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    Ongoing observations by End Point Dev people

    Competing with the big players in e-commerce

    Ron Phipps

    By Ron Phipps
    June 20, 2011

    While attending the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in San Diego last week I had a few moments to speak with Nathan Barling, the CTO for Shoebacca.com. During our conversation he mentioned he would be speaking at the conference in the track titled: “Small Retailers: Winning Strategies in a tougher market”. I attended his talk and was impressed by the things that Shoebacca is doing to appear larger then they are, which helps them compete with the big players in their industry such as Zappos. The tactics that Nathan discussed can be applied to many industries in e-commerce and for all sizes of businesses, even those on limited budgets.

    One of the first things Nathan discussed was to make your policies clear and to highlight them on the site so that people are aware of the rules. Nathan recommends this, especially in the case of Shoebacca, where many of their policies encourage people to shop on their site, by reducing risk to the customer. Some of their policies include:

    • Free ground shipping
    • Free return shipping
    • 365 day return policy
    • 110% price match for 14 days

    Nathan mentioned many 3rd party tools that they leverage at their company, along with open source tools they are using to keep the costs down while providing a solid platform for their site. Some of the open source tools in use include Magento (e-commerce), Solr (search), and Gearman (jobs system).

    One area where Shoebacca is doing cool work is in their “shoe art”. These are clips and ads through the site which present the product in a unique and appealing way. They give the illusion that Shoebacca is a large company with an extensive art department and studio for shooting the product. They also leverage the art provided by their vendors such as ads and logos so that their customers associate the site with the quality of those vendors such as Nike and Puma. Another area where they are getting assistance from their vendors is with giveaway merchandise. This is merchandise the vendor provides them to giveaway with purchases of other items on the site. This could be a sticker, water bottle, or jacket, all promo items that Shoebacca does not have to pay for, but is of some value to the end customer and may push the customer to complete the order.

    One area that Nathan saw an immediate increase in conversions is with alternate payment methods. They chose to launch Amazon payments, and before they could even put a test order through someone had already checked out. Using alternate payment methods such as Amazon, Google or PayPal allows your customers to have the peace of mind that their credit card details are safe with a trusted company, while they are getting to know your company. Nathan said that many people on subsequent visits ended up entering their credit card directly into the site, after having a successful transaction through an alternate payment method.

    Shoebacca is also going to be launching a subscription program in which people pay a nominal yearly fee and receive benefits such as a coupon, access to exclusive sales, free swag, upgrade to free 2 day shipping. The subscription program is a neat idea to help get your customers to commit to using your site on an ongoing basis.

    I enjoyed my time away from the exhibit hall for Nathan Barling’s talk and took away quite a few things that I can suggest to my clients who are looking to improve their sales.

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