This versus That

Ever since we started setting up e-commerce stores 6 years ago, we’ve been using OpenCart – one of the most popular open-source shopping cart systems. And the more we use OpenCart, the better we get at maximizing the features it has to offer. We also realized some of the stuff that OpenCart doesn’t do very well.

And then it comes to a point where you start evangelizing the product you use. Because you now understand the products much better, you become more attached to it. Which is a good thing, in my opinion.

However, it only becomes not-so-good when you start to spend time trying to convince someone who’s using Shopify or Magento (both of these are also shopping cart systems) on why OpenCart is superior than theirs. It’s like the whole Android vs Apple thing. Pointless. A solid profitable e-commerce business depends not just on the shopping cart system, but a lot of other factors as well. You need a good selection of products, photography skills, copy writing skills,  inventory system etc.

Just a few minutes ago, out of curiosity, I attempted to setup my first WordPress-based Woo Commerce store. I am actually quite impressed with the whole setup process. There’s a lot of things I think Woo Commerce has got it right. Of course the Woo Commerce team knows what they are doing- they got bought over by WordPress and I don’t remember any other theme or plugin developer who got to that status.

So, instead of cheer leading for just one particular product, your perspective will be expanded much more when you attempt to solve a problem with a variety of other solutions. Sometimes, this also forces you to look at the problem from a different angle, which you’ve never thought possible. Let the fanboys fight among themselves.

It’s what you ultimately produce that really matters.

2016-11-26T03:06:28+00:00 November 26th, 2016|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, OpenCart|0 Comments

Malaysia Online Marketplaces

It seems everyone wants to play the markeplace game. Who doesn’t?

A marketplace is extremely scalable. You don’t own inventories, you don’t need to spend money on warehouses and security. You don’t need to hire people to pick and pack. A wonderful business model. But like any businesses, if what you offer is pretty much the same thing your competitors offer, it won’t be long you start playing the price war game to get market shar. That’s when you start racing your way to the bottom of the food chain.

If you have been selling on Etsy, you would realize these people are not just out to make money on your transactions or to use your sales data against you (marketplaces are known to source products that are hot-selling and compete against their own sellers). Etsy is serious about helping sellers make a living.

Etsy made a compelling product for the supply side of the marketplace, the supply then unlocked the demand through white hat social media. Etsy’s incredible organic channel is the entrepreneurial drive of its sellers.

The underlying strength of this organic channel is evidenced by Etsy’s repeat purchase rate. That is, the majority of Etsy’s GMS is generated from repeat purchases. Incredibly, in 2014, 78% of purchases were from repeat customers.

Higher revenues for sellers => Higher seller retention => Higher seller personal promotion through social media => Higher visibility for Etsy’s products => Higher GMS => IPO

Nicolò Ungari, What Etsy’s S1 Filing Taught Me About Marketplaces

I totally agree with >Nicolò. And from my experience, eBay is exactly the opposite of Etsy and that’s why eBay is becoming irrelevant in today’s e-commerce marketplace.

On another note, Etsy has seldom, if ever asked their sellers to offer their products at deep discount to attract customers. They understood the economics of things. You cannot keep giving discounts and expect to run a healthy long term business. Let’s face it, all business needs profit to survive and thrive. But marketplaces in Malaysia doesn’t seem to think so- they are always offering vouchers, deep discounts and pricing gimmicks just to get the transaction, often at the expenses of their merchants.

If you are doing your business so you can win the title for ‘The Most Popular Merchant on ABC Marketplace’, by all means keep offering discounts and reduce your margins. If you are like most of the other normal business, then I strongly suggest that you be very careful with the marketing campaigns these marketplaces are requesting you to participate.

You should continue to sell on online marketplaces as long as it justifies the resources you invest in them.

I have been selling on major marketplaces, and the good ones will make sure sellers can thrive using their platform. Because in the grand scheme of things, as an online marketpalce, your merchants are also your customers.

2015-10-11T18:18:52+00:00 October 11th, 2015|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship|2 Comments

OpenCart Extension: Total Import Pro & Special Characters

OpenCart

If you are using OpenCart and you have like 1000+ inventories, you will do yourself a great favor by using this tool called “Total Import Pro” written by these great people @ HostJars.com. You can thank me later.

As with all great piece of software, you also get your share of annoying little bugs that somehow got shipped along with the good stuff. And today, I just wrote to them about the possibility that their importer could be causing special HTML characters not parsed correctly in OpenCart.

Hi Guys/Gals,

I’ve been using Total Import Pro for the past 3 years, and I must say you guys have saved hours of my life. For that, I would like to thank you for such a great piece of software.

However, I recently noticed a Total Import bug that would eat up at least 50 hours of my life if I am to fix them manually. So, I really want to reach out to you and hope you can once again save my life (50 hours of it).

Here’s what happened:

1) I have a product with the title “K&N Performance Air Filter 33-2922”. Notice the special character & in there.

2) When I import using Total Import Pro, what happen next is, I am not able to find the product after I type the character “K”. So, imagine the number of products I have with the starting letter K…

3) However, I could fix the problem if I manually save the product again using OpenCart. Somehow when I save using OpenCart, the ampersand is properly parsed in the database as a valid character. In other words, when I import using Total Import Pro, the symbol ampersand is not treated as such.

4) This also leads to the problem of generating a valid sitemap for Google, because each time I tried to load my sitemap, Chrome will tell me the “Sitemap is not well-formed”. Well-formed or not, I am not looking for a kick-ass, bootylicious XML, but at least one that will not return any errors when parsing special characters in the product title.

As such, I would really appreciate it if you could tell me how I can import my products with the special characters registered normally in OpenCart.

Name a price for 50 hours of my life.

I will post it up here once I get a response from them.

*****

And on Sep 22, I got a reply from Matt of Hostjars.com

Thanks for getting in touch! It looks like you have discovered a bug, as we offer bug fixes for free this will not cost you anything to have fixed! In fact, our developers have just released a patch for this issue this morning. It is still undergoing our internal review process, but to save you any further delay while this happens I am going to send you a copy of the latest version of Total Import PRO which contains this fix.

Follow the installation instructions and overwrite your existing files to update your installation.

Once you have updated please try your import again and let me know if you have any further problems.

Warm regards,

Matt
HostJars

Can’t wait to install the new patch on my OpenCart.

2015-09-23T19:20:16+00:00 September 17th, 2015|E-Commerce, OpenCart|0 Comments

Amazon’s Customer Metrics

If you are selling on Amazon, you would be familiar with the following metrics Amazon uses to benchmark your customer service.

Customer Metrics
Customer satisfaction is one of the most important performance measures we use to determine how well you are doing as a seller on Amazon. The Customer Metrics page provides reports that give you greater insight into how you are doing with respect to customer satisfaction.

The following performance metrics are included in the report:

Perfect Order Percentage (POP): The percentage of orders that are perfectly accepted, processed, and fulfilled.

Order defect rate (ODR): The percentage of orders that have received a negative feedback, an A-to-z Guarantee claim or a service credit card chargeback. It allows us to measure overall performance with a single metric.

Pre-fulfillment cancellation rate: This measures your in-stock rate for items sold with Amazon.com.

Late ship rate: On-time shipment is a promise we make to our mutual customers. Orders confirmed after the expected ship date are considered to be late.

Percentage of orders refunded: High refund rates may be an indicator of item stock-outs.

And if you use these metrics on all your other online sales channels, it should give your sales a very good boost in the long scheme of things.

2015-09-15T02:57:36+00:00 September 15th, 2015|E-Commerce|0 Comments

A Marketing Experiment while Getting My FujiXerox Machine

There was this computer hardware company (we will call them Company AT) where I bought a few entry level Xerox printers 5 years ago. And ever since I checked the ‘Subscribe me to the latest promotion…’ check box, I have been receiving their newsletters. And I did not opt-out of the mailing list, which probably says alot about my level of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

They started sending me emails, and the links in their emails were directed to their website at AT2U.com

And in the beginning of those emails, their website was either out of service, or was hacked. I actually took the trouble to call them up and alerted them about it, but they don’t seem to be able to fix it. Or nobody seemed bothered about their website.

And a few more months passed. They seemed to have decided that their website could be an important sales channel to complement their retail operation. And that’s when the SMS starts coming in, and I had to admit I was quite impressed at the level of customization that was invested in these promotional SMS- “Get Your Xerox Phaser 3010 Toners at Only RM225.00”.

They actually remembered which printer I bought.

And I did buy those toners from them.

And just today, I bought a bulky Fuji Xerox CM305DF for our new office. But I did not buy it from them. I got it from a retail store that I have never heard of in the mall.

Then, as I drove back to setup the printer in the office, I kept thinking what went wrong with Company AT’s marketing? They’ve been very consistent with their Petronas and KFC Vouchers. They occasionally sent me warnings about toners and printing supplies price hike which I find very useful.

But why didn’t I buy the CM305DF from Company AT? Where was my sense of loyalty to this company that has been persistently sending me product updates and offerings? I was just comparing their prices online with other online portals such as Lazada and Lelong yesterday, and they’d one of the lowest pricing.

The salesman that was attending to me wasn’t very knowledgeable and not at all helpful in closing the sale. He was lucky I was a determined buyer who had done his homework.

And so, I ran a list of possible factors that could have caused me to buy from the unknown retailer:

1) There was no additional value buying from Company AT. No member points, no rebates. Maybe free delivery, but I am already in the mall, so it makes no difference.

2) There’s a lack of human interaction when I am shopping online. There are a lot of other questions I threw to the salesman where I got almost instant answers, e.g. price of the toners, similar price products, cost of ownership, special features etc. I couldn’t get all these from the online stores, at least not instantly. And if you are shopping online at 11pm, the phone numbers don’t work either. I guess fast and timely human response is very important to get me to part with my money. Impulsiveness at work here.

3) I could get physical with the products. I tried to carry a few of the printers to gauge their weight, opened up the compartments and paper trays, checked out the cable connectivity. All these help to reinforce the idea of possessing the printer, even though I hadn’t pay for it yet. I was also able to instantly visualize how the printer would fit in my office. And there’s no way these information can come so easily from product photos on the web.

4) A retail space can be a very controlled experience. The moment I stepped into the retail shop, instead of being distracted by irrelevant banner ads, annoying Facebook game invites, I am surrounded by products that the retailers wants me to see. The retailer had somehow meticulously designed the surroundings to give him the best ROI per square feet. It’s like walking into a trap :-)

As a guy who runs a few e-commerce businesses, I am particularly curious in identifying what goes on in the mind of a potential customer who in the end, after all the marketing and communications I’ve done, still end up not buying from me. A returning customer is one of the best assets a business can have. If I can keep improving the odds of my customers coming back over and over again, we are on the right track to a healthy bottom line.

2015-06-21T03:07:27+00:00 June 21st, 2015|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship|0 Comments

OpenCart and Journal Theme

If you are familiar with how OpenCart works, you would have realized by now that getting your OpenCart up-to-date can be a very overwhelming task.

Each time the folks at OpenCart announces a new release, everyone starts popping champagne because someone’s finally going to fix the critical bugs, but lo and behold, each new releases also introduces a new swarm of bugs.

That’s Open Source for you…

Anyway, if you are using Journal Theme for your OpenCart, always remember to update the Journal theme right after you updated OpenCart. It doesn’t matter if there’s no new version for Journal, but just proceed to update your Journal with the latest version you have on hand so that you overwrite the files on the freshly updated OpenCart. If you don’t update your Journal theme and proceed to access the admin pages, you might lose some or all of your Journal theme settings, which can be a pain-in-the-ass.

You will not get any warnings from your Journal theme. I learned this the hard way. You’ve been warned!

2015-06-05T00:50:26+00:00 June 5th, 2015|E-Commerce, OpenCart|1 Comment