Your feedback needed: reworking tax zones for BigCommerce 6

Introduction

As we continue to add features in version 6 of our ecommerce software BigCommerce, we’re also reworking our tax system from the ground up to deal with more complex tax issues such as international, stacking, etc.

In this post I’d like to share our design mockups and ask for your feedback. We’ve decided to redesign tax settings in an almost identical way to shipping – in that there are now tax zones. Each zone has multiple tax rates and each product has a tax category which has tax rates applied to it.

We’ve played with various use cases for everything from simple local tax settings to complex international settings and each scenario was able to be implemented using our new tax zones system.

Please take a careful look at the mockups and if you see something we’ve missed please reply to this thread. Also if you have general suggestions or feedback we’d love to hear that too. Again, please reply to this thread.

Our Tax Zone Wireframes

Configuring general tax settings

Configuring general tax settings

Creating tax product classes

Creating tax product classes

Creating a tax zone (step 1 of 2)

Creating a tax zone (step 1 of 2)

Creating a tax zone (step 2 of 2)

Creating a tax zone (step 2 of 2)

Creating a rate for a tax zone

Creating a rate for a tax zone

Editing a tax zone

Editing a tax zone

Listing all tax zones

Listing all tax zones

Feedback? Suggestions? Please reply to this thread.








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Considering a Switch to BigCommerce? If So, Read This…

switch-pageIf you’re a savvy business owner looking to switch to a new e-commerce platform then no doubt you’ve spent a considerable amount of time researching your different options. You’ve probably compared features, price, ease of use – maybe you’ve even tried a few demos, but how can you be sure the e-commerce software you choose will be the best fit for your business?

Well one of the best ways is to hear from existing business owners who are already doing what you want to do. They’ve researched the market, have made the switch from one e-commerce vendor to another  and if everything went well, they’re enjoying the success of their revamped online store.

To help decide if BigCommerce is right for you, we asked some of our existing customers who switched to BigCommerce about their experience. We asked what they were using before BigCommerce, what they like about BigCommerce, why they’re calling it the best ecommerce software and why they switched. We then asked for their photos and links to their BigCommerce stores and put them on our new The Switch Is On page for everyone to see.

Our customers have switched to BigCommerce from a variety of offerings including hosted shopping carts, open source offerings and even messy websites built in Microsoft Frontpage! What matters though is that BigCommerce has made the process of selling their products online and attracting new customers easier and more affordable.

You can read their stories yourself, but here are a few of our favorite extracts from their quotes:

  • “I am now a proud BigCommerce customer. Once I made the switch sales increased remarkably.”
  • “Along with ease of use, I am also seeing more sales!!”
  • “My sales increased 50% in the first 15 days”
  • “… [my] site has generated more money in 2 months that I did in 8 months using my old software.”

The one thing these business owners have in common? BigCommerce has significantly increased their sales. Now I’m not saying you’ll have an increase in sales if you switch to BigCommerce, but it’s happening time and time again for our customers so it’s definitely something to consider during your research…








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A step-by-step guide to increase repeat purchases by 25% using postcard marketing

Introduction

I want you to think back to the early 1990s. Before the Internet, before email marketing and way before Google AdWords. Back then print magazines were flying off the shelves, businesses manually followed up with customers using the phone and direct response mail was a big part of the marketing budget for most successful companies large and small.

Fast forward to today and it seems like most businesses have forgotten about sending something physical in the mail (not email) to their prospects or customers. Think about the companies you’ve done business with in the last year – probably dozens. Now think about how many of them have sent you something in the mail after you’ve handed over your hard earned cash – none? One? Probably no more than a handful for more people.

If an online store such as Amazon.com or Zappos.com sent you a 20% off coupon for your next order at their website would you use redeem it? I bet you would. The fact is we can use all sorts of fancy copywriting and marketing ideas but when it comes down to it, people still love a discount.

The Cost of Doing Business: An Example

If we look at CAC (or Customer Acquisition Cost) for a sample company selling to consumers (such as an e-commerce company selling t-shirt) then we can do some basic calculations:

  • Let’s assume we only advertise using Google AdWords
  • Let’s assume we have a 7% conversion rate
  • Let’s assume our average CPC (Cost Per Click) is $1
  • Let’s assume our average order value is $47 (excluding shipping)
  • Let’s assume our profit margin is 35%

So, if we invest $1,000 over a week in Google AdWords marketing we can work out the numbers as follows:

  • $1,000 invested in Google AdWords at $1 per click gets us 1,000 visitors
  • At a 7% conversion rate we get 70 customers
  • At a $47 average order value we generate $$3,290 revenue
  • At a profit margin of 35% we generate $1,151.50 in profit
  • Nett result is a profit if $151.50

Now investing $1,000 and getting back $1,151.50 is a 15% return which isn’t too bad, but what if we could get 25% or more of these customers to come back to our online store and place one, two, three or more orders with us? Yes you can use email marketing to send out a follow up promotion, but everyone is trying to get into your customer’s inboxes and it’s crowded. Very crowded.

Consider these points in favor of postcard marketing to existing customers:

  • They already know who you are and are familiar with your brand
  • You have their correct address, otherwise how would you ship their order to them?
  • They’ll be receptive to your message because they already trust you
  • The average consumer receives 16 emails for every 1 direct mail piece

Now consider these points about prospects and customers:

  • It’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new one
  • If you “wow” an existing customer they’ll tell (a lot of) their friends
  • You have to earn the trust of new prospects but existing customers already trust you
  • If you value your existing customers you won’t have any problems getting new customers (word of mouth will do the work for you)

Step-By-Step: Postcard Marketing to Existing Customers

I want to propose a dead simple strategy to increase the LTV (Life Time Value) and RPC (Revenue Per Customer) from your online store, and I want to give you the exact blueprint to get the job done. Just follow these steps:

  1. Work out how much of a discount you can afford to offer existing customers on their next order. If your profit margin is low it might only be 10%, but if you sell intangible items which cost nothing to produce such as eBooks or reports then it might be as high as 50%.
    .
  2. Login to your BigCommerce store and create a coupon code from under the Marketing menu. Set it to expire in 14 days and make sure the unlimited use option is selected. Don’t use the auto-generated coupon code. Use a human-readable word such as SAVE20BUCKS or 35%_Off_March_2010.
    .
    Optionally enter a minimum order value before the coupon code will trigger a discount. If you do this your postcard’s message will look something like this: Spend over $100 on your next order and receive 25% off your purchase.
    .
  3. Go to http://www.infousa.com and sign up. InfoUSA is a direct mail company which lets you design a postcard, upload a list of addresses and send your postcard out for under $1 per postcard.
    .
  4. After signing up, click the “Postcard Marketing” menu option to create a postcard from one of the available stock designs. Make sure the side without the address includes a strong call to action such as “Thanks for your order from [Store Name]. Here’s a coupon for $30 off your next order, good thru [Date Coupon Expires].”
    .
  5. On the back next to where the address goes, include a personal message such as “Please accept this $30 discount off your next order as a thanks from the team here at [Store Name]. We sincerely appreciate your business and just wanted to send you a small token to say thank you.”. Remember to include something about the coupon’s expiry date if you set one.
    .
  6. After you’ve designed your postcard, login to your BigCommerce store and from the Orders menu, choose the Export Orders option. Search for order which were created in the last 30 days then hit the search button. This will give you a list of all orders (and customers) placed in the last month. The idea with our postcard strategy is that you create and send a postcard to new customers every 30 days if you can make the initial test profitable.
    .
  7. When you see the list of orders, click the bulk actions dropdown menu (next to the Go button) and choose the Export These Orders option. Follow the wizard and export to Microsoft Excel. Save the export file to your hard drive.
    .
  8. On the InfoUSA website you’ll be able to upload your order/customers list and schedule your postcard to be sent. Depending on whether you choose first class mail the price will vary but generally it wont be more than $1 per postcard.

That’s all there is to it. Once the postcard is sent out start checking your orders after a few days. Use the Search Orders option under the Orders tab in your BigCommerce store to find orders which were placed using the coupon code you sent out on your postcard. This will give you the exact revenue returned from your postcard marketing test.

As I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to set an expiry date on the coupon code. This creates a sense of urgency for customers and gives you a predictable period of time over which you can track the response to your promotion.

If you can get your initial test to bring in a positive ROI (Return On Investment) then congratulations, you’ve found a new follow up marketing strategy which you can use to indefinitely scale your business and increase your per-customer life time value.

If not, don’t give up. Play around with your offer: change the discount amount, extend/contract the expiry date for the coupon, try a different postcard design and/or try a different call to action. A lot of times with something as fickle as postcard marketing it takes just one small change to generate the ROI you need to turn a profit.

Conclusion

So there’s a dead simple way to increase your per-customer life timevalue using postcard marketing. Of course instead of postcards you can also try a sales letter, but postcards tend to grab attention because they’re typically sent by relatives or friends on overseas trips and not businesses so they bypass the junk mailer filter, giving your customers time to read your message and/or identify your brand instead of throwing your postcard in the trash.









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How to write effective product descriptions for your online store

Introduction

When we’re surfing the ‘net most of us are testament to the fact that attention spans get a little smaller. In contrast to print publications, much less attention is given to each word as we skim through web pages, so it’s important for us to understand that writing for the web can be significantly different than writing for print.

The web has inadvertently made authors out of us all. As we post on forums, send emails, share information, write white papers, guides and various web content – most of us are not authors by profession and so consequently the quality of writing on the web varies greatly.

In this post I’ll share some important points to consider when writing for the web and trying to harness the obvious reach that the web holds over traditional print media.

What is Web Content?

When we strip away all of the graphics, logos, designs and images from a site, we are left with pure web content. Most business websites can be quite similar in the sense that we all advertise our services, products, contact details, etc. However, each company has a variety of specialized information that can be used to create a unique website and it’s important that we recognize and feature the points that make our individual business (and associated content) different from our competitors.

The First Paragraph

As a general rule, if the first paragraph of a publication can attract and keep the readers attention, then they are highly likely to read on. Optimizing your first paragraph to be as articulate and concise as possible will greatly increase the chances that a reader will stay with you for more information. Outline your biggest benefits here and engage the customers to read on and get involved with your products and/or services.

Converse with Your Readers

Being a slave to search engines is inevitable, and it is because of this that we find many sites bombarded with keywords. Don’t allow your quest for rankings to interrupt the effectiveness of your grammar or your ability to be informative.

Your website may have a large amount of information – readers will most definitely not get through all of it – so make sure you outline the most important benefits and present them to users in a conversational style.

Having a friendly conversation will present the information more clearly and will be more engaging, for example:

“If you’re short on time, then you should try one of our widgets. Time is a precious commodity, and we’re here to help you make the most of yours…”

Don’t present your information in large blocks. Cut it down into short bite-sized paragraphs that are easier to digest and use bullet lists when comparing or describing features.

Use the least amount of words so that readers have less to skim through – you’ll find that the amount of scanning is reduced and readers will actually absorb more information.

Cater for Different Tastes

It’s also important to understand that people come to your website with different levels of knowledge on any one topic or product. You can’t expect everyone visiting your website to know about or understand your offerings in their entirety.

For example, sites that list products by their model numbers and reference codes are narrowing the appeal of their site to only those users that would know these numbers. It’s important to have enough foresight to realize that while you’re fully aware and knowledgeable about your products and services, your website’s visitors may not bw.

For example, instead of providing just model numbers and reference codes, why not include a picture, short description and some user reviews on your product pages?

Don’t Make the Reader do all the Work

Visitors will often venture to your website with one single goal in mind. Given that, if they’re then presented with a website that forces them to figure out the product/service that suits them, but they are not helped because there is no meaningful information, then your website has failed.

This extends to the way your information is presented. If your fact sheets and other information are, for example, simply uploaded in a series of PDFs for the user to download, then thy have to work harder because you didn’t take the time to convert the product information into easily navigated web pages.

Readers Don’t Like:

  • Pages that require a lot of scrolling – Text is easier to read if it is clear, concise and scanable. The text needs to be in short paragraphs or bullet lists and needs to get straight to the point.
  • Over doing the sales and marketing pitch with no real information but too much “fluff”, claiming “world’s best”, “number one”, “top of the range” – these bear no value if the simple features and benefits of your products are left out.
  • Grammar and spelling mistakes – It seems obvious but they’re still very apparent on many websites. If someone sees spelling and grammar mistakes, then it seems obvious that the author was not willing to spend some extra time to run a spell check or read over their own work. If the author places such little value on the time they invest in their work, then readers will place similarly low values on their products/services and will most probably disregard the information.
In Conclusion

Many visitors will take a look at the information on your website, however it’s important to understand that each person reads individually, so effective web content should make the reader feel that it’s focusing on them.

Try and get your point across quickly and avoid bombarding people with information – your published web content should be the result of various levels of refinement considering style, emphasis and conciseness.

The above points give a few important factors to consider when writing for the web, but if you are still lost for content then start at the very basic level of interviewing/researching your customers and finding out what it is that they want or need. From there, you can start investigating the foundations that lead customers to your website and make them want to stay with you.









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Podcast #2: How to hire super stars and how to formulate your market

Length: 26:56
Overview: A look into the strategies we use for recruiting the best people and tips to formulate your market when selling any sort of product.

Description:
In this, episode 2 of the Interspire podcast, I take a look at some of the strategies we’ve developed over the last 6 years to identify the best candidates during the interview process. At the surface level you might think it’s easy to recruit based on a candidates past experience, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ll also touch on identifying your market and formulating a business plan that focuses specifically on one geographic region only and I’ll discuss my reasoning for that approach in the context of how we launched BigCommerce.

Like this podcast? Why not subscribe on iTunes?








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Hold onto your hats! Here’s what’s coming in BigCommerce version 6…

bigcommerce-6-logosIntroduction

After releasing version 5.5 of BigCommerce in November last year (which did even better than we expected), we’re well under way developing the next major release: version 6. After talking with dozens of customers and partners via our GetSatisfaction page, in person and on the phones, I’ve locked in what I think is a release full of killer features which will help make you more money as a BigCommerce merchant.

More Innovation, Frequent Releases

Some say the e-commerce space is boring or stagnant. We laugh at that and don’t believe it for a second.

Our goal with BigCommerce is to out-innovate all e-commerce platforms on the market so you have not only the best e-commerce platform in the world but also all of the tools you need to successfully (and affordably – that’s a big one) drive thousands of targeted shoppers to your site so they buy from you. After all, what good is having a great online store if no one sees it?

We know the pro’s and con’s of every competitor in the space and our only mission as a company is to build BigCommerce into the most innovative, industry-leading e-commerce platform available so you can get the most out of your online store with the least amount of effort.

We eat, sleep, breathe, dream and think about our goal every minute of the day, and consistent, high impact releases are designed to do just that.

Anyway, I digress, although I do think it’s important you know where we plan to take the company (to the top).

The BigCommerce Version 6 Feature List

Here’s the list of features you can expect as part of BigCommerce version 6 around the middle of the year:

Disclaimer: The features listed below may be changed at any time so please don’t plan or build your business around them. While we will do our best to include every feature, one or more may not make it into the final release. The middle of the year is also an extremely rough release date estimate and can (and probably will) change.

  • eBay selling integration – As identified in a survey we sent out in late 2009, the biggest problem for BigCommerce merchants is attracting new customers to their online store affordably. eBay selling integration will allow BigCommerce merchants to “push” some or all of their products to eBay, which would then appear in eBay search results and listings. You will then be able to process orders received via eBay just as you would those through your BigCommerce store. This will give you access to the tens of millions of people who shop on eBay every month at little to no cost.
    {NEWLINE}
  • Dropshipping and multiple warehouse support – Dropshipping will allow you to sell online without having to stock inventory or ship orders. When dropshipping is enabled, each product is assigned to a particular supplier whose details (including email address) are stored. When an order is placed, an email is sent to the supplier of each product in the order. The email includes the customer’s address, product, quantity, etc. The supplier then ships the item to the customer on behalf of the BigCommerce merchant, who typically pays each of their suppliers at the end of the month.In addition to dropshipping support, multiple warehouse support will allow larger e-commerce vendors to use BigCommerce. If you imagine an online retailer like Amazon who has at least 6 warehouses across North America, their apparel might be inventoried in one warehouse while their books in another, their appliances in another, etc. With multiple warehouse support, each product is assigned to a particular warehouse (and shelf location) so when a picking slip is printed for an order, it will include warehouse and shelf location details for each item in the order, making it easier and faster for the warehouse clerks to get an order into “ready to ship” stage or to split the order over multiple shipments if need be (which BigCommerce already supports).
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  • Importer from Yahoo Stores – A Yahoo Stores importer will make it easier for current merchants using Yahoo Stores to switch to BigCommerce. They simply setup their BigCommerce trial store, start the Yahoo Stores importer, choose what they’d like to import and they’re ready to start selling online with BigCommerce.
    {NEWLINE}
  • Shopping comparison export – Sites like Nextag, Yahoo Shopping, PriceWatch, PriceScan, Shopzilla, Pricegrabber, Shopping.com, MySimon and Bizrate allow people to compare prices amongst different online retailers – and these sites are used by tens of millions of people every week prior to buying online. They are, of course, an excellent source of traffic for online retailers, who can list their products on these comparison shopping sites for free. They only pay when someone clicks a link for one of their products, similar to Google AdWords.These comparison shopping sites typically require the store owner to import (or auto-sync) a simple XML file containing the details of the products they want to list. Along with eBay selling integration this is a fantastic way to drive hundreds or even thousands of new shoppers to a BigCommerce merchant’s online store for around 50 cents per click.
    {NEWLINE}
  • Pre-order/Back order support – Imagine for a minute that you sell books online. Your customers are waiting for the latest Twilight book and because you know stocks from suppliers will be limited upon release, you setup the ability to pre-order the book on your website before it comes out. You accept 1,000 pre-orders for the book (which might be all your supplier will send when it’s released) and when it’s released, you simply look up these orders and ship the books.Back order support allows you to continue selling a particular product even when its inventory dips below zero. You’ll be able to display a message to shoppers showing an estimated date when they will receive new stock and/or when their order will ship. When the new stock arrives, you can look up all back orders and ship them as usual, reducing your inventory count in the process. This is incredibly useful for merchants who experience seasonal variations in purchases or for those who under estimate demand.
    {NEWLINE}
  • Integration with Mailchimp – As we know from experience, email marketing is an affordable way to generate repeat business and build trust with customers. Mailchimp has a simple but powerful API which allows us to integrate newsletter subscribers, customers and even filtered lists of customers right back into the software, which BigCommerce merchants can then use to create, send and track their email marketing campaigns.
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  • Printable shipping labels – FedEx, UPS and USPS all have their own branded, specifically designed shipping labels which make it easy for the shipping carrier to route the package to its destination electronically, simply by scanning a barcode on the shipping label. These labels are easy for us to design using the publicly available API’s through UPS Online Tools, Endicia (USPS), etc. You will be able to easily print a shipping label for an order through your label printer, place it on the box and have the shipping company do the rest. This can save 2-3 hours a day if you’re shipping a sufficient quantity of orders.
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  • Integration with Outright.com – Small business accounting sucks. It’s complicated and the software is a nightmare to use. Outright.com is a SaaS approach to small business accounting and it makes it easy for BigCommerce merchants to track their spending and income. Integration with Outright.com will feed BigCommerce order details directly into the software and will help BigCommerce merchants prepare for tax time when the need arises.
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  • iPad/iPhone template – As we all know, mobile is hot. People love to browse prices and products on their phones but why not let them buy right from their phones as well? The iPad/iPhone template will make it easy for BigCommerce merchants to sell to customers when they’re on the go, and if they enable one or more API-based payment gateways then the customer wont ever have to leave their BigCommerce store.
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  • Picnik.com image editing – Think of picnik.com as an online version of Photoshop but with fewer bells and whistles. It’s free and is an excellent tool for making quick and simple image edits such as resizing, red eye removal, etc. From the control panel you will be able to edit any image simply by clicking on it. The image will be loaded into Picnik.com and changes will be pushed back to their BigCommerce store in real time.
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  • 301 redirect support * - When switching to BigCommerce, the last thing a merchant wants to see is his hard-fought search engine rankings go down the drain. 301 redirect support will allow you to “tell” Google aboutyour new BigCommerce store and will preserve their search engine rankings as they switch platforms (currently supported, but requires our engineers to update the 301 records manually – this will allow you to do it automatically).
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  • Ability to update DNS records * – This will allow you to manage your own DNS records.
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  • “Down for maintenance” page * – Self explanatory. You can take their store down for maintenance and show a customized message during the process.
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  • Improvements to the tax calculations and settings – Includes support for per-product tax rates, multiple tax rates per product, etc.
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  • Being able to set the starting order number * – No one wants to see “Your order number is 1″. This will allow you to set the starting order number when you open their “virtual doors” for business.
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  • “Customers who viewed this product also viewed” panel - A great online merchandising feature which will drive more page views in your store, which will result in more sales.
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  • Match up the import/export data formats – Right now they’re not the same which is time consuming for bulk editing.

* These features will be included in a minor 5.6 release in or around April 2010 because they’ve been asked for the most and are easier to build :)

Conclusion

So there you have it – that’s the entire list of features we’re diligently working on for the next major release of BigCommerce.

As anyone who follows us knows, we’re all about transparency – both in showing you how we build the product (this blog post and various updates on Twitter) and also in our support efforts (via phone, email, our knowledge base, FaceBook page, Twitter account and GetSatisfaction page) – we don’t hide behind locked forums and we’ll even tell you when things go wrong (while we try to be perfect, it isn’t always possible).

Remember, we’re in this together for the long haul. We hope you’re as excited about the upcoming version 6 release as we are and we can’t wait to get it to you!

Over and out.








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