Google Shopping Changes Help

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This month the Big G (Google) recently announced changes to their merchant product feed rules. You have until the 22nd of September to update your product feed or face the consequences.

keeping a close eye on things

At Optix we like to keep a close eye on these things for our clients sake, but for those who run their own product feed the following information could be vital to staying afloat in the world of Google Shopping (formerly ‘Google base’):

Summary of Changes

…Below are several examples of how the feed spec is changing; please note that different countries have slightly different requirements:

  • Availability: We’d like a user to be able to find your products even when they are out of stock. For this reason, the [availability] status of all your items will be required.
  • Google Product Category: We have added a new required high-level attribute called [Google product category] that contains the category of the item in Google’s taxonomy (currently only required for a select number of categories). This is in addition to the current [product type] attribute.
  • Images: We’re making [image link] required and we encourage you to submit up to 10 additional product images through [additional image link]. This way, you can improve the visual representation of your products.
  • Apparel: In order to create a better experience for product variants such as dresses or shoes that are available in multiple colors or sizes, we ask you to include information like [size] and [color] in your product feed. In addition, we require you to provide [gender] and [age group].
  • Data Freshness: We will continue to regularly check feeds for accuracy of pricing, availability, and general product information, and take action against accounts that violate our standards.

http://googlemerchantblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/important-changes-to-google-product.html

Need a little Help?

Some links you will need if you are going to attempt to survive in the Google shopping channel:

Alternatively we could take care of this for you, or help you sell more online via any one of our many web design and online marketing services. We would love to hear from you in the comments below or on the phone.

What are you opinions on the google shopping feeds? Have you used them to any positive or negative effect? have you even heard of them before?

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Are you missing out on sales for your Business

Optix Solutions, a Web Design and Online Marketing company based in Exeter, along with your City Centre Manager, John Harvey are putting on a FREE seminar. This is your chance to learn how you can catapult your sales online and get people into your store using social media.

This seminar, worth at least £150 pp, will cover all the essential aspects of selling online. You will leave with a fantastic understanding of how to set up an ecommerce presence and, most importantly, how to make money from it. Many ecommerce sites do not make money – make sure yours is not one of them. With over 10 years experience in running successful ecommerce stores, Optix Solutions are well placed to advise you on all the factors you need to consider from Design to Marketing – Search Engine Optimisation to Social Media strategies. Since 2000, Internet sales have risen by 3,500% to £42bn and it’s expected that by the end of 2011 this figure will climb to a staggering £72bn. Clearly the opportunity to sell online is not one to be missed.

We are passionate about this City and we don’t want retailers in Exeter to miss out on these fantastic opportunities so we hope you’ll find time to join us at the seminar.

Not only will you hear from Optix Solutions themselves, you’ll also hear from one of their clients a successful Exeter ecommerce business, www.justanotherbaby.co.ukwho have agreed to share their success stories for making money online.

The seminar is being held at St Stephens House in the centre of Exeter, on Wednesday 22nd June from 9.30 – 11.30.

Book your free place now http://optixsolutionsexetershops.eventbrite.com/

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Why you need to know about the changes to Website Regulation

From the 1st of March 2011, marketing communication on websites will be regulated by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising.

According to the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice), the ASA’s online remit has been extended to cover communication on organisations’ own websites (“regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation”) as well as other non-paid-for space (such as profiles on Social Networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) under their control. User-generated content will, however, fall within the remit if it is adopted and incorporated in any marketing materials.

What does this apply to?

Advertisements and other marketing communications that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.

In practice, “directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods” could relate to a page on a site which markets a product which is available for sale. To comply, organisations must take care to ensure that the price matches that of the product depicted, and availability and delivery claims are correct.

“Directly connected with supply of service” is in relation to any statement made about the service, therefore claims such as “The fastest…” etc. will now be subject to these regulations.

Explicitly excluded, according to CAP, are the following types of communication:

– Press releases and other public relations material

– Editorial content

– Political advertisements

– Corporate reports

– Natural listings on search engine or price comparison site

– “Heritage” advertising where the advertising is not part of the advertiser’s current promotional strategy and is placed in an appropriate context

The purpose of these new regulations is to ensure that all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful whenever they appear.

For full details on the ASA’s online remit, please visit: http://www.asa.org.uk/Regulation-Explained/Online-remit.aspx or call us today on 01392 667766.

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Zooplus, E-commerce and why I love it

Being E-Commerce specialists it is very easy to criticise every e-commerce website out there. We can usually find something that’s wrong, even with the famed John Lewis website that everyone loves referring back to – but very rarely do we come across a company that just does E-commerce right. Sure, it has its flaws – but Zooplus demonstrates that it knows its stuff and I thoroughly recommend using it if you have any pets!

The Design

A clear layout is essential, with very clear calls to action. Promotions are carried across the website with a clear red indication that it relates to a special offer, a subconscious thought process that the discount hungry shopper will associate with value throughout the rest of their experience.

A link to a Christmas Advent Calendar, offering daily deals indicates added value and seasonal campaigns, while the McAfee secure button above the payment box reassures the customer in knowing that their order will be processed safely and securely.

The delivery price is clear at a glance like it should be, promoting their free delivery on orders over £19 and the £2.90 fixed charge for all orders below this. In todays economic climate, it is very easy to get caught up with complicated delivery options.

As you navigate the site, the design remains consistent with clear calls to action and is not cluttered with banners.

The Experience

The order experience is intuitive. Enter in the quantity you want and click add to instantly put this in your cart. This pops up a mini cart and also marks the row for that option with a tick so you don’t accidentally put it in more than you need. Being in a list format means the user is more likely to buy more, and the fact it is put together with similar products gives each product a benchmark against the other ones. On its own, the user would have a much harder job giving it an absolute value and determining just how good value for money it is.

The telephone number could be a bit larger but it is great to see it on every page to the right. Each product has a number next to it so I know that if I had any queries, I could pick up the phone and ask about it. A 01 number indicates that a representative is far more likely to pick up on the other end than an automated service, which even a free phone number may indicate.

As I move into the cart to finally review my purchase, I can see my welcome coupon has been applied and if I was outside the UK, I can easily find the shipping costs which are clear and easy to understand. Finally there is a breakdown of the order, the discounts I have received and a clear button to proceed to the checkout.

The checkout reassures me constantly that it is safe and secure, segregating it from the rest of the site removing everything except the top header and the checkout process itself. At this stage, the user has committed to their purchase so you need to keep them there. Oh, they take American Express too!

The site makes it easy for me to just make the purchase or sign in if I already have an account, which I do (this was easy to do and just one extra field to put in a password!)

At this stage, all I needed to do was put in my cv2 code from my credit card and as it remembered everything else from before, my order went straight few in a matter of seconds.

The after-sales process

My purchase had been made, it was easy and I feel confident that my products will arrive soon. It would be nice to have an exact delivery date, which if they had the right processes in for wouldn’t be hard to do – but I can understand how it isn’t always possible. I received an e-mail to confirm my order and the next day had a dispatch notification e-mail to give me the parcel tracking number and when they expect it to arrive.

Since my order, I’ve received targeted campaigns around the products I have ordered. As I’ve ordered cat products, the most recent one I received was for tinned cat food. The e-mails make me feel valued as a repeat customer, they send me deals once a week and most importantly they run a loyalty scheme, allowing me to collect points with my orders – leading me to more and more repeat purchases.

In conclusion

It is very easy to go into a lot of detail here and explain the ins and outs of why I think it is such a great example of E-commerce, but this post would go on for pages! Sure, there are a few minor things that could be tidied up here and there but all in all, one of the best examples I have ever seen of E-commerce.

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E-Commerce survival guide: 10 mistakes to avoid

With e-commerce sites increasing over tenfold in the past few years, competition is rapidly on the rise and to stay ahead of the game is becoming increasingly difficult. With 80% of startups failing and the internet boom now a thing of the past, it is essential to adhere to certain rules, or risk losing customers.

With technology accelerating at a record rate and the marketing always expanding to offer a larger selection ever before, established business run as much risk as startups so whether you are a new business or an established one, it is worth taking these points on board and making sure you don’t fail with any of the following common mistakes.

Mistake 1: Confuse your customer with complicated delivery

A method of shopping that has become a lot more common in e-commerce is tab-comparison. This is where the customer will open a variety of sites for the product they are looking for in new tabs and assess the pro’s and con’s for each one. Things the customer will factor in includes customer support reputation, obviously price, environmental responsibility to a degree but most importantly, delivery cost. If a customer can’t figure out how much it will cost them straight away, they are likely to just close the tab and make their shop elsewhere. Free delivery is a growing trend many successful sites are adopting to take the headache away from the customer.

Action point: If you can, offer free delivery across all products and make up the ground elsewhere. If you can’t, make delivery costs clear and visible.

Mistake 2: Require registration before checkout

This goes without saying really, but many sites still enforce registration before a customer can make a purchase. Let them into the cart, let them see their total price and don’t force them to make an account before making their purchase. It is great for your demographics and marketing to existing customers, but the amount of customers you will lose from the frustration of having to register is just not worth it.

Action point: Remove any barriers in your checkout process such as compulsory registration. Give users the option to register later, perhaps with a simple “enter a password here if you would like to register an account” as part of the final checkout process. Keep it simple, with the customer’s e-mail address as the username.

Mistake 3: Keep quiet about stock levels

If you don’t show your stock levels, or claim to stock items that are in fact unavailable (leading to a bad customer service reputation) then you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Action Point: Ensure that your site displays stock levels. This can either be detailed or more commonly, just a few simple indicators such as “In Stock”, “Expected 2-3 weeks” or “Out of stock” – if out of stock, remember to try and leave an indication for when it will be back in stock and display an enquiry button so users can get in contact if they need to. Additionally, you may want to allow users to leave their e-mail address so you can notify them when it is back in stock.

Mistake 4: Hiding a way for customers to get in contact

Occasionally customers just want to pick up the phone to ask about a product or if they are an existing customer, receive support and guidance. Sometimes phone or contact details can be hidden away and this can lead to a very frustrated customer.

Action Point: Place your primary method of contact (usually phone) clearly visible on every page of the site, ideally in the header. Additionally, you could setup a knowledge base to reduce the number of support enquiries you receive.

Mistake 5: Category, followed by sub-category, followed by sub-category

Yes, the traditional way e-commerce sites were developed is now a thing of the past. No long does a user have to sieve through hundreds of categories to find what they want! Filtered navigation is an essential and established way for finding what you want. If you don’t use a filter based navigation system, then you are severely falling behind the competition.

Action Point: Switch to a filter based system immediately. This isn’t an easy task, but essential for surviving the competition.

Mistake 6: Don’t keep the user informed

Users like to know what is going on with their order. Ensure correspondance throughout the order/delivery process and you will maintain good customer loyalty. Let them know their order has successfully been received, when it has been dispatched and then follow up after the estimated delivery date to verify that everything went smoothly (you could use this opportunity to obtain reviews, feedback and upsell).

Action Point: Build a system that allows the user to view their order status online, as well as receive e-mail notifications throughout the process.

Mistake 7: Litter your site with banners

A good e-commerce site should be usable, simple and not draw attention away from the primary methods of navigation. Use a couple of banners or hero images by all means, but don’t over-power the user with more than they can see at a glance. When you walk into a shop, you may see the featured products in display cases near the front – but you wouldn’t be surrounded by several products encapsulated in powerful colours all in one go!

Action Point: Reduce the banners you have on your site, ensuring you only focus on the products that you really want to push. Use Search Engine Optimisation to optimise other products, as well as other methods such as upselling, related products and featured products (not using banners, but in a list!)

Mistake 8: Store, transmit or process card details yourself (PCI-DSS Compliancy)

Unless you use a third party payment provider (such as Sage Pay) or one of the very very few off the shelf packages that are fully (PA-DSS) PCI compliant accompanied by PCI compliant hosting, or outsource development that goes through the rigourous PA-DSS audits (which can cost tens of thousands) then I doubt your e-commerce site is PCI compliant. This didn’t affect smaller businesses so much this time last year, but as of 1st July 2010 PCI compliancy is now mandatory and anyone not compliant can undergo a PCI audit which can cost enough to put you out of business, or have your full card processing capabilities revoked.

Action Point: Do not store, transmit or process ANY card details yourself unless you are 100% sure you are PCI compliant. If you aren’t too sure if you are or aren’t PCI compliant and don’t use a third party payment provider, then it is more than likely you are not. Do this immediately.

Mistake 9: Ignoring social media

In today’s modern world, social media is the king of marketing. It’s struggling to catch up a bit with e-commerce sites, so now is the time to get on board and ahead of the game. Monitor Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites for feedback. Particularly, setup search terms for your company or some of your top products and listen out for particularly bad feedback. Set the record straight and you may turn an angry customer (usually from a simple misunderstanding) to a happy one!

Action Point: Setup a listening post for social media sites and monitor search terms for your company name and it’s top selling products. Try to be as helpful as possible and never react with strong defense if the feedback is negative.

Mistake 10: Don’t invest in Online Marketing

Whether it is basic search engine optimisation such as making sure the product title is in the title and H1 tags, or full pay-per-click advertising, it is worth investing in online marketing to even survive being recognised among your competitors. With so many e-commerce businesses out there, you need to make sure your company comes out consistantly top of the rankings.

Action Point: Invest in Online Marketing. Do the research, take some tips from our Online Marketing Team posted on this blog and you will succeed. If you are still a bit confused, outsource the Online Marketing work to someone that really knows what they are talking about for the best results!

In conclusion, I still see many e-commerce sites out there failing because they aren’t meeting the obvious criteria for a successful e-commerce site.What mistakes have you come across in the real world? What top tips would you have to ensure a successful e-commerce site?

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What PCI compliancy means for your E-Commerce company

What is PCI Compliancy?

PCI-DSS compliancy (as well as PA-DSS for application development) has been around for a long time now, established by the leading card companies as a set of rules to govern the build, implementation and running process of any company who stores, transmits or processes card details online. Visit the PCI Security Standards Council for more information.

As of the 1st July, 2010 full PCI-DSS compliancy is required for ALL merchants accepting card details to be fully compliant or risk heavy fines, a costly audit or worse, to have their credit card processing privileges revoked.

What’s the big deal?

It amazes me, after reading up about 40 hours of various articles just how clueless the industry generally is on PCI compliancy standards. The larger companies out there are far more aware while the small ones still walk on, some not even knowing what it is. Furthermore, the documentation is very hazy and in general, companies just aren’t sure what they should be doing to make sure they are compliant. Every person I have spoke to has a very different view on what they need to be doing to be compliant. Some think it is essential to have several dedicated servers, while many argue that your site will sit comfortably on a shared server. I agree with the dedicated server route where you are storing or processing the card details yourself – but seeing so much variance concerns me.

What do you need to do?

At Optix Solutions we have endeavoured to make sure all our e-commerce clients are fully compliant and have done for many years now. Our dedicated servers are ISO 27002 standards compliant. Here are some of the other tactics you should adopt to make sure your business is fully PCI compliant (I am not a Qualified Security Assessor so please remember these are just my personal view):

1. Use a validated payment application. At Optix Solutions, we work closely with Sage Pay to out source the payment stage of the transaction, ensuring that compliancy is not necessary for us, as their certificate covers this (please note, we do code to the PA-DSS standards but don’t undergo an audit due to the costs being in the tens of thousands). The big drawback of this is that payments do have to leave your website to go to Sage Pay, but the costs associated with PA-DSS and a higher level of PCI compliancy just don’t make it beneficial (it will cost tens of thousands including 3 dedicated servers and regular audits!). Sage Pay also offer a new inFrame solution to make it look as though the customer is entering the details into your site – we are currently experimenting with it’s integration as there are some limitations but we will discuss these with our customers depending on their needs. Finally, a new tokenisation system that Sage Pay also offer means the customer can store credit card details for processing next time…a problem associated with using a payment application historically. This means that one-click or rapid checkout is easily possible without affecting your level of compliancy.

2. Install SSL. For the inFrame solution, SSL is required to ensure you are PCI compliant. For other integration methods this isn’t necessary but certainly advisable.

3. Take the online self assessment questionnaire. Available here, the online SAQ MUST be completed by ALL merchants. Failure to do so means you are not PCI compliant. If you implement the 2 stages above, you will only need to complete Validation Type 1.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that PCI Compliancy cannot be avoided and heavy fines will be imposed or card processing priviliges revoked if they are. By following the 3 steps above, you ensure that your e-commerce platform is fully compliant.

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