2022 Shipping Rate Changes: how to prep & what to expect

2022 Shipping Rate Changes: how to prep & what to expect

It seems like every year there are changes and updates made to shipping costs and this year is certainly no exception. Between the labor shortage, fuel costs and an unexpected backup-at-the-ports, carriers are definitely looking at an increase in costs which they will no doubt be passing along to you, the shipper. If you ship in the United States using UPS, DHL, or USPS you can count on an increase in shipping rates.  In this blog we’re going to review some of the changes made to shipping and what you can do about it in 2022.

USPS

Effective Date: January 9th, 2022

-Retail rates for First Class Package Service will increase by $0.50 for packages weighing 1–4 ounces, $0.30 for packages weighing 5–12 ounces, and $0.80–$1.70 for packages over 12 oz.

-Retail rates for Priority Mail Express will increase by 3.1% overall

UPS

Effective Date: December 26th, 2021

Not waiting until the new year, UPS implemented their new charges the day after Christmas. UPS published rates will increase by an average of 5.9%.

-UPS is making changes to the costs for value-added services and other charges.

Effective Date: January 9th, 2022

-The ZIP codes for which area surcharges apply will change. These include Delivery Area Surcharge, Extended Area Surcharge, and Remote Area Surcharge. Click here to see the full list of applicable ZIP codes.

DHL Express

Effective Jan 1, 2022 DHL Express retail rates will increase by an average of 5.9% for DHL Express Worldwide shipping service.

Canada Post

Effective January 10, 2022, Canada Post rates will increase by an average of 3.5% domestically and 2.8% to the US and internationally.

How to optimize your shipping strategy

The options available to you are largely based on your current shipping strategy; fee, flat rate or calculated shipping. Depending on which shipping option(s) your brand offers you will need to adjust your strategy accordingly.

Free Shipping

If you offer Free Shipping here are some options available to you:

An Increase in product prices – If you’re still dead-set on maintaining your ‘free shipping’ options then an increase in product prices may be where you make up the loss incurred from the increased shipping costs. If you increase your products’ prices by the same percentage as these shipping increases you will maintain your magins. Although, your repeat and loyal customers may notice an increase in price, which could lead to an impact in their purchase frequency and shopping habits. This may be something worth A/B testing. 

You could just do nothing – If you choose this route then you’ll need to absorb the increased cost of shipping yourself. Confirm your margins and your profitability before taking this route. 

Consider a switch to ‘Free Shipping Minimums” – There is a compromise to be found between increasing your product prices and doing nothing. And that compromise is to add a free shipping minimum. This tactic has been shown to increase the average order value, which will help to offset the increased cost in shipping. This strategy will also pass along the cost of shipping directly to your customers if their order fails to reach the minimum threshold.

Flat Rate

If you offer Flat Rate Shipping here are some options available to you:

You could just do nothing – Same as with Free Shipping, if you choose to do nothing then you’ll have to eat the cost yourself. Confirm this plan’s sustainability and long term functionality. 

Adjust or introduce Order Value Ranges – There’s no rule that says your flat rates need to be the same for every order. Consider offering a higher flat rate on smaller orders and lower flat rates as orders and cart sizes increase. This will help off-set the increase in shipping costs. 

Increase product prices – If you increase your products’ prices by the same percentage as these shipping increases you will maintain your magins. Although, your repeat and loyal customers may notice an increase in price, which could lead to an impact in their purchase frequency. 

Increase Flat Rate Shipping – This increase may lead to similar results as an increase in product prices and it may impact your abandoned cart rates as customers will see this charge later on in the sales process. Consider altering the messaging and frequency of your Cart Abandonment emails if this is the path you choose.

Calculated Shipping Rate

If you offer Calculated Shipping here are some options available to you:

You could just do nothing – If you use a calculated rates provider or app and you choose to do nothing then these new charges will be automatically updated as soon as they are implemented. 

Decrease Product Price – Since your shipping rates are going to be automatically updated via your carrier extensions and applications a decrease in product price is an option. Once again, ensure that your margins are sustainable and pricing remains consistent and strategically in-line with the rest of your product line and your competitors.

Adjust for 2022 and beyond

While your current 2022 budget may need to be adjusted to account for some of these new charges, this might be a blessing in disguise. You could use this opportunity to rethink your entire shipping strategy from the ground up. If none of your calculations hit on your target margin, pricing strategy or shipping rate then it is time to go back to the drawing board. The team here at InteractOne is experienced and knowledgeable and ready to help craft a shipping strategy that works for you and your plans.

Supply Chain Strain – Solutions for your Business 🚚🚢 🎁

Supply Chain Strain – Solutions for your Business 🚚🚢 🎁

We all remember the early days of the pandemic when toilet paper was the scarce commodity, but now the world seems like it is running out of everything from computer chips to ketchup. To make matters worse, an unprecedented labor shortage has left business owners bracing for a holiday season in which demand is likely to overwhelm resources.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that the supply chain disruption plaguing the American economy is not a short-term crisis. While you can’t fix the broken supply chain, you’ll need to steer your business through this crisis and be able to explain delays to your customers when necessary. To do so, it’s important to understand what’s behind any and all supply chain disruptions.

In this blog, we will highlight some of these disruptions and help you be better prepared to keep your business thriving – sometimes without a fair warning.

What is supply chain management?

The supply chain is the journey products take from where they’re mined, grown, or otherwise made all the way to their eventual destinations in the hands of consumers.

Supply chains are made up of so-called “nodes” and “links.” Nodes are stops a material or product makes along the way, like at a factory, port, warehouse, or retail store. A link, on the other hand, is the time material or product spends in transit between nodes—usually on a cargo ship, train, freight aircraft, or semi-truck. If all of that seemed confusing to you then this video might help.

Supply chain disruption root causes:

Shortages for a number of goods have been a hallmark of the pandemic-induced recession and recovery; which is why it is so important, as a business, to understand what is driving these issues and if there is a way for you to fix them. As we look at the causes of supply chain disruptions, we find some intertwined factors leading to the disruptions and delays your company and customers might be experiencing:

  • The pandemic: The pandemic is the overarching reason for supply chain disruptions. Outbreaks and lockdowns limited productivity in factories and the transportation of goods around the world. At the same time, consumer demand for certain products has increased dramatically as many people have more disposable income and spend more time at home.
  • Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing: The JIT manufacturing model serves to meet demand instead of creating a surplus before an item is needed. While it can lead to cost savings and reduced waste, the practice also means manufacturers don’t keep extra supplies on hand. As a result, the delay of a single component can stall an entire production line—such as when, earlier this year, Ford had lots filled with nearly complete trucks awaiting semiconductors.
  • Lack of shipping containers: Increased demand and a limited supply have led to a shipping container shortage and a big jump in associated costs. Partially, this is because PPE supplies were shipped to parts of the world that don’t have many exports, and the containers were left there, sitting empty. The Independent Commodity Intelligence Services reports that it cost $20,000 to ship a 40-foot container from Asia to the U.S. in September 2021, up from $4,500 the previous year.
  • Staffing shortages: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August 2021 and an additional 4.4 million quit in September. If you’re a small business owner, you’ve likely felt the strain yourself—workers are not easy to come by or retain. Notably, there’s been a multi-year shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. Though there’s a massive push underway to recruit truck drivers, people can’t learn to drive 18 wheelers overnight. The same goes for operating a crane, especially when shipping containers are stacked high and accessing the right one means playing a high-stakes game of Jenga. Major ports like the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach will soon be operating 24/7, but that won’t help unclog the traffic jam if the truck driver shortage persists.
  • Overwhelmed docks: Increased activity and worker shortages are also leading to delays at U.S. ports. According to NPR, 52 cargo ships were waiting off the coast of Los Angeles one day in late October. Off the Port of Savannah, The New York Times reported that cargo ships were anchored up to 17 miles off the coast, waiting at times more than 9 days for their turn to dock and unload their shipping containers. While some of these ports are setting records for volume coming in,  it may still take weeks (instead of days) for containers to be picked up by a truck—which only adds to delivery delays and a shortage of available shipping containers

Plan ahead for a brighter future

In some dire or unexpected scenarios, operations may come to a halt, but even in these instances, preparation can make all the difference in how quickly a business can repair supply chain issues. Below are some tactics you can start implementing as early as today:

Create a supply chain emergency plan: Just as it is wise to have a go-bag at home in case of emergency, a family plan in case of fire, and a winter supplies bag in the car for icy situations, it is equally wise to maintain an up-to-date supply chain emergency plan. This can include an emergency budget for use in the face of disruptions alongside plans around how to move goods around, maintain supplies, and continue operations in the face of different types of supply chain problems. 

Build up inventory, when possible: If your business relies heavily on certain inventory to continue operations, consider stockpiling essential supplies so that your business could weather disruption that endures for several months. 

Conduct a supply chain vulnerability audit: Risk analysis is a good way to spot weak links in a supply chain and it is something businesses should engage in seriously and regularly. Armed with information, finding replacements becomes a more straightforward task in terms of priority. 

Identify backup suppliers: This is not always a viable option given where your products are coming from and what they are, but are there other suppliers that could provide the products needed to continue business if a go-to supplier is not able to fulfill supply needs. One important factor to consider when seeking out backup suppliers is their geographic location. For example, if your original supplier is hit with a natural disaster or similar issue, having suppliers who are further away from the event site can help guarantee continued supply.

Diversify supply base: As mentioned above, diversification of suppliers helps mitigate risk just as a diversified investment portfolio does. Geographic diversification is critical, but another important factor to consider is further up the supply chain. Even if three of your suppliers are in different areas, they may share a supplier amongst them which could leave all three in the wake of disruption. Diversify in as many areas as possible and begin to build relationships with these suppliers well ahead of potential disruptions. 

Looking at the bigger picture and not focusing solely on short-term issues, such as meeting the upcoming holiday season demand will help your business in the long run.

Bringing it all together

Although you can prepare on some level, there’s no true silver bullet solution for the supply chain woes. The only thing that fixes this is time. While you might be waiting for the supply chain disruptions to unsnarl and catch up, the name of the game will be survival. This will be especially true during the holiday season when big box stores are likely to have much more inventory than small businesses.  And it means that you will need to get creative, sourcing products and goods locally as often as possible and finding ways to repurpose existing inventory. Customers who care about shopping locally will make every effort to support mom and pop, but it will be vital for small business owners to communicate clearly with their customer base, explaining delays and offering frequent updates.

Need help giving your business every available opportunity to see optimal growth by getting ahead of some of these disruptions as much as you can? Contact one of our experts today.

Simple steps today. Better customer relationships tomorrow.

Simple steps today. Better customer relationships tomorrow.

Imagine if you could read the minds of your customers. You’d know exactly what they need to hear or see to make every sale. Theoretically, you could tailor your advertising to their specific needs and your conversions would go through the roof. But when you consider some of your best customers, how do you define them?  For most eCommerce businesses it’s safe to assume that the best customers are the ones who not only champion your brand but who have the highest level of purchases.

In this blog, we will highlight some strategies to incorporate to give your customers something extra to not only set them up for long-term engagement with your brand but long-term sales and value to your overall business.

Build your brand by building your customer base

Once you’ve identified who your customers are, you can begin to intentionally build emotional relationships with them. These relationships go beyond simply making a purchase and have the power to supercharge the valuable interactions they already have with your brand.

Go above and beyond with customer service

To survive in this cut-throat eCommerce environment you have to think out of the box. And, at times, it can be as simple as reflecting on the customer experience you provide.

It’s a big, crowded marketplace out there, full of consumers that want different things at different times via different channels and they all expect access to businesses all the time whether on social media or their website. If you don’t have a direct way for customers to get in contact with you when they need it most, you can’t compete with other companies nor give your customers exactly what they want. For instance, when a client has an issue with your business or an issue with a shipment, they need you to sort it out fast and if you are not available to help them out, you will frustrate the customer or perhaps generate a negative review that is visible to other customers. How do you solve this issue quickly?  A dedicated customer service phone number for your business or a live chat system. Having either or both of these options allows your loyal customers to contact you when they need to do as long as they have a good experience and quick resolution.

Research shows that customers who receive a competent and knowledgeable service are more likely to remember their experience. Even 73% of shoppers say they remain loyal to them because of friendly customer service.

Therefore, it is important to empower your front-line agents so they have the ability to resolve customer issues with ease. With each transfer, subsequent call or email, customers lose patience with your business, resulting in a loss of goodwill. Being consistent with solving customer problems and making yourself available the first customers reach out is a sure-fire way to avoid issues down the line.

Give them something extra

Though we live in a seemingly anonymous culture — where ‘self-service’ is so prevalent — customers increasingly want a personalized experience when it matters most. Remember; everyone likes being recognized, and your customers are no exception. Below are some ways to help your customers feel like you know them on a personal level. 

Personalization is powerful: To prevent “analysis paralysis” caused by the countless options available to your consumers at their fingertips, you should consider implementing personalized solutions and experiences for your customers, such as knowing their name or purchase history to make future buying recommendations. Not only is it important to know your customers’ names when reaching out to them, but it is also important to recognize them on a continual basis to keep the relationship going. For instance, you can offer them a free gift during their birthday month or anniversary.  

Set up a referral program: There are a number of ways you can turn a shopper into a loyal customer.  Throughout the buyer’s journey, you have the opportunity to engage with them one-on-one in a number of different ways, including post-purchase emails and social media.  The most effective way, though, is definitely a rewards program. A rewards program will help you to attract new customers and motivate existing ones to shop with you more often.

Offering either of these options are the types of interactions that will encourage repeat purchase behavior and keep your customers happy.

Tell a story with your brand to connect with customers on a personal level

Storytelling has the incredible ability to connect with your customers on a deeper, emotional level; which figures and stats fall short of doing. And, in the world of marketing, brand storytelling can have a massive impact on your company and the following you receive. 

Getting your story right, however, is going to depend to a large extent on the type of business you run. So much of how you tell your story depends on who your customer is and the message you have to sell them. Do they want to be told the story visually such as through a YouTube video? Or do they prefer written content, punchy infographics, or quirky animations? 

Take this YouTube example from Chipotle Mexican Grill – who we think got it right and then some. Although they are a fast food restaurant, their brand story is all about grasping an emotional connection to their customers and creating a bond that might be hard to break after watching, by sharing the captivating history of their reason for being.

Like the above example, there are certain ingredients that you should have in place if you want to deliver on expectations to your clientele when it comes to your brand story. These include:

  • Knowledge of your audience: The more you know, the more you can tailor your individual messages.
  • Be authentic: Millennials and Generation Z are pretty keyed in to recognize blatant selling and filtering what is useful to them and what isn’t.
  • Create a positioning statement: Once you know who your target audience is you can decide what words and images will resonate with them to help build this out.
  • Be consistent: You need to tell the same story wherever you are. If you start diverging from it, you risk confusing your customer’s emotions or dampening expectations of your brand.

When you stay consistent with your story on who you are and what you represent, you gain the competitive advantage to last longer, grow faster, and drive more revenue. Take note though, that as the times change, so can your story, but be sure you always keep your roots in the ground.

Listen to customer feedback

Listening may seem to be a passive process, but it also leads to active improvements for your business. Listening to customers may be a great way for you to gather enough business-important information. After all, the best business decisions are based on data and not guesses. And customer testimonials are one of the best ways to gather business-specific data that lets you understand how your customers really feel about the product or service you deliver.

Testimonials your customers leave are key content elements because they are unbiased comments that prompt visitors to buy. They help establish credibility and gain trust with your prospects. However, just publishing your customers’ testimonials on your website is not enough to attract more customers. To convert more leads on your website when it comes to testimonials:

  • Make them eye-catching by adding an image
  • Record an in-store video with a customer
  • Tell the truth
  • Use your customer personas
  • Show testimonials everywhere

It is key to use this feedback to guide your business and marketing decisions. By measuring customer satisfaction, you can determine whether you meet, fall short of, or surpass your customer expectations.

Bringing it all together

Knowing what your customers need and want is a competitive advantage and it can determine the customer’s choice of purchasing your services over others. Are you ready to focus on putting your customers first? Connect with one of our experts today to discuss your needs!

Get in Touch

Connect with one of our experts today to discuss your eCommerce needs!

Contact Us
UPDATED: Top 10 Magento Extensions for 2021

UPDATED: Top 10 Magento Extensions for 2021

With the new year fast approaching, it’s time to take stock of your business and identify any areas that could be improved upon. Of course, there are plenty of apps and extensions for that, but how do you know which ones are the best? 

We’ve identified our top 10 Magento third-party apps and extensions that will make your eCommerce website the strongest it can be. They’ll also make your life as a merchant that much easier. 

Read on for our list and let us know if there are any you’re missing on your website.

10. Urapidflow Product Import/Export

uRapidFlow is one of the most feature-rich and robust product and sales export and import extensions for Magento. It lives up to its name by providing lightning-speed importing and exporting of all of Magento’s product and sales data. With this extension you can import, export or update thousands of records in a matter of minutes. You can also set up multiple profiles and export or import product data and order data to and from different locations using FTP. This extension is the easiest to use when importing Magento product or order information. You can synchronize data between Magento installations and integrate with other applications using CSV, SOAP or XMLRPC interface.

uRapidFlow

9. Xtento

Xtento aims to make life easier for developers, store owners and merchants, and it achieves that as the most stable and powerful order export and shipment tracking import solution available for Magento. This extension allows merchants the flexibility to set up multiple profiles and export your orders to many different places using one extension. These exports can be done in any text-based format (Text/TXT, Tabbed, CSV/Excel, XML, JSON, SQL, ASCII/Fixed-Length Files) and can include any required field. Xtento can be used to connect your store to almost any CRM, ERP, warehouse, dropshipping or shipping system. Merchants are also empowered to set up an unlimited number of export profiles. All of this can be accomplished from within the admin interface of the extension. 

Xtento

8. Advanced Subscription Products

If you’re selling a product or service on subscription then this extension may be a great solution for you. Advanced Subscription Products for Magento 2 by Aheadworks allows you to create subscriptions with multiple products, create separate shopping carts for subscriptions and more. It helps merchants maximize profits and engage returning purchasers by giving them flexibility and control over subscriptions and the ability to update, renew or extend them with ease. It works with various payment methods including Adyen, Cash On Delivery, Authorize.net, Stripe and NMI. The extension can also handle multiple languages and stores, allowing you to localize recurring payments and subscriptions to all possible markets. This is a big win for B2B businesses. 

Advanced Subscription Products

7. SEO Suite Ultimate Extension

This all-in-one SEO extension by Mageworx is the most popular of its kind for a reason. It covers a full range of onpage SEO activities, from optimizing small page elements to building a well thought out site architecture. Its advanced templates allow you to mass-optimize any meta values, descriptions, URL keys, SEO names and so on for any of your products, categories, CMS and category filter pages. Improve your store click-through rates and boost its visibility with advanced rich snippets. The extension also comes complete with a full arsenal of SEO tools, allowing you to tackle such tasks as eliminating duplicate content, adding breadcrumbs and setting redirects. It also includes the Wave Crypto Payments extension, which enables merchants to collect crypto payments via their eCommerce store. 

SEO Suite Ultimate Extension

6. ShipStation

While we’re on the topic of shipping, ShipStation is another favorite of the InteractOne team. ShipStation is excellent for merchants who need a shipping label printing solution that can scale. Its built-in automation engine allows merchants to have a hands-off approach with a low overhead, all while providing branded and customized labels, packing slips and shipping confirmation emails. It provides a geo-tracking page featuring your brand, social media links and messaging, and a custom self-service portal for fast, hassle-free customer returns. ShipStation even tracks your inventory so you’ll never run out of stock, and provides detailed analytics. If you have multiple Magento stores, ShipStation also allows you to manage and organize them all from a single account. It also boasts integrations with ERP systems like Acumatica and Netsuite, and is fully integrated with more than 25 shipping carriers

ShipStation

5. ShipperHQ

This app is a must-have for most Magento merchants—we touched on this in our blog about Magento’s Top Shipping Rate Quote Solutions. ShipperHQ gives you control over the shipping rates and methods you show customers at checkout, while also providing you with a wealth of options such as multi-origin shipping, in-store pickup, live LTL rates and backup carriers. Set up shipping rules based on what you sell, where a customer is located and more, and automate how boxes are selected for each order for more accurate shipping rates with dimensional packing. ShipperHQ also allows for customization in their Magento extension, allowing you to make adjustments within the Magento checkout code and cover every feature you may require for powering shipping quotes.

4. Klaviyo

Klaviyo is a platform that provides complex customer insights in uncomplicated ways to help you build strong relationships and deliver highly effective marketing. Its power lies in its segmentation and targeting. Its web-tracking system is top notch as it uses specific browsing behavior to segment visitors so they receive specific ad campaigns and emails based on their on-site activity. Klaviyo will help you identify the visitors to your site, who looked but didn’t buy, who is a frequent visitor, who hasn’t visited recently, who left their cart full without purchasing, and so on. With these next-level insights and fine-tuned personalization, you can implement a campaign designed around your visitors’ site-specific actions, helping to dramatically increase your ROI.

3. TaxJar

It’s always tax season for businesses, and our number-one choice to help you with your eCommerce taxes is TaxJar. Currently being utilized by more than 20,000 businesses worldwide, TaxJar is a favorite of large and small businesses alike. The app features Magento’s SmartCalcs API, which determines if, when and how much sales tax needs to be applied and collected on any purchase, foreign or domestic. It allows users to program individual products for different tax rates for different states. But the automation doesn’t stop there. TaxJar utilizes AI-driven tax categorization, a flexible API, certified integrations, and automated filing. This means it accumulates your annual taxes over the course of the year and can file your taxes directly with your home state.

2. Yotpo

Social proof is increasingly important when it comes to increasing sales in eCommerce. Yotpo curates and places that social proof right on your product pages, meaning that visitors don’t have to leave your site to go looking for it. This extension offers the most advanced solutions for customer reviews, visual marketing, loyalty, referrals and SMS marketing. Yotpo integrates with Magento to collect high-quality content that shoppers crave—including photos, videos and reviews—and dynamically display it on your website using AI. It also helps you craft on-brand customer loyalty programs and leverage intelligent UX to gain low-cost acquisition via referral programs. With Yotpo you can create high-converting mobile experiences by targeting shoppers with personalized messages, and acquire high-intent traffic by displaying user-generated content in social, paid and organic search results.

1. Klevu

We sang Klevu’s praises in a previous blog and we’re going to do it again! This AI-powered  on-site smart search remains our favorite. It’s low-maintenance, easy to implement and will provide you with unique insights over time as its machine learning develops a greater understanding of the topics your visitors are engaging with on-site. We particularly like the Autocomplete feature, which will make suggestions to your site’s visitors while they are typing in their search. It also adds contextually relevant synonyms to your catalog in metadata format, and offers advanced merchandising and actionable search insights. It’s loved by over 3,000 retailers worldwide. Overall, Klevu is a great resource for merchants and adds to the overall shopping experience for your customers.

To learn more about any of these extensions  and how to make the absolute most of your eCommerce site in 2020, contact us today.

COVID-19 and eCommerce: What We Know

COVID-19 and eCommerce: What We Know

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 virus is affecting many aspects of our lives. Most non-essential places of business including many traditional brick-and-mortar locations are shut down partially if not completely at this point, and the eCommerce world is bracing for even more uncertainty. There are a lot of pontificators out there offering theories on what’s next for eCommerce but here’s what we know for certain.

Here is what we know

People are leaving their home less.

Whether due to personal fears or because of mandatory “shelter in place” quarantines, fewer and fewer people are leaving their house. In a study released last week by Coresight research, 47% of US internet users said they were avoiding malls and shopping centers. When asked if their behavior would change if the outbreak worsens, 74.6% confirmed they would avoid shopping centers and malls altogether. 

And it’s not just centralized shopping centers that people are avoiding. 32.7% of poll participants said they were avoiding any physical store with 56% of confirming that they would take these same actions if the COVID threat spread.

People are shopping online for the essentials

Adobe analytics monitors the eCommerce trends and transactions of 80 of the US top 100 retailers. And while many retailers are seeing their foot traffic come to a complete halt, others are seeing surges in their online shopping. Grocery chains have seen an increase in online and home delivery orders. Amazon has seen a surge in online shopping, so much so that they have an increased demand for employees and are one of the few companies in American actively hiring at the moment.  The grocery chain Stop & Shop is seeing a surge in demand for its online order and delivery service Peapod. Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan said Peapod orders during the first week of March were 33% higher compared to the same week last year.

Ecommerce activity, particularly related to health and grocery, is booming in the US in general. According to data from ecommerce ad tech provider Pacvue, there have been spikes in Amazon searches for products like hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap.  Adobe’s analysis of eCommerce transactions found that purchases for cold, cough & flu products have increased 198%, while online purchases for pain relievers increased 152%.U.S. consumers are stocking up on over-the-counter meds, most likely to be prepared in case they do catch the virus and need to self-quarantine.

 

Hierarchy of Needs

Non-essential items experience the most sales during stable times and times of growth, as we’ve seen over the last several years. But with the economic downturn and way-of-life uncertainty currently permeating all of western civilization we would expect to see a drop in these industries. While actual sales numbers are yet to be reported a Contentsquare report from March 20th brings light to some interesting statistics. Web traffic has decreased to eCommerce sites dedicated to apparel (-14%) luxury goods (-19%) and jewelry (-25%) compared to the same time period last year. Traffic over the last 4 weeks clearly shows that online shoppers have been most interested in fulfilling products in the most pressing categories among the hierarchy of needs. But as the COVID quarantine continues and people are stuck on their couches for a longer period of time it will be interesting to see if this trend begins to reverse itself. Stay tuned to InteractOne for more updates as the eCommerce marketplace continues to evolve and we adapt.

Expect shipment delays

Many Amazon customers have received notifications stating: “We’re very sorry your delivery is late. Most late packages arrive in a day. If you have not received your package by tomorrow, you can come back here the next day for a refund or a replacement.” What’s more, those hoping to order groceries or essentials from Amazon Prime, Peapod and others can also expect  delays. While chains are currently saying that the problem,is a demand issue, not a supply line problem’ these are all unique stresses being put on systems that have never been tested to this degree before. And if interstate or local commerce is limited even more, then customers can expect shipment delays no matter the location or product of purchase. 

Will Any of These Trends Be Long Term?

It’s fairly safe to say that once the COVID panic calms down that the public’s purchasing behavior for toilet paper will return to pre-COVID levels. But what other new behaviors and consumption patterns that emerge during this time will have long term staying power? This crisis could cause permanent changes in the way people consume media, shop, as well as overall public perception of brands. People who normally wouldn’t purchase clothes or perishables online will be forced to rethink their approach when the need arises. The more customers are forced to do their shopping online in the coming months, the more likely that it will become a regular part of their routine. Especially if the threat and worry over COVID becomes something long-term. 

We’re already seeing changes in the entertainment industry, with Disney making their recent theater releases available on-demand and other companies following suit. Once the public becomes accustomed to ‘social distancing’ and purchasing habits that are more eCommerce centric, it may be next to impossible to put that horse back in the barn.

Conclusion

There aren’t many certainties about life or the economy right now, but as US consumers increasingly look to digital methods to conduct daily business, order essentials and prepare for an emergency, retailers will be required to ensure positive, frictionless experiences via their websites and mobile apps. 

We here at InteractOne are dedicated to protecting our employees. Thanks to a work-from-home policy that we instituted more than one year ago, we have been able to transition to our new reality with relative ease while continuing to provide support and meet all of our clients’ needs.

Get in Touch

Connect with one of our experts today to discuss your eCommerce needs!

Contact Us

Magento, BigCommerce or Shopify. Which One is Right for You?

Magento, BigCommerce or Shopify. Which One is Right for You?

If you’ve reached the limit of your current eCommerce platform then it’s time to upgrade to a system that is capable of handling your current needs as well as your long term goals. Your next platform is a major commitment and one that will require the investment of your resources and time. And while you may be ready to graduate to another platform there are some key questions you must first answer.

Shopify

Shopify is the easiest platform for users to get a store up and running on in no time at all and with little technical know-how. Shopify is based off of a tiered pricing format, meaning that you can start off small and quickly expand when the need arises. In this segment we will be discussing the companies that use Shopify as well as some of the features that, depending on your needs, make it great.

Mobile Optimization and Responsiveness

Shopify is optimized for mobile and allows your customers to experience a complete shopping experience directly from their hand-held device. Shopify was one of the first eCommerce platforms to fully integrate mobile, meaning their mobile support is tried and tested and ready for your online store. This is vital because the number of mobile shoppers increases by the day and the responsiveness of your site will play a huge role in its ability to convert. The website themes that Shopify offers are mobile responsive. Shopify also offers iPhone and Android apps that can be used to manage your own store from your fingertips.

Ease of Use

If you would describe yourself as ’non technical’ then Shopify might be the best fit for you. Shopify’s platform is one that is much more of a ‘drag and drop’ interface, similar to what you would experience building a website in Squarespace or Wix. This user-friendly functionality makes it easier for you to build and customize your store if you or your team lack programming experience and/or you have a do-it-yourself identity. Shopify also features a robust App Store, where plugins can be purchased and installed with ease, extending the functionality of your site. Think the iTunes App Store but for eCommerce. The platform allows for website customization as these apps can be easily integrated. This means that merchants can easily add extra features and functionalities to their  store and enhance its value, offerings and increase the overall user experience. If you’re currently limited with the amount of resources and man-hours you can dedicate to your eCommerce site, then a move to Shopify might be what’s best for you in the long run.

Storefront design

The basic tier of Shopify comes with more than 25 free storefront template designs with additional templates available for purchase. There is a built-in blog template but the platform also fully integrates with WordPress, allowing you to blog on the platform of your preference. The available storefront templates make it easy to get your site started and all templates can be modified, relatively easily, to your liking. There is also a large community of third-party developers available on Shopify’s website that you can tap into as well.

POS

One thing that’s unique about Shopify is that you can also use it as your in-store POS system by adding its Retail Package to your plan, making it a great choice for small businesses that have both online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Fully Hosted

By being a fully hosted site, Shopify allows merchants to not have to worry about finding their own web host, upgrading software or installing security updates. The technical elements and roadblocks that normally cause merchants to hesitate about running their own store are eliminated with Shopify. By being a globally-hosted platform, Shopify has created a reliable infrastructure along with optimized software and hardware. This also results in super-fast loading speeds and an improved user experience.

Customer Support

Shopify also offers 24/7 phone support, live chat and email options to all users experiencing problems. To provide some perspective, to get the same level of Shopify support for your Magento eCommerce site you would need to enlist the services of a certified Magento developer (just like the certified pros right here at InteractOne). With Shopify, experts are available for round-the-clock customer support to ensure your store is running as designed at all times.   

Shopify Pricing Plans

Shopify offers basic plans ranging from $29 to $299 per month. They also have more expensive “enterprise” level plans for larger entities.

What companies use Shopify?

Budweiser, Bulletproof Sunday, Somewhere WaterAid, New York Times Shop, The Economist, Leesa Mattress, Penguin Books

 

Shopify Pros

  • No design experience is needed.
  • There is a consistent cost profile, month to month.
  • Software patches are included in fees.
  • It is easier to administer.

Shopify Cons

  • Apps available for popular customizations like year, make, and model may require customization, which can get expensive, and development options are limited to the module developer.
  • There are ongoing annual or monthly fees – whether or not you are making changes.
  • You don’t own your own website.
  • SAAS platforms do not support large catalogs (500K+ SKUs), and Enterprise-level versions can become very expensive compared to the base-level fees.
  • Some desirable features, such as faceted navigation or additional product attributes, aren’t available out of the box.

Magento

Magento is currently in the middle of permanently shifting versions from Magento 1, which has been active and supported since 2008. But Magento 2 promises to maintain the same features that made Magento 1 so popular, while adding many new features as well. Magento 2 will still offer an Open Source (Community) version of M2 which will allow for custom extensions to be added to native features. The Magento 2 Commerce (Enterprise – paid/licensed) edition will continue on as well. Let’s explore some of the great features that made Magento so popular as well as some of its latest features as well.

Accessibility

Magento 2, both the Community and Enterprise versions, will allow for the management of three separate databases; products, orders, and checkout. This is being done to prevent data overload and reduce incidences of system failure. The result being increased data security, speed, and scalability. By separating these three databases, Magento 2 sites will give visitors a smoother, faster, and more accurate experience as well as improve the ability your certified Magento developer has to make refinements to the platform.

Company Accounts

For B2B online merchants there may be many individuals who need to have access to an individual account. Supervisors, buyers, accountants, and managers may all require individual access. With Magento 2, store administrators will have the ability to moderate accessibility to the account. Buyers will also have the ability to assign full access or limit the access of their team members.

Quick Order

Magento 2 features a new SKU quick order feature, which allows users to add an item directly to their cart by entering the SKU numbers rather than having to navigate the site manually to locate the item and then add it to their cart. This feature extends beyond an individual item as well. M2 allows users to upload a file containing all the matching SKU’s and their desired quantity directly to the platform. Thus, improving the speed and quality of the purchasing experience for those visitors with a long list of items.

Quotes & Price Negotiation

When it comes to dollar amount and in actual product volume, B2B orders are quite often much larger than B2C orders. This dynamic increases the likelihood that your business may need to negotiate or provide terms with a custom quote. Magento 2 will allow customers to request a quote from you, directly from the product page while also allowing the customer to submit their own price request. The administrator on the page then has the opportunity to refuse, accept, or continue negotiating the offer. If the offer is accepted, the customer then has the option to complete the purchase at the negotiated price directly from their cart, just like a normal purchase.

Requisition Lists

The wishlist feature on Magento 1 is pretty standard. It allows customers to move items back and forth between their wishlist and cart, while removing the item from the wishlist upon completing a purchase. With the new Requisition List in Magento 2, customers can set up lists of favorite items and recurring products that will be continually purchased. This streamlines the purchasing process for renewables and other frequently ordered items making it easier and faster.

Speed

The result of many of the aforementioned enhancements will be increased speed. M2 will optimize your webpages for a faster delivery with accelerated server response times, which will ultimately result in an increase in loading time between 30% and 50%. M2 users can also expect to see a 38% decrease in checkout time compared with M1.  These improvements will also be extended to mobile as well with Magento 2’s responsive design structure. Magento 2 has the ability to handle 10 million views per hour, which is 50x the capacity of Magento 1. Magento 2 also can also handle more than 90,000 orders per hour, more than double the ability of Magento 1.

Support

Magento boasts an extensive library of user guides and their Magento Forum is famous for hosting a large database of educational, user generated content.  The guides are easy to find, are usually simple and very comprehensive. Whatever your problem is, there is no doubt that another Magento user has experienced this same issue and has created a how-to for solving it. But while these user-generated guides are readily available, there is one major piece of support that Magento is lacking and that is customer support. There isn’t a phone number to call or an email address to reach out to if you want the guidance of a trained professional. There’s something reassuring about knowing that there’s a trained person you can reach out to with intimate knowledge about your platform.

Magento Pricing Plans

Magento Open Source is free to use, though you will need to choose and pay a site hosting provider. Magento Commerce edition has an annual license fee of $30,000 or more depending on your site’s revenue.

What companies use Magento?

Nike, Jaguar, Canon, Jack Daniels, HP

Magento Pros:

  • The ongoing cost of ownership is higher than it would be on SaaS or auto-specific platforms so merchants who plan to achieve at least $2 to $3 million in sales may want to consider other paths.
  • Concerns and costs go hand in hand with managing site security, hosting, and ownership of your website code.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a hosted SaaS solution for small to medium sized merchants who are still growing. It’s a feature-rich solution with built-in selling for third party marketing places like Amazon and eBay that is great for medium-sized and larger merchants. BigCommerce also offers educational resources to assist merchants. BigCommerce offers two levels of eCommerce solutions including BigCommerce and BigCommerce Enterprise.

Hosting

Like Shopify, BigCommerce takes care of hosting for its merchants. And since it is a Software as a Service (Saas) product, you don’t own the software, but pay a monthly fee to use it.

Training and Support

BigCommerce puts a ton of focus on helping you learn how to build a successful online store. They offer access to BigCommerce University; in-depth videos, how-to guides built right into your store’s dashboard. Also available is a setup wizard, an autoresponder email series at signup, and a consultant assigned to your account to answer any questions right off the bat. 

Knowledge is power (and money), and BigCommerce puts a huge focus on it.

Customer Service

BigCommerce not only assigns you a dedicated “consultant,” they also have active forums, a huge learning knowledge-base, and support via Facebook, Twitter, chat, email, and phone. And this level of support is a huge pro for BigCommerce – especially in comparison to non-platform options or DIY options. If you go the build-it-yourself open source route (ie, building your eCommerce site with Magento), you and your team are going to be on your own to sort out any bugs or problems, unless you’re working with a trained developer. If you don’t have the development resources or talent and don’t want to spend your time actually dealing with a checkout page errors, then BigCommerce with their strong customer support is worth a look.

Abandoned Cart Saver

Another BigCommerce feature worth singling out for praise is its abandoned cart feature – it’s arguably one of the best out there. The tool allows you to create and automate up to three emails to site visitors who go part of the way through the buying process only to leave your store without completing a purchase. This has the potential to dramatically increase your revenue with little effort – other than the ‘one-off’ time investment in setting up the automated messages – being involved. Ultimately, if you are confident of receiving a large number of visits to your site, or are already experiencing high traffic levels, then purchasing the Pro or Enterprise plan featuring the abandoned cart saver makes a lot of sense.

Store Design

BigCommerce has recently released a new visual merchandising tool called Store Design that allows merchants to immediately see the effects of your edits. This new feature makes BigCommerce much more customizable.  The product comes with a range of customizable templates to help you design your online store; you can use it to sell either physical or digital goods; and there are also some tools provided to help you market your store. BigCommerce has the best in-house features of any ecommerce builder. These provide a high level of quality and reduce the reliance you may have on third party apps. You effectively have everything you need right at your fingertips, and for no extra cost.

Product Types

BigCommerce is the only ecommerce builder on the market which lets you sell physical, digital, and service-based products without having to use an app. All of these sales types are already built into the editor. This means less hassle and less cost, because you don’t have to worry about using third party apps.

Payment Options

Unlike some other ecommerce builders, BigCommerce doesn’t lock you into its own payment gateway. It also doesn’t impose transaction fees on any of its plans. Instead, it lets you choose your own payment gateway without imposing any extra charges or transaction fees. There are over 65 integrated payment gateways to choose from. With one-click setup, mobile payments, and multiple currencies supported, BigCommerce does its best to get you paid fast. Payment providers include PayPal, Stripe, Square, Apple Pay and Amazon Pay.

Pricing Plans

Bigcommerce offers four month-to-month pricing plans, which are as follows:

Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month

Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements. The Enterprise version includes marketing tools, real-time analytics, reporting, and 24/7 support.

What companies use BigCommerce?

Sony, Toyota, Ben & Jerry’s & Paul Mitchel

BigCommerce Pros:

  • All-in-one solution
  • Hosted platform
  • User-friendly interface
  • Comes with many out-of-the-box features
  • Customizable with add-ons

BigCommerce Cons

  • Lacks scalability and customization
  • Has limited add-on availability
  • Hosted platform has been subject to outage issues
  • Security

Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify: Finding the right fit

Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify all have their pros and cons. The critical decision is choosing a platform that you can live with, and perhaps as importantly, can afford. Magento is a market leader for a reason. It is scalable, customizable and ready for global eCommerce. Magento is typically an excellent option for medium to large businesses with high-volume stores that value customization. Although potentially pricey for small merchants, Magento is a smart investment for merchants with large inventories and whose growth is dependent on a flexible and powerful platform.

BigCommerce offers a strong option for mid-sized merchants who may need something more scalable than Shopify, but maybe not up for the robustness of Magento. BigCommerce provides all-inclusive pricing for hosting and support. However, some reports indicate that the support for BigCommerce isn’t as advanced as the Magento support community or of the Shopify customer service team. Mid-sized merchants on an upward trajectory could outgrow the platform and need to migrate to a more scalable platform.

Shopify provides real benefits for smaller companies with all-inclusive pricing for hosting, support and set up. Shopify is considered user-friendly and a smart choice for the busy or less tech-savvy merchant.  However, some users report running into a “Shopify Ceiling” noting that the platform can be very limiting for growing merchants. Flourishing merchants could quickly outgrow the platform and need to migrate to a more scalable platform.

Shopify and BigCommerce take care of site hosting for merchants. These platforms target merchants who lack design experience and need an easy-to-use website builder. Smaller or niche merchants can find great success on these platforms.

If you would like to talk about your specific needs to determine which platform is right for you, please connect with us using our contact form.

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Should I Migrate from Magento to Big Commerce or Shopify?

Should I Migrate from Magento to Big Commerce or Shopify?

At InteractOne, we’ve encountered many merchants in the past couple of years who were facing the need to migrate off of Magento 1 and wondering if they should migrate to an SaaS (software as a service) solution like BigCommerce or Shopify.  The question is very common since support for Magento 1 is ending in June of 2020 and merchants must migrate to Magento 2 or a competitive platform like Shopify or BigCommerce. In the past 5 years BigCommerce and Shopify have evolved into feature-rich, high performance platforms capable of hosting both small and enterprise level sites.  As they have grown, so has their flexibility and the community around them. Like Salesforce, they have created platforms and APIs that can support robust 3rd party applications and integration making it possible to build scalable websites tailored to complex business needs. There are several important factors to consider when choosing between Magento and a SaaS alternative.

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Features

One of the biggest considerations you must take into account when comparing these platforms  are the features you get right out-of-the-box. Magento is a more feature rich application than SaaS options such as BigCommerce and Shopify. Those features provide flexibility and power, often times required by enterprise level organizations but not necessarily needed by mid market or small businesses.  It is typically preferable to use software that out-of-the-box solves the majority of a business’s requirements. That means for larger companies with more complex requirements, the feature rich Magento is oftentimes a much better solution since it requires less 3rd party code and customization than a SaaS solution might in order to solve for the same set of business requirements.

With many features comes more complexity. Magento, because it is more feature-rich and complex takes longer to learn how to administer.  Shopify and BigCommerce on the other hand have a much smaller learning curve for administering features. For smaller companies with fewer and possibly more inexperienced resources, a SaaS eCommerce platform can be a much more practical solution.

Third Party Apps

If the out-of-the-box features of your eCommerce platform are not able to meet your business needs, Magento, BigCommerce and Shopify all have marketplace app stores where you can purchase additional features and integrations from third party app providers.  While Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento have lots of third party apps to choose from, how the apps are billed, installed and managed is unique to each platform. With Magento you purchase an app one time and have a developer install it using a technical process. Whereas with Shopify and BigCommerce you pay for the apps on a monthly basis and simply install them with a click of a button.  It’s important to note that on Magento, installing 3rd party apps may require significant developer support if the app being installed conflicts with other existing third party apps already installed on your site. That support combined with the need to install updated versions of the apps typically makes Magento apps carry some significant maintenance and support cost over the long term.  So, even though Shopify and BigCommerce apps may seem more costly (because of the monthly fees) when compared to Magento apps (that you purchase one-time), they are typically cheaper than Magento apps when considering the additional maintenance and support costs required to install and maintain Magento apps.

One nice benefit of Magento third party apps is that they are more easily extended or customized than Shopify or BigCommerce apps.  This can be a great benefit for you if there are Magento apps that support some but not all of the functionality needed or if you need to integrate the functionality of two separate third party apps.  As with other similar scenarios a key benefit of Magento is the flexibility it provides for efficiently meeting custom or unique requirements.

Cost

Another consideration typically top of mind when considering platforms is cost to build and manage.  Magento is usually similar to Shopify and BigCommerce when comparing site build, licensing and hosting costs.  However, there is a significant difference when considering long term total cost of ownership. That is because Magento requires developer maintenance and support to install patches and upgrades, which occur on a somewhat frequent basis (usually quarterly).  With a SaaS solution, the development maintenance and support costs are significantly lower since they are built into the monthly fee that includes maintenance, licensing and hosting.  

Also consider that Magento typically costs a good deal more to manage from a human resources standpoint.  As previously mentioned in the ‘Features’ section, Magento is feature rich and requires technical oversight, which means it typically requires more senior level personnel with software management experience to manage.  And senior level personnel with software management experience will command higher salaries. BigCommerce and Shopify on the other hand do the software management for you and are both easier to administer, so their sites can be run by less experienced personnel who don’t necessarily need to have a background in software or software management.

Scalability

While SaaS platforms can handle large volumes of traffic for smaller catalog sites (ie. Kylie Cosmetics), they typically don’t provide the resources needed to manage large enterprise sites.  Enterprise websites with large catalogs, traffic volume and robust data integrations require the flexibility needed to support large scale operations. This is where Magento is a clear winner.  Its flexibility and ability to maintain separate databases for customers, orders and catalog make it a great platform for supporting enterprise-level businesses. With Magento you can configure your hosting services to automatically spin up and dedicate the resources needed to keep the site running fast no matter the demand for resources.  That said, a good hosting solution is required to make Magento scalable. Third party hosting providers like Webscale are what we recommend for Magento sites that need to be highly scalable. Webscale provides that flexibility by hosting Magento in the cloud and adding and removing resources on the fly per demand.

B2B

Another clear area of differentiation for Magento versus Shopify and BigCommer is B2B.  Magento Commerce Edition (the paid version) comes with a suite of features for B2B users.  These features include spending limits, shared catalogs, shopper permissions and customer segmentation which offer a lot of value to B2B merchants. These out-of-the-box features have allowed Magento to clearly differentiate itself in the B2B eCommerce arena. While Shopify and BigCommerce do have some features or 3rd party modules that can provide things like customer group specific pricing, they are nowhere near as feature rich when it comes to supporting B2B functionality.  For businesses with moderate to substantial B2B eCommerce requirements Magento is a clear winner in terms of value and performance.

Multi-Site and International

Magento has always provided the ability to support multiple websites from one admin.  This allows site owners to create separate sites for different countries or brands all managed from a single admin and shared catalog.  There are many efficiencies to be gained from this feature as it reduces the time and overhead needed to manage several different sites.  While Shopify and BigCommerce do support the ability to provide different currency display per country on the front-end, they do not provide a multi-site feature that allows for several separate sites to all be managed from one admin.  If a Shopify or BigCommerce merchant wishes to have country or brand specific sites, they must create separate websites with separate admin logins and then integrate these sites together via APIs and 3rd party apps for the sake of managing inventory and fulfillment.

Controversial Product

If you are selling controversial products such as guns & ammo or vaping there is concern about SaaS software and their policies.  Shopify for example has been known to discontinue support for certain types of these products and give their clients selling these products a very short time to migrate off their platform or stop selling those products completely.  That is a huge risk that can be mitigated by using an open source product like Magento. If you are selling controversial products on Magento and need to change hosting providers, payment gateways or any other tech in order to find support or meet compliance you have the ability to easily do that without being forced to face a complete platform migration.

Compliance

Similar to the prior point about controversial products, some industries are heavily regulated (ie. health care) and require additional measures of compliance not provided by Shopify or BigCommerce.  In these cases, it is necessary to use a software like Magento where you can manage and make any changes needed to the entire tech stack (servers and software) in order to meet necessary compliance standards.  Also, some larger companies have internal compliance regulations that require complement ownership and control of their tech stack. For those companies an SaaS solution won’t work with internal policies making a software like Magento a much better fit.

Flexibility

While Shopify and BigCommerce do have robust APIs and flexible front-end code they don’t provide developers with full access to override core functionality. Conversely, Magento developers have full access to the Magento code and tech stack and can override any core functionality for the sake of customization. So if you have a need for highly custom features such as to create your own product designs, complex product configurations, headless front-end or tightly coupled ERP integration Magento is typically better suited to meet your needs.

Community and Marketplace

Another key factor to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform is the size of its community and third party marketplace.  A large community and marketplace help move a platform forward while also keeping the costs of custom development, third party apps and licensing in check.  Magento and Shopify both benefit greatly from large communities of developers and very robust third party app marketplaces. BigCommerce is catching up fast however as its platform is experiencing tremendous growth and its support community is also growing.  Other enterprise eCommerce platforms such as Oracle, SAP, IBM and Salesforce suffer from somewhat smaller communities and marketplaces which contributes to higher development and licensing costs.

Summary

Magento, Shopify and BigCommerce are all robust market leading eCommerce platforms and as we have discussed above, choosing the one that is the best fit for your business depends on many factors.  In general, larger, more enterprise businesses with more complex or B2B requirements will typically find Magento a better fit while smaller or more mid-market merchants with less complexity will find BigCommerce or Shopify a better value. Our recommended approach for making an eCommerce platform decision is to work with a solution partner like InteractOne to document key business requirements and demo the platforms via free trials and presentations.  From there, we can work to fairly compare all valid factors and requirements and ensure you choose a platform that is the best fit for your business now and also supports your growth plans for the future. If you would like to discuss your situation and options with the pros at InteractOne, please drop us a note.

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What’s Next for Tech? PWAs, Headless eCommerce & Cryptocurrency

What’s Next for Tech? PWAs, Headless eCommerce & Cryptocurrency

Continuing with our ‘what’s next’ series, this week we’re going to be taking a look at some of the newest forms of technology that are impacting the world of eCommerce.

In case you missed Part 1 of our series, “What’s Next for AI, Machine Learning and Data” or Part 2, “GDPR and CCPA FAQs“, click the links to read all about how these topics are changing the game in 2020 and beyond.

PWAs

With mobile traffic surpassing desktop traffic —  60% of all current traffic is now coming from mobile devices — it is crucial for merchants to provide the best mobile shopping experience to engage their audience. Even though mobile traffic is growing, conversion rates are not. With mobile traffic only accounting for only 16% of total conversion. It is because of this gap that Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) were developed. In short, a PWA is a website made to look and feel more like an app. Users will browse a PWA just like they normally would, on their browser, with a URL, but the experience they receive is one more akin to an app. All of this without having to download and install the app itself. Some of the most popular and effective PWA’s currently in use are Starbucks and Uber. They each give the user the full app experience and usability straight from a mobile browser. Google reports that when an ecommerce store switches to a Progressive Web App, they generally witness a 20% boost in overall revenue, with conversion rates on mobile doubling in some cases. Any new and existing webshop must consider delivering their services, not just as a standard online store, but as a Progressive Web App. Magento and BigCommerce currently offer PWA extensions/apps designed to deliver a next generation shopping experience to an increasingly mobile, world wide customer base.

Headless eCommerce

In recent years the ‘future of eCommerce’ has been touted as headless eCommerce. A headless browser is basically software-enabled browsers that offer separate user interfaces. Depending on the circumstances, merchants are able to automate various actions of their website and monitor their performances. When working under command line instructions in a headless browser there is no GUI. Through a headless browser you are able to test web pages and view several elements such as font family, dimensions, web layout and more. In the past, eCommerce sites operating on Magento or Shopify would have their back-end and front-end tightly integrated. But after the introduction of headless architecture, the front-end and back-end are now separated with both working independently. As a web designer there are a number of benefits for going headless. PHP code, complex JavaScript and widgets are no longer in use, making the HTML easier to understand. The HTML page could also be served statically, reducing the load time by a significant margin. And from an eCommerce perspective, the path to purchase is expanded. When operating on Magento, merchants would see a clear performance boost with a headless browser as the static elements of a page would be loaded quicker than with the dynamic elements being loaded lazily through Ajax.

Alternative Payment Methods

Ecommerce transactions used to be limited to credit cards and bank accounts and Paypal. But all that has changed. Now, digital payment methods have become more varied and ubiquitous. And as these digital payment methods continue to evolve, so must your processing abilities in order to keep pace. In the coming years more and more customers will come to your site looking to do business and armed with alternative payment methods. It will be up to you to have a payment gateway that meets your short-term and long-term business goals while also meeting your customer’s needs for security, convenience, functionality and price. 

Mobile Payments

Mobile Payments are a rapidly growing trend in the eCommerce world. There are a number of mobile payment apps that allow users to send money from their phone directly to other users or to digital merchants or directly to a cashier at a brick-and-mortar store. For brick and mortar locations, these transactions are enabled through the use of near-field communications (NFCs). It’s estimated that ⅓ of consumers are now using their NFC-enabled phones for contactless payments in stores. A customer’s phone will communicate and be verified with an NFC-enabled card machine via a close-proximity radio frequency. A customer’s mobile phone only needs to be within a few inches of the checkout terminal in order for the transfer to be completed. This exchange is nearly instantaneous and is more streamlined than the chip/PIN technology that most transactions are built upon.

Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, CashApp, Venmo and Zelle are among the most popular mobile payments apps available. Each comes equipped with their own unique security settings and the ability to connect and process a wide range of credit cards.  There are a number of current Magento extensions that offer flexibility and the ability to process these emerging mobile payment methods. Braintree and Stripe each offer merchants the ability to process Android Wallet, Venmo, Bitcoin and Apple Pay payments.

Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin continues to influence the macroeconomy, and pretty much everybody believes (or wants to believe) that digital currency has an extremely bright future. With that in mind, more and more industries and businesses are incorporating this technology into their eCommerce marketplace and order functionality.

There are numerous benefits of Bitcoin, including zero-fee fast transactions that are processed within a couple of seconds. Operations performed in the cryptocurrency network are immediate because they don’t have to pass through any instances like banks and settlement organizations. And while credit and debit cards are dependent on third parties that charge transaction fees, Bitcoin is free of those restrictions and charges.

Magento 2 CopPay Payment Gateway is a specialized plug-in allowing store owners to integrate the CopPay payment system into Magento 2-based websites. Leveraging the extension, registered CopPay merchants get the ability to easily accept cryptocurrency from their customers with no hidden costs and no additional fees. Customers can pay for their orders in cryptocurrency while merchants store owners receive payment either in crypto or converted to fiat currency. Braintree, Stripe and Bitpay all offer similar Bitcoin support to Magento merchants.

Conclusion

Stepping into new technologies can involve a higher level of risk and reward. Risk, because of the cost associated with unknowns and potential failures. Rewards, because early adopters can attract large amounts of business if properly leveraging the new technology to create a greater user experience. Don’t just implement new technology because it’s new. Instead, do the research to see if it’s possible to substantially improve your shopper’s experience with new technology.  If the gains are foreseeably substantial, then it may be worth the risk.

To learn more about how to integrate these extensions and technologies into your eCommerce site, contact us today.

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Hosting Scalability – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hosting Scalability – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

These days cloud based elastic scaling is advertised as a standard offering by many eCommerce hosting companies.  The premise behind the offering is that the hosting service will be able to scale out (more servers) or up (more resources – ie. RAM – added to the existing server) to meet high traffic demand and scale back to save money on resources once traffic goes back to normal.  This ensures your site is always stable and fast while minimizing cost of server resources. While elastic scaling may be perceived and marketed as a standard cloud feature, we have found that the mechanics and effectiveness of it can vary vastly from one hosting provider to the next.  In fact, we know of very few truly awesome and seamless elastic scaling solutions for eCommerce.

The Good 

Some hosting services like Webscale can provide truly seamless elastic scaling. Their technology automatically detects surges in traffic and server utilization and delivers additional scaled out resources in real time without any manual intervention or site performance degradation.  Once the demand subsides the resources are automatically scaled back, again with no manual intervention, keeping cloud resource costs at a minimum. And it actually works as advertised delivering great performance and value.

The Bad

Many cloud hosting companies have the ability to scale out/up automatically but scaling back down requires manual work through an admin dashboard or ticketing system.  The issue with having to manually scale back down is that you will spend a lot more on resources, since during peak traffic seasons (ie. holiday) it doesn’t make sense to be manually scaling back resources until the season is over.  So while it’s nice to know you have the assurance of performance and uptime from the ability to autoscale out/up, the cost for resources is much higher during high volume events.

The Ugly

Some cloud hosting companies that advertise elastic scaling are limited to manual scaling out/up and back in a fashion very similar to bare medal where servers can be added to the cluster but only on a planned schedule manually by technicians.  Scaling out/up often times requires planning months in advance to increase the resources for a high traffic season (ie. holidays) and includes signed approvals for increased cost of resources and must be performed in coordination with the hosting company technical team.  There are typically no tools for site administrators to manage resources on their own through a dashboard and if traffic peaks are higher than expected the site can experience slow performance or even worse downtime. Adding resources to immediately address demand (ie. Black Friday peak) is typically not possible since it requires days, if not weeks (depending on how busy the hosting company’s technicians are), to manually add more resources.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for eCommerce hosting be sure to ask your prospective providers lots of questions about what they are advertising for cloud (elastic) scaling and carefully examine the elastic scaling fine print in the contract.  Also, if you think you are on a service that provides automatic elastic scaling double-check with your provider on the mechanics and details of how it works. You don’t want to wait until a peak traffic event to find out that your servers don’t auto scale the way you thought they would.  To get more details or find out who the “The Ugly” providers are mentioned above (off the record of course:) please contact us.

 

Do I Need to Load Test?

Do I Need to Load Test?

It’s that time of year again, the holidays are soon approaching and you – the online merchant – are preparing promotions and marketing for the unofficial kick off to the Holiday Season – Black Friday Week. One of the concerns you likely have leading up to the holidays is how your site will perform when handling large volumes of traffic. Will your site experience slow load performance or downtime on Black Friday or during the week of Cyber Monday?  This is indeed a valid concern since slow performance, or even worse yet, site down time, can be very costly, both literally in terms of lost sales and, as importantly, from an overall brand perspective. Many times users abandon their shopping activities on sites that are running slow or timing out.  As well, performance issues or site downtime cause major damage to brand reputation as many users never return to sites that have failed during their shopping experience – and may tell their friends about the poor experience.

While you may have prepared your site for traffic peaks with auto scaling and other enhancements, there is no way to tell how much traffic and order volume your site can take without performance load testing.

Website performance load testing is a process that utilizes technology tools (bots) to simulate traffic, usage and orders on your site so you can measure the performance page speed and response of your site under different volumes of traffic.  Performance testing should be setup and performed on a site-by-site basis because every website has different usage patterns and behavior. So the first step in successful load testing is to review Google Analytics data and see how users are engaging with the site to make a purchase.  Then the load testing bots can be programmed to simulate the site usage of the actual site users. Once all the simulations have been created, the testing bot is sent to browse a replica of the production site like an actual user, browsing products, adding items to the cart, applying coupons, using the wishlist and checking out, etc.  (A replica site is used because you wouldn’t want to sack your production site with thousands of fake transactions.) The bot is set to mimic as many usage patterns as needed and programmed to maintain certain levels of activity that replicate different volumes of user traffic.

When we run load tests for our clients, we are able to measure the site page speed and errors at various simulated levels of traffic and ultimately ascertain the level of traffic a site can serve before breaking down. After successfully load testing a site we are able to – with a high degree of confidence – tell exactly how much traffic a website can safely serve at any given time.

That’s all well and good you might say, but is it really worth the investment?  For sites expecting high traffic volume promotions or for sites with deals that go viral on social media, we absolutely see the payoff.  Knowing how much traffic your site can handle before performance starts to degrade is critical for promotion planning. If you know the peak number of shoppers per hour your site can handle without performance degradation then you can be very strategic about how you schedule email promotions and social announcements so that you avoid pushing to many users to the site with a marketing blast.  For example, we’ve had merchant clients go through the performance testing process and develop an understanding of their safety threshold for max traffic. This allows them to change their marketing strategy to promote discounts and sales days ahead of time, or days after Black Friday, to reduce the risk of getting too much traffic at one time.

While load testing does require some investment in time and money it can prove a very wise method for maximizing revenue by avoiding performance related issues that negatively affect conversion and site reputation.  For more information on how we can help you determine your peak traffic threshold, optimize performance and help you better prepare for the biggest retail time of the year, please contact us.