Small Business

266 posts categorized

May 04, 2016

Technologies That Changed Retail

 

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In 2016, global business to consumer e-commerce sales is expected to reach $1.92 trillion. As impressive as this figure from Statista is, that’s millions of lost in-store experiences and missed customer service conversations. In an age of convenience, it can be easy to forget about what you might be missing.

Many shoppers enjoy walking down the aisles of large retail stores, checking prices and talking to people. They also like to touch the things they plan on buying. For every gained purchase online, a material purchase is lost, which has raised the stakes considerably for brick-and-mortar retail locations. If ever these stores needed a hero, it would be now. 

Who would have guessed that mobile technology could be that hero? The use of mobile technology in retail stores could save many from going out of business and help them keep pace with online shopping trends. Here’s how mobile technology is changing the retail game in a world full of online shoppers.

 

Saving Time with Retail Mobile Technology

Often, it’s faster to ask someone a question, make a suggestion, or compare two products than it is to find credible answers online. In fact, digging around on the Internet is almost more time-consuming than driving to the store in the first place.

Now, imagine all sales associates have smartphones or tablets that can locate what you want anywhere in the store. They can give you a price check, compare prices, and tell you where else you might find what you’re looking for. This is the direction mobile technology is heading, as physical retailers scramble to catch up on the super-highway. By empowering employees to help customers, mobile saves time while providing people with truly authentic service. Plus, shoppers get to walk out of the store with their merchandise in tow—no delivery time needed. 

 

Increase Productivity Among Retail Employees

Additionally, mobile technology will help retail owners save money by increasing the overall productivity of employees. In addition to customer service, mobile technology allows sales associates to manage inventories, place orders, receive shipments, take phone calls, and more. This also eliminates a mountain of paperwork and makes organizing data much less complicated. More people can do more work in a shorter amount of time.

Creating a network of employees working on mobile devices can also cut down on long checkout lines (especially during the holidays). The mobile Point of Sale (mPoS) is all about being ready the moment a customer agrees to make an in-store purchase and having an associate there to swipe the credit card. If that same customer walks to a long checkout line, they may decide not to wait. That’s a lost opportunity that’s likely to wind up somewhere online.

Shop owners can take some of those lost sales back by using mobile to capitalize on every possible sale.

The good old days we remember, when the Internet had yet become an e-commerce mecca and flashing banner ads were so bad they were good, are gone. To keep pace with all the sophisticated technology that keeps online shoppers coming back for more, brick-and-mortar retailers have no choice but to fire back with mobile.

May 03, 2016

Staying on the Right Side of the Law with Mass Texting Service

 

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Own a business and think you might want to add text ads to your marketing campaign? Make sure you know the rules before you play the game, or you may land yourself in court.

Retailers from clothing stores to vitamin companies are figuring out that the best way to reach consumers is through their mobile devices. So, they’re putting ad campaigns together that will land their companies’ names, and their messages, directly in the public’s text message applications. 

Whether these companies have read TechCrunch’s report that stated consumers spent more time on their phones than watching TV in the second quarter of 2015, or they did their own research to show society’s reliance on mobile devices, these businesses want to cash in on behavior that doesn't seem to be changing.

However, in order to stay lawsuit free, companies need to approach text advertising in the right way. 

 

Mobile Advertising and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 states that anyone dialing a person’s mobile phone or sending a text message must have consent. This federal law prohibits unsolicited mass calls and text advertisements, and it gives recipients of those unsolicited calls the right to collect up to $1,500 in statutory damages for each violation (or each phone call or text message). Individuals who receive unsolicited messages to their cell phones do not have to prove any harm was done when they seek damages, either.  

 

Don't Take a Chance – Get Permission for Text Advertisements

Imagine the potential damage to a business from one unsolicited text message sent out to thousands of customers or potential customers. A single mass text could ruin a small company financially, and it could have owners or executives of the company slapped with a lawsuit that they’ll need to spend time and PR resources fighting.

If you’re considering a mass texting service for your business, stop and make sure you’re clear on the laws pertaining to text messaging before you press that send button. If you don’t, you might be setting yourself up for a multi-million dollar settlement to avoid litigation, when you could have simply asked for consent. If you remember one thing when it comes to a mobile marketing campaign, it’s that consent matters.

 

What Does the Law Say?

It’s critical with any text messaging campaign to get consent to send messages to an individual’s cell phone. InfoLawGroup LLC, a boutique law group focusing on data security and media matters, emphasizes that the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) Telephone Consumer Protection Act reigns supreme in matters of mobile phone mass advertising, and it specifically spells out what rules must be followed if any company uses what’s considered to be an autodialer (automatic dialing system) to reach out to multiple consumers.

The law is specific, but lengthy, and it’s a must-read if you’re thinking about adding mass text service to your marketing campaign. It describes exactly what the law considers to be an autodialer, and it offers clarity in terms of procedures and penalties involved in sending text messages to multiple individuals at once.

To protect your business, familiarize yourself with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act before you send any text messages as part of your company’s marketing campaign.

May 01, 2016

Apps vs. Mobile Site

 

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As a small business owner, you’ve probably wondered whether to focus on making your website mobile friendly or utilizing the skills of a talented app developer. Both offer mobile marketing strategy advantages in light of industry, budget, and target audience, yet considering the amount of conflicting advice floating around, deciding which one to go with is often challenging. 

In 2013 a Compuware survey found that 85 percent of consumers enjoy apps over mobile websites. However, this hardly means one is better than the other, or that there isn’t just as huge a market for mobile sites. It’s like saying a percentage of people prefer the beach to the mountains—there’s still plenty of reasons to market mountain-based attractions. 

The decision to go with apps over a mobile website or vice versa depends on your mobile marketing strategy and related tactics.

 

Mobile-Friendly Websites

A mobile-optimized website is essentially a responsive design that recognizes when a visitor is using a mobile device and then converts the site to a version that’s easy to read via mobile. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to produce different or additional content for a mobile site, as you would have to for an app. This makes mobile marketing management a much more streamlined process, and allows you to focus on other aspects of your business, rather than concerning yourself with content all the time. 

Mobile websites arguably drive more traffic than apps, so consider your ultimate goals behind site use: are you looking to improve consumer loyalty, or increase revenue by expanding your customer base? A cross-channel site may be your best option depending on what you wish to accomplish. 

 

Apps

The main advantage of having an app for your business is that it lets you make excellent use of a tablet or smartphone’s hardware and native functionalities. Cameras, GPS, speedometers, gyroscopes, and other useful pieces of technology found on the vast majority of modern devices are easily worked into your app’s operation. 

Another advantage of apps is that they rarely require an internet connection to run. Most apps store data locally on a phone or tablet’s hard drive, so users may enjoy them even if no internet connection is available. For example, some news apps download and store content through a Wi-Fi connection so users may read about current events until the app is able to sync with another connection. 

App infrastructure and development tools are more sophisticated and user friendly than ever thanks to demand for app developers, with major operating systems offering a serious selection of frameworks for developers to work with. Most frameworks are free. 

 

Wrapping Up

Again, which one you decide to go with depends on what your ultimate marketing goals are, how big your budget is, and more factors. If you have the means and the employees to handle a mobile-friendly site and an app, why not try both and see if one offers more benefits to your company than the other. You also might find that your team is efficient enough to provide content to each channel, thus increasing brand awareness and reach. Whatever you decide, remember that it’s a very good idea to offer at least one of the two options to your target audience. 

April 29, 2016

Mobile Shopping Poised for Growth in Kenya

 

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Kenyan retailers might not have fully adopted mobile communications to fuel their business activity, but they are embracing it, and technology is on the rise when it comes to their marketing campaigns. A recent Nielson study conducted on Kenyan retailers and their use of technology reveals that mobile usage in the past has been significant. Moreover, companies are slowly turning to mobile marketing concepts.

 

The Study

The Neilson research group conducted face-to-face interviews with 300 retailers across many spectrums and service channels throughout Kenya. The results show that, right now, most retail business is done in the country through direct communication and transactions. In fact, 96 percent of consumers in Kenya prefer to pay retailers with cash, and 88 percent of them prefer in-person communication. They also like to see new products firsthand. 

 

The Promise of the Mobile Market

Even though retail businesses in Kenya today seem to under-utilize mobile technology—just 12 percent of customers use mobile money to pay for goods—Nielson East Africa MD Jacqueline Nyanjom, says, “In a country with 96 percent mobile penetration, the findings are somewhat surprising – but they do point to enormous potential for growth.”

Kenya’s mobile money market is perfect for growth because of how easy it is for people already utilizing mobile technology to make the jump to purchasing goods online. In other parts of the world, mobile money has already been embraced or made great strides. In Kenya, Safaricom’s M-Pesa currently dominates the mobile money market, as small as it is. M-Pesa launched in 2007 and has more than 25-million subscribers, and about 130,000 retail agents use the technology. Countrywide, 43 percent of the Gross National Product flowed through this channel in 2013.

 

The Future of Mobile Shopping

One of the main reasons that Kenyans rely on cash for purchases is that it doesn’t carry transaction fees. Some shoppers and retailers, however, have expressed concern about the safety of using cash for purchases. Aside from fees, there are few reasons not to convert to the use of mobile money in the retail sector. About 25 percent of retail businesses say that they have not been approached with an offer to use mobile money for purchases, a fact that implies that there is an untapped group of business owners in this market.

Additionally, it seems that the time is ripe to encourage both businesses and consumers to accept mobile advertising and marketing as part of the mix. Companies need to focus on adopting retail apps, mobile coupons, promotions, geo-location deals and ads, and other mobile marketing tools in order to bring exciting new growth to the industry.

 

April 24, 2016

The Global Reach of SMS Messaging

 

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SMS has carved out a place as one of the key marketing tools for the modern business. With affordable, effective application for both B2C and B2B marketing, text messaging is also being used as an internal communication method. If there’s one remote communication technology you can be sure everyone has access to, it’s text messaging.

Therein lies the principal appeal of SMS: it’s universality. Not only do people across the globe have access to SMS, the majority of them carry a phone everywhere, which means that access is readily available, often within minutes of a message being sent. Let’s take a look at the reasons why text messaging is the surest way to reach the largest number of people:

 

  1. Global Reach. There are phone carriers in almost every country in the world, and because SMS works on 2G networks (as well as 3G and 4G), it can be used to communicate with an active mobile phone anywhere in the world
  2. Classless. Unlike other mobile technologies such as apps and geo-location, text messaging doesn’t require a smartphone. Indeed, the SMS protocol predates the advent of the smartphone by more than a decade, which meant it was so widespread by the time everyone started carrying miniature computers in their pocket that it was beyond reproach. No phone manufacturer has even considered not including this simple feature on their phones. The smartest smartphone can communicate with any active cell phone built in the last 20 years in two ways: a phone call or a text message. That’s a pretty level playing field for global communication.
  3. More likely to be read. Than any other form of digital communication. Conservative estimates reckon at least 90% of text messages are read within three minutes of receipt, and unlike emails, they won’t get spam filtered or routinely ignored.
  4. It’s economical. Not just in terms of financial cost, but because of the 160 character limit - a major part of the appeal when it comes to actually reading messages - it requires an economy of language that all marketers should be seeking to use anyway. Your brand message will be clear, concise and direct. It has to be!
  5. It’s permission based. Because consent is required, you know your messages won’t form just another part of the digital white noise we’ve all become used to tuning out on a daily basis. Anyone who receives your SMS messages has requested them, making them much more likely to engage.
  6. It plays well with others. SMS messaging works in harmony with other forms of digital marketing, allowing you to create a truly ‘joined up’ mobile marketing campaign. If, for instance, you have details of an upcoming event on your website, SMS messaging is the perfect way to alert customers to it and include a link to the full story. By incorporating SMS messaging into your overall mobile marketing strategy, you will maximize your reach.

April 17, 2016

Mobile Marketing and the Emoji Question

 

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New research indicates that mobile marketing campaigns are increasingly turning to emojis to make their messages pop. Marketing automation company Appboy surveyed close to 9,400 campaigns on Android and iOS platforms, and found emoji usage had increased more than seven-fold year-on-year, as of March 2016. The report found e-commerce marketers and retailers were the most likely businesses to use emojis in mobile marketing campaigns.

Why are mobile marketing managers using emojis? Simply put, it’s because the rest of us do, and it’s seen as an easy way to add some color and individuality to a campaign. With so much activity happening in the world of mobile marketing, it’s highly competitive and volatile; some 800 million users got their first smartphone last year alone. Another 600 million will join them this year.

With such vast numbers, it’s crucial for e-marketers to understand who they’re trying to reach, and with what kind of message. In this context, emojis become one contributing factor to the success of a mobile marketing campaign. Used well, they set the right tone for a brand image. 

 

Using Emojis

So how do you use them in the most effective way? One of the most common mistakes brands make is to use emojis in place of text, where text would communicate more effectively. Emojis should complement your written message, not replace it, so for your first campaign, try incorporating one or two relevant emojis. This will give you a chance to feel out your audience to see if they respond well to emojis. Not everyone does!

Remember too that a constant stream of unhelpful, if fun, messages will result in irritated customers opting out of your contact list or deleting your app. Don’t get over-excited with the new plaything and start barraging your user base. Stick to the mobile marketing strategy of only issuing messages when you have a special offer to promote, or other information that will be of genuine interest. Incorporate emojis into these, rather than trying to build a new mobile marketing campaign around emojis.

A recent BI Intelligence report takes a look at mobile marketing tactics such as emojis. One of the key findings was the importance of marketers leveraging different tactics according to demographic and audience size. It’s vital to respect the personal nature of mobile messaging, and be highly vigilant for over doing it. Emojis are a good example of mobile marketing tactics that can go wrong if misapplied, but work wonders when done right.

April 08, 2016

Samsung Has Launched Its Mobile Wallet in China

 

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Samsung’s mobile wallet is making its way to China, no tunneling required. The international tech firm recently announced Chinese shoppers can now use their smartphones to pay for in-store purchases, and are therefore joining the Asian country’s trillion-dollar mobile wallet market. 

 

Partnership With UnionPay

SamsungPay was launched in partnership With UnionPay, the same bankcard company that helped bring ApplePay to life. UnionPay credit and debit cards are currently the only cards linked with local Samsung phones at this time, with up to 10 cards allowed per device. SamsungPay is available in China on the Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge+, and the Galaxy Note 5 smartphones. 

 

Positive Reception

Injong Rhee, EVP and Head of R&D, Software, and Services of Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics, said the company is pleased to partner with CUP in order to bring SamsungPay to Chinese consumers. Rhee said SamsungPay reception has so far been very positive, and the service has found success in both consumer adoption and availability. 

The EVP also stated that Samsung hopes to make the payment option available to as many Chinese consumers as possible so that “everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy the simplicity, safety and convenience of this mobile payment solution."

 

Participating Institutions

Banking institutions currently participating in SamsungPay include the largest bank in the country, ICBC, as well as China Construction Bank and China Merchants Bank. Other major institutions such as Bank of Communications and Bank of China are said to follow suit. 

 

Additional Phones

In addition to the Samsung phones listed above, the Korean tech giant noted the possibility of adding more devices, including the Galaxy A5, A7, and A9, as they were also tested in public beta. Rooted devices do not support SamsungPay. 

 

The Challenge

China’s mobile wallet industry is quite well established, making Samsung’s foray into the market a challenging one. Local services such as WeChat and AliPay are used for online shopping and transportation services among other things, and are now available for brick-and-mortar store use. Analysts recently remarked that AliPay and WeChat are so ingrained among Chinese consumers that introducing new mobile wallet options will be an “uphill battle.” However, Samsung has previously noted one essential factor working for them: the technology is applicable to a larger number of existing payment terminals. 

 

“Simple and Safe”

Samsung also believes its mobile wallet option will work because it’s “simple, safe, and easy to use,” and that it works “virtually anywhere” in China that allows consumers to swipe or tap their cards. There’s no need to unlock phones or use special apps to access Samsung’s mobile wallet, which makes it arguably more appealing than earlier incarnations requiring these steps, such as Google Wallet. 

The mobile wallet is similar to ApplePay in that it utilizes near field communication technology (NFC). Samsung’s version will also support the magnetic secure transmission technology used on standard credit card machines. 

As of the fourth quarter of last year, Samsung was No. 6 in China’s smartphone market with a 7 percent share compared to Apple’s 15 percent. It will be interesting to see how the new mobile wallet option fares. SamsungPay is currently available in the U.S. and South Korea, and should enter the UK market later this year. 

March 23, 2016

Do Good Week: Maintaining a Positive Company Culture

 

As part of this year's 'Do Good Week' we take a look at how you can inspire and maintain a positive company culture. 

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In order to do well in business, you need to maintain a positive company culture. What is a company culture and how do you create one that positively impacts your business, and therefore your customers? Company culture is a shared set of visions and values for the betterment of the company and those it serves, and it’s a collective effort to uphold those visions and values through every business decision and action.

 

Examples of a Positive Company Culture

A positive company culture is seen in the way leadership communicates with employees, in the enthusiasm employees have when performing their jobs, and in the effectiveness of the company to better the lives of its customers. Companies like The Disney Store have created a positive company culture by taking into consideration all of the above-mentioned points, and companies that are successful in creating a positive culture tend to experience enormous success.

 

The Importance of Positive Company Culture

It’s important that a company’s founder set the tone for a positive culture from day one. His or her visions and values can then be passed on to first-hire leadership, employee teams that are built subsequently, and any vendors or merchants that are representative of the company. It’s crucial that anyone who joins the company, in any capacity, is aware of the positive company culture that has been built and prepared to help maintain it. 

A positive company culture must be practiced and on display at all times in order to keep the business thriving. This means that anyone who is not on board with the culture that the company has created needs to decide to adopt a new attitude or face the consequences. Culture is that dire for a business’ success. 

 

How to Create and Maintain a Positive Company Culture

The culture a company creates for employees, and for customers, will be slightly different from one business to the next because of factors like the nature of business, the business’ target audience, and business location, among others. However, in the end, a positive company culture will be focused on a few things, including clear communication, fair dealing, and the happiness of employees and customers. The following are some goals a business can focus on to create a company culture that benefits management, shareholders, employees, and customers:

 

Recruit the Right People

To create a positive company culture, start with a leadership team that understands and embraces the business’ vision and values, and then make sure everyone who comes on board in any other capacity is clear and accepting of the culture. When you screen employees, hold willingness to uphold your company’s culture as a “must.” This will help your business by getting the right people into your company from day one, which means less turnover later. 

 

Commit to Orientations and Ongoing Training

Make it a requirement that every person who comes to work for your company go through an orientation that specifically addresses the company culture you’ve created. Also, make periodic training classes a requirement so that employees can receive updates to your visions and values (as they might change according to the state of an evolving business) and reminders about your company’s ultimate goals. 

In addition to these methods of maintaining a positive company culture, it’s a good idea to foster company-wide communication at every level, consider recognition and awards programs for those who go above and beyond in upholding your business’ values, and generate an atmosphere of caring in which employees feel connected and comfortable with each other, like a family. 

 

March 18, 2016

TCPA Court Cases Resulting Favorably for Text Marketing Companies

 

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Less than four years have elapsed since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adapted the Telephone Consumer Protections Act (TCPA) to include text messaging. When the changes to the TCPA were first announced in 2012, text marketers - and companies that use text marketing services - were concerned that the changes would have a negative impact on their business models. To an extent, they’ve been proven right - but the fallout has been largely confined to the inconvenience of facing down and defeating lawsuits, rather than actually losing them.

In fact, since 2012, there have been five major court decisions to have gone the way of text message marketers. Far from wreaking havoc on the text marketing industry, the updated TCPA has had the effect of protecting honest business practices, and the aforementioned court decisions could set crucial precedents for the future. 

First, a brief recap of the story so far:

Created in 1991, the TCPA required businesses to gain express written consent before making automated phone calls. In 2012, the FCC took the view that consumers should have similar protections from automated text messages.

Initially, mobile marketers were not worried by the update. The concept of ‘prior express written consent’ was a core tenet of text message marketing. One of the reasons mobile marketing has been so successful is that it came of age well after the irritation of spam emails and late night robocalls had been felt by everyone. It simply didn’t make good business sense to follow that model for SMS. The majority of practitioners of text marketing were already doing what the law now required of them.

This was precisely the problem. The FCC’s new rules used language that could be interpreted as an invalidation of existing consent agreements. Because those agreements had not previously been required by law, companies’ record-keeping was not as good as it could have been. The quibble between the FCC and telemarketers came down to whether or not new consent was required from existing B2C relationships.

So far, the legal system has sympathized with companies who had gained consent prior to the legislation. The most high profile example was an action brought against Microsoft. In a ruling on November 17th 2015, Judge Manuel Real of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Microsoft’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by two plaintiffs claiming the company did not seek fresh consent after the TCPA update. Judge Real wrote in his judgement: 

“Plaintiffs voluntarily sought specific information about Microsoft promotions, providing both their phone numbers and their express consent to receive that information by texting specific keywords from their mobile phones. There is no cognizable legal theory that could support liability against Defendants, and dismissal with prejudice is appropriate.”

In other words, he deemed the lawsuit frivolous - a cynical ploy by the plaintiffs to extract damages from a huge tech company. Text marketers everywhere hope this - along with a handful of other cases - sets a precedent that will prevent future litigation and allow fair business to carry on unobstructed.

February 19, 2016

SMS and the Customer Experience

 

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Did you know texting has been around for nearly 20 years? It’s hard to imagine life without it, and yet only recently have big businesses started to pay close attention to text and SMS messaging. Which makes you wonder, why now? What are they up to?

 

Texting Tipping Point 

The Pew Research Center reports that texting is the most frequently used app on a cell phone—97 percent of Americans use texting at least once a day. When compared to average email open rates (20 percent), text messages score significantly higher at 98 percent.

The numbers all point toward mobile, which is no surprise in 2016; the difference between what marketers know today versus 5 years ago is that the customer experience now begins is the palm of the hand. 

There are several reasons that businesses are more inclined to entertain SMS messaging. First, 15 years ago, a basic SMS plan was expensive: 10 – 20 cents a message. Thanks to unlimited text messaging, texting is more affordable. 

Additionally, the devices we use to text now are much more sophisticated. Remember typing messages using the number pad and T9? Today, most cell phones are equipped with full keyboards that make texting faster and more efficient. These factors have made it much more cost efficient for businesses to utilize texting in a meaningful way. 

 

Big Business Learns to Text 

So, what exactly are companies planning to do with texting? 

Big businesses are focusing on existing customer behavior, which in this case means texting. Based on statistical data, businesses view texting as the preferred form of communication. Instead of asking customers to call a 1-800 number, they’re going to meet customers where they already are—via text.  

There are three ways texting will be integrated into big business to ensure the customer experience is managed from this new mobile point. 

First, contact centers will incorporate SMS messaging with traditional voice calls to help customers solve problems faster, reduce wait times, and follow up. Normally, an agent handles calls one at a time; with texting, an agent can take multiple inquires simultaneously, effectively reducing wait times and increasing productivity. 

Second, smart notifications will be used as reminders and to set up appointments. 

Finally, desk phone messaging will bridge SMS messaging and MMS into a regular desk telephone, giving mobile employees access to multiple text sessions at the same time. 

 

Text to Buy 

Ironically, the social behavior of texting hasn’t chanced the customer’s experience; rather it has changed customer’s expectations about what that experience should be. In this case, texting is the path of least resistance to settle all kinds of customer issues. However, it’s also open season for innovation and integration of new technologies that will allow customers to buy things via text—something I predict we’ll see a lot more of in the near future.