Friday, January 26, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Monday, January 8, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
How Will the New Shipping Rate Increases Affect Your Business?There's no way around it: shipping is going to cost more this year. All three major shipping carriers in the US—the US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS—are hiking rates in 2018. In fact, UPS got a jump on the new year by implementing its new rates on Christmas Eve. Here's the lowdown on higher shipping rates, what you can expect to pay going forward, and how to keep your customers happy without losing money on shipping costs.
How much are shipping rates increasing?The commercial carriers implemented the biggest average rate increases.
UPSAlready in effect as of December 24, 2017, UPS rates for ground and air shipments rose by an average of 4.9 percent. However, that's just the average. Trade publication Parcel took a detailed look at UPS's shipping changes and found that UPS is changing its dimensional weight categories in a way that will raise rates for some packages by as much as 9 percent for Zone 5 deliveries. “If you ship primarily smaller boxes with UPS,” shipping consultant Dave Sullivan wrote, “you need to understand the impact that this will have on your business as it could amount to a substantial rate increase.”
FedExStarting January 1, FedEx rates rose for most of its delivery services, including express, ground, and home delivery. Like UPS, FedEx rates went up an average of 4.9 percent. But FedEx ground commercial rates for small parcels in many zones are up by more than the average, Sullivan wrote. Minimum net charges for ground shipping are going up, too, by 4.6 percent. Surcharge rates for oversize packages, additional handling, and residential delivery are rising by 10.3, 9.1, and 7.8 percent, respectively. And like UPS, FedEx is adjusting their dimensional weight categories for SmartPost packages under 7 pounds. The result is 2018 SmartPost small-parcel rate increases of anywhere from 12 to 53 percent.
USPSEffective January 21, USPS charges more for First Class, Priority, Parcel, and International letters and parcels. Standard one-ounce letters cost just a penny more per piece, and Priority Mail Flat Rate retail prices will only rise by 5 cents. But if you're shipping parcels via USPS Priority Mail without using their flat-rate mailers, you'll pay 3.9 percent more than in 2017.
Why are shipping costs rising?The rising cost of shipping has been in the news for the past couple of years. There are a couple of trends driving the increases. The first and most obvious is higher demand—as consumers buy more things online, carriers are handling far more packages than they did a few years ago. To avoid problems like the great holiday shipping meltdown of 2013 and to keep up with the rising volume of packages, UPS and FedEx have to be able to scale up their delivery capacity. They also have to deliver value to shareholders. In the case of the US Postal Service, a spike in package deliveries comes when the cash-strapped carrier is just trying to stay afloat. For more than a decade, the USPS has lost money, but in 2017 its package volume rose by 589 million from the year before. The postal service's rate increase isn't so much about expanding capability and turning a profit as it is about survival.
How you can keep customers happy without taking (too much of) a hitConsumers are often unhappy with shipping costs and wonder if they're getting a raw deal from sellers. Sellers, meanwhile, feel pressure from customers to match competitors' free- or low-cost shipping deals and their product pricing. How can you stay competitive and profitable and get your customers their goods in good shape? 1. Compete on value rather than price. There's no way most small businesses can match or beat huge retailers like Amazon on price and same-day shipping options, so make sure you're going the extra mile on customer service, unique product selection, and presentation. This is a long-term solution, though. In the short term, you'll need to do some homework. 2. Audit your packaging. Set aside a few hours and gather your current packing materials and shipping boxes, a ruler, your postal scale, and updated shipping tables from USPS, UPS, FedEx. Which carrier offers the best rate on the package sizes and weights you ship most often? Can you use smaller boxes and lighter packing materials to pay less per package? Will you save money if you switch to mailers provided by your carrier? 3. Consider other shipping-related costs. Remember that shipping increases won't just affect your shipments to customers. Your suppliers may soon charge you more to cover their own rising shipping costs. And platforms like eBay that charge a commission on total sale price, including shipping, will take a proportionately larger cut of anything you sell there as shipping rates rise. Factor in those expenses. 4. Seek out shipping deals. FedEx, UPS, and USPS all have small business resources that include discount options. It also pays to compare what you'll pay to insure your shipments with the carriers to the cost of using third-party package insurance—third-party choices often cost a lot less. Once you've got a clear idea of what your shipping costs will be going forward... 5. Adjust your pricing, if necessary. For example, you may need raise the minimum purchase required for free shipping, as many retailers are doing, and you may need to update the shipping information in your store to reflect any rate changes that you're passing along to customers. 6. Be upfront about your shipping charges. Customers are likely to abandon their cart if shipping costs are a surprise at checkout. You can avoid this by posting your free shipping minimum on each page in your store and providing an easy to read explanation of other shipping options and rates.
ConclusionNobody likes to pay more for shipping, but by doing your homework, comparing costs, and communicating any changes clearly with your customers, you can reduce the impact of rising shipping fees on your business.
What Does the Future of (Your) Email Marketing Look Like?How's your 2018 email marketing plan looking? If you don't have one yet, now's the time to start planning so that you're ready to run more effective campaigns as soon as the holiday season ends. We've rounded up some of the most promising trends and practical suggestions for email marketing for the year ahead, based on recent research. But what we're most interested in here is the future of your email marketing, and how you can improve it to raise your conversion rates.
New year, new approach to your list?Most email list advice focuses on growing your list, but writer and publisher Linda Formichelli recently took a contrarian approach and booted 5,800 subscribers from her company's list of 7,000. She and her business partner ended up saving money by no longer hosting those subscribers who weren't buying anything, and they were able to boost sales, in part by better targeting offers to the loyal customers who remained. As she explained, “Having a load of subscribers who aren’t really interested in your content and offerings skews your analyses. When you survey your subscribers, the replies are not necessarily from people interested in ever buying from you.” What could this mean for your business? If you're not happy with your email marketing program's open and conversion rates, it may be time to audit your list and reduce the number of subscribers to focus on quality rather than quantity—especially if you're basing product development or marketing decisions on surveys of your list members.
4 email marketing best practices for 2018Once you've identified your key subscribers, it's on you to keep up your end of the email relationship. This means knowing the best frequency of emails, what to include in every email, how your subscribers will view your emails, and how to keep their trust. All of the suggestions below are based on an October 2017 report by Nikki Baird and Steve Rowen at Retail Systems Research. They analyzed marketing emails sent by 138 companies in the Internet Retailer Top 500 to see what really works—and what really doesn't. Although they studied major retailers, their findings can apply generally to ecommerce businesses of any size. First, the good-and-bad news: Even most large retailers aren't as good as they could be at email marketing. The report's authors created a 100-point scale to rank email effectiveness and found that most of the companies on the list just flat-out failed to earn a passing grade. On the one hand, this is sad news for those retailers. On the other, it gives smaller businesses--maybe including yours--an opening to outshine larger competitors in your customers' inboxes.
1. Use detailed subject linesLet's start with findings about email subject lines. These little headlines matter a lot—they're what recipients use to decide whether or not they'll even open your message. But the RSR study found that more than half of the emails they looked at had subject lines so generic they didn't let recipients know what the email was about. That means fewer opens and fewer conversions. You don't have to write a novel in the subject line box, but every subject line should clue readers in to what's in the email. There's one area where retailers are sometimes a little too specific in their subject lines, according to the RSR report: sales-y, promotional subject lines. Some high-end retailers didn't use them at all, but 6 percent used promos in 75 to 100 percent of their marketing emails. The danger here is “training customers to simply wait for prices to fall.” If you're counting on discounts in the subject line to get subscribers to open your emails, you risk teaching them never to pay your full prices.
2. Optimize your emails for mobile viewingOnce you get your subscribers to open your emails, based on your content-specific but not-too-promotional subject lines, there's another trend to take into account. About three-quarters of internet use is now mobile, and that means it's very likely that your subscribers are reading your emails on their smartphones. Can they read them easily? Is the font too tiny, the copy too long, or the call to action button hard to see on a mobile screen? Not if you're using mobile-optimized templates for your messaging. Optimization is not hard to implement—Constant Contact and other email service providers offer mobile-friendly templates—but surprisingly few of the major retailers in the RSR study optimize their marketing emails for mobile reading. Sixty percent of the 138 retailers didn't optimize their emails at all, ever. Only 4% mobile-optimized each and every email. The rest, weirdly, optimized some emails and not others. If you want your subscribers to read and act on your emails, optimize those emails for mobile reading.
3. Add menus to marketing emailsSo let's say a customer opened your email and is reading it on her phone, but the message doesn't quite match what she's looking for. Does she delete your email and go on with her day or does she click through to something else in your shop that interests her? Smart retailers include a menu at the top of each marketing email so customers can shop for what they really want directly from the message. You've already got the customer's attention. Keep it by giving her an easy way to shop.
4. Re-evaluate the frequency of your emailsWith these changes implemented, how often should you email your clients? That will depend on your business, your industry, and how often your competitors email their lists. (You are signed up for your competitors' emails, right?) Among major retailers, RSR found that one email a day is the sweet spot for reach subscribers. Send emails more often, and retailers look spammy compared to the competition, less often, and retailers “risk getting their message lost.” Again, though, that's the ideal frequency for major retailers. You may need to spend some time researching your competition's marketing campaigns, surveying your best customers to find out what they prefer, and tracking unsubscribe rates as you adjust your email frequency.
ConclusionNow's the time to begin revamping your email marketing to focus on your best customers. Make it easy for them to know what you're sending them, read it on their phones, and shop directly from your messages to improve your open and conversion rates in the year ahead.
5 Predictions for the Future of (Your) E-CommerceWhat will 2018 look like for your online business? Now's the time to think about your goals for the year ahead and to plan for new challenges your business will face. What will your customers expect, and how can you stay competitive? Take a look at these e-commerce trends for 2018 to get a sense of what's coming and how to get ready.
1. Think mobile, mobile, mobileThe share of US e-commerce purchases made on mobile devices will nearly double over the next twelve months, rising from 19% to 27%, according to one study. Another estimate projects that mobile purchases will account for half of all e-commerce revenue by year's end. Why the growth? In part, it's because people no longer sit down to their desks to make online purchases. They shop at the bus stop, on the train, in waiting rooms, and in bed just before they go to sleep. For most of us, it simply makes more sense to buy something on our phones when we need it (or when we remember that we need it) instead of setting aside a specific time and place to shop online. As more retailers adopt a mobile-first strategy, smaller sellers have to make mobile shopping easier, too, or risk being abandoned by customers who want convenience. How can you do this? First, make sure your online shop is optimized for use on smartphones. This goes beyond having a responsive site template and a readable display. Your shop must include fast page-load times—even on pages filled with product photos—as well as easy-to-navigate menus and the simplest possible secure payment options. (No one wants to key in a credit card number on their phone, especially in public.) Learn more about mobile e-commerce best practices.
2. Provide personalized shopping experiencesOne of the most helpful shopping trends to evolve from the combination of data analytics and automation is the personalized shopping experience. Every time Amazon suggests products you may like or Sephora shows you a menu of products that go with the items you've added to your basket, that's personalization in action. Increasingly, consumers expect merchants to provide that unique experience. Besides keeping shoppers on your site, personalization can boost your bottom line. According to Bart Mroz at Multichannel Merchant, “retailers that implement personalization strategies see sales gains of 6%-10%, a rate two to three times larger than other retailers, according to Boston Consulting Group research.” But less than 10% of retailers serve up personalized product suggestions. That means there's plenty of room for your store to gain an advantage, and the technology required to offer personalization isn't restricted to major retailers. E-commerce platform extensions, like Nosto and Softcube for Magento, integrate personalization into your store with just a few clicks. Learn more about e-commerce personalization here.
3. Learn to love luxuryRemember 2012, when Millennials were going to destroy the economy with their thrifty ways? It turns out that being careful with money when you're young frees you up to really treat yourself as you get older. Not only are Millennials the fastest-growing group of homebuyers (oftentimes leapfrogging over the “starter home” entirely in favor of a mini-mansion), they're also leading a projected doubling of spending on luxury goods in the year to come. What does this mean for your store? If most of your customers are between the ages of 20 and 36 and you've been tailoring your offerings to price-conscious shoppers, now's the time to take a closer look at how your customers' spending habits may have evolved over the past couple of years. Based on the demographics for your particular customers, it might be time to add some higher end products to your store, to test the waters and to keep luxury-seekers from going elsewhere for what they want. Because margins are typically higher on luxury items than on mass-market products, even a small uptick in high-end product sales can boost your store's bottom line. Learn more about pricing your products and expanding your product offerings.
4. Package your products properlyHow does packaging relate to e-commerce? Customers expect their purchases to arrive undamaged, and more than half say they won't shop with an online retailer again, or would buy from a competitor instead, if their stuff is damaged in transit. But adding enough packing material is only part of the picture for ecommerce sellers. Packaging Digest says that consumers increasingly expect “frustration-free packaging” of items they buy online. (If you've ever cut yourself opening a plastic clamshell package to get at your $5 gadget inside, you know why consumers want things to be easier.) Using packaging that makes for a more appealing unboxing experience, and using recycled materials, also add to your products' customer appeal.
5. Set up more shipping optionsAnother trend that's been brewing for a while is consumers' high expectations for shipping choices. Recent data shows that not only do shoppers want fast delivery, even on nights and weekends, but they also don't want to pay a whole lot for it, and virtually ever shopper wants to know when their packages will arrive. To meet customer expectations, now's the time to review your delivery options, features, and pricing. High shipping costs, no free shipping option, and slow delivery times are all key reasons why shoppers abandon their online shopping carts. Most retailers do better with a menu of shipping options that customers can choose from depending on whether they prefer speed or savings. Every option you offer should include tracking, and not only because customers expect to be able to follow their purchases from warehouse to mailbox. Tracking and delivery verification can also cut down on instances of fraud by proving that your items were delivered to the right address. Ready to take your store to the next level in 2018? Check out our tips for marketing your site.
What's New in Blogging for 2018?What are your New Year's resolutions for your blog? For many bloggers, more sales and more readers are at the top of the wish list. If that's you, 2018 could be your year. That's because many of the top blogging trends for the year ahead are not only going to make your blog more appealing to read and more fun to produce, they can also help you get more traffic, win more customers, and earn more sales. Here are six things to can do in 2018 to turn your blog resolutions into reality. video will make up more than 80% of worldwide internet traffic by 2021, which means that if you don't get on board the video train soon, you're going to be left behind. According to digital marketing expert Neil Patel, adding video to your blog and/or creating a YouTube channel to drive viewers to your blog is the most effective way to boost traffic and sales. Patel also recommends Facebook video as a supplemental platform to YouTube (Facebook just announced its Creator app to compete head to head with YouTube) and suggests that you include a call to action in every video—especially those hosted on a platform other than your blog—so that your viewers know what next step you want them to take.
2. Make your blog more mobile friendlySlightly more than half the videos streamed online are viewed on mobile devices, and that figure is expected to rise in the years to come. That means your site needs to support fast-loading video in a mobile-friendly format. If you're still clinging to the notion that your viewers will turn their phones to watch your videos in landscape mode, think again. Horizontal video is so 2012. Vertical video is the way to go, not only because most of your blog visitors hold their phones vertically nearly all the time, but because that position makes it easier for viewers to “engage with reactions and comments in a way that’s natural to them.” And engagement is what it's all about. While you're at it, make sure you're using an up-to-date responsive template for your blog so that your menus and posts are easy to read on phones.
3. Produce more postsThis may not be what you want to hear if you're already strapped for time or having trouble thinking of things to talk about, but the number and frequency of your posts matters a lot. Neil Patel says it takes reading up to 5 pieces of content before a reader starts the buying process. That means if you're selling from your blog, you need to give readers enough content for them to find five pieces that appeal to them enough to read. To drive traffic and earn leads to your blog, the benchmark for success with a B2B blog is more than 16 fresh posts each month—and higher frequency of posts raises B2C traffic, too. To manage this much content, you'll need to pick your topics in advance and set up a schedule for writing, editing, and publishing them – and stick to it.
4. And produce longer postsAs if turning out more posts wasn't enough, Neil Patel also thinks your blog posts should be longer. And the data backs him up. Longer posts tend to perform better in search results, which means more readers will find your blog when they're searching for information on your topic or niche. If you're putting in the work on the post, you might as well make sure you get the payoff of more traffic from search, right? For this reason, Patel recommends a minimum blog post length of about 2,500 words. (Spoiler alert: I'm not going to hit that target.) Not sure how to create longer posts that readers will find appealing? Kissmetrics has a helpful longform content creation guide.
5. Skip (or supplement) the stock photosWhen the internet was young and smartphone cameras were just a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, online stock photos made a text-heavy medium more visually interesting. These days, though, there's no technical excuse for relying on stock images to promote your products or illustrate your posts—and in fact, relying on stock photos may even hurt your brand. If you're selling products, invest in good photography, either your own or someone else's. There are professionals who specialize in everything from fashion to food who can produce great product photos for your blog. You might also consider supplementing manufacturer-provided stock images of products you sell with user-generated photos (that you get permission from your customers to use, of course). Tomer Dean wrote at Medium about a series of stock-versus-UGC A/B tests on sports bras, skirts, athletic shoes, and high heels. In 3 of his four tests, the user-generated image delivered better results than the stock photo.
6. Clean out your content closetIt's always a good idea to regularly review your post archives. Some of your older posts may be classics that are worth re-posting to mark a special event or anniversary. Some may be in need of a few updated facts in order to stay useful to readers in the year ahead. Some may be on similar topics, which gives you a chance to combine them into a longer-form post or two for better search rankings—another Patel tip. You can also add custom images or videos to your older posts to make them more appealing to today's viewers. And you can cull any posts that are no longer relevant. Need more blog inspiration for 2018? Check out these business people who started as bloggers, and consider choosing a new Wordpress theme for your blog.