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8 Trends Driving E-commerce Innovation

trends

8 Trends Driving E-commerce Innovation

The world of e-commerce has undergone quite a year. And with everything going on in the world, chances are that growth, innovation, and change are what we can expect in the year to come as well.

Global growth or no global growth, you do have to stay on top of the latest trends if you want to stay on top in the world of e-commerce – otherwise, you will find yourself at the bottom of the heap. Let’s take a look at eight trends that are set to continue driving innovation in 2021 and beyond.

Mobile Continues to Be on the Rise

Even though mobile search overtook desktop a long time ago, mobile is still on the rise in every sense of the word. Focusing on the experience your users have when accessing your store via their mobile phones is certainly a trend that will not disappear soon.

Elements to focus on include:

-Speed

-Ease of access

-Ease of navigation

-Safety

-Personalization

A good example of the kind of mobile-first website design we are referring to is the LMNT website. It is super-fast, it is responsive, and it has retained that mobile-friendly design on the desktop version as well, providing more cohesion.

image source: drinklmnt.com

Voice Search Is Also Important

By 2025, it is predicted that 75% of US homes will have a set of smart speakers. And while voice search is currently still a bit of a dark horse for some users, Alexa, Siri, and Amazon Echo are slowly becoming a daily part of many lives.

What you as an e-commerce store owner can do is optimize for voice search, and enable your visitors to execute voice-based search commands and navigation on the website (or at least on its mobile version).

This will be a significant investment, and you may be able to hold off on it for a while. However, if your target market is among the population that is already heavily relying on voice commands, the time is now.

Personalization as the New King of Marketing

Shoppers have always responded better to offers that were tailor-made for them. Think of personalized letters in the snail mail, or calls from sales assistants who have reviewed your loyalty card with a brand and know what kinds of products you like to purchase.

Today, with the rise of AI, e-commerce is heavily relying on data-driven personalization. You can now know more about your visitors and their behavior online than they themselves know about themselves. This leads to a bit of a safety and trust issue, but also provides an incredible shopping experience.

The more you can tailor your ads, offers, and other marketing assets to a specific visitor, the better you will fare. Especially since other e-commerce brands are already doing it, and doing it well.

Social Commerce Making an Impact

As modern shoppers are spending more and more time on social media, it was only a matter of time before social media and e-commerce merged into one big happy experience.

Social media platforms are mini search engines themselves, and 55% of shoppers are making purchases from a brand’s own social media posts. As plenty of these platforms now allow shopping straight from the post, impulse purchases are on the rise – as are conversion rates.

A brand that has embraced social commerce is Zoma Sleep. This company has enabled their Instagram shop, allowing you to purchase one of their mattresses directly from the image posted on their feed. Never has it been this easy to get something delivered straight to your door.

image source: zomasleep.com

More Payment Options are Becoming Available

Not too long ago, there was the option of paying for an online purchase via credit card, when PayPal and Stripe were still distrusted as a scam. Today, we have hundreds of ways to pay online, from cryptocurrency to wire transfer.

Customers are expecting different payment options more and more – especially since all the biggest e-commerce names have allowed for them (think Amazon).

If you are insisting on one (or two) ways to pay, you are likely missing out on some serious traffic, and you’ll need to consider adding more options as soon as possible. However, remember that you should first focus on the security of your store, and only then allow new payment options – they will not matter one bit if your data storage is hacked.

Dynamic Pricing Is Here to Help

It can be very difficult to keep track of all the fluctuating prices in your niche and industry. After all, in order to remain competitive, you need to be able to adjust your prices when and if needed – and to be able to do that, you need to keep track of the prices of your competition.

Tools like Aura are here to help you out – if you are using Amazon as a marketplace. On the other hand, if you are using Shopify, you can also benefit from a dynamic repricing tool that will automatically keep track of the prices you set and alert you when a change needs to be made (or make the change for you).

The Importance of Order, Purchase, and Inventory Management Automation

In the world of e-commerce, automating as much as you can is sometimes what sets you apart from your competition. And while they are busying themselves with the tasks you have automated, you have the time and resources to devote your energies elsewhere.

One of the key processes you should be automating is the management of your orders, purchases, and inventory. This can easily be done with a tool like InFlow that will keep an eye on your orders and inventory, alerting you to every important change – while you grow your business.

B2B Is Also on the Rise – Again

The B2B e-commerce market is expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2021. As more of these businesses are moving online, you need to take into account how B2B buyers like to be charmed. Working in a B2B environment is different from working in B2C – at least in the world of e-commerce.

What you need to take into account is that millennials are becoming the new B2B buyers – so marketing for them is key. You also need to remember that Gen Z is also starting to make their mark on the workplace, and they do need to be treated differently.

Think in terms of simpler solutions, better user experience, more self-serve options, and providing all the information they need to make a purchase without them having to contact your sales team.

Final Thoughts

Trying to stay on top of all of these e-commerce trends might prove to be a challenge. However, if you manage to focus on the ones that pertain to your target audience the most, you’ll be able to greet the coming year well-prepared.

________________________________________________________________

Karl Kangur is the CEO of Result Compass

IMMEX

How Manufacturers Save Money Through Mexico’s IMMEX Program

The IMMEX maquiladora program combined with the available VAT certification offers one of the top cost-savings benefits for companies that implement nearshore manufacturing in Mexico. It offers a 16 percent VAT tax exemption for all temporary imported materials, equipment, and tools. Manufacturers that have previously expanded operations internationally may compare this benefit to what’s normally referred to as a “free trade zone.” Although tax-wise the IMMEX program is similar, the extra advantage is that it’s not centric to any one geographical location.

When added to access to a competitive, cost-effective workforce, close proximity to the U.S., and favorable trade relations through the USMCA, an operational transition from China to Mexico is a viable option for a growing number of manufacturers. Numerous global brands across multiple sectors have already experienced success over the years through Mexico manufacturing, and the benefits continue to entice new companies to explore their options closer to home.

Working with Mexico Shelter Companies to Ensure VAT Tax Exemption

To receive tax benefits through the IMMEX maquiladora program, manufacturers can either apply and become IMMEX program approved and then get their VAT certification on their own or operate under a shelter umbrella that already has both permits in place.

The timeline of being accepted into the IMMEX maquiladora program often takes several months due to the complexity of what’s necessary to meet the criteria. Plus, if there are any discrepancies in the application and a company is denied, they must start the process again. This impacts Mexico manufacturing costs since companies can’t import any components, materials, or equipment without having their IMMEX program.

Once they have it or work with a shelter to use the shelter’s program, manufacturers are able to initiate their equipment and materials imports and start the setup process on their current Mexico facility. As you can imagine, not doing this right and as fast as possible will present delays on your project. Mexico shelter companies allow manufacturers to receive VAT tax benefits automatically when working under the shelter’s IMMEX licenses since a VAT certification is already in place.

This is in addition to other advantages, such as lower customs broker fees and the use of special compliance software that tracks the timeframe of all temporary imported materials that exempt VAT payment at customs. Companies that wish to apply for the program on their own must hire a U.S. and a Mexico customs broker, since these are the representatives that process and transmit to customs all the documentation required to move materials and finish goods
through the US / Mexico border. Also if you select this operating option, you must absorb all compliance software fees.

Additionally, once approved, a manufacturer can lose VAT certification at any time if criteria is not met at the time of renewal or during an inspection from the Ministry of the Economy. Manufacturers who partner with a shelter company often benefit from decades of expertise, experience minimizing red lights at customs, and a history of optimizing operations.

Explore Cost-Saving Solutions When Manufacturing in Mexico

The fiscal benefit of Mexico’s IMMEX maquiladora program is significant but comes with strict guidelines and great responsibility. Although starting from scratch is an option when nearshore manufacturing in Mexico, it increases costs and extends operational set up times that can lead to bigger challenges down the road.

In addition to working under a shelter’s IMMEX license, a shelter provider can create a customized cost analysis that explores additional ways to save money and get operations up and running efficiently and on schedule.

Overall, the IMMEX maquiladora program provides a good avenue for manufacturers looking to get operations up and running quickly and smoothly.

_______________________________________________________________

Sergio Tagliapietra has spent his entire career pioneering administrative service solutions in Mexico. He works with government in all parts of Mexico and he is one of the country’s most respected business leaders in the field. He is president and founder of IVEMSA, a full shelter services provider and partner to manufacturing companies expanding to Mexico.

intermodal

SHIPPERS ON INTERMODAL: CHANGES NEEDED FOR GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

The intermodal transportation sector is experiencing an interesting shift as of lately. The combination of disruptions from the pandemic while others are caught playing catch up to adequately refill warehouses and distribution centers has posed new questions for a variety of sector leaders. For the intermodal sector, however, a new question is present in the minds of leaders and players in this arena: What is needed to leverage opportunities for growth post-pandemic and moving forward with the “new normal” we keep hearing about?

The answer to this question is not found within one single solution or technology offering. In fact, there is no single answer at all. The perfect mix of artificial intelligence, increasing capacity and creating more visibility and agility within operations will ultimately be the key to reviving and maintenance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all parts of the supply chain, from operations and compliance to technology integration, and although many players have successfully restarted operations, it is important to consider the ways transportation has been forever impacted to better prepare for future disruptions. But in what ways has the pandemic impacted the intermodal industry? Doug Punzel, president of Celtic Intermodal, explains exactly how the pandemic has impacted the sector and how methods are shifting to accommodate continued movement.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact the supply chain and logistics across industries, some areas have limited access to trucks,” explains Punzel. “The truck shortage has increased demand for intermodal transportation. In fact, beginning the third week in April, we have begun to see surges in volume–especially in California, Texas and Mexico. We are seeing shortages of box and train capacity in some areas, as shippers with expanding needs are caught up and filling warehouses. At the same time, many markets in the United States have plenty of box, drayage and train capacity.”

Utilizing a robust technology toolbox further supports the industry, although some sectors are slower to adapt than their partners. The key to remember here is not how much tech is being used, but what challenges are solved through their implementation and how they are customizable for specific customer needs.

“AI, machine learning and other software advancements allow real-time visibility of end-to-end supply chain operations to keep a pulse on the business,” Punzel says. “The ultimate goal is to reduce risks, capture more competitive freight pricing, and identify optimal routes for the greatest cost savings.

“With today’s volatile current events that threaten to disrupt the supply chain on a regular basis, flexibility is vital for business success. For many shippers, intermodal transportation has incredible potential to be a reliable and affordable component of logistics strategy. Technology innovations are supporting real-time visibility, mitigating risks, and optimizing transportation costs.”

Celtic Intermodal, a Transplace company, offers a unique solutions portfolio for customers seeking the perfect solutions, offering flexibility and visibility while keeping an eye on the unexpected. Celtic focuses on what the customer needs are throughout the process while identifying areas of improvement both operationally and financially. The company offers customers Strategic Capacity Solutions, Door-to-Door Intermodal, 53-foot Containers, 40-foot Containers, Cross-border Intermodal and International Drayage in addition to managing more than 20,000 40-foot container shipments each year. Celtic’s robust network of steamship lines and dray provider partners further support consistent capacity to meet the needs of their global customer network.

“We implement dynamic solutions to our customers’ transportation needs by providing exceptional customer services, capacity, reliability and expertise,” Punzel says. “With access to over 70,000 containers every day and strong relationships with major rail providers, including Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, CN, CP, and KCS/KCSM, our dedicated account team focuses on our customers–providing the best combination of rates and routes.

“Our cross-border intermodal services bypass border-crossing issues and congestion,” he continues. “We enhance the security of customers’ shipments while reducing overall transportation spend with our door-to-door intermodal services across Canada, Mexico and the U.S.”

The unique relationship Celtic has with its Class 1 Railways network offers customers competitive options in transportation that others cannot. Punzel points out two specific pros to working with Celtic that keep shipments moving and customers satisfied.

“We are strategically located near our customers and where rail ramps are located,” he says. “We can be more effective with short-haul moves within five to 800 miles because we are closer to rail ramps. And in case of derailment or tunnel outage or another type of outage, we leverage our relationships to remain in close communications with Class 1 Railways and be more collaborative to support our customers’ needs. We conduct network analysis to help customers identify modal conversions and scale up or down with volume. With well-integrated intermodal transportation, overall shipping costs are greatly reduced.”

Punzel goes on to explain that the simplicity of scheduling is a significant factor to promoting growth for the intermodal sector. It goes directly back to predictability and the constant need for progression within the industry. The relationships developed and utilized by Celtic provides added security for customers in case of the unpredictable. This is especially important in today’s “new normal,” where measures in safety and regulation seem to change without much notice. The supply chain does not have time to stop and companies such as Celtic present solutions for issues before they happen.

“Customers with over-the-road freight are open to conversion to intermodal only if the schedule is predictable,” Punzel explains. “Over the past three years, all railroads have improved service by maintaining reliable, scheduled, on-time performance, which is key to growth.”

So, what exactly needs to occur for progression and growth within the intermodal sector? In simple terms, the perfect mix consisting of the right technology that provides accurate and timely visibility, advanced predictions analytics, integrated communications, and removing inefficiencies that create unplanned costs. This perfect mix is not as hard to attain when customers are paired with the right partners for the job. As we learned with Celtic, strategic locations and competitive offerings make a significant difference in offering the best options and supporting the bottom line.

_______________________________________________________________

Doug Punzel is the president of Celtic International, to which he brought more than three decades of transportation experience. He joined Celtic in 2014 and has been instrumental in the company’s growth. Throughout his tenure in the industry, he has served in a number of roles, including sales, customer service, operations and leadership. Prior to Celtic, he was a leader within the intermodal sales division at Schneider National.

e-commerce

7 Steps to Create Good E-Commerce

In the midst of the recent release of the Best Online Shops 2021, Newsweek, DK Hardware CFO Art Goldman shares his thoughts on what it takes to build a solid and sustainable online sales strategy.

We call e-commerce a type of business that sells through an electronic store, either through an app or a website. When creating an electronic business, it is advisable that you follow these 7 steps to create good e-commerce.

Before starting, I have to warn you that -although it seems a simple and intuitive task- to be successful you must control many aspects and technical elements, as well as considering whether it is worth looking for an agency or business to help you or to do everything yourself. A good start is essential for the project to survive and continue in the following months and years. DK Hardware for instance was one of the first online retail stores in the United States and Canada back in 2008 and has continuously evolved to adapt to consumer needs and expectations.

The truth is that in order to be successful you must delegate many tasks to third parties; rarely can a person execute all the tasks alone. Hence, apart from these digital marketing tips, you should also take into account other legal advice and the different formulas that you can implement to associate yourself with the different professional elements that you require.

1) Analyze both internal and external elements that can harm your project

Logically, before starting any project, a good business plan must be made so that it has the success that we can expect from it. For this reason, the first step is to analyze both the internal and external elements that can harm your business. We already have a key piece that is choosing a good platform to manage the e-commerce or online retail perspective. In fact, if we do this analysis well, we can not only prevent some of those negative elements before they appear but also carry out future strategies so that if they arise, the team knows how to act against them before they escalate.

A) What is an internal analysis?

By internal analysis, we understand the observation of how the company is going to function and its financial resources. Here comes into play the work that legal consultants carry out in tax, labor, and financial law to advise entrepreneurs on how to optimize all these elements legally. However, you can also do it yourself, taking care of these aspects:

-Economic and financial situation of the company.
-Human resources and labor expenses.
-How to obtain financing.
-Structuring the distribution network to streamline expenses.
-How to formalize contracts with the different agents or subjects involved (employed, self-employed, subcontractors).

B) Analysis of external agents

This all about observing and analyzing the competition. It is especially important to have good tools that allow us to evaluate our main competitors in different aspects such as social networks and organic positioning in search engines.

On the other hand, from a legal point of view it is about analyzing the current legislation, being essential to observe the following normative aspects, which may vary in each state, country, and continent:

-Contractual law.
-Consumer protection laws.
-Data Protection law.
-Statute of the workers, the commercial and civil code to establish contractual labor relations.

2) Create a SWOT

From this list of steps to create good e-commerce, the next one I recommend is once we have analyzed our internal and external landscape, do a SWOT to synthesize the competitive advantages that we have; as well as the disadvantages, opportunities, and weaknesses.

Once we have the SWOT completed, it will be easier to identify our competitive advantage.

3) Identify the competitive advantage

The third step in creating e-commerce is to identify our competitive advantage. This must be maintained, expanded if possible, while always monitoring that the competition does not remove this differentiating element in the future. Hence, many entrepreneurs maintain that creativity must not only be maintained during the first stage of the business; but during throughout the endeavor.

Furthermore, if we identify the competitive advantage, it will be much easier to set prices.

4) Define the target audience

Once we have identified our competitive advantage, we must define our target audience. It is a difficult task on many occasions since it is not only about imagining it, but to try to find out who really buys those products and who is willing to buy them.

It is good to accompany it with interviews, prospecting techniques, surveys and focus groups.

5) Select a good e-commerce platform

Creating an electronic store is a difficult task which not only has to result in a functional platform with flawless user experience, but also be optimized for search engines and have all the appropriate psychological elements so that people who browse the website finally buy and acquire those products.

Therefore, there are many aspects and factors to take into account, like:

A) Choose a good domain.
B) Select the quantity of products that will be sold.
C) Hire a good hosting.
D) Select a technological platform.
E) Create an attractive and user-friendly design.
F) Use logistics and stock control software.

6) Communication strategy

Once the skeleton of the website has been configured and a coherent structure has been planned, you must create and design a solid online aligned communication message, led by professionals in the field. You can think of social media and public relations to convey your message initially and, if the budget allows, escalate that into aligned marketing campaigns with a traceable ROI. Google Ads and social media might surprise you with its efficiency and usual low costs for tailored advertisement.

7) Set product prices

Now that we have everything designed and that you have probably already executed each of the elements to create a good e-commerce environment, we will have to establish the prices for our products. It is good not only to have the advice of marketers on these prices; but also, from the tax consultant or financial advisor to help your company run properly and not have losses that endanger its validity.

To set prices on your online store, it is essential that you take into account the analysis of the situation that you did at the beginning of the project, both external and internal elements. Setting prices may sound quite easy, but in practice, a profoundly serious study is required to help you optimize each of the elements that make up the production and distribution chain of the company.

With this analysis we must enhance our strengths and create opportunities in our weaknesses, only when you know the profitable price of each product, you can later make discounts, promotions, offers, and bonuses on designated dates (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Black Friday, etc.).

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Featured in America’s Best Online Shops 2021 – Newsweek, DK Hardware is one of the largest online home improvement retailers for a variety of hardware manufacturers all over the United States and Canada.

manufacturing industry

AI is Transforming the Manufacturing Industry: Pros and Cons

The expansion of the global economy continuously triggers the use of new technologies across sectors. There’s no doubt that the manufacturing industry headlines the application of artificial intelligence technology. From product design, production, supply chain, and logistics, manufacturers are using AI software.

The use of these AI analytics and data has helped improve product quality and efficiency. It has also improved the safety of employees and delivery processes.

However, the AI-powered industrial revolution is not without criticisms. Thus in this post, we’ll consider the pros and cons of AI in transforming the manufacturing industry.

Pros of AI transformation of the Manufacturing Industry 

Generally, AI’s beneficial to the various aspects of manufacturing and product distribution. Here are the positives of artificial intelligence:

Predictive Analytics for Increased Production Output

AI manufacturing systems make use of predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms. Since the manufacturing sectors have a large volume of data, the AI predictive analytics is powered from this data. Data are kept in the cloud for analysis and monitoring of any process or equipment disruption.

With this predictive setup, companies can now easily apply a predict-and-fix maintenance model. The guesswork regarding what is wrong with the equipment or process is eliminated. Rather than stop the whole production to detect-and-fix the problem, AI predictions pinpoint anomalies more quickly. It likewise suggests tools and solutions to correct the problem.

Furthermore, manufacturers can also sync production schedules to enhance production output. A report from Mickensey says that an AI predictive maintenance model can increase productivity by 20%. And it can decrease maintenance costs by as much as 10%

Better Generative-Design Process

Another AI advantage is that manufacturers can create better ways of designing their products. With generative-designs, the designer can input product details. Such details include the type of material, appropriate production methods, budget, and time. The designer is also able to input all possible constraints. Using an AI algorithm, the details can be processed to meet a list of possible product options.

The appropriate solution is then tested to suit manufacturing conditions. What makes the generative-design stand out is it eliminating human bias design options. And then it proposes more suitable performance demands.

Improved Process Quality 

Artificial intelligence technology enables a more innovative production process and better product quality. It ensures that products meet the required quality standards and regulations. Manufacturers can achieve this by using equipment that operates with AI technologies like ML and big data.

For instance, tracking sensors could be used in logistics and haulage. It will help to monitor location, take stock, freight charges, and more. According to reports, automation of inventory improves process services by 16%. At the same time, inventory turnovers are likewise increased by 25%.

Such inventory data is used to check for any impending faults that may affect the product delivery service. Thus the company can attain a higher level of specialization. It also eliminates process downtime and increases productivity.

Ever-changing Market Adaptability 

Besides production, there are other significant aspects of manufacturing where AI is pivotal. These include distribution and supply chains, monitoring, customer behavior, and change patterns. Therefore, AI in manufacturing ensures that companies can predict possible market changes. With this, they can go ahead to strategize towards better production and other cost management processes.

Additionally, manufacturers can use AI algorithms to estimate market demands. Such estimates are possible because AI uses the information gathered from different sources. Such as consumer behavior, inventory of raw materials, and other manufacturing processes.

Optimizing Supply Change

When AI technology is adopted in the supply chain process, there’s transparency and increased data. It’s used to enhance manufacturing processes and customer service further. Data from multiple devices are collected and analyzed in real-time to get a more in-depth insight like a possible challenge. Manufacturers are then able to make informed industry-related decisions. AI helps minimize cost and time that may be incurred on warehousing and shipping in the event of any mishap.

AI tools and solutions also help schedule factory activities, demand and supply gaps, and avoid over or under production. Mckinsey estimates that AI technology-based supply chain management enables businesses to cut down forecasting errors by 20-50%.

 

 

 

Furthermore, AI chatbots enable taking care of client inquiries using human-type interactions. In turn, it helps to free up human resources. Such technology allows manufacturers to address clients’ requests and enquires quickly. For instance, a custom writing review service like Online Writers Rating may need to go through thousands of papers daily. And, at the same time, they’ll have to address customer inquiries. But with chatbots, AI provides the necessary customer support, while employees focus on the papers.

Cons of AI in the Manufacturing Industry

As earlier stated, AI in manufacturing is not without criticisms. These are contained in the following artificial intelligence cons:

It’s on the Pricey Side

Artificial intelligence implementation and maintenance costs are on the high side. The budget is one that is often too pricey for small companies and start-ups. Although AI cuts manufacturing labor costs, it still requires installation and maintenance fees. You also don’t want any cyberattacks on your systems, so you’ll also need to consider the cost of cyber threat protection.

Scarcity of Experts and Skills Persons 

Because AI tech is a continually evolving field, thus AI experts with the requisite skills are usually few. Since these tools need regular sophisticated programming, it’s essential to consider expert availability. And also, because they are in high demand, the cost of employing such hands will be on the high side.

Open to Vulnerabilities

Another artificial intelligence con is its vulnerability to cyber-attacks. A recent World Economic Forum report shows that cyber-attacks are among the top five global stability risks. Such information can be pretty scary for any manufacturer using AI software. As AI becomes powerful and wide-spread, cybercriminals are working hard to device new hacking methods. One minor breach can disrupt or fully shutdown a manufacturing business.

Conclusion

AI goes a long way in sustaining your manufacturing business, even amid constant change. It provides predictive analysis that can help manufacturers make more informed decisions. From the product design down to customer management, there’re several positives of artificial intelligence. These include an improvement in process quality, optimized supply chain, adaptability, etc.

However, AI technology isn’t without its cons. Such as expensive budgets and vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Yet the pros of AI outweigh these cons. Therefore, the manufacturing industry can only improve by leveraging AI applications.

____________________________________________________________________

Frank Hamilton has been working as an editor at essay review service Best Writers Online. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.

e-commerce

Riding the Wave of Demand: All it took was a Global Pandemic to Sort Out the E-Commerce Winners from the Losers

Undeniably, businesses all around the world today find themselves grappling with the profound changes we are experiencing as the world comes to terms with the impact of this pandemic.

All across the world, businesses—from the local deli to major conglomerates—are transforming their offline and online operations as they seek to protect their customer relations. With consumers confined to their homes, we are experiencing an enormous e-commerce surge, which is set to have an unforeseen impact on consumer behavior.

It is a phenomena experienced by existing e-commerce platforms like Ding.com and newcomers focused on in-store sales alike: Overnight, we’ve all been forced to pivot, regardless of our platform, size or clout. As lockdowns continue in many parts of the world, and people continue to practice caution in regions where they have been lifted, online sales have increased exponentially, especially in the food and grocery space.

While many e-commerce retailers adapted their existing digital strategies to maintain presence and reach, others lacked the infrastructure, confidence, and social media savvy to stay as close as possible to their customers during the pandemic.

Making the Connection

Has COVID-19 merely accelerated rapidly changing consumer trends toward e-commerce? Perhaps, although such is the force of human nature, there will always be room for offline exchanges. Critically, as we seek to enter recovery, how do we keep customers engaged long after the fear from the pandemic subsides?

Our own experience is instructive of the challenges many businesses are facing. At Ding.com, the first thing we did after the outbreak was declared, was to remove all fees for our customers globally for an initial period—a significant investment, both financially and operationally. It meant that we could help people stay connected to their loved ones during those early, fearful days.

Making those connections took a monumental effort, as we needed to action this decision across every one of our operators, countries, teams, languages, and technologies. It also served another vital purpose. The lockdowns compelled Ding.com to transition to working fully remotely–we closed all our offices at the same time–so we learned how to communicate and work together well remotely, making quick decisions together despite being physically apart.

The Art of Pivoting Under Pressure

The lockdowns implemented by various governments led to an instantaneous spike in demand for our products as specific countries went into lockdown we saw a direct correlation in terms of demand for mobile top-up–first Italy, then Spain, then France, then the UK, and across the Middle East. We had to make big investment decisions on going into markets that might not have been traditional markets for us–pivoting under pressure is quite an art.

The move into online retail can seem daunting, especially if it is forced by unforeseen factors such as this major public health emergency rather than as part of a carefully planned long-term strategy. Trust is key to earn and retain consumer loyalty, so too is visibility. Many retailers fear they lack the technical knowhow. But we know that the heart of any retail experience is knowing your customer and knowing what they want.

It pays to invest the time and energy now into making the transition to digital a long-term success. In my view there are three key principles to live by when you are considering adapting your business to an online model:

 1. Be Easy to Find

Be everywhere where your customer is–make it really easy for them to find you.

2. Be Easy to Buy

Speed and ease are key to building trust and winning business. Guide your customers on every part of the journey. From browsing to payments, be where they need you.

3. Be the Reason They Stay

Make it the most wonderful experience for them once they’re here. Listen to their needs, continue to evolve to serve those needs, reward their loyalty and commitment to you.

The principles can seem overwhelming, especially if you are an SME or a start-up or a business whose main model is offline. So it’s best to start small and scale-up.

When you’re getting your business set up online, the opportunity to sell to a global audience is an enthralling one. But slow down. A McKinsey A report on rapidly setting up an e-commerce function suggests success is possible in a relatively short timescale, pragmatism is wise in the beginning. This might mean limiting delivery to a certain region or offering a more limited range of products at the outset. This gives companies the chance to identify and address pain points and bottlenecks before scaling up to full capacity.

It’s vital, as you move online, to make the most of what analytics can tell you about your customer. Online shoppers give retailers a wealth of information about themselves when they make a purchase. Google or Facebook demographic information will tell you where they live, their ages, and gender, while the website and e-commerce tool itself will tell you how often a customer shops on your website, what category of products is most important to them, and how much they spend. In the marketing world, this is known as a customer persona.

This information is crucial, as it can be used to retarget them with similar products in the future. It will also allow merchandising managers to understand which products appeal most to your target demographic, and which are of little interest and should be discontinued. You can also boost sales by combining social media platforms with email marketing. It pays off handsomely: according to Oberlo, every $1 invested in email marketing results in $42 of sales.

Go Big, or Go Home

In many respects, we have no choice but to adapt, if recent actions by major players such as Amazon and Facebook to increase their market share are anything to go by. On May 19, Facebook announced that it will launch a full shopfront on both its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

With more than 3 billion monthly active users between them, the opportunity for consumers to make direct sales within those apps will be a gamechanger for the social network. It also represents an unmissable opportunity for new streams of revenue for retailers, whether they’re a mom-and-pop store or a major enterprise when their consumers can shop in real-time.

If you take your time and get it right, the rewards of online are unending and will help you achieve the best of both worlds. Despite, or perhaps because of this unprecedented business interruption, there has never been a better time to ride the wave of demand for online.

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Denise Dunne is chief growth officer at Ding.com, the No. 1 international mobile top-up platform. Having joined the Dublin, Ireland-based company in November 2019, she is now responsible for Ding.com’s consumer business. She arrived at the 14-year-old concern with 15 years of experience from a number of international companies, including MindSauce, Neom and Paddy Power. Developing and executing robust customer growth strategies and delivering transformational revenue growth is what Denise has spent her career doing.

holiday season

How to Prepare Your Online Store for the Holiday Season During COVID-19

We’re already getting super hyped for the holiday season. From delicate snowfalls to generous gift-giving to spending time with family and loved ones, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

But if you work in retail, the holiday season can mean something VERY different. Many boutique owners find themselves busier than ever during the holidays. Most years, the holiday season means long lines at malls, loads of crowds, and tons of in-person sales. But this year’s going to be totally different.

Online stores have steadily grown in popularity over the years – but COVID-19 made the shift to e-commerce accelerate at its fastest ever rate. This holiday season will be totally dominated & led by e-commerce stores. Many believe the 2020 holiday season will be the single biggest e-commerce event in HISTORY.

If you own an online boutique, that’s great news for you! It means you’ll have the chance to capture all kinds of new and existing customers looking to buy gifts for their loved ones (and take advantage of the great deals for themselves, too). But it also means you’ve got to brace yourself. Things are about to get WAY busier.

Whether you’ve already made it through many a holiday season as a boutique owner before or this will be your first one, read on to learn how to prepare your online store for the holiday season during COVID-19.

Make it easy for your customers to buy online

Make sure you’re totally prepared to accept online orders – and that your website makes the online buying experience as soon as possible. Go through your online store as though you were a customer and make sure the entire buying process is crystal clear. Take a moment to work out any kinks you find so you can provide a seamless buyer journey. If this is your first time selling online, make sure payment solutions are totally ready by running a few test purchases.

Once you’ve done that, update your website for the holiday season. Update your inventory so in-stock items are clearly marked. Promote seasonal offers and holiday deals throughout your website. Clearly display your boutique’s shipping and return policies, especially if you’ve modified them for the holidays. The easier it is for your customers to make a purchase (and take advantage of awesome holiday deals), the more likely they’ll be to do so!

Plan & stock your inventory in advance

And by “in advance,” we mean ASAP! It’s always a good idea to start stocking up on holiday inventory early, but this year it’s more important than ever. Many shipments have been delayed due to the pandemic, so the sooner you can order your inventory, the better.

Make sure you choose to work with a reliable supplier. While the increase in high demand affects retailers like you, it also affects manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers in a big way. Order early and choose a supplier with great customer service. Supplied is a great option for online boutique owners looking for a wide variety of wholesale boutique items, flexible payment terms, and free shipping (yes, even during the holidays!)

Schedule out promotions

Many customers pretty much expect great holiday promotions from the brands and boutiques they love. Start planning out what sorts of promotions you’ll run and when you’ll run them. Stagger promos and marketing efforts carefully so you have a flow of ongoing sales instead of a few huge peaks. It’ll make it easier for you to fulfill orders and provide great service.

With COVID-19, it’ll be difficult to predict exactly how long shipping times will take. To make it easier for you to ship items out well in time for the holidays, incentivize early buying with sales. Experts predict that Amazon’s October Prime Week will cause many buyers to purchase holiday gifts earlier than ever before. Consider offering a sale during it in an effort to pick up some of that traffic.

You’ll also want to make sure you take advantage of Black Friday. Many of the largest retailers have already announced that their stores will be closed for Thanksgiving weekend, meaning there will be far fewer in-person Black Friday doorbuster deals. Try and capture some of that excitement online by offering a great deal for Thanksgiving weekend.
Expect delays

During the 2020 holiday season, getting packages to arrive on your customers’ doorsteps on time will be tricky. Encourage people to buy early. Be transparent about shipping delays you’re aware of and do your best to manage your customers’ expectations. As tempting as it may be, don’t promise a delivery date you can’t guarantee.

Once the guaranteed holiday shipping deadline passes, offer virtual gift cards that can be instantly delivered and used towards any item in your shop. This provides a way for last-minute shoppers to still support your shop.

Prepare for fulfillment & delivery

A lot of online boutique owners are out there running a one-woman show – but during the holiday season, you might want some help. If you usually do shipping and fulfillment operations all by yourself, consider enlisting a friend or an employee to help with the busy season.

If you have a brick-and-mortar location or a lot of local customers, offer in-person pickup to allow customers to save on shipping costs – and to allow you to package and mail fewer orders!

To sum up – to prepare your online store for the holiday season during COVID-19, you’d best get started now. Start ordering wholesale boutique items now so you have plenty of time to prepare for any delays, update your inventory, schedule out promotions, and allow your customers to order their gifts as early as possible.

Supplied members enjoy up to 75% off of wholesale prices on over 100,000 wholesale boutique items. And with free shipping, flexible payment terms, and no minimum orders, it’s perfect for stocking up quickly in preparation for the holiday season. Become a member (it’s free!) and place your first order today.

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Joseph Heller is a small business expert and CEO of SuppliedShop.com. Supplied makes it easier for small boutique owners around the world to access high-quality, affordable wholesale boutique items, whether to stock their physical store or IG shop.

ships

DON’T LOOK SOLELY AT THE LARGEST SHIPS IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS

When it comes to ocean transportation, some might automatically think of massive container vessels carrying loads upon loads of cargo with ease. Vessels such as the OOCL Hong Kong, COSCO Shipping Taurus or Madrid Maersk are on the list of the largest shipping vessels across the globe. Although these and other large-scale shipping vessels significantly contribute to the movement of goods in the supply chain, there are quite a few smaller vessels and ships that are just as important and continue contributing to the transportation of goods and fulfilling other purposes for those on the water.

Our goal is to give these smaller vessels credit where it is rightfully due, all while examining their position in the ocean transportation industry and where they are headed.

REEFER SHIPS (AND CONTAINERS)

Known for being smaller in size and scale, the reefer ship serves a special purpose in transporting goods, specifically perishable goods including food and other items requiring specific cooling capabilities. The major differentiator among these ships is their unique design exclusively for transporting cold items. These ships are typically equipped with specific access points and pallets capable of holding reefer containers (usually twenty-foot TEUs). Port Technology has appropriately referred to these reefer containers as “large fridges carried by containerships.”

Among the types of cargo commonly found on one of these reefer ships, bananas are considered the most important over fruits, meats, and even blood and other expensive types of cargoes, according to Port Technology. Other items include pharmaceuticals, flowers and other perishable food varieties. Without the capabilities of these reefer ships to ensure proper temperatures are maintained during transport, many parts of the supply chain would suffer.

The reefer ship does have its competition, however. The previously mentioned “large fridges” are becoming savvier and offering more in terms of temperature variations during transport. Port Technology reports that in 2018, only eight total reefer transport specialist companies existed out of the original 20+ back in 2000. These upgraded reefer containers are cited as the main culprit of this.

BARGE VESSELS

Known for its unique “raft” appearance and functions, the barge vessel stands out by offering much more than what meets the eye. This special type of transport method requires some powering from another source, meaning it does not have its own engine to keep it moving. Although there are some self-powered barges in the modern market, the classic barge in known for relying on a tugboat to move from point A to point B successfully. The barge maintains its position for inland transportation through its environmentally friendly benefits such as reduced fuel usage while transporting more in fewer miles compared to trucks.

According to a report from the American Maritime Partnership, more than 750 million tons of cargo are moved by the famous tug-and-barge combination every year, in addition the $30 billion economic impact in America. The barge industry is not exempt from disruptions, however. Last year proved to be a difficult time for the industry due to extreme flooding and trade tensions, directly impacting the agricultural sector. The Waterways Journal reported that 19.8 million acres went without planting in 2019 due to flooding.

“While some freight rates have appreciated, we still face downward pressure in agricultural and coal markets that need significant improvements in demand before the barge industry can realize a true recovery from what we have seen in the last three to four years,” commented Mark Knoy, president and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) in the report.

TUGS

Think of tugs (or tugboats) as a “part two” of the barge vessel. The tug holds its own in the maritime world, however, and is not solely confined to pulling the barge in its lifetime on the water. Whether it is an ocean, sea, rescue or harbor tug, these much smaller helpers on the water work alongside non-powered vessels or other watercraft, including some sizeable ships that needs assistance when in trouble.

These small-but-mighty supporters have a decent range of displacement anywhere from 300 to 1,000 tons, depending on which type (ocean, rescue, harbor). Large tugs are of great importance to global navies. One of the largest of these types of tugs is the Russian Navy’s Vsevolod Bobrov, which boasts a 9,700-ton displacement and the ability to break ice when needed.

CHEMICAL TANKERS

Think of these tankers as the hazmat vessels of the maritime shipping world. Ranging from S1, S2 and S3 rankings of ships, the chemical tankers on the ocean vary in degrees of safety measures based on the types of chemicals onboard and their requirements outlined by the International Bulk Chemical Code (IBC). These tankers vary in size but are typically anywhere from 5,000 dwt all the way up to 50,000 dwt, although the larger tankers are not as frequently seen. These ships come equipped with individual deep well pumps, pipelines and other systems to ensure minimum risk of exposure and potential contamination.

Chemical tankers are a different breed of ships as they come with an increased set of risks from the liquids they transport. Among common risks, cargo compatibility, cargo spillage, toxicity and flammability all pose potential problems for those onboard and the environment. Compliance simply cannot be subpar in efforts when it comes to transporting chemicals and leading chemical carriers such as Odfjell Tankers, Fairfield Chemical Carriers, and B+H Shipping continue to make waves in the transport of chemicals and other related liquids across the globe.

These are just a few of the various types of watercraft supporting the global supply chain. Without these ships guiding the way, many of the things needed to keep domestic and global economies afloat would not be as easily accessible, transportable, or available. As containerships and other mega-vessels continue to challenge the ocean shipping landscape, it is important to consider the ways these smaller ocean vessels and ships can transform to better meet market demands while supporting sustainable operations. At this point in time, these smaller players in ocean shipping are here to stay.

cargo

Shipping Strategies for High-Value Cargo

Shipping cargo of any kind requires taking certain precautions to ensure the shipment arrives at its destination safely. Things get more complicated when high-value cargo is involved. Shipping cargo that includes unique pieces of art, fine jewelry, electronics, luxury apparel, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and high-end food is riddled with even more risk. Any company can use a variety of shipping strategies for high-value cargo. The main aim, however, is always to completely eliminate the risk of damaging, losing, or anyone stealing the items. The strategies have to account for an optimal delivery route and provide security at each stage of shipping – transshipment, transport, and storage.

How does cargo theft happen?

Most logistics companies worth their salt are able to ensure their shipments of high-value cargo do not get lost or damaged by taking all of the necessary precautions. However, one risk that is getting increasingly harder to eliminate is that of theft. If the company’s capacity is tight, this might force them to work with carriers they don’t have longstanding relationships with. This can open up the door for sophisticated theft. People who do this know a lot about the luxury goods supply chain. They are able to obtain the right credentials, or at least look like they did.

If they don’t opt for fraud, they will opt for hijacking. Different territories around the world report different criminal patterns. Shipping companies have to toe the line of providing the best and most effective security strategies for the shipping of high-value cargo without their surcharges skyrocketing. Through careful planning, identifying problem areas, and mitigating risks, a company can develop successful shipping strategies for high-value cargo.

Speed

One of the simplest ways of eliminating the risk of theft when it comes to high-value cargo is to expedite the entire shipping process. The more quickly it happens, the fewer opportunities there are for something to go wrong. Picking the right timing can both help with the speediness of the delivery as well as further lowering the risks. For example, it is advisable to avoid the shipping of luxury items during weekends and holidays. The company should also plan the route meticulously. In turn, it should require the drivers to check in with the dispatcher at regular intervals as well as report any detours.

Expedited shipping requires a lot of careful planning and ensuring the security of the entire supply chain. Properly preparing the shipments for transit, monitoring the security measures, and ensuring visibility of the shipment throughout the process are all important strategies to ensure the safety of high-value cargo.

Building trust

Unfortunate incidents are more likely to happen when dealing with new partners companies don’t have sufficient experience with. Creating lasting business relationships means staying informed and involved in every part of the shipping process. It is one way to ensure your high-value cargo arrives at its destination safely at the allotted time. Building the trust between a company and its partners requires a lot of work on the ground. This includes regular visits to the facilities, educating the personnel about security threats and how to spot them, and learning about the language, infrastructure, and common practices of new countries they do business in.

Security measures

Shipping strategies for high-value cargo usually involve several different security measures. Some of the common combinations are using box trailers or anti-slash curtains, dedicated trucks, carefully selecting and training carriers, and having fixed parking instructions. It is also important to ensure that the shipment is monitored at all points of transport. Visibility means following a shipment from the pick up to its final destination. Some of the tools used for this include barcoding, RFID tags, and GPS trackers.

Another one of the great strategies for preventing theft is hiding the fact that the shipment is anything worth stealing. Checking the regulations and working within their confines can help you make the documentation as generic as possible. As much as they can, shippers try to use generic terms or code instead of listing specific information about the shipper and consignee. This is particularly important to apply to the description of the high-value cargo.

Furthermore, it might even be a good idea to limit access to sensitive information within the shipping company itself. It is also important to require a sign-off of count and condition whenever the shipment changes hands.

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Neal Samson is a freelance writer with extensive working experience in the logistics industry. He mostly writes articles for companies like Tik Tok Moving and Storage and covers a variety of different topics related to logistics, shipping, and moving.

e-commerce

UPS, FEDEX, AMAZON, TARGET, WALMART AND BEST BUY ARE KILLING IT IN E-COMMERCE. HERE’S HOW.

COVID-19 has sped up e-commerce adoption across all industries as many businesses emerge from the global pandemic battered and bruised. At the end of 2019, e-commerce represented 11.3 percent of total U.S. retail sales. This percentage inched up to 11.8 percent at the end of the first quarter of this year. For the second-quarter, some estimates suggest this percentage could double, at minimum, as businesses closed, and consumers stayed home because of COVID-19.

Indeed, while increased online sales is not a new phenomenon, the speed with which new generations of customers have gone online is and has led to a change in demand that is unlikely to reverse quickly according to McKinsey & Company’s latest COVID-19 Briefing Materials: Global Health and Crisis Response (June 1, 2020). McKinsey estimates that 20-60 percent more U.S. consumers are digital as a result of COVID-19. Stickiness of digital, localization, and selectiveness in spending are major trends that businesses will need to address as the pandemic alters the way business is conducted.

McKinsey also found that consumers are shopping online more and are more willing to switch across brands. This can be seen in one the biggest “winners:” groceries. According to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, online groceries grew 110 percent in daily sales between March and April. However, there were delays in last-mile deliveries as companies including Amazon, Walmart and Instacart had to hire more workers to assist with the increased consumer demand.

In March, Amazon had to restrict non-essential shipments from third-party sellers and other retail vendors and focus on receipt, restocking and delivery of essential products that were most in demand. Meanwhile, Walmart touted not only its online store capabilities but also curbside pickup. The result was a strong first-quarter earnings for the period ending April 30 with comparable-store sales up 10 percent and e-commerce sales up 74 percent. Strongest sales were in food, consumables, health, and wellness.

Retailer Target also noted strong first-quarter sales. While comparable-store sales increased only 0.9 percent in its first-quarter ending April 30, e-commerce sales jumped 141 percent with 80 percent of e-commerce orders fulfilled in Target’s stores. Food and beverages rose over 20 percent, essential and beauty 10 percent, and home rose in the single digits.

As more workers work from home, electronics and furniture sales also increased. Best Buy noted in the eight days ending March 20, sales jumped 25 percent as customers purchased work-from-home-related items. As stores closed, online sales increased more than 250 percent, with half of those orders using curbside service available at most Best Buy stores.

For small parcel carriers including FedEx and UPS, the e-commerce volumes proved to be a boon. Both carriers have been preparing for rising e-commerce volumes by introducing such service offerings as seven-day deliveries, faster delivery times, later pick-up times, returns solutions, fulfillment solutions designed for e-retailers, alternative delivery pick-up and drop off locations and more. By all accounts, FedEx and UPS appeared prepared to handle the sudden e-commerce volume increases.

Just as the COVID-19 impact was being felt in the U.S., UPS noted in its first-quarter earnings that March volumes were 70 percent business-to-consumer (B2C) with April trending similar. FedEx also noted a similar trend with higher than usual B2C volumes.

The result was a sharp increase in residential volumes for both carriers and delays occurred. It should be noted that residential deliveries are typically more costly for FedEx and UPS versus business-to-business moves in which batches of parcels can be picked up and delivered at once.

A number of consumers took to social media to voice their frustrations and share photos of overflowing packages at carriers’ facilities. However, not only were carriers faced with higher than normal volumes, but they were also dealing with the coronavirus itself, affecting an unknown number of FedEx and UPS employees who would otherwise be sorting packages, loading and unloading delivery vehicles and delivering packages. Networks slowed as a result.

Having temporarily suspended all service guarantees and implemented international peak surcharges in March to handle a surge in international volumes, FedEx and UPS introduced new temporary peak surcharges to address the U.S. domestic situation.

UPS’s latest surcharges took effect on May 31 and addressed Residential, SurePost, and Large Parcels. Meanwhile, FedEx’s domestic temporary peak surcharges took effect on June 8 and addressed Residential for FedEx Ground and FedEx Express parcels, SmartPost, and Oversize Parcels for FedEx Ground and FedEx Express parcels. Keep in mind, these temporary peak surcharges are in addition to already existing surcharges and individual shipper’s contracted rates.

Besides surcharges, FedEx also capped some shippers’ volumes. This is a similar approach to what the carrier does during the holiday season if a shipper exceeds agreed-upon volume commitments. However, this is not the traditional holiday season and many shippers were caught off guard by this tactic. UPS also took a page out of their holiday season playbook and dispersed managers and supervisors across the U.S. to pitch in and help at sorting facilities and deliver parcels.

The rapid increase in e-commerce parcels seemed to catch FedEx and UPS off-guard and significantly impact their lower margin service, Residential. Moving beyond the COVID-19 crisis, e-commerce will play a bigger role in B2C as well as B2B. Businesses will utilize a number of creative ways to handle the last mile – curbside pickup, buy online, pickup in-store, residential, third party locations for pickup and delivery, and more. FedEx and UPS will need to work closely with customers to share capacity availability and concerns.

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John Haber is the founder and CEO of Spend Management Experts. With more than 25 years of supply-chain experience, John has helped some of the world’s leading brands drive greater efficiencies through their supply-chain operations while reducing transportation, distribution and fulfillment costs. He began his career at UPS, where he held various executive level positions in corporate finance and corporate strategy and was instrumental in developing profitability and costing models. He also managed the carrier’s National Accounts Profitability Group where he audited the pricing and profitability of UPS’ top customers. John’s finance background combined with decades of experience working with high-volume shippers enables him to offer unique insights on strategic supply chain planning, including distribution model optimization, transportation cost analysis and carrier contract optimization and compliance.