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Coronavirus Scams Targeting You and Your Business

“If you are a small business that has been affected by the coronavirus, press “1” to ensure your Google listing is correctly displaying. Otherwise, customers may not find you online during this time.”

If you’ve received this call or something similar in the past few weeks, you’re just one of the millions of businesses across the U.S. and Canada that have been targeted by robocall scams designed to exploit people’s COVID-19 concerns.

In fact, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Secret Service have issued warnings that scammers are imitating companies, government agencies and healthcare providers in unprecedented numbers – and cybersecurity experts say that the attacks are just getting started.

Here are some scams you should be looking out for in order to keep you and your business safe:

Robocalls:

According to the FTC, any robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way – excluding some calls such as candidates running for office or charities asking for donations. And if someone is already breaking the law by robocalling you, there’s a good chance it’s also a scam.

These calls are running the gamut from offering fake COVID-19 testing kits and free sanitation supplies to fake government financial support. The only correct response to these robocalls is to hang up – do not press any numbers, even if directed to in order to remove you from the call list. By pressing a number, you confirm to the scammers that your number is active and you open yourself up for more scam calls in the future.

Note: There are no anti-robocall laws in Canada, but they are subject to CRTC regulations. Regulations include a clear message identifying on whose behalf the call is made, a mailing address, and a number at which a representative can be reached.

Business Email Scams:

Uncertain economic conditions lead to confusion, panic, and irregular transactions. Scammers are taking advantage of the confusion to double down on business email scams. An example from the FTC is the CEO scam – wherein an employee gets an email from their boss directing them to do something – wire money, transfer funds, send sensitive information. Except the email is actually coming from a scammer that has spoofed the boss’s email. The issue is made even more difficult with the massive influx of professionals working from home. A puzzled employee can’t just knock on the bosses door to confirm the request.

The best way to combat these scams is to make sure staff has a central contact that they can reach out to in order to verify any requests they may receive – irregular or not.

Fake Cures and Public Health Scams:

Teas, essential oils and colloidal silver all have something in common – none of them are a cure for COVID-19. The FTC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have jointly issued warning letters to seven separate sellers of unapproved products claiming they can prevent or treat the coronavirus. The companies that have received these letters have no evidence to back up their claims, which is required by law in order to advertise their products. The FDA states that there are no approved vaccines or drugs available to treat or prevent the virus.

Furthermore, scammers are sending messages claiming to be from public health offices and officials aiming to steal confidential information or installing malware on your computer. They are asking for Social Security numbers and Tax IDs. They are sending “infographics” that are actually keyloggers in disguise.

Remember not to download any attachments or click links in any unsolicited emails.

Fake Charities:

During difficult times, incredible charities and non-profits often step up to the plate and provide crucial assistance that keeps our most vulnerable safe. Unfortunately, for every legitimate charity working for those in need, a fake one pops up looking to take your money.

They use websites that look legitimate, with real emails, signature blocks and phone support lines. They even use names similar to real charities in order to trick you. And during times of need, such as pandemics and natural disasters, they are even more active.

Before you give money to a charity, make sure you’re doing the proper research to ensure your donations are going to the right place. Websites like CharityWatch and SmartGiving seek to give you information on avoiding scams and point out the red flags. For example, most real charities will accept credit cards or checks, because they’re safe and easy. Any charity that will only accept wire transfer or cash should be immediately suspect.

Tips to Increase Online Sales for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

According to Digital Commerce 360’s analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data, the percentage of total retail sales made online compared to in-store rose from 6.4% in 2010 to 16.0% in 2019. With businesses being forced to close their doors to the public during the current COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt online sales will continue to trend upward.

While the younger generations were already living exceedingly online lifestyles, the steps consumers must take to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy is forcing people of all ages and outlooks to rethink how they live – and how they buy.

For retailers and many other business owners, now is the time to re-imagine how your business can maintain a stream of revenue to survive this changing dynamic – if you haven’t already. Investment in your online strategies is a major piece of the puzzle. Here are some tips for retailers on how to grow online sales while their brick-and-mortar stores remain closed: 

Minimize Required Steps 

If you’ve spent time researching online purchasing, you’ve probably heard the term “the checkout cart is where sales go to die.” Every extra click, every redirection, and every new page that a customer has to maneuver through up until the point they click “Confirm Purchase” is another opportunity for them to change their mind.

The easier you make it for a potential customer to navigate from “I want this item,” to “I’ve purchased this item,” the better. Remove the hurdles, make the checkout process as simple and streamlined as possible, and you’ll get more impulse buys and fewer checkout carts abandoned.

Focus On Clear Calls-to-Action  

Speaking of carts – the “Add to Cart” button on your product page is about as direct as you can get with a Call-to-Action – but you shouldn’t stop there. Contact pages and live chat portals, “learn more” dropdowns and email newsletter opt-ins – these are all examples of softer Call-to-Action buttons that will increase engagement on your website and lead to more sales over time.

While your process should be as streamlined as possible, you also need to provide your customers with plenty of opportunities to interact with and learn more about you and your products. The more positive contact they have, the more likely they are to buy.

Implement Cart Recommendations

Cross-selling is important. It leads to higher customer satisfaction and increased exposure to your products. When selling online, cross-selling can become even easier with the use of in-cart recommendations. When a customer adds something to their cart, make sure they also see related and suggested items. This can be as simple as side dishes for a restaurant taking online orders, offering item bundles, or even suggesting larger sizes of products.

By suggesting great related items for your customers, you not only increase your sales but you may even remind them or clue them into other necessities that they hadn’t even considered when purchasing the product in the first place.

Don’t Let One Sale Be the End

If you’re selling a product online, there is most likely some sort of contact information being shared from your customer to you – usually an email address at the very least. While you need to pay close attention to the anti-spam laws that apply to you, simple order confirmations don’t need to be the end of the conversation.

Sending out coupons, product suggestions and newsletters to happy customers can be an excellent way to bring them back to you for future sales. While you need to be tactful, if you play your cards right, the customer will be very appreciative of your outreach. And a happy customer is one that will buy from you again and again.

 Don’t Give Up Hope

According to Harvard Business Review, a Chinese cosmetics company called Lin Qingxuan was forced to close 40% of its brick-and-mortar locations during the crisis, including all of its locations in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak. Despite these closures, Lin Qingxuan redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors affected by the store closures into online markets, using digital tools such as WeChat to engage customers.

As a result, its sales in Wuhan achieved 200% growth compared to the prior year’s.

This isn’t to claim you’re going to double your sales simply by offering your products online. But Lin Qingxuan is an excellent example of the power of online sales and the benefits of being agile and flexible when it comes to how you do business.

Enabling Your Employees to Work From Home

Last fall, a study conducted by Owl Labs projected that nearly half the U.S. workforce would be working remotely for at least a portion of their week by 2025. The rise of remote work across the world compared to even five years ago has been climbing a pretty smooth slope.  But with the rapid spread of the Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutting down work facilities, transit and childcare, that slope has turned into a spike.

With lock-downs and self-imposed quarantine rapidly becoming the standard response to try to limit the spread of the virus, remote work is becoming the new normal. Here are some tips for employers on how to make sure your employees are setup and prepared so they can do their work just as effectively at home as they do from the office:

Clearly Communicate Accountability Guidelines:

Trust in your workforce is paramount, but the key to developing an appropriate and effective remote work policy that ensures productivity and efficiency is in the planning.

Clearly communicate your remote work policies, have employees sign-off on these policies, and be vigilant in setting and maintaining your expectations. Also make it clear when, where and how employees are expected to track their work. Accountability is key on both sides of the arrangement.

Use Communication and Collaboration Tools:

Cloud-based and mobile-friendly technologies are the norm for remote workers. While remote-working has several benefits, a lack of the right equipment and tools can lead to inefficiency, isolation and a collapse in communication. Here are some great tools for everything from project management to workforce communication:

SharePoint: SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform that is directly integrated with Microsoft Office. Its primary use is as a highly configurable document management and storage system. If you have multiple employees accessing the same files or spreadsheets that need to be updated from multiple sources – SharePoint is a great solution.

Google Drive: Team members can view and edit presentations, spreadsheets, documents and work forms all from the same platform with Google Drive. It also offers limited free storage, making it a cheaper solution for smaller teams.

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and app integration all into one place. It ties in with your Outlook email and calendar and also works with SharePoint storage. Teams is an excellent communication tool if your team is already using other Microsoft Office programs.

Slack: Slack is a program used all over the world to increase productivity and communication. It integrates with hundreds of different apps, and it enables you to archive and index emails, messages and other information to make them easily searchable. Instant messaging, voice and video calls, and screen sharing making Slack another great option for a collaboration-focused communication tool.

Think About Phones:

If you already provide your employees with mobile phones, they can likely use those for calls for the time being. But if you don’t provide employees with their own phones, you need to put a plan in place so your staff isn’t racking up massive long distance and data fees. Whether that’s simple research into adequate long distance plans and reimbursement, a VoIP solution or directly purchasing mobile phones from your telecom vendor, you need to weigh your options.  Also – do some research into the steps your vendors are taking to reduce the impact of this pandemic on your workers. Many vendors are waiving long distance and data fees to support their customers. Take advantage of these while you can to help keep your costs as low as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind: with the influx of people working from home, cell phone networks are going to begin being flooded and connection will deteriorate. Do you have an adequate line of communication open with your vendor if problems arise and your staff can’t make the calls they need to? You need to find out now before the issue arises. 

Be Wary of Bad Internet:

Are your employees sending files, spreadsheets and info back and forth? Are you using a communications platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams that requires a stable internet connection? Do you need to make video or conference calls to clients or customers?

Even in today’s hyper-connected world, plenty of people struggle with poor, patchy and slow internet connections at home. Adding an entire work setup to an already struggling home connection can be a recipe for disaster.

Setting up Wi-Fi signal boosters, limiting bandwidth-hogging apps, swapping to a new DNS server and troubleshooting your hardware are all things you and your employees need to consider if their connection at home isn’t as stable as it needs to be to remain efficient.

Keep Lines of Communication Open:

These are trying times for everyone – from the business owner to the brand new employee. The most important thing you can do as an employer is to keep lines of communication open. Make sure employees have a clear path forward to getting the information and instruction they need – whether from you, your managers, or their co-workers. Encourage questions, collaborate on brainstorming, be understanding of the unique needs and situations of your employees, and above all, be safe!

The case for prepaid cards

According to a 2017 survey by the FDIC, 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. That means a quarter of U.S. households either don’t have a bank account, or have an account but still use financial services outside the bank to make ends meet.

Of that 25 percent, more than half said they didn’t have enough money to keep in an account. Thirty percent said they simply don’t trust banks, and a further nine percent reported that banks are not in a convenient enough location to warrant using based on where they lived.

For these unbanked individuals, basic tasks like paying bills and cashing checks can be both difficult and expensive.

Enter the prepaid card, affording happy customers the ability to pay bills online, direct deposit their checks, and pay for plastic-only services and amenities – all without the needs for a bank account.

Prepaid cards allow you to load money onto them in advance in order to make purchases or transactions. Of course, that means you can only spend as much as the amount you loaded onto it – there is no line of credit involved. So what are some of the pros and cons of using a prepaid card over a traditional credit card or even cash?

The Bank Alternative

As mentioned before, prepaid cards offer the ease of card-based purchases without the need for a bank account. They come with routing and account numbers so you can even have your paycheck deposited directly to your card. Things like shopping online, renting a car or booking a hotel room can be difficult without a traditional credit card. Thankfully, a prepaid card can fill that void, even if you don’t have a bank account.

Perks of Plastic

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to charge something to your credit card you’re unable to pay off in full. That’s because credit card charges accrue interest, and anything you can’t pay off in full is going to end up being even more expensive in the long run. Of course, sometimes it can’t be avoided – which is why lines of credit exist in the first place.

Borrowing money can get anyone in trouble. By using a prepaid card, you’re never borrowing. And if you’re not borrowing, then you’re not owing, and you’re not spending beyond your means. Plus, you don’t need a credit check to get a prepaid card, so you can still use plastic even if you have a poor or nonexistent credit history.

Flexibility

Since you can’t get into debt using a prepaid card, the approval process is easy. Prepaid cards offered by the major carriers like American Express, Visa and MasterCard often carry liability protection to help keep your money safe. Plus, the funds in these cards are almost always held by a bank or credit union, which means they benefit from federal deposit insurance.

Most prepaid cards will allow you to access money from ATMs as you need it, preventing you from having to carry around physical cash on your person. That’s not to mention the fees associated with prepaid cards are often less than what you’d pay using a check-cashing service.

Fees and Cons

While you aren’t charged interest for your purchases on a prepaid card, the biggest downside of using prepaid cards are the associated fees. Depending on the card you choose, you could be charged when you:

  • Make a transaction
  • Reload your balance
  • Stop using the card over a certain period of time
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Attempt a purchase when you have an insufficient balance

Some cards even charge monthly fees. Often, these fees are predicated on how many transactions you make per month, and some carriers will waive these fees if you opt for direct-deposit on to your prepaid card.

Prepaid cards also do not report your payment history to credit bureaus, which means using a prepaid card will not help you improve your credit. They tend to have fewer billing protections than credit cards, and depending on the one you choose, can be more expensive than opening a checking account and using a debit card. You also miss out on the nice perks and awards associated with using a credit card responsibly.

In Conclusion

There are several benefits to using prepaid cards if traditional credit cards are simply not an option for you or you don’t put faith in the banks, but you’re still looking for the ease of access plastic provides.

If you plan on giving prepaid cards a shot, do your research first on the fees associated to make sure you’re getting the card that works best for you. Read the small print before using it so you’re not spending more on fees than you need to be. Also, consider confirming that the places you frequent actually accept your card of choice before swapping.

Prepaid cards can help you avoid debt, spend within your means, and manage your income. If you struggle with credit, prepaid may just be the solution to your problems.

Bad Weather, Telecom Outages, and You

Severe, bizarre, and downright crazy weather conditions make headlines every single winter, and we all accept the impact these conditions have on our travel, deliveries, and even our well-being. Yet we seem to take for granted that the networks we use to communicate will continue on uninterrupted.

The truth is that wind, snow, rain and storms can damage the fiber-optic gables that provide internet as well as conventional phone landlines. Immediate damage to communications networks aside, exposure to the elements – such as water and wind – can create long-term degradation that causes interference in our transmissions.

Weather can have a particularly bad effect on your mobile and network signals, as rain, snow, extreme cold and even heat can disrupt masts and towers. In order to fight against this, telecom companies often install signal boosters in local areas to try to keep users connected. In any case, a disruption in signal often requires engineers to fix the issue manually, which is often a slow process.

These coverage outages present a significant pain point for any business that relies on phone, wireless and internet services every day. Some of the larger or more specifically tailored companies have back-up systems in place to ensure the work pipeline continues in the event of an outage, but the vast majority of us depend on properly functioning lines, cables, transmitters and other data systems. Outages due to malfunctions in these systems can bring a company’s operations to a complete standstill.

Thankfully, some preparation can go a long way. So what can you do to prepare your business for the event of a major system outage? Here are a few tips:

Determine ahead of time how an outage will impact your business and plan for it. A Business Continuity Plan can help you avoid downtime and continue operations.

Every good plan needs a good team, so make sure you know who is responsible for what in the event of an outage. Does anything need to go manual? Can work continue with pen and paper in the meantime? Assign jobs and create and distribute checklists and physical templates that employees can use when their digital solutions aren’t available.

Another important aspect is making sure that you have a solution in place to communicate with employees, clients, customers and other locations. Depending on the size and arrangement of your business, that could mean anything from satellite phones to walking down the hallway.

If you have customers that might be impacted directly by your outage, your communication needs to extend to them and be in place well before the outage takes place. If your website has a status page, it should be kept properly updated and linked in key locations like your contact page, your support accounts and your help pages. You should also consider keeping your status page hosted on separate infrastructure, if possible, to minimize the risk that an outage takes it down as well. Studies have shown that recovering properly from a failure in your service can actually lead to a higher approval rate than never having a failure at all. By making sure your customers are informed on what is happening, what it means for them, and what you’re doing to solve the issue, an outage can actually have a positive impact on your customer’s perceptions of your business.

Peak Season Surcharges: What to Look Out For This Holiday Season

If you’re experienced with shipping using the major carriers, you likely know that, depending on the time period and characteristics of the package, you might be subject to peak season surcharges that can drive up your shipping costs during the holiday season.

For both UPS and FedEx, peak period generally starts for large packages around early October, and for additional handling packages by late November. These peak season surcharges usually come to an end in early January. This year, both FedEx and UPS are not applying peak surcharges on residential deliveries, which is great news for both e-commerce retailers and online holiday shoppers.

While peak surcharges for large and over-max-limits packages are fairly simple to understand, the major carriers also include a charge on U.S. Domestic, U.S. Import and U.S. Export deliveries that are labeled as additional handling packages.

These additional handling packages can take many forms, from oversize in weight, length or width to strange or irregular packaging. This could include packaging made of wood, metal, hard or soft plastics, and even Styrofoam. Cylindrical shaped items like barrels, drums or tires that aren’t encased in corrugated cardboard could also fall victim to extra charges. These charges are slapped on solely at the discretion of the carrier, so if your package isn’t being shipped out in a plain old cardboard box, you should be aware of the possibility of an additional handling charge.

If you have not received a missive of some sort from your vendor informing you of these peak season surcharges, you should visit their website and make sure you’re aware of any charges that might apply to you.

Depending on your shipping needs, peak season surcharges can add a fair bit to your small package shipping and courier bills. Most businesses can’t just stop shipping during the holidays in order to avoid these surcharges – in fact, many businesses do the majority of their shipping entirely within peak season. That’s why it is so important to pay careful attention to your bills and reduce costs wherever possible in order to compensate for the extra charges. If you don’t have specialized software that helps you keep track of the changes in your bills, these charges can slip through the cracks and come as a real shock when they come out the other side of accounts payable.

Of course, if it’s possible to ship your product before or after the holiday season, it could be something to strongly consider. Not only can the extra fees add up, but your packages are much more likely to be delayed, damaged or lost during peak season. Plus, bad weather can greatly impact your shipping plans, with winter storms having the potential to bring regular shipments to a halt. If you’re shipping in northern areas, it might be a good idea to build some extra time into your shipment schedules to account for the weather.

It might also be prudent to keep in contact with alternate shippers, just in case you need to exercise your options if your primary vendor runs into issues this holiday season.

Creating Your Business Continuity Plan

In our increasingly tech-driven world, connectivity is paramount. If a natural disaster were to cut power and wireline services to your building, would your business be able to continue operations, or would you need to shut down?  Here are some tips to help you create a plan that ensures you have the resources needed for business and revenue continuity in the face of a natural disaster.

Analyzing Critical Elements

The first and most important step to creating a working Business Continuity Plan is identifying the processes that are imperative to your company’s continued operation. You need to know what your critical processes are, what possible alternatives could take their place in the event of a disaster, and, failing an appropriate alternative, how long your business can operate without them.

These dependencies should be properly outlined and labeled, and they need to be ranked by the urgency of their restoration. Once you know exactly what you need to operate your business, you can begin putting processes in place to act as backups in times of crisis.

At this point, a Business Impact Analysis will help you measure the impact that downtime will have on your business, the cost of that downtime, and the legal and/or compliance issues regarding keeping your data secure.

Establish step-by-step recovery plans

A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) should be included in your Business Continuity Plan as a set of procedures that reduce downtime and focus on the most effective route to recover your critical information. One of the most important facets of your DRP is properly defining your recovery points. By aligning your backups with your business needs, you can make sure that your DRP prioritizes the data that is critical to your business functions in order to get you back on your feet that much quicker.

Disaster Recovery Plans take into account two major steps for tracking your downtime in the event of a disaster. Your Recovery Time Objective is the desired amount of time after a disaster occurs that full data restoration is achieved. Obviously, the quicker the better. The Maximum Tolerable Downtime represents the maximum amount of time that your critical information and services can remain unavailable before you begin to lose business or irreversible damage is done.

Update and Test Frequently

Without regular testing and constant updates, a business continuity plan can become outdated and leave you completely unprotected when you need it most. If you’ve taken the time to analyze the critical elements of your business, you need to keep your business continuity plan in mind when making any changes to those elements.

Say you upgrade your client databases to account for your company’s growth, but you forget that your data backup system is still configured with your old database in mind. In the event of an emergency that results in data loss, your upgraded system results in that data becoming unrecoverable.

With frequent updates and testing, you make sure that your business continuity plan stays current, relevant, and effective.

Keep an Eye on the Outside

You’ve identified your critical elements, you’ve set your downtime targets and established recovery plans and redundancies to meet them, and you’ve tested, updated and re-tested your process. Now you need to take note of the things that are beyond your control.

Inoperable e-commerce platforms, outside data-networks, 1-800 service failures, provider downtime – by understanding exactly what can grind your business to a halt, you can prepare alternatives to keep you afloat. No business is immune to problems, but by being well-prepared, you can help mitigate the damage caused by worst-case scenarios.

Paper Waste Stats to Make You Think Twice

The average U.S. office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper per year. If that number alone seems like a lot, keep in mind that means we’re talking in the realm of just over 12 trillion (12,000,000,000,000) sheets of paper used in U.S. offices every single year.

Nearly 50 percent of that paper will end up in the trash. On average, 70 percent of the waste that most companies produce consists of paper. Let’s take a look at some more paper waste stats to better understand the issue.

Waste Not, Want Not

A lot of things are created with very little waste. Paper is not one of them. Now before you print out this blog to share with your coworkers, keep this in mind: Paper manufacturing is an incredibly wasteful process that necessitates a huge amount of resources.

According to Environment Canada, the production of one kilogram of paper requires 324 litres of water.  The paper industry is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels on the planet. Over 40 percent of industrial logging goes directly towards paper production. Humanity’s demand for paper is one of the most direct causes of deforestation across the planet.

With the massive amount of resources required to create paper, it’s shocking to consider that, according to research, 30 percent of print jobs are never even picked up from the printer, and 45 percent end up in the trash by the end of the day.

We Don’t Have the Space

According to the US EPA, the material most frequently encountered in MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) landfills is paper. Paper waste accounts for more than 40 percent of a landfill’s contents. Despite the worlds continued embrace of digital media, newspapers alone can take up as much as 13 percent of the space in US landfills.

Biodegradable only goes so far in a landfill environment. Paper is much more resistant to deterioration when compacted in a landfill than when it’s in open contact with the atmosphere. In fact, a study by the Garbage Project showed that, when excavated from a MSW landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be found intact and completely readable.

The “Junk” in “Junk Mail”

Humanity has devised a pretty silly pipeline for junk mail flyers. The flyers get printed on paper, they get put into your mailbox, then you take them and put them in the trash. Talk about efficiency.

Think about how often you actually hold on to a flyer you get in the mail. Now consider that four million tons of junk mail are delivered to landfills each year. According to the EPA, that’s more than 50 percent of the junk mail that gets made.

Junk mail aside, think about your bills – water, electricity, cable, phone, etc. Most of these are tossed in the same trash pile as your junk mail. Perhaps with even more vigor.

What Can Be Done?

Going 100 percent paperless isn’t plausible for every business. But it’s estimated that 50 percent of office waste that goes to landfills is recyclable.

Experts predict that, if digital document management systems were widely used, it would save around 1.4 trillion pounds of paper.

On a personal level, you can save huge amounts of paper with just a little mindfulness. You rarely use a phone book, but most cities continue to print them. If you and 499 of your closest neighbours recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash, you’ve just saved approximately 30 trees.

Go paperless with your bills. Opt-out of junk mail by calling the toll-free number listed on the ad. Think twice before you print something that you’re just going to mark-up and then throw in the trash. Sign up for online magazines and ditch the print versions. Use electronic storage and scan your receipts, instructions and forms. Perhaps one of the biggest things you can do is buy recycled items! Make sure you’re checking the packages of your books, notebooks, cards and household papers for the phrase “Made from Recycled Materials.”

Shipping Breeds Brand Loyalty

Shipping is more than just a necessary cost. In fact, when purchasing a product, the ease of delivery is right up there with the price when it comes to what is most impactful on a consumer’s decision to buy. No matter how many things go right, if the shipping experience goes wrong, you’ve likely lost yourself any repeat business from that customer.

Here are some tips to help you get your small package shipping right, the first time and every time thereafter.

 

Keep your customers in the know with package tracking

Consumers appreciate being in control, but when a sale hits the shipping phase, things become decidedly out of their control. That is why giving them the ability to track their packages is so important to their overall experience.

If your customer can log on and see where their packages are, it brings them peace of mind and allows them to better anticipate delays. Some companies like to offer a simple tracking number and portal combination, while others prefer to send the customer emails directly updating them on the whereabouts of their package.

Partnering with a courier that communicates with your customers frequently can be the difference between a happy and loyal customer and a disgruntled one-time shopper.

Keep your prices reasonable by offering the right services

Say what you will about Amazon, but it’s impossible to argue with the effect they’ve had on the supply chain. Today, customers want fast and free. Most companies can’t afford that like Amazon can – so how do they compete?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Expedited shipping is expensive, and unless your business is doing extremely well, you likely can’t afford to eat those costs. That means passing them on to the customer. And the customer doesn’t want to pay them any more than you do.

Weight, dimensions, destination, volume, speed – all these things affect the price of shipping. The most cost-effective solution if you ship multiple different products is to make sure you’re offering the right service for the request. While flat rates are convenient, they’re not flexible.

Choice is important. Give your customers the choice between fast or cheap. Don’t offer overnight shipping on products that people don’t urgently need. You’re only increasing your processing costs in the long run.

Be accurate, predictable, and accountable

Consumers hate surprises. They want to be in the loop every step of the way. They want to decide what is going to happen and see it go their way. And they should – after all, they’re paying for it.

The best way to avoid surprises is to have an accurate and effective way to keep track of your inventory. There is nothing worse than not being able to fulfill a customer’s order after the fact because your inventory wasn’t tracked properly. It is absolutely vital that you know exactly what you have, how much you have of it, and how fast it’s going out the door. And it’s equally as vital that you communicate that information to your customers accurately. One thing is for sure: a customer will always prefer to see an out-of-stock sign before they’ve paid opposed to after.

There are tons of factors that go into shipping – from return policies and processes to e-shop tools and packaging practices.

Fortunately, they’re all sides of the same coin. If you can keep your customers informed, offer reasonable pricing, and keep an accurate account of everything you’re sending out, the rest will begin to fall in to place.

Mobile Payments and Generation Z

The payments landscape has been evolving at a rapid clip over the past decade, thanks in part to massive demand for electronic payments and a quickly growing base of consumers who would rather pay for their goods with anything but cash.

That trend won’t stop anytime soon. In fact, by 2020, 40 percent of U.S. consumers will be made up of Gen Z. This demographic doesn’t remember the world before the internet, Amazon, and apps. They accept nothing less than digital, and they won’t be constrained by anything they can’t carry in their pocket.

When it comes to the demand for efficiency, efficacy, and immediacy, Gen Z is a tidal wave that will wash away any institution not willing to adapt. And the first place to undertake that adaptation? Mobile payments. Take a look below at some of the growing trends of the mobile payments industry – which is projected to become the second most common payment method after debit cards by 2022. 

Mobile Point of Sale

Imagine a store with no checkout, replaced by sales staff carrying mobile-point-of-sale (mPOS) devices. While not so viable in places where you’re buying a large volume of items such as a grocery store, stores that sell at lower volume and higher cost could benefit greatly. Your staff member is right there with the customer, answering their questions and pointing them in the right direction. When they make a choice, the sale is conducted right then and there and the customer gets to walk out the door with their purchase immediately.

These same devices can be taken out of the brick-and-mortar location as well and used at trades shows, festivals and food trucks. An mPOS can go anywhere your customer does, and accept payments from phones, watches and credit cards.

Social Commerce

People are on their phones constantly. Whether you think that’s good or bad, it’s incredibly important to take it into account when considering how you accept payments. Anyone who has spent any amount of time learning about online purchasing knows that the checkout cart is where most sales die. In fact, every redirection, click and new page that a customer experiences from the moment they decide they want an item to the moment they click “Confirm Purchase” is another hurdle to the final sale.

What if your customer could purchase directly through your Facebook or Instagram page without ever needing to redirect to your website? 60 percent of Instagram users claim they find new products they want to purchase on the app. The more streamlined your payment process is, the more impulse buys you’ll get.

Retail, Wholesale, and Automation

Over the next few years, retail and wholesale are expected to grow into interactive, highly-automated systems. Let’s make two assumptions.

First, payments and service development will continue to be customer-driven and focused on efficiency. Second, that these customer-driven systems will continue to innovate and change, embrace new technologies, and develop extremely tailored solutions for vertical markets.

Mobile payment solutions embrace this automation, and go hand-in-hand with the dream of worker-less stores. From epiphany to delivery, the entire sales process runs through your phone, no matter where you are. This leads to lower overhead and a faster sales process. And if Gen Z wants anything, it’s speed.

Biometrics

The old spy-novel standby is the trusty fingerprint scanner, but biometrics have evolved. Face recognition, iris and hand scans, DNA tests and voice recognition – they’re all real, and rapidly overtaking traditional methods like PINs and passwords when it comes to identification and authentication.

Fraudsters never stop innovating, and mobile payments must continue to combat them at every turn. Biometrics are a more reliable way for merchants to verify the identity of their customers in order to prevent scams.

When it comes to security, your phones built-in biometric security means that not only are mobile payments fast and efficient – they’re also very safe.