Have a list. Check it twice. No, this isn’t a discussion about holiday songs or traditions. Rather, it is an examination about the importance of keeping up with the market and how the addition (or absence) of some commonly used e-commerce features can impact everything from consumer trust and acceptance to increased sales for your business. There are several items you need in order to optimally operate and analyze your business while continually driving results, and more are coming out all the time as both the markets and consumers keep evolving. Sure, it can be tricky to keep up with all of the updates and changes, especially since the first priority is actually running your business! Without a mental checklist of sorts, you never know what your business may be missing out on or which ecommerce features can help push results.
The following list is certainly not all-inclusive. However, it does contain a number of items that seem simple on the surface, but are often under-prioritized by businesses and end up having an impact on the bottom line. And sure, you can call it a checklist if you want.
Sure, it can be tricky to keep up with all of the updates and changes, especially since the first priority is actually running your business! Without a mental checklist of sorts, you never know what your business may be missing out on or which ecommerce features can help push results.
ALL PAYMENT TYPES
This seems obvious, but is often overlooked on the list. While I don’t think that a kitchen-sink offering of payment types is the difference between success and not, it is a no-brainer to make sure that you at least offer all the options available from your provider. Comfort and familiarity go a long way to removing obstacles to capturing the sale from the consumer. In many cases, how consumers buy is directly correlated to where they live. Looking to make sales in Europe? Not only are debit transactions the norm in European countries, but each country usually has a popular and local option for taking payments. Want to sell to U.S. consumers? Credit cards remain the preferred method for many Americans; but prepaid cards, gift cards and online checks are still solid and popular options, especially in our market. Whether it be subscriptions, tokens, live entertainment, or buying an item; it is vital that you make it comfortable and easy to purchase on any device, language, or payment type. Leveraging your e-commerce partner’s experience can help attain more sales from more markets.
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGING REGULATIONS
Between banks, credit card associations, regional and/or national laws, there is no shortage of regulations imposed on the sale of online adult entertainment services or products. And as most of us know all too well, there are new ones cropping up all the time. The recent ATVOD regulations in the U.K. limited debit card acceptance on adult content in the U.K, while other pending regulations in a variety of countries could impact how you accept and manage payments. Being prepared to adapt is key in dealing with the regulation changes as they happen and as your business partner, your ecommerce provider should be in front of most changes in the regulatory environment. Most providers should have the tools to instantly respond to restrictions or payment type changes, and support the needed adjustments to maintain your payment acceptance. Being prepared for changes beyond your control can be the difference between a sale and a lost customer – and keeps this item on our checklist.
COST VERSUS PRICE
Again, this list item seems somewhat apparent, but you’d be surprised how many businesses make choices based on the price of the service, without considering what the services (or lack of services) can cost them in in other aspects of the business. When you select an e-commerce partner, you need to not only understand all it can do to help you, but what fees your business may be incurring for using the features of the provider. Analyze what the services or features (and fees) are saving or costing you in staffing, operations, chargebacks and customer reputation. The merchant account and payment worlds have wildly differing pricing structures with many options for services – which may or may not include fees. Doing without a particular service may save you a small percentage or fee on the transaction, but end up costing you in other fees – or worse yet – in lost sales. The point here is to take the time to fully determine what features of any ecommerce service you will want to use for your business, and do a comparison based in reality and not on a single number. What you save in a small percentage may be lost in the cost of your time to handle the problems. It is always worth the time to do the research, compare, and ask questions.
BRANDING AND COMMUNICATIONS
In any market, successful businesses dealing with the mass-market – online or otherwise – are typically wellbranded businesses. Ensuring your brand elements remain in front of the consumer throughout the purchase process goes a long way, as does promoting the trust you place in the brand of your payments provider.
For this item on the checklist, review your own site’s payment flow and scrutinize where you can improve the experience. Start by reviewing your own online payments and your impression of the process. Those experiences which impressed you could be templates for your own purchase flow. Most e-commerce providers will offer communications templates you can customize for staying in contact with your consumers, pop-up windows, custom flows, and business branding options. Leveraging these customization solutions can take on much of the burden of creating messages which will present and reinforce your brand to the consumer.
SERVING THE GLOBAL MARKET
The Internet changed the world as we knew it. Local markets gave way to global markets almost overnight, and brought on a whole new set of needs — and unfamiliarity. Most business people are aware of their local and national ways of doing business, but a global market is daunting. A good e-commerce partner can help you navigate what to some are uncharted territories, and make your business look global and yet, comfortable.
We already talked about localized payment types, but currency usage and multi-lingual payment forms are an important aspect as well. It can be a lot to manage, especially for a new online merchant. Is your business properly set up to conduct transactions worldwide? Are there currency options in place to present global consumers the appropriate monetary option? Do payment forms display the applicable language? Most providers have smart forms which cover this item for you with little requirement on your side – expect to implement the options and reach these audiences.
I am a true believer in reality, rather than delusion. But sometimes, our business can believe in something so fervently, that we overlook the actual results in favor of standing by what we absolutely know in our business hearts to be correct. I am not saying that vision does not play a factor in reaching our business goals, but you need to know if that vision is getting results. In going to the trouble to do all the things listed above, understanding the results and hopefully the success of your efforts is impossible without metrics. So big on my list is to test everything. There has been a lot of press lately about retail outlets and online stores tracking movements and buying habits – but there is a reason for it. Knowing how your consumers buy, which forms outperform, which payment types work best for different markets – even which colors they prefer can be the determining factor in making that sale. So, again, test everything. Your e-commerce partner should have the tools to provide alternate payment forms, run alternate processors, flexible stats to look at trends and buying habits – everything you need to make choices based on fact, not fiction.
KILLER SERVICE OR SERVICE KILLER
Expectations for excellence have grown to record-breaking levels. With more and more competition for the attention of the buyer, we see excessive promises of the best customer service, instant delivery or 100-percent satisfaction in almost all businesses. And exceeding expectations in the current market becomes a daunting task – and even more important than before.
Whether from an affiliate referral or direct sale, attaining a customer is a very pricey venture for most businesses, so providing the right experience can actually be a cost savings to your business. And treating them right after the purchase opens up additional selling opportunities in the long term. Your product is not the content or item alone, but the service and support you employ – so providing specific, immediate and responsive support puts this on our checklist. As we discussed earlier, support is now on a global scale as well – free from time zones and borders. Most billing providers offer some sort of support for consumers, whether it is online or live support to support your brand and product. Since your business is unique, share your expectations for the support for your consumers with your provider.
This checklist is rather rudimentary, but vital to the everchanging adult market. We are inundated daily with changes in payments, devices, delivery, traffic, market, regulation, and technology and yet this list remains somewhat constant. Regardless of the state of the market or our specific industry, experience has shown that an uncomplicated list like this can be a template to support the success of the business. Not to mention, potentially provide some steps to more sales.
Gary Jackson is managing vice president of sales and Internet markets for CCBill. Since joining CCBill in 2006, he has been a champion for new market segments, notably the gay market, and has been passionate in finding new ways to drive revenue for commerce sites in the online adult industry — for merchants and their affiliates alike. Jackson has been honored in online adult industry with the 2011 Cybersocket Business Person of the Year, the 2012 XBIZ Executive Leadership Award — Web. A Seattle native, his past lives include managing the Academy Awards in 1996, as well as performing on Broadway as a professional actor/singer.