While purists bemoan the ever-hastening approach of the holiday shopping season, chances are it will continue to creep earlier and earlier for years to come. According to the National Retail Federation, about 40% of US consumers begin shopping for the holidays before Halloween (October 31st).
As a merchant, while you may not see a bump in revenue in October, chances are, you will start to see an increase in traffic to your product pages as shoppers start putting together their lists.
The National Retail Federation also expects to see more than a 5% increase in overall holiday sales, but, online sales are expected to climb at 3 times that rate. If your store follows an average seasonal pattern, that is, if you make about 40% of your sales between October and December, your sales can be more than three times their current volume. It will be even more if you sell winter seasonal or gift-type items.
So, as the ant said to the grasshopper, now is the time to get to work! July and August are the perfect times to put together your action plan.
Merchant’s Holiday Calendar
Your calendar should drive everything you do and should include dates that you will expect high order volumes, dates for running online sales, and so forth. Here are some important dates to remember:
July - October
While you may be running back-to-school specials and dealing with the expected seasonal uptick in traffic, make sure you are ready by working on a couple of critical items, now.
• Google Shopping Feed. Make sure your feed is not only active, but finely-tuned. If you want to make sure your feed gets you competitive placement during the holiday season, now is the time to tweak your settings.
• eBay and M2E. Being on the important marketplaces is critical to a successful holiday season. M2E allows you to process your eBay orders through Magento Go and push your products to eBay. However, it takes a while to learn and organize so we encourage you to seek help from Magento Go Pros.
November 1 - 5
This is when most of your retail competition will start to advertise their Black Friday sales. If you compete with brick and mortar, you’ll want to have an action plan to start off the season with a bang. At the very least, you should have a holiday shopping newsletter ready to go the first Tuesday in November.
As a Magento Go merchant, you have a powerful tool for collecting newsletter subscriptions. Make sure it is visible and, you may want to consider a modal pop up to nudge visitors to give up their email addresses. I recommend following the simple guidelines offered by Listrak. If you are not sure how to implement this on your own, contact a Magento Go Pro to help you out. Do this today so that your email list is full with newly added addresses by the time November rolls around.
Black Friday & Cyber Monday
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the heaviest shopping day of the year for brick and mortar retailers. Cyber Monday, is the online retail community’s attempt at piggy-backing on this long-standing retail event.
We recommend you put together promotions timed for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Just as brick and mortar retailers do, you should plan on having some incredibly crazy deals on a limited number of items to drive traffic on Black Friday and follow up with additional deals on Cyber Monday.
Fortunately for Magento Go merchants, you do not have to wake up early to start your promotions! In fact, you can even set them up today. First, set up a promotion with a start and end date. Then, tie a promotional banner to it that you will add to the appropriate pages on your site with a frontend app. Again, you can turn to Magento Go Pros for help with this.
December 17 - 19
Just before December 25th, shipping companies start to have difficulty in making sure your product arrives in time for the 25th. If your product’s cost structure is able to absorb the expense and make a profit, now is a great time to offer a free upgrade to overnight or expedited shipping.
You may want to make sure you have quick access to extra staff to handle all of the shipments and answer your customer service line.
December 20 - 24
It’s time to put a message on your site that you can no longer guarantee delivery by December 25th. Why not run a special promotion on your gift cards between the 20th and the 24th? Magento Go gives you the capability to set up and track electronic gift cards.
It’s also a great time for one final email campaign advertising your post-holiday specials as well as your gift cards which can be delivered in time for the holidays, even if purchased on the big day!
Tracking Your Efforts
In order to maximize success, you should also test your ideas now so that when the holiday traffic starts to hit, you are sure you have a winner. If an idea is so holiday-focused that you cannot test it beforehand, be sure to have a plan b (and c, and d) ready so that you can switch to something more successful if the results aren’t what you expect.
Some ways to test ideas are:
• If you are running price promotions, conduct multi-variate email campaigns, using varying messaging and offers to small groups of customers to see which one gets the best results. Then, use the winner during the holidays.
• Run ‘flash sales’ you want to try before the Holiday Season and run the one(s) with the best results during the holidays.
• Use polls on your site to ask your customers which types of new products or website features they would like most. Try to do this way in-advance of the busy holiday shopping dates so you can make updates to accommodate your customer needs.
Success Is When Preparation Meets Opportunity
This may seem like a long checklist, but it is by no means exhaustive. Our recommendation is that you start with a calendar of activities, then, work backwards to make your own checklist. You may find that you are already behind for the holidays even in mid-July
In the first two articles in this series, we discussed what an API is, why Magento Go’s API is a great advantage for merchants, and what services are available that already use the power of the API to extend the functionality of your store. This article is dedicated to unleashing your creativity to envision what your Magento Go store can be for your particular type of product and customers when you understand and take advantage of the API.
How can I understand the API if I’m not really a techie?
Extensive documentation regarding the Magento Core API (which is the same as the Magento Go API) is available in the API reference. While it is true that it is written for a techie, techie’s are people, too! Even if you are not doing your own coding, I would encourage you to spend some time looking through the API documentation and look for ‘what is possible’ rather than ‘how to do that.’
The reference guide, for the most part, is a catalog of definitions of a device that software developers call a ‘method.’ Methods are requests made to your Magento Go store from outside your store that do things like update product information, list all the categories in your store, fetch information about a particular order, and so forth.
A non-developer merchant can use the guide to see what kinds of requests Magento Go understands. That is, what are the individual fields of information it can share with or update based on software that sits on another computer or server connected to the internet. Spending a few hours with the reference can help you better understand the vast possibilities of the API.
What can I do with the API?
Chances are, you won’t be writing your own code. However, with a basic understanding of the possibilities, you should be able to write up what you want to achieve and find a Magento Go Pro that can write the code you need. A Go Pro that specializes in API development can help you define what is possible and what is not and help you match your requirements to your budgets. For example, what you want might be expensive be create but a Go Pro may be able to help you build something within your budget that could still help you reach your final goal.
While we’ve seen hundreds of uses for the Magento API, here are some common examples:
• Connecting to a 3rd party logistics (3PL) company (even a small one) to fulfill orders and update tracking and other order information in Magento Go.
• Custom reporting and exporting (for example, orders by date range).
• Feeding product data to comparison shopping engines and online marketplaces or other systems.
• Setting up a customized mobile store.
• Customized product uploaders.
• Participating in badging programs like Google Trusted Stores.
How should I work with a developer?
Remember that development companies sell their time. So, the less time they have to spend helping you clarify your ideas, the less you will have to pay in the end. If you just call a Go Pro out of the blue with a vague idea of what you want to accomplish, you may find that they don’t have a lot of time to spend with you. However, if you send a document that outlines what you want to accomplish, the data fields that need to be shared or manipulated, and some example results, you should find they will be receptive to your request and may even give you a quote over email.
Shop around, then chose a quote and developer that you feel comfortable with. Chances are you will want to call on the developer to update your custom software in the future. The developer will have access to information from your store; so, make sure you feel strongly that you can trust them to keep it confidential and that their systems are protecting your store from unwanted access.
How much should I pay for development work?
Development time isn’t cheap, but, a good developer can often create an API connector for you relatively quickly. Simple applications like connecting to a 3PL for order fulfillment may only cost a few hundred dollars. Even relatively complex programs may only cost a few thousand dollars if the developer already has a library of tools to draw on. You may be surprised that what sounds complex to you is easy for a developer and vice versa.
Development rates and the basis for those rates vary. Many will quote you a fixed price if the project is well defined. Most developers have rates between $65 and $150 per hour. However, those on the lower end will often charge you for account service time.
In addition to writing the original software, your project may require a piece of middleware to run. For example, a product data feed going to a comparison shopping engine may have to be updated daily, even more often. The software has to reside somewhere, usually on a server provided by the developer. Expect to pay a monthly fee for hosting and maintenance. Sometimes these are small, $10 to $25, but, more complex applications could run over $100 per month. Make sure this amount is spelled out before you sign off on the project.
Why do things sometimes go wrong with my custom API software?
When a developer creates a piece of software for you, especially software that deals with the product catalog, they will make some assumptions about your product catalog, attribute sets, and so forth. Dramatic changes to your product set may cause an API not to work correctly. If you have a maintenance contract with your developer, it may be covered in the agreement. It might not, though. The best thing to do before making big changes to your store is to let your API developer know what you plan on doing so that they can anticipate the change.
Customizing and extending your Magento Go store’s capabilities via the API is a great way to improve productivity and extend the selling capabilities of your Magento Go store. With the API, small investments in development can often yield rich rewards. When you come to what looks like a limitation, don’t forget that you may be able to overcome it by properly applying the API, giving you an advantage over your competitors.
In our last article about the Magento Go API (Application Programming Interface) we explained what it is and talked about its power and its versatility. Many Magento Go merchants are finding that the API is an ideal way to integrate additional services that help them manage their business and build sales volumes.
You don’t actually need to be a developer or hire one to take advantage of the power of the API because more and more suppliers of online services are writing connectors to the Magento Go API.
When you sign up for a service that uses the Magento Go API, you will go through a process that is similar to how you set up users. The Service Provider will ask you to create a Web Services account for them. From your store administration, hover over System > Web Services > Users. You’ll then create a user account for the service providers and a role. When creating a role, it will default to access to all information in your store, but, you can restrict this if needed. Make sure to add the user to the role you create.
You’ll then give the Service Provider the user name and API key attached to the account you just set up. In some cases the Service Provider will specify the user name and API key to use in setting up the account. The important thing is that they match in both systems.
Once the connection is established, you usually don’t have to reset it. However, if something happens that breaks it, you can reset the API key as often as needed.
Examples of APIs
Several providers of shipping services offer their services to Magento Go merchants. One of the biggest advantages of these types of services is that you can print actual ˜paid” labels by linking them to a postage account like Endicia or your account at FedEx, UPS or DHL. They also provide advanced tools for managing your pick-and-ship process. For example, you can print pick lists that identify the location of a product in your warehouse, or you can group orders by product or shipping company (USPS, Fedex, etc.). They also update tracking information automatically in Magento Go after a product has shipped.
One thing to note is that while some Service Providers offer real time shipping quotes or shipping options for orders on Magento Community or Magento Enterprise, it is not possible for them to provide real-time shipping quotes or shipping options for your Magento Go web store. You will need to do this by adding your shipping carrier accounts to your Magento Go configuration.
Some commonly used shipping services include:
This software installs on your computer and is great for small merchants who keep all of the inventory in one place.
This is a cloud service meaning you access it from your browser. Because it is in the cloud, you can have employees from various locations in your company (or not in your company) use it no matter where they are located geographically.
Shipwire actually provides an extension for Magento Go. Shipwire is also cloud-based; it offers you the option to ship your products to their warehouses where they handle fulfillment for you. Global shippers can keep multiple inventories at warehouses located around the world to optimize shipping costs.
ShipWorks is a desktop product (not cloud) and is extremely popular with small merchants. It is important to note that they also provide an extension for Magento Go, but, you can also connect via the API.
Magento Go is not designed to be an accounting system, so, most merchants use Quickbooks™ or a similar service. Accountants who require information not provided through the Magento Go export function can benefit from connecting their accounting software to the Magento Go API.
FreshBooks, a popular small business cloud accounting system offers a connection to Magento Go via the API.
This service connects your Quickbooks software to Magento Go. It has the added advantage of connecting your shipping accounts to Magento Go, though, unlike the other solutions, it does not offer a single control panel for shipping.
Go Data Feed
This service provider helps you manage product feeds to marketplaces and online comparison shopping engines.
This service provider allows you to tap into online affiliate programs and to offer and track sales commissions to bloggers or other content providers when they drive buyers to your web store.
Magento Go Pros
There are many services that use the API. You can often find them with a quick Google search. If you want to use a service that has its own API, but, doesn’t have a pre-packaged connector to Magento Go’s API, you may want to contact a Go Pro to set up a middleware solution. Often the connections are not expensive to set up and a Go Pro may have one already built for another client that they can offer to you at a reasonable price.
If you have a particular aspect of your business that you want to improve from shipping to payments to affiliate sales, there is probably a good solution available to you. Modern software like Magento Go is made to be open and to share information across the internet. Using these services with the Magento Go API can really help you take your business to the next level.
In our next post we’ll discuss working with a developer to connect your Magento Go store to other services or software that aren’t currently connected and using the API to create custom applications for your business.
Magento Go is so robust that it offers merchants more features and capabilities than most can effectively use. If you don’t believe it, watch the recording of our recent webinar about features that merchants should be using more often.
In the age of Big Data, many marketing, customer satisfaction and management tools need the ability to access and update your store’s customer, product and order data. This is why Magento Go offers an open Application Programming Interface (API - also referred to as ‘Web Services’). The API is like a private door to your Magento Go store’s data and enables you to use those tools, opening the door to many new possibilities.
Different Ways to Integrate Services with Your Web Store
If you have added forms to your site to subscribe customers to Mail Chimp or enable Olark for chat, you are familiar with this type of integration. However, this type of ‘integration’ is limited in nature because it can only see and communicate information that already exists either in the user’s browser (like cookie or form information), or, on the page itself. Think of it as information sitting on the surface of a web page and sending messages from there, but that cannot look beyond the page it is on.
Magento Go Connect Extensions
Extensions are what we would call ‘deep integration’ because they actually change the way the Magento Go software operates, by adding capabilities to your Store Administration in some cases. Currently there are just over a dozen extensions available for Magento Go in Magento Connect and some are free. A great example is M2E Pro, which allows you to push your store listings out to the eBay marketplace.
Magento Go’s API is based on the core Magento API and offers some outstanding features that most competitors simply cannot match.
- • Open. Magento publishes documentation for free on the web about how to request and send data to Magento stores. It also uses accepted standards for communicating data over the internet that software developers are already familiar with. Developers who create new and exciting services for merchants use this information to create a communication channel between Magento Go stores and their applications. Many other eCommerce platforms use ‘closed’ APIs and require a lengthy qualification process before a developer is even allowed to request information from stores on their platforms. The closed approach stifles innovation.
- • Secure. In order to connect an external service to your store, you have to create a Web Services account for it in your Magento Go Store Administration panel. You have complete control over the type of information you want to share and you can revoke sharing privileges at any time.
- • Stable. While this seems obvious, it is surprising how many APIs in software-as-a-service platforms fail frequently. Magento Go’s has proven to be extremely reliable from the start.
A number of services already plug into Magento Go’s API and are easy to integrate because of it, including:
- • Shipping solutions like ShipStation, ShipRush, ShipWire and other services actually allow you to print postage or delivery labels from couriers.
- • T-hub, an accounting service that shares information between Magento Go and Quickbooks.
- • GoDataFeed, a shopping comparison site feed manager.
This just scratches the surface. We will talk about these services and others in more detail over the next few posts, but we hope you can begin to see new possibilities you may not have considered.
In addition to existing services, you may have customized needs for reporting, order management, accounting, or other functions. Many of the Magento Go Pros can build cost-efficient solutions for you to streamline your operations or bring your marketing ideas to life by utilizing the power of the API.
And, once you discover the power of the Magento Go API, you may just find it addicting!
In this month’s webinar, Paul Byrne, President of Razoyo, shared some powerful features available to merchants on Magento Go. He discussed benefits of the top 10 underused features that can help merchants increase their store’s profitability and showed some examples for each. Following are some of the features that are covered in the webinar.
- Customizing buttons, page links and other on-page text with the layout text editor
- Using the CSS editor for quick touch-ups
- Using CMS page hierarchies to add navigable content
Purpose of This Webinar
To help merchants extract the most benefits from their core Magento Go features that drive business and improve customer satisfaction.
- Presentation Slides – Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.
Razoyo is a Magento Go Pros partner. They help merchants set up their stores, manage their stores and solve business problems. Razoyo accomplishes this through services performed, training, and consultation. Their services are designed and priced to meet the needs of Magento Go merchants and require neither contracts nor minimum commitments.