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My cranberry experience was one of the worst online shopping experiences I have had this year! And it did make me realize that it’s a big step for any business, and perhaps an even bigger step for their customers, to make online shopping the only option. The question arises; should e-commerce be the only option? And what about the customers who don’t use computers; yes, they still exist; do they just fall by the wayside? How is your cranberry customer experience?

This is a real life story:

The company which sells the best dried cranberries is Davis Lewis Orchards. The customer was my neighbor Mary Anne, who though she inherited her partner’s MacBook, only reads the news, and surfs modestly, and even today does not do email or any online ordering! She insists on a live person and telephone contact, and when asked for her email, smiles and says “Hello?” There is a segment of the population, usually over “a certain age” that does not use computers as we do. I’ve been doing email for close to 20 years and e-commerce for almost as long; in fact I tested some of the first e-commerce websites as a beta customer!

Mary Anne had been ordering dried cranberries by phone from competitors for years, but when she called Davis Lewis Orchards she was told “only online ordering”. Not using a computer for email or online ordering, she was dead in the water; so I told her that the first time she needed to order cranberries online I would take care of it, but in future I’d show her how to do the ordering process herself. I think the incentive and stakes are high enough for her to learn (she loves cranberries), and anyway I’ll still be available to help.

I searched Google for Davis Lewis Orchards, and found the 5lb bags of cranberries, and added one bag to my shopping cart. I filled out the usual form, billing and shipping address (twice, as the form did not remember my input) and when the shipping costs came to $18.00 for a $17.00 bag of cranberries, I hesitated and called Mary Anne. She decided that if 2 bags cost the same shipping, she could go for it and this would tide her over to find another supplier who did not have such exhorbitant shipping costs.

In order to change the quantity to 2 bags, I returned to the website and updated the order to 2 (so I thought) then I went through the checkout process again, and as the shipping charges appeared to be OK, I concluded the transaction. When the email arrived confirming the order, I noticed it had not updated to the 2 bags and shipping was still $18. I tried to cancel the order; not happening! Next I called their 800 number and got a live person, though by then it was Friday afternoon. The 800 customer service person was unable to help, but she took my message: ”2 bags, only if shipping is still $18.00, otherwise cancel the order!” She informed me that nothing could be done until Monday when the person who processed the orders would be back in the office and would call me.

Monday morning I received an email from Diane at Davis Lewis Orchards, the order for one bag and $18.00 shipping had been processed. Uh oh…. I called Diane and the fact that she answered and knew what was going on made up for a lot of the negative customer experience to that point. A live person can do that!

Diane had not received my message from her 800 service. Not a good thing! Next I found out that 2 bags of cranberries would be $36 shipping!!! Now I was ready to cancel, but then Diane mentioned that orders over $50 get free shipping! I had not seen this  mentioned anywhere on the website! So now I changed the order to 3 bags and free shipping. But Diane was unable to make this order change for me! She said I needed to go back to the website and cancel my original order (which I had previously been unable to do). She finally agreed to cancel my order at her end. I waited and waited, as she had difficulty doing the cancellation herself, and then she suggested she call me back; which she did after about 30 minutes; original order finally cancelled.

I then returned to the website, put three bags in the cart, filled out the forms (fourth time!) and voila(!) estimated shipping now gave me the free shipping option; first time I had seen it, end of order story. The buying process thus far had taken me close to two hours including the phone calls, and made it quite clear to me that teaching Mary Anne to order from that particular website is going to be a challenge, since things were not the least bit intuitive, even for me, an online ordering veteran.

What should companies like Davis Lewis Orchards consider to keep their customers, and make the transition to online ordering a viable option:

1- Consider having more than only the online ordering option.
The reason Diane gave why the were focused on “only” online ordering was that they had no payment option available to them for phone orders; which I translated into: they didn’t have an “affordable” telephone credit card option. I’m sure there are payment companies that have options for companies like Davis Lewis Orchards to take credit cards by phone, and not be killed by high processing fees. Maybe some of you can mention these payment options in the comments below.

2 – Consider a visual timeline for step-by-step ordering.
To accommodate new customers and those grooved into “phone” ordering, give a step-by-step visual help process (guidelines), which takes you through the ordering procedure from soup to nuts (or cranberries). Visual timelines with numbered progress steps would have been very useful for me as a first time visitor to David Lewis Orchards.

3 – Consider accommodating those unaccustomed to online ordering.
Think through all the aspects of your website that will make it user friendly to those new to online ordering. I don’t want to find out about free shipping for orders over $50 at the last moment. I don’t want to fill out my billing and shipping information 4 times. Consider retaining a customer experience consultant to go through the process with you from the customer’s point of view.

4 – Consider having an 800 helpline that really helps.
I know Diane was perturbed when I asked her if she had received the message I left on Friday, and she realized she hadn’t! It’s unlikely a small company with comparatively small 800 usage will have round the clock trained personal to help customers and take orders, so they retain services that accommodate multiple customers, who naturally are unfamiliar with every product. However, not passing on a message is inexcusable.

I personally will not return to a website where I have an annoying or time consuming experience finding information or ordering a product. Your customers need to leave your website with their goals quickly and easily accomplished (whether purchase or finding information), and they need to look forward to returning again. This is some insight on designing a website I wrote about, which many small businesses and companies have used to get started. 12 Most Useful Insights Every Designer Needs to Know About People.

Small business online does not have the infrastructure capabilities of the big guys like Amazon, however it can be a learning experience to go through their seamless ordering process, and do your best to replicate it.

If you take it from the customer experience point of view, which means understanding your customers, even those unaccustomed to online ordering, or those visiting your website for the first time, you will be well on your way to designing a website experience which will keep loyal customers and attract new ones.

The post was first seen on Designing Success as How is Your Cranberry Customer Experience?


About Our GE Network Expert - CASUDI Caroline Di Diego

Caroline Di Diego is a social media whisperer inspiring brands and communities to find their social voice via new media. Casudi has 25+ years of experience helping grow companies from concept/chaos to fundable and profitable. She is the creator of the successful Entrepreneurs Questions EQlist.


Closeup of crayon tips.

During a recent copywriting consulting call with a new client, we discussed her primary concern: having good traffic, but no sales. I’ve seen this a thousand times before. Usually, what I find is a site filled with content that is chock-full of keyphrases and sounds stupidly repetitive. The solution is easy: Write natural-sounding, persuasive SEO copy that entices customers to buy. But this client’s site didn’t fit the stereotype.

The home-page copy needed some work, but it wasn’t awful. The category and sub-category pages had no copy at all that needed to be fixed. The product descriptions were canned (straight from the manufacturer). While that’s definitely not the best way to go for several reasons, it’s not a death sentence. But still, for a site – even a brand-new one – to have several hundred unique visitors a week and not one sale was frustrating.

We looked at some stats. Low bounce rate, high number of pages viewed per visit, acceptable length of time spent on the site. The rankings left something to be desired, but they’d come along soon enough with a few tweaks and some linking.

As we clicked our way through the site’s pages, it became clear. This site suffered from a common curse among e-commerce resellers: lack of differentiation.

Why Should I Buy From You?

Generally speaking, most grocery stores carry nearly the same things. So how did you decide to shop at the one you frequent most? Chances are it was because of the store’s location. Online, we don’t have that advantage.

When e-commerce resellers carry the same exact items as hundreds or thousands of other sites, comparison shoppers have a difficult time deciding whom to buy from. Most often, it falls to price. Since my client wasn’t branding her site to be the cheapest, she had lost the location and the price advantage.

After searching through dozens of websites offering the same products, the surfer had no way to answer their most burning question: Why should I buy from you?

Identifying Differentiation Points

As our tour continued, I asked questions – lots of questions – in an effort to help my client find ways she was different and/or better than her competition.

> > Do you offer free shipping or reduced shipping (with or without a minimum order)?

She did, but that wasn’t stated visibly on her site. There’s one differentiating item. Online shoppers love free shipping.

> > Do you hold any promotions?

She did, but that also wasn’t clearly stated. She made a note to draw attention to her promotion on the home page.

> > Do you offer quantity discounts?

She did, but the link to the copy that explained the discounts was rather hidden. We discussed adding a few words of copy right by the price to let visitors know discounts were available.

> > Can you tell me about the wish list feature? What happens after someone adds products to their wish list?

She didn’t know, so we went through the process together and created a plan for strategically placed copy that would entice visitors to add items to their wish lists. We then discussed the particulars of creating copy for an autoresponder series that would follow up with people who had created a wish list, but never ordered.

When our hour was up, we had identified several actionable steps for her to work on to differentiate her site from her competitors. Of course, they’ll all need to be tested to see which works best to achieve her goals. But for now she’s busy tweaking and tracking instead of scratching her head.

Need some proven strategies for boosting the search rankings & sales of your ecommerce site? You’ll find them in Karon’s new course “Ecommerce Copywriting”.

Karon Thackston

About Our GE Network Expert - Karon Thackston

Karon Thackston is President of Marketing Words (, a full-service copywriting agency specializing in web and search engine copywriting. She has over 25 years combined experience in marketing, advertising, copywriting and SEO copywriting. Karon has a strong understanding of the processes involved with creating successful advertising strategies.


Article Contributed by Lori Wagoner

We are all victims of doing what is being told. It just seems like it’s the easiest thing to do. It also appears to be the most natural thing to do.

It’s just a drill. It’s like all those parents preaching kids to study hard, get a job, get married, raise children, and grow old gracefully.

There’s nothing wrong with that advice, except that you never asked the kinds what they really wanted. If it’s lot of money that kid wants to make, a job is the wrong path. If the kid is a natural loner and prefers it that way, marriage can be a nightmare.

See where this is going? Everyone dishes out advice without really thinking about – or at least asking you – about what you want.

Thanks to that thing called the internet, this advice is now everywhere. Including business advice.

So, what’s the first thing you hear when you say you want to start a business?

A business plan, that’s what. We’ll see if it’s good advice or bad advice. We’ll also assume that you are starting your business for one thing that most businesses are out there for: profits.

Here’s why business plans can actually kill your business:

You made a business plan for what?

If you are like most businesses, you create that business plan in the hopes that you can attract funds to help you launch and run your business. You’d present the business plan to family, friends, and potential co-founders or partners. You’d pitch the sustainability of your business to a bank, a non-banking lending institution, or potential investors.

But when was raising funds a good idea in the first place? Lending institutions will watch your business like hawks and investors come snapping at you like sharks. In most cases, you give up equity and you are at their whim.

Also, there are numerous instances of people who did raise money “without” a business plan. Here’s Rob May who raised funds for his startup Backupify without a business plan, while drinking beer.

What if you wanted complete control on your business and what if you wanted to “bootstrap” it?

Business plans are scripted. Is your business scripted too?

So you sit and think. For hours, days, weeks even. Then you’d put everything you know on paper. You’d do sales forecasts, finalize systems, and design processes and workflows. You’d include hiring plans, financing ideas, and a lot more.

So, what happens next? You’d ideally start your business. You’d try to follow the plan; you’d set things in motion.

The trouble is that we aren’t operating in a vacuum here. You start of well but rarely do things go as planned. Things change quickly. There are too many externalities out there for you to battle with.

It could also turn out that you might realize that a viable market for your business doesn’t even exist. So, you might have to pivot. Change courses. Change everything.

So what happens to your business plan? You’d need Plan B, C, D, or maybe no plan at all. You might just have to improvise and fly without a handle.

Suddenly your business plan doesn’t sound so sexy after all, does it? 

Business plans are an opportunity cost

Paul B. Brown of puts it right: in the time you take to do a business plan:

  • You are still out of the market.
  • You are looking to convince instead of looking for “fit.”
  • You are giving others an opportunity to race ahead.
  • You are barely noticing the market that’s changing.
  • Meanwhile, there’s no revenue. No cash flow. Nothing else to show for it.

Planning time could be selling time

How long did you take to create your business plan? What happens when you use this time to go out and actually get some paying customers? What if you decide to go against the grain and hustle to get paying customers (not free birds, beta testers, or enthusiasts)?

This is time better spent. Also, paying customers give you the best, most actionable feedback compared to friends, family, and strangers you managed to get on social media to “try” your new product, before launch.

Finally, selling instead of planning helps you get into the flow and helps you decide if entrepreneurship is the best thing for you.

Planning distracts you from execution

Businesses fail, all the time. We all know that. We also rally around everywhere we go that “it’s not about the idea; it’s about the execution.” Why then do we labor so much on making plans that are likely to be changed soon? Why script something when you have to improvise anyway?

Business plans, on top of it, stifle creativity. These documents, spreadsheets and presentations kill any hope of your improvisation, standing on your feet to think, and deflect you from thinking about creative solutions to absolute certain problems that’ll pop up sooner or later.

Execution is critical to success. You’ll probably fail in spite of that.

Planning is good. So do spend a day with planning. Business plans can be on the back of your tissue or as a scribbled note on Evernote. For all that matters, it could be in your head or on the beach sand.

Business plans do have a purpose. But dwelling too much on just “planning” without doing something constructive isn’t going to help at all. You could be planning all your life and you could be “planning to fail.”

One quick way to know if your business succeeds or fails is to launch quickly. Get paying customers, and then work your way up from there.

Product or site launch is so simple today. Services and platforms like Shopify make it easy for you to set up a whole ecommerce store complete with templates with responsive design, point of sale systems integrated with mobile devices, credit card processing with no waiting times, shipping and customer service options, and everything else you need. Then what’s with the big “preparation” for the launch?

You could write a business plan after you make enough to do nothing maybe?

Think about it.

About the Author

Lori Wagoner is an independent content strategist who gives online marketing advice to small businesses. Lori has blogged at Tweak Your Biz, The Social Media Hat and many other business and tech blogs. You can reach her @LoriDWagoner on Twitter.


Article Contributed by Conrad Ford

Business overdrafts will always have a role to play in the financial workings of small and start-up companies in every conceivable sector. These days though, banks are far less willing than they once were to open up these facilities to even the most viable and reliable of fledgling companies.

Thankfully, alternative funding options are increasingly being made available in response to the need among small businesses for a greater measure of financial flexibility. Here are 4 such options well worth considering if your company needs to boost its cash flow but cannot access an overdraft facility:

1 – Asset refinancing

If you’ve invested in or managed to acquire equipment of any sort that carries considerable value then cash flow problems can be particularly frustrating and tough to bear. By refinancing these assets, your company can free up cash in the short term by effectively selling their ownership and agreeing to hire them back at a pre-determined price. Quite what assets you might refinance will depend on your line of operations but could include, for example, a fleet of vehicles, an item of heavy machinery or an area of office space.

2 – Factoring and invoice discounting

One asset that is often overlooked by small businesses but which can now be leveraged in a variety of ways to raise cash quickly is a company’s sales book. The processes of invoice factoring and discounting are both growing in prevalence and popularity as a means through which small companies can effectively sell their invoices to third parties and access cash upfront without having to wait for clients to pay in full. The terms involved in these kind of scenarios vary a great deal but the process of selling invoices is already helping hundreds of businesses raise funds quickly when they have an urgent need to do so.

3 – Revenue loans

Banks have become more reluctant to extent lines of credit or loans to small businesses in many different parts of the world in recent years. One solution to emerge in response to that situation in the context of retailing in particular is revenue loans, which are created in a way that means they’re paid back in line with income on a monthly basis. For many small companies, these terms help create a crucial degree of financial flexibility and keep repayments from becoming routinely burdensome.

4 – Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has been one of the more remarkable small business financing developments to have emerged in recent years and its potential is still far from being fully realised. Already the phenomena, along with peer-to-peer lending, is helping hundreds of small businesses around the world raise funds online in ways that simply weren’t possible only a few years ago. Crowdfunding won’t work for every type of business but there is certainly scope for many thousands more small companies to generate cash through online platforms and based on the strength of their appeal to low-equity investor communities.

Every developed economy needs its small business sector to thrive and access to finance will always play a big hand in making that happen. So even where banks have retreated from the small business and start-up sector, there is plenty of optimism and certainly a growing sense that alternative options are available and on the rise.

About the Author

Conrad Ford is the founder of Funding Options, which provides a range of online tools to help firms and their trusted advisers to manage funding and cash flow.


Fundraising for Your Startup

Posted by Marcel Sim in Finance & Capital


Article Contributed by Ronny Cheng

Fundraising for your startup can be one of the most important and stressful times. When done right, it can lead to partnerships with angel investors and venture capitalists  that lead to millions of dollars to grow your business. If done wrong, it can lead you down a long road where you begin to second-guess your business and model.

Raising funds for your business takes a lot of planning, a lot of patience, and a significant amount of time preparing pitch decks and financial models.

So how exactly do you start to fundraise for your startup?

The Pitch

Well, regardless of whether you’re getting seed funding or going for series A, you always need to have the perfect pitch. The trick to having the right pitch is to keep it short and sweet, and most of all, be passionate. Don’t worry about providing too many statistics, just remember to tell your story and include the details listed below:

  • What your company does
  • What problems or pain points your product solves
  • Have you created technology for this?
  • What’s the size and level of competition in the market?
  • And most importantly, why will people love your product?

Mastering your pitch is the first step to raising capital for your startup. Funny story, I once spoke to a CEO who said that vacations were his best testing grounds for his pitch. He would sit at the hotel bar and just pitch to random strangers. By gauging the interest and excitement he got from these strangers, he would know that his pitch was heading in the right direction.

The Pitch Deck

Did you think all you would need to get together is your pitch and you’d get thousands or millions of dollars thrown your way? Wrong. After you get your pitch together, you need to carefully assemble your pitch deck. A Pitch deck is a very important fundraising tool. Examples of a good format for a pitch deck can be found all over the web. However, Forbes has a great breakdown here. They break it down into 11 basic slides for your pitch deck.

  1. Vision/ Elevator Pitch
  2. Traction / Validation
  3. Market Opportunity
  4. The Problem
  5. Product / Service
  6. Revenue Model
  7. Marketing and Growth Strategy
  8. Team
  9. Financials
  10. Competition
  11. Investment ‘Ask’

Pitch decks are great tools for raising capital for your startup, and are a great way to segue to and from introductions.  You’ll need to leverage your connections and have them provide brief information about your company, as well as your pitch deck. This allows investors to quickly scan what it is you do, and decide whether it’s worth actually meeting you.

As you present to more and more investors, your pitch deck will become your best friend. You’ll carry your pitch deck with you wherever you go, and constantly nitpick at little details.

Article Contributed by Ronny Cheng, Carkibo, The Best and Easiest Way to Sell Your Car.

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