Lessons To Work By

Shot of two beautiful woman working in a clothing boutique

When news about the realities of working for Amazon hit the presses (the 16-hour workdays, the constant pressure, etc.), neither of your authors was surprised. Our family experienced a similar work environment in 1997 when Brad took an executive position with America Online.

That was during AOL’s dizzying growth, just before the Internet bubble burst. We learned some of our most valuable business lessons in those years, and those lessons have informed our business perspectives to this day.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

Holiday Series: Stay Merry

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All merchants love the holiday season! It’s hard to beat the winter gift-giving holidays when it comes to filling their cash registers. Online sellers are no different, but the hectic nature of the season provides you with some special challenges.

Have you found that during past holiday seasons, although your business hummed, your own fun slipped away, almost unnoticed? Bah humbug! We turned to some well-respected online merchants to see how they go about fitting happy holiday sales in with happy holiday celebrations.

Attend Events

Larry Phillips has watched what other sellers do to make it through the season. The stamps he sells aren’t seasonal purchases, and most of his customers shop for themselves.

“They purchase for their own collections, and they’re busy buying for others during the holiday season,” he notes.

Still, living among so many e-commerce merchants for all these years, Phillips has learned a trick or two. His advice is to reward yourself.

“Buy tickets now to at least one event per month, a show or a concert, something specific,” he says. “Make sure it involves someone you love or a best friend. Put the tickets where you can see them and make it a point to look at them once a day. It will give you something to look forward to.”

Kathy Terrill agrees about planning special events during the holidays. “I talk it over with my husband,” she says. “Is there a show or sporting event he wants to attend? Book the tickets now and put it on your calendar.”

Take Time Off

John Lawson goes even one step further. “Take a vacation for Thanksgiving,” he suggests. “That’s what I do. I take my vacation at Thanksgiving week and come back and work my butt off that Cyber Monday all the way through the New Year to keep me sane.”

Hitting the rush with some R&R just behind you sounds great. If your own schedule won’t allow that, Phillips recommends a nap. “It’s amazing what a 30-minute nap can do to increase your energy level,” he notes. “Take a nap every day. Thirty minutes is fine, but do it at the same time every day so it becomes a habit.”

Do What You Can Now

Donna MacMurray Klein went even further in her holiday plans.

“If gift giving is a part of your holidays, get your shopping done now,” she says. “Make a list and buy everything. Wrap and put it all in a closet. You’ll be able to pack and ship without the stress of doing your own shopping.”

It’s not only the shopping that can be done well in advance, either. Is it possible that despite the craziness of this time of year, your family still expects you to host that big holiday gathering?

For many sellers the answer is a resounding, “yes!” Well, you know what they say about giving the most immediate work to the busiest person, and MacMurray Klein has some advice for coping with that, too.

“Write menus now,” she recommends. “Assign some dishes to some of your guests. For things that can be frozen, make them now and freeze!” While you’re busy menu planning and prepping, don’t overlook the dishes and treats that can be ordered for carryout. Terrill agrees.

“Are there special things you love to do at the holidays?” she asks. “Cookie baking? Caroling? Decorating the holiday tree as a family? Put it on your calendar.”

In other words, make celebrating your holidays with your family as important as anything else you’ll do this busy selling season. And when the rush hits, turn on some holiday carols and listen along as you list and pack. That’s what Carrejo does.

With these little tips and tricks, here’s hoping this season will bring you lots of sales and lots of days that are merry and bright!

Holiday Series: Make Your Listings Buyer-Friendly

blog-holiday-variationsYou’re ready. You’ve talked to your suppliers and identified new products your customers are sure to love this holiday season. Now that you’re ready to upload them to OpenSky, be sure to make your storefront as shopper-friendly as possible.

Review Your Variations

Shoppers expect to see every option available for a particular product in one place—so it’s important to have every size, color or pattern for a particular product set up within the same listing. Follow this tutorial to set up variations.

If your product comes in different colors or patterns, it may be not be perfectly clear which label refers to which product. For example, if you’re selling a shirt that comes in shades of blue called Sky and Navy, you want it to be perfectly clear that Sky is light blue and Navy is dark blue. Make this process easier by assigning specific photos to each variation. As a shopper selects each variation, the featured photo will change accordingly.

Customized Products? We’ve Got You Covered!

But variations don’t work for everything. If you sell customized products with monograms, names or color combinations, then Customization fields are the way to go. You can enable this field on the “Product Info” page and include text about what information you need from your shoppers.

Tip: There is a limit to the number of variations a product can have. If you find yourself with a product that has a ton of variations—maybe a necklace where a shopper can choose an initial for a pendant as well as one of 10 gemstone charms—using customization will work best.

Check out this tutorial for more info on setting up the Customization field.

Put on Your Sorting Hat

Retail stores are constantly rearranging their displays to keep customers interested, and OpenSky allows you to do that, too. Put different products in your top 10 for a few different reasons:

  • If you’re enrolled in the Co-Pilot marketing program or opted in to certain promotions, featured products will be chosen from this top 10.
  • Place your top sellers at the forefront to continue to drive sales toward your known winners.
  • Use those coveted top spots for products that you’re almost out of so you can make way for new items next season.
  • Feature items that are overstocked and taking over your warehouse in order to clear them out.

Read more about sorting products within your OpenSky storefront.

By using these features you make it easier for your shoppers to help themselves, leaving you more time to fulfill orders and meet shipping deadlines. Happy selling!

Holiday Series: The Lure of Free Shipping

free-shipping-blogHoliday shoppers love free shipping. In fact, in 2012, 20% of them said it was the most important factor they considered as they browsed online that year, according to FreeShipping.org. And search agency CPC Strategy reports that 44% of shoppers will abandon their online shopping carts—potentially abandoning your products—if shipping costs are too high. Ouch!

So you may want to offer free shipping when the holidays hit. Shoppers will seek it out. But don’t worry. Catering to these bargain hunters doesn’t have to make you go broke.

The Keys to Success

One option is to build your shipping costs into the price of your products. Part of your holiday season prep should be knowing exactly how much it will cost to ship each of your items. Use that data to slightly increase your product prices.

And don’t forget to include the cost of your packaging materials! Bubble mailers, packing tape, and Styrofoam peanuts generally aren’t free and should be factored into your costs.

Reward Your Followers

Another option for offering free shipping on OpenSky—without changing the settings or pricing on all of your products—is to create a Coupon Code specifically for your store. Check out this tutorial for instruction on creating a special Code to share with your followers on OpenSky, social media and your email list.

Going this route allows you to test how shoppers respond to free shipping offers compared to percentage-off discounts. By measuring your results, you can weigh the costs against the benefits, and decide which types of promotions are right for your business.

Finding a Happy Medium

If you sell products in a variety of sizes and weights, it may be beneficial to offer free shipping only on certain goods, for instance, light weight items.

You can safely ship them using USPS First Class Mail in small padded envelopes. Costs are minimal for both postage and supplies, and First Class Mail is a quick and easy way to ship smaller products.

Try Tiered Shipping

OpenSky also offers an option called “Tiered Shipping” that allows you to offer discounted shipping rates to shoppers who purchase multiple items from you. In the shipping section of a “Product Info” page, you can set the shipping price in the first column (the price for shipping the product if ordered alone) and the “With another item” price (the price for shipping if the item is ordered along with something else).

In the example below, you can see that this particular product ships for $5.95 when ordered by itself, but ships for free when another item is ordered:

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Click here to find out more about how to adjust your tiered shipping settings.

As you can see, free shipping doesn’t need to be a big hassle during the holidays, and there are ways to effectively cut the costs of offering it (while still keeping customers happy).

Happy shipping!

Holiday Series: Prep Your Shipping Plan

holiday shipping seriesIf you’ve ramped up your inventory and added new products recently in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, be sure to have the right packing materials on hand! Yes, you want to prepare now (before orders start coming in) to avoid a last-minute scramble.

Here’s What You’ll Need

The type of packing materials you use depends largely on how fragile your products are.

  • Poly mailers: Poly mailers are unpadded plastic sleeves meant for products that can withstand the shipping process on their own. Use these for clothing, which generally doesn’t need any other protection, and for products that are already in sturdy packaging.
  • Padded envelopes (also called bubble mailers): These are perfect for products like jewelry, certain electronics (like charging cables), and phone cases—products that may have their own packaging and need a little added padding but not the strength of an exterior box.
  • Boxes: Available in a variety of sizes, boxes are best for shipping your breakable products or larger items. Think coffee mugs or shoes. Pair boxes with padding like packing paper or bubble wrap to ensure safe delivery.

You can get most of your shipping supplies in bulk online, but another option is the free shipping materials provided by USPS. If you ship via Priority Mail through the U.S. Postal Service, you can order envelopes and boxes straight from the USPS website. Your mail carrier will even deliver them for free!

Please note: These free materials must only be used for packages sent via USPS Priority Mail to avoid violating federal laws.

Other basics to have on hand include packing tape and a tape dispenser, packing fill like Styrofoam peanuts, and plenty of paper for printing out shipping labels and packing slips.

Invest in Some Equipment

One easy way to de-stress the shipping process is to purchase a shipping scale and weigh your products before you even publish new listings. If you offer free shipping, this allows you to build an accurate shipping cost into your prices. If you charge for shipping, this helps you avoid over- or under-charging your customers.

You will also want to invest in a good printer. Toner for inkjet printers gets pricey, so consider purchasing a black-and-white laserjet printer. While initially more expensive, you will save money in the long run with the cheaper toner costs. And don’t forget to pick up a spare ink cartridge so you aren’t caught short!

Location, Location

As they say in real estate, location is everything. After you’ve gathered all your supplies, you’ll want to set up a dedicated area for setting up your shipping station. Whether it’s a corner of your office or a section of your garage, you’ll want a nice flat space to lay out everything you need. Some tips:

  • Make good use of vertical space with tall cabinets or wire shelves to store packing materials and spare supplies.
  • Work through your shipping process several times to figure out what you’ll need to have handy. Things that are less obvious like scissors, a utility knife, business cards, or markers might be essential to your flow and you’ll want to have those nearby.
  • Have a dedicated area where outgoing packages are always placed to ensure no products get left behind.

The key to staying on top of the busy holiday shipping season is being prepared before the orders start rolling in! For more information about how to handle your OpenSky sales, check our Shipping, Returns and Fulfillment tutorials.

Holiday Series: Let’s Talk Returns

Disappointed Woman Unpacking Online Purchase At HomeWith online selling being so competitive, especially around the holidays, it’s important to get every advantage you can. One area in which you can differentiate your business is returns.

Beat the Brick-and-Mortars

In fact, your returns policy may also help you better compete against brick-and-mortar stores, not just other online sellers, says longtime merchant Kathy Terrill. While there are many ways Terrill works to stand apart from B+Ms (and her online competitors) for Terrill’s customers, returns are “no problem.”

And that’s a good thing. With all the gift giving during the holidays, buyers will be looking for the piece of mind that comes with knowing they can return a product if it doesn’t work out for some reason.

Buyers Want You to Take Returns

Sometimes returns aren’t cut and dry. Additionally, customers and online merchants may have differing opinions (go figure) on what constitutes a good returns policy.

Now, we’ve been both online buyers and sellers for 16 years, and as buyers we always look at the return policy carefully. For expensive items, especially, we look for a liberal policy offering returns for 30 days. If a seller will not accept returns at all, that can be a turn off. We’ll either move on to another seller or, in the case of unique items, do our due diligence even more carefully than we would otherwise.

There are exceptions, though. We sometimes buy comic books online that are graded by an outside company, CGC. As buyers, we know CGC-graded comics are in the condition the seller says they are. So in these cases, if a returns policy is less flexible, that’s understandable. (Unless, of course, there’s a problem with the plastic case the comic is encased in. A crack would certainly justify a return no matter what!)

Of course, we’re not the only shoppers looking for generous return policies.

“As a shopper, I will not buy items online with no clear return policy,” notes Quincy Smith of http://www.Upliftroi.com. “I don’t want to risk having something not fit, work or arrive not as advertised unless I am able to return it.”

Returns Can Be Tricky

Ina Steiner, the editor of EcommerceBytes.com, points out that “returns are tricky particularly for sellers of highly valuable or unique items.”

“Many sellers claim they receive damaged or inferior substitutions of their items when buyers request returns,” she says. “Returns are also a problem for clothing sellers who say some shoppers make a habit of wearing items and returning them to sellers stained, expecting a full refund.”

It makes sense that not all items are meant to be returned with equal ease, especially if the item is susceptible to the normal wear that using the product causes. But even this example seems to come with its own caveats.

We spoke with Randall Robert, owner of Grapple Gear, who emphasized the importance of return policies for his particular niche, athletic apparel used for grappling sports such as Jiu Jitsu and MMA.

“We’ve actually gone above and beyond in our returns policy, with great results,” he says. “Most companies will only pay for one-way shipping and expect their customers to foot the bill to return the product. However, grappling apparel is difficult to size and determine the right fit, as every manufacturer seems to have a slightly different idea of what the sizes mean in terms of length, width and weight.”

Allen Walton of SpyGuy Security has very solid reasoning as to why there is not a returns policy of any kind for the surveillance equipment his company sells.

“Because of the nature of our products, we have a no-returns policy on our hidden cameras in our GPS trackers,” he tells us. “Customers can sometimes find that difficult because they’re not used to buying the sort of product we sell. We have a very good reason for this policy, though. We get customers who buy our merchandise, use it and then want to get a refund even after they get the answers they need.

“We’re not the rental company and we can’t stay in business that way,” he continues. “I think we make a good case for not having a returns policy on those items, and a lot of customers definitely understand why. It’s just sometimes hard to close the sale.”

Don’t Take it Personally

As we’ve suggested, all things being equal, you want to be able to offer as generous a returns policy as you can. Additionally, you can’t take returns personally.

“If you get upset every time a customer returns one of your items, this business is not for you,” says veteran merchant Cynthia Carrejo.

So if you can, accept legitimate returns and maintain a positive attitude about it. That way, everybody’s holidays are happier! 

Our thanks to Ethan Schepp, who provided research help for this article.

Holiday Series: Compose Descriptions that Sell

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You’ve customized your OpenSky storefront, fine-tuned your promotion settings (and maybe even opted into the CoPilot marketing program!), and have stocked up on inventory for the upcoming holiday season.

But have you applied that same polish to the descriptions attached to each of your products?

Online shoppers only have 2 ways to learn about your products: through the beautiful photos you’ve taken and the informative descriptions you provide. Your customers aren’t in a brick-and-mortar store where they can come up to you and ask their questions, so you will have to anticipate those questions beforehand.

Here are Some Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • What is the product for and how is it used? Some products, like earrings, might be straightforward, but others, like phone chargers, might be a bit more confusing. Make sure that shoppers who have never seen the product will be able to understand how they would use the product and how it will benefit them.
  • What comes with each order? Clearly state what is included with each order, especially if your photos include other items in the background or if you’re offering a buy-1-get-1-free promo.
  • How big is it? List the dimensions of each product so shoppers can be sure products meet their needs. For example, furniture may need to be within a certain size to fit in a shopper’s home. With clothing, it’s helpful to include a size chart with the measurements of every size to ensure customers are happy with their purchases.

Don’t Forget the Details!

Each OpenSky Product Info page offers a section that makes it easy to provide basic information about your products. In the Product Details section you can list facts, like where a product was made, what it weighs, its ingredients or available colors.

On the “Product Info” page, scroll down to the section labeled “Product Details.” Enter the label of the fact under “Detail” and the information under “Description.” Click “Add detail” to add more than one line.

product-details

Finally, Add Some Flair

Descriptions are dull if all they include are facts about the product! Product descriptions are a great place to add in a bit of your shop’s personality. If your products are handmade, talk about the techniques you’ve used. If you source locally, use only organic ingredients or donate a percentage of your sales to charity, include that info, too!

You don’t have to write a novel to help your shoppers feel a personal connection with your products and store, but giving them a little insight will help you stand out.

Some Info Doesn’t Belong

That’s a lot of info that you should include—but there are also things that shouldn’t be in your descriptions! OpenSky product pages have separate areas for shipping costs and your return policy, so there’s no need for that information to go in your product descriptions as well.

Handmade products are the exception. If you handcraft your products on demand after they are ordered, make sure customers are aware that there may be a slight delay before products are shipped.

Refer to this tutorial in the Merchant Help Center for more ideas on how to perfect your product descriptions. You’ll want to be at the top of your selling game before the holidays hit!