When it seems overwhelming to get started in ecommerce, you can always get by with a little help from your friends. And there are no greater friends to online retailers than management software and tools.
If you’re new to ecommerce or if you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer aiming to expand online, you may not yet know all of your options. Here we explain the five best types of software and tools — inventory management, shipping management, data analytics, accounting, and online marketing. We tell you what to look for when choosing yours and give our top recommendations for each.
The more your online store scales, the harder it is to manage your inventory. With units coming in and out every day, it’s hard enough to keep track of everything in the warehouse, let alone update that information on each sales channel. To make it worse, not updating in time often leads to overselling, which leads to an order being canceled, which turns an otherwise satisfied customer into a lost one.
Even for small businesses, the cost of inventory management software often pays for itself through efficiency and saved time. Inventory management software lets you check your current stock with just a few clicks. Some software even automatically updates your stock levels on all your channels so you don’t have to do it manually.
In general, having a centralized platform to manage all your inventory needs is a great relief, not to mention other perks like bulk product page editors or custom alerts.
Our Recommendation: ecomdash
When we explained online fulfillment for brick-and-mortar retailers, we stressed the importance of free shipping. That’s because more online customers expect free shipping as a necessity rather than a perk and with increasing competition among merchants, you need every advantage you can get.
But to actually afford the cost of shipping and still come out ahead, you need to make sure your shipping logistics are as streamlined as possible. Using a shipping service or tool is a shortcut to optimizing your shipping both for expediency and savings. On top of relieving stress by simplifying the whole process, it also cuts costs with cheaper transportation options and postal discounts.
Our Recommendation: Pitney Bowes
Online or off, retail success relies on the numbers. Whether you’re choosing the optimal price for your best-seller or deciding how much stock to reorder, accurate sales data can turn a best guess into an informed decision.
But unless you’re naturally good with numbers and have plenty of spare time on your hands, the best approach is to have that data collected and analyzed by a third-party before it’s presented to you. Luckily, you can find data analytics tools for free, or even as an extra feature with other ecommerce software.
Our Recommendation: Google Analytics
Accounting software may seem dull or negligible now but wait until tax season! By automatically recording sales and purchase orders, this software gives you everything you need to submit your taxes, all in a single convenient and easy-to-navigate place.
On top of that, accounting software can also assist in calculating more advanced statistics, in particular costs of goods sold (COGS), profit per sale, and average order value. This business-oriented data helps immensely when making big-picture managerial decisions.
Our Recommendation: Intuit Quickbooks
Last but not least, online marketing tools — including digital advertising — are practically essential for online retail. Unlike traditional marketing for brick-and-mortar stores, online marketing connects you with customers all over the world and gives them the chance to complete a sale in just seconds.
Get all the tools you need to quickly find new customers and grow your retail store’s sales.
There are quite a few different approaches to online marketing, so we’ll just discuss the most popular avenues:
As the name suggests, digital ads are ads displayed online, mainly on websites and search engine results pages. Their form varies, but they typically include banner ads or “Featured” windows. One of the best parts about digital advertising is that most models are Pay Per Click (PPC), so you only pay when they work.
Although most digital advertising is pretty straightforward, lately we’re seeing an increase in what’s known as “native advertising.” Native ads are advertisements, bought and paid for but disguised as non-promotional content. Sometimes they’re social media ads that look like normal posts, other times they appear in search engine results as just another entry.
Our Recommendation: Google Ads
Social media marketing serves a dual-purpose for ecommerce. First, it’s an excellent venue for promotion, where interested customers follow you and support your account to learn about news and receive discounts. Second, it’s a direct line of communication to your best customers.
You can talk to customers one-on-one to strengthen brand ties and handle customer service requests publically. In this sense, social media marketing is ideal for showing off your brand personality — what you post influences how people perceive you.
Social media marketing also involves paid ads that automatically appear in people’s feeds. On some platforms, you can even specify who sees your ad, allowing microtargeting by demographics and greater customer segmentation.
The trouble with social media marketing is keeping a regular schedule — consistency is key, so you have to be more diligent about posting a timetable compared to an average social media user. That’s where marketing tools come in handy. By automating the process, you can set up all your posts at once and have them published automatically at the optimal time.
Our Recommendation: Constant Contact
As opposed to paid search engine ads, SEO marketing aims to naturally get your website links to the top of search engine result pages. SEO success requires an understanding of common search engine algorithms so you know what to include in your site, and where to put it.
Keyword phrases are the building blocks of an SEO strategy. The idea is to include your target keyword phrases into specific areas of your text (like page titles and headers, for example) where they’ll make the most impact on search algorithms. However, determining the best keywords often requires SEO tools to see what people are searching for.
Our Recommendation: Moz Pro
Email is one of the most personal ways a business can interact with customers — it’s the medium people use to talk with friends and family. But emails are also a natural part of ecommerce, integral for order confirmations, eliciting online reviews, and sharing news.
Whether part of a periodic newsletter or communication regarding an order, emails let you directly connect with your customers. You can even use them to advertise new products or special promotions, with links directly to a sales page.
Of course, large volumes of emails can be time-consuming to manage and keep on schedule, so an email marketing tool can help you stay on top of everything and achieve the maximum returns.
Our Recommendation: Constant Contact
Blogs, videos, and other content
Really, online marketing is a blanket term to describe any type of “drumming up business” online. If you write a blog or regularly upload videos, you’re already participating in online marketing.
The key is to do these things strategically. For example, blogs can be an SEO powerhouse if you know what you’re doing and videos are some of the most shared content in social media marketing. Online marketing tools can help you optimize your content to serve your business goals.
Our Recommendations: Whatever you’re comfortable with. Blogging tools depend on your site platform and design, while video tools depend on your filming and editing capabilities.
One for all and all for one!
You don’t have to tackle ecommerce alone, even if you’re a company of one! Think of these tools and software as your virtual assistants, an automated team of advertisers, accountants, and statisticians. Use them to shoulder the more menial tasks of ecommerce and free yourself up for the duties only a human can perform. Because, not even the most leading-edge ecommerce technology can replace the impact of building relationships with your customers.