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Putting Your Best Foot Forward – How to make your products look great online.

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At BN Branding we’ve been working with more and more ecommerce companies. It’s the nature of business these days…  Everyone wants to know how to make their products look great online so they can join the ecommerce gold rush.

Brick and mortar retailers are adding online operations; Bricks and Clicks, it’s called. Manufacturing companies are side-stepping traditional middlemen and jumping into the direct-to-consumer model. And every little start-up under the sun wants to build a Shopify store.

It’s a great business model that offers all kinds of potential, especially for people who keep an eye on design, persuasion architecture and user experience.

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Unfortunately, most ecommerce sites are plain, templated, and boring-looking at best. At worst they’re schlocky, hard to use and ineffective at selling anything.

So the good news is, if your ecommerce offerings aren’t downright sloppy you’ll actually stand out from the crowd. The bar is pretty low.

If your products are beautifully photographed and persuasively presented you’ll sell a lot more stuff online.

Specifically, you’ll see increases in the number of visitors that convert, the average order value, and the frequency of purchase… the three most important metrics in ecommerce.

But you have to look sharp, be convincing, AND make life easier for the shopper.

I’ve seen many companies spend a lot of money to design their brand identity and develop state-of-the art ecommerce systems, only to neglect the most basic elements of online sales.

Those basics are: Photography and copy. Putting words and pictures together to tell a compelling short story about every product you sell.

The “best practices” in Ecommerce consist of product photos on a white background with just a short, factual description stuffed with keywords from a spreadsheet. But best practices in this case, are nothing more than pooled ignorance. Just the facts won’t cut it if you want to differentiate your ecommerce store and sell a lot of product.

The fact is, words matter. A lot more than you may think.

Many people are NOT visual learners who just go with whatever pretty pictures they find. And a fair portion of your users will click and scour and read and study and fret and circle around three times before they buy.

You need the sizzle, but you also need the steak. You need to put some meat on those marketing messages for people who are seriously interested in products.

You need content that covers all types of buyers:  Lookers and learners. Analytical and emotional. Fast and slow. Male & Female. Optimist and pessimist. It’s a balanced, yin-yang approach that achieves the best response.

 

 

 

Want to make your products look great online? Start with your product design and your packaging design. 

If you’re selling your own products on your own ecommerce store you have a huge advantage. Your product design can be your #1 selling tool. Your packaging design #2. And your website design is #3. In a perfect world, your website design would complement both.

Great product and packaging design takes a lot of the pressure off  your ecommerce presentation, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to cut corners. “We just let the product speak for itself,” is a cop-out phrase I’ve heard too many times.

If you’re selling other people’s stuff on your ecommerce store the photography and online sales pitch become even more important. You can’t just pick up the manufacturer’s product descriptions and stock photos and expect to move a lot of product.

It’s your store. It needs your own special touches. If it looks, feels and sounds just like all the other ecommerce stores in your niche, you’re going struggle.

Customers are attracted to products with unique designs, and websites that showcase those products in innovative and unexpected ways. That’s how you get repeat business and build brand loyalty.

 

More than just pretty pictures — Great photography pays for years.

According to the US National Retail Federation, 67% of consumers consider the quality of your product images to be ‘very important’ when making online purchase decisions.

Since they can’t touch the products, prospective customers rely heavily on your photography.  So you need to ensure that your images work hard and portray as much detail as possible.

how to make your products look great online BN Branding's designs for Smidge, small batch supplements.There are four types of images that are important to include…

1. Standard, straight-on shots with a white background. Plain visual documentation is a necessary evil in ecommerce.

These not-so sexy images show the practical side of your product from various angles. In the food business, for instance, you have to include a clearly readable photo of the nutrition facts panel. If there are important differentiating features, like zippers in a jacket, include extreme close-ups of those.

2. Hero shots, like this one we did for Smidge through DogLeg Studios. Don’t settle for the same-old standard shots of your product. Give the shopper multiple angles in optimal lighting. Kitten it up a little bit. Even pill bottles can be given a personality.

3. Lifestyle images. Show how the product fits into people’s lives. Get photos that tell stories and take people places. Showing the product in action is also a good idea, preferably in believable, real-word situations.

You don’t need better product descriptions. You need actual copywriting. 

Making your products look good online also means making them sound irresistible in your copy. Unfortunately, most product descriptions are nothing more than an afterthought; The last, nagging, pain-in-the-ass detail in the long, tedious process of building an ecommerce store.

It’s too bad, because those business owners are leaving a lot of money on the table. Descriptions tell. Great copy sells.

In order to write convincing product copy you need to start with a thorough understanding of wants, needs, desires and habits of your customer base.  They might not be buying your product for the obvious reasons. In fact, there’s almost always ulterior motives involved in any purchasing decision.

Knowing those motives and tapping into the emotional side of the decision can mean the difference between mediocre sales and off-the-chart success.

But there are millions of business owners who know their market inside and out and  still can’t write a convincing paragraph of copy. If it were easy there’d be millions of wealthy novelists and there wouldn’t be a market for professional copywriters.

Writing compelling sales copy is completely different than writing blog articles or social media posts. Quite often, it’s what you don’t say that’s the most critical element of the pitch. Writing long is easy. Short and sweet is much more difficult.

If you struggle with that, it’s probably best to outsource it to a pro. Your time will be better spent elsewhere, and your conversion rates will improve.

Whatever you do, don’t outsource your copywriting to an SEO specialist or some sort of AI software that “automatically generates sales copy from your keyword list.”  It might work for on the Google spiders, but it won’t work on humans. It’ll be soulless. Pedantic. And OFF brand.

Obviously, it’s a good idea to incorporate SEO keywords in your sales copy, but that’s not where good writing starts. A real pro starts with the emotional hook — the pain point — and builds a compelling story around that. Along the way, she’ll weave the keywords seamlessly into the narrative.

No computer can replicate that.

If you insist on the DIY approach, here are some of the best tools that can transform your ecommerce presentations from average to amazing.DIY approach to ecommece - how to make your products look great online.

There are countless free or low-cost eBooks and tutorials that explain the design process and help you come up with aesthetically pleasing products yourself.  Free learning hubs like Coursera and ALISON offer plenty of short, interactive courses on product design and eCommerce, as do eLearning platforms like those of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and MIT.

Platforms like Product Design Resources and Inspiration Feed offer plenty of downloadable eBooks packed with tips on designing and photographing products that will sell. Product School also boasts a collection of free online resources for product managers, including courses, webinars, and free product master-classes.

According to Forbes, multiple studies have revealed that larger images improve your sales conversion rates. Tiny thumbnails might look neat at first glance, but they aren’t able to convey the detail, features and quality of your products accurately to your customers.

There are plenty of digital tools that you can use to enlarge your product photographs without sacrificing their quality. Some of the more popular tools among eCommerce store owners include Vance AI Image Enlarger, ImgLarger, Deep Image, and Deep AI. Adobe PhotoShop CC is another great option if your budget allows for it.

You can use tools like Compressor.io to compress your product images to thumbnails while maintaining their quality. Smushit.it, RIOT and Puny.png to optimize the quality and orientation of your images. Tools like Kraken.io will help you crop and resize your product pictures so that your products always look great online.

If you don’t have the time or the artistic inclination, you can always reach out to us for help.

Of course, Selling products at the right price also helps, but the price tag won’t matter if your products don’t look good and sound appealing.

Here’s the bottom line from a branding standpoint: You can have a great brand identity, and a nicely designed ecommerce store, but if your products don’t look good and sound appealing your snazzy brand is like icing on a cardboard cake.

Give us a call. The first meetings are always free. Or contact us here. 

 

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The Allure of Ecommerce (4 reasons why small retail brands often fail at online sales)

brand credibility from branding expertsThese days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.

It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.

First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.

According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.

bricks and clicks retail marketing Amazon Go store

bricks and clicks ecommerce model BNBranding

According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point.  “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.” 

So it goes both ways.

More on retail industry branding.

One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.

Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.

We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.

 

Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…

1. They forget what they’re really all about.

If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.

For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.

Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.

So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.

bricks and clicks ecommerce model BNBranding Brand Insight Blog2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.

There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.

It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.

They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.

You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.

So how are you supposed to do that?

You could offer a unique mix of products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer. So scratch that.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)

You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)

You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.

That, you can do!  Learn how with this post.

3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Information. Insight. And peace of mind.

Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.

But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.

In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.

If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.

ecommerce differentiationEarly in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.

For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.

Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.

The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.

4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.

It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what?  It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.

There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.

Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=

So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:

Bricks & clicks REI coopI recently bought a new pair of walking shoes.  I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.

I wanted to feel the difference.

So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.

I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.

REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.

The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.

That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.

It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.

 

 

The new normal in e-commerce — How to sell more stuff online.

brand credibility from branding expertsThe COVID 19 pandemic created a frenzy of activity in the e-commerce industry.  There were “Cyber Monday” levels of volume for three consecutive months. One of my CPG clients saw a 550% increase in online sales – until they ran into supply chain issues and had to post “out of stock” on every item.

The new normal for e-commerce is huge. Last year, e-commerce sales in the U.S. rose 14% to $569 billion. This year’s growth could be as high as 50% in many categories. By the end of 2022 ecommerce will account for more than 20% of all retail sales.

Online sales will never go back down to pre-COVID levels. Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will enjoy a piece of the online buying frenzy.

So it’s a good news, bad-news scenario for ecommerce companies; On one hand there’s a lot more volume to go around. On the other hand, there are a lot more competitors jumping into the game. So it’s harder than ever to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the growing pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to set themselves apart. A good place to start is with your target audience.

 

 

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Most are looking for insight on a specific product category. Before they fill their online shopping cart they need some insider information. So they hunt and click for real stories about how your products might fit into their lives. They look for facts, reviews, videos, articles or any kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

But amazingly few e-commerce brands deliver any content at all that could be called useful or unique. Most just stick to the bare minimum of content, as per Shopify.

If you want to establish a successful e-commerce brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact manufacturer’s blurb, the same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else.

You have to differentiate your online store. Somehow. Here are a few possibilities:

You could offer a unique product mix…

Choose one main thing BNBrandingMost niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. So maybe your new normal in ecommerce is a product mix that’s more carefully curated or even more niched.

You’ll never be able to compete with Amazon on breadth of offerings, so you might as well specialize. Don’t just say, “yeah, I want to open a ecommerce store for golfers,” open an ecommerce store for hip, young fashion-minded golfers. Or for women only.  Make your purchasing choices one of your main differentiators.

But even if you can scare up a uniquely curated product line-up,  it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with your manufacturers. So keep that in mind. There will always be someone else coming along, knocking off your idea for a speciality, offering the exact same items.

You could offer lower pricing…

But dang, margins aren’t great in retailing.

One thing’s for sure, the new normal in e-commerce is going to involve a lot more competition. Drop-ship companies are springing up everywhere, and many of the new players will get caught in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

Do you really want to be positioned as a low-price leader? Do you want to compete with WalMart.com? Is that really “on brand” for you, or would you be wise to provide quality products with good overall value? Or even high-end, top-of-the-market stuff.

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. 

Now that, you can do!

Even if you have basically the same product mix at the same price as your competition, you CAN differentiate yourself. All you have to do is customize your product pitches, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

If you’re not doing that already you’re not really an e-commerce retailer, you’re just a virtual warehouse. Retailing — by definition — means selling, merchandising, and packaging up other people’s products into a unique buying environment. Brick and mortar retailers like Nordstrom know all about that.

So think about how you can make your online shopping experience better than most.

Early in my career I wrote copy for a direct-to consumer retailer named Norm Thompson. Back then, in the days of J Peterman and Montgomery Ward, there was a lot of competition among catalog companies. But Norm Thompson offered a highly differentiated buying experience.

We offered the best guarantee in the business, a meticulously curated collection of high-quality, high-margin products, outstanding service, and a unique tone of voice that resonated with Norm Thompson’s mature, upscale audience.

We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story of both functionality and fashion. When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

On other occasions it was pure fashion. We’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more chivalrous times.

The brand was Helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories.

The long narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked. The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry. We routinely got 30% response rates on our direct mailings.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena.

Here’s the new normal in e-commerce… More and more high dollar, high involvement purchases will be made online. And the role of the well-informed retail sales person is falling on the shoulders of the e-commerce entrepreneur.

Take ski boots, for example. Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. Most people prefer to try them on before buying. And returns on ski boots are quite common.

But on-line retailers could dramatically reduce returns simply by  explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

No technical feature is as important as fit, and yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have peasant feet, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these. If you have big calves, try these.

I were a ski boot retailer I’d focus on the pain ski boots can inflict: Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $150 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the boot fitter.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting the wrong fit. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet.

But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same mundane sales pitch.

After hours of online research I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

That’s what separates the best e-commerce stores; A higher degree of expertise. Better salesmanship. And a brand that means something beyond just making a quick online sale.

In 2019 Norm Thompson’s parent company announced that they would be “exiting the brand.” It’s too bad… the company that started in 1949 selling flies to avid fly fisherman and morphed into one of the leading catalog companies couldn’t make it in this new world of e-commerce.

But before they started losing money to all the new ecommerce players, they lost their focus on wealthy baby boomers. They lost their unique tone of voice. They lost their differentiating personality. They lost the soul of the brand after multiple buy-outs.

So that’s the new normal in e-commerce.  Even though business is booming, the brands that lose focus will fail. Cars, appliances and many other big ticket items are now routinely purchased with just a click of the mouse, but that doesn’t guarantee success.

So here’s the question for all e-commerce entrepreneurs: What are you doing to make the buying experience better for your customers?

What are you saying that’s different than what your competitors say?

What information are you providing that’ll improve your credibility and set yourself apart?

What features do you offer on your site that’ll guide customers through the research and make purchase process easier? Do customers need to learn a lot before they buy, like in the case of ski boots?

What does your online store really say about the potential longevity of your brand?

Are you running a nameless online store, or building an e-commerce brand?

If you’re hard pressed for answers, we can help. Schedule a meeting with me on Calendly today, and let’s talk about your ecommerce brand.

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