Sunday, December 15, 2013

3 Big 2014 Trends in eCommerce

The rise of eCommerce has been nothing short of spectacular over the last few years, and 2013 was no different. Yet 2013 is rapidly drawing to a close and as the world looks forward in anticipation to 2014, those in the online retail market will be keeping a close eye on eCommerce trends.

So what does 2014 hold in store for the eCommerce industry? Can online retailers expect more of the same, or is there perhaps a chance that the eCommerce bubble will finally burst? Let us find out by examining some of the expected trends for 2014.

The Social Revolution

No, not Facebook! Not Twitter either, but indeed an amalgamation of all online social networks. It has increasingly become the norm, and it will continue to do so come next year, for people to post, tweet, and upload information about where they went shopping, what they purchased, and what they could not purchase but really hope to soon. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube are all expected to have a major say in online retail in 2014.

In particular, the use of comment commerce - pioneered by eCommerce startup Soldsie - has proven to be wildly popular. The social commerce platform allows a business to easily sell on Facebook and/or Instagram; all they need to do is upload images of products for sale - users interested in making a purchase then need only to comment ‘Sold’ to complete the transaction. After the user leaves a comment, they will be sent an invoice to the email address that's tied to their Facebook account, allowing them to complete the sale at their own convenience and without having to leave Facebook which dramatically increases conversion rates.

Additionally, the use of comments can help increase business to consumer engagement as Facebook will show this activity to the customer’s friends like it would any other comment that user made. So for example, if a consumer leaves the comment "I can't wait to get my hands on this product... Sold!", the comment will be seen by their friends, who may in turn be influenced to make a purchase. If they make a purchase, once again they will leave a similar comment and that will spread to a new group of friends which can help a business' store go viral and increase their sales as opposed to just dropping a link that leads back to their webstore.  

Big Year, Big Data

2014 is widely expected to be the year of the big data. Online retailers have been accumulating big data for a while now, and it is predicted that the time to put it to good use has finally arrived. Business decisions will be made, or not made, according to this valuable data.

How will it help? Big Data is how successful companies are building more detailed models of consumer behavior.  Instead of relying on the traditional demographic models that marketers used when we were operating in a mass consumption environment and had nothing better, Big Data capitalizes on developing market trends to allow businesses to become far more specific when segmenting their customers.

Big data can also help attain a better perspective of the overall online marketplace, helping retailers understand it better. And that understanding offers the opportunity to engage with customers in new and better ways to ensure that prospects are converted to customers, and that those customers are wholly satisfied.

If It’s Not Mobile, It’s Not Worth It

The very world has gone mobile, and online retailers who do not compete on the mobile, simply do not compete at all. mCommerce grew significantly in 2013 and it will not slow down when the year turns into 2014. In fact, according to numbers reported by IBM, mobile shopping accounted for nearly 32% of eCommerce traffic over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is up 45% over 2012. Mobile transactions increased by almost 56 percent year-over-year.  It's in the best interests of businesses to create a seamless online shopping experience for users browsing via smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

The options available to consumers have increased manifold, as have their expectations regarding the products and services on offer. Come 2014, retailers who haven’t yet jumped onto eCommerce bandwagon will increasingly find it a necessity to do so, or they risk dooming their business to failure and to obscurity.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Most Popular WordPress Plugins for Security

Cyber attacks, whether by viruses, malware or some other type of IT security breache are on the rise and as we mentioned in our previous post on cyber security, small businesses should take the potential threat of breach very seriously. Many hackers view small businesses as “soft targets” due to the fact that the majority of SMB's don't take cyber security seriously or view it as a large business problem, leaving their valuable data unguarded. 

One area of vulnerablity for many SMB's is their website, especially those that use WordPress, a popular content management system/blogging platform. Due to its ease of use and customization, it's estimated that up to 70% of small businesses have built their websites off of WordPress. However, this popularity and ease of use comes at a price as hackers have become attracted to the platform en masse, with WordPress hacks increasing from 81,000 successful hacks in 2009 to over 170,000 successful hacks in 2012. 

The good news is that there are steps you can take to secure your WordPress site. The infographic below represents some of the most popular security plugins that you can install to help enhance security. 

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While these plugins are a good start for making your website more secure, there are other precautions that you can take to make your site less vulnerable. Take a look at our post on some easy to follow steps to make your WordPress site more secure.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cyber Security Strategies for Small Business

Many small businesses have avoided dealing with securing their networks as it can be a costly proposition. Additionally, many small business owners feel that cyber security is a problem that large financial corporations, big businesses and government have to deal with. Take a look at the infographic below to see just how little small business thinks of cyber security.

  • 77% of small businesses believe that their company is safe from being hacked or infiltrated with by a virus
  • 66% of those surveyed just aren't concerned, either by an external or internal threat
  • Nearly half of those surveyed believe that a data breach would have no impact

The reality though is that small businesses are as big of a target, if not bigger, due to their lack of network security. Recent research shoes that nearly 80% of breaches occur in companies of less than 1000 employees. And, of those, 93% have less than 100 employees. Furthermore, nearly 60% of small businesses close within 6 months after a cyber attack. And the threat will continue to get worse for small businesses for the following reasons:

  • The disconnect that many small businesses have of the perceived threat versus the reality. This has led to a hacker's paradise of networks that are easy to access with worthwhile payoffs.
  • Coming up a cyber security strategy that includes a formal Internet security policy, contingency plans and best practices tends to be a complex issue that can leave small business owners feeling overwhelmed with what steps they need to take.

Precautions Your Small Business Should Take 
Cyber security doesn't have to be complicated. There are several steps that your small business can take to help limit your exposure to vulnerabilities.
1.   Train employees in security principles
Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating company cybersecurity policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.
2.   Have and update anti-virus and spyware software Having anti-virus and spyware software running can help with keeping your computers free viruses, malware, and other online threats. You should also make sure to update your programs as soon as their available. Make sure to run a scan at least once a week to ensure your machines are clean.
3.   Update your applications
Your anti-virus and spyware software aren't the only programs that need to be updated. Applications like Adobe's Acrobat Reader, web browsers and other software should be updated when patches are available. 

You can download a nifty application called Secunia PSI, which can help keep track of your applications and when they need to be patched, by notifying you when an update is available and directing you to the appropriate website to download the necessary files.

4.   Passwords
Make sure that your employees use unique passwords that use alternate capitalization, numbers, special characters and are a minimum of 8 characters. You should also require that passwords get changed every 90 days.

If you're handing sensitive data, such as financial information or other personal data, you may want to consider implementing a multi-factor authentication system that requires the user to input additional information, aside from a password, to gain entry.

For small businesses that rely on the Internet and information technology, it can be a balancing act of securing your systems while not having to overextend themselves as “a penny saved is a penny earned”. However, knowing that cyber crime is a very real possibility since small businesses are perceived as soft targets should motivate you to beef up your security. The above strategies are affordable and fairly simple to implement - by doing so, you can prevent having a major headache down the road.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Benefits of Big Data Marketing

Each day, consumers are voluntarily posting vital information about their likes and dislikes on social media sites. If this data can be captured and adequately organized, businesses can have at their disposal the exact information they need to improve their marketing efforts.

Financier and CEO magnate Douglas Merrill once said, “With too little data, you won’t be able to make any conclusions that you trust.  With loads of data you will find relationships that aren’t real… Big data isn’t about bits, it’s about talent.” According to a recent infographic released by IT consulting company, Merrill is onto something -- research shows that big data lends a big hand in the marketing world!

The recent LinkedIn article titled, “Big Data: What Does it Really Mean?” discusses the heavy influence of big data mediums: “From investing and retail spending, to Web browsing, social media, and mobile phones, it's estimated that 90 percent of all data in use today have been accumulated within just the last two years!

So just what exactly constitutes “big data?” Simply put, big data refers to information’s ever-increasing volume, velocity, variety, variability and complexity. The advent of progressive, human activity has led to a staggering acceleration of generated data, however the collection of these data sets have become difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. 

The challenge therefore comes with storing and analyzing huge data sets to support a superior level of decision-making that drives accuracy, time management, customer segmentation and real-time marketing -- and its demand cannot be denied. It is estimated that over the next three years, there will be a 60 percent increase on marketing analytics.

The current value in 2013 for the big data industry is $18.1 billion, with projections expected to nearly triple in 2017 to an estimated $47 billion! We can thank consumer consumption for such  high demands of big data analytics. It’s estimated that three billion people worldwide create eight zettabytes of data; yes -- zettabytes. That’s 1021, or one sextillion. That’s a lot ‘0’ data!

As a result, marketers are coming to terms with how to use big data and analytics to better target consumers. In doing so, they often face multiple challenges at increasing rates, such as resolving the capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization of large amounts of data.

Recently, new capabilities are taking data analytics to the next level; enabling marketers to utilize big data sets in rapid and cost-efficient ways by implementing the following processes: distributed processing, cloud storage, and data management strategies.

The following statistics from a 2013 survey released by computer software corporation Teradata highlights the benefits of implementing big data marketing strategies:
  • 58% of survey respondents believe making more accurate decisions is a benefit of basing those decisions on data 
  • 50% of marketers say that marketing and IT are not strategic partners in their company
  • 40% of marketers gave their department a grade of C or lower for using data to drive marketing
  • 71% of marketers plan to implement a Big Data analytics solution in the next two years
  • Less than 10% of companies use the data they have in a systematic way
Demographic data accounts for 73% of data-driven marketing, versus transactional data, which represents 38% of data-driven marketing.  71& of marketers will implement a big data analytics solution over the next two years and yet 50% of them say that IT is not a strategic partner. To truly benefit from big data, it's important for marketing to form a strategic partnership with IT or some other team that can actually implement tools to utilize the data to mine patterns and trends, which can then help marketing with future campaigns and strategies.

Visit Maryland computer consulting firm Iconic Mind for a bevy of consulting options to meet your marketing demands!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Starting a Tech Startup

If you're looking to start a technology company, you'll want three things: 
  1. Good people to work with you
  2. Ability to make something customers actually want
  3. Spend as little money as possible. 
The majority of startup companies that end up failing tend to do so because they are missing at least one of the above items mentioned. And those that succeed typically do so because they have all three of the above mentioned which is kind of great when you think about it, assuming that you're looking to start your own company. It shows that there's no secret ingredient to success and that you don't need to come up a particularly unique or out of this world idea. 

Your idea only needs to offer people a better technology than what they currently have and with so many ways to improve upon the types of technology available to people, it doesn't take a brilliant idea to do it better. 

In fact, an idea is only a beginning. Too many times, people who are starting a company believe that the whole process revolves around the initial idea and from there on all you need to do is execute. An idea is only worthwhile if you can prove the business model supporting it. Once needs to look no further than Shark Tank, a reality TV show which features business pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs, to see that an idea isn't worth much without some backing. Or, feel free to go to a VC firm with your brilliant idea and see how many will actually take the time to listen to you.

Don't get me wrong though, ideas are of course worth something, they are the foundation for your startup tech company, however they're not transferable. This means that it's not something that you can just hand over to someone else to execute, which is why it's so important to surround yourself with good people when starting up... good people can help shape the good idea into something worthwhile.

Take a look at the infographic below from that'll answer where the best place is to get money, find talent, mentors and other entrepreneurs.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Big Data is Changing Business Dynamics

Leaders in every industry need to start dealing with the implications of big data; it's not just the data-oriented members of your team. With the increasing volume and detail of information that's coming through due to all the content being producted on the Internet, along with the rise of multimedia and social mediathere is an exponential growth in data that can and needs to be harnessed. For those of you who are unaware of big data is or are just now looking at how it can be used to add value to your business, it's important to understand the basics of it first.

What is Big Data?

Big data is a compilation of data sets that are so large they are impossible to process accurately utilizing traditional on-hand database tools and applications. Many business owners need to be able to capture, curate, store, search, share, transfer, analysis and visualize all their information -- all of which they are unable to do unless they have specific software services to assist them.

The world has an enormous amount of data, 90-percent of which was created only in the last decade. So much data is created that studies have shown that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily. That means 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data are created.

How Does this Affect My Business?

The reason data has increased so vastly in the past years is due to business records and transactions. Your business, like so many, might find yourself creating large sets of data that become physically impossible to sort.

For some businesses, hundreds of gigabytes might be the point when regular management software tools become invalid and, for others, it could be several tens or hundreds of terabytes before it becomes inoperable. Either way, the overwhelming number of data affects eventually many major enterprises such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and other companies.

How Can Big Data Help Me?

  • Human Resource Operations: Many companies can utilize big data to better assist with employee benefits. For example, a company can log health-insurance claim data of its employees, allowing managers to analyze how their employees are using their benefits.

    After evaluating the data, a manager might notice that employees are getting more brand-name drugs over generic with their insurance cards. Awareness can be risen throughout a company on the high costs of brand-name drugs, as well as how clinical trials proved that a generic brand has the same results as their brand-name counterpart. Two years later, a manager might notice that a 10% or greater decline in brand-name purchases over generic purchases.

    By analyzing employee big data that would have otherwise been unavailable, a company has a larger opportunity to save money on health insurance costs by informing their employees. This is a single way HR can utilize big data.
  • Product Development: Businesses utilize big data to increase product development and make products that are more likable to the general public.

    McDonalds has a vast menu and it is always looking for new things to add to its menu. Let's say, for example, they create a new lunch item and launch it. Over the next few weeks, McDonalds logs the number of people who purchased it from every single store it was released to (several thousand). Each day McDonalds might accumulate a total of 25 Terabytes of information of sales transactions – accumulating 700 terabytes of total sales information in 4-weeks.

    Utilizing a big data software, CEOs will be able to breakdown figures and see what percentages of people are purchasing their new menu item. In addition, they can analyze the trends over the weeks and notice whether sales increased, decreased or stabilized since the launch. Using this data, McDonalds can pull the item from menus or make it a permanent menu item.

    McDonalds can also utilize this data to see if specific regions of the world were more acclaimed to a menu item then another, creating different menus varying on the region. McDonalds could only do this by cyphering through big data to find the exact data points necessary.
  • Marketing Trends: Businesses need to understand their clientele in order to manufacture the right products to them. Companies who have large reward or store credit card programs are able to collect data from thousands or even millions of customers and compile it into a database. Information collected includes income brackets, age, gender and other main demographic key factors.

    Based off this big data, businesses can narrow down on the demographics of their most loyal customers and the products they are purchasing most often. Marketing toward these demographics and clothing designs to bring in more customers would not have been possible without big data such as this.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Becoming a Thought Leader in Your Industry

Being known as a thought leader within your industry is probably one of the highest, if not highest, compliments that you or your business can achieve, which is most likely what it's one of the hardest monikers to have bestowed upon you. It’s not enough to be good at what you do; a thought leader is meant to be the greatest form of praise, geared towards someone who is on the absolute cutting edge of their industry or making big enough moves to warrant the distinction.

This all then boils down to the question - why in fact is important to become a thought leader? While there are multiple answers to this question, here are some of the more important ones:

  • Grow your business. In general, people like to do business with organizations that have an established name. Think about RC Cola versus Coca-Cola; while many people would find that the two taste very similar, most people would rather buy from Coca-Cola.

    What does this have to do with being a thought leader? Everything! Becoming a thought leader turns your business into a trusted name allowing you to get more leads and closing more business.
  • Higher profits. People who buy well-known brands are willing to spend more for that assurance. By being seen as a leader in your field, your business will be able to charge a premium for its services and products.
  • Good for morale: Employees will like that they work for a company that is seen as a leader.

Do you want your company to be seen as a thought leader in your industry? Here are a few steps that you can take:
Create an Online Presence
Blogs are a great way to show your knowledge and it's good for ranking in search engines (assuming that you're releasing good content) as search engines prize sites that release frequent streams of fresh content. Aside from posting on your own company blog, you'll want to look into opportunities to guest blog on other people's blogs that are in the same niche as your business so that you can bring in additional viewership as well as make friends with other bloggers to create a virtuous, networked circle.
Listen, Engage and Share
It's good to have your eyes and ears everywhere; you don't want to miss out on an opportunity for a relevant convention or networking event. By listening, you can see what the latest trends are and listen to your customers to make sure that they are satisfied with your business. Engage with them, to get them to bonded to your brand. And share your findings and take care to magnanimously elevate those around you.
Be Consistent
Finally, make sure that you're consistent. Whether it's social media or posting on your blog, stick to a schedule and make sure to consistently release new content for your followers to read and engage.