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2017 BigCommerce holiday season hacks

  • Oct 16, 2017 | Gene Marks

2017 BigCommerce holiday season hacks

If you're selling online, or thinking of selling online, there are many great ecommerce platforms to choose from. One of the best is BigCommerce — a platform that supports more than 95,000 users and processes about $8 billion in sales annually. Since 2009, BigCommerce has become a well-known player in the ecommerce field and counts well-known brands like Toyota, Motorola, Ben & Jerry's, and Gibson Guitars as customers.

What makes BigCommerce particularly appealing to small and medium-sized companies is its ability to serve as a powerful ecommerce platform as well as a software system that can be used in a brick-and-mortar store, with point of sale and other inventory management capabilities. "We switched to BigCommerce just over two years ago, and we immediately saw an increase in conversions in sales," says Chris Petitt, operations manager for Burlington, Vermont's BombTech Golf, an ecommerce company that sells golf drivers that combine top-quality materials and innovative design. "When we joined BigCommerce two plus years ago, BombTech Golf was doing below $1 million a year in revenue. This year we expect to have more than $7 million in revenue, and 2018 will break into the eight-figure mark."

If you're an owner of any small to medium-sized company, you know the importance of the holidays. With the gift-buying frenzy soon approaching and, for many, seasonal sales accounting for the majority of annual profits, it’s time to get your game plan set and ready. How do you win on BigCommerce? Here are a few useful hacks.

1. Templates and themes: Use what you’re already given.

To succeed on BigCommerce (or any good ecommerce platform), follow the paths already laid out by others who have achieved success. Choose a theme that's best suited for your business and that provides the easiest navigation for your customers. Rely on BigCommerce templates to get your site up and running as quickly as possible — nothing has to be created from scratch. Get familiar with the site's methods for adding products and creating imagery. Also, consider revising your templates before the holidays to create a theme more consistent with a holiday look and feel. Just be careful — if you decide to customize with code you could have problems upgrading to new themes. "Simpler and easier is better," Pettit advises.

Most importantly, you want to make sure your themes and templates are set up so you’re able to track visitor data. "The market is driven by data," says Bill Arnold, president and chief marketing strategist for EYEMAGINE, an award-winning full-service marketing agency that creates success for its clients through ecommerce services and marketing programs. "Data is the most powerful element that you get out of any marketing tool, and BigCommerce provides you with that kind of data so you can see exactly what is resonating, what isn't resonating, and what techniques you're using to make it more successful."

2. Optimize performance: Remember the three-second rule.

The best users of BigCommerce make sure that their website is fast and responsive. They are constantly checking download speeds and the ease of the buying process. They take care to make sure their images are compressed for fast display. In today's world of devices, most lean heavily on BigCommerce's mobile site and functionality to ensure that search and purchases can be done from anywhere, anytime. "We go by a three-second rule," says Arnold. "If a user can't ascertain the value of the site — it doesn't load quickly, it takes more than three seconds — you're going to see a bounce."

Arnold is also a big believer in planning and testing your site's optimization frequently. His firm has a discovery and assessment process and he even likes to study "heat maps" on a client's current site to see where activity is the greatest. "Over a period of time you get incremental changes, incremental improvements, and that's really how you win in ecommerce," he says. "Ecommerce is a game of inches." The more traffic you're able to generate the more impact even small tweaks may have on a customer's buying behavior.

A fast-growing and very important part of a site's design is the use of videos. "Literally every product page that we have on BombTech Golf has a video associated with the product, and that's pretty important for golf clubs," Petitt says. "If you can demonstrate the product, someone's looking at their screen and video form, that's absolutely going to help your conversion 100 percent." Optimizing your site with as many videos as possible is a great way to engage viewers, particularly younger customers who — studies have shown — gravitate more to video content than written.

3. Marketing: Make plans now.

Experienced sellers are laying the groundwork for their holiday sales today — well before Halloween.  They've set aside resources and created their budgets. They're designing email promotions in BigCommerce and updating their social media sites to make sure information is integrated.

Pettit, for example, began planning for the holidays back in June, with a focus on the kind of offers and deals they wanted to make, how things are bundled, and, most importantly, how these offers are communicated. His company relies heavily on Facebook, which accounts for 40 percent of their revenue, to drive out messaging. "We drive a lot of traffic from social media,” he says. "We try to post every day, and come the holiday season we make our community very aware that we have holiday deals, especially for Black Friday and Cyber Monday for them to come check out." Pettit also plans holiday email messages well in advance. To him, email gives him much more control over his marketing. "If you're not building your email subscriber list, you are missing a huge, huge opportunity," he added.

Another growing area in holiday marketing is the rise of influencers. "Influencer marketing is really key right now," says Arnold. His research has found that people are more inclined to visit a site and buy a product based on someone else's recommendation. "There's so much information out there about what you want to buy and what you need to buy that people need to take shortcuts. And one of the biggest shortcuts they take in life is through what other people recommend and if they're passionate about it." Getting both macro and micro influencers signed up now could make a big impact on your holiday sales.

4. Inventory: Think and plan very carefully.

Successful ecommerce sellers know that having too much or too little inventory can significantly hurt their profits. They look at past transactions and make inventory level assumptions based on prior purchasing patterns and future estimates. They have a documented and customer-friendly return policy. They make sure to bake in the costs of shipping on every order.

BombTech Golf relies heavily on history. Both Arnold and Pettit say they look closely at historical orders and prior years' sales to determine how the upcoming holiday season may trend. Both also lean heavily on their company's (or client's) social media communities to gauge whether there's interest in a product and what price would be reasonable — Arnold takes this one step further with a deeper Q&A research process well before the holiday season.

Pettit and Arnold are also big fans of free, discounted, and expedited shipping, if that's what it'll take to make the sale. "There are studies out there that show you that if you do offer free shipping during the holidays, people are more likely to buy because they don't see the added cost," Arnold says. "And if you offer free shipping, the conversion rates do go up typically during the holiday, so we do recommend that." Since free shipping offers can be temporary, they often create a sense of urgency to buy before the deal disappears.

5. Technology: Ease your burden.

BigCommerce will help make sales easy and fast both on the web and via mobile devices. But today's ecommerce entrepreneurs are learning that there's a lot of work to be done after the sale. One of the biggest headaches is sales tax. If items are being shipped from different states around the country, sales tax needs to be withheld and remitted and forms and documentation needs to be filed. More and more companies are using sales tax automation technologies, like the powerful applications provided by Avalara, to ease this sales tax burden and ensure compliance.

Tech tools can also ease your marketing burdens tenfold. Petitt shares that BombTech Golf uses Klaviyo to implement data-driven email marketing. He emphasizes that “the big wins really come if you can control your email marketing” and that Klaviyo is “100 percent the biggest mover we’ve ever had in our business.” Email is a direct way to interact with your customers and present holiday offers, and using technology to optimize content and increase open rates is a value not to be taken lightly.

If you're using BigCommerce, you're in good company. To really take advantage of this marketplace during the holidays, you'll want to rely on optimizing themes, increasing site functionality, and thinking in advance about your marketing and inventory management plans. Smart sellers know that the devil is in the details, and the best time to address those details are well in advance of the biggest shopping time of the year.

Want to hear my full conversation with Bill Arnold from EYEMAGINE and Chris Petitt from BombTech Golf? Listen here.

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
It's Gene!
Avalara Author
Gene Marks
It's Gene!
Avalara Author Gene Marks
Gene Marks is a columnist, book author, CPA, and owner of Marks Group PC, a technology and consulting services firm. Gene writes every day on business, politics, and public policy for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and the Huffington Post.