strategies stores are using to stay ahead

The latest sales data indicates that online sales are continuing to grow, while the pace of in-store sales is slowing down for many retailers.

Big box stores are adopting different strategies to deal with this shift in the way consumers shop, but there is no question they are taking this trend seriously.

Target announced recently that its fourth quarter online sales grew by 30% in 2016, while its store sales dropped by 6.1% year over year, prompting Target to cut its prices at the expense of profits. They are also planning to make better use of stores as fulfillment centers, and equipping all sales associates with mobile point of sale devices. The concept behind this strategy is that shoppers will think of Target as a great place to shop with great prices.

The brand Tommy Hilfiger who in the past derived sales not only from their own stores, but also from high street giant Macy’s, chose a different route. Tommy Hilfiger’s in store sales were lackluster and Macy’s is planning to close many of its stores, further contributing to the brand’s decline. Deciding to modernize the brand, Tommy Hilfiger looked to social media to bring the brand to the attention of younger audiences, and then debuted its latest collection with a fashion show in Venice Beach, California – an unusual move for a brand that would typically show its products in New York. The results were astonishing, with a surge in sales online in the 24 hours following the show, and 50% of traffic from first time visitors.

In line the with these stores, Kohl’s has also seen growth in its online sales and a decline in its in store sales. To counter this, they are reducing the size of their stores from around 88,000 square feet to something smaller, and reducing inventory by 3% across all stores for the next three years.

Whether it’s a price change, a new way of marketing your brand, or re-evaluating the use of the square footage in your bricks and mortar store, the pace of change in today’s retail industry requires continual assessment to keep the attention of today’s consumers.

Small and medium sized retailers also have to be innovative looking to more control of inventory, switching from in-store to online sales, using physical space not only as a store but also as a fulfillment center, and using technology to bring it all together – and who said retail was easy!

drag and drop supplier mapping tools for your online store

xocbox has just introduced its new mapping tools to take the headache out of updating products and prices in your online store.

Whether you are a busy online store owner or a store designer uploading products to your client’s store to meet a deadline, the latest mapping tools from xocbox will free up your time, and keep you ahead of the game!

We now offer advanced drag and drop mapping tools designed to make your life easier – one for inventory feed mapping, and one for mapping supplier data for all your products, including new products, and price updates, together with product variations, GTINs, and SKUs.

So if you are tired of manually uploading and editing products from all your suppliers, or want to add more lines before the online shopping season begins in earnest, contact us today and learn more about our mapping tools.

If that still sounds like too much work, we also offer a low-cost full service solution that really does take the pain out of managing updates to your products – as we take care of the work!

 

pre-orders add sales to your woocommerce store

If your customers are counting the days for one of your products to arrive in your store, and you know it is going to be in high demand, then adding the ability to take pre-orders is a great way to attract buyers and enable them to buy your product first.

We recently worked with a book publisher whose readers were waiting for a long-anticipated title to arrive, and adding pre-orders to their store was an incredible way to boost sales.

Pre-orders work well for books and media, apparel and electronic goods.

If you are considering adding a pre-order and / or back-order module to your store, xocbox can help – contact us for details.

 

are etailers leaving money on the table?

dollar signsI was recently asked a question about common issues that we see that are causing small and medium-sized etailers to leave money on the table in their online retail stores.

Of course, no-one would be doing this on purpose, but sometimes opportunities can be missed because they are not immediately apparent.

One thing we have seen is that merchants are missing opportunities to keep shoppers on their site by not optimizing their home page or landing pages.

The first thing a shopper should see is the most attractive merchandise and the best offers. This could be products that are well priced or popular for other reasons – such as Back to School products.

For example, if you sell apparel that has price variations according not only to size, but also color, your home page can show an attractive or seasonal color with the price below, and also show a price and label for the less expensive color.

By showing the lower price alongside the more expensive price of the product shown in the image, the shopper is drawn to the product.  Even if they eventually buy the higher priced product, the lower price on the home page attracts their attention.

Another example would be making sure that bestsellers are visible above the fold on the website and out of stock items are pushed to the bottom or removed.

This is something that can be updated on a regular basis, or automated in response to events and triggers, such as a product going out of stock.

xocbox can help with automation and placing of products on landing and section pages – contact us for details.

 

GTIN requirements for google changing may 2016

barcodeAs most retailers probably know, in an attempt to improve the user’s experience online,  Google is expanding the requirements for GTINs in May 2016.  This should help people understand more clearly the product being sold.

If you sell new, manufactured products online and don’t have the correct information associated with your products via a GTIN, you should probably check the Google requirements. If the data is incorrect, this will impact your ability to sell with Google ads and affects thousands of online sellers.

Warnings started being sent to online merchants in February advising them to update their product data if the GTIN was missing or incorrect.

After May 16, 2016 merchants will begin to receive item-level disapprovals and will need to meet Google’s requirements in order to continue serving ads for products.

May 16, 2016 is the deadline, so if you haven’t considered your UPC’s and the new Google requirements yet, visit Google’s support center for more information.

meet xocbox and aabaco at IRCE, june 7, 2016 in chicago

The Aabaco Small Business Roadshow will be held in Chicago on June 7, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and xocbox is excited to be taking part in one of the panel discussions covering back office processes.

xocbox has been working on some innovative solutions for Aabaco merchants such as our drag and drop tool for section pages, EDI solutions and managing multi-stores.

We will be available at the Aabaco Small Business Conference throughout the day to answer questions and discuss your store, and during June 8 and 9 at IRCE.

If you are an Aabaco / Yahoo merchant, why not stop by and see how xocbox can help, or contact us now to set up an appointment.

as ecommerce grows, recruiting gets tougher

The recent headline on the front cover of Internet Retailer magazine screamed out Always Be Recruiting. What is happening in the etail world?

Due to the improved economy, and huge growth in e-commerce, experienced e-retail staff have found themselves to be in great demand.

While this is great news for those seeking work, it is making life difficult for employers trying to find the help they need to remain competitive, and is especially frustrating for small and mid-sized companies whose staff may be moving on to greener pastures.

The US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting strong growth technical jobs that are essential to e-commerce. In fact, a survey by Dice.com which finds jobs for technical staff, found that 71% of those surveyed expected to see an increase in the number of technical staff they employ by as much as 11% in the first quarter of this year, and this scenario is expected to continue throughout the year.

One way companies are approaching this problem is with the use of technology in their own systems and processes to fuel growth, and this is where xocbox can help.

One of our customers recently observed that a process his staff had been doing manually before incorporating it into xocbox’s system, had taken about 15 minutes to do and involved cutting and pasting information from one place to another and possibly reformatting the data.

Since xocbox provides a central place to manage data from different sources, we were able to include this task into their processes, allowing staff to update data in their site in a matter of minutes by simply pressing a button and cutting out hours of tedious work.

If you are thinking of hiring more staff to keep up with an increasing workload, and ever changing demands, contact xocbox to see how we might be able to help.

etsy and woocommerce integration with xocbox

handmade clay pots

Woocommerce stores can now sell their products on Etsy using the xocbox product manager and integration tools.

Etsy offers Woocommerce stores that sell unique and/or handcrafted products another channel without any additional work when using xocbox.

Once your product information is in xocbox, you can push it to both Woocommerce and Etsy, and if you want to make your product descriptions unique for each store, additional form fields allow you to do this before publishing.

If you currently sell on Etsy and would like to open a Woocommerce store using your Etsy listings to get you started, no problem!

Once your Etsy products are in the xocbox product manager, any new products added can be pushed to one or both stores, as you move forward.

Selling more products just got a whole lot easier with xocbox!

drag and drop tools for aabaco (previously yahoo) merchant stores

hats

While the changes have been taking place at Yahoo to transition merchant stores to the new platform, Aabaco, xocbox has been working on new drag and drop tools to make arranging your products and section pages a breeze.

One of the difficult things about setting up your online store is trying to visualize how products will look on a page once you publish them next to the other products already listed.

Creating section pages can also be challenging once you’ve listed products in a certain category or brand.

New drag and drop tools from xocbox allow you the freedom to choose colors, and products and place them where you would like them to appear on your store page or section page. Products can also be listed on multiple section pages.

This great addition to the xocbox toolset not only provides a practical solution to creating pages and sections within you store, it is also great fun to use!

Contact xocbox to learn more about section page features, and drag and drop tools.

stop displaying out of stock items in your yahoo store

out of stock items
 
If there is one thing that is driving shoppers crazy it is displaying products in your store that you don’t have available. Whether it says, Sold Out, Not in Stock or Out of Stock – they don’t want to see it.

If you display a product on your Category or Section page, and the shopper clicks through to the item description only to find it’s not available, they will soon move on to another website for a more satisfying shopping experience.

Even if you show products on your Category and Section pages as Out of Stock, or Sold Out, it soon looks as though you don’t have anything that is available. We all know how hard it is to keep up with updating your website with fast moving, in demand products at the holidays, but to a shopper it might even look as though you are going out of business!

xocbox has the answer for Yahoo merchants who don’t have the time or resources to keep up with the time consuming process of marking products in and out of stock. With xocbox, once your item count goes to zero, the product changes to not orderable in your Yahoo catalog manager.

No manual changes for each item!

Contact xocbox to learn more about this feature.

managing inventory in your online store

inventory monitoring software
 
It’s that time of year again, new shipments are arriving daily, storage space is getting smaller, and there’s a buzz in the air anticipating the arrival of the holiday shopping season which has already started with the Back to School products.

eMarketer forecasts that holiday sales in the US will grow by 5.7% in 2015, the biggest increase since 2011, and while this is great news for retailers both on and offline, it does present some challenges.

How do you manage inventory so that you have enough of the popular products that are flying off the shelves, and don’t order more products that include those that have sold only a few items?

xocbox can help you. Our inventory monitoring and out of stock widget in your online store mean that you always know when products are running low or sold out, helping you to decide when to place orders to replenish your stock.

We will work with you to provide the level of automation that is right for your store. Whether you want supplier feeds to your store, or want to automate the whole process right through to sending orders to your drop ship suppliers, xocbox systems will save you and your staff time during the busy shopping season.

If you have more than one store, no problem – let xocbox track sales in all your stores.

For more information on how to take control of the inventory in your Yahoo or Woocommerce store before the holiday season, call us at 858-752-3803, or click the contact button below.

easily update yahoo store options

adding options in xocbox
 
 
One of the benefits the xocbox product manager offers is the ability to add and edit product options and variations in your Yahoo store.

If you have products, such as apparel and shoes, and currently offer every color as a separate product, xocbox offers a simple way to add color and size options.

This greatly reduces data entry as you enter the style and description once, and then add the variations through a pop-up screen – one for sizes, and one for colors.

So if you have a sweater that is offered in 8 colors, instead of creating 8 different products you simply create one in xocbox.

You can save even more time if you have a brand that offers styles in the same size format by creating a size template that you can re-use.

Each size and color variation is then created as a unique product with its own SKU that you can publish to your store or stores.

If you would like to learn more about managing color and size options, contact xocbox.

Xocbox product manager offers semi-customizable screens that can also be adapted to suit your business.

Call us at 858-752-3803 to discuss your store, or select the contact button below for more information.

quickly update prices in your yahoo store

xocbox price manager
 
 

As the holiday season approaches, many stores find it difficult to keep up with the changes needed to keep product prices up-to-date, especially across multiple stores.

The xocbox Price Manager enables you to quickly mark down merchandise, or change prices for a brand or manufacturer, always keeping your holiday merchandise priced where you want it to be.

If you have more than one Yahoo store, and sell some of the same merchandise on several stores, xocbox can cut down the time it takes to change prices across all of your stores.

The xocbox price manager allows you to edit prices from one screen, and publish the changes to your Yahoo store(s) without the need to log into multiple sites and systems. This can save you and your staff hours of time and eliminates the need to repeat a single process across all of your stores.

The Price Manager is just one of the ways xocbox can help Yahoo merchants manage their product data.

If you would like more information about the xocbox Price Manager and integration with your Yahoo store, contact us for more details.

Is Lowest Price the Right Price?

pans with prices marked down

Many e-retailers use price-monitoring services to check prices of their competitors, and then adjust their own prices accordingly.

Often a product’s price will change more than 10 times in a single 24-hour period, according to data from the price monitoring firm, Profitero Inc, but does that mean that you have to change your prices 10 times as well?

There is no doubt that retailers are well aware of the price cutting strategies employed by Amazon, and other large retailers such as Sears, and Walmart, but is price cutting the best strategy for your business?

Being informed is essential, however, many retailers believe that they need to find the right price for their business model, and rather than simply slashing prices, prefer to find ways to offer their unique services and quality to win a customer’s business.

If you have researched similar products to those you are offering, emphasize the superior quality of your products, excel in customer service, and offer a fair price (though not necessarily the lowest).  Anything that sets your product apart can win you the sale – custom-made, free alterations, personal shopping advice.

Building up your email list and tailoring offers to each buyer’s personal taste is a great way for you to personalize your shopper’s experience.

Once a shopper has built a relationship with your store and loves to shop there because of service, quality and personal recommendations just for them, paying more for an item will be worth every extra penny!

Research has shown that retailers who can figure out how to price their products using some of these strategies are still able to sell plenty of products, and make a profit.

many small businesses still not online

shop online on all devicesThe results of holiday sales 2014 indicate that online retailers had a good year.

The web tracking company, comScore, released data this week showing an increase of 15% in November and December, better than their original estimates.  These figures do not include sales made on mobile devices.

The figure is expected to increase to over 17% when mobile sales are taken into account, and this falls into line with many other reports and research that shows shoppers are now very comfortable making purchases on their mobile and tablet devices.

Big box stores and large enterprises have certainly embraced this, but smaller businesses appear to be having a more difficult time keeping up with technology trends, as noted in research from the nonprofit group, SCORE, which is supported by the Small Business Administration.

Their research showed that only 51% of small businesses have a website, yet 97% of consumers begin their product search online.

They also found that the small businesses that do have a website often lacked a call to action, did not engage in social media, and were not mobile and tablet friendly.  There were even some that didn’t have a phone number, so contact by customers was difficult, if not impossible.

When you look at the volume of sales being made online and on mobile devices, it is clear that if your company does not have a website, you need to get one.  Also, if your site is not yet mobile friendly, that is something you should have on your 2015 To Do List.

If it is that simple, why don’t more small businesses have a website?

The main reasons cited for not having a web presence were:

  • Lack of time – they are working round the clock to run their business, so don’t have time to devote to new technology and / or skills.
  • They don’t feel web savvy enough to delve into ecommerce, and stick to what they know.
  • The task is just too big.  They don’t take credit cards in their store, so the jump to internet retailer is too daunting.

At xocbox, we try to make getting your business online an easier process, and one that doesn’t give you nightmares.

We can help your business, if:

  • You do not have an ecommerce site, and do not know where to begin because the large number of products you carry makes it overwhelming. We can help you get products online, and use xocbox tools to add and edit products.
  • You need to integrate your online store with bricks and mortar, and point of sale system. Manage inventory and work with suppliers / drop ship vendors to ensure that products sold online are actually available.
  • You have an ecommerce site, but find it difficult to keep on top of the volume of work involved keeping products up-to-date.   xocbox tools reduce the data entry required in most ecommerce platforms.
  • You don’t already have a catalog and SKUs set up.
  • You have products with many colors and sizes, and need to quickly create professional looking listings with multi-views and swatches.

Contact xocbox today, and learn how we can help your online business.

Cyber Monday was a winner!

holiday decorations in storeFigures just released by comScore show that retail sales on Cyber Monday were over $2 billion, and these figures do not include sales made through a tablet or mobile device.  Wow!

The report went on to say that consumers spent 26% more in 2014 than they did in 2013 over the holiday weekend, and online sales are continuing to outstrip those of bricks and mortar stores.

Any retailer who has still not been able to get their products online, or has a website that doesn’t have mobile and tablet capability for shoppers is losing out on valuable revenue.

Contact xocbox if you are struggling to keep up with listing your products, and running your business – our tools can help you manage your store, and we have a great new product coming in the new year!

Black Friday Week or Month?

holiday shopping pictureLast night I purchased something from a local Banana Republic store, and at the checkout I was given a coupon called TGI(B)F which said “Early Access to Black Friday”, and had discounts I could use from November 24 through November 27.

The sales associate cheerfully told me that if I couldn’t deal with Black Friday shopping, I could shop early from Monday 24th.

I also read an article saying that Walmart plans to make it Black Friday week.  Walmart’s Black Friday begin at 12:01am on Thanksgiving and will include five days of sales online and in their physical stores, taking us through Cyber Monday.

It looks like many retailers such as JC Penney, Staples, Macy’s and Target are planning to open on Thanksgiving  – with some as early as 5pm.

Retailers are increasingly aware that shoppers are turning to the web to shop at times that suit them, not retailers, and Black Friday has become symbolic with the start of the holiday shopping season, not necessarily the one day for the best bargains.

With shoppers researching prices online, and checking spot sales in bricks and mortar stores, the 2014 holiday shopping season is going to offer bargains for weeks to come.

So don’t worry about rushing out the door to bargain hunt, as soon as you’ve eaten your turkey dinner – retailers will surprise us with flash sales right through the holiday season, and the best bargains may appear as we draw closer to the end of December.

 

Free Shipping

shipping options in store

I have just returned from the WooConference 2014 in San Francisco, and came away with lots of ideas and information.

With a host of great speakers, we didn’t know what to expect, and the interesting thing is they all offered great new ideas, and reiterated some of the concepts we know we should all be offering.

One of the things all store owners must be thinking about at this time of year is Free Shipping, and is it really worth it? Well the answer is, a big YES!

Speaker after speaker mentioned the value of having free shipping available in your online store.

One speaker stated that 73% will shop with Free shipping offered, and that 90% will buy more from your store if free shipping is offered.

Another speaker said that research showed 44% of shoppers will drop out without free shipping, and go elsewhere.

So how can you make free shipping work for your store?

If you can’t sell all your products with free shipping, try offering free shipping on the total value of an order over a given amount, such as $100. This not only attracts shoppers, but entices them to spend over the $100 amount in order to benefit from the shipping offer.

Another way is to offer free shipping on products that you are planning to mark down in the next few days / weeks. You may sell them at full price, simply because you are offering free shipping.

Try offering free shipping on combined purchases in a certain category or categories.

Set up an email campaign offering free shipping to those who buy a product / products before a certain date.  This way you will benefit from receiving revenue quicker.

Show a FREE SHIPPING label on your home page, so shoppers know it is available as soon as they land on your store. If possible, have free shipping in your header, so it appears on every page.

There is no question that competition is stiff in the online marketplace, but free shipping is here to stay and it is what shoppers have come to expect, not just from the big box stores, but from any online store or marketplace.

So don’t despair – in the long run, the more you sell, the better rates you can negotiate with your shipping service, so figuring out how to get started is crucial to your ongoing success.

Why not start by talking to your local shipping store?  By passing more work their way, you may be able to solve your own shipping problems as well.

Improving Supply Chains

shopping
 
 
In a recent study carried out by Boston Retail Partners that surveyed 500 North American retailers, one of the main areas of concern was supply chain.

Of those respondents, 93% were working towards solutions that would allow them to integrate operations and sales from physical stores, and online sales from desktop and mobile devices.

Ensuring that the flow of products to customers is seamless from the purchase order issued to a supplier, right through to delivery – whether via drop ship or through the retailer’s own store has been made more efficient through the use of electronic data interchange, or EDI.

In fact, many of the major big box stores will not work with smaller suppliers if they do not carry out their operations in this way.

Rigid guidelines and standards must be followed to enable EDI to work smoothly, and universal forms and messaging formats, for example, Invoice 810, Advance Shipping Notice 856, are recognized formats.

There is no question that EDI is efficient as a business to business tool.

However, if you are a retailer trying to respond to customer demand as indicated by social media, Google data or other web signals, you may need additional monitoring tools to meet your company’s demand.

If your company is facing challenges with any aspect of its supply chain, drop ship or delivery, contact xocbox who would be pleased to discuss your business needs.

Communication drives customer satisfaction

pensI recently read an article about the top five drivers of customer satisfaction in the remodeling industry, and at the top of the list was communication.

Others in the list included sticking to a schedule, being professional and organized, trust and problem resolution.

In reality, the list above could be applied to any type of business, including retail.

How many times have you purchased something online, and waited patiently for your item to be delivered, only to receive an email ten days later saying the item is on back-order!

Don’t let this be the experience your customers receive when shopping on your site.  Nothing will drive customers away from your site more than poor customer service.

No matter how busy you are, by setting a routine that you and your staff follow when customers purchase or call in for help, you can avoid disappointment, and gain a loyal following of happy customers.

What your customer wants

  • Promptly confirm purchases via email
  • Confirm that payment has been received
  • Advise when item purchased will be shipped
  • Once shipped, let them know package is on the way, and confirm tracking details
  • Provide updates and status on late or delayed shipments
  • Always include a packing slip or invoice in every package you send out
  • Include a returns policy in the package
  • Include a phone number or email address that customers can call with questions
  • Include a FAQ page on your website
  • Return customer calls within the same day, if possible
  • Resolve issues promptly, avoiding arguments
  • Issue refunds and credits promptly

What your customer doesn’t want

  • No confirmation that order has been received
  • Difficult to find company contact information
  • No tracking information
  • Poor returns policy
  • No return phone call or email
  • To be kept on hold
  • Product doesn’t arrive
  • Slow or no refunds policy
  • Goods not as described
  • Unfriendly service

Unfortunately, sometimes a customer will have a negative experience, no matter how hard you try.  If that is the case, don’t try to hide behind your policy, don’t lose your temper, and don’t take the complaint personally.

If this happens to you, work with the customer to provide an alternative product, a refund, and even offer a small gift or discount coupon off their next purchase.  You will be surprised how an unexpected gesture of generosity on your part can suddenly change the whole dynamics of a situation.  Your upset customer then becomes your biggest fan!