In 2017, global online crime generated $1.5 trillion. To put that statistic in context, global eCommerce sales in 2016 totaled around $1.8 trillion. Both of those figures can be challenged and neither is likely to be entirely accurate, but it is clear that online crime is a huge, sophisticated, and professional industry. Much of that industry’s attention is focused on eCommerce retailers.
Anyone who runs an online retail store will find themselves a target sooner or later. By some estimates, 90% of login attempts to eCommerce stores are fraudulent. According to a recent study, about half of all website visitors are bots and around a third are there to attack your site. ThreatMetrix reported a billion bot attacks and 210 million attempted fraud attacks in the first quarter of this year.
But what do criminals gain from their focus on eCommerce stores? In reality, it’s much the same as they get from any site – resources, data, and traffic – but the specifics of eCommerce mean that online stores have a richer vein of those assets to mine.
Online retail stores have access to a lot of data about their customers. That includes names, addresses, and other data that can be used for identity theft.
Of course, the most valuable data is credit card numbers, and those are not often stored in eCommerce databases. One of the reasons retailers use payment processors is so that they don’t have to deal with the burdensome standards and risks associated with credit card data.
But, if an attacker can compromise a site and inject code of their own, sensitive data can be transmitted to a server under their control. This is called credit card skimming. We have recently seen a massive series of skimming campaigns against Magento and other eCommerce stores.
Traffic is valuable
Retailers spend a lot of money on marketing to bring people to their store. That traffic is a valuable resource that a criminal would otherwise have to generate themselves. We’ve already discussed credit card skimming, but criminals also want access to traffic so that they can redirect visitors to phishing websites, malware websites, spam pages, and a variety of other malicious content.
Server resources and bandwidth
No legitimate hosting provider wants to sell bandwidth and server resources to criminals, so they have to get them elsewhere. eCommerce stores are often hosted on high-end servers with a decent chunk of low-latency bandwidth at their disposal. That makes them a good target for spammers and botnet operators who need the bandwidth.
Another resource criminals are interested in is less tangible: your reputation. This can be exploited in a number of ways. For instance, SEO spammers embed links to malicious sites they want to boost in search engine results. It’s your reputation that causes shoppers to entrust their data to you in the first place. And it’s your reputation that will be destroyed if your store leaks sensitive data, hosts credit card skimmers, or infects shoppers with ransomware.
Combating Online Crime
Online security for eCommerce stores is a complex topic, but there are several things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your store will be victimized.
Update your store and its extensions regularly. The importance of this is hard to overstate. Out-of-date stores are vulnerable.
Make sure all plugins and extensions are downloaded from reputable sources.
Use two-factor authentication. This will help prevent successful brute-force attacks.
Choose your hosting wisely. If you don’t choose a competent hosting provider that cares about security, there’s little you can do to ensure that your store stays safe.
There is no silver bullet for eCommerce security, but these four simple tips will keep your store safe from opportunistic attacks by criminals in search of weaker sites to exploit.
Email is a powerful sales tool. It’s at least 40x more effective than social media, and has a much bigger reach than events. Because of this, it’s important that the emails your sending are done right.
Personalization ranks as one of the most critical email campaign factors. It draws the reader in, fosters a relationship, and encourages trust. Using a person’s name is a significant first step, but there are many ways to personalize an email and let a customer know that you care.
If your email campaigns aren’t bringing the results you want, perhaps it’s time you incorporated our six email personalization techniques. These methods will make your emails stand out from the others fighting for attention in a customer’s inbox.
1. Mention the Recipient Directly
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
The most well-used and well-known method of email personalization, and a perfect technique for building an initial connection. Imagine going to your favorite restaurant, but no one ever seems to remember you. It’s always a better experience when the head waiter recognizes you.
When it comes to digital, the data doesn’t lie. Using a customer’s name makes it more likely that they’ll journey further down the sales funnel and trust the research you present them with. Studies have shown that 63% of Millennials, 58% of Gen Xers, and 46% of Baby Boomers are more likely to click on emails that mentioned them by name.
However, resist the urge to pepper your entire email with their name. Too many mentions and the email will sound contrived. “Barry, this solutions is going to solve all your needs, Barry” – avoid sentences like this, you’ll push Barry away instead of drawing him closer.
2. Segment Your Email Lists
It’s unlikely that all your customers need to receive each and every email you send.
Stand out by only sending relevant emails to relevant parties. If you sell a variety of products, you don’t need to alert gizmo owners to a big sale for add-ons that only fit widgets. You only need to inform widget owners.
You can handle this process easily by segmenting your email list. A well-segmented email list is going to look different depending on your products, company, and customer base. However, at its core, it should seek to reflect a customer benefit analysis – I.e., what emails will most benefit what groups?
It would help if you also segmented your email lists based on where each person is on their buyer’s journey. Those who are just becoming aware that they have a problem that needs solving should receive a different email than those ready to purchase.
Creating a simple and easy to follow chart for customer progression is a great way to visualize how this segmentation process would work. We’ve put together a simple map to chart a buyer’s journey to cart abandonment.
3. Personalize Email Content
Personalization involves more than using a customer’s name.
Moreover, these emails helped to encourage and foster a community around the table booking service. Customers weren’t just finding a table, they were leaving reviews, building up a history, and contributing to something.
Emails that invite customers to be a part of something help to build trust and loyalty. For brands that rely on repeat purchases, emails that draw attention to community can lead to much higher customer retention rates.
4. Deliver Personalized Information
Don’t just deliver personalized product recommendations, deliver personalized information too. The buyer’s journey isn’t a single purchasing stage, it’s a model for funneling customers towards making a purchase. Before a customer makes it to the purchasing stage, they first weight up their options. This is where great, personalized content comes in.
Line up your website content with your email segments. Send those interested in tennis shoes articles about tennis shoes and those interested in bowler hats, articles on bowler hats. Contributing to a buyer’s consideration stage in this way doesn’t only help to improve retention, but can also lead to your becoming an influencer.
5. Use Location and Time
Everyone has a time of the day for checking their emails. It’s not always a time of day that you would have considered.
Busted Tees, a humorous tee shirt company, optimized their email campaigns by looking at the best times for sending emails and saw their click-through rate rise by 11%.
Email monitoring tools are useful for logging the open times for emails you send. Typically, a distinct pattern will emerge. Once you’ve learned your customer’s favorite email times, you can then send your emails at precisely that time – maybe even a little before.
6. A/B Test Content and Segment Techniques
For Busted Tees, the first step toward personalization was to segment its customers. The company grouped them by the time zone in which they lived.
Previously, all emails were sent at the same time — 10am EST. The new email segments aimed to target each customer at 10am, regardless of what time zone they were in. The company saw a significant email response rate increase.
They then tried different times of the day, to see if there were better times than 10am. A/B tests, where two variables are pitted against each other to determine the more effective way of doing something, were implemented and led to the discovery of several effective sending times. Overall, they managed to increase their response rate by 17%.
Email personalization best practices aren’t difficult to execute, but they do involve more than blasting generic greetings and cut-and-paste messages. It’s important to target your customers with content they care about.
A relevant email is more likely to draw attention, clicks, and ultimately purchases. By combining relevancy with testing, it won’t take long before you’re sending interesting email campaigns that promote your brand and help you to build a community.
Personalization takes a little extra work, but there’s a reason more successful marketers insist on doing it. It works.
Learn more about eCommerce hosting in the Hostdedi Cloud. We’re a PCI compliant provider that can offer unmatched performance, security, and reliability.
Chargebacks are a safeguard for shoppers, and from that perspective they are good for eCommerce. They reassure shoppers that when they give their credit card details to a merchant or payment processor, their money will be returned if they aren’t satisfied. But chargebacks put strain on eCommerce retailers, who have occasionally been driven out of business by excessive chargebacks.
A chargeback is the forced return of money from the retailer’s account to the shopper. They can be initiated by the retailer to make a refund, but it is shopper-initiated chargebacks that are problematic for retailers. Many chargebacks are fraudulent, but I want to focus on reducing “genuine” chargebacks. Shoppers initiate chargebacks for several reasons:
They didn’t receive the goods they ordered.
They received the goods but they were defective or otherwise unsatisfactory.
Buyers remorse — they changed their mind about the purchase.
So-called “friendly fraud”, in which the shopper agreed to make a payment, but has forgotten about it or didn’t understand what they were agreeing to.
The immediate impact of a chargeback is the loss of a sale, and possibly of the goods that have been delivered. But that isn’t the most onerous impact of chargebacks: retailers have to pay a fee for every chargeback they didn’t initiate, so in addition to losing a sale, retailers lose revenue from other sales too.
The credit card industry expects chargeback rates to be less than one percent of total transactions. If an eCommerce business even approaches a one percent chargeback rate, the credit card providers may decline to accept payments, which can be devastating to the business.
It is in the interest of all eCommerce businesses to keep chargeback rates low.
Make it easy for customers to request a refund.
A chargeback should be the option of last resort. Customers are often happy to deal with the retailer directly if the process of requesting a refund is obvious and not too onerous — don’t make people wait on hold for hours, for example.
No one likes to lose a sale, but the shopper has the power here, and it is better to lose the sale and make a refund than to risk a chargeback.
Have a customer-friendly return policy.
Free returns are a financial drain on an eCommerce business too, but that may be a better option than suffering a chargeback. A customer who knows they will have to pay a large shipping fee to return an item may be tempted to use a chargeback instead.
Make sure shoppers can get in touch with you.
Provide a channel by which customers can get in touch and don’t make them wait for support. It is often possible to work out a satisfactory resolution to a dispute.
Describe goods accurately.
Chargebacks often occur because the goods the shopper receives are not what they expected. It is not possible to force customers to read copy and think about what they are buying, but clear product descriptions with images and video help to get the message across.
Make charges with a name customers recognize
One of the most common causes of chargebacks is shoppers failing to recognize the transaction on their credit card bill. This might be because the retailer makes the charge under a different name than the brand the shopper is familiar with, or that the shopper has forgotten making the purchase.
To reduce the likelihood of this type of friendly fraud chargeback, use a familiar brand name for charges or make it clear to the customer that the name will be different on their bill.
Chargebacks are an irritation to eCommerce retailers, and sometimes a disaster, but it is possible to keep chargebacks under control by giving shoppers clear alternatives and a way to get in touch.
Today’s buyer has access to an incredible amount of information. They are able to create a clear picture of the product they are looking to purchase by leveraging information from search engines, social media, and word of mouth.
This changing information landscape means that merchants now have to work harder than ever to make products and their attributes as accessible as possible to buyers.
Worried you’re not doing it right? Follow our four tips for optimizing a buyer’s journey and help guide your site visitors towards making a purchase and not clicking away.
What is the Buyer’s Journey?
Before delving any deeper, it’s important to define what a Buyer’s Journey actually looks like.
A simple and commonly used representation of the buyer’s journey is the sales funnel. It’s useful as it embodies the three primary stages a buyer goes through.
Awareness – Aware of a need for something new
Consideration – Analyzing the different options available to them
Decision – Final purchasing decision (a conversion)
As buyer’s progress down the funnel, they get closer to making a purchase. Awareness of where a buyer is at, lends you the ability to target them with more relevant content. Gone are the days of blanket content marketing.
There are several ways to target those in your sales funnel effectively. We’ve collected four of the most effective.
1. Create Awesome Content
Great content does better in almost every single way. Not only will it rank better organically by being a ‘cut above the rest’, it will also attract more shares and reads. If done right, great content can also turn you into an authority or thought leader — capable of a greater degree of influence over customers’ buying decisions.
Conversely, publishing not-so-awesome content can have the opposite effect. 49% of B2B buyers said their opinion of a company decreased after reading poor quality content. Something you definitely want to avoid!
Where to Put Great Content?
Great content belongs in your blog
Great content tends to exist on your internal blog. Blogs are a great resource for improving search visibility and providing your customers with useful information. Many eCommerce stories use their blog to post company updates, but they have much greater potential when aligned with content marketing efforts.
There are a number of ways to present your blog but, at a minimum, creating several relevant categories to aid in navigation is important. Visitors need to be able to find your awesome content.
Guest posting can also be an incredibly effective method for increasing the number of customers that visit your site. Depending on the websites you are able to guest post on, this can help you to both rank authoritatively in search engine results and expand your influence.
2. Create an Awesome Experience
There are eCommerce stores that make the buyer’s journey confusing and difficult. Either the buyer can’t find the item they are looking for, or the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision is missing.
You don’t enter a shopping mall or supermarket and find a new set of obstacles every time you turn the corner. Stores and aisles are appropriately labeled and relevant merchandise is either placed at the storefront or along the aisle. Buying online should be no different. Buyers should be able to easily find a product by following the right signs.
Creating a great user experience undoubtedly deserves an article of its own, but for the purpose for brevity, three areas you should be paying attention to at all times are:
Optimize your eCommerce store for speed and performance easily. Learn how.
3. Help Buyer’s Find You
While creating awesome content, you should be targeting words and phrases surrounding that content. These are what are known as keywords. Keywords come in both long tail and short tail form. Short tail keywords target large, general terms. Long tail keywords target specific search phrases.
As an example, think of a buyer looking for a pair of men’s tennis shoes. A short tail keyword would be “Men’s tennis shoes”: it’s direct and to the point. A long tail keyword would be “best tennis shoes for men” or “best tennis shoes for men on astroturf”. Long tail keywords form the basis for content that draws customers towards your store while in the consideration stage of the funnel.
Finding Long Tails
An example Google Trends result
So where can you find long tail keywords? Google Trends is a great resource for getting started. Simply searching for products you are selling can reveal a list of terms buyers are searching for.
Once you’ve discovered trends, you can also try using SEO tools like MOZ or SEMRush. Inputting the trend phrases you identified previously will give you a list of specific keywords with information on difficulty, search volume, and more.
With this information, you can map out your content to match the different stages of your buyer’s journey and start to create a great content map.
Product (what are you selling)
Intent (What does the buyer want?)
Actionable (Will they buy?)
where to buy a bowler hat
men’s bowler hat
4. Reach Out Personally
Reaching out to consumers directly is a great way to increase conversions… if done right.
This year (2018), 89% of marketers said that email was their primary channel for lead generation, despite many feeling that their email marketing could do with improvement. The issue? Less than perfect open rates.
As a result, 54% of email marketers work to improve open rates, not reach. They do this by A/B testing content, finding what works, and removing what doesn’t. The results are not surprising. General, forceful emails are a good way to encourage unsubscribes or have customers report you as spam. Needless to say, they’re not so great for making sales.
Emails were thought to have more inherent value when they acknowledged the customer directly. 63% of Millennials, 58% of Gen Xers, and 46% of Baby Boomers were more likely to click through and share personal information with companies when the email mentioned them by name.
We’ve got four quick tips to help you get started with email personalization.
Mention the recipient directly:
Whether it’s in the subject of the email, the header, the body, or a mix of all three, mentioning the recipient by name is a surefire way to get started with personalization: “Dear John” always sounds better than “Dear Customer”.
Personalize email content:
Are all of your customers the same? If your answer is yes, you may need to engage in some persona research. Your audience should not be a single, homogenous body, but a series of smaller groups defined by mutual lifestyles and demographics.
Refer to their buyer’s journey:
Take this to the next level and send your customers emails that include products they added to their shopping cart and abandoned. More than 40% of cart abandonment emails are opened, 50% of which are clicked on. Of these, 50% make a purchase. That’s 10% of customers you send a cart abandonment email to that will make a purchase.
Use location and time:
Don’t send emails to international customers at 1 am. Use segmented lists to send emails when they’re most likely to be opened. This may take a little work to perfect, but finding the golden hour for email opens can make a big difference.
Host your email and website with the same provider. Find out more.
Optimizing the buyer’s journey is a tricky process because of how personal it can be. It’s highly unlikely your buyers are all the same, and it’s important to target each appropriately.
The tips above provide an easy way to identify those differences and the types of content that works best for each group. Don’t forget that it’s important to run A/B tests on each of the elements you enlist in your campaigns to find which works best and continue improving.
When you opened your eCommerce store, where did you see yourself in five years? As a small and consistent merchant providing an excellent, personal service, or a global supplier of high-quality products?
For many merchants, the goal is sales growth. Achieving this is a mix of reputation, product, and service. Unfortunately, you can’t control any of these things 100%, but you can proactively keep them in check by paying attention to some of the main eCommerce issues buyer’s encounter. this may include:
Slow loading pages
Hard to find products
An unintuitive use experience (UX)
Before we take a look at how to keep these things in check, let’s see how your store’s conversion rate compares to the competition.
What Constitutes an eCommerce Success?
For the purposes of this article, eCommerce success can be measured by conversions. A conversion is when someone completes a goal you have set. For eCommerce stores (and the purposes of this article), this is typically a sale.
Taking a look at historical data, eCommerce conversion rates have actually decreased in 2018. In Q4 2018, the average rate across all industries in the US was 2.96%. That means that 2.96% of visitors to the average eCommerce store would make a purchase. In Q2 2018, that number was 2.63%. A small, but significant drop.
One report by ComScore suggests that increased concerns regarding security, a lack of easily accessible information, inefficient UX, and hard to find products are some of the main reasons for this decline. Other sources suggest that a shift in the market has lead to this change.
Looking at conversion rates across industries, the difference is stark. Arts and Crafts, for instance, manages to a conversion rate nearing 4.0%, while the Baby and Child sector remains below 1.0%. Before deciding how much your store needs to improve, check the average conversion rate in your industry. If you feel your number is still too low, continue reading.
1. Increase Conversion Speed
Speed is king in the world of eCommerce. Multiple studies have confirmed slow loading eCommerce stores have lower conversion rates.
A 1-second page delay results in:
16% less customer satisfaction
11% fewer page views
7% conversion decrease
What can you do to avoid this?
Check Your Hosting
The first step is to check your hosting. If you’re an eCommerce store, you don’t want to opt for the cheapest provider. You should be looking for performance and support, not a low monthly fee.
There are two primary periods of concern you should prepare for: traffic spikes, and downtime
Traffic spikes can easily be managed in modern hosting with an auto scaling feature. True auto scaling allows for an automatic increase to site capacity when it’s required. This is perfect for sales events or when one of your products goes viral and saves you from having to upgrade your entire solution for an extended period of time.
Downtime can be more of a problem. Support is your solution. You’ll want a team that’s available 24/7/365 and with physical access to the data center your site is stored in. That means hosting with a provider that owns their own data center. This way, if something does happen to your eCommerce store, you’ll know that you’ll be back up and be converting potential buyers as soon as possible.
In addition to the points above, your hosting solution should be optimized for your application; especially if you’re running the caching heavy Magento. Check with your provider as to what is a good
Find out what questions you should be asking your hosting provider. Learn more.
Once you’ve checked that your hosting provider is optimized for eCommerce, the next step is to see if your server is bogged down with bloat.
Begin by removing all unnecessary plugins and extensions from your CMS.
If you’re using Magento, go to System -> Magento Connect -> Magento Connect Manager. Scroll through the list of installed extensions and select the ones you no longer need. On the drop-down menu, select uninstall and then click Commit Changes.
If you’re using WooCommerce with WordPress, head to your admin panel, then Plugins -> Installed Plugins. From here you’ll be able to see all the plugins you currently have installed and remove those you don’t need.
We recommend committing these changes to a dev site before doing so with a production environment. This allows you to see how they will affect your site from a buyer’s perspective.
Basic Website Optimization
There are optimizations non-specific to eCommerce but that will help to increase speed and keep conversions up. These are simple website optimizations that anyone can do – regardless of whether they have any technical knowledge.
2. Plugins & Extensions
Modern CMSs know that the functionality required for different sites is, well, different. One store may be perfectly happy using what’s available by default, while the next needs an extra something. With plugins and extensions, that something can easily be found and added.
There are a number of plugins and extensions perfect for boosting conversions. We highly recommend looking into tools to:
Run A/B tests
Manage opt-in forms
Promote your content on social
Deliver high-quality, non-invasive Calls to Action
Before installing a new plugin or extension, ask yourself: Will it boost conversions? If that answer to that question is yes or maybe, install away. If it’s no, find something else.
We’ve created our own Magento extension designed to increase load times in Magento. We’ve called it Turpentine and it works by improving the already efficient Varnish with noticeable improvements to the cache hit rate.
3. Optimize the Buyer’s Journey
As we looked at earlier, one of the main reasons for an industry-wide decline in conversion rate is hard to find products.
To combat this, you want to make it as easy as possible for a buyer to find what they are looking for. This means more than simply directing them to your sales page; it means placing them on a journey.
The buyer’s journey as a sales funnel.
A traditional buyer’s journey consists of three main stages:
Awareness – Aware of a need for something new
Consideration – Analyzing the different options available to them
Decision – Final purchasing decision (a conversion)
These stages are often embodied as a funnel. This funnel mimics how the number of people decreases as they journey down the funnel. No store has a 100% conversion rate.
A buyer’s journey is often unique and forcing a myriad of different audiences down only a handful of funnels will mean fewer sales and lower retention. As a store owner, it is important for you to manage these stages in accordance with the data you collect from successes and wins.
Yet creating content that keeps visitors engaged can be a tricky process. Where do you start? Here are three methods that we’ve seen work incredibly well in the modern digitally-driven buyer’s journey.
Create Stand Out Content
Create content that does more than just duplicate what the competition is doing. Try to find what type of content your audience wants. Look beyond the data if you have to.
Create Longtail Content
Perform a long tail keyword analysis to see where you should be directing some of your content and SEO efforts. Short tails are great for sales pages, but optimizing for long tails is the best way to target your audience – especially if they’re niche.
Nurture Leads With Personalized Outreach
Do more than just personalize the “To” field in emails. Reach out to your audience directly. Finding influencers and people who already do this effectively is a great shortcut. You can also optimize on-page content. Check out these WordPress AI and machine learning plugins for delivering personalized content at the right stage of the funnel.
4. Create a Story With Emotion
One of the most effective ways to optimize eCommerce conversions is to change the fundamental way in which you are selling your products.
Buyers want an experience when they buy from you, not just a list of technical specifications (most of the time). This directly addressed one of the reasons for a decline in conversions: a lack of interest in products.
Hubspot has created a really useful article on how to use emotion to sell. They’ve gone with six different emotions (to start). Depending on your audience and the product you’re trying to sell, you appeal to a different emotion.
For instance, if you’re working for a non-profit and trying to boost eCommerce conversions for a donations package, altruism is likely your best option (unless that donation package comes packed with chocolate). If you’re trying to increase conversions on the latest Mercedes though, you’re probably better off going to envy and a sense of keeping up with the Joneses.
All of this leads into our final method for optimizing eCommerce store conversions:
5. Test, Test, Test
Testing should be the bedrock of your conversion optimization strategy.
It’s unlikely you’re going to hit a jackpot every time. Even after years of working with the same audience and products, there are going to be times where your tests misfire or miss the mark. Trial and error let you refine your conversion strategy and improve.
There is always room for improvement, regardless of how well you’re already doing.
A functional eCommerce store is made up of two components: a feature-rich eCommerce application and a fast, scalable hosting solution. Once you have settled on an eCommerce application for your online retail store, it’s time to decide on a hosting solution. Hosting provides the bandwidth, storage, compute, and database resources an eCommerce store needs.
In this article, we’re going to look at the qualities of a great eCommerce hosting provider and at the types of hosting suitable for online retail.
Cheap Shared Hosting Is Not The Best Option
Modern eCommerce applications like Magento and WooCommerce are built on standard technology like MySQL and PHP. Any web hosting platform can run an eCommerce store, but not all provide the resources, support, and eCommerce-specific optimizations that a great online retail experience requires.
For very low traffic eCommerce stores, a standard shared hosting account or virtual private server might be adequate, but you will soon run into resource, performance, scaling, and security problems as your business grows.
Choosing a specialist managed eCommerce hosting provider with expertise in your chosen application will be slightly more expensive, but you’ll save time and money throughout the life of your business.
The Qualities Of An Excellent eCommerce Hosting Provider
A good eCommerce hosting provider understands the hosting requirements of eCommerce applications and the needs of eCommerce businesses. An eCommerce store isn’t an ordinary website.
Performance-optimized hosting: Speed and responsiveness are vital. Slow stores make less money. Look for a web hosting provider with the technical ability to optimize their networks, servers, and software stack for the best possible performance.
Managed Services: A world-class eCommerce host will provide managed services that help retailers make the most of the hosting platform. Managed services should include performance optimization, security hardening, and comprehensive backup services.
Support: Responsive support is vital. You don’t want to be left twiddling your thumbs if an issue arises with your store during a busy shopping period. Look for an eCommerce host who is prepared to work with you and your team to secure, scale, and optimize the reliability of your store.
A reputation for security: Security is vital at all levels of eCommerce hosting, from the data center to the application itself. Make sure your eCommerce host can demonstrate the quality of its security controls with third-party certifications like SSAE 16 and PCI DSS. Additionally, verify that the provider’s platform runs the most recent software versions and that the software stack is regularly updated — you’d be surprised how many hosting providers use outdated and vulnerable software.
Choosing The Right Hosting
There are three main types of eCommerce hosting suitable for applications like Magento and WooCommerce: shared hosting, dedicated server hosting, and clusters of dedicated servers.
Shared eCommerce hosting: With shared hosting, the resources of a server are shared between several eCommerce stores. Unlike standard shared web hosting, a reputable eCommerce hosting provider strictly limits the number of stores each server supports. eCommerce-optimized shared hosting is ideal for smaller stores.
Dedicated Server eCommerce hosting: Each store has access to the resources of an enterprise-grade dedicated server. Dedicated servers are the most powerful single-server hosting option available. Dedicated servers are suitable for medium to large eCommerce stores.
Dedicated Server Clusters: The most powerful eCommerce hosting option, clusters combine the resources of several dedicated servers, with each server taking responsibility for a different aspect of the store’s functionality, including web servers, file servers, and database servers. Clusters are capable of supporting the largest eCommerce stores and can be scaled indefinitely.
As an eCommerce store grows, its hosting should be able to grow with it. By choosing a provider that offers hosting options suitable for stores from the smallest to the largest, eCommerce merchants establish a long-term relationship with a host who can support their business throughout its life.
eCommerce is the future of retail, but what will the eCommerce store of the future look like? Will eCommerce businesses sell their products via third-party channels like eBay or Amazon, or will they invest in an eCommerce website they control? Will eCommerce apps take the place of traditional eCommerce stores on the web platform?
It’s hard to predict what will happen in an era of rapidly evolving technology and consumer behavior, but we think the web-based eCommerce store is here to stay. Retailers will invest in mobile eCommerce apps and they will sell via many channels, but at the center there will be an eCommerce website designed, managed, marketed, and controlled by the retailer.
A web eCommerce store supported by an application like Magento or WooCommerce offers two advantages that other channels do not: it’s on the web and it doesn’t depend on third-party platforms.
Why Does The Web Matter?
The web matters because it’s where people find your store: Google sends a massive amount of traffic to eCommerce stores, and most consumers search on the web. The web is everywhere, whereas persuading shoppers to install native applications is challenging.
Evidence shows that many consumers prefer to shop on the web, and while mobile eCommerce can’t be ignored, nor can the significant proportion of purchases that are made from non-mobile browsers. Retailers without a web presence are at a disadvantage.
Five years ago, native mobile apps offered the best eCommerce experience, but today’s web is different. In 2018, the web platform is competitive with the native app experience, and with the introduction of Progressive Web Apps, the distance between web and native is even narrower.
Why Does Control Matter?
Third-party retail channels like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and others generate a lot of revenue for eCommerce retailers. Social eCommerce and instant messaging eCommerce are an important part of the future of retail. But third-party channels have a drawback: they force retailers to cede control to the platform.
Retailers with a hosted web eCommerce store don’t face that risk. They don’t have to worry about “pivots” and “platform sunsetting” pulling the rug out from under them. They don’t have to align their business model to the business model of the platform owner. Independent web stores can access more data than retailers constrained to third-party platforms — data they don’t have to share.
Another important freedom is the ability to move an eCommerce business to a different platform or hosting provider. It’s straightforward to migrate a Magento or WooCommerce store to a different web hosting provider. It’s only a little more difficult to move from a Magento store to a WooCommerce store or vice versa. It’s almost impossible to move lock, stock, and barrel from a third-party marketplace when you depend on it and its audience for all of your revenue.
One Home, Many Channels
Omni-channel eCommerce doesn’t mean abandoning the control provided by a central web-based eCommerce store. Magento offers excellent integration with multiples channels: the Sellbrite extension is just one example of a tool that can integrate an existing eBay, Amazon, and Etsy retail with a Magento web presence.
In 2018, there is no excuse for a slow eCommerce store. Shoppers don’t have the patience to wait while pages load or slow search and checkout features struggle to react to input. Performance optimization involves taking a close look at your eCommerce store and how it works, figuring out why it’s slow, and making the necessary changes.
At a high level, performance optimization can be divided into two broad categories: client-side or front-end optimization that deals with loading and executing code and other assets in the browser, and server-side or backend optimization, which focuses on improving the speed at which web pages are generated and sent to the browser.
Choose The Right Hosting Provider
The right hosting provider is vital to low-latency eCommerce performance. If an eCommerce store runs on a slow or unoptimized server, it will never be fast, no matter how hard you work to optimize it. If the store’s server doesn’t have the resources it needs to cope with the traffic it receives, it will perform poorly under load.
The solution is to migrate to a hosting plan with more resources or to a hosting provider capable of offering the performance eCommerce shoppers expect.
Understand The Problem
eCommerce stores are complex and there are many opportunities for optimization, but retailers need to know what’s going wrong before they can fix it. Data allows you to identify the real cause of the problem, rather than wasting time on theoretical performance optimizations.
The tools we suggested above provide a good starting point for optimization, but here are three optimizations that are almost certain to make pages load faster:
Optimize images: Images are an important part of any eCommerce product page, but they’re also often the largest. Use tools like ImageOptim or a web service like Kraken.io to remove extraneous metadata and reduce the size of images without reducing their quality.
The best server-side optimization is to choose a web hosting provider that does most of the work for you, providing powerful servers, an optimized software stack, and a low-latency network.
A good web hosting provider will also help you out with a couple of other optimizations that can significantly improve load-times and reduce latency: a content distribution network and server-side caching.
Caching stores the output of requests so that they don’t have to be generated by code that accesses the database every time a browser requests the same information. eCommerce is a dynamic process, and caching works well with data that changes infrequently, but it can nevertheless significantly boost the perceived performance of an eCommerce store.
Caching solutions are available for WooCommerce and Magento, both as plugins or extensions, and as external caching applications like Varnish and Memcached.
A slow eCommerce store hurts sales and revenue, so it’s worth investing the time to reduce latencies and build a fast and fluid shopping experience.Slow eCommerce stores lose out on sales and revenue — we look at the how and the why of eCommerce optimization
And yet, I often hear eCommerce merchants debating the benefits of native applications.
Native applications sound like something eCommerce merchants that reach a certain size should invest in. Native applications are faster than web applications, and they’re likely to stay that way until WebAssembly enters mainstream use. Native applications can take advantage of device hardware that is clumsy or impossible to access on the web.
However, with some exceptions I’ll discuss later, native applications are typically not a good investment for eCommerce retailers.
The most important argument against building a native application for eCommerce retail is that the majority of customers won’t use it. Studies have shown that shoppers prefer to interact with eCommerce stores on the web — they prefer to locate stores, read product reviews, make purchases, and check order statuses on the web. Theoretically, a properly designed native application could provide a marginally better shopping experience, but there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not what shoppers want.
Look at the home screen of your iOS or Android phone. How many shopping applications do you have installed? For most consumers, the answer is none, and even dedicated shoppers are selective about the shopping applications they install.
Given that most shoppers prefer the web, is a native app really the best investment? A bespoke native application is expensive to build and manage, and it adds a huge amount of complexity to development, especially if the retailer wants to create an app that is available on all the major mobile platforms.
It makes sense to focus development work on a single codebase, a responsive web application that works everywhere from the desktop to the smartphone. The modern web has access to many of the same capabilities as native applications via browser APIs, including push notifications. The gap between what’s possible on the web and in native applications is shrinking rapidly.
Although I don’t think building a parallel native eCommerce application is the best use of a retailer’s time and money, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for native applications in eCommerce. Leading eCommerce brands use native apps to raise consumer awareness and for content marketing. Fashion brand Miu Miu created a music app to showcase fashion show excerpts and a custom soundtrack. Paul Smith released Paul Smith Dino Jumper, a retro platform game. An app from Hermés demonstrates all the ways its customers might wear their scarves and ties.
The creative use of native applications can boost brand awareness, but there’s little point duplicating a web store as a native app — let each platform play to its strengths and user-base.
Social proof is a vital part of eCommerce conversion rate optimization. Unlike in brick-and-mortar stores, customers can’t inspect products in person. Shoppers can’t know for sure that they’ll get what they expect. Social proof, in the form of positive reviews, lets customers know that other people were happy with their purchase.
But few shoppers leave positive reviews — and why would they? Taking the time to write a positive review does nothing for the customer. They already have the product they paid for and they have nothing to gain from reviewing it.
However, customers who are not happy with their purchase are more than willing to make their opinions known. Satisfaction is less motivating than the opposite, and the imbalance is the bane of eCommerce retailers.
One dissatisfied customer who writes a review has more of an impact than a thousand happy customers who don’t. A couple of negative reviews on a product page or on social media can do real financial damage to a retail business, especially if those reviews find their way into a prominent position on Google.
Retailers shouldn’t leave positive reviews to chance. Some eCommerce retailers solve the positive review problem dishonestly, by manufacturing their reviews. I wouldn’t encourage that practice: customers can often spot a fake review, and if they have the slightest suspicion their trust in a store can be destroyed.
So how should eCommerce retailers get positive reviews?
Ask For Positive Reviews
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s important not to alienate customers by “begging” for reviews or employing manipulative techniques, but there’s nothing wrong with asking politely. Effective review request emails make it clear that the retailer values the customer’s opinion, and that any information they provide will be taken seriously.
Time It Right
For the most part, you only get one opportunity to ask for a review. Make it count. Don’t send the review request email before the product has been delivered. Give the user some time to have an experience with their purchase before asking them to write about it.
Make It Easy
It should be as easy as possible to leave a review. When customers write a positive review, they’re doing you a favor — don’t make them work for it. Send a direct link to the review interface with the review request email, preferably with a unique identifier that ties the URL to their purchase.
Don’t ask too many questions: one question is fine, but a complex web form with many questions will discourage customers.
Your review system should work perfectly on mobile devices. People use their phones and tablets to read email, and if they can’t leave a review on the same device, the opportunity is wasted.
In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary to create a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” review strategy, but if you’re having real difficult generating reviews, you may find incentives effective. I wouldn’t advise you pay: payment degrades the trustworthiness of reviews. But small discounts and perks can motivate reluctant reviewers to make an effort.
Convincing happy shoppers to leave reviews is one of the most challenging aspects of eCommerce, but the social proof of positive reviews can generate significant conversion rate improvements, so spending time on your review strategy is a sound investment.