Here Come the Holidays, Part 1

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Most people have plenty of time before they have to start thinking about the holidays, but you and other online sellers just have a few more weeks to get ready for that jolly time of year.

“Hopefully, you have already purchased and planned your holiday season inventory,” says Larry Phillips of 4stampsales.com when we asked him for advice about what e-merchants should be doing to get ready. Anyone who takes on the role of “holiday provider” will tell you that the first step is planning. The next step is getting the house in order.

Trusting that you already stocked your shelves, we’ll turn our attention to ordering and structuring those shelves—and every other part of your operation—in this 2-part series. Let’s get started.

First, the physical

“Go through your inventory,” recommends longtime eBay seller Cie Bay. “Make sure everything that is listed can be quickly and easily found. Make sure your listings are up to date.”

With your inventory in order, Cie Bay recommends focusing on shipping supplies and processes. “Stock up!” she says. Boxes, tape, poly bags, whatever items you use to get your items to your customers should be in your house very soon if they aren’t in your home already.

“If you use inserts, thank you notes, etc., make sure you have plenty on hand,” she continues.

Dimira Teneva of Metrilo.com offers consulting services to online retailers. She recommends planning the details now.

“Make arrangements for guaranteed shipping with your partners well in advance,” she suggest. “Get on the same page about the absolute latest time possible for placing an order and getting it delivered before the holiday.”

Cie Bay also suggest looking at your staffing. “If you’re able, hire an assistant,” she continues.

If you bring in help now, you’ll have weeks of experience working together when the rush hits and you’ll know if you have enough support, or need more help.

“The holiday season is extremely busy, and once those ‘cha chings’ start rolling through, you won’t have time for anything but getting those goodies packed and shipped,” Cie Bay tells us.

She also suggests letting your postal carrier and local post office staff know how much you appreciate their extra workload during your busy season. That added touch could prove helpful when you start shipping like crazy.

Look at the details

With your inventory, shipping supplies and staff at the ready, it’s time to market your business, so shoppers remember you when they’re looking for that perfect something for their special someones.

“Create a content calendar for both your social media and blog,” recommends Mallory Musante of Boldandpop.com.

Selling expert John Lawson agrees. But his recommendations go a little further.

“Start making your marketing calendar,” he advises. “Detail what offers you plan to make on what days going into the holiday sale cycle.” And be sure to “review last year’s data, specifically pay attention to inventory velocity, time frames of the season, best sales days, and slowest days.”

With the information in hand, you can come up with a plan for your most-likely busy and slow weeks. “Finally, be sure not to forget the lesser-known shopping days like Small Business Saturday, Free Shipping Day, Green Monday, etc.,” he adds.

Linking your promotions to already established “special” sales days, gives you free advertising and reinforces your image as a professional business.

Ensure the important stuff works

The final detail to address has to do with the mechanics of your payment mechanism and ordering process.

“Now is the time to make sure everything is working properly,” Phillips notes. “Go through the motions of purchasing something from yourself, up to and including the checkout.”

Some sellers stop when they’re asked for payment.

“That is the most important part!” he reminds us. “Remember, an abandoned cart means that a buyer took the time to commit to buy and stopped after that commitment.”

By making this purchase for yourself, you can see first-hand if there is a problem with your process that you, as the seller, would be unlikely to discover.

“Next, ask 3 friends or relatives to make a purchase from you,” he continues. “Have 1 very novice Internet purchaser, 1 occasional user and 1 experienced purchaser shop. Get their feedback, and then make any changes necessary.”

Or contact the marketplace where you sell (eBay, OpenSky, Amazon, etc.) and mention the problems your friends encountered.

Part 2 of this series will look at ways you can make your site, listings, packages, and customers feel the holly, jolly holiday spirit! Stay tuned.

How to Stop Negative Self-Talk

negative-self-talk-os-blogDo you see failure lurking behind every corner?

If so, there are two issues at play. First: negative self-talk. Second: what psychologists call catastrophizing or thinking that something is far worse that it is.

We catastrophize and are negative self-talkers, ourselves. As a small-business owner, if you are, too, you’re less effective. Your creativity drags like molasses in winter and your overall output drops, too.

To help, we spoke with psychologists and other therapists for advice on dealing with these issues.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

What One Man’s Learned in 15 Years of Selling Online, Part 2

selling-wisdom-p2-osAs you may remember from the first part of our interview with Drew Friedman, an experienced e-commerce merchant and president of White Mountain Trading Company, in the more than 15 years Friedman has been running the business, he’s seen many changes and has had to adapt to keep his company going.

Here he shares his thoughts on marketing and the markets he uses, as well as advice for merchants who are just starting out.

The twists and turns of selling

Schepp: What are your thoughts about the big marketplaces where you market your items?

Friedman: We are still on eBay and have been for nearly 16 years. Briefly, after our move across the country, our eBay effort was scaled back considerably as we reconfigured our business. We also saw a tremendous downturn in the upscale product categories, where we had built our earlier reputation.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

What One Man’s Learned in 15 Years of Selling Online, Part 1

years-of-wisdom-osWhen we met Drew Friedman in 2006, he’d already been a successful eBay seller since before the turn of the century. Friedman, the president of White Mountain Trading Company, buys and sells Mount Blanc specialty pens and other high-end merchandise.

His background of more than 20 years in business was a help when he started his e-commerce business, but as anyone who’s been doing this for such a long time knows, that didn’t mean there weren’t challenges, changes and plenty of turns in the road in his journey.

Sales background starts merchant off right

Schepp: What did you do before you got into e-commerce, and how does that experience help you as an online merchant today?

Friedman: I was the national sales manager for a manufacturing firm traveling all over Canada and the U.S. When hired in 1998, I was charged with figuring out how the Internet and e-commerce were going to help increase our sales and decrease our selling costs.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

Why Shoppers Abandon Their Shopping Carts

abandoned-cart-osThe term “cart abandonment” makes many online sellers a little queasy. Orphaned carts represent lost income.

But that income may or may not be lost forever. The purchase could occur down the line or the item(s) will simply remain in the shopping cart.

Why do shoppers abandon their carts? We talked to several experts, who shared some common causes and told us how you can curve cart abandonment as much as possible.

So, what are the reasons?

Adi Bittan, co-founder and CEO of OwnersListen, a site that lets business owners communicate directly with their customers, says one reason shoppers abandon their carts could be that they don’t have enough information to make a confident purchase.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

What You Can Learn From The Holiday Shopping Season

holiday-lessons-osThe 2015 holiday shopping season is here and, more than ever, people are talking about all the shopping they’re doing online.

But how are brick-and-mortars doing these days and what trends can we discern from the shopping season so far?

We took our Santa caps off for a moment and replaced them with thinking caps to find out. Here’s what we learned.

Why bust a door?

ShopperTrak, which claims to be the leading tracker of shoppers and “consumer behavior insights and location-based analytics,” estimated brick-and-mortar retail from Thanksgiving to Nov. 29 yielded about $20.43 billion in total sales—an estimated 10.4 percent decrease compared to 2014.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

Merchant Spotlight: Amaryllis

Ben and Anita copyBen Tabai operates Amaryllis on OpenSky with his girlfriend and business partner, Anita Shokouhi. Since they live a life so often attached to their cellphones, Tabai had become quite fascinated with mobile browsing as a way to pass the time, explore, feed his curiosity and inspire a business.

“The mobile-browsing phone is now an extension of our bodies,” he tells us. “Getting into e-commerce was a given to me.” The question that remained was simply, how?

“I was lying in bed one night and viewing Groupon Deals on my phone,” Tabai recalls. “I came across the ‘Goods’ section and saw items being sold in the thousands over a span of a few days. I already had prior experience with importing goods, so I thought, ‘Why not jump on this opportunity?'”

Tabai’s next step was to reach out to Sholouhi to discuss the idea of selling fashion products in large volume online, and that was how Amaryllis got its start.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

Should You Pack Green?

should-you-pack-green-os“Going green” isn’t a new trend for businesses. The idea can apply to a single part of a business or a set of practices designed to reduce your environmental footprint.

Mandy Nagel, founder of I Thought of You, a site that sells handmade products, elegantly summed up what green means to her, “As a ‘green’ business, we consider how every aspect of our product’s lifecycle will affect the planet.”

One of the most important ways businesses can choose to be greener regards packaging. We took a closer look at the topic and found that environmental benefits are not the only reasons why companies are taking the green route.

Read the entire article on Auctiva EDU.

Save Time & Money During the Holidays

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Veteran online sellers shared some of their time-tested ways for smoothing the path through the holidays. They showed us how to plan for our own holiday celebrations last time we spoke.

This time they’ve tell us about saving time and keeping sales soaring. Their advice comes down to two basics: solid infrastructure and good time management. They start with your inventory and shipping operation, but there are some good moves to make with your listings as well.

Organize your items

“Do inventory now,” says eBay seller Kathy Keefe of Sassy’s Savings. “Make sure it is organized and can be easily found when sold.”

Keefe recommends using plastic tubs or banker boxes, and suggests you use the custom label field for locating the item.

Prep your shipping supplies

But it isn’t just your inventory that needs to be well organized. Many sellers recommended taking a hard look at your shipping operation, too. Keefe agrees.

“Take inventory of your shipping supplies, ” she suggests. “Organize boxes and envelopes by size. Having your shipping area streamlined and organized can save countless hours. ”

Top Rated eBay seller Cie-Bay says you should order free boxes from USPS now and stock up on tape, labels, bubble wrap, and other supplies you’ll need. “You won’t have time to get any of those things once the holiday sales go into full swing,” she adds.

Schedule mail pickups

Being well supplied is a great way to start, but you’ve got some other strategies you can take, too.

“If you can use USPS carrier pickup, log on to USPS.com now and order daily pickups for the next few months,” says Donna MacMurray-Klein, who manages a popular Facebook Group on selling online. “If you are not using a thermal printer for postage, consider getting one. They’re fast and actually pay for themselves quickly.”

She likes the Dymo 450. MacMurray-Klein’s advice is to evaluate how you can keep maximum accuracy, but gain the most efficient process.

Time management helps

Another crucial step on the path to a sane holiday season is time management. Luckily, our experts have wisdom to share about that, too.

“Plan and do so now, ” says veteran online seller Kathy Terrill. “I use Google calendar. I put everything on it, including how much I plan to pin daily on Pinterest, to when I want to launch auctions and the duration of the auctions.”

Technology makes planning ahead even easier. “Set up your social marketing campaigns in advance using one of the social media management applications,” Keefe says. She recommends Hootsuite, Buffer and Social Oomph.

“Set your promotion schedule and have your graphics ready in advance,” she continues.

Look back to last year

Keefe also recommends looking at your past sales to plan for this season. Although every year is different, looking back over sales records can help you predict and plan for what’s likely to be your busiest period again. With this in mind, you can easily change some things to smooth out the crunch time.

Keefe starts with the practical, part of your weekly time at work. “Try to have a specific time for shipping set aside,” she says. “It’s better to overestimate than to underestimate the time you will spend on this task.”

She also recommends setting a cutoff date for guaranteed arrival by Christmas and making sure that detail is apparent in all your listings.

Remember, you and your staff are not the only ones who are busy this time of year. The closer we get to the season, the busier your customers are, too. “Think like your buyer,” says MacMurray-Klein. “Holiday shoppers tend to be crunched for time and want to cross gifts off their lists.”

So offer a variety of shipping options. “If your listings don’t use calculated shipping, revise them and offer your buyers three mailing options: slow (First Class or Parcel), Priority, and Express,” MacMurray-Klein advises. “This allows your buyers in a hurry to simply upgrade their postage without nagging you. Enter the shipping methods in order of slowest to fastest, so they display right.”

MacMurray-Klein also had some advice to make your life as a seller easier. “As time becomes scarcer, end any listings that are really time consuming to prepare for packing unless, they’re super high profit,” she adds.

Those are likely to make any seller’s holiday happier!

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.