The retail industry is facing massive, unprecedented closures as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the country and state and city governments announce “shelter in place” orders. In much of the United States, the only type of retail stores that remain open are superstores and “essential retail” stores that sell food, medicine, or other life-sustaining goods. While business is thriving for major retailers, such as Costco, Walmart, and Amazon, small retailers are bearing the full brunt of this crisis. In this article, we want to be informative about the effects on retail, but we won’t stop there — we will also give actionable steps to help your retail store survive and even stay profitable during the outbreak.
What Coronavirus Means For Retail
The retail sector has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as much of the industry is deemed “nonessential” — though states have some leeway in how they define what is and what isn’t essential retail. In a growing number of states, residents have been advised to shelter in place and only leave the house to buy food or medicine. Even in regions without strict shelter-in-place orders, many governors and mayors have called for the closure of nonessential retail businesses. As COVID-19 cases continue to mount, most or all of the United States may soon be under such orders.
This grave situation requires the closure of a large portion of small retail businesses, though it is still possible to sell online. In fact, eCommerce sales are expected to surge in 2020Â as consumers stock up on essentials, such as food, healthcare items, cleaning products, household items, and even consumer electronics to stay entertained while at home.
Generally, the following types of stores are considered essential retail and can remain open for in-person sales:
Liquor stores (depending on the state)
Healthcare supply stores
Marijuana dispensaries (depending on the state)
Superstores (Walmart, Target, Costco, etc.)
Hardware and home improvement stores
Office supply stores
Auto parts stores
Pretty much all other types of retail stores are considered nonessential retail and have been forced to close in many states and cities. As follows are some examples of nonessential retail businesses (though this list is certainly not comprehensive):
Clothing and shoe stores
Hobby and craft stores
Sporting goods stores
Of course, you’ll need to check with your local authorities to find out if your retail store must close or if it can remain open.
Some retailers may find their goods in high demand, while others may be in less-popular industries and will have to get more creative about how they run their business. As mentioned, essential goods — soap, food, cleaning products, and, of course, toilet paper — are seeing record-high demand. Many nonessential retail goods, such as clothing and fashion, are expected to be harder hit.
Social distancing is being mandated by a lot of states, so even if your store remains open (at least, for the time being), social distancing will affect foot traffic and people’s desire to go shopping. In some cases, stores are limiting how many people can enter the premises at the same time to allow for adequate social distancing.
Increase In Online Shopping & Deliveries
Because of social distancing, there has been an upsurge in online shopping and an increased need for curbside pickup or delivery options. Especially as Amazon Prime shipping times increase — Prime delivery times on some items are now as long as a month — this may result in higher demand for smaller retail businesses that offer online sales, as these businesses may be able to provide a level of service that big-box stores are unable to offer right now.
10 Tips To Keep Your Retail Business Strong During COVID-19
If your retail business can adapt to these strange new times, you have the potential to keep it going strong throughout this crisis.
Create An Online Store
If your retail store is strictly brick and mortar, now is a great time to add an online store. Plus, there are many easy eCommerce platforms out there to get a site up and running quickly. Retailers should also promote their online buying and shipping options for their store (if you’re still open), especially on social media and via email marketing. Learn more about how to start an online store by checking out the resources listed below.
The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It
Shopping Cart Comparison
Offer Personal Shoppers
There are a couple of ways your business can use personal shoppers to deliver products to customers without them having to enter your store. The first way is for your employees to act as personal shoppers for customers by taking their orders online or over the phone and personally delivering them. The second way is to use a third-party delivery service, such as Shipt or Instacart. Note that third-party delivery services may charge a fee and only deliver for certain industries.
Third-Party Delivery Services For Restaurants & Retailers: Your Best Options
Add Curbside Pickup
In addition to or instead of delivery services, it may make sense for your retail business to offer a curbside pickup option for those who don’t want to go out to shop. Customers order online, choose a “pick up in-store” option, and when they arrive at the store, an employee comes out and delivers the order. Some big-name retail stores that have implemented curbside pickup options include Target, DICK’s Sporting Goods, Books-a-Million, and DSW.
Create Subscription Boxes
Subscription boxes are a great way to supplement income and increase brand awareness. Mail may be one of the few ways people can still buy (nonessential) things in the near-term, and subscription boxes will likely become even more popular as consumers remain more or less stuck at home. Plus, subscriptions can help your business guarantee regular monthly income.
How To Start A Subscription Box: 7 Steps To Launch A Thriving Business
Appeal To Consumer Needs
As shoppers are encouraged to self-isolate and practice social distancing, think about what your business can offer during this difficult time. For example, art stores can provide drawing kits for kids home from school; gyms can provide online workout recordings; travel companies can offer discounts for planning 2021 vacations; landscaping business can build indoor garden starter kits; beauty stores can offer sample boxes or at-home spa kits.
Host Virtual Events
For retailers that have strong communities, consider hosting virtual events on Facebook or another online video platform. For example, board game stores can host virtual competitions; bookstores can create a weekly book club discussion (and customers can pay for that book to be shipped to them); cooking supply stores can offer weekly bakeoffs or demonstrations (and customers can buy kits with the tools and ingredients they’ll need).
Get Creative With Marketing
Even in these trying times, you can still market your business and the products and specials your retail business is offering. You can grab customers’ attention using email, text, and social media —Â while appealing to consumer needs and respecting social distancing guidelines. Read up on what other small and large brands are doing and start thinking about what you can offer that no one else is. Even if you’re brand-new to email marketing, now is a great time to start.
How To Create A Successful Email Marketing Strategy
Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know
Communicate With Customers
Be clear with customers about your hours and how you’re handling the virus in general. Even if you have to close your business, it’s good to let people know, and if you are able to reopen your shop, make sure you tell customers about that too. Let your fans know if you’re offering curbside pickup, deliveries, subscription boxes, a percentage of your sales donated to a charity to fight COVID, or anything else. Again, you can use email marketing for this purpose.
In addition to trying to create sales, another huge part of successful cash flow management and managing a financially strong business is limiting unnecessary expenses. Sadly, this may mean cutting your payroll or closing locations. You might also consider reducing your interest costs by consolidating all of your outstanding debt into one low-interest loan and putting any new business expenses on a 0% APR credit card.
How To Use (& How To Avoid Using) Business Credit During The Coronavirus Pandemic
Consolidating Small Business Debt: A Complete Guide
0% APR Credit Card Offers: The Complete Guide
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Some businesses might just need a helping hand to get through this rough patch instead of closing down altogether. A couple of examples of how you could obtain assistance include starting a business crowdfunding campaign or applying for an SBA Disaster Loan. Refer to the list below for resources on financial assistance and loans — many loans are 0% interest right now.
Small Business Loan Resources & Guides For Businesses Affected By The Coronavirus
What SBA Disaster Loans Are & How To Qualify For One
Can’t Make Your Credit Card Payments Due To The Coronavirus? These Credit Card Issuers Are Offering Assistance
The Fed Has Cut Interest Rates To A 12-Year Low: Here’s What It Could Mean For Your Business
Keeping Your Employees & Customers Safe From Coronavirus
If your brick-and-mortar retail store is open in any capacity, you need to educate yourself and your employees about how coronavirus is spread. Then, you can provide helpful tips on how to keep the virus from spreading to employees and customers in a store environment.
Encourage Good Health & Hygiene
Educate your employees and enforce proper hygiene practices to ensure they follow the necessary health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of disease. This includes both cleaning and employee health practices. Specifically, make sure you are following the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Revisit Sick Leave Policies
Make sure you and your employees understand your store’s sick leave policy. Update the policy if needed and help employees feel stable in their income so that they can stay home if need be. To prepare for a probable increase in employee absences, you might consider cross-training employees so that your store can continue to operate even if key employees are not present. Again, you can find advice on employee sick leave policies in the CDC’s official COVID-19 guidance for businesses.
Have Clear Communication
People are understandably worried. Customers and employees want to know what you as a business owner are doing to keep them safe, so be sure to communicate clearly about the measures your business is taking and help ease those fears. You should help employees, in particular, feel safe and hopeful during this time, maybe consider giving your employees a way to give back or options to hold their job if they choose not to come to work right now.
Keep Calm & Sell On
This is a tough time for the retail industry, for America, and the world overall. Nevertheless, you will make it through this; we all will. By exercising patience, diligence, and ingenuity, retailers can keep their business safe, operational, and even profitable during these unprecedented — but temporary — times. Again, eCommerce will play an especially vital role for retailers in the age of social distancing and beyond. While brick-and-mortar retail will likely not disappear entirely, now is the perfect time to augment your online sales options.
Do you want to read more about how small businesses can manage during the coronavirus pandemic? Refer to our hub dedicated to this subject: Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The post The Business Owner’s Retail Guide To Surviving The Coronavirus appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
As we all gear up to face the grim reality of the global coronavirus pandemic, businesses around the world are confronting the enormity of the challenges ahead of them. The need to minimize the risk faced by vulnerable public-facing employees is particularly important.
Thankfully, there are steps many businesses can take to reduce in-person contact. In this article, we’ll discuss ways your business can minimize such exposure by accepting remote payments — both online and over the phone.
Is Cash Still Safe To Handle?
Cash is an efficient means of germ transmission even in the best of times. A Swiss study from 2008 found that, in some circumstances, flu viruses can survive up to 17 days on the surface of cash. Considering the heightened dangers we currently face, preparing your business to accept cashless and card-not-present transactions has never been more crucial.
We understand that the nature of certain types of businesses will preclude the possibility of everyone doing this at scale, but there are ways to accept payments from your customers that don’t involve the exchange of cash or even a credit/debit card.
You Can Still Accept Payments From Customers Who Aren’t Present At Your Place Of Business
If you’re considering shutting down your office and switching your business to delivery-only, know that you can get paid without having to send out invoices. Thankfully, you can accept payments both online and, via a virtual terminal, over the phone. If you haven’t gone this route in the past, we’ll explain how it works.
Of course, accepting these kinds of payments presents security challenges along with logistical challenges.
Security Concerns For Card-Not-Present Transactions
When accepting payments remotely, you’re responsible for ensuring the security of your customers’ payment information. The key to achieving this is to make sure that your payment system is PCI-compliant.
Merchant Maverick does have a complete guide to PCI compliance — what it means and how to bring your business into compliance — but we’ll summarize the main points here.
PCI compliance refers to a set of standards established in 2006 to ensure the security of all customer payment information that is sent and received online
Some of the practices that will help ensure your business remains PCI compliant include:
Use only PCI-validated payment gateway software
Don’t store any sensitive cardholder data
Use a firewall on your network and computers
Never use default passwords
Check that your wireless router is password-protected and uses encryption
Check your terminals, PIN pads, and computers to ensure that no one has installed rogue software or “skimming” devices
Educate your employees about security and protecting cardholder data
If you don’t take the steps necessary to protect your customers’ credit card information properly, you could easily suffer a data breach that puts your customers’ finances at risk — a development which would not reflect well on your business and lead to a general loss of trust in your enterprise.
Again, please refer to our PCI compliance guide for more detailed information on how to maintain best practices and keep your customers’ payment data safe from hackers and other bad actors.
Accepting Over-The-Phone Payments
Businesses in certain industries are more likely than others to be familiar with the ins and outs of taking payments over the phone. For instance, restaurants often use POS systems that include a feature for taking orders remotely and processing remote payments. If you operate a restaurant, there’s a good chance that your POS provider offers capabilities that you may not have had reason to explore in the past. Contact your POS provider and ask about the availability of these features if you’re not sure.
Alternatively, many businesses may find that a virtual terminal is their best option for accepting payments over the phone. For those who don’t know, a virtual terminal is a means of accepting credit card payments without the credit card being physically present. They are typically web-based and involve you entering your customers’ credit card information into a secure web page for processing.
Many POS systems and virtual terminals have a vault feature that keeps your customers’ information stored on file for later use. This allows your customers to simply direct you to charge their card on file when making a purchase. Note that this is acceptable from a security standpoint because the information is not stored on your site or your devices. Instead, it is all encrypted and stored with the processor.
Here’s a good primer on card-not-present transactions.
Accepting Online Payments
Paying for goods and services online has become commonplace over the last few decades — although your business may not have experience with how it all works. In this section, we’re going to run through some common scenarios and let you know how to accept online payments in each instance.
Online Restaurant Orders
Most modern restaurant POS software will include online ordering and delivery functionality (along with payment processing, of course). If you have such a system and you haven’t taken advantage of these features yet, contact your POS provider and ask about how you can implement these features. And if you’re trying to sign up for a restaurant POS system, so you can accept payments online, ask the providers in question about payout times. A waiting period of around two days is fairly standard in the industry, though some processors offer faster payouts.
If you’re running a brick-and-mortar establishment and you’re setting up eCommerce for the first time, your existing credit card processor should be able to help you set up your online eCommerce system.
If you find that your current payment processor doesn’t allow you to do what you’d like with respect to online sales, you could always switch to a third-party processor, such as Square or PayPal. Establishing an account with the likes of Square and PayPal is incredibly easy and painless, so while this obviously isn’t an ideal time to go comparison shopping for a new payments provider, the option is there should you want to take advantage of it, and it shouldn’t take up too much of your time.
Invoices & Online Payment Forms
If you’re trying to further reduce the need for in-person exchanges of payment, you can use invoices and payment forms to send custom links to your customers that allow them to enter their credit card information remotely. This has the benefit of being both safer and faster/more efficient than the use of old-fashioned paper invoices and checks.
Here is an informational article that details the invoicing process.
Is Now Really The Time To Switch My Payment Setup?
Clearly, a global pandemic is not an ideal time for any business to be trying to switch up their payment processing system in order to save a few bucks. However, as the established ways of doing business are being upended at a dizzying pace, businesses everywhere will have to adapt in order to both remain viable and protect the health and safety of employees and customers alike. To that end, Merchant Maverick is here to help you adapt your business practices to our new shared reality.
Here is a link to our COVID-19 resource hubÂ — we are adding to our pandemic-related informational resources continuously. Additionally, you may want to read our piece on business interruption insurance.
Furthermore, you can read our Small Business Outbreak & Pandemic Guide: Coronavirus Edition for more on how your business can handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Cloud technology is at once powerful and versatile. When applied to point of sale, the cloud enables business owners to not only sell, but also to optimize their sales using the data these systems effortlessly collect. In just a day’s worth of transactions, your POS has the potential to collect a wealth of information about your sales, your employees, your customers, and the trends that can make or break your business.
There’s a good chance you’re not taking full advantage of even your POS system’s basic data reporting capabilities. Or if you’re shopping around for a new cloud POS, you may be having a hard time sussing out the reporting features of each different POS app.
In this article, I’ll discuss how you can use POS reports to make better decisions concerning your business. Read on to learn how to harness the power of the cloud so you can sell smarter.
Why Your POS Data Is One Of Your Most Valuable Assets
The POS system is a central hub for most brick-and-mortar businesses. Using web-based technology, your POS gathers data about your sales, customers, employees, inventory, and more, and assembles all this information into digestible reports. The business owner or store manager can then access these reports online. POS reporting data can (and should) be used to make important decisions about things like staffing, which products to sell, and when to restock.
The importance of POS reporting becomes abundantly clear when you start shopping for a POS and you see that most systems charge extra for advanced POS reportingÂ capabilities.
With that said, you need to know how to interpret and apply your POS data in order for it to benefit your business.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how you can go about doing this.
How To Effectively Handle POS Data Analysis
POS systems organize raw data about your business into reports, which are typically pretty user-friendly. Still, you need to be organized and methodical about checking these reports in order to make them actionable.
Here are tips for checking your POS data:
Pull End-Of-Day Sales Report(s) Daily: In your daily sales reports, you can typically view things like your total sales, which items sold most, your busiest selling time that day, and other metrics for the day. The exact type of daily sales reports vary by POS, but your POS should have at least some kind of general daily sales or closeout report you can check to get a general overview of how the day went.
Pull “X” & “Z” ReportsDaily: The “Z” report shows a more detailed breakdown of your daily sales and is run at the end of each day; the “X” report shows that same data but can be run at any time of day to show a current snapshot of the day’s sales so far. These reports show detailed sales breakdowns by category, tender type, employee, as well as taxes, gratuities, gift card spends, voided items, and more. Importantly, the Z report will let you know how much cash should be in your register at the end of the day.
Pull Employee Reports Daily: See who worked that day and what they did. Checking daily will help you spot any discrepancies or suspicious patterns, and also make sure all employees have clocked out by EOD.
Check Payments Report Daily: You need to send your credit card transactions to your merchant services company daily in order to get paid. POS systems with integrated payment processing should automatically batch your transactions each day, and you should be able to view this information in some kind of daily payments report. It’s a good idea to check each day to ensure the batch was sent, and also check daily to make sure your bank deposits are matching your batch totals.
Check Other Reports Periodically & As Needed: POS software offers various other reports, including reports on order histories, stock counts, customer behavior, returns & exchanges, gift cards, discounts, comps, and more. While you don’t need to necessarily check all of your reports every day, it’s good to have this data at your disposal so you can dig deeper when you need to solve a problem—for example, if there is a discrepancy in your daily “Z” report, you might check your comps and discounts reports to see who might have issued a discount and why. Another example is checking your batch history for a certain day if a customer complains they were double-charged.
Pull Your ReportsWeekly, Monthly, & Annually To Identify Trends: In addition to pulling key reports daily, looking at sales and other metrics over longer time periods such as weeks, months, quarters, years, etc., will provide important insights about your business’s performance and help you identify trends over time.
With multi-location businesses, the manager at each location should have access to reports, and there should be a system in place for regularly sharing reports from each branch with other managers and/or the business owner.
POS Web Reporting VS Mobile Dashboards
In recent years, more POS systems have embraced mobile POS reporting, which lets you run reports on a dedicated mobile app. These apps may even show a live view of your sales in real-time. Mobile reporting apps make it convenient to quickly access key information about your business’s performance when you’re at home or anywhere else.
However, POS reporting apps often have a somewhat pared-down version of the reporting suite you’ll find on the web dashboard that you log into from your browser. When evaluating POS systems, find out if it offers mobile reporting, and if so, see how the mobile reporting suite differs from what you’ll see in the web portal.
A couple of examples of POS systems that offer strong mobile reporting apps are ShopKeep and Square, which offer the mobile reporting apps ShopKeep Pocket and Square Dashboard, respectively.
How To Optimize Your Point of Sale Data Collection
To generate accurate reports, business owners need to make sure their POS is accurately gathering data. While POS systems generally make it quite easy to collect data, you’ll still need to do some setup to optimize your data collection. This setup process can be tedious if you just want to get up and running, but it’s super important for data and analysis purposes. Trust me: you’ll thank yourself later.
Implement A Strong Inventory Management System
Inventory reports will only be accurate if you have a good inventory management system in place. For example, all of your inventory must be properly tagged by category. To gather information, you need to generate reports on your business’s profitability, and you’ll also need to enter the raw cost of each item.
Depending on your needs and the strength of the POS system’s inventory tracking feature, it may benefit you to also use an outside inventory management software program that integrates with your POS. Which brings us to the next item…
Make Sure Your POS “Talks To” Your Other Business Software
Whether you use software for inventory management, accounting, email marketing, or any other business function, it’s important that this software integrates seamlessly with your POS. Otherwise, you won’t be able to transfer data between systems. For example, many businesses use QuickBooks and thus need a POS that integrates with QuickBooks. Or, you may operate a Shopify online store and need a POS that integrates with Shopify to sync your in-store and online sales.
Sometimes, you may have to pay an extra fee for POS software integrations, especially if you need to hire a developer to create a custom integration. Depending on cost and other considerations, you might consider switching to a POS system’s in-house add-on for accounting, eCommerce, etc. (if they offer an add-on for that function).
Customize Your Reports To Track KPIs
Your business should have key performance indicators (KPIs) that relate to your goals for your company. Measuring and tracking these KPIs helps you focus on the data that matters most for your business. For example, if you have the goal of increasing the amount each customer spends, you’ll have a KPI for average spending.
Some POS systems let you create custom reports which can be helpful for tracking your unique KPIs—Square is one example of a POS with this capability. Even if your system doesn’t let you generate custom reports, you may be able to customize your reporting dashboard to show the reports that relate to your KPIs, or modify your reporting settings to send you those reports at your preferred frequency.
Train Employees On Best Practices
Not just cashiers, but everyone on your team needs to be trained on best practices to accurately collect data using the POS. This could mean making sure your sales team is trained on how to onboard customers to the loyalty program, training warehouse workers on how to properly tag inventory, etc.
The first step of training your staff is for the manager themselves to become well acquainted with all POS functions and how it collects data. Once you know what data the POS collects, you’ll be able to advise your staff accordingly.
6 Clever Ways To Use Your POS Data To Firm Up Your Bottom Line
What can you do with reports to actually increase sales or lower operating costs? Here are some ways to put that data to work:
Get Smart About Staffing: Check employee management reports to see if you’re adequately staffing for busy times or overstaffing during slow times. You can also gauge the performance of individual employees to see who earns the most commissions, who comps the most items, and other key metrics.
Optimize Your Outlets: Even if they’re only across town, two locations of your store or restaurant can have very different customer bases, so it makes sense to individualize your offerings at each location. With multi-location POS reporting, you can compare data between different locations to customize inventory and staff to meet each store’s needs.
Stock Only What Sells: Run reports to see what hasn’t sold and what’s selling like hotcakes. Then you can clear out the non-selling product for a more popular item. You can also use reports to see what items may sell best during certain times of the year and make stocking decisions based on that data.
Retain Your Customers: POS systems with CRM reporting help you maintain relationships with your customers. For example, you might check reports for lapsed customers and offer them a coupon to win them back. Or, identify your top customers and reward them with an exclusive offer. If your POS has a loyalty program, you can also track the success of any offers and coupons you send out.
Find & Fix What’s Gone Wrong: Theft, errors, and mismanagement are all problems that can be detected using POS reports. When you encounter a problem, there’s a good chance that the solution lies in the data. For example, if you see a lot of voids, this may indicate that your staff needs more training on how to use the POS system.
Motivate Your Team: Sharing information from your POS reports can be a useful motivational tool in a team setting. For example, you might have a meeting to show everyone how much sales increased last month — and then provide an incentive to sell even more this month! The employee insights from your POS reports can also prove useful for individual performance reviews, as they provide information on what the employee is doing well, and perhaps things they can improve upon.
Your Point of Sale Data Can Make Your Business More Successful, So Use It!
Point of sale data can tell you a lot about what’s going on at your business. From employees’ daily activity to inventory stock counts and long-term sales trends, POS reports put actionable information right at your fingertips. To better acquaint yourself with the different types of POS reports, I recommend reading the Top 5 Standard POS Reports and POS Reports: Getting Beyond The Basics.
If you’re ready to go get yourself a fancy new POS system that has better reporting tools, we have a plethora of information on the best POS systems for your buck. Here are some additional resources to help you find a POS system with excellent reporting:
Best Retail POS Systems
Best Restaurant POS Systems
Best Salon POS Systems
Best POS Systems For Bars & Nightclubs
Best POS Systems For Food Trucks
Best Coffee Shop POS Systems
Best Liquor Store POS Systems
Have a question about POS data or point of sale systems with strong reporting? Leave me a message in the comments and I’ll get back to you.
The post Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Every day, in areas all over the world, small businesses are disrupted by emergencies and disasters. Regardless of how safe you feel, no one can predict the future with one-hundred-percent certainty. If your business does not already have an emergency plan in place, you should make that a priority on your to-do list. Do it now, today. I mean it: As soon as you are done reading this article.
Chances are high that at some point in the life of your business, you will encounter an emergency, and if you have a plan, you can prevent panic and major turmoil in your life and the lives of your employees.
Our current news cycle is dedicated to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, and employers and employees alike have anxiety about what might happen should the virus spread. The impact has the potential to be severe and businesses everywhere are bracing for disruption. It is not unwise or irrational to develop a plan for your company, even in this early stage. Worries of a global pandemic are already impacting consumer/employee/business choices.
In our house, I am the resident emergency preparedness expert. I was a resident of Japan during the 2003 SARS pandemic, and after an ill-advised trip through Asia at the height of the spread, I was quarantined for 10 days while I self-monitored for symptoms. That event, combined with my experience writing a fictional exploration of a viral pandemic, has led me to become more pro-active about emergency planning.
Right now, you should be addressing employee and customer concerns about the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Should pandemic levels rise within your community, you need an informed plan and emergency procedures in place. It may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
How will this affect me?
What could this look like long term?
What should I do to prepare?
If you don’t know where to start, that’s okay. Wash your hands, take a deep breath (not too deep if people around you are coughing), and follow me as I take you into my world: You are now a small business owner during a global viral outbreak and you have a plan.
Outbreak, Epidemic, Pandemic: What’s The Difference?
First things first. There are key differences between an outbreak, an epidemic, and a pandemic, and each impact your business differently.
Outbreak:Â According to the World Health Organization, an outbreak occurs any time a disease spreads more often than statistically normal in a specific geographic area.
Epidemic:Â An epidemic is the wide-spread outbreak of disease across multiple communities in a short period of time.
Pandemic:Â The next level is a pandemic, which is a a global outbreak that impacts communities world-wide. (Pan, from your Greek roots studying days, means “everyone”.)
At the moment, COVID-19 is in the outbreak category and people with the virus are confined into specific geographic areas.
Even if your small business is not directly affected by sick employees/sick customers/school closures, your supply line might be slowed or halted depending on what happens throughout the world. If you live close to an outbreak area, expect an economic impact (for better or worse, depending on the services you offer).
The best thing to do right now is to keep yourself informed from reputable sources, and do your best to stay healthy — not just for your sake, but for the most vulnerable in our communities who depend on our health for their health.
Short-Term Strategies You Can Implement Right Now
It’s important to plan and prepare for a potential pandemic, but adopting best practices right now in our personal and professional lives may be able to prevent a pandemic, and that — at this moment– is the aim. Your business decisions should be informed with current and accurate knowledge and not driven from a place of blind panic. Panic helps no one. So, don’t panic, and do these things:
Open Lines Of Communication & Be Transparent
Worry breeds gossip, and gossip, rumors, and conjectures are never helpful, especially in a crisis. The best way to prevent gossip is to open up the lines of communication and be fully transparent. If you don’t have an emergency plan, yet, be upfront about it. Point your employees and contractors to reputable sources of information and do what you can to mitigate panic. Talk to HR about developing a streamlined source of communication for worried employees. Be honest. Be empathetic (people are worried). Be proactive, not reactive.
Develop An Emergency Plan
No matter what the emergency, your business needs a plan. For the COVID-19 outbreak, create contingency plans for what happens if:
You or your employees become ill
Work events are canceled
You cannot receive supplies because of closed borders.
Already, conferences and summits are shuttering across the globe, and there will be a widespread economic impact if the virus continues to spread. Prepare for it, but not with worry: Prepare with methodical readiness.
Use this time to address your company-wide emergency preparedness for any emergency. If you have a brick and mortar store and the lights go out, do you have flashlights for your employees? Where are your fire routes posted? Is your business insurance updated? If you don’t have insurance, look into the options you have for protecting your business in a disaster or emergency. Business Interruption Insurance might cover your losses in the event of a pandemic; check with your insurance company.
Where should employees receive communication about business developments? Who should employees talk to if they are worried about their health plan or sick leave?
Your emergency plan is a living document, plan to revisit it often.
Do Your Part To Limit Community Spread
Community health is important. The COVID-19 virus is seemingly caused by close contact with an infected person who may or may not be symptomatic. Symptomatic employees should stay home and self-isolate. If you are able, allow your employees to work remotely, conduct business meetings in GoogleHangouts or via Skype, and embrace people’s choices regarding their own health. (I’m looking at you, guy who wanted to shake my hand and got all awkward when I stumbled away mumbling about not knowing you.)
This is a complicated and nuanced topic, but at the moment we need to exercise caution and allow the flexibility for workers to stay home without penalty if they are sick or need to care for someone who is sick.
Another thing to consider regarding community spread is to rethink what you ask customers to touch/engage with. While at the mall yesterday, my child played with an iPad on display, and ten-seconds after he vacated the device, an employee was there to clean the screen. (I also had my own child wash his hands, too.) I asked about the policy: They had a pretty strict cleaning policy in place prior to COVID-19 and wiping down touched surfaces happens regularly and quickly–screens are germy places. How often and how deeply are you cleaning community areas? Make a plan.
What If My City Is Quarantined?
Quarantine can be an emotionally challenging experience: I speak from my own past. In my situation, I was under house-quarantine with instructions to monitor my health. Every day, someone from my place of employment brought me treats, groceries, or get-well notes, but the boredom took a toll. The first few days were fun and I watched marathons of the X-Files. But by the time I arrived at day 10, I was desperate for human connection and freedom.
A city-wide quarantine could happen if a COVID-19 outbreak needs containment, and that decision would certainly alter any attempts to continue “business as usual.” Currently, the quarantine for COVID-19 is a mandatory 14 days in isolation. This might be one of your worst-case scenario events to plan or prepare for. Could your business still operate during a quarantine? Better yet, is there a way your small business could help during a quarantine? What does that look like? (Small businesses that can deliver goods and services might see a business increase, for example.)
We don’t know what is going to happen at the moment, so the only thing you can do is prepare and have a plan in place for quarantine. Expect losses and disruptions, prepare for them, and communicate wholly with your staff.
Why Pandemic Planning Is Important For Your Business
One hot summer day, when my kids were very little, I packed us up for a long walk to a local park. Inside our stroller, I packed a giant first aid kit and some snacks. It wasn’t until we were about halfway to our destination and my youngest said he was thirsty that I realized I didn’t bring water. We didn’t need the 100 bandaids. We needed water.
If you haven’t planned effectively for the emergencies or disasters that might occur at your business, you could be left adrift in the middle of a crisis without the right tools. Pandemic planning is important because, well, here we are! This is the current fear and it’s a statistically relevant concern.
However, any type of emergency planning is necessary for your small business. Explore business insurance, look for ways to reduce potential community spread, have answers for worried employees, and be honest about the impacts an emergency might have on the business.
Think about your geographic area and prepare for the emergency/disaster that might occur and ramp up your plans. Whether it’s an earthquake, flood, tornado, hurricane, man-caused disaster, or pandemic, your business should have a plan. You must communicate that plan and ease the worries of those you employ, serve, and meet in the community. In an emergency, we often learn that we are all in this together.
The post Small Business Outbreak & Pandemic Guide: Coronavirus Edition appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
This post originally appeared at Email Blasts: Definition, Examples, & Best Practices via ShivarWeb
Ah, the art of email marketing. Chances are you’ve landed here because you’re looking into sending email blasts as a part of your marketing strategy, and you’re wondering how to do it.
Email can be an incredibly effective way to connect with your customers and improve your business… when used correctly.
When used incorrectly, it can be a surefire way to land in spam (AKA where emails go to die).
So how do you use email blasts effectively for your business? What best practices should you follow?
But before we get there, let’s cover a few of the basics.
What is an email blast, anyway?
An email blast is an email that’s send to a list of subscribers.
Think of the promotional email you get from your favorite online boutique, or those newsletters you subscribe to from your favorite experts. Those are all “email blasts” that are sent out to subscribers who have “opted in” (AKA signed up) to receive content from these brands.
Why are email blasts important?
Email is an incredibly effective way to build deeper connections with your audience and build your business. When your audience opts in to receive emails from you, they’re giving you permission to reach out to them consistently. That’s huge.
Email blasts are also a great way to learn about your audience. You can see which topics your subscribers prefer, which products sell best (and when), and even which segments of your audience are most active.
That being said, when email blasts are used incorrectly, they can be pretty damaging to your business. Spamming customers with promotional content every day, not taking users’ content preferences into account, or even sending poorly written emails can get people to hit unsubscribe or even the dreaded “spam” button.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, let’s review a few key email best practices, so you can use email broadcasts effectively to connect with your subscribers and grow your business.
Email Blast Best Practices
Focus on Benefits
When you send an email, you know what you’re offering customers. But your readers don’t have a clue. Even if you write a great subject line, that still doesn’t get to the value of what you have to offer.
Too often, email campaigns revolve around features, without ever communicating the benefit these features have to the customer, which is key in the why. Take a look at the email from Zenfolio:
The 50% off discount is amazing, but what’s the benefit to me aside from saving money? Why should I take advantage of this deal? Is it because I’m a photographer who needs a platform to showcase my photos? Do I have a website already, but Zenfolio gives me more capabilities? Will it help me establish my brand more this year?
Now, take a look at this example from General Assembly:
This General Assembly email starts off by letting me know the benefit right away. A Software Engineering Immersive can help me back sure I’m in demand, always. I can use these skills to differentiate myself in a crowded tech industry — how neat!
Remember that your audience gets a ton of emails. If you want yours to stand out among the hundreds that come in daily, then you’ll need to make sure the content is something your audience actually understands the value of what they’re receiving. And it’s your job to articulate that value.
Think Quality over Quantity
Yes, you should be talking to your subscribers consistently. But that doesn’t mean you need to be sending them daily or even weekly emails.
The key to using email blasts effectively is to think quality over quantity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to email frequency. What works for a massive retailer like Nordstrom may not work for a local dentist’s office.
It’s up to you to define how frequently you should email your customers. Here’s a few questions to get you started:
How often can you realistically send out quality content? Every week? Every other week? Once a month?
What does previous data tell you? Have your open rates been impacted when you changed frequently? Have you seen an increase in unsubscribes when you email more frequently?
If you’re just starting with sending emails, set a schedule and stick to it. See how your content is performing. Are people opening your emails consistently? Are they clicking through to take the next step? Or are they unsubscribing in droves? Use the data to make a decision about increasing or decreasing frequency.
Write Better Subject Lines
Think of your subject line like the first impression on a date. It’s the conversation opener — the thing that’s going to determine if you move forward or keep on looking.
Subject lines determine whether your audience will open your email or not, so learning how to write effective subject lines is key.
For example, take a look at this subject line from The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival…
Not exactly something that stands out in the sea of emails in my inbox.
On the other hand, look at this example from Neville Medhora:
It’s a simple question, but it gets me curious. Which headline is better? I’m opening that email.
Side note — Neville has a pretty nifty subject line generator. Check it out to learn how to write better subject lines.
Segment Your Audience
Not all of your subscribers are going to want the same thing, which is where segmentation comes in handy. Segmenting your audience simply means dividing them into various lists.
For example, say you’re an online retailer that sells homemade pet products. Not all of your shoppers are looking for the same thing. Some may be interested in your dog collars, others your homemade cat treats, and others your bedazzled leashes.
By segmenting your audience, you can create campaigns that speak specifically to each audience’s wants and needs.
But keep in mind that you don’t just have to segment audience by wants/needs. Check out MailChimp’s post about the effects of different list segmentations to see a variety of options.
Personalize Your Email Blasts
Personalization isn’t just about using a dynamic tag to insert someone’s name. It’s about establishing relevancy to your reader throughout the entire email.
You can do this by reminding your reader why they’re receiving your email. As consumers, we get hundreds of emails a day. Your audience is far more likely to engage with your message if you remind them why they’re receiving it in the first place.
For example, take this email from “Be Yourself,” a collection on Medium. This isn’t the first email in the series, but the second.
Check out the second P.P.S.
You can also personalize your email by being purposeful about point-of-view. By using second person (i.e. we, you), you put the focus on the the reader and show that you have an established relationship.
*Hint: use more you’s than we’s, like this example from American Express.
Additional Email Blast Inspiration
Looking for extra email blast inspiration? Here are a few more that we love:
This email blast makes great use of multiple calls to action (without it being overwhelming). Shoppers can pick their category directly from the email, and it also gives Huckberry great data to use in future segmentation.
This push for their referral program is creative and catchy. Notice their copywriting style — it’s fun without sacrificing clarity.
Industrious does a great job of speaking to the benefits of signing up for their office space instead of just focusing on the features. This snippet was taken from an email blast about saving $500 when you sign with their office space, and added great context into why you’d sign up for Industrious to begin with.
This is a great all around email example from Adobe, announcing their new Creative Cloud update. From the straightforward subject line to their short copy and clear call to action, it’s simple, effective, and gets me on board quickly!
Conclusion & Next Steps
Email blasts can be a great way to increase engagement with your clients, build trust, and get more sales. But only if you keep customer experience in mind.
Remember that your audience has given you permission to be in their inbox, and it’s permission they can take away if you don’t provide value, keep frequency in mind, and create an overall enjoyable experience.
Remember to look at your data to make informed decisions about what to change in your email campaigns. Check out open rates for feedback on subject lines, click through rates for feedback on your content and copy, and unsubscribes as a general indicator of whether you’re emailing too much / giving content people don’t want.
Test, improve, and test again. And always keep YOUR email habits in mind. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want done in your own inbox.
Itâs hard to overstate the significance of the impact that eCommerce has had on the quality of our lives here in the early 21st Century. While in the past, consumers were limited to the choices provided by their local retailers and the closest big-box store, today anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a credit card can obtain nearly any product or service they want from just about anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, it also makes it much easier for criminals to steal goods and services if they have access to these same tools.
Online payment fraud is simply any false or illegal transaction committed via the internet. It deprives the victim of goods, services, funds, or sensitive information â often without them being aware that this has happened to them until much later. In many cases, there will actually be two victims: the consumer whose information was stolen, and you, the merchant. Online fraud can involve not only fraudulent transactions, but also lost or stolen merchandise, or falsified requests for a refund. Fraud can be committed through email, instant messaging, or online auction sites. It can also occur through text messaging or even phone calls.
One common misconception among small business owners that weâd like to clear up right now is that they arenât as lucrative a target for cybercriminals as the larger retailers, and therefore donât need to be as thorough in protecting themselves from fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, this âit will never happen to meâ attitude can make it far more likely that itwillhappen to you sooner or later.
The truth is that large businesses are a âhard target,â because they have the resources to fully defend themselves against fraud. Smaller companies lack these resources, and thus often present a much easier target to cyberthieves. A cybercriminal knows that he or she can make more money by exploiting several inadequately protected smaller businesses than by wasting time trying to break into a fully-defended larger business. Fortunately, there are many tools available to even the smallest companies that can dramatically lessen the likelihood that youâll become a victim of online fraud.
In this article, weâll discuss the various types of online payment fraud, whether itâs committed via credit card, debit card, eCheck/ACH, or any other payment method. Weâll also present some sobering statistics about the growth of online fraud in recent years. Weâll discuss the importance of having a strategy to deal with fraud, and describe the many âred flagsâ that can indicate a fraudulent payment. Finally, weâll explain the numerous tools available to you that will help to protect your business from fraud. While the risk of becoming a cybercrime victim can never be completely eliminated, the use of all of these tools can protect your business and dramatically reduce the chance that youâll experience a loss due to online payment fraud.
What Is Credit Card Fraud? Eight Types You Need To Beware Of
Credit cards are usually the easiest and most convenient way for consumers to pay for their online purchases, so itâs no surprise that the majority of incidences of online fraud involve credit cards. However, other payment methods (including debit cards, eCheck/ACH payments, etc.) are just as susceptible to being used fraudulently if the consumerâs account information is compromised. Hereâs a brief rundown of the eight most-commonly recognized types of online payment fraud:
Account Takeover Fraud (Phishing)
Youâve probably already heard of phishing (more formally known as account takeover fraud). This is when a hacker obtains a victimâs online account information and uses it to make a fraudulent purchase. Unfortunately, phishing attacks often work by convincing the victim to voluntarily disclose this information. While a hacker might not break into your credit card account directly, they can sometimes get into other accounts for major online shopping sites and gain access to your stored payment method information.
Card Testing Fraud
Sometimes thieves will âtestâ stolen credit card information by attempting to make a small, insignificant purchase. If the transaction is approved, they go on to make larger, more lucrative purchases with the valid card information. Sometimes thieves will file chargebacks on each of these purchases. At around $15-25 per chargeback investigation, this can quickly get very expensive for merchants, with the cost in chargeback fees vastly exceeding the value of the stolen merchandise.
Sometimes, a cybercriminal doesnât have to steal someone elseâs credit card information to commit fraud. With âfriendlyâ fraud, a thief will use their personal credit card to make a purchase, then file a chargeback, claiming that the goods were never delivered. They get the goods for free after the issuing bank refunds their money, and youâre out the cost of the products and a chargeback fee.
A common scheme is for a thief to order a pizza, then file a chargeback after itâs been delivered. In this case, the thief has literally eaten the evidence! Unfortunately, âfriendlyâ fraud is becoming more common as thieves have learned to take advantage of consumer-friendly policies in the processing industry. (And it’s not just thieves who commit friendly fraud — unhappy customers do too!)
Merchant Identity Fraud
Sometimes, the merchant is the criminal. Merchant identity fraud occurs when hackers present themselves as a legitimate business. They then solicit funds from unknowing victims or offer goods or services that are never delivered. While merchant services providers have gotten better at sniffing out this sort of activity, itâs still possible for a cybercriminal to sign up with a legitimate payment processing service and collect money from unknowing victims. If the hackers cannot be identified and held responsible, the merchant services provider will end up being held liable for the losses. This is one reason why a prospective merchant services provider will go to great lengths to investigate the nature of your business before approving you for an account.
Sometimes cyber thieves donât want a particular product â they just want cash. Buying something online with stolen credit card information and then returning it for a refund thatâs issued to the thief is an easy and increasingly popular way to score some quick cash at someone elseâs expense.
True fraud is more commonly known as identity theft, and itâs probably the form of online fraud that youâre most familiar with. This type of fraud involves the classic scenario where a hacker illegally obtains a victimâs online account information (i.e., username and password) or their credit card information, and then uses that information to make purchases. They get the goods, and the victim gets the bill. Because issuing banks have made it relatively easy for victims of this type of fraud to dispute transactions they didnât make, liability for the illicit purchase usually falls on you, the merchant.
This form of fraud is also known as âpagejacking.â Sophisticated hackers are able to redirect traffic from your website onto a similar site that theyâve set up, where theyâre able to obtain personal information or credit card data from unsuspecting customers.
Wire Transfer Fraud
This form of fraud involves the use of the banksâ wire transfer services for fraudulent purposes. A cybercriminal will pose as a legitimate business or government agency, then contact a victim and attempt to induce them to send money to a fraudulent address. These types of solicitations usually occur over the telephone, but can also occur online through email. Common scams of this nature typically involve telling the victim that they have won a large sum of money, but need to pay a âfeeâ to have it released.
The State Of eCommerce Fraud
Ever since eCommerce began in the 1990s, online fraud has been a problem. Online merchants can never have access to a customerâs physical credit or debit card, relying instead on account information such as card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV codes to authenticate transactions. While this information is sufficient to confirm the authenticity of an account, itâs never enough to firmly identify that the customer making the purchase is indeed the true owner of that account. Although many steps have been taken over the years to improve the security of online transactions, a 100% foolproof solution has yet to emerge.
In 2015, credit and debit cards with EMV (Eurocard, Mastercard, and Visa) or âchipâ technology were introduced in the United States. Although the transition from the older magstripe technology to EMV hasnât been very smooth, it has resulted in a dramatic decrease in card-present fraud due to the encryption features available with EMV. Retail credit card fraud rates dropped a whopping 82% between 2015 and 2018, and continue to be very low.
Unfortunately, the drop-off in card-present fraud has resulted in a dramatic increase in card-not-present fraud since EMV cards were introduced. Put simply, criminals whoâve been shut out of opportunities to commit retail fraud are now setting their sights on the lucrative (and still relatively vulnerable) eCommerce market instead. In 2016 alone, online fraud rates rose 33%. In 2017 and 2018, they rose an additional 30% per year.
According to LexisNexis, online fraud cost the eCommerce community 2.38% of total revenue in 2018 alone, and this rate continues to rise. Online fraud is expensive on both a per-transaction basis and as a percentage of total revenue. As of this year, the average online fraud incident costs a merchant $408 in lost goods or services. In comparison, the average legitimate online transaction is only $213. However, the cost of fraud far exceeds just the value of the stolen merchandise or services. On average, a merchant will suffer a loss of over $1100 per incident of fraud due to chargeback fees and other expenses incurred in fighting the chargeback.
Why Not Having A Strategy To Deal With Credit Card Fraud Could Put You Out Of Business
Itâs far too easy for merchants to stoically accept that an occasional fraudulent transaction is just part of the âcost of doing business.â However, the statistics above show that total losses due to fraud can far exceed the cost of the fraudulent transaction itself. Chargeback fees, expenses incurred in investigating and fighting the chargeback, lost shipping costs, and other expenses can add up to far more than just the amount of a fraudulent order.
As a merchant, you should also consider that a single incident of fraud can lead to further fraudulent transactions. Once a cybercriminal does a âtest runâ and determines that youâre relatively unprotected, you can and should anticipate that youâll be subject to many follow-on attempts to defraud your business. If you suffer a fraudulent transaction â even a very small one â itâs imperative that you identify the shortcoming in your security procedures that led to the incident and immediately take steps to strengthen your defenses before the cybercriminals try again.
Suffering from fraud can also lead to the loss of your merchant account, and with it the ability to accept credit and debit cards. Fraudulent transactions inevitably lead to chargebacks, and too many chargebacks over time may cause your provider to close your merchant account â often without prior warning. If this happens, you might be able to get a high-risk merchant account from a different provider, but these accounts are much more expensive than traditional low-risk accounts. If all of your sales are online, however, being without the capability to accept credit or debit cards for a significant length of time can quickly put you out of business altogether.
Six Red Flags That Can Signal Online Credit Card Fraud
Any online transaction can potentially be fraudulent, but some transactions should raise your suspicions more than others. Unusual transactions should be scrutinized more carefully than others before being approved and processed. While not constituting conclusive proof of fraud, the following âred flagsâ indicate a higher probability of fraud and should merit further investigation:
Different shipping and billing addresses. Obviously, there are any number of legitimate reasons why a customer would want to ship an order to a different address. However, fraudsters almost always ship orders to somewhere other than their victimâs billing address. Itâs in your best interest to verify the shipping address â just in case.
Multiple orders of the same item. Itâs not out of the ordinary for a customer to order multiple quantities of an item. However, if you see an order for an unusually large number of the same item from an individual customer (not a B2B order), you might want to check it out before you ship anything.
Abnormally large orders. If an order represents a much larger ticket size than what your business normally averages, you should probably confirm that itâs legitimate before processing the transaction and shipping the goods. This not only protects you from fraud, but might also save you from having your merchant account shut down or the transaction held by your processor due to the unusually large ticket size.
Multiple orders to the same shipping address with different payment cards. Again, we have to emphasize that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why a customer might want to do this instead of just putting all orders on the same card. However, itâs a hallmark of fraudulent activity and you should definitely make an inquiry with the customer before processing the orders.
Unexpected international orders. If your business normally only processes orders in your home country, a sudden order that needs to be shipped to a foreign country should get your attention and warrant further inquiry before approval. As weâll see below, some countries have significantly higher rates of online fraud than others.
Velocity attacks. A velocity attack occurs when a hacker makes multiple attempts to run different credit card numbers in rapid succession. Often using bots, the idea is to keep trying until a number is found that works. While this is obviously fraudulent, a customer whoâs having a hard time typing in their credit card number correctly can resemble a velocity attack.
How To Prevent Credit Card Fraud: 19 Tools For Detecting & Preventing Fraudulent Transactions
If the above information has you convinced that thereâs nothing you can do to prevent online fraud from impacting your business, donât worry. There are plenty of tools â both manual and automatic â that can flag suspicious transactions for you and lower the risk of a fraudulent transaction slipping through. While itâs not possible to ensure 100% total protection, using all of the tools described below will give you the best level of protection available today. Be aware, however, that this list is not inclusive. Processors are continually working to develop new anti-fraud tools, and your provider might have other services available to help secure your account than just the ones listed below.
Use a verified merchant services provider. Although all providers claim to offer a complete suite of automated tools and features to protect against fraud, some are more effective than others. Look for good reviews (like ours!) and watch out for complaints from other merchants regarding poor account security. Youâll also want to determine whether a prospective provider offers anti-fraud tools as a standard account feature, or if theyâre only available as an optional add-on. While itâs definitely worth paying a little extra for additional security, we generally prefer to see providers offer fraud protection without charging extra for it.
Use manual (human) screening. Both you and your employees should understand how to spot suspicious buying activity that raises one of the âred flagsâ weâve discussed above. In most cases, itâs a better idea to contact the customer directly to verify the order, rather than blocking it automatically and potentially alienating a legitimate shopper.
Use the Address Verification Service (AVS). An AVS mismatch is a strong indicator that the order is fraudulent, as a hacker using stolen payment information is unlikely to know the actual card ownerâs physical address. Most merchant services providers mandate the use of AVS for all eCommerce transactions, so this tool is already part of your merchant account.
Confirm the buyerâs location. Geolocation and IP address verification tools can confirm with reasonable certainty that the customerâs IP address matches the billing and shipping addresses provided. This method of detecting fraud will not be 100% effective if a legitimate customer is placing an order while traveling, but can often catch suspicious transactions in most other circumstances. Unfortunately, some countries have significantly higher rates of online fraud than others. The âusual suspectsâ include countries such as Russia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia. However, other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and even Israel also have high rates of online fraud. Note that âproxy piercingâ technology provides some defense against hackers who intentionally mask their IP address using tools available on the Dark Web.
Use CVV (and CVC) checks. Card Verification Values (CVV) and Card Verification Codes (CVC) are three- or four-digit codes that are printed on the back of all credit and debit cards. Whenever possible, youâll want to obtain and match the cardholderâs code against the value submitted with an order. Unless the card in question has been physically stolen, itâs unlikely that a hacker will have access to this information. As with AVS, many merchant services providers will require the use of CVV/CVC checks before accepting any online transaction.
Use Verified by Visa and 3D Secure. These anti-fraud tools allow customers to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) to authenticate their identity when placing an online order. For more information on these two programs, see our article, What Are Verified By Visa And 3D Secure?.
Use device fingerprinting. Device fingerprinting looks at a computer deviceâs operating system, unique device identification number, and other available information to see if that device has been used to make fraudulent transactions in the past. Device fingerprinting tools are usually available via third-party providers, such as ThreatMatrix.
Use tokenization and encryption. These security measures are now standard features of most modern payment gateways. Both methods protect your customersâ credit card data from being stolen during a legitimate online transaction. The use of tokenization and encryption is an essential step in keeping your merchant account PCI compliant.
Use velocity attack protection tools. As weâve noted above, velocity attacks involve repeated attempts to place an order with different credit card numbers, often with the use of a bot. These types of attacks can be detected and blocked by IP address using payment gateway security tools.
Use biometric identity verification tools. As you might imagine, biometric tools, such as fingerprint readers, are not ordinarily available to eCommerce merchants. However, they can be set up if you allow users to pay on your site using digital wallets, such as Apple Pay on the Web or Google Pay. In this case, the userâs device becomes the biometric tool, using a built-in fingerprint reader or Face ID technology to authenticate the consumerâs identity.
Set flexible refund policies. Buyers are more likely to file a chargeback if they canât return an item due to an overly strict refund policy (i.e., the allowed refund window is too short). You can cut down on âfriendlyâ fraud by giving your legitimate customers a reasonable amount of time to complete a return.
Emphasize order fulfillment. Ensure that all orders ship promptly and verify that theyâve been delivered. Delivery tracking can provide proof that the goods were delivered and received, helping to protect against âfriendlyâ fraud.
Ensure high-quality customer service. Quite frankly, offering poor customer service will increase your risk of fraud as customers become frustrated with doing business with you. Strive to provide the best possible customer service during business hours, and, if you have the resources, offer 24/7 customer service via both telephone and email. After-hours customer service can be outsourced (just in case you like to be able to sleep at night).
Provide high-quality employee training. Employee training goes hand-in-hand with manually screening all orders (see above). You must ensure that all employees who handle orders are adequately trained to spot signs of fraud and know what to do if they see something suspicious. This training needs to be an ongoing process, with frequent refreshers to remind employees of what to look for and to update them on the latest developments in anti-fraud procedures.
Ensure that your merchant account is PCI-compliant. This one is not optional. You must maintain PCI compliance standards to safeguard your customersâ credit card data. Being out of compliance will increase the risk of a data breach, which in turn will result in more incidents of fraud as hackers exploit the data theyâve stolen. Even if you donât suffer a data breach, your merchant account provider will penalize you with a PCI non-compliance fee (on top of whatever theyâre charging you for PCI compliance) for every month that your account is out of compliance. Note that following the proper PCI compliance steps will not completely eliminate the chance of a fraudulent transaction. However, it serves as a strong defense when an incident occurs. The most critical steps in PCI compliance include configuring and using a firewall to secure your website, performing frequent antivirus scans, following good password security measures, and using SSL certificates (i.e., âhttps:â) for your site.
Analyze actual incidents of fraud. If you experience an actual fraudulent transaction, youâll want to go back and determine how it happened and what you can do to make it less likely that it will happen again in the future. If you uncover any weaknesses in your defenses, youâll obviously want to make some changes.
Practice good chargeback mitigation strategies. Chargebacks and fraud are two separate subjects, but they tend to go hand-in-hand in many cases. Youâll want to implement the commonly recognized best practices to prevent chargebacks and successfully defend against them. See our article, The Complete Guide To Preventing And Winning Chargebacks, for more information.
Upgrade to the latest in payment technology. If your business also makes retail sales, youâll want to use EMV-compliant equipment exclusively for accepting credit and debit cards. EMV has been the default standard in the United States for card-present transactions, although there are still many businesses that havenât adopted it and are putting themselves at risk for fraud. NFC payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay) should also be added, if you havenât done so already. NFC is more convenient for consumers and even more secure than either magstripe or EMV payment methods.
Use multiple fraud detection tools. Itâs essential that you donât rely exclusively on any one tool weâve discussed above. Instead, use a layered approach that incorporates firewalls, good password security measures, use of AVS, and CVV/CVC checks to protect your business. Automated fraud scoring tools, such as IP geolocation, AVS, CVV, and device fingerprinting tools can be used together to determine a fraud probability score. You can then set your payment gateway to automatically flag or decline transactions that score high enough to raise a reasonable suspicion of being fraudulent. Also, be sure to re-screen orders that are modified by the customer after being placed, but before the goods have been shipped. At the same time, donât be too trigger-happy when it comes to blocking transactions. Frequently screening out legitimate transactions will frustrate your customers and cost you their business. In an era where anyone can post their opinion of a business online, this could really hurt you in the long run.
The Final Word On Credit Card Fraud Detection
As youâve probably gathered from all the information weâve presented so far, payment fraud is a real and growing threat to your online business. While itâs not possible at this time to build a completely foolproof defense against it, you can minimize your chances of letting a fraudulent transaction slip through by following common-sense practices and implementing the anti-fraud tools weâve discussed above.
Protecting your business from fraud is an ongoing process, as fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to get around the latest anti-fraud measures. They arenât going to give up just because one particular avenue of attack has closed on them, and neither should you. Securing your account is a never-ending effort that will require coordination between you, your employees, and your merchant account provider.
Many of the tools weâve discussed above can be implemented by you as the business owner without the help of other parties. At the same time, a lot of the newer anti-fraud measures available today will require installation and configuration by your merchant services provider or gateway provider.
One thing weâve noted over the course of reviewing dozens of merchant services providers is that they all take payment security and anti-fraud measures very seriously. This includes even the worst providers on the market (of which there are quite a few). The difference is that a low-quality provider will often offer you only the most basic anti-fraud tools, and theyâll usually charge you extra for them. Protecting your account from fraud is extremely important, but you shouldn’t have to pay an unreasonable amount of money for anti-fraud tools â especially when other providers include the same tools as a standard feature with your account.
In evaluating a potential merchant services provider, look carefully at what types of anti-fraud tools they offer, and whether these come with your account. The best providers will include a full range of essential anti-fraud tools with your account, although more specialized services might be offered as an optional add-on for a reasonable fee. Paying a little extra to secure your account against payment fraud is a worthwhile investment, especially considering the potential costs of suffering a data breach or a fraudulent transaction that slips through your defenses. For some recommendations of great merchant services providers that specialize in serving the eCommerce community, check out our article, The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies.
The post How To Detect (And Prevent) Online Credit Card Fraud â And Why You Need A Solid Strategy To Manage Fraud For Your eCommerce Business To Succeed appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.
Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set
Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide
WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.
Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).
In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.
Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.
So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.
Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
What is WooCommerce?
To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.
Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.
And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.
It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.
WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.
WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).
And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –
domain (your address on the Internet)
hosting (where your website files live)
software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)
In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.
Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.
Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.
But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.
That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.
But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.
Pros of WooCommerce
Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.
Long-term Cost & Value
WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.
Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.
WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.
That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.
For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.
But it gets even better for WooCommerce.
Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.
If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.
To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.
For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.
All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.
But it gets even better for WooCommerce.
WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.
Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.
And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.
For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.
If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.
And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.
If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.
Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.
Integration with WordPress
WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.
And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.
This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.
For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.
There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.
The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.
Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.
f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).
Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.
Support from Automattic
Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.
WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.
They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.
Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.
But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.
There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).
But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.
Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.
WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.
Versatility & Compatibility
A few fun facts about WooCommerce –
You can use it to sell memberships
You can use it to sell recurring licenses
You can use it to sell digital goods
You can use it to sell apppointments
You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine
The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.
The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc
It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.
In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.
3rd Party Integrations
WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.
If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.
If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.
Ease of Use & Onboarding
This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.
But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.
When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.
You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).
Control & Customizations
Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.
You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.
You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.
There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.
Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.
Cons of WooCommerce
Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.
Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.
Ease of Use & Onboarding
WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.
There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.
But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.
For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).
For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.
But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.
Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?
Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.
In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.
Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.
But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.
Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.
This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.
Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.
But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*
*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.
Speed & Security
With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.
Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.
WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.
Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.
But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.
For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.
In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.
Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.
It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.
Growth & Scaling
Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.
And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.
This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.
And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.
Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.
But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.
Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.
That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.
Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.
Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.
All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.
If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.
But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.
Potential Long-term Costs
WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.
However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.
One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.
She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.
Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).
Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.
Future of Ecommerce
Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.
Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.
In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.
In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.
Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.
And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.
All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.
However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.
It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.
All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.
There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.
WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins
There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –
Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify
I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.
WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce
I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.
WooCommerce vs. Wix
Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.
WooCommerce vs. Magento
Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.
WooCommerce vs. OpenCart
OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.
WooCommerce vs. Ecwid
Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.
WooCommerce vs. Prestashop
PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.
WooCommerce Review Conclusion
WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –
Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.
If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.
If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.
Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.
The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.
Saying you’re going to start doing “digital marketing” for your business is like saying you’re going to the “Western Hemisphere” when someone asks where you’re going for vacation. Digital marketing is made up of a bunch of marketing concepts, each with their own strategies and purposes.
And if you’re wondering what types of digital marketing you should be using in your business, a bunch of grab-bag tips and techniques won’t help you until you first understand how digital marketing breaks down and exactly how each marketing concept works.
I’ve put together a guide on the different types of digital marketing with examples, uses, and resources so you can evaluate which digital marketing strategies support your goals.
I’ve broken digital marketing into three media types (owned, earned, and paid) to categorize the different marketing concepts.
Let’s dive in!
Owned media is any media or attention that you own and control.
Your website(s), blog, and social media channels are all examples of owned media.
Marketers use it in contrast to Earned or Paid Media where other people control the attention you receive. Successful owned media means that your audience pays attention to you directly rather than via other websites or ads.
SEO stands for search engine optimization — it’s all about getting your website to appear when people search for it / you / related content topics. The world of SEO is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.
For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.
You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.
SEO breaks down into three categories: technical, off-page, and on-page. Technical and on-page SEO are owned media, and off-page SEO is earned media (more on that in a bit!).
Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. This is really about making sure the technical components of your site are up to snuff (no broken links, no multiple versions of your about page, etc).
Seeing it in action: Some of the biggest gains in organic traffic can come from good technical SEO. Bad technical SEO creates problems like this –
A huge technical issue with re-launched sites is link redirects. I’ve helped several clients triple their organic traffic simply by redirecting old URLs to new URLs.
If you’ve ever had difficulty searching large retailers on Google for products…it’s because they are terrible at technical SEO (I’m looking at you Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic…also Nordstrom’s).
Why it’s useful:
I mean… you want Google to be able to evaluate your site, right?! Technical SEO is here to make sure users can find the actual information they’re looking for, and that Google can see all of the great content you’re creating (more on that in a minute).
What’s tough about it:
If you’re using WordPress, a good website builder, or a good hosted ecommerce platform you have the big barriers taken care of.
If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the SEO item worth paying for, especially if you don’t have any technical SEO experience or you are working on a large enterprise scale.
Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom-built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”
What to Learn:
If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.
On-page SEO is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website. It’s about creating targeted content that helps answer your audience’s questions (either through a blog, a newscenter, or targeted landing pages!).
Seeing it in action:
REI is a master at on-page SEO. Check out what happens when I search “stand up paddle boarding”.
REI has created tons of content around various outdoor sports, and they rank in the top of the search results consistently. So while I may not be ready to buy a stand up paddle board, REI is on my radar from the very beginning because of the educational content they’re giving me.
Why it’s useful:
The goal of on-page SEO is to get specific content to appear on Google when someone is searching for it. It should bring in new people AND support sales (and it shouldn’t be keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision).
When done correctly, you can create authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market, and when coupled with off-page SEO (more on that in a minute!), you can drive organic (AKA free) traffic to your site and capture your audience in the “research phase”.
It’s a way to build trust and authority with your ideal clients.
What’s tough about it:
It’s a long game for sure. And, if you’re just getting started, you’re already behind the curve. That’s not to say don’t do it (you should absolutely be creating content that addresses the problems your audience has). But you have to be consistent, research the right keywords that you can compete for, and build some trust with Google in order to get your content to appear in the top level of search results.
*Bonus – listen to Nate debate the merits of focusing on on-page SEO over off-page SEO.
What to learn:
How to use keywords on your website
How to do keyword research
Using title tags and meta descriptions
Using Google Search Console
Finding Content Ideas for SEO
Email marketing has been around for ages. It involves having a list of “subscribers” (people who have opted in to say they want to receive emails from you) and sending them periodic emails with content, promotions, news, etc.
Seeing it in action:
Those promotional emails you get from your favorite retailers? Reminders that your car is due for service? Heck, even promotions from your credit card companies!
Yep… they’re all a part of email marketing. Here’s an email marketing example one of our team members received from Madewell:
Why it’s useful:
You can create highly targeted content with email marketing based on buying behaviors, automation rules, and even site behaviors. Email provides a highly customized experience and helps businesses create a more intimate relationship with their audience.
Why it’s tough:
How many emails do you get a day? Probably hundreds! In fact, if you have a Gmail account, you likely have an entire section of your inbox dedicated to promotional email. It’s a noisy space that can be difficult to breakthrough in, and in order to do it correctly, it requires consistency, strategy, and basic copywriting skills.
What to learn:
How to Write an Email Newsletter
Email Copywriting basics
Avoiding spam trigger words
While social media platforms technically own the content on them, you do own your channels to a certain extent. You have complete control over what you post, which makes your profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. part of your owned media.
Seeing it in action:
Brands use social media in several different ways. For example, some use it to drive sales, like this men’s apparel brand:
While others, like me, use certain platforms to share content (like on Pinterest).
Why it’s useful:
Social media is, well… social! Building your brand’s presence on certain channels is a great way to connect to your audience on a deeper level and get to know them better. Plus, with the advanced analytics social platforms provide, you get such a detailed picture of who your ideal clients are.
Why it’s tough:
Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.
Where people tend to go wrong is when they try to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.
What to learn:
First, I’d definitely recommend any resources from Buffer. I’ve also written a good bit on social media analytics & content marketing.
But second, I’d recommend focusing & learning a single platform. Don’t expand until you really understand your “wheelhouse”. Every platform has a manual and best practices. Study and practice more than anything else.
Earned media is press, coverage or mentions on other websites that you do not pay for since the story/content is useful enough to the outlet to stand on its own. In other words – you “earn” the placement in the news instead of paying for an advertisement beside the news. Earned media is a big deal not only because you don’t pay for it but also because readers trust it more than overt advertisements.
Off-page SEO is basically just SEO-speak for getting links or “link building”, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.
Sketchy $5 links are going to harm your site. Quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in Google search results, hence why on-page SEO and off-page SEO work well together.
Create high-quality, educational content, get people to link back to it because it’s actually helpful, build your site authority, show up higher in the search results.
Seeing it in action:
The only real way to see off-page SEO in action is with a backlink profile tool like Ahrefs. Check out my post on Ahrefs for how to explore and understand backlink profiles.
Why it’s useful:
Again, off-page SEO works hand-in-hand with on-page SEO. When you have quality sites linking to your quality content, it raises the overall quality of your site. Google takes that into consideration. If you’re a more trustworthy, authoritative site, you rank higher in the SERPS. If you rank higher in the SERPS, your high-quality content appears above competitors, and you get more of the right people onto your site.
What’s tough about it:
Again, it’s a long game… and it requires consistent outreach. When you’re just starting out, you can’t just write a piece of content and hope for links to come. You’ve got to get them, and you’ve got to get them for quality sites. This means pitching your content, doing outreach, etc. It also means having high-quality content for people to link to.
What to learn:
Broken Link Building
Redirecting Old URLS
How to Use Ahrefs
Unlike paid placements, public relations is where you earn publicity for your brand, either through features, news stories, press coverage, social shoutouts, and more. It’s all about working with the media to get the word about your business out there.
I’ve broken public relations down into two categories: traditional media relations and viral marketing.
Traditional Media Relations
This is probably what most people think of when they think of PR. It’s pitching your content to media outlets + trying to get coverage. Keep in mind this isn’t about pitching your business. Focus on being a reliable source & providing good stories / content (In fact, media relations works hand-in-hand with your on-page SEO strategy. Create good content, pitch it to outlets that may find it useful).
Seeing it in action:
Anytime you see a news story about a company or organization…it was probably via a press release or press outreach. PR is everywhere. Here’s an example from a campaign I did for this website.
Why it’s useful:
Having reputable outlets link back to your website or even run your content not only grows your website traffic — it builds brand authority. When you’re trying to stand out in a crowded space (i.e. the Internet), having coverage from reputable sources helps build trust with your audience quicker.
Why it’s tough:
Pitching to the media isn’t a walk in the park. Most outlets get tons of pitches every single day — which means yours needs to stand out and provide actual value. It can be a time-consuming process.
What to learn:
How to Plan a DIY PR Campaign
Viral marketing is when a piece of your content goes “viral” — AKA it gets a massive amount of shares and attention in a short period of time. Viral marketing is tough to do, but when it is done, it can create massive traction for your brand.
Seeing it in action:
There are plenty of big corporate campaigns that spark outrage, curiosity or some other big emotion. The original “small business” viral marketing effort was Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” series of videos.
Why it’s useful:
When your content goes viral, you can see a huge spike in traffic over a short period of time. You get more eyes on your site, get in front of larger audiences, and get in front of new audiences you likely haven’t seen before. If it’s high-quality content, you’ll also likely get links back to the viral piece, which can build your site’s authority with Google.
Why it’s tough:
You can try your best to guess what goes into creating viral content, but you’re also at the mercy of the Internet. There’s not an exact science to viral marketing, which makes it hard to pull off.
What to learn:
A big part of viral marketing is tapping into trending topics or trending emotions. The rest is not really a secret. It’s just combining those and hitting the right moment.
Paid media is any media or attention that you pay for. Paid media is a great way to promote your website and get the ball rolling on your business. Usually any type of media business will offer businesses attention for a price. The trick is choosing the right media and getting a positive return from it.
I’ve broken paid media into three categories: search ads, display ads, and social media ads.
Search Ads show up when someone searches for a query. For example, if you search “shoes” – you’ll get ads for shoes. Google was the first mover here and made their billions with search ads. But now many networks from Pinterest to Twitter to Amazon and more all use search ads within their networks.
Seeing it in action:
Search ads are anywhere — just try searching for something on Google! I searched “dentist in Atlanta” and got this…
Again, these ads show up whenever you’re searching for a specific query on search platforms (i.e. Google).
Why it’s useful:
The key benefit of search ads is that the searcher has intent — i.e. they’re actively looking for what you have to offer (like a dentist in Atlanta). The marketing jargon here is that you are “harvesting” demand rather than generating demand.
Why it’s tough:
You’re paying to play, and volume and bid prices can affect your performance significantly, especially if you have budget limitations. If you’re bidding on a competitive keyword, it’s going to cost you. You’ve also got to compete with others who are bidding on high search volume, competitive keywords.
What to learn:
How Google Decides What You Pay
Alternative PPC Networks
Display ads (AKA Banner ads) have been around since the dawn of the Internet. They’re everywhere both the Internet + within platforms (think about the banners that pop-up when you’re using an app on your smartphone).
Display ads differ from Search Ads in two main ways. First, they use images / banners. Second, they focus on interest rather than intent.
Seeing it in action:
Display ads are EVERYWHERE. Just log into Facebook and look on the left side of your newsfeed.
With the data Facebook provides to its advertisers, they can show me ads based on what they think my interests are.
Why it’s useful:
Displays Ads are different from Search ads because you’re targeting interest rather than intent. In our example above, I’m getting targeted with ads for software that helps small businesses, because Facebook knows I’m a small business… so they’re betting I’m interested in software that can help me manage my business.
And while Google handles most Display Ads around the Web, the big opportunity for Display Ads is on “walled gardens” like Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Zillow, etc who all know everything about users on their network.
There are also a range of targeting options, match types, and formats depending on network and goal.
Why it’s tough:
If you don’t know a ton about your audience (or don’t have access to that data), you’re taking a shot in the dark. Targeting interests can be way broader than targeting intent, which means your chances of getting highly qualified leads are less than what they are with search.
What to learn:
Like social media, it pays to learn a single network. Read their manual, learn how to read analytics, and run lots of test campaigns before “scaling up” your spending.
Social ads are exactly what they sound like… ads on social media platforms! Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, etc… they all have advertising capabilities that allow advertisers to run paid promotions on their platforms.
Seeing it in action:
Check out this ad from UNTUCKit on Pinterest:
One of our staff members uses Pinterest primarily for fashion, so her Pinterest feed includes ads based on her interest in fashion!
Why it’s useful:
Social networks have a ton of data on their users, which gives advertisers a huge opportunity to create very targeted ads based on their users interest. There’s also massive opportunities to retarget users who visit your site and bring them back to your platform.
Why it’s tough:
You’re not just learning one ad platform… you’re learning several. Each social media advertising network operates differently, has different policies, and is constantly changing. It can be easy to spread yourself, and your budget, too thin. The trick is to focus where your users are most active and you have the most data so you can get the most bang for your buck.
What to learn:
Advertising on Reddit
Advertising on LinkedIn
Advertising on Snapchat
Advertising on Pinterest
Advertising on Quora
As you can see, digital marketing is made of up so many different avenues and methods. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you have to master them all, but you really don’t.
If you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a dime, I recommend checking out my guide on How to Promote Your Website Online for Free next.
If you’re ready to spend a little and want a step-by-step process to advertising online now that you know the different digital marketing methods, check out this guide here.
The post Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources appeared first on ShivarWeb.
So you’re designing a website layout, either for yourself or for a client, and you’re looking for some best practices and examples to follow.
Maybe you’ve even spent some time digging through templates for inspiration, because hey… it can’t hurt, right?
Website templates are great… but they can be drastically affected by stock photos, brand assets, colors, fonts, etc.
Before you start browsing templates, you first need to understand what your site needs to do, what content you’ll have, and how you need to lay it all out for an optimal user experience.
So how do you do that? Great question! Here’s my step-by-step process to designing a website layout with best practices:
Step One: Set Your Goals
A website is more than just a collection of pages. Really, it’s a roadmap for your audience. It helps them find what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it.
Which means before you start looking at templates and designs, you have to first understand what your audience needs from your site to begin with.
What’s the goal of your site? Is it educational? Is it selling products? Is it a resume site to help you get hired?
Before you can start navigating somewhere, you have to know the end destination. The same applies to your website. Before you even start planning the website layout, define the overall goal of the site.
What to Consider:
Your website today doesn’t have to be your website tomorrow. Set your goals for what you want to accomplish right now.
Your overall website will have a goal, and each page will have a goal. Separating the two can help you get clear on the overall flow.
Your site is all about the user. What are THEY trying to accomplish?
What to Avoid:
Biting off more than you can chew. If you’re trying to do too much at first, you’re either going to end up with a messy site or no site at all.
Getting caught up in the nitty gritty. We’re not talking functionality, yet.
What to Learn:
How to create a minimally viable website
Examples to Copy:
Sandy Springs Artsapalooza
Step Two: Map Out Your Main Content
Once you have the main goal of the website, you can start to think about what content you need.
What types of information is your audience searching for? How should that information be grouped?
This will become the overall architecture of your site (and the navigation). Remember, your site is all about your audience’s journey.
The end goal is to get them to the information they need in the fewest steps possible. It doesn’t matter how beautifully designed your website is if no one can find what they’re looking for!
The key here is clarity. The navigation should be intuitive — your people shouldn’t have to dig for information.
Define your site’s primary navigation and content groupings before moving into design, so you can choose or design a template that supports an intuitive architecture.
What to Consider:
Think about how a user who lands directly on a given page would feel (without having navigated from your homepage).
Think about someone how has accessibility needs, or is simply in a hurry would feel.
Again, less is more. If you don’t need multiple pages to say it, don’t use multiple pages to say it!
What to Avoid:
Burying important pages in a deep hierarchy. Prioritize key information
Death by content. Your website doesn’t have to be the final destination.
What to Learn:
How to use keywords on your website
Smashing Magazine resource on content planning
Examples to Copy:
Au Lit Fine Linens
Lesley M.M. Blume
Step Three: Get your page layout down
I know, I know… it sounds counterintuitive to think about a layout before you start searching for a template. But again, this is all about organizing your information.
If you have an idea of the type of layout you need for each page, you’ll narrow down template options a lot sooner (and will be less distracted by frills that you probably don’t need anyway).
Again, the goal is to get people the information they need in the quickest way possible. Think about your own browsing behavior. You’re likely not reading each and every word on the site, right?
What to Consider:
Use size to distinguish between important info / details that may not be as crucial — the most important information should be the biggest on the page
Use headers and subheads to help scanners find key sections + information
Bold important phrases and key information
Use bullets / icons to break up text-heavy sections (see what I did here?)
What to Avoid:
Don’t sacrifice clarity for creativity
Don’t bury key information “below the fold” (AKA don’t make people dig and scroll endlessly for it).
What to Learn:
If you want a page-by-page breakdown, check out our guides on…
Homepage best practices
About Us page best practices
FAQ page best practices
Contact Us page best practices
Product page best practices
Examples to Copy:
Step Four: Lock in functionality
After you have a general layout in mind for your pages, it’s time to think about functionality on each page.
When we’re dealing with website design, remember that sometimes less is more, especially if you’re just trying to get your site up and running.
Having a minimally viable website can be more effective than having some juggernaut with bells and whistles that confuses people or costs you a fortune to get up and running.
Think through the minimum functionality each page needs.
For example, your services page probably doesn’t need social media icons / social sharing. However, you may want to include links to your social channels on your Contact Page, or bring in your Instagram feed on your About page if it’s applicable to your overall site goals.
A well-designed website isn’t about how advanced the functionality is. It’s about how quickly and easily can you give people the key information they need to accomplish their goals on a certain page.
What to Consider:
Think about the functions that would actually enhance your users’ experience.
What functionality is a must-have right now, and what’s a nice-to-have down the line?
Functionality isn’t built in a template — it’s supported by your software (AKA your website builder).
What to Avoid:
Functionality for the sake of functionality. You don’t want to overload your site or confuse your users.
Biting off more than you can chew. Having the ability to upload your latest YouTube episode is great, until you have to keep up with it.
What to Learn:
Which website builder will fit your functionality needs
Examples to Copy:
Cumberland Community Church
Step Five: Pick Your Template
So you’ve done the planning, you’ve sketched out your site, and you even know how the site needs to function. It’s time to finally, FINALLY start looking for a template (or creating your own)!
What to Consider:
Templates are really just HTML and CSS… which means they can be recreated almost anywhere. If you see a Wix template you love but want to use WordPress, you can easily recreate it.
Keep your layout needs in mind that you defined earlier, and remember that most templates are fairly customizable.
Look beyond the homepage. Look at how the subpages and unique pages are presented.
What to Avoid:
Again, functionality is NOT something that comes with a template.
Don’t judge a template based on the photography and logo designs. Often, a template will only look a certain way due to the mock-up creative assets.
What to Learn:
How to create your web design color palette
How to write effective website copy
Examples to Copy:
You’re all set! Just follow the step-by-step process outline above to design a website layout that’s clear, easy to navigate, and gets your users the right information at the right time!
The post How To Design a Website Layout w/ Best Practices & Examples appeared first on ShivarWeb.
So you’re looking to take advantage of everything that online commerce has to offer and enter the world of ecommerce? Good for you! Of course, this will require you to be able to accept online credit card payments. To do this, you’ll need an internet merchant account.
Sounds simple enough, right? If only! Not all merchant accounts are created equal. When choosing an internet merchant account for your ecommerce business, you’ll need to understand how a merchant account interacts with the other elements necessary for selling online, like payment gateways, payment processors, and shopping carts (not the kind you push around). Some services combine one or more of these elements, but it’s still important to distinguish these elements from one another.
Confused yet? Don’t worry — we’ll spell it all out for you!
What Is A Merchant Account?
A merchant account is a specific type of business account into which your customers’ money is deposited after they use their credit or debit card to make a purchase from you. After these payments are verified, the money is transferred to your own business bank account, which is entirely separate from your merchant account. You have no control over the merchant account — it is merely the middleman between your customers’ money and your business bank account.
So, why include this middleman at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply accept credit and debit card payments directly and get the funds deposited directly into your business bank account?
Unfortunately, credit card processing doesn’t work that way. When your customer pays you, the transaction ultimately still involves two other major parties: the issuing bank (which grants the customer cards and is responsible for collecting any payments from the customer) and the acquiring bank (which requests and then collects payments from the issuing bank and then releases them to the merchant). Because the payment process is so complicated — the acquiring bank has to ask for the funds from the issuing bank, which has to verify that the customer has those funds available and then transfer them — the merchant account essentially functions as a holding space or even as a sort of line of credit.
Merchant Account VS Third-Party Processor
When selecting a service to process your customers’ card payments, you’ll be choosing from between two different categories of services: direct processors (the providers of merchant accounts like the kind described above) and third-party processors (also called aggregators) like PayPal, Stripe, and Square.
Read our Review
Setting up an account with a third-party processor is simpler and less time-consuming than setting up a merchant account. This is because third party processors don’t set you up with your own unique merchant account. Instead, the third-party processor aggregates all of its merchants into one enormous merchant account.
What do these differences mean for you, the merchant? For starters, the merchant accounts offered by direct processors typically provide you with a higher level of account stability. This is due to the extensive underwriting and risk assessment you have to undergo to get your merchant account. With third party processors, you are subjected to very little underwriting beforehand. Therefore, the processor scrutinizes your activities much more intensely, making it more likely that you’ll experience an account hold or termination.
The flip side of this is the cost advantage of third party processors. These services typically feature flat-rate pricing and pay-as-you-go agreements. There are few (if any) monthly or annual fees to pay, and you don’t need to meet a monthly minimum in card transactions, making it easy to start taking credit card payments with no established business history.
With direct processors, you’ll be paying monthly and potentially annual fees, you’ll need to be processing at least $5,000 to $10,000 per month in card transactions, and the pricing is not normally flat-rate — your rates may vary depending on the nature of your business model and your industry. Many merchant accounts still require you to sign a multi-year contract. (That said, many of the best processors in the industry have done away with these 3-year contracts and early termination fees in favor of month-to-month agreements, and we recommend that you not settle for a multi-year contract until you’ve explored all your options.) Still, above that $10,000/month mark, merchant accounts do offer cost savings and as your volume increases you’ll qualify for even more discounts.
For more on third-party processors and how they stack up against traditional merchant accounts, check out these articles:
The Best Online Credit Card Processing Companies
The Truth About Third-Party Payment Processing
What’s A Payment Gateway?
We’ve established what a merchant account is, so let’s move on to payment gateways.
While a merchant account is the account into which your payment processor sends your customers’ payments before they are transferred to your business bank account, a payment gateway connects your online store to your payment processor, facilitating your customers’ online transactions.
Payment gateways enable online transactions like so: the gateway integrates with your ecommerce store to securely capture the payment details for customer transactions. The gateway then routes that information to your payment processor or acquiring bank, which assumes control of the payment process. The gateway will then send an approval or decline message back to the merchant based on whether or not the processor/acquiring bank accepts the payment.
When you use a third-party processor, a payment gateway is typically included in the service. With direct merchant accounts, a gateway service may or may not be included for an additional fee. Some processors do offer gateways as part of their services, at no additional cost. Ultimately you’ll need to check with the processor to find out.
PCI Compliance With Online Merchant Accounts
What is PCI compliance, and how do you achieve it?
PCI compliance refers to a set of safety practices established by a council (the Payment Card Industry, or PCI) sponsored by the major credit card companies to ensure that a consumer’s payment information is secure when making a purchase using a credit or debit card. These standards, which apply to all businesses that accept credit and/or debit cards, are meant to standardize the securing, processing, and transmission of cardholder data.
If your merchant account provider deems you to be PCI non-compliant, you’ll be subject to a PCI non-compliance fee of around $30 per month until your account is compliant. What’s more, if your non-compliance results in a data breach, you can be fined anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000!
You’ve probably gathered by now that it’s a good idea for your business to be PCI compliant. For most small businesses, that means being Level 4 PCI compliant. Level 4 is the PCI standard that applies to businesses up to a certain size — it’s essentially the lowest bar to clear. Larger businesses must comply with higher PCI standards, with Level 1 standards applying to both the largest businesses and businesses that have suffered a data breach.
When choosing a payment processor, you’ll want to make sure your provider offers features such as PCI compliant processing hardware and software, quarterly network vulnerability scans, and assistance with completing and filing a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ).
Most third-party processors handle the entire process of PCI compliance for you, but with a merchant account, you should be expected at minimum to have to complete the SAQ.
If you’re running a brick-and-mortar business with no ecommerce component, you might think PCI compliance has nothing to do with you. However, if your business accepts credit cards, it almost certainly utilizes the internet to do so at some point in the process, so you’ll still need to be PCI compliant. It’s easier for physical-only businesses to establish PCI compliance than it is for online businesses, though.
Some PCI best practices are no-brainers. For instance, you don’t want to store your customers’ card data on your own hard drive or server, you should never use default passwords, and you’ll need to use a firewall on your network and computers. There’s more to PCI compliance than these obvious measures, however. For a detailed explanation of what PCI compliance means for your business, I highly recommend reading our comprehensive article on the subject, The Quick Guide To PCI Compliance For Small Businesses.
How Much Does An Internet Merchant Account Cost?
When choosing a merchant account, it’s important to know the different pricing models offered by payment processors:
Flat-Rate Pricing: This pricing model has the advantage of being predictable. You’ll pay a fixed rate for each transaction, making it easier to predict your processing costs. While you’ll usually pay more on a per-transaction basis than with other pricing models (and you donât know how much the processor is making off a transaction), you probably won’t have to pay monthly fees or other types of fees charged by processors offering other pricing models. Third-party processors like PayPal, Square, and Stripe use this pricing model. To learn more about flat-rate pricing, check out our flat-rate credit card processing explainer.
Interchange-Plus Pricing: Also known as cost-plus pricing, interchange-plus pricing is the pricing model preferred by Merchant Maverick. Why? Because it’s the most transparent model and it makes rate comparisons between processors easy. With interchange pricing, the processor passes on the interchange fees (fees charged to the merchant’s bank account and paid to the bank that issued the card) and assessments (fees paid directly to Visa or Mastercard etc.) while charging a small markup above that (often a percentage and a flat fee). Check out this article for more on how interchange-plus pricing works and why we prefer it.
Membership Pricing: This is the pricing model used by subscription-based payment processors like Fattmerchant and Payment Depot. Under this pricing model, you’re charged a single monthly subscription fee instead of the assortment of fees other pricing models feature. You’ll also likely pay a flat fee of between $0.08 and $0.15 per transaction as well as interchange fees. Higher-volume businesses can find themselves saving money under this pricing scheme.
Read our Review
Tiered Pricing: Tiered pricing is an older pricing model not commonly used by modern businesses. We don’t recommend it. All transactions are grouped into two or three tiers of transactions, ranging from the lowest-priced transactions to the highest-priced transactions. Essentially, the problem with tiered pricing is that processors can categorize transactions assumed to be in a lower-priced tier as higher-priced transactions, thus charging you more and leaving you little recourse. You should avoid tiered pricing arrangements.
For most small businesses, using a third-party processor with flat-rate pricing like Square or PayPal may be more affordable than using a full-service merchant account. Of course, this entails a much greater risk of having your account frozen or terminated, which is, in itself, a very costly thing to happen to any business.
One thing that affects what your internet merchant account will charge you is the fact that CNP (card not present) transactions, including online purchases, cost more to process than do in-person transactions. This is due to the fact that the chance of chargebacks and fraud is higher with transactions where the card is not present, and this is factored into the cost of processing the payment.
Other fees you may (or may not) have to pay include PCI compliance fees, payment gateway fees, and fees for ACH acceptance if you want to offer customers the ability to pay with their bank accounts in addition to cards. To learn more about the complex and relatively opaque world of internet merchant account pricing, read through our Complete Guide To Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees.
Features To Look For In An Internet Merchant Account
Let’s go through some of the features that may be included in your internet merchant account package.
One benefit of third-party processors like Square is that a payment gateway is included as part of the service so you won’t have to go looking for one yourself. Of course, third party processors have their drawbacks as well, so you’ll be glad to know that some direct processors include a payment gateway in their services as well.
Remember, if you plan to do business online, whether it be through selling goods, offering SaaS, or what have you, you’ll need to be able to accept online credit card payments. To do that, a payment gateway is an absolute requirement.
Multiple Payment Methods
We’ve established that you’ll want to be able to accept credit and debit cards. However, there are other payment methods your customers may want to use, and you want to be able to accommodate them. From mobile wallets like Apple Pay on the web to ACH payments, the more payment methods your payment gateway (and payment processor) supports, the better.
Global Payment Support
With some merchant accounts, you can only accept payments in USD. If you expect to be able to attract any international business, that’s obviously not going to be good enough. Thankfully, many merchant account providers can set you up with a multi-currency ecommerce merchant account so you can expand your global reach. Just be aware that you’ll likely pay currency conversion fees (if they aren’t passed to your customers). PayPal and Stripe do very well in this regard, and Stripe actually supports many localized payment methods across Europe and Asia.
As an added note — some processors offer a feature usually referred to as dynamic currency conversion or localized currency displays. This means that your website will automatically convert the price from USD (or your default currency) to whatever currency is most common in the customer’s region. This can improve the shopping experience for international customers and potentially increase your sales.
Included Shopping Cart (Or Other Software)
An online shopping cart integrates with your website to facilitate ecommerce. The shopping cart enables your customers to look through your available products, select different options for each product (size, color, etc.), select the quantity of the products they want to order, and more.
Most merchant accounts can be integrated with major shopping carts, but if you can find one that includes a good shopping cart already, that’s even better, as you’ll be saving money.
Other handy features to look for include a customer credit card vault that allows you to securely store your customers’ card information while keeping it off your own equipment and subscription tools that let you create and manage customer subscriptions. Stripe is an example of a processor with built-in subscription tools and a card vault. However, you can also opt for a third-party provider to get recurring billing functions.
Processors with integrated developer tools, like Stripe, allow developers to use APIs (application programming interfaces) to integrate the payment platform using a variety of different programming languages. For the business with developer talent, integrated developer tools can help you build custom solutions for your ecommerce outfit.
Good customer service and availability is critical in an internet merchant account. Your ability to do business is reliant on all your systems working correctly 24/7, so reliability and quick response times are crucial. Do some research on merchant account providers to weigh the experiences of other merchants when dealing with any issues that pop up, and make sure that the available support channels jibe with your preferences.
How To Choose The Right Provider For You
That was a lot to take in, wasn’t it? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry! Merchant accounts are Merchant Maverick’s original specialty, and we’re here to help you delve into the nitty-gritty of merchant account pricing, features, and provider options.
Here are some links to help you learn more about merchant account options, features, and more:
The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies
How To Choose An eCommerce Merchant Account
The Complete Guide To Online Credit Card Processing With A Payment Gateway
How To Accept Credit Cards Online
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