Is Shopify Easy To Use?

is shopify easy to use

If you’ve ever visited Shopify’s website, you know that ease of use is their number one marketing claim. But does that claim have any merit? Is this app as intuitive as they say?

As software reviewers who have tested over 40 eCommerce solutions over the years (many of them repeatedly!), we can confidently say that Shopify is indeed one of the most user-friendly shopping cart solutions on the market. In particular, Shopify is well designed for merchants with very little technical know-how.

Shopify makes it easy to set up an online store, add products, and tweak your site’s look and feel so that you can focus your energy on building your business instead of building your website.

In this post, we’ll give you a breakdown of a few frequently used features and design tools, complete with screenshots of Shopify’s admin panel. Keep reading to see if Shopify’s usability fits your experience level and business needs.

Signing Up For Shopify

The best way to experience Shopify’s usability is to actually take the software for a test drive. Shopify offers a totally free, no commitment required 14-day trial, which you can sign up for at any time. To create your account, all you have to do is provide your email address and answer a few questions about your business’s size and industry.

You’ll then be sent an email with login information, and you’ll be able to access your Shopify dashboard:

While Shopify does not provide a formal tutorial, they do list a few setup steps on your initial dashboard page. You can either choose to complete those actions now or find them on your own later.

We recommend you play around a bit with the “Add Product” and “Customize Theme” pages to get a general feel for Shopify’s functions. To start setting up your online store, head over to the “Settings” tab on the bottom left.

Adjusting Settings

From the Settings tab of the app, you can add payment processors, tax information, and shipping preferences. You’ll also be able to make changes to checkout, sales channels, account permissions, and more.

Calculating Taxes

Correctly collecting sales tax for online orders can be tricky business. Every state, county, and municipality has its own rules and regulations regarding sales tax, and trying to comply by all those rules can be maddening. Shopify makes this process a bit easier by keeping all those important calculations in one place.

In the setup process, you can decide how you collect taxes for shipments, including international shipments.

When it comes to domestic shipping rates, you can ask Shopify to handle all the tax calculations based on your business’s location(s). Input your State and zip code, and Shopify will present a range of tax rates based on all the locations in which you have tax liability (called “nexus”).

If you’d like to see those taxes more specifically, click on that range (highlighted in blue) and see details for each city.

Select Shipping Options

There are a variety of ways Shopify merchants can go about calculating shipping rates. You can, for example, integrate with your favorite shipping software app (like ShippingEasy or ShipStation) or you can subscribe to Shopify’s highest pricing plan to use your own negotiated rates with popular shipping carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx. One of the most popular options, however, is to simply use Shopify Shipping to calculate rates and purchase and print shipping labels.

Shopify Shipping provides connections with DHL, USPS, and UPS. You can purchase shipping labels online and have those labels print in bulk from thermal or desktop printers. And now, you can even purchase those labels from your mobile device. What’s more, Shopify Shipping has partnered with shipping carriers to provide you with discounted shipping rates, depending on your Shopify plan.

To start using Shopify Shipping, click “Edit” under the “Shipping Zones” option on your Shipping page in settings.

You’ll then be redirected to this page where you can select carriers (such as USPS) and services (such as Priority Mail). These options will then be automatically available to your customers, and you will be able to purchase and print shipping labels for these services. Pretty easy, huh?

So far, I can only see one potential issue with Shopify Shipping and, depending on your business, it could be a big one. Shopify Shipping will only display calculated rates according to the dimensions you list for your “Default Package.” That means that all shipments, no matter their actual size, will be treated as the same size.

If you sell products that are a wide range of sizes, calculated rates with Shopify Shipping might not be the best option. You may instead consider integrating with a third-party shipping solution to handle that aspect of your fulfillment.

Connect With Payment Solutions

To process payments, just select your preferred payment processor or payment gateway from the drop-down menu on the correct page in Settings.

Shopify also offers their own payment gateway, called Shopify Payments. If you choose to use Shopify Payments to accept credit card payments, Shopify will waive their transaction fees (which range from 0.5%-2.0%, depending on your pricing plan).

Note: I have seen many complaints online targeting Shopify Payments. Merchants say that while it’s easy to be initially accepted to the processor, your account may be canceled further down the road when Shopify gets around to reviewing your site. I’ve also seen complaints that say Shopify Payments withholds money from merchants. Keep these complaints in mind as you look into your options.

Adding Products

Creating new products is a simple process. Head over to the “Products” tab and click “Add a Product.” You’ll then be taken to a page like this:

Here you can input basic information like price, inventory totals, and images. You can also write product descriptions on this page and use tags and categories to organize items. Toward the bottom of the page, you can add shipping information, like weight, and list tariff code. You are also presented with the option to add variants.

If you choose to add product variants (size and color, etc.), you’ll be redirected to a new page where you can enter variant-specific information such as weight, inventory, and price. Notice, however, that there is no field available to enter product dimensions, which may result in less accurate shipping calculations.

Once you’ve added this information, the basic “Add a Product” page will change to reflect new variants. You will now be required to edit all weights, prices, and shipping information on variant pages instead of the main product page.

Managing Inventory

You can either manage inventory on individual product pages or in the “Inventory” tab in the admin.

Set quantities for each variant, and set low stock notifications to make sure you always have items on hand when customers want them.

Creating Promotions

Use Shopify’s “Discounts” tab to create coupons and discounts for your site. You can make these discounts specific to select categories or products, and you can set minimum purchase requirements. You can also make discounts only available to certain customer groups and set active dates for the promotion. Discounts can be fixed amounts, percentages, free shipping, and Buy X Get Y.

You can also promote your store through order confirmation emails, abandoned cart notifications, and other email marketing strategies. Use HTML design tools to modify the email templates that Shopify provides.

Editing Site Design

This app is designed for sellers who have little to no technical experience. Shopify works to make all of their customization tools accessible to beginners, including website design. You don’t have to know a lick of code to edit the look and feel of your site (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt!).

Most merchants begin the site design process by selecting a theme from Shopify’s vast marketplace. There, you can find a range of mobile responsive themes that are priced between $0-$180. It’s a good idea to start out with a free theme and move on to a more sophisticated theme once you get the hang of the editing tools.

Shopify provides a few options for editing your theme. The easiest option is Shopify’s drag and drop feature: Sections.

Using Sections, you can add and rearrange blocks of content. For example, you can add a featured products display, a map, and an image gallery on your homepage. Then, just drag those elements around until the site looks how you envisioned.

Sections is currently only available on select pages and with select themes.

Although Sections is great for those with little know-how, merchants who are looking to customize many elements of their design may find it too limiting. For those merchants, there is also a code editor available. Edit using Shopify’s Liquid templating language, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Final Thoughts

If there ever was a long answer to a short question, this article is one of them!

In short: Yes, Shopify is very easy to use!

Get Started With Shopify

The post Is Shopify Easy To Use? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

7 Shopify Dropshipping Apps

Dropshipping is the sweetest gig in eCommerce, and sellers and advertisers everywhere sing its praises. They claim all you have to do is select the most profitable dropshipping products, and the dollars will roll on in. And while we are skeptical of these claims (check out our article 7 Reasons To Rethink Drop Shipping), for some merchants — particularly those who have done their research, found a dropshipping niche, and sell products in a traditional way as well — dropshipping really does work.

Just run a quick search on YouTube, and you’ll find dozens of videos from bold teenagers who have made tens of thousands of dollars running dropshipping sites. If you look closer at some of these videos, you’ll find another commonality: most of these dropshipping success stories came about on the Shopify platform.

Shopify (read our review) is one of the most popular shopping carts in the eCommerce industry, especially for US and Canadian merchants. Shopify specializes in ease of use and simple, sleek design.

As a SaaS (software as a service) platform, Shopify manages the technical aspects of operating an online store, including the hosting and site security. You’re only responsible for designing your site, adding content, and fulfilling orders. Shopify users benefit from simple daily operations and 24/7 access to a support team.

And if you choose to dropship with Shopify, your business operations will be simplified one step further. By following the dropshipping model, you essentially outsource your whole fulfillment process to your suppliers. When a customer places an order on your site, instead of picking, packing, and shipping the product yourself, you place an identical order with your supplier. The supplier will then ship the product directly to your customer. The product never reaches your hands.

If you’d like, you can go about this dropshipping process manually. For every order on your site, you head over to your chosen marketplace–often sellers use AliExpress–and place the order again.

Or, you could make the process more automatic with an app from the Shopify marketplace. Shopify dropshipping apps let you connect your store to one or more supplier marketplaces. Products will be easier for you to add to your site, and the fulfillment process will be much simpler (in some cases, you just need to click “Place Order” to fulfill).

In this article, we’ll be covering seven of the best dropshipping apps for Shopify users. We’ve rated these apps based on their popularity and overall star ranking on the Shopify marketplace. Take a look at each individual app for more information on their pricing, features, and pros and cons.

To learn more about dropshipping with Shopify, take a look at the official Shopify dropshipping guide. This series includes plenty of great insights into how to start dropshipping on Shopify.

Get Started With Shopify

 

1) Oberlo

Oberlo is one of the most popular dropshipping apps for Shopify, which is why we’re including it first. The Oberlo app approaches dropshipping in two different ways. They allow users to link their Shopify accounts to AliExpress, and they provide their own product catalog from which merchants can select and sell products.

With this app, sellers are able to quickly add products to their Shopify stores and easily place orders with suppliers.

Pricing

Oberlo prices their services based on the number of orders you want to fulfill each month. The highest-level plan will also give you access to advanced features and multiple user seats. Take a look at pricing below:

Starter Plan: Free

  • Up To 50 Orders/Month
  • Shipment Tracking
  • Order Monitoring

Basic Plan: $29.90/Month

  • Up To 500 Orders/Month
  • Shipment Tracking
  • Order Monitoring

Pro Plan: $79.90

  • Unlimited Orders
  • Multiple Users
  • Multiple Sales Channels
  • Advanced Features

Features

Oberlo includes features that allow for automation of dropshipping fulfillment. Take a look at their full feature list on Oberlo’s website or view my abbreviated list below:

  • Import Dropship Products: Find and add products from AliExpress and the Oberlo Marketplace.
  • Fulfill Orders Automatically: All you have to do is click “Order Product” and then confirm.
  • Automatic Updates: Oberlo automatically transfers inventory and price updates from your chosen marketplace (Oberlo or AliExpress) to your Shopify store.
  • Edit Product Listings: Customize product titles, descriptions, and images.
  • Order Tracking: Find out where your shipments are in the delivery process.
  • Multiple Users: Available on the Pro plan. Let multiple employees access your Oberlo account at the same time.

The Oberlo app has received significant praise for its ease of use and ability to streamline the process of uploading new products to a Shopify page. Some users have reported difficulties with getting the app to transfer orders from their store to their suppliers. However, these complaints are very much the minority.

In Short…

Oberlo + Shopify is one of the most popular combinations for dropshipping merchants. If you haven’t looked into Oberlo yet, you should do so now. Check out Oberlo’s page in the Shopify marketplace and then take a look at Oberlo’s website for more information.

2) Spocket

Spocket is a dropshipping marketplace that lets you add products from US, European, and Canadian sellers. Spocket vets these dropship wholesalers to ensure that they offer quality products and customer service. You can benefit from discounts on niche products in the Spocket marketplace and features like automated order fulfillment.

Learn more about Spocket below:

Pricing

Spocket offers a free plan for merchants who choose to include dropship 25 or fewer products. If you’d like to list more products, you’ll have to subscribe to a paid plan.

Free Forever

  • Unlimited Orders
  • 25 Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing

Pro: $29/Month

  • Unlimited Orders
  • 250 Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing
  • Premium Products
  • Branded Invoicing

Empire: $199/Month

  • Unlimited Orders
  • Unlimited Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing
  • Premium Products
  • Branded Invoicing

Features

Take a look below at a few of the features that come included with every Spocket plan or view their webpage for more detailed information:

  • Products Ship Quickly: You can expect products to ship within 5-7 day (or 2-5 days locally). This may not seem fast in relation to Amazon Prime, but compared to many dropshipping suppliers, it is speedy.
  • One-Click Fulfillment: Place orders with your suppliers with just one click.
  • Discounted Products: Spocket offers a 30%-60% discount on all products to give you a higher profit margin.
  • Branded Invoices: Customize your invoices and add your logo.
  • Inventory Updates: Make sure you only sell products suppliers have on hand.

Merchants are big fans of those branded invoices; your customers will receive a branded insert in their shipments with your store’s logo. Merchants also like that Spocket is easy to use and features many desirable products. Some merchants, however, are discouraged by the amount of “Premium Products,” which you must pay to access. Spocket can also be difficult to contact at times, especially in their role as a supplier.

In Short…

If you’re looking to find good products quickly, look no further. Spocket has done much of the grunt work on your behalf. Sign up for a free plan to take a look at what they have to offer. Visit Spocket’s page in the Shopify marketplace or view Spocket’s website to learn more.

3) Spreadr

Spreadr is different from the above apps because, in addition to providing a connection to a marketplace, Spreadr allows merchants to bring in affiliate income.

Use Spreadr to import products from Amazon to your Shopify store, and either dropship those products or market them in exchange for a commission.

The best part of Spreadr’s affiliate program is that you don’t just get a commission on the products you market. You will also receive commision on all products visitors click on or purchase when they come through your site.

You should know, however, that you cannot use Spreadr to fill an entire online store. To qualify for this app, you must first fill your site with original content, whether that be products, posts, or reviews.

Pricing

Spreadr offers their application at one flat rate: $5.00/Month.

Try out the app for free with a 7-day Free Trial.

Features

Because Spreadr’s services are available at one rate, all merchants can expect to access the same features, no matter what. Take a look at Spreadr’s site for more info, or view my list below:

  • One-Click Upload: To upload a new product, just copy-paste the Amazon product URL and click “Add.”
  • Customize Product Descriptions: Make changes to product descriptions, optimize for SEO, and customize product titles.
  • Commissions: Make up to a 10% commission on all purchases (including purchases customers make on products you don’t list).
  • Use Amazon For Dropshipping: Instead of collecting commision, you can choose to use Amazon as a dropshipping source. Or, you can collect orders and fulfill them yourself.
  • Seamless Look: Amazon products appear on your site just like your own products. The only difference is that instead of an “Add to Cart” button there will be a “View on Amazon” button.
  • Locally Stored Product Information: Store product images and information on your Shopify website in order to resize images and display information faster.
  • Enable Auto-Sync: Automatically update price and inventory levels to match Amazon.
  • Bulk Import: Import thousands of Amazon products in minutes.

Spreadr users love that the affiliate program is quick and easy to implement. While some merchants have a bit of trouble setting up their site, the vast majority are able to get things working very quickly.

In Short…

Spreadr is a great way to start Amazon dropshipping on your Shopify store or to just make a buck from commissions. Try out a free 7-day trial by signing up on their page in the Shopify marketplace or read more on the Spreadr website.

4) AliExpress Dropshipping

This app from Appfreaker does exactly what you might anticipate. AliExpress Dropshipping for Shopify lets merchants easily import items from AliExpress and order those items through a semi-automated process.

The app also includes a Chrome extension that allows you to import products and edit product information as you browse.

Keep reading for more information on dropshipping with AliExpress, including pricing and features.

Pricing

AliExpress Dropshipping is available through a subscription plan, but you can try it out for free with a 7-day trial.

Take a look below at a breakdown of pricing for the application. Pricing is based on the number of items you list on your site, and each step up in pricing gives you access to more Shopify dropshipping suppliers:

Basic Plan: $5/Month

  • 5,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From AliExpress

Standard Plan: $10/Month

  • 10,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From AliExpress PLUS
    • Alibaba
    • DHgate
    • Banggood
    • Tmart
    • LightInTheBox
    • MiniInTheBox
    • Sammy Dress
    • GearBest

Pro Plan: $20/Month

  • 20,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From All Of The Above

Features

View all features on Appfreaker’s website or view a shorter list below:

  • Search Products: Search and import products within the application. Begin selling those products quickly.
  • Fulfill Orders: Take advantage of AliExpress Dropshipping’s semi-automated process. You just need to click “Order Product” and then enter payment information. Your customers’ shipping info will be imported for you.
  • Automatic Daily Updates: Update your products pricing and inventory levels as the information changes on AliExpress.
  • Chrome Extension: Take advantage of the single click import.
  • Edit Product Info: Edit product descriptions and images to better match your brand.
  • Pricing Rules: Set rules to update pricing in bulk as you import products.

Users comment frequently on how they’ve received good support from the platform. They often name specific representatives, which makes me believe they were encouraged to leave a review by the company. Nevertheless, these reviews seem to be genuine. Negative reviews include complaints that the user interface is outdated and that suppliers are slow to fulfill orders. Some customers also cite trouble with getting the app to autosync pricing information.

In Short…

AliExpress Dropshipping is not a perfect application, but it is a good one for those who want an easier way to import and sell AliExpress items. Take a look at the Shopify Marketplace for more information and to sign up for that free 7-day trial, or view their website.

5) Importify

Importify allows you to connect your Shopify site with the most popular marketplaces. These marketplaces include Amazon, Aliexpress, Etsy, Walmart, and DHgate.

You can use a Chrome extension to import products, and you’ll be able to customize product info like images, variants, and descriptions.

If you subscribe to Importify’s Gold Plan (see pricing info below), you’ll get access to semi-automatic fulfillment for Amazon, AliExpress, and DHgate.

Pricing

Importify is available on a subscription model. You can try out the software for free with a 1-day free trial. (A single day is the shortest trial period I have ever seen, and I can’t imagine you’ll get a good feel for the software in that time, but at least it’s something?)

Take a look at pricing information below. Note that the higher up you move in the pricing tiers, the more features you’ll be able to access.

Basic: $14.95/Month

  • Import Products From Less Popular Marketplaces
    • (Take A Look At Importify’s Supported Websites)
  • Shopify To Shopify Importer
  • Product Customization
  • Pricing Automation
  • Free Chrome Extension
  • 24/7 Customer Service

Premium: $27.95/Month

  • All Of The Above PLUS
  • Products Import From AliExpress & Amazon

Gold: $37.95/Month

  • All Of The Above PLUS
  • Semi-Automatic Order Fulfillment From Aliexpress, Amazon, DHgate, DropshipperUS

Features

As always, you can view a full list of features on Importify’s website. Take a look at my favorite features below:

  • Product Customization: Make products your own by editing product info like pictures, variants, product titles, and descriptions.
  • Price Automation: Set smart pricing rules so that your products are automatically priced at import.
  • Chrome Extension: Filter marketplaces to find the best products with fast delivery from trusted sellers.
  • Order Fulfillment: Available on the Gold Plan. Take advantage of semi-automatic order fulfillment.

Customers appreciate Importify’s responsive customer support. They also love that Importify gives you the ability to take your pick of multiple suppliers and marketplaces — particularly useful if you have fairly niche products that may be hard to find in one place. The biggest downside to the software is that in order to access AliExpress and Amazon, you’ll have to subscribe to a Premium or Gold Plan. What’s more, semi-automation is only available on the Gold Plan. This could make Importify one of the more expensive options, depending on your business’s needs.

In Short…

I have some concerns with Importify, mostly that you have to pay more to access AliExpress and Amazon, and only the highest level plan offers semi-automatic fulfillment. You can find these features available at a much lower cost with many of the applications I’ve already included in this list.

On the other hand, Importify allows merchants to list products from multiple marketplaces, which is a feature that’s a bit harder to find with other applications. So, if you are an eCommerce vendor who wants to include products from many different marketplaces, Importify may be the way to go. Visit the Shopify marketplace and Importify’s website for details.

6) Advanced Shipping Manager

Advanced Shipping Manager does just what its name implies. With this app, you’ll have advanced control over your dropshipping process.

Advanced Shipping Manager specializes in two areas: suppliers and shipping. Like other apps, Advanced Shipping Manager connects your Shopify account with many supplier and wholesalers. In addition, Advanced Shipping Manager gives you extensive control over shipping methods and markups.

Keep reading to learn how you can take control of the shipping aspect of your dropshipping business.

Pricing

Advanced Shipping Manager is available at one flat rate: $85/month.

Sound like a lot? I thought so too, but Advanced Shipping Manager guarantees that you will see a return on your investment within your first month on the software, or they’ll refund your first month’s subscription.

Features

Advanced Shipping Manager has quite a few features built into their software. I recommend you head over to their website for the full information. I have included a summary below:

  • Origin Zip Code For Items: Create specific shipping rules based on origin zip code, courier, and markups. You can also offer free shipping.
  • Dimensions: Set dimensions for your items to better calculate shipping rates.
  • Ship Individual Items Alone: Mark fragile items as “Ship Alone.” Set shipping costs appropriately.
  • Multi-Box Items: Set weights and dimensions for large, multi-piece products that ship in multiple boxes (like a sectional sofa).
  • Shipping Tables & Real-Time Shipping Rates: Calculate rates any way you’d like.
  • Dropshipping Markups: Set markups for products that are dropshipped.

Advanced Shipping Manager does its job well. Sellers report that the app gives them excellent control over shipping, and software is easy to set up and use. The only potential disadvantage is that the Advanced Shipping Manager’s flat rate is significantly higher than you’ll find elsewhere. (You should note, however, that that is my own personal concern. I have not seen any users complaining about price.)

In Short…

If you aren’t scared off by the $85 price tag, and you’re looking for a way to better manage your shipping, give Advanced Shipping Manager a shot. There’s a lot you can do with the application, and it just might solve your shipping woes. Learn more by going to the Shopify Marketplace and/or visiting Advanced Shipping Manager’s website.

7) Modalyst

Modalyst is a Shopify dropship integration that lets you upload products from three different marketplaces onto your Shopify site. You’ll have access to the Modalyst marketplace (which is the main purpose of the app), and you’ll be able to use a Chrome extension to upload products from Shein and Wish.com.

When you upload a product, you’ll instantly add inventory information, images, product descriptions, and pricing to your store.

Read on to learn if this app is a good integration for your store.

Pricing

Basic Plan: Free Forever

  • 25 Product Limit
  • Unlimited Orders
  • 5% Transaction Fee

Pro Plan: $45/Month

  • Unlimited Products
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Access To Shein.com, Wish.com, Modalyst Marketplace
  • 2% Transaction Fee

Premium Plan: $150/Month

  • Unlimited Products
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Access To Shein.com, Wish.com, Modalyst Marketplace
  • 1% Transaction Fee

Features

See Modalyst’s website for a full list of features. Read my own summary below:

  • Shein.com Integration: Get free standard shipping to the US on orders over $49. Learn more about the Shein.com integration.
  • Wish.com Integrations: Order forms are automatically filled out with customer info. Learn more about the Wish.com integration.
  • One-Click Add: Add products to your site quickly and easily.
  • Real-Time Product Updates: When your products are updated in your supplier’s website, they’ll be updated on your site too.
  • Customize Products: Edit product descriptions, pricing, variants, and images.
  • Pricing Rules: Set rules to price items as you add them.

Modalyst users appreciate that the app is easy to use, and they report having good experiences with customer support. The main complaint I’ve seen is that some customers have experienced inconsistencies with Wish.com, stating that there are occasional discrepancies between Wish.com’s price listings and what you actually pay.

In Short…

Before you make a paid commitment to Modalyst, I recommend you sign up for the free trial. That way, you can browse through Modalyst’s marketplace to get a better understanding of the selling potential for your site. Sign up for a free plan in Shopify’s app marketplace, or view the Modalyst website for detailed information.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to Shopify dropshipping, you have quite a few options to choose from, and each dropshipping app claims that it will help you get rich more quickly and easily than the next.

As you research Shopify dropshipping apps, take every developer’s claim with a grain of salt. Read customer reviews on each application, and sign up for any available free trial.

We recommend that you start your research with the apps we’ve included in this list. They have all been thoroughly tested by the Shopify community, and have emerged with high praise. Test one or two of these Shopify dropshipping apps, and see what a good extension can do for your ecommerce website.

Get Started With Shopify

The post 7 Shopify Dropshipping Apps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

10 Best Domain Registrars And Web Hosting Services Of 2018

domain registrars

If you’re planning to create a website, you’ve probably spent a lot of time considering how exactly you want to build it, who to hire to build it if you don’t want to build it yourself, the features and/or apps you want to include, how to monetize your site, and so on. One thing to which you may not have devoted much deliberation, however, is which domain registrar to purchase your domain from and which web host to go with.

What is a domain registrar? For those new to the technical aspects of getting a website online, a domain registrar is the service through which you reserve your site’s domain for an annual fee. Want to create a website at www.catfoodart.com? You’ll need to reserve catfoodart.com with a domain registrar first. Common domain extensions are .com, .org, .gov, .edu, etc. Most businesses will use a .com extension, though some go other routes.

What is web hosting? And how web hosts related to domain name registrars?

Importantly, a domain name registrar service is not the same thing as a web hosting service. Web hosting is the practice of storing the actual files that comprise your website on a physical server. The difference between a domain registrar and a web host is obscured by the fact that many domain registrars also offer web hosting (and vice versa). For the sake of convenience, many website owners choose to reserve a domain with the same company they use for web hosting, though there are some in the field who advise against this. Just know that despite the fact that many companies offer both domain registration and web hosting, they are, nonetheless, separate services.

What is the best domain name registrar? Who offers the most comprehensive web hosting services? Good questions! In this article, we’ll explore some of the leading domain registrars and web hosting sites.

1) BlueHost

domain registrarsBlueHost has become known as an easy-to-use domain registrar/web host and a solid choice for those seeking to get a site online for the first time. In fact, BlueHost is one of only three web hosts to receive an official recommendation from WordPress.

As BlueHost’s pricing currently stands, a .com domain will cost you $11.99 for the first year and $15.99 for all subsequent years. Unfortunately, if you want domain privacy protection so that your name, email address, phone number, and home address aren’t publicly available for doxxing, that will cost you an additional $14.88 per year.

If you decide to go with BlueHost as your web host as well as your domain registrar, you can get a domain with no extra cost. BlueHost’s hosting packages differ wildly in their pricing, as the company offers many different types of hosting, but in terms of shared hosting — the most common type of website hosting — BlueHost’s packages currently start at just $2.95/month, though this is subject to change. Furthermore, the $2.95/month Basic plan becomes more expensive if you buy your hosting package for less than a 36-month term and/or if you add on such things as domain privacy protection, SiteLock security, and BlueHost SEO tools.

Alternately, BlueHost offers WordPress-optimized hosting, cloud hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting.

If you’re interested in BlueHost as a domain registrar and/or web host, check out its offerings at its website.

Visit the BlueHost website

2) GoDaddy

GoDaddy is more than just a widely recognized brand and controversy magnet. With over 75 million domains registered for over 17 million users worldwide, GoDaddy is the world’s biggest domain registrar. Let’s take a look at just what they have to offer.

GoDaddy is known for eye-popping first-year prices. To this end, they currently advertise an extraordinary deal: you can register a .com domain for just $0.99 for the first year, renewing at $14.99/yr. However, if you want domain privacy protection — and you probably do; it’s a really good idea! — your first-year price will jump by $7.99, the cost of privacy protection for the first year (it’s $9.99 each subsequent year).

On the hosting side, GoDaddy offers a host (haha) of options, with the cheapest hosting option being their Economy shared hosting package, which goes for $2.99/month and includes a free domain for the length of your subscription before renewal. However, as with BlueHost, the $2.99/month price only applies if you lock in your subscription for 36 months. Add-ons like SSL security and website backup will boost the price further.

GoDaddy also offers a website builder called GoCentral for those who want a domain, web host, and website builder all from the same source. Read my GoDaddy GoCentral review to learn more!

To get further details on GoDaddy’s products, visit GoDaddy’s website.

Visit the GoDaddy website

3) BuyDomains

domain registrarsUnlike GoDaddy and BlueHost, BuyDomains is strictly a domain registrar. BuyDomains owns many in-demand domains, so if your desired domain is under the company’s ownership, you can simply purchase it and it will be yours. These are premium domains, however, and they typically run upwards of $500-$800 apiece.

BuyDomains also lets you register a new domain. You can buy a domain for anywhere from one year to 10 years, but the price will remain the same: $24.95 a year for a .com. Domain privacy will set you back another $9/yr. Other available add-ons include an SEO tool ($50/month), SiteLock security ($35-$120/yr), and listing your business URL at whoisbusinesslistings.com ($20/yr).

Visit BuyDomains’s site at the link below if you’re interested.

Visit the BuyDomains website

4) CloudWays

web hostingAs the name would suggest, CloudWays specializes in cloud hosting. Cloud hosting differs from shared hosting in that your site is hosted on a cluster of servers, not just one single server. Unfortunately, CloudWays doesn’t offer domain registrar services.

CloudWays’s hosting packages currently start at $10/month and top off at $1,035/month. You’ll get escalating levels of RAM, processor speed, storage, and bandwidth with each subscription level.

web hosts

With so many hosting options, it’s all the easier to select just the package you want with the features you need.

Visit the link below to find out more about CloudWays.

Visit the CloudWays website

5) Domain.com

domain registrarsDomain.com is… wait for it… an internet domain registrar! As it happens, Domain.com offers hosting as well, so the name doesn’t tell the full story. In other words, Domain.com is about more than just…domain names.

A new .com domain from Domain.com costs $9.99/yr and comes with URL forwarding, email forwarding, DNS management, and transfer lock. Domain privacy will cost you an additional $8.99 per year.

Domain.com offers a broad range of hosting options. The cheapest packages come in the form of their Basic hosting packages, which cost $3.75/month for the Linux version and $4.75/month for the Windows version. Sadly, these hosting plans don’t include the cost of registering a domain. The Deluxe hosting package, by contrast, includes hosting, a free domain name, use of Domain.com’s drag-and-drop website builder, and personalized email for $6.75/month.

Additionally, Domain.com’s VPS hosting plans start at $29.70/month.

Click the link below to get more information on Domain.com’s domain registrar services and web hosting packages.

Visit the Domain.com website

6) HostGator

domain registrarsHostGator is another internet company offering domain registrar services, web hosting, and a drag-and-drop website builder — the web trifecta. HostGator’s shared web hosting is highly regarded in the industry.

If all you want is a domain, HostGator has you covered — .com domain names will cost you $12.95 a year, though domain privacy protection will set you back an additional $14.95/yr. If it’s a hosting package you’re after, HostGator’s Hatchling plan sells for $2.75/month and includes a domain for no additional cost. HostGator’s Baby plan and Business plan both offer unlimited free domains and cost $5.95/month as things stand.

If you want hosting, a domain, and a website builder, take a look at HostGator’s Starter plan for all-in-one hosting and site-building. For $2.75/month you get a domain, hosting, and a website builder. And for $9.23/month, you can get eCommerce on top of all that with HostGator’s eCommerce plan.

For more on what HostGator has to offer, check out the company’s website below.

Visit the HostGator website

7) DreamHost

domain registrarsDreamHost is akin to HostGator in that it offers the would-be webmaster the ability to get a domain, web hosting, and a website builder from the same source.

If you’re just looking for the cheapest domain registrar you can find, DreamHost offers up solid value. A .com domain will cost you $11.95 for the first year and $13.95 each subsequent year. What makes this a great deal is the fact that domain privacy protection is included at no additional charge.

On the hosting side, DreamHost’s shared hosting plans start at $7.95 a month and includes one free domain and privacy protection. DreamHost also offers VPS hosting, dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, WordPress hosting, and WooCommerce hosting.

DreamHost’s website builder hosting package starts at $4.95/month and includes hosting and a free domain for one year. However, when the domain comes up for renewal in a year, you’ll have to pay the regular domain rate for it.

Check out DreamHost’s site below to learn more.

Visit the DreamHost website

8) FatCow

web hostingFatCow is another internet company offering the trifecta of domains, web hosting, and website building. FatCow’s website gives off something of a dated vibe, but let’s take a closer look at the company anyway!

On the domain side, you can register a new .com domain for $10.99/yr, though domain privacy will cost you another $9.99/yr. As for FatCow’s web hosting, the standard shared hosting package can be had for $4.08/month for the initial term and $12.95-$14.95/month subsequently, depending on the length of the term. A domain, a website builder, and an online store building tool are all included in the price, though domain privacy is not.

To learn more about FatCow and their web offerings, you know what to do.

Visit the FatCow website

9) iPage

web hostingLike the previous three companies I’ve mentioned, iPage offers domain registrar services and web hosting and throws in a website builder to boot. And like GoDaddy, the company offers an eye-catching introductory offer to would-be site owners.

If it’s just domain names you’re after, iPage offers .com domains at $10.99 per year, with domain privacy costing an additional $9.99 per year (renews at $12.99/yr). On the hosting side, iPage offers web hosting for just $1.99/month for the initial term. Tempting, eh? This hosting package includes unlimited domains (domain privacy is still extra though), a website builder, free email addresses and free marketing tools. However, when it renews, it will renew at the regular rate — $7.99 to $9.99 per month, depending on your chosen term length.

Check out iPage’s website if you’re intrigued.

Visit the iPage website

10) WPEngine

domain registrarsWPEngine is a web host that, unsurprisingly, focuses on one thing: managed WordPress hosting. WPEngine is not a domain registrar, so you’ll have to get a domain somewhere else.

WPEngine’s WordPress hosting options are as follows:

WPEngine’s cheapest plan goes for $35 a month and includes all the features you see above. While $35/month is significantly more expensive than the cheapest/most basic hosting plans offered by the other web hosts I’ve mentioned, it’s actually pretty competitive in the world of WordPress hosting.

Looking to take a WordPress site to the next level? Check the link below and look into WPEngine.

Visit the WPEngine website

Final Thoughts

A post like this can only scratch the surface of what’s available online in terms of domain name registration and web hosts, considering the countless such options in existence. However, by providing an overview of some of the better-rated and higher-profile companies operating in these spaces, I hope to give you an idea of what you should expect to pay for these services and what features to be on the lookout for.

The best domain registrar for your website will depend on a number of factors, including the domain extensions you want, whether you need SSL certificates, how long you intend to use your domain and whether you need to purchase an existing domain. The best web hosting service, on the other hand, will depend on your need for good customer support, whether you want eCommerce built-in, and your preference for shared servers vs VPS. Some businesses may want to find a web hosting company that offers packages for both domain registration and hosting.

Building a web presence isn’t rocket science. Just make sure to do your due diligence before signing up for a multi-year hosting/domain deal — you don’t want to be locked into an inadequate hosting arrangement!

The post 10 Best Domain Registrars And Web Hosting Services Of 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Finding accounting software is never easy. Finding nonprofit software is no walk in the park either. But finding nonprofit accounting software that you can actually afford can seem downright impossible.

Sure there are plenty of fund accounting nonprofit options, but if your organization is looking for something easier to use and more affordable, QuickBooks Online may be the perfect way to go.

While QuickBooks Online doesn’t have features that are specifically designed for nonprofits, it does have several key nonprofit integrations. With QuickBooks Online covering the accounting and a nonprofit software covering your nonprofit management, you may be able to find a great alternative to traditionally expensive, convoluted fund accounting.

In this post, we’ll cover the top four nonprofit integrations for QuickBooks Online and how to choose which nonprofit software is right for you.

Overview Of QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online (see our review) is one of the most popular accounting programs on the market — and for good reason. The software offers strong accounting, tons of features, and is completely mobile. This cloud-based accounting software has been giving other programs a run for their money since 2004, and since then, QuickBooks Online has grown to support over 2.2 million users.

What makes QuickBooks Online such a popular choice? It’s easy to use and requires very little previous accounting knowledge. It has a large feature set at an affordable price — and what features it doesn’t have are covered by 200+ integrations. While the customer service has left users wanting in the past, QuickBooks Online is working hard to improve their support.

In terms of nonprofits, QuickBooks Online doesn’t offer nonprofit-specific features. When you create your QuickBooks Online account, you can mark your company as a nonprofit, which will create a customized nonprofit chart of accounts, but that’s about it. Instead, the main benefit of using QuickBooks Online for nonprofits is the strong accounting (and the nonprofit integrations, which we’ll cover in this post).

Features

For the most part, QuickBooks Online is intuitive and its features are easy to use. QuickBooks Online covers all of the features you’d expect from an accounting software, like invoicing, estimates, contact management, expense tracking, project management, time tracking, and then some.

Best Integrations For QuickBooks Online

You’ll also find key accounting features like accounts payable, bank reconciliation, reports, and a chart of accounts.

Some of our favorite additional features include:

  • Inventory
  • Budgeting
  • Printing checks
  • Tax support
  • Client portal
  • Multi-currency support
  • Class tracking

It’s also worth noting that QuickBooks has one of the best invoicing features out there. Not only are the templates customizable and attractive, you can also autoschedule invoices to automate your billing process.

The only downside of QuickBooks Online is that some of these features are only available with the most expensive plan, and the software doesn’t support more than 25 users. See our full QuickBooks Online review for details.

Pricing

QuickBooks Offers three pricing plans ranging from $15/mo – $50/mo. Each tier gives you access to more user and features. There is a free 30-day trial if you’d like to test the software before buying.

The highest plan only supports 5 users, so you’ll have to pay extra for additional users. Payroll is also an additional $39-$99/mo depending on your plan. Luckily, QuickBooks Online often offers a discount on the Intuit website. Be sure to take advantage of this, especially because you’ll have to pay for QuickBooks Online and the nonprofit integration of your choice.

Now that you have an idea of what QuickBooks is capable of and how much it costs, let’s see how your nonprofit organization can benefit from one of the QuickBooks Online nonprofit integrations.

1) SumacBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofit organizations looking for a highly customizable nonprofit software and CRM solution.

Sumac is a locally-installed nonprofit software founded on the motto “do more good.” The software offers everything from basic CRM to pledges, course registration, auditions and submissions, and more. The best part about Sumac is that the software is incredibly customizable and can be tailored to fit your organization’s specific needs. Well, maybe the best part is that the basic CRM package is completely free. We’ll let you decide.

Features

Sumac has an incredible number of features that are relatively easy to use. The design of the locally-installed version of Sumac is less attractive than the other nonprofit software options in this post, but if you can look past the outdated UI, you’ll find that Sumac is easy to navigate.

The software begins with basic CRM features: invoicing, contact management, reporting, email marketing, donation management, event management, and time tracking. These features are included in every plan.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

You can then add these additional modules to Sumac:

  • Memberships
  • Volunteers
  • Grant management
  • Pledges
  • Ticketing
  • Reminders
  • Course registration
  • Forms
  • Tour booking
  • Proposals/prospecting
  • Auctions
  • Sales
  • Auditions and submissions
  • Job search
  • Collection management
  • Awarding grants

In general, users seem incredibly happy with the number of features they receive from Sumac. They also praise Sumac’s customer support, how easy the software is to use, and how customizable it is.

Pricing

Sumac offers four different pricing plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Each plan varies in the number of add-ons, contacts, and users available. Each plan integrates directly with QuickBooks Online to connect all of your data.

  • Bronze: The Bronze plan is free and includes all basic CRM features, email support, 1 user, and up to 500 contacts.
  • Silver: The Silver plan is $20/mo and gives you the basic CRM features, 2 add-ons, phone and email support, support for 1 user, and up to 1,000 contacts.
  • Gold: The Gold plan is Sumac’s custom pricing option where you can add the exact number of add-ons that your organization needs. It also includes the Basic CRM features, phone and email support, unlimited users, and up to 30,000 contacts.
  • Platinum: The Platinum plan is $400/mo and includes the basic CRM features, 5 add-ons, phone and email support, unlimited users, and unlimited contacts.

If you prefer cloud-based software over locally-installed software, you can upgrade to the cloud version of Sumac for an additional $25/mo.

Takeaway

Sumac is a great option for nonprofits who need a customizable software with ample features. Sumac has the only free nonprofit software option on this list and is also the only locally-installed option. If you are looking for a cheap nonprofit CRM, you can’t beat Sumac. Pair Sumac with QuickBooks Online and you may have a winner on your hands.

To learn more about Sumac, visit their website and take the software for a spin with their free trial. You can also schedule a demo of Sumac.

Get Started With Sumac

2) KindfulBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofits in need of a cloud-based nonprofit software with ample integrations. 

Kindful is a fully-featured, cloud-based nonprofit software that is used by organizations like the Special Olympics, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Habitat for Humanity. Kindful has been helping nonprofits since 2011. Their motto is “your mission is our mission” and they offer tons of features to help nonprofits succeed. The software is intuitive with a beautiful design and offers the most integrations of any nonprofit program on this list.

Features

Kindful’s UI is both appealing and easy to use. While Kindful doesn’t have quite as many unique features as Sumac, the features it does have are done well. Kindful offers contact management, donation management, event management, pledges, letters, and more.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Kindful is well-suited out to meet the needs of real nonprofit organizations. You can accept online donations and recurring donations, create contact groups, enter gifts, and email receipts automatically. There is also an unlimited number of customer donation pages, and donors receive their own Kindful login where they can view and manage their pledges and donations.

Some other great Kindful features include:

  • Donation campaigns
  • Scheduled reports
  • Activities
  • Donor analytics
  • Tax receipts
  • Activity trail

For the most part, Kindful has positive customer reviews. Users appreciate how easy the software is to use, which saves them time so they can focus on their nonprofits.  They also find the customer support team helpful and enjoy the 30+ integrations Kindful offers.

The only downside is that the software can be a bit spendy for smaller nonprofits with a large number of contacts.

Pricing

Kindful offers four different pricing plans. Each plan comes with all of the same features; the only difference is the number of contacts available. Each plan integrates with QuickBooks Online as well.

  • Up To 2,000 Contacts: $150/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 5,000 Contacts: $200/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 15,000 Contacts: $300/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 25,000 Contacts: $400/mo (billed annually)

There is no additional charge for tech support and the only payment processing fees you pay are those charge by your specific payment processing company (i.e. Stripe, PayPal, etc.).

Takeaway

Kindful’s UI and customer donations pages make it a great choice for nonprofits. The software offers great CRM features and good donor management, as well as a unique donor login feature. If integrations are important for your organization, Kindful has the most offerings out of all four programs in this post.

To learn more about Kindful, visit their site and schedule a demo. You can also see how other real-life nonprofits are using Kindful in their customer stories.

Get Started With Kindful

3) BreezeBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Small to medium-sized churches in need of church-specific nonprofit software.

There are plenty of nonprofit programs out there that churches could make work, but Breeze wanted to make a software specifically create with churches in mind. This church management software is ideal for small to medium churches. The software is cloud-based, easy to use, and — best of all — it’s affordable.

Features

Breeze offers an impressive number of features designed specifically for churches. It allows you to manage contacts, tithes, and events, as well as online giving and volunteers.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

One of the features users love most about Breeze is the children’s ministry check-in feature. Breeze allows parents to check in their children to Sunday school and even lets you print name labels. You can also create custom forms to suit your church’s needs.

Church members get their own Breeze login where they can view their statements and donate online.

Other Breeze features include:

  • Event registration
  • Contact groups
  • Built-in emailing and texting
  • Donation tracking
  • Reports
  • Year-end statements
  • Pledges

Existing Breeze users praise the software for being so easy to use that everyone in their church can learn it, no matter what level of tech experience. Users also praise the customer support and the low cost of the software.

The only potential drawback we see with Breeze is that larger churches may outgrow the software’s capabilities.

Pricing

Breeze has a single cost of $50/mo. This includes every Breeze feature, unlimited users, phone support, email support, upgrades, and even data transfers.

Takeaway

When it comes to churches, there are very specific needs and requirements that a software must meet. Breeze offers the key features churches need, all while maintaining an affordable price. The software is easy to use and has a beautiful UI, and you can’t top unlimited users.

To see if Breeze is right for your church organization, schedule a demo or sign up for a free trial on Breeze’s website.

Get Started With Breeze

4) NeonCRMBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofits in need of a comprehensive CRM solution.

NeonCRM is a cloud-based nonprofit software founded back in 2004. Over 85% of NeonCRM’s staff has a nonprofit background, so they know exactly what nonprofits need. With several pricing plans and a nice selection of features, there’s a little something for everyone with this software.

Features

NeonCRM has an attractive UI that is well-organized and highly developed. A few users have complained that the software is unintuitive at times, but the majority find NeonCRM easy to use.

The software offers a good number of features, including contact management, volunteer management, donations, event planning, and more.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

If you go with the smallest NeonCRM pricing plan, you’ll have to choose between either the fundraising or membership module, though with any other plan you get access to both. NeonCRM has good automations like automatic receipting and batch donations. You can also create custom fundraising pages and can even indicate the relationship between contacts.

Like Kindful, users get their own contact login where they can view their history and manage donations.

In addition, NeonCRM offers:

  • Campaigns
  • Thank yous and gifts
  • User permissions
  • Volunteer project management
  • Prospects
  • Grants
  • Event registration
  • Reports
  • Letters

In terms of customer reviews, NeonCRM receives relatively high praise. Users appreciate the software’s ease of use and praise the customer support team. The software also offers a handy MailChimp integration.

The only drawback of the software is that it can get a bit expensive.

Pricing

NeonCRM has three different pricing plans: Essentials, Impact, and Empower. The exact cost of each plan varies depending on how many contacts you need and if you need data entry assistance.

  • Essentials: Starts at $50/mo. Must choose between fundraising or membership. Includes event management, campaigns, automatic receipts, reports, contact management, and volunteer management. Does not include a QuickBooks Online integration.
  • Impact: Starts at $110/mo. Includes both fundraising and memberships. Includes all of the features from the Essentials plan, plus web forms, online store, customer survey builder, peer-to-peer fundraising, and a QuickBooks Online integration.
  • Empower: Starts at $200/mo. Includes all of the features form the Impact plan, plus donor search, live chat, and visual phone support.

Customer support may cost extra depending on the plan. Download NeonCRM’s pricing .pdf for all of the details.

Takeaway

NeonCRM is a comprehensive CRM solution with a few great nonprofit additions. The software is beautifully designed and is a great choice for organizations seeking to build an appealing online presence and brand. While Neon CRM can get expensive (especially considering that the QuickBooks Online integration is limited to the two higher plans), it may still be worth it for some medium to large-sized nonprofits.

Learn more about NeonCRM on their website, or contact NeonCRM directly for a free trial or demo.

Get Started With NeonCRM

Which Nonprofit Software Is Right For Me?

When it comes to choosing the perfect nonprofit software to integrate with QuickBooks Online for your organization, think carefully about your nonprofit’s needs. Which features do you need? How many users need to use the software? Do you need cloud-based software or mobile apps? All of these factors, as well as your budget, will determine which nonprofit software is right for.

QuickBooks Online does have two other donor management integrations — Method:Donor and Donor Receipts — if you need an even simpler solution. That said, Sumac, Kindful, Breeze, and NeonCRM are your best bets if you want to integrate fully-featured nonprofit software with QuickBooks online.

If you’re still not certain if QuickBooks Online is the best choice for your nonprofit, take a look at our Top 10 Best Nonprofit Accounting Apps For 2018 for more options.

The post Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know In 2018

At the outset, email marketing can seem like an overwhelming prospect. There are so many things to do — building your subscriber base, designing attractive messages, tracking click-through rates, following anti-spam laws, and more than anything else, writing actual emails for your readers. The good news is that these jobs don’t have to be your responsibility alone. Nearly all email marketing software options available today come with some form of automation, allowing users to create pre-made email campaigns and messages and automatically send them when certain conditions are met.

If your time is being consumed with email work, you aren’t getting the most from your software. There are several email marketing best practices you can employ to make your life easier.

Let’s dive in and explore some ways you can make your email marketing app do the work for you!

Level 1 Automation: Welcome Messages

If you are thinking of email marketing purely as a newsletter service that will send out updates to subscribers, I want to encourage you to expand your thinking a bit. Yes, you can use your email service provider (ESP) to write and send newsletters, but most email marketing software can be and do so much more! To move out of the newsletter comfort zone, let’s take a look at one of the most basic forms of automation that comes standard in nearly every app out there: welcome messages.

The idea here is simple. As soon as an interested person creates an account or joins your mailing list, they get an automatic message from you welcoming them to the group. It’s a great chance to introduce yourself, tell them more about your work, and win them over with general charm. Is this email marketing tactic a bit basic? Sure. But it is also a great opportunity to win the loyalty of customers from the outset. (You can also get pretty creative with your welcome messages if you want to spice things up.)

Automated welcome messages come standard with such industry leaders as MailChimp (read our review) and Emma (read our review), but you can also find it in simpler ESP’s like Mad Mimi (read our review). Basically, in a world dominated by AI and machine learning, it would be a surprise if an email marketing developer did not include this capability in their app. But where do we go from here? Further up and further in!

Level 2 Automation: Abandoned Cart Notifications

The next level of automation in email marketing is conceptually quite similar to the welcome message but involves a bit more set up. This email marketing strategy is only useful if you have an online store. If you do run an online store, you are almost certainly familiar with the frustration of abandoned shopping carts. Most of the time, those customers never return to buy their goods and pay you some hard-earned cash. But this is an area where your ESP can help you out. Automated abandoned cart reminder messages!

The gist of this feature is that your ESP keeps track of all the customer activity in your eCommerce store. When someone on your email list adds an item to their cart and then leaves, it will send a message out reminding them about your product. Some email marketing software providers allow you to set up a whole yes/no chain of possible emails, tracking click-through rates and offering discounts, special offers, and more as an enticement to return. But all operate on the basic principle of keeping a digital eye on your customer and sending tactical pre-determined prompts to (hopefully) bring them back into the fold. As a committed internet shopper myself, I can attest to the effectiveness of this strategy!

Though many ESPs offer this level of automation, I have been most impressed by Emma, which I mentioned earlier, and GetResponse (read our review). Both offer advanced chain-of-event automations designed to bring customers back to your store over the course of several interactions, all of which are handled automatically.

This is pretty advanced stuff, but it’s time to take this thing to the top.

Level 3 Automation: Dynamic Content Creation

The highest level of automation available in email marketing is what several ESPs term “dynamic content.” The idea behind this is that you sit down and create a wide spectrum of content, attach a definition to each type, then allow your ESP to sort out the best way to deliver the content (in the form of emails) to individual subscribers. Obviously, you will need to spend some significant time creating compelling content (and strategic subject lines) for advanced email campaigns in the first place, but the upshot is that your customers and subscribers will get customized, personalized messages tailored just for them. Your open rates will be so much better if the folks on your email list are receiving high-quality, custom content.

The ability to create dynamic content is considerably less common in email marketing software than either of the prior two forms of automation. Notable exceptions include the ever-present Emma, as well as Active Campaign (read our review). Keep in mind, though, that dynamic content is often locked behind a paywall: you need to subscribe to top-tier payment plans in order to get access to it.

Final Thoughts:

When using email marketing software, the goal is to save time, not waste it. Fortunately, most ESPs offer some level of automation. Knowing what your software can do is key to saving as much time as possible. Whether you are starting with simple welcome message emails or working all the way up to dynamic content, a little effort spent on email marketing best practices at the outset will pay off in the end, saving you time while your email software does the work for you.

Want even more advanced email marketing tips? This article explores 40 ways you can write better emails. ESP blogs can also be excellent resources for detailed email marketing tactics. MailChimp has written a comprehensive email marketing field guide, and Constant Contact has written a complete guide to becoming a better email marketer.

Looking for a good ESP for your business? Our independent email marketing software reviews explore the pricing, customer service, features, and integrations of all the top ESPs. For a quick overview of the industry, check out Merchant Maverick’s email marketing software comparison table.

The post Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know In 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

Stripe VS Square

Stripe VS Square
✓ Products and Services ✓
✓ Compatible Hardware ✓
✓ Fees and Rates ✓
✓ Sales and Advertising Transparency ✓
Customer Service and Technical Support ✓
✓ Negative Reviews and Complaints ✓
✓ Positive Reviews and Testimonials ✓
Tie Final Verdict  Tie
Read Review Read Review
Visit Site Visit Site

Overview

Spend a little bit of time reading up on Stripe (read our review) and Square (read our review) and you’ll start to see the similarities. They’re both giants in the payment industry, media darlings that have transformed the way people pay for things and the way merchants accept payments. They’re both on the leading edge of technology and rely heavily on machine learning to drive their payment processing systems.

Most importantly, both Square and Stripe offer huge assortments of commerce tools that make it easy for merchants to run their businesses. With the various APIs and integrations available, there are almost limitless possibilities for creating a custom system with everything from invoicing to email marketing and more.

But that’s where I stop pointing out the similarities. Once you get past that point, it becomes harder to draw apples-to-apples comparisons because Square’s offerings are much more varied. Square really is an all-in-one processor that can handle in-person and eCommerce payments, as well as inventory management, customer databases, and more. Stripe is more limited to eCommerce, both for websites and for mobile apps, but it has powerful tools for global enterprises, subscription-based businesses, and other online companies.

To keep things fair and within a manageable scope, we’re going to limit the scope of this comparison to each companies’ online and mobile commerce tools. That means, for the most part, we’re not going to look at mPOS apps, POS integrations, appointment booking, or email marketing…except to say if you need them, Square is the better choice.That also means we’ll be ignoring Stripe Atlas, the company’s service for helping international merchants establish themselves in the US.

If you want to sell online and Square and Stripe have made your shortlist, you should start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What features do you absolutely need? Which features aren’t essential, but would be very nice to have?
  • What percentage of your transactions are from outside the US?
  • Do you have a developer or advanced coding knowledge yourself?
  • Do you have limited tech knowledge and need an easy solution?
  • Are you looking for specific integrations?
  • What industry is your business part of?
  • How advanced are your subscription tool needs?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can sit down and look at each company in more detail. Read on for our comparison of Stripe vs. Square!

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

It’s so important to have a list of must-have features before you set about choosing any sort of payments or eCommerce software because you don’t want to make the decision and then find out that you’re missing a very important function. But it’s also important to think about where you want your business to go and what tools you want to invest in as your business scales up. If you pick the right service, it could mean you never need to switch. But if you don’t think about growth, you may wind up having to make a complicated switchover later in the future once you’ve outgrown a solution.

The good news is that for the most part, Stripe and Square are both very good solutions that scale up as a business grows. It just comes down to in which direction a business wants to grow.

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Square initially stood out among mobile competitors by offering a free webstore to its merchants. Since then, the company has branched out considerably to include eCommerce integrations as well as developer tools. For a more in-depth review of all of Square’s offerings, check out our full review.

  • Online Store: Square’s free online store is very basic. There are only four templates to choose from, and you can only customize portions of the site (such as filling in your business name and address in the footer) in addition to loading your products. This is not a good solution for anyone with a large and diverse inventory, especially if your shipping costs vary significantly or if you’re looking for a particular visual aesthetic.
  • eCommerce Integrations: When you first take a look at Square’s eCommerce offerings, you’ll see that Square very conveniently groups everything by a merchant’s level of technical expertise. I think this is a really helpful approach.

    The easiest integrations are listed on the site and Square lets you know that you can choose from an assortment of templates.

    The intermediate level includes eCommerce integrations that require a bit more work and technical knowledge to get set up.
    Square’s list of integrations includes some of the best shopping cart options, and the list keeps growing. That makes me happy, but if your preferred integration isn’t on the list yet and you do have the technical knowledge (or an eager developer on your payroll), there are more tools at your disposal. You can check out the list of Square integrations in the app marketplace.
  • Developer Tools: Square’s dev tools make it possible for you to create almost any custom integration you could need. For eCommerce, there are two APIs, Checkout and Transactions.  Square Checkout is a premade form that can be dropped into a site with minimal fuss. Using Checkout means merchants are eligible for some perks, like next-day deposits and chargeback protection. The Transaction API, combined with Square’s payment form, is more customizable. Square has other APIs to handle other aspects of commerce, but you’ll find that Square doesn’t readily support in-app payments.
  • Dashboard Reporting: Square’s reporting tools are fairly advanced, especially for a company that started as an mPOS. They’re very popular with merchants who want to know what’s selling and how much they’re processing and need standard business data. The dashboard is actually quite intuitive, as well. However, Square doesn’t allow for a huge amount of customization in reports unless you get into the Reporting API, which allows you to create real-time notifications using webhooks.

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

  • Advanced Inventory: Square will reconcile online and in-person sales and give you an up-to-date count on your inventory, including low-stock alerts when you hit a specified threshold. Plus, you can bulk upload products and generate SKUs, create variants, and more.
  • Fraud Protection Tools: Square uses machine learning to analyze transactions and identify and flag possible fraudulent transactions.
  • Customer Database: Save customers’ contact information and build a database with records of their purchases so that you can market to them later.
  • Invoicing: Create invoices from within the Square dashboard or from within the mPOS app. Square also allows customers to store their cards to automatically pay invoices (using this Card on File will cost you a bit more). You can also create recurring invoices. However, if you want extensive subscription management tools, you’ll need an integration with a service like Chargify, which will add to your costs.
  • Free Virtual Terminal: If you want to process payments over the phone or you don’t have access to the mPOS, you can use Square’s virtual terminal. Transactions will be processed at the manual entry rate (3.5% + $0.15) rather than the eCommerce rate, but the solution is PCI compliant and is designed for regular use.

All in all, while it’s worth noting that Square really is an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to sell anywhere without needing to build a complicated system of integrations. But it has some shortcomings, especially for digital merchants. Subscription tools are nearly nonexistent, and fraud protection doesn’t compare to the tools Stripe offers. If you want advanced, custom reports, you’ll be better served by Stripe. However, Square’s tools and overall design are incredibly easy to use, especially for business owners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise or a large budget to hire someone. And it has very strong tools for merchants who sell physical products in particular.

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Stripe has earned its name as a developer-friendly option, but you can also integrate with a host of third-party apps to accept payments with ease. The company focuses on internet and mobile commerce, but developers have extended Square’s power to include mobile payments and more. Just take note, there’s no free storefront option here. For a more detailed look at different features, check out our complete Stripe review.

  • eCommerce Integrations & Plug-Ins: Stripe outclasses Square in terms of shopping cart integrations by virtue of sheer numbers. In addition to integrations with major eCommerce software providers, developers have created an assortment of plug-ins for businesses operating on WordPress, Magento, and other websites. If you’re not really sure where you start, you might end up doing a lot of research to decide the best course of action, but you can at least take heart in knowing that there’ll be something that will meet your needs. You can check out the full list of eCommerce integrations on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
  • Developer Tools: Stripe is much loved by developers for its flexibility, its extensive documentation and its support for multiple programming languages. Its APIs allow you to create invoices and subscriptions along with many other features.

    Stripe Elements will let you create an entirely custom form with pre-built components; Stripe Checkout generates a pre-built form you can just drop into the site with a few lines of JavaScript. With Stripe, it’s very easy to accept payments on a desktop computer, a mobile site, or within a mobile app. Stripe now even supports 1-touch payments on mobile
  • Stripe Sigma: Stripe offers your standard user dashboard with some general sales reports at no charge. But if your business is heavily data-driven, Sigma’s customizable reporting is the perfect solution for you: you can generate reports based on SQL queries. This is pretty cool, and it’s a great way to make sure that anyone on your team can get the reports they need without creating an information bottleneck. Pricing is based on a sliding scale rather than a set additional monthly see.

Stripe’s additional tools include:

  • Stripe Billing: Stripe’s subscription tools are industry-leading, with the ability to charge clients based on a recurring quantity or metered usage, to set free trial periods, and much more. You can also create invoices or set up recurring billing tools. However, new businesses will pay a small additional charge per transaction to use these tools.
  • Stripe Radar: Stripe makes a big deal of its fraud monitoring tools, bundled under the very-apt name Radar. The system uses machine learning and a host of criteria to analyze every transaction and decide whether it is legitimate or possibly fraudulent. Radar also lets merchants set custom criteria for rejecting transactions and review flagged transactions to decide whether to accept or reject them.
  • Marketplace Tools: Merchants who want to operate a marketplace can use Stripe to build the platform. Stripe’s marketplace tools are grouped under the moniker “Stripe Connect.”
  • Multiple Currency Displays & Dynamic Currency Conversion: These tools are a major reason why Stripe is such a powerful tool for global businesses. Whereas Stripe will automatically convert transactions to USD (usually at the cost of a fee to the cardholder), Stripe will allow you to display prices in local currencies based on where the customer is located. Stripe then automatically converts them for the merchant, charging a small markup over the exchange rate. This makes a business more appealing to international customers.

There’s no doubt that Stripe is very powerful. It can handle all sorts of payments, from digital subscriptions to retail goods. It’s one of the best solutions for global businesses with its currency tools. But it does have some limitations. If you plan to sell across multiple channels, there’s no option for in-person payments unless you have an integration like Flint Mobile (read our review), but it’s still more costly than other mPOS options. There’s no virtual terminal, either. While Stripe does allow you to manually enter a transaction if all else fails, it’s a last resort rather than a tool to be used on the regular because of PCI compliance issues.

Stripe’s inventory tools aren’t on the level of Square. They’re powerful, but if you want advanced inventory management, you’ll need to tack on an integration. I also don’t think that Stripe’s inventory tools are even half as intuitive as Square’s. But I think part of that is Stripe’s focus on online payments and tools for digital merchants, compared to Square’s omnichannel approach.

All in all, it’s really hard to say one of these companies is inherently better than the other. Both have a good assortment of integrations for shopping carts and other tools, though Stripe has a greater number of supported integrations. If you want ease of use, especially if you sell physical goods,  Square is the standout option. But if you need flexibility, robust tools, and advanced data, Stripe is the better choice. So it ultimately comes down to your business’ needs.

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

I am happy to say that pricing for both Square and Stripe is mostly straightforward:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

There are no monthly fees, no monthly minimums, no statement fees. That’s very nice to see.

I do want to point out that Square charges different rates for its card-present and keyed transactions (2.7% and 3.5% + $0.15, respectively). However, invoices process at the same rate as eCommerce transactions unless you’re using Card on File, which process at the keyed transaction rate.

Square also has no chargeback fees, which is very unusual. Not only that, but the company has rolled out Chargeback Protection, which will cover the actual chargeback costs on qualifying disputes up to $250 per month. This doesn’t apply to merchants who use the Transactions API, but it is available for those who use Stripe Checkout.

You can get volume discounts if you process above $250k per year AND have an average ticket size exceeding $15. That’s a mark in Square’s favor for large businesses. However, nonprofits don’t get any sort of special discount, which you can often find with other processors.

Stripe’s pricing has become a tiny bit more complicated. In addition to card transactions processed at 2.9% + $0.30, you can also accept ACH transactions for 0.8%, capped at $5 maximum.

The base fee per transaction is simple. And for each chargeback, Stripe will assess a $15 fee, unless the chargeback is decided in your favor. In that case, you’ll pay absolutely nothing.

Stripe’s subscription tools, lumped under the name “Stripe Billing” along with invoicing, will cost you a small percentage fee (between 0.04% and 0.07%) on top of your transaction.

Existing Stripe merchants are grandfathered out of this new pricing. Large businesses will actually pay the higher 0.7% markup, but it seems Stripe has compromised by offering lower transaction fees.

You’ll also pay a monthly fee for access to Stripe Sigma. The cost is a sliding scale based on the number of transactions you process each month, which is a great way for very small businesses to still get crucial data. But for a company that built its reputation on not charging any fees beyond transaction processing, it’s a little bit disappointing to see that model disappearing. You can estimate your cost with Stripe’s tool.

Stripe does offer enterprise pricing for very large businesses, and some nonprofits may be eligible for a special rate. Stripe doesn’t make any promises about nonprofit pricing apart from “let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” So you shouldn’t assume it’s guaranteed.

With Stripe, you may also be able to negotiate for micro-transaction rates. Whereas per-transaction fees like the $0.30 Stripe and Square charge can eat up fees from small transactions (less than $10 in particular), micro-transaction rates typically include a higher percentage and a lower per-transaction fee that can save merchants money. This is ideal for anyone who sells digital goods and other low-cost items.

Because it’s something offered as part of a custom package, Stripe may not offer this deal to everyone. If you’re unable to get a micro-transaction plan from Stripe, it might be worth looking at a third option — PayPal (read our review) — instead. The 5% + $0.05 fee could save you quite a bit of money in the long run.

All in all, Stripe and Square are fairly evenly matched in pricing. Some merchants might enjoy the lack of chargeback fees and included chargeback protection that Square offers. But Stripe might be a bigger draw for other companies, despite the additional charges for using its subscription tools or Sigma reporting.

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

Both Stripe and Square offer pay-as-you-go processing with no locked-in contracts or early termination fees. It really is that simple. Stripe will even help you transfer your customer data to another processor in a PCI compliant way.

If you’re using any of Square’s monthly services in addition to eCommerce processing, you can get a free 30-day trial, and then if you choose to continue with the service, you can cancel at any time. Square doesn’t bill annually for those services the way many SaaS providers do. (Conversely, you also don’t get any discounts for paying annually, either.)

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

One of the reasons I like pay-as-you-go processors is that they are, on the whole, very upfront and transparent. They tend to not have extensive sales teams, and if they do have a sales team, they’re all in-house. They’re very clear about their pricing and terms, and they’re applied fairly to all merchants.

Square and Stripe both fit this pattern to a T. You won’t see reports of misleading sales pitches or rates not as promised here, which is always nice to see. You can find Stripe’s terms of service on the site, both the general user agreement and the Stripe Payments agreement. Like Stripe, Square has separate agreements applying to general use, payments, and other services. I do recommend you be cautious and check that your business doesn’t fall on either list of “prohibited businesses,” because that’s an easy path to account termination.

Overall, I’m really happy with both companies in this category, and you shouldn’t have any worries about whether you’re being told the truth or whether you’ll pay what you were quoted.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

I think it’s fairly clear that Square outshines Stripe in terms of its customer support — both in quality and in the number of channels available.

Square offers merchants phone and email support, as well as an extensive knowledgebase. That’s pretty typical of any processor, but on top of that, Square operates the Seller Community, a community forum about all-things Square.

 

You can get answers from other Square merchants as well as from Square support reps. It’s a pretty powerful tool. But on top of that, Square’s team monitors Stack Overflow for questions about Square products and responds to them.

And that’s not even talking about Square’s dedicated Twitter support handle (@SqSupport), or the developer portal and documentation.

I can’t say that Square customer support is all sunshine and rainbows, because I do see customer complaints about the quality. However, without a doubt the biggest complaint about the quality of customer support comes from merchants whose accounts have been terminated. In that case, Square cuts off access to phone support and will only communicate via email. This is unfortunate and I don’t know if it’s actually a good solution. But I am sure part of the reason to reduce the odds of a customer support rep saying something they shouldn’t, and to prevent support resources from being tied up dealing with complaints from terminated merchants whose accounts won’t be reinstated.

Stripe is more limited in its support options. Its primary support channel is email. However, Stripe also operates an IRC Freenode chat (#Stripe) that developers may find useful. There’s no dedicated social media support with Stripe, but you can follow the general @Stripe twitter feed.

Stripe also maintains a self-service knowledgebase, though I don’t think it’s as extensive or detailed as Square’s. But I will say that Stripe’s documentation is pretty legendary, and so it’s going to be one of the best resources you can get.  You can also find questions about Stripe on Stack Overflow, but I am not able to ascertain whether Stripe’s team is active on the forum at all the way that Square is.

I do see comments from merchants that the support is pretty good. But I also see a lot of complaints from frustrated merchants about the lack of phone support. That complaint has actually become one of the biggest marks against Stripe. I’ve seen one mention that Stripe might be rolling out phone support to “select merchants” (presumably high-value clients). However, take this with a grain of salt. I wasn’t able to verify it through any sort of authoritative source.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

As far as complaints go, the single biggest issue for both Square and Stripe is a common one:

  • Account Holds And Terminations: This is unsurprising (understatement of the year, right there) because it’s a common issue with any third-party processor. Because these payment systems are usually open to almost anyone right away and they are all lumped into one large merchant account, there’s a greater risk that some of those accounts will be terminated for risky behavior. There’s very little scrutiny done before a sub-account with one of these processors is approved, which stands in contrast to merchant accounts, where the processing company will do a lot of underwriting and investigation before approving your application. Both Square and Stripe use a lot of machine learning to analyze transactions and flag suspicious behaviors. This potential for account holds or terminations is universal — you will encounter it with any third-party processor. If you want to avoid it, your only alternative is to seek out a traditional merchant account.

The other big complaint that I see with both is also a pretty common one:

  • Poor Customer Support: If I’m honest, reports about the quality of customer service conflict. But because of how common the complaints are, I’m listing it here. With Stripe, the most common issues are the lack of phone support and slow response times for email. With Square, a lot of the complaints about poor customer service come from terminated merchants, but I’ve seen a few complaints about slow or unhelpful email responses.

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

  • Lack Of Fraud Protection: I want to be clear: Stripe does have fraud management tools and a system to help merchants fight chargebacks. But I have seen complaints from merchants who don’t think these are adequate. Chargebacks are not settled by Stripe, so there’s not much the company can do beyond pass the requested documents on. But for fraud prevention, merchants need to make sure they have the appropriate tools enabled.
  • Not User-Friendly: There’s a lot of testimonials from users (especially developers) who really like Stripe and find it simple to set up. There are plenty of others who disagree with that idea. I’m inclined to think most people with a decent technical backing will get along fine with Stripe, but for some people, especially those with less technical knowledge, it’s not going to be a good choice.

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

  • Lack of advanced features: It’s not that Square doesn’t have enough features, or that it’s missing anything important. The complaints about Square often focus on the lack of very particular advanced features that you typically find in full-scale POS systems. In this case, I think Square’s lack of extensive subscription tools would fit the bill. Some merchants have been upset for quite a while over the lack of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reporting. Square added this feature with its Square for Retail app, but not for online sales or its free POS. Square has some very powerful reporting tools, but in the end, they won’t hold a candle to Stripe’s Sigma offering.

I think, yet again, that the two companies are pretty evenly matched in this category. The largest complaints are identical, and that’s because they’re the same complaints we see with third-party processors. To be entirely honest, poor customer service is a common complaint across the entire payments industry. It’s frustrating, for sure. But you can take steps to better inform yourself — read our article on how to prevent holds, freezes, and account terminations. And please take reports of poor customer service with a grain of salt, because I see conflicting accounts there.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

As media darlings, both Stripe and Square have gotten lots of press. They’re both lauded for the way they’ve transformed payments.

I usually feel a little bit silly comparing two businesses in this category because it almost feels like a bit of a popularity contest. But in this case, we’re dealing with two companies who have both gotten a LOT of positive press over the years, not to mention high-profile clients. And the bits of each service that merchants love most are pretty similar, too.

Square merchants love how easy the service is to use. And I tend to agree — Square is one of the most intuitive options out there as far as payments and using the dashboard. Merchants also really like the predictable pricing and lack of fees. Other than that, the integrated invoicing feature and the seamless omnichannel commerce experience are big draws.

Stripe also wins merchants over with its pricing, and its tools are very much loved by developers. While if you don’t have a lot of technical knowledge, Stripe may feel foreign to you, developers say it’s incredibly easy to use. Also on the dev side of things, it seems like the quality of customer service is great, even if business owners don’t always like the lack of phone support. And unsurprisingly, merchants really seem to love Stripe’s robust subscription tools. The predictable pricing and lack of monthly fees are also appealing.

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

Stripe and Square have some very important core similarities: they’re both third-party processors with an assortment of tools that allow merchants to sell online. Neither one is suited to high-risk industries, and there’s a lengthy list of businesses neither company can work with. But despite that, both Stripe and Square offer tools that cater to a huge assortment of industries. They’ll both grow with your business, making it easy to scale up.

But despite their similarities in terms of business model, it’s also pretty clear that what each company does best is completely different.

Square is a spectacular all-in-one processor. You can sell in a store, on the go, and online and get all of your information and payments and orders collected in one simply, intuitive dashboard. There’s a huge array of add-on products that allow you consolidate a host of business functions under one name, and they’re guaranteed to work together perfect. eCommerce support is really the newest branch of Square’s offerings, and it’s a work in progress as the company establishes more partnerships and integrations with other major players.

If you have limited technical knowledge, Square is going to be much easier to get started with and to navigate through the different features. It’s free advanced inventory tools are also very well suited to retailers and other businesses that sell primarily physical goods.

Stripe focuses only on Internet payments (both on the web and in-app), but its tools make it possible for businesses to cater to customers all over the globe. The international appeal — from the local currency displays to the sheer breadth of payment methods accepted — make it clear that Stripe is already a global player.Not only that, but with Stripe’s APIs and documentation, a savvy developer could create all kinds of payments platforms for a business. Business owners who don’t have a developer on staff, and who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge themselves, might struggle with understanding how to use Stripe, especially if you want to do anything more than integrate it with some sort of shopping cart software.

You also get a far more limited scope of features. There’s no native support for omnichannel commerce. No mPOS app, no POS integration to support card-present pricing, no invoicing. If you need more than online payments on a regular basis, Stripe isn’t a suitable choice. But if that’s all you need, Stripe isn’t just a good option — it’s one of the best out there, period. If your business has a global reach, again you’ll find that Stripe once again tops the lists of best solutions.

I’m not comfortable saying that one of these solutions is better than the other because it really comes down to what your priorities are. Do you need something easy to use? Do you want to embrace multiple sales channels? Or are you limited to online sales and want best-in-class tools to reach a global audience, manage subscriptions, and even drive mobile commerce? Square can get the job done, and it’ll be the easier solution, but Stripe offers far more tools.

Sit down, think about what features are absolutely mandatory for you to have — and then look at which ones you’d like to have, but aren’t necessarily required. From there, it should be fairly clear which solution is right for you! Don’t forget to check out our complete reviews of Stripe and Square for more insights into how they function.

Have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll help! Have experience using either of these tools? We’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools

Shopify is a cloud-based, SaaS solution for online sellers. This ecommerce platform allows you to build a full website, add products, create promotions, and sell from your own site.

Shopify is an incredibly popular solution, hosting online stores for over 500,000 merchants; this popularity is due primarily to Shopify’s simplicity and ease of use. Sellers of all skill levels can set up and operate their stores on Shopify.

What’s more, Shopify is well known for its excellent web design. The platform offers a wide selection of modern and elegantly designed website templates.

Like everything this company does, Shopify’s responsive design is intended to be easy to use and accessible to merchants with little to no experience in web development. Keep reading to learn more about Shopify’s design templates, design tools, and best practices for your own designs.

How Do Shopify Designs Work?

Shopify uses a theme marketplace to provide design templates to their users. Every merchant has access to Shopify’s theme marketplace, which includes 63 themes made to fit a variety of industries and online stores.

When you find one you like, you simply download the whole package and enable it on your site (in some cases, you will have to purchase the theme). You can then tweak your site with a few of the available design tools. We’ll talk more about those design tools later. First, let’s talk about the kinds of Shopify templates available.

Types Of Shopify Templates

Free Shopify Templates

10 of Shopify’s 63 themes are free to download. Those themes are a bit simpler than their premium counterparts. However, many merchants will find that the free themes fit their needs just fine.

Here are a few of our favorite free Shopify templates:

Premium Shopify Templates

If the free themes don’t strike your fancy, take a look at Shopify’s premium themes. These themes are a little more complex, and they are typically priced between $140-$180.

Here are a few examples of Shopify’s premium templates:

Buying Shopify Templates

If you do choose a premium design, purchasing the template is a simple process.

Just go into the theme marketplace, and select the template you’d like to buy. Then, click the “Buy Theme” button located under “Try Theme.”

You’ll be redirected to your admin where you can confirm the purchase.

Then, you can enable your brand new template on your site.

Available Design Tools

Once you’ve found your template, it’s time to start customizing your store. Shopify provides a variety of tools for different levels of customization. Here are a few of the tools you can use to change up your site.

Easy-To-Use Tools

  • WYSIWYG Editor: Use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor to quickly update copy and add content to your site, without touching the code.
  • Theme Editor: Use Shopify’s built-in theme editor to make a few simple changes, and preview those changes in real time. You can use this tool to adjust the backgrounds, images, colors, and fonts of your online store.
  • Sections: Sections is Shopify’s new drag-and-drop block design tool. Sections lets you make large-scale changes to your site by adding content blogs and rearranging widgets. This tool is currently only available with select themes. However, Shopify is continually working to expand its availability. View the Sections editor below.

Advanced Customization Tools

While the above tools are great for merchants who simply want to tweak their existing designs, they do have their limitations. If you want to alter your templates more than these easy editors will allow, you’ll have to go deeper.

Here’s how you can best customize your website design:

  • Code Editor: In order to make dramatic changes to your site, you’ll need to really get into the code. Shopify uses the Liquid templating language (Learn more about Liquid). You can also edit your site’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Hire A Shopify Expert: If you want to make changes to your code, but you don’t have the skill to do it, look into outsourcing your customization to Shopify Experts.

Shopify Template Designs & Best Practices

When you select a Shopify theme, you get every template that comes with it. You will have a pre-designed template for your About Us page, storefront, blog, checkout page, etc.

As we’ve already discussed, while most of the design elements are determined by the theme you choose, you can edit a few elements of your online store’s design using available tools.

Here’s what you can do to make sure your site meets with industry best practices on every page:

Shopify Store Templates

Before we get into best practices for your storefront design, let’s take a look at one of Shopify’s preset storefronts. This image is taken from the free Brooklyn theme.

Shopify does a lot right with this preset. And, with a little work, you can make this design even better. Here are a few of the most important factors to keep in mind as you customize your design.

Prioritize Site Navigation

Excellent site navigation helps your customers locate the products they’re looking for, hopefully reducing your store’s bounce rates. One of the best ways to improve site organization is by implementing a navigation bar with a drop-down menu at the top of your site.

This navigation bar should include categories and subcategories (which you can display using a drop down bar). Everything in your navigation bar, from titles to promotions, should be clickable.

Not only does a navigation bar aid your customers, but also it improves your online store’s overall SEO. Listing your categories and subcategories on every page gives Google more keywords to grab onto, helping your site rank better on organic search results.

Focus On Images

Studies show that image-focused responsive design inspires more engagement. Design your homepage to feature your products and your brand with engaging, high-quality images.

Keep Information Above The Fold

Make sure your most important information is displayed at the top of your page, so customers will see it before they scroll. This includes contact information, promotions, shipping information, and your shopping cart icon.

Shopify About Us Templates

The About Us page is your space to shine. Share your story with your customers, and let your brand’s personality come through. Scroll down for a few more tips for your About Us page.

Connect With Customers

Your About Us page should be a place where you build a relationship with your customers. Make sure to welcome customers to your site and don’t be afraid to use flattery. (“You won’t settle for anything but the best!”)

Tell A Story

Every business has a story. Use your About Us page to put your history on display. Show your customers that you are regular people and demonstrate your business’s growth to date.

As you write your About Us page, be sure to use your brand’s own voice. Include all the personality of your brand.

Consider Including Alternative Media

Got a video you’d like to share? This is a great place to put it! Consider using videos, images, and testimonials on this page, as well as links to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.

Shopify Blog Templates

We love that Shopify offers built-in blogs with all their themes and designs. Maintaining an active blog is a great way to build your brand, promote your online store, and harness some extra SEO power. Here’s a look at Shopify’s blog template for the Brooklyn theme. See below for more information on blogging best practices.

Post Regularly

The most important part of having a blog is actually using that blog. Develop a publication schedule and stick to it! Posting frequently and regularly will show customers that your online store is still in business, and it will indicate to Google that your site is active.

Write Relevant & Useful Information

While your blog is an important part of your business’s marketing strategy, your articles should not read like advertisements for your products. Write articles that are interesting, useful, and entertaining to your customers. Each article should have some value for its reader. Keep in mind your customers’ needs and interests as you write.

Shopify Thank You Page Templates

The Thank You page is the page your customers will see after they finalize a purchase. Shopify gives you an excellent starting place with their predesigned Thank You page. However, you can still do more to optimize this page.

Think Upsell

Now that you’ve secured a purchase, it’s the perfect opportunity to encourage more purchases. Consider displaying related products in the sidebar of your Thank You page. You could even provide a discount code for future purchases at your store.

At the very least, make sure customers can easily return to browsing with the easy “Continue Shopping” button that Shopify has already included.

Final Thoughts

If you’re already a Shopify merchant, you’re only a few steps away from a beautiful baseline for your online store. Just take a tour through the theme marketplace, test out any responsive themes that pique your interest with a demo, and settle on one that fits your website design plans.

Then, customize, customize, customize, until your site works exactly the way you need it to!

Are you already using Shopify’s design tools? Do you have any favorite themes? Let us know in the comments below which theme you’re using and how web design is going for your online store.

The post A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!)

How To Promote Your Website

So you want to promote your website online…for free, preferably.

By now, you probably know from experience that the “build it and they will come” philosophy is flawed. You can have great content — in fact, you need at least “good” content — but unless you know how to promote it, your site is a ghost town. But you also don’t have the budget to go straight to advertising online.

You don’t need a grab bag of tips and tricks. You don’t need best practices to “go viral”. Instead – what you need is an actual process to follow that you can consistently do – to create a “flywheel effect“.

Here is an exact, step-by-step strategy that I recommend to anyone who wants to promote their website online. The specific details vary, but it’s a pretty tried and true path for anyone who wants to promote their website.

Start with Definitions & Goals

Before you do anything, you’ve got to start with the foundation: what are you trying to achieve?

Aside – “making money” or “getting customers” does not count. The key is to get specific. Quantify your marketing in other words.

This is the part so many people either get stuck on or skip entirely. Usually, website owners just want to dive in and start doing, doing, doing.

While getting your site out there and testing is great, you need a balance. It’s just as important to test with the right methods as it is to collect a ton of data and learn from it

There are three things you need to figure out before you dive in:

  • what you’re promoting
  • who you’re promoting it to
  • how much you can actually spend on promotion

Let’s break them down.

What You’re Promoting (Your Product)

What is it that you’re actually offering/promoting on your website? A product? A service? Valuable content?

Whatever it is, you need to be able to define it and sell the value. What makes you different from the million and one others out there?

Remember, this doesn’t need to be your life’s mission. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You need to define your product in a clear and concise way. Keep it simple and to the point  — and make sure you emphasize why you’re different.

Who You’re Promoting It To (Persona)

A persona is marketing jargon for a profile of your target audience and having one is crucial to your marketing.

Before your start promoting your website, you’ve got to know who you’re actually promoting it to. What do they want? What problems do they have? How do you solve those problems?

Create 2-4 personas for your brand that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, payscale, main frustrations and problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.

Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some sales and feedback to polish what you’re offering (your product/website/brand).

Nearly every business started this way (think about how Facebook started by targeting college students).Here’s a podcast episode explaining this concept[skip to the ~11 minute mark].

How Much You Can Spend on Promotion (Time & Financial Budget)

Thinking there’s no overhead online is lethal. You’ve got to put real numbers behind what you’re doing. Marketing costs money or time… so put real goals in place.

Outline your budget, even if it feels arbitrary. Define your product/services costs, profit margins, and what kind of marketing spend gives you a positive return. Here’s a more extensive post on quant-based marketing.”

Lay the Foundation

Once you have your goals and definitions laid out, it’s time to lay the foundation. While “build it and they will come” is a flawed philosophy, once you start getting them to come, you need to be sure what you’ve created is decent and captures data.

This is divided into three steps:

Website / Destination Set Up

To promote anything online long-term*, you need a decent website. Whether you’re an ecommerce business who needs an online store, a local business with a brick and mortar store, or an educational website that needs a place to publish content, a decent-looking website will put you ahead and allow you to do more with your brand and marketing.

*Aside – when I say long-term – I mean that you don’t want your project compromised by the whims of a platform (I’m looking at you, Facebook Pages and Google My Business). For short-term projects, plenty of people do well with marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy while content publishers do great with a good email marketing platform.

If you don’t have a website yet, I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here. There is some learning curve, but it will provide maximum versatility.

For ecommerce shops, I recommend either using a high-quality hosted ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce or set up an ecommerce website with WordPress and WooCommerce.

If you have a website and know it’s a mess, use this guide to help you clean it up.

Create Focused Pages

Depending on what you’re goals are, creating focused pages can be an essential part of conversion.

Focus pages are landing pages that target a very specific need, but they don’t have to be complex. They are simply pages that visitors can land on and take a specific action (buy your product, sign up for your service, etc.)

Why use landing pages? Because nobody cares about or even sees your homepage. Your homepage is for people who already know who you are and are just navigating around to find what they already know exists.

Landing pages, on the other hand, are for new (or returning) visitors to land and convert (AKA take whatever action you want them to take). These pages should target what your audience is searching for on a granular level.

For example, if you’re an ecommerce business, you’d want to create product pages targeting specific product information (i.e. Blue Swimwear) or a specific audience (i.e. Swimwear for Women Distance swimmers).

For service-based businesses, you’d want to create service pages targeting what your customers are searching for (i.e. Atlanta Dentist or Root Canal Services)

For sites that are focused on content creation, think about pages that can organize your posts into broader topics and orient readers who land deeper into your site and encourage them to take additional actions (like reading more or subscribing). Use this guide to using category and tag pages in WordPress to accomplish this.

If you have way too many idea – then think about how to organize your site by topic / keyword.

Set Up Analytics

Before you start promoting your website, you need a way to capture data through an analytics platform. There are tons of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).

If you’re unclear on what Google Analytics actually does, start here.

Depending on what you’re promoting (see above), you’ll want to set up specific goals. For example, if you’re an ecommerce website, you’ll want to make sure you have Ecommerce checkout set up. If you’re a local business, you’ll want to track thinks like clicks to call and contact form completions. Use this guide to set up call tracking in Google Analytics.

You should also link Google Analytics to Google AdWords and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics. And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website.

Work on Getting Traffic

Now that you have the foundation down, it’s time to get people to your website. This where a lot of people get way too detailed… way too fast. Why?

Because not all marketing channels operate at the same speed. They’re also not all used the same way — they have different strengths and weaknesses. They complement and supplement each other instead of compete, and it’s all about how you use them together.

For example, the US Navy’s main war-going unit is the Aircraft Carrier Group. But it’s not just made up of an aircraft carrier. Instead, it’s a grouping of different types of ships that all do different things at different speeds so that the whole group together is nearly invincible.

A lot of business owners want to start with SEO or with a fully fleshed out social strategy. To keep to the analogy, that’s like sending your battleship and aircraft carrier to scout out for the rest of the group.

Bad idea. Battleships (aka SEO) and Aircraft Carriers (Social) take forever to get going and to turn. Save those until you know where you’re going. You do not want to invest hours and hours and tons of resources and thought into SEO and Social if you have no idea if they will pay off.

Start with channels that can speed up, slow down and change direction at will. That means 3 things: direct outreach, community involvement, and paid traffic, specifically AdWords Search Network.

Testing with Direct Outreach

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of promoting something because you think it’s amazing. But here’s the thing — what if no one wants it?

Too often, we make assumptions for our audience. So before you go into a full-blow promotion plan and start running ads, emailing everyone on your list, and working on your SEO tactics, it’s good to get some validation.

Start by soliciting feedback from a small, targeted group. These should be people who are active in your niche, would ideally collaborate with someone like you, would give you some feedback and maybe even promote your website for you.

What we’re really doing here is finding complementary marketing “parents” — think of other bloggers and businesses your target audience also visits. There are infinite ways to do this process. The key piece is to find someone who shares your interests or has a need that you can fill. Here are some examples.

Friends & Family

Ok – friends and family will often be interested by default. They won’t be able to provide useful feedback. But here’s the thing – you are probably friends because you share interests. Additionally, you might share interests with your family.

Those family and friends are a great place to start with your outreach. It doesn’t mean spamming your Facebook page. It does mean not being afraid to show off your work personally to interested friends and family.

Individual Brands / Influencers

I hate the term “influencers” – and I don’t think that you can or should compete with big brands for social media celebrities. Instead, you should use your own advantage as a DIY website owner (rather than social media manager) to find people that you respect and listen to. Figure out what they need / want. Do they need co-promotion? Topic ideas? Reach out and pitch.

Individual Bloggers / Site Owners

A blogger of any size & influence will be deluged with pitches from big companies. Again – use your advantage as an actual site owner to go around the social media managers to reach small and up and coming bloggers. Use your agility to solve problems that agencies cannot quickly solve.

Journalists

Journalists have an infinite black hole of content that they need to fill. They are always looking for a story (not a product). If you can create a story based on your insider expertise, then you should pitch them. Keep it short, keep it relevant. Start with small sites and use successes to pitch bigger publications.

The good example is a local package delivery service pitching a story about “porch pirates” to news outlets in Philadelphia.

Complementary Business Owners

Your product probably pairs with other companies’ products. Swimwear pairs with beach resorts. Festivals pair with beverage companies. Wood refinishing pairs with historic preservationists. The list is infinite.

Find businesses where you can co-promote.

Vendors

Your vendors want you to succeed…because your success means more sales for them. Pitch your vendors on co-promotions.

Then, get to emailing and messaging. Send them to your landing pages or content piece to buy, subscribe, or review. Ask for feedback and referrals and keep notes!

Keep in mind that you are emailing people. It’s easy to get into a spammy quantity mindset. But remember that that a single, quality connection is worth way more than you can measure right now. Your goal is to get feedback and access. You cannot and should not make this a primary sales channel. Your goal is feedback to promote more effectively and more broadly.

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail.

Find Like-Minded Communities

To expand your direct promotion efforts means finding groups of individuals. And that means finding communities.

Communities can not only provide a lot more feedback – but you can also find opportunities to get sales.

The issue with a community is that you need to be a part of it. Nobody likes someone who shows up to promote rather than participate.

Even though you might need sales right now – you absolutely must set aside that need and look to the long-term.

Figure out what the community likes & needs. Provide that. Focus on being overly helpful rather than promotional. Here are some examples.

Industry Specific Forums

Whether it’s ProductHunt / HackerNews in tech or Wanelo for trendy shopping – there is an industry specific forum for everything. Find it and get involved.

Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups are super-accessible and cover topics on everything under the Sun. They are a great way to build an organic presence on Facebook now that business newsfeed organic reach does not exist. Use creative Facebook Open Graph searches to find the non-obvious ones.

Website Forums

Yes – website forums still exist. And yes, they can be extraordinarily powerful. Do your research and get in touch with moderators.

Blog Comments

Yes – people still read these. Set up alerts via Google or via RSS feeds and stay involved in relevant discussions on high-traffic blog posts.

Reddit & Crowdsourced Forums

Reddit is the world’s largest general forum – but everything from Kickstarter to Pinterest could technically be considered a forum. Again, find where your target audience hangs out. Focus less on teh actual platform and more on the people using it.

Amazon Comments

Ever noticed the “questions about this product” or the discussion sections on Amazon product? Yep – those have insane engagement…and provide an opportunity to piggyback on Amazon’s traffic. Look for complementary products / services to yours that your target audience is purchasing. Use your expertise to answer questions.

LinkedIn & Business Groups

This angle is similar to crowdsourced forums – but for B2B and vendor relationships. Discussions happen all over the place on the Internet. Everything from Slack to LinkedIn Pulse to IRC are open. They are all tools for people to connect. Think about who your people are and find where & how they talk.

Guest Posting

Do you know of high-traffic blogs that your target audience reads (not simply blogs in your industry)? Find out guest post requirements and go there.

Once you’ve found a channel that you feel comfortable with and “get” – focus on expanding your presence and being as helpful as possible. People will notice and talk.

Using Paid Traffic to Get Data

Jumping right into ads isn’t always the best approach for promoting your website. It can get expensive, especially for the return on investment. However, our goal here is a bit different.

Using some (even on a small budget) search advertising can be a great way to get data faster. Instead of relying solely on direct outreach and a content strategy that takes a few months to grow, we can get lots of data in a short amount of time by doing some advertising.

For a full breakdown of different paid advertising channels, see this guide about how to advertise your website online.

You should be doing a few different things with this data:

  • Looking at what keywords are driving conversions. AdWords gives you this information.
  • Looking at which landing pages (or content pieces) perform best based on your goals. How can you optimize those pages and use those findings to improve the ones that aren’t performing?
  • Determining which ad copy performs best
  • For ecommerce, identifying which types of offers do people find most enticing (i.e. free shipping, 20% off welcome discount, etc.)
  • Setting up retargeting campaigns – not generic “buy, buy, buy” campaigns but interesting retargeting ads that you can afford to do when your traffic is small. If you want to divert some paid budget to Facebook, follow this guide.
  • Once you have retargeting campaigns going, you should be looking at where your audience goes online. We covered this topic on this podcast episode.
  • Improving your ad campaigns in general

Understanding Organic Search

The world of organic traffic sources is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.

For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.

You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for commercial keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.

When you’re setting up your website promotion strategy, you’ll just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

SEO boils down to 3 components.

The first component is technical SEO.

Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. Here’s “Technical SEO for Nontechnical Marketers”

The good news is that you are using WordPress or an HTML-based website builder (aka not Flash or Wix), you have the big barriers taken care of. THe same applies to ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce or a self-hosted store with WordPress + Woocommerce.

If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the one SEO thing worth paying for. Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”

If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.

If you are using Shopify or Bigcommerce, then your technical issues are 90% solved if you have it set up by the book (Shopify’s guide and Bigcommerce’s guide). You should just be sure to use their SEO-related toolset to implement your on-page content, which happens to be the second component of SEO.

The second component of SEO is on-page content and optimization

It is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website.

I wrote about the concept of keyword mapping and some basic on-page SEO concepts (like keyword research, title tags and meta descriptions, and using Google Search Console) previously.

Depending on what your goals are, there are a ton of different pieces of content that can bring in visitors. The goal is to bring in new people AND support sales. Don’t create keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision. Make the authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market.

The great part about creating the absolute best content that you can find about everything your target market cares about related to your product is that it will naturally drive the third component of SEO – off-page factors.

“Off-page factors,” is the third component of SEO

This is SEO-speak for getting links, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.

Sketchy links, the type that you buy for $5, can harm your website. However, quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in search results.

There are a lot of ways to get links. But the best ways that I’ve found for website promotion are:

  • Creating content that no one else has done well, and then promoting it. I wrote this guide to creating prequalified content. I’m a fan of this guide for the promotion angle as well
  • Hustle PR promotion – Find the blogs they read. Find the news websites they follow. Find the social media feeds they are involved with. Research and stalk every single one until you can craft a manual email pitch (see direct outreach above)
  • Get even more ideas in my guide to Ahrefs

Using Social Media

If SEO is your giant battleship, I think of social as your aircraft carrier. It’s easy to burn a lot of energy flying planes for no reason, but nothing gives you a tactical edge and far reach like your aircraft.

Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.

The key is to realize that you don’t have to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.

So with that said, go ahead and claim your branding across all the various social networks, but focus on one or two that will generate an outsize of impact on your goals.

This is particularly effective for getting feedback on what you’re promoting. Similarly to direct outreach, you can use social media to solicit public feedback through forums like Reddit, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, etc. Just remember — it’s not about blasting your message out there for everyone and their mother. It’s about targeting the right audience. Find where they are and go there.

For the other profiles, learn how to automate them so you can have a presence without actually interacting. Set up alerts so you can “listen” even when you aren’t actively participating.

Lastly, remember you can make the process faster by paying to jump ahead. Just as you used AdWords or alternative channels to collect data on what works and what doesn’t for your website promotion goals, you can use social ads to test networks.

Next Steps

That’s the website promotion strategy I would map out for any website. It’s a long post, but it’s a plan you can implement quickly by breaking each section into small, doable steps.

Immediate next steps: start by defining your goals, personas, and revenue/budget. Then, put a plan in place that takes you through each phase of the process outlined above in a methodical manner. Go one section at a time and break each down into smaller steps you can follow without getting overwhelmed.

I’ve also written versions of this post for both local businesses and ecommerce websites.

The post How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!) appeared first on ShivarWeb.

“”

10 Signs It’s Time To Rethink Your Shipping Strategy

Shipping effectively is one of the most complex aspects of online selling, and a topic we focus on frequently here at Merchant Maverick. With so many variables affecting shipping, it can be difficult to know where your business stands. You could be missing out on valuable opportunities for savings or faster shipping without even knowing!

To help reveal some of these potential blind spots, we’ve compiled a list of 10 red-flag indicators. It may be time to rethink your shipping strategy if…

1. You Have Not Reevaluated Your Shipping Strategy Within The Past Year

Shipping rates change as often as teen fashion. If you aren’t up to date on the most recent pricing adjustments, your dollars may be flying right out the door.

And shipping rates aren’t the only elements in flux. Very likely, your fulfillment trends are changing frequently as well. Your customer base and shipping volume will vary from year to year. You may now have more international customers than you did in 2016, and you may be shipping larger items than in previous years.

A shipping strategy is not something you can set and forget. Much like your annual budget, your shipping strategy is something that should be monitored and reconsidered regularly.

If it’s been a year (or more) since you last considered your shipping methods, now is the time to look again!

2. You Use Only One Shipping Carrier

Variety is the spice of life, but it’s also the key to success when it comes to shipping. What one shipping carrier does poorly, another does well. If you sell products in multiple dimensions and weights (and most merchants do), you should be using at least two shipping carriers in your fulfillment process.

The main three shipping carriers are USPS, UPS, and FedEx, and every one has its own strengths and weaknesses. In fact, we’ve written an entire article describing the pros and cons of each carrier. Take a look at that article for more information or view a very brief summary of each carrier’s best qualities below.

USPS: Cheapest Option For Small & Light Packages

The USPS (US Postal Service) is without a doubt the cheapest option for merchants selling small and light products. If your packages weight less than two pounds, USPS will likely ship for the lowest rates — and if packages are lighter than 13 ounces, USPS simply can’t be beat.

UPS: Guaranteed Express Shipping

If you’re an Amazon Prime user, you may have noticed that many two-day shipments are delivered by UPS. That’s because UPS provides dependable, fast shipping with advanced tracking services. If you need to get a package to your customer ASAP, UPS may be the way to go.

FedEx: Saturday Delivery

Unlike UPS, FedEx does not charge additional fees for Saturday delivery. It’s all part of their regular offerings. Delivering products to your customers two days early could be the edge your business needs.

For more detailed information about the pros and cons of each shipping service, take a look at our article: USPS, UPS, Or FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is Best?

3. You Don’t Use Shipping Software

If you’re already using two or more shipping carriers, you know that juggling multiple shipping rates can be difficult. Integrating with a robust shipping software can eliminate or diminish a few of the challenges that inevitably come with a diverse shipping strategy.

Shipping software programs, like Shipping Easy, ShipStation, and Ordoro, simplify the shipping process by running rates calculations for you. They also generate packing slips and shipping labels, which you can print in bulk.

What’s more, these software companies typically make arrangements with major shipping carriers to offer discounts on shipping rates. If you haven’t tried a shipping software yet, the discounts alone may be worth it.

Read our article, The Best Shipping Software Solutions For eCommerce Businesses, to learn more about which options may be right for your store.

4. You Don’t Give Your Customers Options

Customers love options. When it comes to shipping speed and price, you should provide customers with at least few different choices.

I recommend giving customers three options: free and slow; cheap and moderately paced (around 5-7 business days); and fast and expensive.

Not every merchant can offer free shipping to all their customers, but I recommend finding some way, however limited, to provide free shipping without breaking the bank. For example, you could try offering free shipping for purchases over a set amount or running free shipping promos. Test your options until you find something that works.

By giving your customers choices, you decrease the risk of cart abandonment. You won’t scare away customers who would rather wait a few days than pay for expedited shipping, and you won’t frustrate customers who need your products tomorrow.

5. You Don’t Get Packaging Materials For Free

If you purchase all of your shipping materials, you could be missing out on big savings.

Many merchants are unaware that the USPS offers free boxes and envelopes to their customers. You can order these packing materials and have them delivered to your warehouse. Keep in mind that these boxes are intended to be used for USPS’s Priority Mail. So, if you’re going to be using these free packaging materials, you should also be shipping via Priority Mail.

If you’re really trying to save a buck and you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, you can take a dumpster diving approach. Contact local brick-and-mortar businesses and ask if you can raid their recycling bin. Retail stores get rid of loads of cardboard and filler material every week, and they might not be opposed to you repurposing some of that waste.

Be creative, and you will find ways to save on the everyday aspects of shipping!

6. Customers Complain About Late Packages

This one is a no-brainer. If customers aren’t receiving their purchases on time, something needs to be done.

Start by considering your order processing system. How long does it take to get an order packaged, labeled, and out the door? Is there anything you can do to streamline that process?

Next, revisit your site’s shipping promises to make sure they’re in line with what shipping carriers can reasonably deliver. Only advertise delivery times that you can guarantee.

If the fault for your delivery delays lies with your shipping carriers, you should consider signing up with 71lbs. 71lbs will automatically file for shipping refunds on FedEx and UPS packages that are delivered even one minute late. This could amount to big bucks for you, which may redeem some of the damage done by late shipments.

7. You’ve Never Heard Of Last Mile Delivery

Last mile delivery services (UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost) let you ship one package through two different carriers, ultimately cutting down on shipping costs.

With last mile delivery, your packages ship first with a private carrier (UPS or FedEx) until they reach your customer’s local post office. The USPS handles the delivery from there.

Letting the USPS handle the last mile of your deliveries will add an extra day or so to your delivery time, but it will also eliminate the residential surcharges that you would have incurred with UPS and FedEx.

You will have to determine for yourself whether an extra day’s delay in shipping is worth the savings. Either way, just being aware of the option is a step in the right direction.

8. You “Wing It” When It Comes To Return Shipping

You work hard to sell your products, so it’s discouraging when customers change their minds about their purchases. Unfortunately, no matter how good your product descriptions and images are, you will always be faced with customers who simply don’t want your products after they’ve been delivered.

With a return rate as high as 20% for apparel and soft good (up to 30% during the holidays!), returns are inevitable. So when it comes to managing returns, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Create a refund policy early on and make that policy very clear. Put it on your FAQs page, on every product page, and on your checkout page.

If you have chosen to offer free refunds, one strategy you may consider is including pre-printed return labels with your shipments. Your customers will simply attach these labels to their returns and drop them off at a nearby carrier office. You will only be charged for these shipping labels when they are scanned.

If you’d prefer not to make returns quite so available to your customers, you can also offer free (or paid) return labels through email when requested.

Regardless, you should have a set plan for returns, rather than scrambling every time the issue arises.

9. You Don’t Include Branded & Promotional Inserts

The way you choose to package your products says a lot about your brand. eCommerce marketers refer to this branding as the “unboxing experience,” and you want your brand to shine as your customers receive their orders.

However, for many sellers, the expense of custom boxes and luxurious filler material is simply too much to justify. If this is you, you may consider instead including a few branded inserts in your packages.

This is your opportunity to communicate with your customers away from a computer screen. Send thank you notes, promotional inserts, or small gifts in every package. Engage with your customers in a more personal way by giving them a tangible piece of your brand.

10. You Spend Too Much Time Filling Orders

Your main job should be managing your business, not filling orders. So, if you spend a large portion of your time packaging and shipping orders, now is a good time to reevaluate your shipping strategy.

Consider integrating with a solid shipping software program and/or hiring additional help to tackle that overwhelming number of orders. Just one extra person working a few hours each week can free you up to take care of more important things, like actually running an online store.

If you’ve tried all of that already and you’re still swimming in packing peanuts, it may be time to go one step further. Look into outsourcing your fulfillment with a professional logistics company. These fulfillment services will store, package, and ship your products. What’s more, they’ll handle all aspects of customer service pertaining to shipping. Of course, convenience comes at a cost, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons of these services as you make your decision.

Take a look at our article, Learn To Delegate: What It Means To Outsource Your Fulfillment, to learn more.

Final Thoughts

Do you resonate with any of the statements above? If so, it’s time to dive back into your business plan and rethink how you do fulfillment. Simplify, streamline, and save!

Find more resources about mastering shipping in our blog or read the shipping section of our free, downloadable eBook: The Beginner’s Guide To Starting An Online Store.

The post 10 Signs It’s Time To Rethink Your Shipping Strategy appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses

small-business-credit-card-processing-app

Say you have a small retail business. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in a super-complicated POS, and you don’t want to deal with a multi-year processing contract. Frankly, the idea of trying to narrow down the options in both categories at the same time is a little bit daunting. But enter another option: an app for a tablet (or even a smartphone) that bundles payment processing and POS software all in one go, with no contract or commitment. A single app with all (or at least most) of the features a brick-and-mortar storefront could want. But what are the best credit card processing apps for small retail businesses?

Cost is definitely part of the consideration, but more than that you need to make sure any software you use actually delivers the features you need to run your business. Most processing apps tend not to be as full-featured as a full POS, but they are capable of delivering on core needs. After we go over which features should be a priority, we’ll get into the most promising apps that let you process credit cards and run your business together.

Credit Card Processing Apps For Small Retailers

In addition to choosing apps based on the most useful features, we had two other criteria in choosing the apps: first, they had to be mobile apps for tablets (and preferably smartphones). Second, they must offer a bundled payment solutions. A couple of the options on the list allow you to bring your own processor if you want, but they do offer their own payment option as a default.

In no particular ranking, here are my favorite picks for retail-focused credit card processing apps:

Square

Square business model and mobile credit card processingSquare does have a specialty POS app for retailers, called Square for Retail. That one doesn’t actually make the cut because it’s designed for larger businesses and it actually lacks many features found in the basic free app, Square Point of Sale.

Point of Sale has definitely come a long way from just a basic mobile POS app, and it’s absolutely a solution that will grow with your business. Its clear, transparent pricing strategy (2.75% for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions) and robust app make it an attractive option for retailers. But then there’s the assortment of add-on services (email marketing, appointment scheduling, loyalty, payroll and more) that all integrate seamlessly. Combined with the huge assortment of supported phones and tablets, and the wide mix of supported hardware, and it’s hard not to see the appeal.

While Square does offer payroll and employee management, these features will cost you more — $5 per employee per month for each.

Something I do want to point out: Square does have many iPad-only features, but much of its hardware is equally compatible with Android devices as it is iPads, which is a major departure from most apps that favor the Apple ecosystem.

PayPal Here

PayPal Here review: One of the top Square alternativesPayPal is an obvious choice for a lot of retailers, especially those who sell online as well as in person. If you’re not interested in eCommerce, PayPal is still a good option because it does integrate with some very well known POS systems. PayPal also has its own credit card processing app, PayPal Here.

While PayPal Here is not quite as robust as the other options on this list (especially regarding inventory), it’s a very stable app with great pricing (2.7% per swipe/dip/tap) and a wide array of supported devices and compatible hardware. It’s the only app on this list to support Windows devices at all, and the phones on your tablet or phone doubles as a barcode scanner for both Android and iOS. Plus, you get up to 1,000 free employee accounts.

Plus, near-instant access to funds through your PayPal account is a pretty awesome deal, especially if you get the PayPal Debit card. Add in free sub-user accounts with restricted permissions (something Square will charge you monthly for), and you can see why PayPal makes the cut.

Shopify

Shopify started as an eCommerce offering but these days it’s added a powerful POS app that also works on smartphones as well as tablets. Everything syncs up nicely for a seamless experience whether you’re selling online, in a store, or even on the go, and while the smartphone version of the app is more limited, it’s still quite functional. Shopify’s features definitely line up more with a full-fledged POS than just a mobile POS.

Unsurprisingly, that means it’s a bit more expensive than the two previous options on this list. Shopify’s plans start at a very reasonable $29/month for its online store. If you want the countertop retail solution, that’s a $49 add-on per month, but you don’t need to purchase additional licenses to add more devices, which definitely ups the value.

You can also create staff PINs without creating staff accounts — which means if only a few of you need admin privileges but you do have a large staff and want to track who is running the register, you can get PINs without paying for additional accounts.

However, I do want to call attention to an underplayed solution Shopify offers: its Lite plan. For $9/month, you can sell on Facebook and other social media platforms, add a buy button to your blog, and use the POS app. The caveat is that you can’t add the retail package to it — which means while you have the app, you don’t have support for the receipt printer or cash drawer.

ShopKeep

Like Shopify, ShopKeep is more of a full-fledged POS than a mobile unit. But unlike Shopify, it’s not an eCommerce solution. It’s an iPad POS targeting all kinds of small businesses: retailers, yes, but also restaurants and quick-service environments. ShopKeep specifically targets small and medium-sized businesses, whereas many of these solutions are happy to tout that they work for businesses of all sizes.

ShopKeep’s user interface is highly intuitive, but also feature-rich, which is a major contributor to its popularity. In addition to its advanced inventory tracking tools, you get employee time-keeping, customizable reporting, and more. It also has a record for excellent (unlimited) customer support via email or live chat.

Sadly, there’s no smartphone app support for processing, but ShopKeep does offer integrated payments. Merchants get an interchange-plus plan based on their volume, which is pretty awesome considering there’s no contract involved, either. Everything is on a month-to-month basis. There’s also an additional $69 monthly charge per register.

Honorable Mention: SumUp

While SumUp has a few limitations — it lacks, for example, the ability to process simultaneously on multiple devices — it is overall a solid credit card processing app. The app supports a solid item library and variants, plus convenient tax settings. While there’s no offline mode and no invoicing, SumUp does have an interesting feature in its SMS payments. The app allows you to send a text message to a phone, with a link embedded. Customers can open the link, enter their payment information and complete the transaction.

Pricing is identical to Square for retail transactions: 2.75%. There is no keyed entry option within the app, but the low-priced virtual terminal (at 2.9% + $0.15, even below Square’s rate) is a workaround, though not one you should use for the bulk of your processing.

While new to the US market, SumUp has been operating in Europe for a few years, so it definitely has experience in the processing industry, and so I expect it to see fewer growing pains than other new solutions.

Must-Have App Features for Retailers

It’s safe to say what app features a business needs tends to vary from one business to the next. But there are definitely commonalities — solid inventory management or the ability to print receipts, for example. Check out our comprehensive comparison chart below to see how these systems compare to one another. 

Square for retail review logo imageSquare PayPal Here Shopify Shopkeep SumUp
BASICS
Integrated Processing Yes Yes Yes (Other options available) Yes (other options available) Yes
Processing Rates (for Most Swiped/Dipped Transactions) 2.75% 2.70% 2.70% Interchange-Plus based on volume 2.75%
Monthly Fee $0 $0 Plans start at $9/month $69 per register $0
Number of Devices Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 1 (additional registers $69/month) 1
Tablet Support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android Apple Apple, Android
Smartphone support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android N/A Apple, Android
Email/SMS Receipts Email/SMS Email/SMS Email Only Email Only Email/SMS
Receipt Printer Connectivity Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB Bluetooth, LAN, Wireless Bluetooth, USB, LAN Bluetooth, Ethernet Bluetooth, LAN
Cash Drawer Connectivity Yes (Tablet Only, With Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Star Printer Connectivity) Yes (iPad Only, with Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Printer Connectivity) Yes (with Printer Connectivity)
Barcode Scanner Yes (Bluetooth for iPad only; USB for Android) Yes (USB for windows, device camera for iOS/Android) Yes (Bluetooth) Yes (Bluetooth) No
FEATURES
Split Tender Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Offline Processing Mode Yes No Very Limited No No
Full and Partial Returns Yes Yes Yes (including store credit) Yes (Check store credit) Full Only
Sub-User/Employee Accounts Yes (monthly fee) Yes (free) Yes (PINS/accounts) Yes Yes (Limited)
Discounts by $ or % Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Customizable Receipts Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Generate Invoices Yes Yes Yes No No
INVENTORY
Bulk Item Upload Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Counts Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Variants Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Item Photo Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Create Item From App or Dashboard Yes Yes Yes Yes No (App Only)

It’s worth mentioning that many of these systems have FAR more features that we don’t cover in this chart (think: virtual terminals, eCommerce support, supported integrations, etc.). If you really want to learn what a system is fully capable of, I recommend checking out our complete review of each credit card processing app.

Processing with Square or PayPal Here? Up Your Inventory Game with Shopventory

With retail environments, inventory is usually a major concern. Shopventory is a monthly add-on that works with Square, PayPal Here, and the Clover system (except Clover Go). It allows for inventory tracking and reporting, bundling, variants, and more. The biggest difference will be that you’ll no longer be using your credit card processing app for inventory reports or management. Everything will be done through Shopventory’s dashboard. Check out our Shopventory review for more information.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to software and processing, there isn’t a good one-size-fits-all solution for merchants. Every business’s needs are unique, so what works best for one business may not be good for another. Many of the credit card apps we’ve listed here have no monthly fees, and others offer free trials or a free pricing quote. They are all top-rated offerings, as well. The biggest difference you’ll find is the feature sets and little differences in the user interfaces.

If you’re on the fence about which to choose, I recommend checking out our full reviews of each product. Got questions? We’re always here to help, so please leave us a comment!

As always, thanks for reading!

The post The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”