also provide ways for them to extend the relationship with your business whether it be through another sale, an app download or a call to action to follow you on social media. 

3. The Shipping Confirmation Email

Just like order confirmation emails, shipping confirmation emails are another opportunity for you to get creative.

For example, instead of asking customers to make another purchase for themselves you can ask them to make a purchase for someone else.

The shipping confirmation email is a good one because your customer is excited about the prospect of receiving their purchase. So much so, in fact, that you can ride this wave of excitement by getting them to consider gifting your product(s) to their friends and family.

Check out how BarkBox does this:

Alternatively, you can always use your shipping confirmation email to encourage your customers to make another purchase for themselves:

The only drawback on the above email from Express is that the calls to action in this email are not personalized to the customer’s purchase. It would be much more effective if they noted the customer’s purchase was a pair of slacks, and the ads were targeted to shirts and ties instead of suits or women’s clothing.

Thus, the keys to a successful email after shipping an order are the following.

  • Make it easy for your customer to track their order. Include the expected delivery date and tracking number linked to the shipping company so people can click once to see exactly where their order is in the shipping process.
  • Suggest that the customer forward a link to the item purchased to a friend.
  • Include product suggestions that match their purchase.

Why is it so important to make the customer’s most recent order so easily to track? You want to do this to reassure them that their order is being delivered (and that your business is trustworthy), get them excited, and make the customer happy – a happy customer is more likely to share their shopping experience with others.

4. The Customer Feedback Email

One email that brands usually do not push marketing into is the feedback / survey email after a customer has presumably received and used their product. Toys R Us, for example, includes a sweepstakes with their survey email.

And here’s a survey email from Moo, the printing company:

What’s the difference between these two emails? While Moo sends the customer to a third party survey tool for feedback, Toys R Us sends customers to a survey on their own website. This makes it easy to encourage their (hopefully) satisfied customer to start shopping once their review is completed.

Thus, the keys to a successful email for feedback are the following:

  • Focus on customer satisfaction – not sales – so you can get your customer’s thoughts on their purchase.
  • Place the review / survey form on your website so the customer can be presented with offers and products after submitting their feedback.
  • Include the review on the product page as user generated content to help boost future buyer’s confidence.

While encouraging future purchases from satisfied customers is easy, what about those who are less than happy with their purchase? Make sure that your system follows up with an email that offers to help make that customer happy. As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to make sales with existing customers than new ones, so focus on customer retention more than acquisition when possible.


When you send an email to your customers, you’re having a conversation with them in their most personal online environment – their inbox. In other words, you need to make every email count. 

Getting creative with transaction emails can be an effective way to not only be transparent with your customers about their purchases, but also get them back to your store for repeat sales. 

What marketing tactics do you currently build into your transaction emails? Have they been effective for you? Let us know in the comments.


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5 Ecommerce Design Mistakes that Could Be Killing Your Sales


This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout.

Building an ecommerce site that customers love largely comes down to two things: sweating (and testing) the small stuff, and understanding human psychology.

How do people view, browse, and use your site? While testing will be the final judgement for what works on your site, conversion studies can be a great place to begin when designing your site.

Today I’d like to go over five big ecommerce design mistakes that I commonly notice on far too many of the shops that I visit.

Be sure to take careful note if your site is making any of the following mistakes, and try implementing A/B tests with my corrections; I have a hunch you’ll see a noticeable change in your bottom line!

1. Lack of a Clear Value Proposition

One of my favorite conversion experts, Peep Laja of Markitekt, has the perfect quote for why communicating your value to customers is so important:

Your value proposition is the #1 thing that determines whether people will bother reading more about your product or hit the back button. If I could give you only one piece of conversion advice, “test your value proposition” would be it.

A strong value proposition is your argument as to why customers should buy from you when they could buy from the competition. This is especially important for ecommerce, because why should customers buy from you when they could buy from Amazon?

Unfortunately, not only do many ecommerce sites have poor value propositions, but many sites even have difficulty communicating exactly what they sell! I don’t mean to pick on Yummy Tummy—a great soup and baked goods company—but landing on their site is one of the more confusing experiences I’ve had online:

What exactly am I buying here? If I can’t figure it out soon, I’m likely to leave.

Compare that with sites that have excellent value propositions, such as Wolverine Boots:

Or Luxy Hair:

Both of these examples also make great used of images in their value propositions. Although clear, concise copy is very important for every website, remember that images can also tell a story about a product. As legendary advertiser Claude Hopkins would say:

Use pictures only to attract those who may profit you. Use them only when they form a better selling argument than the same amount of space set in type.

The essential elements of any good value proposition include the following items:

  • A headline (possibly with subheadings) that uses simple, clear language as to why an item is worth purchasing. It’s not a slogan, it’s a promise of value, such as “Create a professional client proposal in minutes,” as seen on Bidsketch.
  • Body copy explaining why buying this item from you is the best choice. What do you have to offer that others don’t? Why are you different?
  • Additional benefits and social proof (elements like free shipping and guarantees).
  • Images that create desire by showcasing the item in use.

When people understand what they are buying, and why they should buy it from you, I guarantee that your site will see an increase in sales over a design that doesn’t communicate clearly with customers. People often don’t know why they might need your product until you tell them (“You’ll love our newest product because…”), so don’t be afraid to be direct and crystal clear.

2. Misguided Product Descriptions

We all know that product descriptions can be extremely important, but oftentimes ecommerce store owners include or remove them at abandon.

As it turns out, these descriptions mean different things when you are selling different products. Check out the study conducted by the Nielsen Group below:

Here’s what they found:

Thumbnails of bookcases were studied intensely, whereas thumbnails of flat-panel TVs were mainly ignored. In fact, on the full Amazon page, only 18% of the viewing time was spent on the photos, while 82% was spent on the text.

The comparison was between bookshelves and shelving on the Pottery Barn website, and TV listings on Amazon. When you think about it, the difference in the products is quite clear: most people buying a bookshelf care about how it will look in their room. Most people buying a TV do care somewhat about how it looks, but are mostly concerned with the specs (how big, Plasma or LCD, is it a smart TV?, etc.)

As the Nielsen write-up would so humorously point out:

The TV photos are of no help in deciding between the products. A guy in a canoe vs. a football player? What, because I watch more football than water sports, I’ll buy the TV showing a football player?

That’s in contrast to a bookshelf, where cherry colored vs. oak colored matters. You can incorporate this information into how you handle product descriptions by really thinking about your product and how your customer shops for it.

Do they care mostly about how it looks, or about what it’s capable of? Adjust your image use and product descriptions based on this need, and you’ll have far more informed and happy shoppers.

3. Failing to Properly Utilize Quality Images

If you happen to sell items that are mostly dependent on looks (like the Pottery Barn example above), you should know by now that the visuals that you use are incredibly important.

In fact, one case study from Visual Website Optimizer showcased how an increase in ecommerce image size improved conversions by a notable amount:

Variation 2 with the large images and product description viewable on mouse over was the winner. It resulted in a straight 9.46% increase in sales (96% chance to beat original).

In another test first mentioned by Peep Laja, an online store was able to improve conversions via site search by 100% when they included images in the search bar, which looked like this:

There is also the matter of image quality. As this study mentions, one of the best ways to sell a physical good is to get it in somebody’s hands. Since you can’t do that online, the best alternative is to get them to imagine it in their hands.

High quality images help with this.

Kith NYC always has excellent images for the products they sell. When you’re selling a $500 pair of men’s boot, the visual better capture some imaginations:

As you can imagine, “action” shots often work well for fashion items and any product that is using aesthetics as a big selling point.

Consider the comments that people left on Reddit when someone posted about a Victorinox watch that was being sold on Amazon:

That’s a great picture. It looks so much better than it does in that Amazon listing. I wouldn’t give it the time of day just going by the Amazon page but your picture…

Remember that your images are going to be a big part of moving your products in many industries, so if you’re selling homegrown stuff or even dropshipping, invest in quality photos.

4.) No Visual Hierarchy or Attention to Fitt’s Law

You don’t need to be a web designer to understand the importance of a visual hierarchy. One of the better images I’ve seen that clearly showcases how one should work comes from Josh Byers of StudioPress:

With a visual hierarchy in place, it’s easy to navigate a website because actions begin to become recognizable due to the site’s design. It becomes apparent that all accent colored text is a clickable link, and that base text is unclickable, used only to complement the site’s overall background color.

One part of this hierarchy is the use of Fitt’s law. In essence, the law states that eyes are drawn to larger items which makes them more clickable (duh). Therefore, important elements should be made larger and stand out from the rest of the page.

Color accents can also be used here, such as how the old MailChimp site used to offset their blue background with a red button:

Why is Fitt’s law important?

Take a look at this case study from TechWyse. The team was working on a trucking site, and first examined where people were looking on the page:

As you can see, that big unclickable ‘NO FEES’ button was hogging all the attention! The problem is that this section of the site doesn’t help to make any sales, the phone number is how they land customers.

Changes had to be made, and fast:

This is obviously much better. On-page viewing patterns don’t automatically equate to more sales, but at the very least more people could find and were viewing the company phone number.

How about your site? Do any large, eye-grabbing on page elements not lead to direct sales or leads? Try to ease friction by looking at how you can highlight the most important elements on your site and blend in the less important links and information.

5. The Site Doesn’t Look Trustworthy

When competing against the big boys of ecommerce, there is one thing you need to realize: their brand recognition means that they don’t have to prove to people that they are trustworthy.

Just because you are trustworthy does not mean customers will believe you.

Your site has to reflect your willingness, ability and track record for delivering on your promises. As Derek Halpern first revealed, an interesting study done on the trustworthiness of health sites found that the design of the site played more of a role than the actual content of the site.

So how can you make your site appear more trustworthy? You need to take a customer focused approach here—too many companies offer up social proof in a way that seems like chest bumping, instead of thinking about the psychology behind why a potential customer might be worried about shopping via an online store they’ve never used before.

Instead, really think about what worries a customer might have when shopping from an unkown store, and structure your social proof to address these issues. Here are a few of my favorite elements to utilize:

Customer testimonials.


The perfect testimonial is typically found through a well known customer, or a customer that perfectly represents one of your personas. In other words, the source of the testimonial often matters just as much as what was said, so put your best foot forward by selecting the praise you received that will be most comforting to prospective customers. Some of the best testimonials around come in “story” form, like this great example from WPEngine:

Notable press.


Prospects respect notable publications in your industry (Forbes for business, GQ for fashion, etc.), and if you’ve been featured there, it is very much worth noting. A recognizable press mention will go a long way in letting customers know that you’re for real.

Interesting info about the company.


How can customer guarantee that you’ll be around even a few months after their purchase? One of the best ways to show that you plan to be around for the long haul is to share some interesting information about what your company does. At Help Scout, we share how many emails we processed last month:

An up to date design.


You aren’t required to hire a world class designer (though you can find some here) to launch your bootstrapped ecommerce business, but just know that people do judge books buy their cover, and will judge your business by your site’s design. Avoid trends, but make sure your site looks up to date and cleanly designed.

Always Be Testing

The final thought I’d like to leave you with when it comes to your ecommerce store design is that at a certain level, testing should become an ongoing process.

You can always discover some unusual things that go against the “best practices” that people preach elsewhere.

Consider the following case study from Body Ecology, which revealed a startling finding: the site greatly improved conversion when they removed drop-downs from their navigation, and instead utilized category pages with brief descriptions:

As you can read in the published case study, the change was relatively minor in design but fairly drastic for results:

As you can clearly see via the results, the average revenue per conversion has increased significantly and now stands at $143.61, which is great if you compare it to the average revenue per conversion of the Control, which was $100.33.

So remember that best practices are just a starting point, so adopt the mindset of “always be testing” and you won’t fall prey to common practices that may not be working for your site.

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software for small business. Learn about smarter customer service training and how to build customer loyalty by reading our blog.


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