News from Digital Main Street

Technology solutions help small businesses stand out among e-commerce giants

Canada Post | March 28, 2017

"When an entrepreneur is launching their new e-store,” Gilbreath says, “they want to make sure that they can get out all the orders on time because of the high level of expectation that consumers have these days."

READ ALSO: A new crop of digital businesses is going physical and seeing results

Large or small, retailers do not get a second chance with online shoppers, he notes. "Amazon and other big retailers have set this bar really high. This is the new level of expectation."

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Visit the Canada Post Shipping Solutions Blog  for more articles to help you operate your e-commerce business more effectively.  

Question your technology

Competing in the e-commerce market can only be achieved with the most effective technology, he says. But before working with an e-commerce partner, retailers should be asking important questions.

"Is the technology seamless, do they allow you to be efficient, are the processes outside of the technology messy or are they organized?" Finally, can the online platform be easily scaled up when orders take off. "How long does it take to get 10 orders out? Do the simple math on that to see what it’s going to take if it blows up in a good way and they get 100 orders, 1,000 orders or 10,000 orders."

Gilbreath, who — like ShipStation’s chief executive officer — has a background in retailing, knows how much of a challenge it can be for small businesses to operate in the same environment as Amazon. "We are not just shipping folks. We are folks that have been there, selling stuff out of our garages to ending up at some of the biggest retailers in America."

Think about logistics from the start

Most entrepreneurs start with a cool product or idea. Few spend more than a few moments thinking about backend logistics. "When you go from a cool hip thing that flashes through social media to turning into a real business, having the right technology partners in place allows you to grow up, if you will, without actually having to grow up. You can expand the product line, have the time to come up with new products, do more marketing, the things that make you successful."

Making the jump from a mom-and-pop operation to a well-oiled machine requires you to delegate some responsibilities, he says. The entrepreneur who has had his hands on every aspect of the business suddenly has to let go of key functions of an expanding company. "You didn’t get into this world to be the shipping guru. Shipping is usually the place where if you have the right processes you can hand that off to get your time back."

Gilbreath says successful online retailers put themselves in their customers’ shoes — or more accurately, the electronic devices they use to place orders. "We think about it from the checkout experience to what is the consumer experience through the whole process."

For the customer, fulfillment is all that matters

"Shoppers today don’t care if you are fulfilling out of a garage behind your house or a big warehouse, using robots or using your Mom. They don’t care, they just want their item."

Looking out a few years, he foresees an "ever increasing expectation of service. Consumers are expecting things much more quickly, they are expecting much more choice in where, how and when they get their packages, whether it is a pickup locker location, whether it is being able to change routing of a package in transit."

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READ ALSO: Growing E-commerce in Canada: Unlocking the online shopper opportunity [New whitepaper]

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Tips and tricks for efficient packing and shipping

Canada Post | March 16, 2017


Don't pay to ship excess space and weight

One of the most important aspects of efficient packaging is choosing boxes that fit your items easily and safely without leaving unnecessary excess space or adding excess bulk. Size and weight determine how much you'll pay to send your item, and nothing runs up costs more quickly than paying for superfluous space.

READ ALSO: How to set up a home office that helps improve productivity

Tip: Test a few different sizes and styles of shipping products and focus on finding ones that work for as wide a range of products as possible - you won't want to have to keep dozens of different box sizes on hand.

Interested in reading more from Canada Post? 

Visit the Canada Post Shipping Solutions Blog  for more articles to help you operate your e-commerce business more effectively.  

Standardize your systems

Decision-making leads to delays in fulfillment and delivery, so take thinking out of the equation for packers by coming up with clear guidelines.

Tip: Create a checklist that breaks down each step of the process so every employee knows the necessary steps, from picking the right-sized box to knowing how items should be placed in order to protect against damage, and how to properly seal containers before they're shipped.

Organize your warehouse effectively

The better you organize the area where products are warehoused and packed, the better you'll be able to handle fulfillment. Keep best-selling items close to the packing area (or pre-pack them if you prefer) and store them on easy-to-reach shelves. Don't put heavy items up high - it just makes them harder to access. If certain products are often sold together, make sure they're kept next to one another in your warehouse. Label aisles and shelves with large, clear signs so no one has to spend too much time searching for items. Finally, set up your packing area so all necessary materials, such as scissors, tape, and labels, are laid out in a logical, orderly fashion.

Tip: Set aside space to store items that have been sold but not packed, and clear another spot for orders that have been packed but are waiting to be shipped. The less clutter and confusion in your system, the better off things will be.

Get ready ahead of busy sales periods

Every retailer knows the weeks leading up the Christmas holidays, starting with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, will see serious increases in sales. Chances are, however, that there are other stretches of the year when you'll be busier than usual. Expedite order fulfillment during periods of peak demand by preparing packaging materials in advance.

Tip: Prior to peak periods, bring in extra staff to pre-build shipping boxes, fill them with packing peanuts or bubble wrap, and attach basic labels. If there are certain products you expect to sell a lot of, pack a whole bunch of orders in advance. The more work you do ahead of time, the easier it will be to ensure your deliveries arrive in time for key holidays.

Quality packing materials are worth the cost

Resist the temptation to cut corners when it comes to buying boxes and packing materials, such as foam caps, polystyrene peanuts, and bubble wrap. The extra money you spend on higher quality products will add up over time, but those costs will be offset by avoiding losses from damaged and broken items,

Tip: The added protection you get from using top choice materials lets you to ship items in smaller boxes, reducing shipping costs.

Communicate shipping policies to your customers

Customer relations are an essential part of good business; so don't forget about the questions and concerns of buyers when it comes to shipping and delivery issues.

Tip: Build a FAQ page for your website with answers to common questions about order fulfillment, returns, and delivery times. Update it to reflect any changes at busy times of year and include contact details for customers who can't find the information they need.

Verify addresses for new customers

From time to time, buyers will input an incorrect or out-of-date address into an order form. Send a shipment there, and it will end up back at your business or lost.

Tip: Before shipping to any new customer, verify their destination address is correct. A few seconds now could save you headaches and hassles later on.

You can also use our AddressComplete™ tool to verify your customer's address instantly and easily.

Avoid price surprises by using a shipping calculator

Before you set shipping prices for your products, make sure you have a sense of what it's actually going to cost to get them to your customers' mailboxes. The best way to do that is by using a shipping calculator. Enter the dimensions and weight of your package, and the destination, and you'll get an estimate of the final price.

Whether you're starting a new business, or looking to update current protocols, your packing and shipping procedures can probably use a once over. Make these processes as efficient as possible and you're sure to end up saving time and money in the long run.

Sign up for Canada Post Solutions for Small Business™ to save on shipping and direct mail – it's free.

Are you ready to make your returns policy a competitive advantage?

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READ MORE: Small business survival tips for staff vacations

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Retail Trends: 10 Experts Share Their Predictions for 2017

Alexandra Sheehan / Shopify Blog | January 19, 2017

With a new year comes change. New retail trends. New consumer behavior and demands. New tools and technologies to incorporate. New opportunities.

And with all that is new, retailers are forced to adapt to meet demand and stay ahead of the competition.

To help retailers learn what to expect and how it may affect their business, we reached out to 10 retail experts and asked them:

“What is your prediction for what will change in retail in 2017?”

Our experts talked about data, convenience, personalization, mobile, and digital. While the answers varied, there was one major recurring theme: Retailers and consumers are getting smarter. 

Without further ado, here are the retail trends our list of experts expect to see throughout 2017.

1. Treat Media as the Store, and the Store as Media

“Media is becoming the store. Retailers will use technology to make every single piece of media — be it social, online, mobile, or conventional — a direct path to purchase. This means providing exceptional content, decision-making tools and commerce software, so that anyone exposed to that media could confidently buy from you on the spot.

Conversely, the physical store is becoming a powerful form of experiential media. Your store should convey a powerful brand story through every touchpoint, provide lots of opportunities for immersive product experiences, and expose shoppers to your entire ecosystem of product experts, purchase channels, added-value services and loyalty tools. If you design your customer experience well, your store is the most powerful form of media at your disposal.”

—Doug Stephens, Founder of Retail Prophet, and Author of The Retail Revival

2. Customers Will Want to Feel at Home

“Customers are going to continue their search for unique retail experiences and reward retailers who provide them. Smart retailers will begin to understand that they need to treat their stores as their homes. This means welcoming customers into a warm and inviting — even edgy, if that is how you roll — place in which products aren’t pushed on you.

Undoubtedly, simple product acquisition is best and most efficiently done on the web. Product interaction, product romancing, product becoming a living and breathing thing can only occur in a physical environment where a real human story and dialogue can occur. Almost all online players today are discovering that they also need a physical space to truly touch the customer. As tech makes so much of our lives less human, consumers will crave more personal interactions. For retailers, this will mean a significant upgrade in staff — both in quality and quantity — if it is really going to work. You cannot fake real.”

—James Dion, President and Owner of Dionco Inc.

3. Convenience Will Be Key

“My prediction for 2017 is the rise of ‘push-button’ products and services. We’ve seen elements of this already: Amazon Dash Buttons or talking to Siri or Alexa to reorder specific products at home; Instacart to easily order grocery services for home/office delivery; UberEats, Postmates, and others to order lunch or dinner with the touch of a button. This is rapidly impacting consumers’ expectations about shopping, payment, and delivery.

Some retailers have even moved past the button and are building sales through subscription services. Trendsend by Evereve, MM.LaFleur, and Stitch Fix are all good examples of these. To prepare, retailers in all segments need to think differently about how they’re enabling shoppers to experience the merchandise and pay.”

—Mara Devitt, Partner at McMillan Doolittle

4. More and More Mobile

“The gorgeous promise of mobile retail will evolve and strengthen and become much more relevant to both consumers and retailers as the hiccups and glitches happening now will quickly become memories. Retailer strategies incorporating the mobile device will become much more sophisticated and honed for smooth integration into the overall customer experience.

I think we’ll also see a return to the basics when it comes to providing a rewarding and fulfilling customer experience with the frontline — retail associates in the brick and mortar and customer service online — playing the lead role in crafting that experience.”

—Judy Mottl, Editor at Retail Customer Experience

5. Investing in the Organization and Employees

“What happens inside retail organizations may be the most significant. Companies will start adopting different organizational structures that break down silos and integrate information and systems to facilitate those customer experience improvements.

Companies will also invest more in the frontline employee experience, as they realize paying higher wages and better equipped and engaged employees not only helps them fight the battle for talent, but also improves the customer experience.”

Denise Lee Yohn, Author of What Great Brands Do

6. Brick-and-Mortar Stores Will Get Smarter

“The physical store retail format will continue to evolve into smarter environments. Brands will continue to learn how to truly incorporate technology to create a connected store — not just for the ‘concept of it,’ but with the benefit of the consumer at the heart of design.

Store associates will be even more empowered with data and a more personalized understanding of customers (what they like, what they have bought, what they have browsed, etc.), and warehouse logistics teams will be more in sync will real-time, in-store demands.”

—Melissa Gonzalez, Founder, The Lion’esque Group, and Author of The Pop-Up Paradigm

7. The Rise of Cognitive Commerce

“While data has become more accessible for smaller merchants to utilize and apply to their business strategies over the past few years, thanks to various CRM and POS systems, 2017 will introduce businesses of all sizes to even more accessibility to data that will help them strengthen their business success.

Specifically, I believe that cognitive commerce will become more prominent among businesses to incorporate into their business strategies. This will help them in shaping future consumer conversations, enhancing existing product sell-through, understanding customer personalization better and more. Cognitive conversations lead to cognitive commerce — and that's something any merchant can appreciate.”

—Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded

8. Look Out for Niche Retailers

“2017 will bring the rise of niche retailers, for both new brands and existing brands. This will lead to smaller store footprints and personalized service with knowledgeable sales associates. This will satisfy the demands from consumers who want a unique and customized service.

Brick-and-mortar stores will remain important and drive that customer experience. Larger, established stores will create more shop-within-a-shop opportunities to leverage niche markets and strategies. This trend also relates to emerging and improved technologies: fitting rooms, product details and sizing, social media, and mobile channels.”

—Courtney Albert, Manager at The Parker Avery Group

9. Retailers Will Enhance Personalization

“In 2017, retail marketers are going to become more skilled at finding the balance between personalization and optimization, better coordinating the relationships among the retailer, customer and supplier. Retailers will become more focused on how to leverage the various delivery channels to give customers the right messages at the right times to generate the best results.”

—Chen Katz, VP of Sales at Sagarmatha

10. Expect a Digital Shift, Not Transformation

“Most retailers will have already established a digital presence, but there will be an accelerated shift to mobile and cross-platform interactions. Mobile share of global ecommerce is expected to grow from 40% in 2015 to 70% by 2017, as we see the vast majority of online shoppers start transactions on one device and end on another. Ecommerce will be leading this paradigm shift since it drives change and folds in new technologies that come from the consumer.”

—Arish Ali, CEO at Skava

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