Today I am reposting an interview that I did for the OnlineStoresMentor.com. This blog is run by Raouf Shabayed, who does and excellent job running this site (an excellent resource for anyone interested in online commerce sites). Raouf was generous enough to give me an opportunity to talk a little about how we run our site here.
You can visit his original blog post here
, and be sure to share his site as it is an excellent resource.
Every month, I try to do an email Q&A session with online stores’ owners and webmasters, to ask them key questions about issues such as which platform to use, marketing plans, boosting sales, etc. The insightful answers I receive are shared with you here.
Today, my guest is Allen Wesson from ScreenPrintingSupply.com who will take us through his everyday tasks, and how he runs the online store of Texsource, from his office in North Carolina.
Q:Tell us more about ScreenPrintingSupply.com?
A: ScreenPrintingSupply.com was founded in 1997 in Kings Mountain, NC where it remains today. We are a supplier to the screen printing, embroidery, and sign making industries. We also have distribution locations in Georgia and Indiana, US. There are approximately 20 employees.
My name is Allen Wesson and to date I have served as webmaster for approximately a year and a half. The only other employee with web responsibilities mainly handles our social media and other sales outlets (product feeds, Amazon, Etsy, etc.)
Q: Why are you using 3DCart?
A: I had done basic website design for several years before getting into ecommerce platforms around 4 or 5 years ago. I worked for a company that sold gymnastics supplies and they put me in charge of the site. Having a background in design and programming certainly helps, but even more important (in my opinion) is to study what makes an actual ‘commerce’ site work.
Even small details can make a difference in conversion rates, and for a company selling lots of items, that half a percent can make a significant difference in the bottom line each month, so I studied intricate details of successful stores, read blogs, watched webinars, attended workshops.
You are never perfect; people’s buying habits change, so you have to make an effort to stay on top of your store and watch your competition.
3dcart is the platform that I am using for almost all of my sites right now for several simple reasons. I am most comfortable with the interface, it is easy to make coding changes that I need to make, and the add-ons that it supports work well with our business needs.
I have done business with almost all the big SAAS storefront players, and each is a fine and all offer comparable features. I think that you should use whichever is the most comfortable for you interface-wise. If they are one of the major players then you can bet that if one adds a major feature, then the others will follow quickly, so you shouldn’t get stranded with an antiquated platform.
When you work with it everyday, you learn what it can do inside and out. Very important when your boss ways ‘make this happen’ and you know exactly how to do it on the platform you are using.
The tools I use are pretty simple – 3dcart front end will do most things I need it to do. When I need to do coding I normally just launch Dreamweaver or make the HTML or CSS changes manually. For graphics I use Illustrator and Gimp. There is some jQuery, but there is nothing on the site that any web person couldn’t sit down and figure out quickly and easily.
Our theme started life as a simple 3dcart template. There are significant changes to the frame.html to suit our needs, as well as to the single page checkout. There are also changes to the category and product pages.
These changes were usually made by changing the code manually, but in some cases I would bring the page up in Dreamweaver if I were moving big blocks of things around just so that I could visually see what I needed to so, then modified from there.
Q: Does having an online store on Facebook matter?
A: 3DCart does in fact offer Facebook selling integrated with all of their packages, so you now have that capability. We do not currently sell on Facebook, but we do use Facebook every day to drive sales on the site.
I think that selling on Facebook matters with some businesses more than others.
With the gymnastics supply company, we had a wonderful Facebook store, and worked hard to promote it, but what we found was (in that case) our time was better spent driving traffic to the site, which was more tailored to promoting our products. And that is what we have found for us at ScreenPrintingSupply as well.
Now, my wife has two stores that she manages, both sites serve a fairly niche market. She fares much better with products available directly on Facebook, but still derives the largest share of sales directly from her sites.
My advice would be to certainly experiment. Having products on Facebook has SEO value, so you shouldn’t necessarily neglect it altogether, but for our businesses, we do not go to significant lengths to drive sales through that outlet.
Q: Can you share your numbers with us?
A: Not necessarily hard numbers, but I can tell you that the company had no real SEO or web marketing in place before my arrival. They had a site on a competing platform that had been seriously neglected for many years of having only a part-time webmaster.
It was like unwinding a huge ball of twine – several thousand products – no accurate prices, no accurate weights, no accurate descriptions, bad pictures, etc.
My decision was to put the old site to rest rather than attempting to correct, and move to a more current and feature-rich platform. It was somewhere around 6 months or a little more before we launched the new site.
For the remainder of the year we worked on SEO with the help of Gorilla Placement in Texas, who have been a tremendous help. As a result, we saw over 200% increase in web sales for the fiscal year.
Some weeks would be better, showing an increase of over 300% from the previous year. The overall number was lower as the new site took a bit of time to ‘ramp up’ to those higher numbers. All this with NO AdWords or PPC campaign whatsoever.
My projections for 2014 are conservative, I would like to see a 100% increase in those numbers, and higher numbers should be realistic. We have positioned ourselves well; we have bought out a major competitor and some key domain names and are continuing to improve our SEO daily and improve the site to be the premiere source not only for the supplies, but for information, instruction, and support for the industries.
Advertising and hard costs so far have been limited to SEO help, platform costs, and my salary. There was an AdWords campaign budgeted at about $500 per week on the old site before I began. I immediately cancelled that campaign and although it made a difference in daily and weekly hits, it made no noticeable difference in conversions or sales, which told me that the site was not converting in the state of disrepair that it was in.
We will likely e-commence with an AdWords campaign later this year with Google and Bing / Yahoo, then after analyzing and optimizing that we may take on some other PPC campaigns, but it will be closely watched to make sure we are using those funds as efficiently as possible.
Q: How do you market your online store?
A: Here Google organic is king, and honestly we are still far from where we need to be on that. When we launched the new store we also changed domain names from texsourceonline.com to screenprintingsupply.com.
Our 301 redirects from the old site to the new one didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped – a limitation of our old platform and our old hosting. So Google did penalize us for a period. As a webmaster, I had to do the best I could with what I had to work with, and I had to think long-term.
The domain name’s change was the right decision for us on the long term, so we had to live with falling back in organic search. Things are noticeably better than they were a few months ago, and we are looking pretty good on other search outlets as well.
We do advertise quite a bit offline. Since we service a lot of screen printing shops, it is important to keep our name and website in front of them. We have printed calenders we give away, notepads, shirts, hats, etc.
Our outside sales people are always giving away anything they can with our information on it. Likely more money is spent marketing through those means than through web-based means, but that is slowly changing.
I don’t expect that the company will abandon traditional advertising like this, but it may be scaled back as we begin to move toward more online advertising. The offline advertising mainly gets us in front of existing customers, keeping our name in front of them. The online advertising is to help us gain new customers, and the company is really going to push that this year.
Q: What are your best selling products / seasons?
A: We do have a slower time than others, generally in the heart of the winter months. Serving the shirt printing industry, obviously one big thing for them is sports jerseys, shirts, etc. So when sports seasons start to come up they get busy so we get busy.
We stay quite busy throughout the year, but we definitely notice when sports seasons come around. We will run specials year round, because our customers like it and expect it. We use Constant Contact weekly, usually promoting a class, a product, or a sale, and sometimes having a coupon.
We also have a ‘Daily Deal’ feature on the site – an item that we have negotiated a sale rate with the manufacturer to offer at a big discount. Sites like woot.com were built on this, and it works.
We also have a ‘Midweek Deals’ feature that works somewhat the same way – a sale on some items (usually 10-15 items) that is valid only Tuesday through Thursday. If they don’t generate a sale for those items, then they have at least generated traffic to the site. We have given the customer a reason to check the site each day to see what that sale item is.
Q: How do you cope with online fraud and stolen accounts?
A: We have faced very few fraudulent charges on our site, and on those very few occasions we initiate contact with the customer right away. We had a new customer use a stolen card once. Our fraud-watch didn’t catch it but one of our great people in customer service who handles billing and accounting did notice it and took care of it.
That’s the thing here, it isn’t just all automated like some other companies, there are eyes on each order that looks for errors, billing discrepancies, etc. Fraud has not been a big problem at all for us and I think that helps.
Q: What lessons did you learn from all those long years of selling online?
A: Several things. One is that there isn’t some ‘template’ store that will work for everyone. Every industry will have different customers who are looking for or expect different things. What worked with the gymnastics supply company may not work with screen printing supplies.
Also, you can’t design a site and just let it sit there for years without making changes. I make changes every day to the home page. It may be a banner change, a featured item, whatever. It lets the customer know that we are here, we are doing stuff to the site, that we are on top of it.
Q: What tips would you give to a new online store owner?
A: If you are considering an online store don’t put so much effort into the cart – all the shopping cart software leaders are more than capable services and most are all competitively priced.
There are a number of blogs that give a thorough review of their features. Put your efforts into learning the ins and outs of the cart that you do choose. This will benefit you the most.
Here is one that I wish I had learned earlier. If you are starting a store you likely have competitors. You may even be disheartened by all the competitors out there as you search around.
Remember that you aren’t competing with them in a shopping mall, where all shoppers see you side by side. If all other things are equal (you have good prices, good site design, easy checkout, good return policy, etc) then you are competing more to be seen than anything else.
If you have 200 other sites selling all the same stuff, but they have all had no SEO and are on page 8 of Google, then your goal should be to get to page 2 (page 1 ideally). The percentage of people who search past page 1 or 2 drops off significantly, so you aren’t necessarily competing with them directly if potential customers never see their site.
SEO is very important, and I think that it is one of the things that people are scared to money into because it can be pricey. In my experience it is absolutely worth the investment, especially if your site is well designed and functional.
Q: Can you brief us about each e-Commerce solution you used in the past?
A: The SaaS platforms that I have used and designed sites for include Big Commerce,Shopify, Volusion, ZenCart, and dotnetstorefront. I don’t mind working on any of these, and found them all more than capable.
Again, my preference for 3DCart is based on familiarity with its features. I know immediately how to get to whatever I need in the interface, and I know what I can and cannot do through the dashboard.
My recommendation (as above) is to try out a few if you are new – check the forums and see how the community is, view their support reputation, pricing, etc.
You will eventually have one ‘click’ and just feel right for you. There are differences in some detailed features, and some of those may fit you better than the others.