How to Add Sales Tax Functionality to Your BigCommerce Store

So you’ve stocked your virtual BigCommerce store shelves with products to sell…set up your shipping methods and services…and configured payments. And you’ve just realized that you need to collect sales tax on purchases made from your online store.Now what? How do you set it up so that taxes are automatically calculated for your customers at checkout? Not to worry; we’ll walk you through it. But first, a little backstory.

Until a couple of years ago, sales tax was no big deal for ecommerce merchants. They only had to collect it if they sold something to a buyer located in a state in which the seller had nexus, which at that time was defined as a physical presence.

But on June 21, 2018, the Supreme Court changed all that with their ruling in South Dakota vs Wayfair. The Supremes decreed that although Wayfair did not physically have nexus in South Dakota, the online retailer was still liable for collecting and remitting state sales tax. And so were other ecommerce businesses with more than 200 transactions or $100,000 worth of goods sold in the state.

The word “nexus” means “a connection”, so this type of financial presence has become known as economic nexus. In other words, nexus can now be physical, or it can be fiscal. Either way, it means you have to charge sales tax!

Seeing a chance to bring in substantial revenue, other states were quick to jump on board the internet sales tax bandwagon. Their sales thresholds range from $10,000 to $500,00, with requirements for collecting and remitting sales tax differing from state to state. Multiplied by 45 states (5 don’t collect sales tax) and more than 10,000 tax jurisdictions nationwide, sales tax compliance has become a daunting challenge for ecommerce storeowners.

Luckily, there are apps for that. In fact, several of them are specifically designed for use with your BigCommerce store. You can opt to use one of those, or you can do your tax setup manually. Whichever route you choose to go, you’re going to start out the same way:

  1. Go to your store dashboard’s home page
  2. In the left-hand sidebar, click on Store Setup, then click on Tax
  3. Scroll down, and to the right of the subhead Tax Settings, click Edit

Your store’s tax settings control the way sales taxes are shown on your storefront as well as how they function within your store. To that end, begin by deciding what to call the tax applied to orders in your store — e.g., Sales Tax, GST, or simply Tax.

You also need to specify whether or not you want prices in your store to include tax. This setting will apply to all of your products. Unless you serve a local market with a single tax rate, it’s better to leave that setting on the default option, which is “The prices in my store are entered exclusive of tax.” Most online stores serve multiple markets with different tax rates, so this allows variable taxes to be added to a consistent base price.

The next setting is Fallback Tax. This applies only when your enabled automatic tax provider cannot be reached. You can either charge a flat 10% or use your manual tax configuration (assuming you’ve completed a manual setup; if not, your fallback tax rate will be 0%).

After that, you’ll need to specify which address you’re going to use as the basis for calculating sales tax. Tax is usually charged based on the customer’s shipping address.

Then there are decisions to be made as to Tax Display Settings: How do you want prices to be shown with taxes on the control panel? On product pages? In carts and at Checkout? On invoices and order details pages? For more detailed advice on these settings, check out the BigCommerce Help Center’s Tax Overview.

Once all that’s been settled, it’s time to do the math — i.e., decide how you’re going to handle actually calculating those pesky taxes.

If your online business has complex tax issues, then you probably should use an automatic tax service. Doing so will save you both time and money. In addition, the peace of mind that comes from knowing your tax collection and filing is being handled by a third-party professional can be priceless.

BigCommerce has integrated with popular tax service providers like Avalara, Vertex, TaxCloud, and TaxJar. Each of them supports automatic tax calculation in buyers’ shopping carts and at checkout. They also handle document submission to your tax provider. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for automatic tax setup in BigCommerce’s Help Center.

In addition, BigCommerce tech support can help you ensure that:

  • Your automatic tax provider is correctly enabled
  • Your storefront tax display settings are properly configured
  • Your tax provider codes are properly applied to products and customers

However, their support team is not qualified to give tax advice per se.

If you decide to go the manual set-up route, be sure you already know the tax requirements for running your online store. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, it’s a good idea to check with your accountant and/or local tax authority.

As for doing the setup itself, you’d better be detail oriented. Because you’re going to have to:

  1. Create tax classes for all of your different product types
  2. Create and configure tax zones
  3. Then specify the tax rates for each zone

Again, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for manual tax set-up in the BigCommerce Help Center.

There’s nothing more certain than death and taxes, but sales tax doesn’t have to be the death of you!

Smile, You’ve Got Big Data: Why You Need Business Intelligence

When it comes to ecommerce, retail savvy is no longer enough. You also need business intelligence (BI for short). Basically, BI takes all of the raw data generated by your ecommerce enterprise, analyzes and digests it, then spits out the information you need to make better, more informed decisions about marketing, sales, and other aspects of your ecommerce business.

Luckily for you, there’s an app for that. Specifically designed for ecommerce storeowners, PayHelm provides real-time analytics for your online retail business, translating customer info and sales data into reports that enable you to make decisions based on facts, not guesswork. A survey by Helical IT found that decisions made using facts had a 79% greater chance of success than decisions made via intuition

In fact, your ecommerce business is probably already generating, tracking, and aggregating the essential information you need to help it thrive and grow. Nowadays, even small and medium-sized businesses are producing mountains of big data, but there’s gold in them thar hills — if you know how to extract it.

According to a study by Nucleus Research, for every $1 a company spends on BI, it makes $10.66. That’s an ROI of more than 1000%! Furthermore, companies that make extensive use of customer data analytics in their business decisions see 126% profit improvement compared to companies that don’t use BI. So it literally pays to take advantage of the insights gleaned via business intelligence.

Best of all, BI can lead to higher sales and more satisfied repeat customers. Why? Because business intelligence can help you to better understand your customers and the market, highlight trends, and spot potential problems before they turn into pitfalls.

That’s where PayHelm comes in. This multifunctional BI tool crunches data as fast as it comes in. Then it makes analyses of that data available in various forms and formats, including charts and graphics that visually reveal trends and patterns.

A dashboard serves as Information Central, displaying and managing essential metrics such as key performance indicators (KPIs) and other relevant data points that help monitor the overall health of your ecommerce business. From there, you can drill down to the details that matter most.

In addition, ad hoc reporting enables the creation of dynamic, real-time data reports on an as-needed basis. These ad hoc reports are designed to answer a specific business question, usually in response to an event. Want to find out how well your last promotion did (or didn’t)? PayHelm can tell you with just a few clicks.

Speaking of marketing, business intelligence can break down your customer base into groups with similar characteristics. These groups are known as cohorts. BI uses cohort analysis to understand the trends and patterns of customers over time in order to better tailor the products offered to various cohorts along with helping to predict what new product(s) will be most likely to sell well.

Cohort analysis is very helpful in evaluating the results of your marketing efforts. It can also tell you which groups of customers are driving the most revenue.

Another major concern for ecommerce businesses is customer retention and its flip side, churn (a.k.a. customer attrition). Typically, for small and medium-sized businesses, 3%-5% is considered to be a “good” churn rate.

To calculate your business’ churn rate, take the number of customers you lost last quarter and divide it by the number of customers with which you started. To determine the lifespan of your average customer, divide 1 by your churn rate.

BI software like PayHelm can help you predict churn and even suggest ways to combat it.

Here are some more examples of the statistical gold that PayHelm can mine from your motherlode of ecommerce data:

  • Performance metrics reveal your business’ actions, abilities, and overall quality.
    • Product analysis – total sales, orders, and average price
    • Global sales – analyzed by location
    • Product performance – keyword analysis
  • Profitability analysis (e.g., how much your business makes from each $1 in sales)
  • Trend and problem indicators. Ecommerce KPIs include…
    • Average order value
    • Conversion rate
    • Cost of goods sold
    • Gross and net profit

Thinking of adding another sales channel (or channels)? PayHelm can help you there, too; it can analyze various factors across multiple ecommerce platforms, including BigCommerce, Shopify, and PayPal. You can also control user access to data — e.g., who can see what — as well as export, manage, and save your data in CSV format.

PayHelm is here to handle your business needs with its user friendly reports. Your marketing team, accounting team and leadership team will all love being on the same page. Try it now for free.

5 Ways to Screw Up Your Ecommerce Business

Ecommerce has come a long way from the early days of eBayers mailing Beanie Babies across the country in old cereal boxes. Online sales now account for more than 75% of all retail growth worldwide; in fact, global ecommerce sales are predicted to grow by an incredible 19% this year alone. That’s a projected total of some $4 trillion in 2020, spent by approximately 2 billion shoppers — 185 or so million of them on eBay alone.

So how hard can it be to cut yourself a profitable slice of this sizeable pie? That depends on you. Ecommerce is one retail playing field where small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) can hold their own against the mega-brands and still prosper; brick-and-mortar shops largely depend upon local patronage, but an online store’s niche market encompasses a whole world’s worth of potential customers. Yes, competition can be fierce, but in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “This is your chance…just don’t screw it up!”

Here are the top 5 pitfalls you’ll need to avoid in order to succeed as an online retailer.

  1. Choosing the wrong platform(s).

Where you choose to start your ecommerce business may well determine its success or failure right from the get-go. If you’re building it from the ground up, find your footing as a seller on one of the major ecommerce marketplaces; that way you can take advantage of their broad international customer base. Some are specialized — e.g., Etsy for handmade and vintage, Poshmark for fashion and home décor, or Ruby Lane for antiques and collectibles — while others showcase a broad range of merchandise.

eBay hits the sweet spot for fledgling ecommerce entrepreneurs:

  • Robust branding opportunities and selling tools for eBay storeowners
  • 88% of all merchandise is sold at fixed price; the rest is sold at auction
  • 80/20 mix of new and pre-owned merchandise
  • Inventory encompasses not just commodity items but also the unique and unusual (“Whatever it is, you can find it on eBay”)

From eBay, you can easily expand to other selling channels. When you’re ready for your own website, BigCommerce and Shopify are good solutions for starters. Magento is a great platform for larger businesses; it’s open source, so you can add custom apps. The downside is that developing those apps can be very costly.

So be aware of what platforms are available, but do your due diligence to determine the right launching pad for your ecommerce enterprise.

Choosing the wrong product(s).

When it comes to deciding what you’ll sell, you can make some major mistakes. A product must be:

  • In demand, but not a flash in the pan. Beanie Babies put a lot of eBayers in business, but not all of them stayed in business once that fad fizzled out — and many got left holding a sizeable bagful of no-longer-hot Beanies.
  • Not overly niche, i.e., having a too-limited market. Furthermore, a niche with no competitors may turn out to be a niche with no potential traffic.
  • Consistently available. Thrifting items one at a time limits your ability to scale, whereas partnering with wholesalers means you can sell items in multiple quantities.
  • Affordable. If you can’t make a profit on it, then it’s not the product for you.

Not every product you source will turn to gold. Liquidate the losers, and put the proceeds into something that will hopefully sell better.

  • Being user-unfriendly

It’s harder to commit this cardinal ecommerce sin when you’re using a marketplace format as opposed to building your own store from scratch. Still, plenty of eBay stores manage to do so by:

  • Lumping all their products together into the default “Other” category rather than creating intuitive categories and subcategories (e.g., “Men’s Apparel” > “Men’s Suits”, “Men’s Casual Wear” or “Holiday Gifts” > “Holiday Gifts for Him”, “Holiday Gifts for Her”, “Holiday Gifts for Kids” — you get the drift).
  • Not branding their eBay store with their business’ logo, an eye-catching billboard, and a keyword-rich description, then carrying the look through to their listings and sales collateral.
  • Failing to optimize listings for mobile (62% of all eBay transactions involve a mobile device).
  • Neglecting to use eBay’s powerful selling tools (including Markdown Manager, Promoted Listings, and store newsletters, and affiliate marketing through eBay Partner Network).
  • Posting listings with ineffective titles, lousy and/or not enough photos, missing item specifics, incomplete or way too wordy descriptions, and/or overly onerous terms of sale.

Learning eBay best practices will serve you well, because most of them align with ecommerce standards and thus will apply to any selling channel.

  • Not being customer-centric

If your customer’s complete satisfaction is not your bottom line, then your ecommerce success is going to be limited at best. It’s absolutely crucial that you give a great buying experience!

Here are just a few of the ways you can fail to put your customer’s happiness front and center:

  • Have unappealing or even off-putting terms of service, especially around shipping and returns.
  • Poor customer relations management. For example —
  • Don’t communicate, i.e.. respond promptly to inquiries; set buyer expectations as to shipping and delivery windows; and/or cheerfully and professionally resolve post-sale issues.
  • Pack sloppily and/or ship items in a less than timely manner, especially if you ship without providing tracking information.
  • Assume every buyer is out to scam you. This will cast a negative pall over every customer interaction!
  • Ignore customer feedback. Remember, only about 1 in 3 customers takes time to leave feedback; if one person expresses disgruntlement with some aspect of a transaction, chances are you’ve also got other unhappy customers who just won’t buy from you again. So take both positive and negative comments to heart, learn from them, and move on.

(Bonus points if you reach out to dissatisfied buyers with a public apology and an offer to make right whatever went wrong. Do this well enough, and you could even turn them into loyal returning customers!)

  • Don’t build a customer database, from enlisting subscribers to your eBay Store newsletter to harvesting customer names and addresses into your private resource for generating repeat business.
  • Avoid social media. Social media marketing doesn’t just mean sharing your listings on Facebook, Pinterest, etc. It also means building a community, whether via Instagram followers, on a Facebook Business Page, or through your own blog.
  • Ignoring your numbers

This is the biggest pitfall of all — and the cause of most retail business’ downfall, be it online or off. Numbers measure the health of your business. If you do not know your numbers, you cannot measure your business. If you cannot measure your business, then you cannot manage your business. And that means sooner or later, your business will go belly up.

Here are a few of the numbers you need to know:

  • Previous year’s sales, both gross and net
  • Cost of goods sold for that period
  • Your profit margin(s)
  • Operating expenses —
    • Facilities (warehouse space, etc.)
    • Selling fees
    • Shipping costs
    • Supplies
    • Transaction losses (lost or damaged shipments, returns, etc.)
    • Marketing, i.e., advertising and promotion
    • Miscellaneous other costs of doing business
  • Conversion (a.k.a. sell-through) rate —
    • For all sales
    • For each channel and format
    • By category and product
  • Return/refund rate —
    • Number of returns per total transactions (expressed as a percentage)
    • Dollar amount of total returns (important for determining loss rate)
  • Sales velocity, i.e., the speed at which an item sells. Remember, unsold inventory is your cash, sitting on a shelf, laughing at you!

However, there are more complex metrics you should track as well. This is where PayHelm can help. Among other useful reports, it enables you to:

  • Monitor global sales performance
  • Filter and chart an overview of your buyers by location
  • Analyze your sales across multiple channels and platforms

Keep an eye on your numbers, and watch for trends. Formulate hypotheses to account for these trends. Then test, test, test to see if your hypothesis is correct.

Now go forth and make the most of your chance to succeed as an ecommerce entrepreneur. Just don’t screw it up!

Taking Care of (Online) Business: eCommerce Workflows

If this is the workflow for your ecommerce business, it’s time to clean up your act!

Whether you’re an accidental entrepreneur whose hobby selling on eBay became a full-time occupation or a purpose-driven e-tailer who deliberately set out to build an ecommerce empire, you’re in business now.

But are you running your business, or is your business running you…ragged? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to review your procedures with an eye towards streamlining and automating whatever you can.

Because when it comes to your ecommerce business, it literally pays to mind your Ps and Qs. Here’s how the workflows boil down, step by step:

  1. Product sourcing
  2. Post items for sale
  3. Promote your listings and store
  4. Quick shipping
  5. Prompt and professional customer service
  6. Quantify your business’ success via key metrics

Let’s take a closer look at each of those workflows.

Product Sourcing = Homework + Legwork

Before you can start selling anything, you’ve got to have something to sell. Time to go product sourcing! But where to start?

You’ve got plenty of options. Many online sellers swear by thrift shops and garage or estate sales, because they love the thrill of the hunt. But scaling a business based entirely on unique items — “one-offs” —can be brutal; you’ve got to list items as fast as you sell them just to keep your virtual store stocked. Unlisted inventory is your tied-up cash just sitting on the shelf, laughing at you.

Another viable sourcing option is retail arbitrage: buying marked-down, limited edition, and/or hard-to-find merchandise at brick-and-mortar shops or online, then flipping it for a profit. The drawback to this business model is that it’s unpredictable.

Ditto for buying liquidation goods; you can never be sure where your next hot product is coming from or what it may be.So start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!) by doing some market research. Maybe you’ve already got a product category (or categories) in mind; maybe you’re wide open to suggestion; or maybe you just want to find your next hot niche. Or maybe all of the above. Whichever it is, make sure you do your homework!

List More, Sell More

Once you’ve settled on a saleable and sustainable product mix, you’re ready to start listing. That can be the most challenging part of your business to scale, and you can’t do it manually — or singlehandedly.

So start automating whatever you can — the sooner, the better. Eventually, you’ll also need to add somebody else, or even several somebodies, to your payroll. Because even with stock photos, listing takes time. And if you’ve got to do your own product photography to boot, forget going solo. You’re going to need help from third-party tools and/or human employees.

The best third-party ecommerce tools offer multiple plans to accommodate your growing business. Most offer free trials, too, so don’t hesitate to shop around until you figure out what feels right for your business.

Then choose the tools that can best handle what you need them to do, whether it’s importing/exporting listings across platforms, keeping tabs on your inventory, streamlining customer relations management, or shaping up your shipping. Whatever tool(s)’ you use should include some kind of reports or metrics.

Keep Calm and Leave Feedback

Speaking of customers, you’d better be prepared to deal with them — preferably promptly and professionally. One word: Communication. Answer questions ASAP; manage buyer expectations whenever possible; and focus on each customer’s complete satisfaction as your bottom line.

Start each customer on the road to happiness  — and set yourself up for reciprocal feedback — by leaving feedback for buyers as soon as payment is received. The buyer’s job is to purchase and pay; once they’ve done that, show them some feedback love. (Hint: You can automate it.)

Of course, if they don’t pay, you’ll need to have a system in place to deal with that as well. For example, on eBay, you simply open an Unpaid Item case — or let Unpaid Item Assistant do it for you.

But don’t just sit back and wait for shoppers to stumble across your listings and store. Get out there and promote them via social media, Facebook ads, or marketplace tools such as eBay’s Promotions Manager and Promoted Listings. Consider rewarding repeat buyers in some way. Set up volume discounts. The more traffic you can drive your way, the bigger the boost in sales.

Fast Shipping and Happy Returns

Once you do make a sale and receive payment, that’s your cue to ship quickly. Ideally, your shipping solution of choice should allow you to purchase and print shipping labels; generate packing slips and customs labels; upload tracking; and notify buyers that their item has shipped and when they can expect to receive it.

Your job doesn’t end there, though. After-sale customer care is critical to your ongoing success. If they’re happy, great; if not, you’ve got to negotiate an amicable resolution. You might also have to process a return and/or issue a refund. Just don’t ask for feedback! Take care of your buyers, and your feedback will take care of itself.

Know Your Numbers

You can’t manage your business unless you can take its measure via certain key metrics. You’ve got to keep tabs on gross profit versus net profit; cost of goods sold; and overhead expenses.

Drilling down, you need to know how well each product is performing along with what’s selling best on which channel(s). It’s also useful to analyze sales by SKU; by buyer location; by price point; by order size; and more. Quantifying this information enables you to see what’s working versus what’s not working and allows you to gauge your success (or lack thereof).

Each marketplace provides sellers with a certain amount of data and some type of sales reports, but to really keep your fingers on the pulse of your ecommerce business, you’re better off using a third-party analytics tool that you can tailor to suit your needs.

Remember: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you don’t know your numbers, sooner or later, your business is going to crash and burn.

So there you have it, the soup to nuts of ecommerce:

  • Source products that will sell and enable you to scale
  • Post listings as quickly as possible
  • Promote your products and store
  • Ship quickly (and cost effectively)
  • Communicate with customers every step of the way
  • Streamline and/or automate as much of the above as you can
  • Monitor your business’ health via key metrics

Now go forth and sell!

Essential Analytics for Your BigCommerce Business

As an ecommerce business owner on the BigCommerce platform, you need to make decisions based on facts, not guesswork. That means effectively analyzing your sales data, including drilling down into the details that matter most in order to successfully grow your business. This has not been easy to do with BigCommerce — until now.

Enter PayHelm. PayHelm enables you to analyze sales data from BigCommerce across multiple selling channels and accounts. With PayHelm, you can determine where your global sales are coming from overall or for any given product. And that’s just for starters.

PayHelm lets you analyze your products by total sales; brand; SKUs; orders; and/or average price. What’s more, with PayHelm, you can filter sales data by time frame to compare performance. You can even filter by keyword for a deep dive into product performance.

But PayHelm goes beyond merely analyzing sales data. This multifaceted new app also offers account management capabilities, including linking multiple seller accounts and linking to PayPal for even more details. In addition, you can invite staff members to view your account(s) while controlling access, i.e., who can see what.

Once PayHelm has generated your desired reports, you can easily save, manage, and export the resulting charts and data in a convenient CSV format.

Best of all, you can do all this for anywhere you sell via BigCommerce!

BigCommerce’s Channel Manager makes multi-channel selling easier than ever before via built-in integrations with Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google Shopping, Instagram, and Pinterest. Because today’s customers shop more places than ever before.

That’s where PayHelm comes in: When you take your multi-channel listings to the next level, PayHelm is there to tell you what’s working best and most profitably for your ecommerce business.

Furthermore, PayHelm does more than analyze sales data. It also gives you SaaS subscriber metrics, allowing you to check on monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and customers’ lifetime value (LTV); analyze churn by price points; and even pinpoint your most-likely-to-churn customers.

Additionally, PayHelm enables you to set up automated post-purchase email campaigns. You can choose from among a variety of templates, then determine the rules and timing of your communications with customers. PayHelm even lets you set up social media profiles for your email marketing.

Statistics show that there’s never been a better time to sell online. Ecommerce sales have grown steadily over the past decade; by 2025, ecommerce sales in this country are predicted to equal 25% of all retail sales in the USA. In 2019 alone, online retail sales of physical goods totaled $365.2 billion. Projected online retail sales for 2020 total $419.9 billion, while by 2024, the annual U.S. online retail gross is estimated to be nearly $600 billion.

Your BigCommerce business deserves a healthy slice of that profitable pie. But in order to manage and grow that business, you’ve got to know your numbers. PayHelm not only enables you to know those numbers, it also lets you crunch them in innovative ways to reveal essential facts about the health of your business.

In a retail world that’s becoming ever more complex, PayHelm cuts through the metrics chatter with straightforward, in-depth analytics plus business-building CRM functionalities.

How to setup BigCommerce & PayHelm

It is very quick & easy to setup and install BigCommerce into your PayHelm Analytics Dashboard. Simply find the PayHelm app, click install, click agree to our terms, then watch the PayHelm progress bar do a backfill of your transaction history so we can build your Analytics Dashboard. The backfill process should take less than a minute to complete. While you are waiting you can additionally link PayPal or other BigCommerce stores into your unified Dashboard.

Step 1: Install the PayHelm App

Step 2: Agree to the Terms & Conditions

Step 3: Wait for the data to load

Step 4: Link more channels

Step 5: Dashboard is ready to go

Why You Should Do a SWOT Analysis for Your Shopify Business

swot infographic analysis, colors graphic stats vector illustration

Whether you’re just starting out in ecommerce or are already an established etailer, nothing helps you to assess the lay of the land like a SWOT analysis. Developed back in the 1960s, this simple but powerful tool continues to prove itself invaluable for charting business objectives and developing successful strategies.

Appropriate times to conduct a SWOT analysis include the startup of a new enterprise, the beginning of a new year or quarter, evaluation of a potential new project, or any time a review of your business seems to be in order.

What is a SWOT Analysis?

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats: the 4 areas examined by this form of strategic analysis. Strengths and Weaknesses refer to internal characteristics of the business — things over which you have control and can change, such as product mix and reputation — whereas Opportunities and Threats are external, e.g., changes in the marketplace.

A SWOT analysis is most easily depicted as a grid matrix containing organized lists of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in their respective quadrants. This enables you to view your business in new ways, from new directions. Then you can plan to leverage its strengths and weaknesses so as to take advantage of opportunities and ward off threats.

How to Conduct a SWOT Analysis

For best results, a SWOT analysis should involve everyone in the company and incorporate various perspectives. If you’re a one-man band or a mom-and-pop shop, consider recruiting friends or fellow sellers familiar with your business; your accountant; vendors; and/or even customers, if you know any well enough to ask them. The key is to bring together different points of view.

Once you’ve got your team together, asking a few simple questions can help you get started.

Determine Your Strengths

Let’s begin with Strengths. Those are basically defined as positive attributes, both tangible and intangible. Ask yourself and your team members:

  • What does your company do especially well? (Customer service, perhaps?)
  • What resources do you have? (Think expertise, credentials, knowledge, and skills as well as product lines, exclusive distribution deals, customer base, etc.)
  • What advantage(s) do you have over your competition? (For example, is your branding particularly strong or well known?)
  • What is your business’ USP — unique selling proposition?

Admit Your Weaknesses

What are the aspects of your business that come up short? For example:

  • What processes need to improve? (Do you need to cut handling time from 3 days to 1 in order to ship faster?)
  • What resources does your business lack? (Do you need a VA to create listings, so you can concentrate on sourcing and shipping?)
  • What factors within your control limit your ability to be competitive? (Are poor product photos costing you sales? Is your cash flow insufficient for investing in a new line of hot merchandise?)

Identify Opportunities

Once you’ve reviewed your business’ internal workings, turn your mental magnifying glass outward. Look for favorable external factors that could impact your business and contribute to its success:

  • Is the market for your product(s) growing?
  • Are there any trends emerging that would encourage people to buy more of your product(s)?
  • What’s happening in the marketplace that could represent an opportunity for your business?

Evaluate Threats

Finally, look at negative external factors:

  • Who are your existing or potential competitors?
  • Are marketplace trends liable to hurt your business? (e.g., is the fidget spinner fad dying off?)
  • What factors beyond your control could place your business at risk? (Might you lose a product line, for example, or could new technology make a popular item obsolete?)

Turn SWOT Results into Strategies

Once you’ve diagrammed your SWOT lists, look for ways you can use your company’s strengths to make the most of opportunities and minimize threats. Then figure out how to use the opportunities you identified to minimize your business’ weaknesses and avoid the threats.

Why You Need to Think Like a Buyer

Remember the old saying that to catch a thief, you must think like a thief? The same approach works for snaring Shopify shoppers. The more you understand how your buyers think, the easier it will be to sell them your items — and the better you will become at doing so.

Buy, Buy, Baby

Start by buying a few things on your store. Any items will do, but you can score a double whammy if you buy something from a competitor: In addition to analyzing your reactions to the transaction, you’ll find out what kind of buying experience your competition gives.

Once you’ve got several buyer experiences under your belt, note what you liked and didn’t like about each transaction, from finding and purchasing the item all the way through to receiving and unboxing it. (Be sure to leave feedback for your sellers!)

Keywords Are Key

For starters, what made you click on a particular listing?

It probably was the title, which came up in search results based on what you typed into the search field — i.e., your keywords. What keywords would a buyer use to find your item? Those words should be in your title.

Look at Sold items to see which keywords seem to sell most effectively. If you need more inspiration, try Google’s free Keyword Planner. Or just check out Amazon’s search bar, which suggests additional keywords when you type in an initial query.

1 Picture = 1,000 Words

Another reason you clicked on a certain listing may have been its gallery picture. What kinds of photos were in the listings from which you purchased? Do they spark any ideas you could apply to photographing your own items, such as an eye-catching pose? Remember, don’ts can be as useful as do’s

Avoiding SNADs (Items Significantly Not As Described)

Now let’s move on to the description. Does yours answer all of the questions a potential buyer might ask? When you get questions from buyers, do you consider adding the answers to your description? You should.

If you asked questions during your own buying journey, were the answers prompt, professional, and to the point? Yours should be.

When it comes to describing an item, thinking like a buyer means addressing that item’s benefits as well as its features. What need is a buyer looking to fill, and how does your product serve that need? For example, if you’re selling a bed pillow, you’ll want to list its dimensions but also emphasize the good night’s sleep it provides.

Customer Service is Crucial

Next, consider terms of sale. Did you buy anything from a seller whose listing was full of negative verbiage? And how do you feel about buying from a seller who doesn’t accept returns? Did you prefer your purchases to include free shipping?

Just like Mother always told you, it’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. Keep your terms of sale simple and positive.

Allowing returns boosts buyer confidence. If you can offer free returns, so much the better; then buyers can shop risk free. The increased sales volume you’ll gain will more than offset the cost of accepting returns, free or not.

As for free shipping, think like a buyer again: Do you enjoy doing math, or would you rather see just one cost for an item?

If you’re not sure you can afford to do free shipping, try an A-B test: List an item with free shipping (i.e., with the shipping cost folded into the price) and without (i.e., with the shipping cost as a separate line item). See which sells best.

The Unboxing Experience

Finally, when your store’s purchases arrived, how were they packaged? A well-packed and attractively presented item invariably makes a better impression than that same item tossed any which way into a used pizza box.

Making Social Media Pay Off for Your Business on Shopify

You’ve probably heard that your business on Shopify should have a social media presence. But what you may not realize is just how important that presence really is to your business’ success. Here are some key statistics:

  • 77% of all Americans use social media*
  • Last year, the number of worldwide social media users reached 3.196 billion — up 13% from 2017*
  • 89% of all businesses report increased market exposure thanks to social media**
  • 71% of consumers are more likely to purchase from social media referrals**

Let’s face it: Your customers are social. Millions of people use social media every day to share their passions with the world and connect with what they love. Here are seven strategies for making your business on Shopify part of the conversation and turning followers into buyers.

1. Be authentic. Consider your target audience and how you can connect with it; then stay true to yourself as a seller and a person to build trust and credibility.

2. Consider your options. Think about the purpose(s) for which people use the various social media platforms. Take some time to explore each of those channels before deciding where to start. In general, people use:

  • Facebook for keeping in touch
  • Instagram for telling stories through photos
  • Pinterest for sharing interests
  • Twitter for breaking news
  • YouTube for videos

3. Create separate accounts for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube. You don’t have to start using all of them at once — in fact, you shouldn’t — but you want to stake a claim on your brand identity before somebody else snaps up your desired username.

 4. Start small. For example, create a Facebook business page. Focus on one channel and on activities that are likely to give you the best return on your time invested. What you’re building isn’t just a brand presence, but a reputation, so it pays to learn to walk before you try to run. Read more than you post, too, so you develop an ear (or an eye) for how people communicate via each channel.

5. Listen and engage. Contribute to the conversation by posting fresh, interesting content on a regular basis. For example, if you sell jewelry on Shopify, you might write about the latest trends in jewelry styles.

But don’t oversaturate your feed, and don’t spam followers with product posts. Follow the 3:1 rule: 3 content posts for every shared Shopfy product or other product post. Be sure to also take time to listen to what people may be saying about your business on social media, and respond promptly to any comments or questions.

Remember to keep it professional! This is business, so don’t be controversial. Limit expressions of your personal beliefs and opinions, such as political posts, to your personal account.

6. Cross-promote. Once you’ve established your business’ presence on multiple social media platforms, post your YouTube videos on your Facebook business page, or share a link to your Pinterest boards on Twitter.

7. Don’t expect instant results. It takes time to build a presence on any social media channel. As long as you consistently and regularly post interesting content, your follower count will continue to grow. Your followers will share your posts with their followers, and your customer base will expand accordingly.

**’s Global Social Media Research Summary

Getting Your Ecommerce Business Ready for Q1

It’s the start of the new year’s first month — the first month of the first quarter. You’d better be sure that your ecommerce business is ready! That means having concrete, measurable goals in mind for Q1. Quarterly goals are crucial for your business, because taken together, they add up to the annual goals you’ve set.

In fact, Fast Company (the world’s leading progressive business magazine) says that setting 90-day goals is usually more successful as well as easier to achieve, because those goals feel more immediate and attainable. That conveniently aligns with the four-quarter business year.

Off to a Good Start

When it comes to goals for any new year, the first quarter is always particularly significant, because it sets the pace for that year. Q1 lays the foundation on which to base the rest of the year; it also sets the groundwork in place for eventually meeting or adjusting your annual goals and metrics. 

Some factors don’t change much from year to year. In general, January is a slow period following the holiday hurly-burly. This is the time you should try to clear out all of your leftover holiday items with steep discounts and markdowns. Christmas sells all year round in ecommerce, but unless Christmas is one of your niches, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to see those products in your store for the next several months. Mark them down, get them sold, and move on to bringing out new stock for the new year!

Now is also the time to take notes on what worked — and what didn’t work — during the 2018 holiday selling season. Did your marketing prove to be effective? Did you have too much in stock, or not enough? How should you adjust your purchase orders for 2019?

This is also the time for a financial review of your ecommerce business overall: everything from 2018’s cash flow and profit and loss statements to projecting year-end sales to getting organized for tax time. Review your income and expenses; analyze your business’ performance in 2018, and decide which areas need tweaking. For example, do you need to adjust what you spent on inventory? 

Take a look at last year’s goals as well; did you achieve them, exceed them, or fall short?

Know Your Numbers

The most essential metrics for any ecommerce business owner to keep an eye on are total sales revenue; gross and profit margins; overhead costs; and monthly profits or losses. You should know these numbers and set very specific goals for the new year based on your size and product mix. Maybe you want to grow sales by 5% year over year, or grow revenue by 10%. Review your desired goals and revise them according to the results of your financial analysis and income statements; then prepare a plan and set a budget for achieving them.

Whatever your goals turn out to be for the first quarter of this new year — and for the year itself — make sure you put them in writing as part of your 2019 business plan. You can always adjust your annual goals as the year unfolds, but if you don’t have concrete, measurable goals in place from Q1 on, then your ecommerce business cannot grow and prosper.