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  • Should Your Store Participate in “Gray Thursday?”

    Wednesday, October 26, 2016 by

    Gray Thursday

    Maybe you haven’t heard of Gray Thursday, but you definitely know its other name: Thanksgiving Day. Over the past few years, a growing number of retailers have opened for all or part of Thanksgiving Day in an attempt to lure in shoppers who want a head start on Black Friday deals. Whether your store should open on Thanksgiving, run an online Gray Thursday promotion, or just take the day off depends on your staffing, personal plans for the holiday, competition, and—of course—your customers’ preferences. Ask yourself the five questions below to determine the best plan of action for your retail business.  

    1. Can you staff your store on Thanksgiving Day?

    Unless you made it clear a long time ago that you plan to keep your brick-and-mortar store or online shop open on Thanksgiving, any employees you have may move from content to disgruntled if you force them to work on Thanksgiving Day. At this late date, most people who travel for the holiday have already booked their flights, and it’s not good management to expect your employees to forfeit their airfare or cancel plans. Employees who are available to work on Thanksgiving will almost certainly expect holiday pay. Before you decide to staff your shop on Thanksgiving or any holiday, you’ll need to do the math and decide if the potential revenue justifies the additional payroll expense. [bctt tweet="Staffing your store on #GrayThursday? Your employees may shift from content to disgruntled." username="hostgator"]  

    2. What are your personal Thanksgiving plans?

    If you’re a solopreneur, you may feel like Thanksgiving is no different from any other day in terms of staffing, and you may be perfectly happy to run your shop and offer real-time customer service. Still, think carefully before you commit. Checking in on your shop during holiday travel layovers is a reasonable plan... unless your phone battery dies and you can’t find an open charging port. And answering email questions from shoppers is a snap... unless you’re also cooking a turkey and visiting with your friends and family. If it’s up to you and you alone to keep the store open, you’ll need to balance the potential sales against the potential brand damage if you can’t provide immediate customer service, as well as the prospect of conflict with friends and family who don’t like sharing your attention with your business.  

    3. Will your competition be open on Thanksgiving?

    The beauty of online shops is their always-open nature, and you can easily post a notice that regular customer service and shipping hours will resume after Thanksgiving Day. However, if your strongest competitors are already advertising their Gray Thursday sales events, you may want to consider running a promotion, too. Or not, because it turns out that most shoppers really don’t like it when stores commercialize Thanksgiving. Speaking of which...  

    4. Will a Gray Thursday promotion alienate your customers?

    Gray Thursday store hours are a recent development, and one that’s by and large unpopular with shoppers. A recent survey by CreditCards.com found that 73% of consumers think stores push holiday shopping too hard and too early in the year. Slightly more than half said “around Thanksgiving” is the earliest time frame when holiday promotions and displays should appear. Fifty-four percent of the same group of shoppers also said they typically don’t finish their holiday shopping until December, which raises the question of whether an extra few hours on Thanksgiving makes a difference to most consumers or to small- and medium-sized businesses. [bctt tweet="Planning to run #GrayThursday promotions? Beware of consumer backlash." username="hostgator"] Because of the backlash, some merchants and malls are using their decision to close on Thanksgiving as a marketing tool to cast their businesses as traditional, pro-employee, and pro-family time. A spokeswoman for Mall of America described the shopping center’s decision to close on Thanksgiving this year as giving the day back to workers and families. Before you decide to close or stay open, think about how your customers will view your decision.  

    5. Do your customers expect your store to be open on Thanksgiving?

    There are practical customer issues to consider, too. Do your customers expect you to be open for business on Thanksgiving? If not, they may assume you’re closed and go elsewhere, even if they do indulge in some Gray Thursday shopping. If you sell something people might need at the last minute, like groceries or alcohol, it may be worth staying open. Otherwise, you need to weigh the costs of staying open and the costs of promoting your Thanksgiving Day hours against the potential for lower-than-usual sales. If your online shop is mobile-optimized and has a customer base of under-35s, regular support and staffing on Thanksgiving might make financial sense. These shoppers are more interested in mobile shopping and less offended by early holiday promotions than older shoppers, according to the CreditCards.com survey. These customers may visit your shop on their phones on Thanksgiving Day as a way to alleviate boredom, tune out dinner-table conversation they don’t like, or get a jump on their holiday shopping. [bctt tweet="If your customers are #millennial aged, make sure your #GrayThursday promotion is mobile-friendly." username="hostgator"]  

    Your Gray Thursday pro and con list

    There’s a lot that goes into this decision, so let’s recap. The main issues are:
    • Will your target customers shop your store on Thanksgiving?
      • If so, will they spend enough to offset your higher employee and promotional costs and the value of your own holiday time?
      • If not, might they be turned off by what they see as “Christmas creep?”
    • Will you have time to monitor your shop or will you be focused on travel and family?
    • Will your customers expect same-day customer service?
    • Finally, will your support services, like your web host and your payment service provider, be available to give you real-time assistance if there’s an issue with your site or online checkout? (In case you're wondering, the HostGator support team will be available 24 hours on Thanksgiving Day, just as we are every other day of the year.)
    Just as there’s no single right answer for major retail chains and malls, there’s no one answer for all small businesses. The decision to open or close for Thanksgiving is ultimately up to what you and your customers want.   We want to hear from you! What is your plan for Gray Thursday this year?
  • Is Your Business Ready For Small Business Saturday?

    Tuesday, October 25, 2016 by
    Small Business Saturday We hear a lot of talk about how important small businesses are. They employ over a third of the people working in this country. They encourage innovation, contribute to the economy, and represent the American dream to many people. For all the talk though, people aren’t always quick to show their appreciation for small businesses in their buying choices. Small Business Saturday is a day each year committed to encouraging consumers to put their money where their mouth is. Last year, more than 95 million consumers participated in Small Business Saturday. If you run a small business, this is an important opportunity you don’t want to pass up. [bctt tweet="Over 95 million shoppers participated in #SmallBizSat last year. Don't miss out in 2016." username="hostgator"] This year, Small Business Saturday falls on November 26, so you still have some time to prepare. Here are five steps you can take to make the most of Small Business Saturday 2016.

    1. Make sure you’re well stocked with items that make good gifts.

    You know what people are looking for on November 26. Some may pick up a few items for themselves if they see good enough deals, but most of the consumers that head to your store that day will be looking for holiday gifts. Do an audit of what’s available in your store now (whether it’s a storefront, web store, or both) to identify which items you feel are the most likely to end up wrapped up as gifts this holiday season. Consider if you have items that can be re-packaged or bundled to make them work even better as gifts. Brainstorm ways to optimize the merchandise you have so it’s well suited for holiday gift giving season. If people see lots of great gift opportunities in your store, the likelihood of spending their money with you will increase significantly.  

    2. Increase your marketing efforts.

    Think strategically about how to use your marketing channels and tactics to drive people to your small business on Small Business Saturday. This probably means putting less focus on your long-term marketing strategies like SEO for the moment, and increasing your investment in the marketing tactics that drive fast results like PPC ads, promotions on your website homepage, and using social media to broadcast your upcoming deals and involvement in Small Business Saturday. American Express conveniently provides customizable marketing materials for businesses participating in Small Business Saturday. Take a couple of minutes to customize them for your business, then use them to promote your involvement on your website, social media, and your physical storefront (if you have one).  

    3. Offer attractive deals and special pricing.

    This time of year, anything you can offer to sweeten the pot will make customers more likely to buy. Consider what deals to offer. Are you open to providing a storewide Small Business Saturday discount, or maybe a discount for anyone that spends at least a certain amount of money? Maybe you could provide free gift wrapping or free shipping to anyone that orders something on that day? You could offer coupons or special deals to people on your email list to make them feel special. Or you can get clever with your marketing and provide a special code to people who visit your website or see your promotions on social media that earns them an extra 5% off. Whatever you do, make sure you offer something. A lot of other small businesses will be doing so, so your customers are going to expect it. And the volume of buyers will likely offset any profits you might lose through discounted prices.    

    4. Make sure you schedule plenty of staff for the day itself.

    One thing you don’t want customers to face on Small Business Saturday when they walk through the door is an extremely long line. If things just get so busy that it’s unavoidable, that’s life, but do your best to make sure you have plenty of staff available to help customers out. Ideally, Small Business Saturday will help bring new customers your way, so you want to make sure the experience they have their first time (and that your regulars have as well) is an outstanding one. If you play your cards right, you could earn yourself some customers for life with the help of Small Business Saturday promotions.     

    5. Get in the community spirit.

    Small Business Saturday is about you, but it’s not just about you. It’s about the larger small business community and, in particular, the small businesses that are a part of your local community. Figure out a way to show your larger support to the community. That could mean donating a portion of what you make that day to local causes. It could mean partnering with other small businesses nearby to help send customers each other’s way. The people coming your way on Small Business Saturday care about the community, or they wouldn’t be all that concerned with supporting small businesses to begin with. Show them you care too and your shared values could help inspire customer loyalty that goes far beyond one day a year.
  • Mobile Shopping Trends: 6 Opportunities For Your Online Business

    Monday, October 24, 2016 by
    Mobile Shopping Trends You see people on their smartphones all the time. A lot of the time they’re playing games. Other times, they're checking their email. At least some of the time though, they’re buying things – possibly even buying the kind of things you sell. At this point, every online business has to care about mobile shoppers. Almost a third of all the shopping people do online is done on mobile devices. And people on mobile devices are more likely to take action on your website – 70% of mobile searches lead to consumers taking action. You have to expect that a good portion of your potential customers will be interacting with your brand on a mobile device. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to develop a strategy for meeting them where they are.   [bctt tweet="1/3 of all online shopping is done on mobile devices. Prepare your website for #BlackFriday!" username="hostgator"]  

    How Businesses Can Benefit from the Shift to Mobile

    The rise of mobile shopping may have felt like an inconvenience at first. Every time consumer behavior changes it means businesses have to put more work into adapting. Change doesn’t have to be negative though. You can choose to treat the growth in mobile usage as an opportunity. Here's how.  

    1. Create a mobile-friendly website.

    Almost a quarter of small business websites still aren’t optimized for mobile. If you’re one of them, then creating a mobile-optimized website for your business has to be your top priority. If people come to your website on a mobile device and it’s slow to load or offers an unintuitive experience, they will leave. That 70% of mobile visitors who are primed to take action will take their action on a competitor’s website instead. So stop dragging your feet and get it done. [bctt tweet="Nearly 25% of #smallbusiness websites still aren't mobile-friendly. Is yours one of them?" username="hostgator"]  

    2. Regularly test your website on different devices.

    When was the last time you pulled up your website on your phone or tablet? If you only ever interact with it yourself on a desktop, then you’re not seeing what many of your customers see. Right now, pull out your own mobile device and bring up your website on it. Think about the different steps a typical customer is likely to take on your site and see what it feels like to do them yourself on your phone or tablet. Make a test purchase to see what the full process of buying something on your website on mobile is like. At each step, pay attention to anything about the experience that’s difficult or inconvenient. Your device is just one of the many types of mobile devices out there, so talk to your employees or other people you know with different types and ask them to do some testing for you, or see if you can borrow their device to do it yourself. Try out different popular browsers on the mobile devices as well so you can simulate as many of the different mobile experiences your visitors will have as possible. Take plenty of notes as you go so you know exactly what needs to change to provide your customers with a better mobile experience.  

    3. Create mobile-specific versions of your personas.

    Marketing personas are an important tool for understanding your audience better and making sure you keep them top of mind as you develop your marketing strategy and content. Now that you know much of your audience is on a mobile device, you need to extend the persona exercise to better understand how your visitors are likely to use their devices. Just as you would when creating any persona, you need to think carefully about who your audience is and their habits, preferences, and needs – only this time, focus specifically on how they use mobile devices. This shouldn’t be a pure thought exercise. A number of tools are available to help marketers better understand their audience, and you can also use the data that Google Analytics provides on mobile use.  Mobile personas are only useful if they’re based on reality, so make sure you do the work of finding out how your customers really behave.  

    4. Make use of location-based marketing.

    If your business is entirely online, then this tip won’t have relevance for you. If you have a storefront though, then location-based marketing on mobile can really pay off. The possibility of providing prospects with the right marketing message at precisely the right moment has always been the dream, but location-based marketing puts the possibility within reach in a way it never was before. You can push out an offer or CTA (call-to-action) to your audience when you know they’re within a close range of your store – right when it’s most convenient for them to take advantage of it. 72% of consumers have said they’re likely to respond to a CTA they see while within view of the store. That’s an opportunity too good to pass up. [bctt tweet="Location-based #marketing: 72% of consumers are likely to respond to CTA when they're nearby." username="hostgator"]  

    5. Consider if a mobile app is right for you.

    Mobile apps are expensive to develop and they’re not for everybody. Most mobile users only turn to a few key apps each day, so the cost of development likely won’t pay off unless you have the kind of website that customers treat as a common go-to when they use the web. If you do have the kind of repeat customers that would appreciate the convenience of being able to skip the browser for a faster and easier mobile experience, then building a mobile app could be a smart move.    

    6. Pay attention to mobile metrics.

    Whatever types of mobile marketing you pursue, you should monitor your progress as you go. As with the other types of marketing you do, establish key metrics you want to follow and pay attention to how well your results match up with your goals. The longer you pursue mobile marketing, the more data you’ll collect that helps you understand how your users behave and what types of tactics work best. That data will make it possible to continually change up your mobile marketing plan to achieve better results.   Mobile shoppers aren’t some niche audience of outliers. They’re almost everybody. And the people who aren’t actively using their mobile devices for shopping today are likely to start in the months and years to come. If you don’t cater to the massive and growing mobile audience, their business will go to the companies that do.  To keep from losing business that should be yours, treat mobile users as a priority in your marketing efforts and business plan.
  • How To Start An Online Store In 10 Steps

    Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by
    How to start online store You have dreams of entrepreneurship, but you know you’re not ready to quit your job and go all in. If you’re good at making things or spotting a great deal, you don’t necessarily have to go all in to start.  Starting an online store doesn’t require the same level of investment or sacrifice that full-time entrepreneurship does. You can start small while keeping your regular paycheck, and potentially build up to working for yourself exclusively if your online store does well enough. That doesn’t mean it won’t be work (most things worth doing are), but it’s doable without having to uproot your life as it is now. There are a few key steps you have to take and you’ll have several moments where you have to decide what level of investment you’re prepared to make into the endeavor to start. If the ten steps on this list sound doable to you, then you’re ready to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur.    

    1. Decide on your product.

    If you’ve been pondering setting up an online store for a while, then you may well already have a product in mind. Whether it’s something you make, like handcrafted furniture or handmade soap, or something you’ve found a source for at wholesale prices so you can sell it off at a profit, every online store has to start with a product. Do some research to make sure your product is viable. If you’re selling something fairly unique of your own creation, ask around amongst friends and in online communities to see if there’s an interest. If you’ll be selling something that will have a fair amount of competition online, research what similar products people are selling online and if the prices they’re charging would make for a sustainable business model for you. If your initial research shows you that an online store for the products you have in mind is likely to lose money, then you should look to other options.  

    2. Set your pricing.

    Pricing is one of the hardest parts to get right in running a new business. If you price too low, you’ll lose money or just barely break even – which won’t make the time and effort you put into your online store worth it. If you price too high, you won’t make enough sales and still risk losing money on the whole endeavor. To figure out the pricing that makes sense you have to first figure out your own costs. That includes the cost of materials, web hosting, taxes, the percentage credit cards or Paypal will skim off the top, and any marketing costs you choose to take on to help promote your business.  Then you should figure out how much you want to add on top of that to account for your own time and labor, and add some extra on top of that to make a profit. You should also do some research into what your competitors are charging. If the number you came to is below what others are charging, you can bump up your numbers a bit. If it’s higher, then you’ll either need to consider if you can provide enough unique value with the products you sell to account for the higher price, or determine if you can afford to go lower based on what the market will bear.  

    3. Research shipping costs and options.

    Your impulse may be to pass on the full cost of shipping to the client, and many online stores do take this route. Be warned though that shipping costs can have a strong psychological impact on consumers, with 44% saying they’ve abandoned an online purchase due to high shipping and handing costs. In some cases, offering free shipping and upping your product pricing to cover those costs may result in more sales. As an alternative, some online stores provide a flat fee that’s clearly noted on the website, so consumers know before they reach the checkout page exactly what to expect. [bctt tweet="44% of customers say they've abandoned online shopping carts due to high shipping costs. " username="hostgator"] Another popular option for online stores is to offer free shipping for orders of a certain size. That encourages customers to spend more in your online store than they may have otherwise, and makes the cost of shipping more worth it to you. You’ll have to figure out what makes sense for you and your business. Research the shipping options available from each of the main providers and figure out what the numbers are likely to look like for packages at the size and weight that will be typical for your products.  

    4. Choose your eCommerce platforms.

    Now you need to choose the platform your online store will live on.  All websites have to be hosted somewhere, so you’ll need website hosting first unless you choose to build your store on a website that already exists like Etsy or Amazon. If you want a website and brand that’s all your own, many website hosting platforms (including HostGator) make it easy to find compatible eCommerce options that you can work with in the same space you use to work on your website. An ecommerce software will make it easy for you to list your products, set your price, and add a shopping cart to the website. They take care of ensuring the process is intuitive for both you and your customers, so you can just focus on selling.  

    5. Pick a name and brand.

    When you start trying to figure out a name, you’ll probably feel like all the good ones are already taken. While your business name is important, try not to get too hung up on this step. Brainstorm words and phrases that say something about the products you’ll be selling, and words and phrases that mean something to you. And be sure to stay away from names that have already been copyrighted by other businesses. Depending on your goals for your online store, you may also want to invest in working with a marketing professional or firm at this point to more fully develop your brand. They can help you design a logo, figure out your positioning, and create a plan for promoting your online store once you launch. They’ll also be a big help with the next step.  

    6. Build your website.

    Many hosting platforms can make at least part of this step easier by providing free website templates or a site builder you can work from rather than having to build a website from scratch. If you want something more unique, you can hire a graphic designer or work with a marketing firm to help you create a website that’s more distinctly yours. At this stage, you’ll also need to work on writing copy that describes your wares and helps persuade website visitors to buy. This is something else you can take a DIY approach to if you want to stick with a shoestring budget, or invest in a professional copywriter or marketing firm to help with. If you do go with the DIY option, take some time to research best practices. It’s not as simple as you may think. Copyblogger and Copyhackers are good resources to start with. HostGator Website Builder  

    7. Set up a merchant account.

    Online stores need a way to receive money – specifically, a way to receive credit card payments. A merchant account does the very important job of ensuring you can get paid. You have options that range from big, familiar brand names like Chase and Paypal, to companies more focused on small businesses like BluePay and PaySimple. You will have to pay something to the company in order to get your money, but the ability to accept the money your customers send should make the fees well worth it.  

    8. Get your SSL certificate.

    Now you need to get secure. If customers are going to hand you their private payment information (or more accurately, enter it into a form on your website), you need to make sure the sensitive details will stay safe. An SSL certificate for your website encrypts all the sensitive information customers provide so that hackers won’t be able to grab that credit card information as it’s sent over the web.  

    9. List your inventory.

    Now that your website’s set up and secure, you can get the store itself set up. Whatever inventory you have ready to go should be added to your store and assigned its proper price. Once potential customers make their way to your page, all they’ll need to do is click to add an item they want to their shopping cart and check out.  

    10. Start selling.

    Finally we’ve reached the stage where you can start making money.  If you launch your online store and don’t get much traction, then you should start thinking about promotion. Content marketing, social media, and paid promotion are all areas worth looking into to start getting people to your website. If you’re not quite ready to make that level of investment in your online store, start with old-fashioned word of mouth. Talk to your friends about it, mention it to professional acquaintances, and bring it up at any events around town likely to attract the kind of people interested in what you’re selling. Once your online store is up and running, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’re an entrepreneur now. Then get back to work. Part of entrepreneurship is that there’s always something else you can or should be doing to launch your business toward greater success.

    Are you ready to start selling online?

    Create Your Online Store With HostGator!

  • Why Your Personal Email Account Is Destroying Your Credibility

    Friday, October 14, 2016 by
    Personal Email Account It’s the Achilles heel of small business owners: They use their personal email address for marketing campaigns and customer communications, apparently not realizing that little email handle is wrecking their credibility with prospective customers. Why does your email address matter so much, and how can you turn it into a business asset instead of a liability? Read on.  

    It’s never “just an email address”

    You would never tell a prospective customer to move along, but that’s the message that a personal email address sends when you use it for business. Everything your audience sees, including that email address, is an element of your company’s brand that helps form their impression of your business. Customers of all kinds look for businesses that seem trustworthy and authoritative. How, exactly, can your personal email address work against you? Let us count the ways.  

    The dealbreaker email address

    Some addresses destroy trust and authority at first glance by casting doubt on your judgment. It should go without saying that an email address is kryptonite to business success if it includes references to politics, sex, violence, bigotry, mental illness, or drinking and drugs. Yet people carry on using email addresses like crazysexypartydude@domain.com and then wonder why their business is struggling.  

    The no-boundaries email address

    Shared email addresses like BillandTed@domain.com or TheEntireJonesFamily@domain.com tell your customers a couple of things. One, their customer information can be seen by people they don’t know and who aren’t part of your business. This erodes trust. Two, you seem to think email addresses are so rare that your whole family has to pile into one account like clowns into a circus car. This erodes your authority.  

    The outdated email domain

    Even if you keep your personal email tasteful and simple, some customers will judge your email provider itself. Older domains like aol.com and hotmail.com can make you appear out of touch with modern technology—a serious ding on your brand if you run a tech or communications business. Some of this “email prejudice” is tongue in cheek. Some is real. Avoid it with company-branded email.  

    A common problem with an easy solution

    An incredible 46% of US small business owners surveyed in 2016 don’t have a business website, which means they can’t create company-branded email addresses. Why? The most common reasons business owners gave were that they didn’t think they needed a website and that a website would cost too much. Those answers show why setting up a professional email account gives you advantages that go beyond email branding. A web presence is a must for businesses now because of the way consumers research their purchases. If they can’t find you, they can’t shop with you. With even a simple website and a business email account, you set yourself apart from less motivated competitors. What’s more, web hosting costs just a few dollars a month, and setting up an email account is simple. With any HostGator web hosting plan, you can set up your professional email account in under a minute from your customer portal. Adding professional email doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck logging into multiple accounts each day, either. Our email services perform like any other web-based webmail client, and you can even choose to have your messages forwarded to you so you don't miss a thing if you prefer to manage things from your personal email account. Professional email addresses give small-business owners some valuable but inexpensive tools: a brand element that conveys trustworthiness and authority, a domain for creating a strong web presence, an advantage over competitors who don’t have a website and branded emails, and the freedom to keep their personal email address private.