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Crowdemand puts shoppers in the drivers seat

posted April 20th, 2014 & filed under entrepreneurship, Serious Stuff, Trends

Have you ever wished you could have a say on your favorite designers’ collection?

Well now you can!

A friend of mine, launched Crowdemand early last week and I hope it redefines e-commerce.  Crowdemand puts consumers front and center of the design decision making process. It puts shoppers in the drivers seat by letting them vote on and purchase limited edition garments by their favorite designers.

I love the concept of enabling consumers to decide which designs should go into production, eliminating the financial gamble that comes with mass production. It’s a move towards sustainable slow fashion production processes. Items purchased which make it to production will deliver between 8 to 12 weeks at the shoppers delivery address. Now, it will be interesting to see whether or not shoppers will be willing to wait this long for a piece. I believe they will. Purchasing behaviors are changing and consumers would rather wait for a garment they contributed to.

 

I hope this new form of e-commerce will help redefine how consumers shop online.

Regardless, I urge you to go check it out. Currently the platform only features Women’s Apparel featuring designers like WHIT, Cynthia Rowley and Meskita.

Get in fast, Summer is right around the corner!

Not all Traffic is Created Equal

posted April 8th, 2014 & filed under Serious Stuff, social networking, tips

Web Analytics refer to the information about the number of visits to your website. Your web host will often have a built in metrics service that you can access to review: how many people are visiting your website, how long they stay and whereabouts in the world they are coming from.

Website Metrics will help you to understand where your e-commerce site may be lapsing as well as where you can improve. It will also allow you to benchmark and study your success over time.

Most analytical reporting tools will enable you to review:

  • How much traffic you’re getting
  • Where your traffic is located
  • Demographic split of your traffic
  • User behavior on your site

 

The first set of numbers you will see in many metrics reports will tell you how many unique visitors are coming to your site. You also need to review your bounce rate, which is how much time users are spending on your site. Below are 3 different types of traffic broken down for you:

 

1. Search traffic

This is traffic coming directly from search engines like Google, and from key words or search terms. This is why SEO can be so important because it helps to determine the ranking of your site, based on keywords and web presence.

 

social media

 

2. Referral traffic

This is traffic coming from other sites where your website information may have been shared. Referrals can come from a range of sources including blogs, news sites or social media networks. You will be able to identify from any basic metrics report which online sites are your top referrals. This insight will also enable you to tailor your marketing campaign so it focuses specifically on working with the blogs and social media networks sending the most traffic your way.

 

Online Searching

 

3. Direct traffic

Otherwise known as organic traffic, this is when users are aware of your brand and are searching for it specifically.  As the number of direct traffic grows you will then be able to feel confident that your brand loyalty is growing and your marketing efforts are working.

 

When reviewing your metrics report, make sure you understand the full story. Having high unique visitors doesn’t mean anything if your bounce rate is equally high. If your bounce rate is high, you may want to consider refreshing your homepage design or rethinking your brand’s overall message. The average time users should spend on an e-commerce site is 5 minutes at the very least.

Ask yourself, is your site returning traffic or unique visitors?

 

 

Chinese Consumers Are Slowly Shifting Towards Self-Expression

posted April 3rd, 2014 & filed under culture jamming, Serious Stuff

chinese-fashion-self-expression.png | Image Source http://lookbook.nu/look/6022401-Zhiwei-Gao-Flower-GentleThe Chinese market has evolved rapidly since the last time I visited in 2012. While in China, I witnessed a slight shift happening in Beijing / Shanghai where Millennias are expressing themselves more freely and combining accents from their traditional roots to exhibit their unique fashion style. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the shopping options in China are still quite limited. Beyond the strong presence of luxury brands, finding local designer brands that aren’t overpriced is a challenge. Chinese consumers also still struggle with finding legitimate businesses that do not sell fakes. The more adventurous / fashionable consumers will opt for scavenging through thrift shops to find unique garments that suit them.

The following growing trend is still juxtaposed with the label conscious consumer, who strives on showing-off their status. Chinese consumers are becoming more comfortable with speaking up and becoming more individual. The younger generations are slowly rebelling against the regimented, communal society which doesn’t allow for self-expression. The upsurge of Chinese punk bands combined with the rise of “Weibo” fashion bloggers and “Taobao” maniacs point to a potential westernization of China.

Although it may seem that China is becoming westernized, the Chinese still hold strongly to their cultural identity. China is a society which doesn’t reward individuality and instead values civil obligations. The Internet is helping the Millennials feel more comfortable with opening up. Opinion sharing site Dianping is rising in popularity with 1.2 billion monthly page views. The following sites enable Chinese Consumers to survey stores, restaurants, etc… Word of mouth and Social Media are helping Western brands get some access into the Chinese consumer.

While it is still a difficult Market to penetrate, the opportunities keep on growing.  If you are interested in setting up shop in China, read my post on the subject.

Source: Accenture

Source: WSJ

How To Choose A Social Media Platform For Your Business

posted March 24th, 2014 & filed under entrepreneurship, marketing/advertising, Serious Stuff, social networking

Business owners often struggle on deciding which social media platform will yield the best return of investment for their brand.

To help with your decision making process, Shopify published a study which outlines platforms with highest conversion rates. Vimeo, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram hold the best potential for e-commerce fashion brands. Users from these platforms are more likely to purchase.

Additionally, Polyvore, a social network that was discussed in my previous Staying Competitive article, is often overlooked when it comes to social media. These users actually spend more on average around $66 per purchase. Users on Polyvore are clearly more eager to make bigger purchases.

The Shopify infographic goes into detail about each social network. It highlights the products that tend to do well on the platforms, which can give businesses some insight on where to invest their time. Jewelry brands, for example, should spend their time on Pinterest, Instagram, Polyvore, and Facebook. Apparel brands may yield better results on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and Polyvore.

The Digital Marketing Opportunities In The Emerging Markets

posted March 20th, 2014 & filed under marketing/advertising, Serious Stuff, tips

This infographic from Wearesquared shows that social media users might not be where you think they are.  The Asian & African markets have the highest projected increase in social media & mobile adoption. Interestingly, these markets have the lowest online ad spend due to fewer e-commerce outlets marketing in these regions, which increases the potential advertising ROI. The opportunities are there for retailers to start investing in these growing markets. Perhaps it’s time to shift some of your marketing dollars and attention to emerging markets.

emerging markets infographic | Source http://www.wearesquared.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Family-Guy-Rosanne.jpg

Effective Email Marketing Strategies to Attract, Retain Customers

posted March 19th, 2014 & filed under marketing/advertising, Serious Stuff

Most small fashion businesses often overlook the power of email marketing. An effective email marketing strategy is key in growing your business and getting repeat customers. Emails will drive more traffic to your site if you personalize their content, allow customers to control their settings and consistently test the results. Test different promotional tactics by creating different landing pages. By leveraging A/B testing landing page builders such as Unbounce, OptimizePress, Optimizely or A/Bingo brands can identify which messages/designs drive more sales. Merchants no longer have to guess which subscription offers have the widest appeal.

Read full story on Scoop.it - e-commerce

How can E-Commerce Businesses enter the Chinese Market?

posted March 11th, 2014 & filed under culture jamming, entrepreneurship, social networking, tips

 

China is a constantly evolving market with 18 million cross-border shoppers. In 2013 China surpassed the US “the world’s largest digital retail market”, a report from Bain & Co states. 84% of Chinese online shopping is spent on US e-commerce sites. Many Chinese consumers prefer to shop abroad for luxury products to avoid high local taxes.

However, China is one of the most difficult markets to enter and the competition is fierce. Global luxury brands and local Chinese brands have aggressively increased their e-commerce marketing efforts making it difficult for smaller brands to compete. So although it is not impossible to enter China’s rapidly growing e-commerce markets, it is highly competitive.

Let’s face it; bigger and local companies have an edge. They are able to translate their e-commerce site accordingly and specifically tailor to the Chinese demographic. Additionally, social media platforms are completely different and shipping is still not 100% reliable.

Challenges aside, the Chinese locals are increasingly purchasing from smaller niche brands in an aim for uniqueness. In some circles, buying from obvious luxurious brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci is seen as tacky.  The trend publication Jing Daily mentioned recently “Today’s affluent Chinese consumers see luxury as a way of life, not just the occasional purchase of a good or service, separate from the rest of their lives.”  Take a look at the full article here.

 

Luxury Shoppers China

Today's Chinese Consumers see Luxury as a Way of Life

 

So how can your small businesses test the waters and organically get a feel for opportunities in China?

Below are my recommendations:

1. Shipping

Shipping methods in China are not completely reliable yet. When shipping to any Chinese location, you must include insurance fees in case the package gets lost. It’s also worth ensuring that you always use a reliable tracking service for added goods protection. Whilst shipping infrastructure is improving in China, it still has a long way to go, particularly outside its major cities of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Another option to consider are package forwarding services such as Ship2Me.com and US Global Mail. The following service creates a US based shipping address for the international consumer. Items purchased are shipped to a warehouse and consolidated into a bulk package that can be sent to their home country. Lastly, if you are as a business planning to more aggressively ship to Asia, I suggest you consider working with a fulfillment company. Shipwire.com and Shipstation.com help you streamline your shipping. They automate shipping and help you to manage higher volumes by setting up your products in various warehouses around the world.

2. Sell on Taobao or Tmall

If you want to sell anything online in China, then Taobao and Tmall are your go-to e-commerce destinations. Similar to EBay, Taobao and Tmall are two of the world’s leading marketplaces for Chinese consumers to do their online shopping. China’s shoppers and entrepreneurs alike are turning to these influential platforms as they are easy to access and are ideal selling point for start-up brands to showcase their products. Both of these platforms house over 70,000 e-commerce brands. They allow brand merchants to sell their goods across Greater China without having to create a China specific e-commerce site. Selling on these platforms will allow your brand to test a potential product in China without spending extra funds needed to translate your site. Taobao and Tmall will act as portals for your brand, potentially bringing additional traffic to your e-commerce site.

 

Ecommerce Payments

 

3. Register and Create an Account with Alipay

Alipay is a  PayPal-like payment service allowing users to make purchases without sharing their credit card information. Opening up an account is simple. Once you created your Alipay account, ensure to add the payment options within your e-commerce checkout form.

4. Find a local partner

Finding a local partner is a MUST. You must find a consultant or local business who can help you manage Chinese social media platforms and your Taobao / Tmall accounts. Find someone who speaks Mandarin fluently and has experience with the Chinese online retail environment. Many Chinese residents have a virtual private network, which enables them to break through the governmental Google, Twitter and Facebook blocks by encrypting their overall online browsing. However, please note that China uses completely different social media platforms to the ones used in other countries. These platforms include: Ozone, Weibo, Renren and Kaixin.

5. Consider Other Markets

China is one of the toughest markets to penetrate but it is definitely worth the investment. My recommendation for smaller companies who may be just starting out is to begin with other markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The demographics in these countries are active on universal social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, etc.. Needless to say, this will provide you with an advantage for reaching out and appealing to new consumer markets, which is the aim of the game here.

 

 

101 to Expanding Your Business Internationally

posted February 24th, 2014 & filed under entrepreneurship, insightful, Serious Stuff, tips

 

When looking to expand your business internationally, there are a few factors to consider. The list below will help you identify which market is right for your brand:

1. Assess How Easy it is to Ship to Specific Country

Cost effective and hassle free shipping is extremely important to grow your business internationally. You’ll need to understand country specific shipping regulations and costs prior. UPS has a handy tool that enables you to see a list of regulations for each country. You will just need to enter the origin/destination of your product and the tool will spill back documentation or requirements needed to ship to specific country. Vietnam for example has specific regulations on orders originating from the US that are greater than $100 US dollars. Pick a country to do business in, where your item is allowed to be exported. Additionally, research the full shipping costs. Make sure to weigh your item – obviously shipping will vary based on the weight of your item. You should also consider the shipping taxes as they vary from country to country. You wouldn’t want a potential buyer who is expecting a $20 shirt to have to pay another $20 in international duty costs. Consider geography when identifying countries that can meet your logistical demands. For example, if you are a business based in California, it might be more cost effective to ship to Asia/ Australia versus Europe.

Additionally, research the costs for shipping items back to you. As you grow your brand in a new market, you want to enable returns to establish trust.  If you plan for example to ship to Europe or Asia, DHL is a cost effective provider. Set-up sometime to speak with them directly to iron out all costs involved – they have specific solutions for small businesses.

Finally, consider using a fulfillment provider such as Shipwire, or Fulfilment by Amazon. A fulfilment service is a third party warehouse that prepares and ships your orders for you. Using a fulfilment service is a great option if you don’t want to have to deal with shipping.

 

2. Research Countries’ Social Media Networks of Choice & Influencers

You will need to consider how social media affluent the country you plan on doing business in is. Vinco publishes every year a  World Map of Social Network which highlights pre-dominant social networks used in various countries. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have become  universal platforms in most countries except for China, Russia, and a few others. There are currently more social network users in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Additionally, a report from “We are Squared” stressed that investing in online Ad Buys in emerging markets as a greater Return of Investment due to lack of competition than other markets.  Beyond researching which preferred social network a specific country has, you will also need to research likes/dislikes of specific demographic you plan on marketing too. Tools like Google Trends,  Trends Map and SocialAppsHQ can help you monitor trending conversations around the world around your specific topics while identifying influencers in specific countries. These tools along with Quancast will assist you in discovering which social media networks, local blogs, online forums you should focus your time on.  Finding local partners who can help you along your business journey can also prove to be a viable asset when first starting out.

Please understand that it does take time for brands to become well known, especially with the sheer amount of competition that the e-commerce sector has. Feel free to read my other blogs post on why Social Media Results don’t happen overnight. However, don’t let the competitiveness of your market deter you from achieving your business goals. As long as you have the determination, the knowledge and that ability to go the extra mile, your online company will succeed.

 

3. Assess the Demographic’s Willingness to Shop Abroad.

To do this you should research where your potential customer is spending most of their time. Look into their online spending habits. You will find that many consumers are likely to be willing to purchase products online from any country, so long as they are using a safe, reliable online payment system. Do some research online by going through trade publications and papers, such as Emarketer, McKinsey amongst other. Paypal has a great report entitled: Modern Spice Routes: The Cultural Impact of Cross-Border Shopping, which I encourage you read. You must ensure that the demographic you plan on marketing to is willing to shop in your specific country.

 

4. Evaluate Country Specific Needs  

It’s important prior starting to export goods to research burgeoning needs within each country. Which goods are customers looking for online? In Hong Kong for example, the population purchases wine and fine art online, while in Vietnam, residents buy electronics. Different countries shop online to tailor specific wants. Be in tune with these needs.

 

Overall, it is crucial that you have a deeper understanding of how your chosen country carries out their business. By doing some simple market research you can learn about the country you are interested in doing business in and roll out one country at a time. You can also find out how much potential your products could have in a given market, as well as prospects for their success. Start small and target specific markets. Once you have taken those first steps, anything is possible for the future growth of your e-commerce business.

Below are a few additional resources to help your brand become a global entity:

·U.S. Export Assistance Centers

·International Trade Administration

·U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Instagram Direct Messaging, an effective marketing tool

posted February 23rd, 2014 & filed under entrepreneurship, marketing/advertising

Instagram recent direct messaging feature is a powerful effective marketing tool enabling companies to engage directly with their exiting fans. Brands can now send personal photo & video messages to up to 15 people. Companies now can explore other means to fully reach out and engage with their consumers more effectively and efficiently. Here is how.

Using Instagram Direct:

  1. Take a photo and/or record a video. Add optional effects, filters and captions.
  2. Tap on an option called “direct” on the screen.
  3. Tap the names of the followers to send the video and/or photo.
  4. Tap on “send.”

Some ideas to leverage the new functionality:

1. Hold a Contest

Post a product photo with instructions stating that the first 10 people to comment on the photo will receive a direct message with detailed information on how to enter the contest. Or ask each of the 10 people to submit a photo of themselves using the product to win prizes. Then post the best photos to different social channels for added content.

2. Promotions

Share coupons, discount codes to the most active consumers or give them an incentive by providing special promotions.

3. Premium content

Share behind the scenes content of photo shoot, special tips or guest appearances

Instagram has evolved as a crucial marketing tool for online retailers. Direct Messaging is definitely a great tool to increase user engagement and  solving customer service issues.

Breaking into the US market is not just plug-in and play

posted February 12th, 2014 & filed under entrepreneurship, Serious Stuff, tips

 

While in Berlin, I had my share of discussions about complexity of entering the US market. Many of the brands I spoke too, had the unrealistic notion that anything was possible in the US. They assumed that all it takes is introduction to the right individuals and access to the right sales channel to get their brands embedded in the US market.

Unfortunately, even thought the following is true for other markets, the US is a lot more fickle. The US consumer has access to a plethora of options and is constantly bombarded with advertising. US consumers are jaded and do not buy in to marketing slogans as easily. Launching a product successfully in the US is a delicate formula of branding, strategy, and wittiness.

1. Do your research – Perform an extensive competitive analysis before entering the US market. Who is your competition? What are they doing right or wrong? Is there a gap in the market? How can you add value to the US market?

2. Zero in on your offering – You will not enter the US market being all to everyone. You must provide one thing really well. A successful Asian women apparel brand I worked in the past insisted in bringing their entire stock to the US a few years back. In my eyes, their strength was in their women’s business slacks and professional apparel. I felt strongly that if they introduced in the US market their comfortable slacks, they would take the market by storm. In the US unless you are willing to spend $300 or more, there aren’t comfortable, well-tailored professional suits available for women. By focusing on the professional women demographic, they would had been able to make a serious tent in the marketplace. Instead, they decided to bring their entire collection which spread from going out to lounge wear and became just another brand that melted within the vast competition.

3. Build your credibility – Building credibility is key when entering the US. As a foreign brand, you are starting from scratch. It doesn’t’ matter how renown you might be abroad. You will need to start from the ground up by reaching out to influencers and having a strong marketing / PR tactic. Your brand will need to be seen whether if it’s by attending events or purchasing advertising. You will need to be extremely pro-active.

4. Test the waters – I highly recommend before launching in the US to start by testing the viability of your product with smaller markets. Pick an exclusive group who can comment and test out your product. Whether it’s reaching out to college students, or going to less metropolitan towns like Austin, Texas; Portland, etc. Be open to their feedback and optimize your campaign accordingly.
5. Be ready to invest – Entering the US market is costly. Unless, you devise a viral campaign, getting your brand the attention it needs, will cost money. Give yourself a full year to properly launch. The results won’t happen overnight.

The American audience is hard to impress but if your product is on point, your campaign witty, and get the right influencers onboard, you will be golden. Remember Spotify!