IRCE 2015 is just days away (June 2-5, Chicago), and not only will HubLogix will be exhibiting – be sure to stop by booth 569 to meet the team – we’re particularly looking forward to connecting with the thousands of Merchants, Distributors, and Manufacturers that we are helping automate today.
IRCE also brings together 200+ expert speakers representing all areas of e-commerce. Based on the agenda’s session titles, it looks like the topics of automation, integrations, fulfillment, and growth are going to be prevalent. Being focused on the connections of the eCommerce “back-end” ourselves – between carts, marketplaces, distributors, warehouses, companies and technologies – here’s a few of the sessions on the top of our ‘most anticipated’ list this year:
Graduating to Automated Fulfillment: Along the Growth Path, When—And At What Cost Speakers: Jeff Hedges (President – OPEX Material Handling) & Stacie Sefton (Chief Executive Officer – BHFO) “The rate of e-commerce sales growth is unpredictable, yet fulfillment operations are capital- and labor-intensive fixed costs. At the same time, shoppers’ expectations of fast delivery and easy returns are rising. At what point does it makes sense to move to an automated warehouse or distribution center, especially for small to mid-size retailers that must watch every expenditure? In this session, you’ll learn how growing e-retailers can add automation elements to fulfillment in ways that boost throughput and lower costs without breaking the bank.”
Outsourcing vs. In-House Fulfillment – What it Takes to Win Speakers: Mike Manzione (Chief Operating Officer – Rakuten Super Logistics) & Jon Elliot (Co-Founder/Partner – A3 Merchandise) “Outsourcing order fulfillment is one of the biggest leaps of faith an e-commerce company can take. Placing inventory and shipments in the hands of someone else as opposed to keeping it in-house can be a difficult choice to make, but its impact on a company’s growth can be great.”
The Grass Is Never Greener on the Other Side of a Technology Integration Speaker: Scott Cohn (Vice President, E-Commerce – Chinese Laundry) “Whether the reason is maximizing the life of a legacy system, budget concerns or management changes, businesses often find themselves piecing together disparate retail management platforms. Whatever makes splintering software among two or more platforms seem attractive at first is quickly overshadowed by compatibility issues that result in all sorts of customer facing headaches—like pricing errors, out-of-stocks and hours wasted chasing down data.”
David vs. Goliath: Technology for Leveling the Playing Field for Small to Mid-Sized Retailers Speakers: Nicholas Macco (Founder – Southtree) & Andrew Scarbrough (Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer – Delegator) “Large retailers can afford the technology that helps them grow exponentially. Smaller retailers struggle with such investments. But that doesn’t mean small retailers have to struggle with second-rate technology. A slew of free and low-cost technology exists that can help smaller retailers thrive—if they know where to look for these tools.”
And a bonus session (because it’s always fun to see a successful client on stage):
Advertising on Amazon Speaker: Corey Frons (Chief Executive Officer – BulbAmerica) “Corey Frons has implemented various e-commerce and marketing technologies that have placed his company on the Inc. 500 list for the past three years, making BulbAmerica one of Americas fastest-growing companies. He has built a reputation for helping organizations and senior executive teams understand the impact of the web and digital marketing technologies for their existing and future business. Corey has helped identify, create and execute transformational e-commerce strategies and organizational changes in multichannel environments.”
What sessions are you most excited about? Let us know on twitter @hublogix
Any online retailer accounts for the typical costs of working with drop-shippers or distribution centers – shipping costs, cost of goods, etc. Likewise, every site owner is aware of their marketing expenses to get shoppers to click “purchase” on their carts.
But what about the hidden costs? The ones in between the purchase and the fulfillment of the order?
For most eCommerce sites, there are often overlooked hard costs in managing your order lifecycle – real costs that affect your margins and your ability to scale.
Download The Hidden Costs of Processing an Order Infographic
Every time an order is entered into your shopping cart,you must…
1. Double-check the SKUs inside the inventory file. If it’s out of stock, you have to email the disappointed customer, issue a refund or backorder.
2. Route the order. Choose the appropriate distribution vendor – dropshipper, fulfillment enter, etc. – to fulfill the order. Manually enter info into a spreadsheet or flat file in their preferred format. Then send them an email or FTP.
3. Update Inventory. Later, you receive shipped order(s) information from your vendors. Update the inventory in your shopping cart. Copy and paste the tracking number back into shopping cart, and mark it shipped.
4. Communicate with the customer. Send the customer an email telling him that the product has shipped.
What’s All This Cost?
Let’s assume you pay somebody – or yourself (your time is money, right?) – $19 per hour to handle these functions*. Data from our customers suggest each manually processed order can take about 12-15 minutes to complete.
That’s over $4 per order. Not on marketing expenses or shipping. Just to manage your order lifecycle.
So if you’re doing 1,000 orders a month, that’s up to 250 man hours or $4,000 per month!
The order lifecycle process is complex enough with one online storefront and one vendor. When you are using five marketplaces and multiple distribution vendors, these manual processes don’t scale, but your costs do.
Automating your order lifecycle –inventory management, order routing and shipment tracking processes – can significantly reduce your time and labor costs. Orders are routed and systems updated in near real time (vs. up to 15 minutes), giving you valuable time and money to reinvest in your growth elsewhere. Plus, the right automation platforms will allow you to scale going forward, simplifying the addition of new storefronts and distribution vendors to your supply chain ecosystem.
*based on $50K salary (261 days x 10 working hours per day)
Last week, we attended the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE 2013) with fellow Atlanta startups, Badgy and N4MD. It was a blur of handshakes, extravagant giveaways, and fellow entrepreneurs. I was excited to be surrounded by so many people who were as passionate about ecommerce as we are here at HubLogix, all working hard to transform the way people interact with merchants. Although I didn’t have the time to attend too many talks, here are some of the highlights from the four or five I got a chance to catch.
4 Ubiquitous Buzzwords
1. Mobile has arrived
It is incredible how quickly mobile is taking over. Mobile commerce grew to $25 billion in 2012, accounting for 11% of the total ecommerce sales. If you’re an online store, that means you should get started making your store mobile-frie with a responsive design and simplified checkout process. However being mobile-friendly doesn’t just mean you should spend thousands of dollars to contract a mobile app that simply packages your existing online store in a more narrow form. A mobile app requires much more thought. The really successful ones are rethinking the shopping experience to create a new breed of shoppers that. Examples include Fancy, a mobile centric platform for curated goods that encourages sharing, and Shopkick, who are redefining brick and mortar rewards for shoppers. Check out Google’s amazing Mobile Playbook for more insight.
2. Social beyond media
By now, everyone knows that social media can be a cheap and organic marketing strategy. Below the surface, however, you should realize that online interaction is an extension of your company. Now more than ever, customers know that the products and services they use define their personality. Remember everything you and your employees do is a reflection of your personality. One thing’s for certain though, creating and sharing truly relevant content to your customers will always result in a good response.
3. Support as a pillar of user experience
The smartest and fastest growing companies obsess over the happiness of their customers. Nowadays, customers expect near-instant support turnaround times, and they expect them through multiple channels. These include email, chat, phone, and social media platforms. These days, a bad reputation for support can kill even the most beautiful and useful application. Luckily, this also means that good support makes an equally huge impact and can set you apart from your competitors.
4. Data wins
Regardless if you are starting your third online store or a tech startup, you need to be tracking metrics. At IRCE, there was an entire section of the exhibit hall dedicated to analytics software, each with their own niche. It’s important to note, however, that although there are many tools out there to help collect data, extracting useful insights is most certainly a challenge. Each company must find the right metrics to track that truly help move their business forward. They can be different for everyone, but a good place to start is the KISSmetrics blog, which is full of awesome posts about data driven marketing. Slideshare is also a great resource – here is a great presentation by the 500 Startups founding partner and angel investor, David McClure.
The exhibit halls were definitely another goldmine of information. Admittedly, though there were a fair share of slimy salesmen (and women!), the majority of companies there genuinely wanted to help those in the ecommerce industry optimize their business. Over the course of three days, I had the chance to interact with nearly a hundred booths. Next, I’ll discuss the companies that stood out to me among the crowd.
5 Awesome Startups at IRCE
A predictive analytics platform designed specifically for online retailers. Their software analyzes data to segment customers automatically and predict how they will behave. With this added insight they also optimize email campaigns to keep customers engaged. Their whole analytics suite has too many features to list so check them out. Shout out to David Stychno for being an amazing designer; we love your work!
A subscription billing service that simplifies customer cross-sells/up-sells and automates upgrades/downgrades. Recurly also offers powerful analytics and identifies credit card declines before it results in customer churn. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Burkhart, the founder and CEO, who was really personable and helpful. *Disclaimer: We are happy Recurly customers, so we can recommend this service personally! And no, they didn’t offer any incentives to endorse them.. but we’ll take them if you’re reading. 🙂
Fellow 500 Startups-backed Curebit is a customer referral platform that drives ecommerce growth. Their software makes it unbelievably easy for online stores to build viral referral programs, track their effectiveness and optimize them for future campaigns. I had a great time chatting with their team, which includes two fellow Georgia Tech alums: Allan Grant and Michael Noonan.
Plug and play testing framework with a WYSIWYG editor, built-in reports, and tons of other features. If you are data-driven and curious about A/B testing, Optimizely is a great place to start. Their software makes it fun and easy to do landing page testing, track revenue goals, and segment traffic. Gotta also hand it to them for having some awesome swag!
Atlanta’s very own Kevy is an API integration platform built on connectors that enable cloud apps to sync with each other. They are currently building integrations between dozens of web apps much like IFTTT and Zapier. Their focus, however, is not on events but on allowing data to be used between applications. Ed Trimble, co-founder of Kevy, really showed passion for the problem he was solving. There is definitely a lot of promise in this neglected space and we’ll be monitoring their development!
I’d also like to round up 4 quick tips I picked up from this conference experience that I will definitely keep in mind next time:
4 Quick Convention Tips
1. Have a Game Plan
Although digital marketing is an exploding trend, conventions are one of the last remnants of old-school sales channels (see section 2 of infographic.) While no one can deny the effectiveness of conferences, they are definitely a YMMV-type strategy. Conventions are expensive, and you get out of them what you put in. Make it count! Take the extra time to research the conference webpage for speakers you are interested in and the huge list of companies that will be setting up booths. There’s no doubt there will be some companies directly related to your business.
Also, try contacting them and current clients and partners to see if they will be out there for the conference and schedule a meeting. Don’t forget about social media! Scour twitter for the conference hashtags. A lot of the savvy companies will start posting ahead of time if they will be heading to the conference. If any of them interest you, get in touch with them. Make notes and put them in your calendar! Things can get messy on game day.
2. Don’t Get Distracted
Or rather… follow your game plan! You made a plan for a reason. Make sure you at least spend some time hitting the main points. There are a lot of flashy gimmicks and shiny bells and whistles at booths to distract you from your plan. There is plenty of opportunity with a perfect balance of potential clients and partners. Get out there and talk to people about your business; worst case you learn something new. Best case, you make connections that you can develop into leads, partnerships, or mentorships.
3. It don’t stop
Just because the official convention hours end around 7PM doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the sack. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for late night shenanigans sponsored by the big boy companies. These are networking goldmines. Not only will you get some free grub and swag, but who could forget the complimentary booze? Drink responsibly and don’t be “that” guy, running around collecting business cards.
Remember that real networking is truly caring about other people and their lives. Spend your time talking to interesting people and ask genuine questions about their experiences. Although it’s both ineffective and flat-out rude to force a sell on every person you encounter; you are at an after party for a business conference… if you don’t bring it up, they sure will. You would be surprised how much easier it is to sell when they’re the ones asking what you and your company does!
4. Have fun!
I know I just spent three bullet points on being all-business but it’s good to remember that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” You’re most likely in a city you’ve never been to before or at least don’t get a chance to go to very often. Live it up and check out some of the culture while you’re at it! Spend a couple hours (couple is key here!) gorging on local deep dish pizza, tasting local brews, and catching up with old friends that live nearby. You’ll regret it if you don’t!
That just about wraps up my IRCE summary. I want to thank my team for picking up slack back home while I was out schmoozing around Chicago. Overall, though it was exhausting, it was a fantastic opportunity to really immerse myself in the ecommerce world.
Did I miss you at IRCE? Have some more conference pro-tips or ecommerce trends? Leave comments below, we love your feedback!
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Photo Credit: Aku S. Photography via Compfight cc
Your company is beginning to grow, and you realize you need to start adding new members to the team. You’ve got a few key people already, but you’ve decided it’s time to bring in a new developer (or more). After exhaustively searching Google and various professional networks, you’ve finally managed to find what you’re looking for: that new developer who you think could help your company do great things.
But then the first day of work rolls around, and they come to work with only a limited idea of what your company does and how they can be helpful. Now what? You’ve got a company to run and your time is valuable. It’s tempting, in the moment, to throw your shiny new developer at the code and get back to work.
Unfortunately, adding a developer to the team without any thought about how you’re going to get them up to speed is the equivalent of throwing them into a pit of lions. They’ll be running in circles and you’ll just be watching as your investment gets eaten alive. So how do you take the new guy (or girl) from being clueless to productive as quickly as possible?
Wasting the First Day
First things first, you need to make sure the developer has the right software. If this developer is going to be the only person working on the project, then this process is going to be pretty simple. They should know enough to figure this out on their own.
The problems start as soon as you have more than one person working on the development together. You’re going to need everyone on your team using the same software. Depending on what kind of development your company does, the installation process can range from being annoying to being an agonizing struggle against poorly defined errors and conflicting how-to articles (which we discovered the hard way). Anyone who has ever been through this can tell you that this is one of the least efficient things about software development today, so don’t be surprised if it takes up the whole first day.
Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil. Google can provide some really useful tutorials, but there isn’t really a substitute for having someone who knows what they’re doing. The best advice I can give is to document specific steps as you figure out the installation process. That way the next time you have to deal with this (or if the person who knows what they’re doing leaves your company) you aren’t going to have to waste nearly as much time getting things set up. (I’ll discuss this in more detail soon.)
You Shall Not Pass(word)
Next, you need to give your developer access to all of the various accounts and organizational tools your company uses. The easiest way to do this is probably to document which ones you use and how they can log in.
When I first started at HubLogix, I felt that over the course of just a few weeks I was given about 20 different login/password combinations to different sites. In the case of most of these sites, I wasn’t even sure how to use them. Documenting this ahead of time can be a much clearer way to explain what each site is and how the company uses it. Also, it saves you the time of having to explain the same thing again every time the new guy forgets a small detail.
Automatic login extensions like lastpass or 1Password can be your best friend here, since they allow your developer (or you) to store all of their login information securely while only having to remember one password.
Learning to Swim
Now that the new guy has access to your codebase and is probably itching to do something useful, what’s next? If you want him to learn to swim, he’s going to have to get his feet wet. He needs to get familiar with your project and the best way for him to do that is for him to put his skills to the test and begin coding. But careful, you don’t want to just throw him into the deep end. Starting your new developer with some simple tasks can both be low-risk and allow him or her to start getting used to things without crippling your business if he or she screws up. When I first started at HubLogix, I was calculating business metrics and adding them to our admin pages. These were useful figures which helped the company, but also weren’t all that difficult to calculate. This was a great way to get acclimated to the way our team did things. Having a similar job set aside for your new developer is a great way to get them into the code without making them feel overwhelmed.
Don’t Go Alone
Throughout the first month of work, a developer has to learn a lot about your company’s chosen conventions. What should they do to make sure they don’t break something? How should they use your version control software? Do they really have to write comments? How do they use the fancy piece of code you already have in place? These questions must be answered if they are going to do their jobs. So what are the best ways to get them resolved?
Provide a Mentor
Good developers are problem solvers. We love to tackle tricky problems. So when we get stuck on something new, our first inclination is to try to figure it out. This is a good thing, because ultimately this is what you’ve hired your developers to do. The problem is, this can take a lot of time. Pairing them with someone in your company who already knows what they are doing will end up saving a lot of wasted time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wasted an hour on a problem only to discover there was a simple solution that someone else already knew about. Giving a developer this mentor allows them to ask questions when they’re stuck so that they can keep getting things done.
Docs, Docs, Docs!
Sometimes there’s just nobody around to ask for help. So its important to have detailed company documentation. Especially whenever you have a problem a developer can’t just google. But it’s not enough to write everything down. Developers should be able to find what they need quickly. That’s why its important to not just have documentation, but have good documentation. Its tempting to rush the writing process so you can get back to being productive, but having good docs is a long-term investment. Down the road it will save you a lot of time if your developers can navigate through all of your docs in a matter of minutes rather than having to search the darkest corners of the mass-of-text you sent them.
So what makes for good documentation? This, of course, is a pretty huge topic in itself, so I encourage you to have someone in your company look into it further. Tom Johnson from I’d Rather Be Writing has a great post here, though he writes from the perspective of providing documentation for users. However, the principles he discusses still apply quite well to internal documents.
I Thought You Wanted a Developer…
Don’t expect your developer to know everything about your industry up front. You’ve poured your sweat and tears into your company and know the ins and outs, while they’ve only been there a short time. Don’t be afraid to make them learn about your industry. It is important for everyone to know where you’re headed, especially with smaller companies or startups. When I started working at HubLogix, I knew nothing about eCommerce or running a business. But the HubLogix team encouraged me to ask questions and learn more about what it is we do. Just a few weeks later, I can speak knowledgeably about the product and am here able to to talk about my experiences on an ecommerce blog. Don’t be afraid to expect the same out of your developers!
Is It Working?
Hopefully, this article helped and you’ve managed to onboard your new developer with only a few minor snags. Always remember that the beauty of working at a small company is that things can remain flexible. If something worked well, great! Keep doing it. But if something didn’t work so well, it’s never too late to throw it out and try something else. If you’re not sure, remember you have a great new resource: a developer who can tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Other Useful Resources:
Pivotal Tracker is a great task organization tool specifically created for development teams. I’ve used it on multiple projects and recommend it for teams of any size.
If you want to learn more about good documentation writing practices I would recommend Technical Communication. It’s pretty pricey but it’s also probably the most useful book I read throughout college.
If your team uses git for version control, they have excellent wiki capabilities. You can use these to store documentation in a place easily accessible by your developers but which can’t be seen by people who don’t have access to the project. (Assuming your project is set to private.)
If your team works in Java, you may want to look into Maven in order to set up your development environment. I haven’t tried it myself, but it seems like it could greatly reduce the pain caused by setting up environments.