6 Tools Every E-Tailer Should Use
You’ve got a kick butt product. You’ve got a slick website. You’ve cut out a place for yourself in the market. It’s time to kick it into high gear now, and you’re searching for the best eCommerce apps on the market to help you refine your workflow.
If this sounds like you, then first of all, congratulations! You probably already understand the value of having the right tools, the right personnel, and the right attitude. I can’t help very much with the last two, but the first one is another story.
Some of the tools listed here are industry standards, others are rising stars, and still others are up-and-comers. I’ve become very familiar with the following apps, and would recommend them to almost any client.
- Free version, for teams of up to 15.
- Premium version, $8.33 per user per month, for teams of 15 or more.
Considering the overall value Asana (see our review) brings to the table, the Premium version is a mere pittance, and the Free version is a steal. There’s really no reason to pass on adding Asana to your eCommerce tool belt, unless you hate achieving your goals.
It may be accurate to describe Asana as a task manager, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For a guy like me (who has big plans, but gets bogged down and distracted mid-trip) Asana is not just a task manager; it is a lifeboat with jet packs.
Asana is all about clearly mapping out your projects into bite-size bits and keeping progress progressing. Unlike most technology, which depreciate the second you pay for it, Asana appreciates in value the more it is used. Your team will always know what to do, who to collaborate with, and how their work fits in to the big picture.
Bootstrappers, freelancers, and small entrepreneurial teams may be obliged to start with the Free version, which is great- they’ll get the most bang for their buck (more precisely, a big bang for NO buck) with unlimited tasks, projects, and conversations. Their dashboards will be simplified, but that may be more of an asset than a liability, since users in this category probably don’t need the deeper configuration of the Premium dashboards to start with.
The biggest drawback I see with the Free version is that tasks can’t be delineated with task dependencies.
As for the Premium version, the only real problem is that prices become less-insignificant as you approach (and surpass) 40 team members. You’ll be paying in the vicinity of $400 per month at that point. Whether Asana continues to be a value for large teams is entirely subjective. Read our full review of Asana to see if it would be a good fit for your business.
- Free – Includes searchable message archives, 10 API integrations, 5GB file storage
- $8 per user, per month – Upgrades include unlimited message retrieval, unlimited API integrations 10GB file storage, and more,
- $15 per user, per month – Upgrades include SSO, user provisioning, 20GB file storage, lots more.
- Custom Enterprise pricing – Most Enterprise features are currently in development.
Not only is Slack in my own tool belt, it is one of the tools I use most frequently. Slack is a (nay, the) team communication platform.
Think of it as your own corporate intranet. Your network can be across the room, across the building, or across the globe, but it’s all yours. Group channels, private messages, team directories, file handling, and URL snippets are all integrated into one smooth, simple bundle. And as for ease of use, the learning curve is virtually zero; everything is intuitive, and the few features that are tucked away are not hard to find.
There’s a big, beautiful desktop version, and a sleek (but no less functional) mobile app for tablets and phones.
It’s essential for business owners and employees to be able to communicate what they need to, when they need to. Small hiccups can stay small with quick answers, and collaboration on projects can save you invaluable time. And when it’s time to unplug, there’s a sweet, sweet Do Not Disturb setting that will save all your messages in silence until morning.
A Venn Diagram of Slack and Asana would should a little crossover, but neither one makes the other obsolete. Both tools major on efficiency, but where Asana focuses on the task, Slack focuses on the team.
- $9.99 per month as a Shopify add-on
Now that your in-house systems are running smoothly with Slack and Asana, it’s time to look outward. Getting customers to your doorstep is the task of the next item on our must-have list. DandyLoop operates in a sphere beyond normal human function or ability; diving into the nameless depths beneath the world’s web surfers, it funnels web traffic in “shopping mode” to all the places your product is listed. By putting your product in the line of sight of people already intent to buy, you get the creme of the crop in lead generation.
DandyLoop is the king of referral traffic. It is a simple widget for your website that re-engages noncommittal users by encouraging them to visit your affiliate websites. If you sell eco-friendly cleaning supplies, your shoppers may be inclined to stay “in the loop” by going on to visit an affiliate who sells eco-friendly bath soaps. And you’ll get a kickback for that referral. Since one good turn deserves another, this kind of affiliate marketing will bring new potential customers to your door too, if their point of entry was somewhere else in your affiliate loop.
Concerned about cluttering your site with advertisements for someone else’s products? That’s reasonable. A clean, distraction-free site is the dream. But consider that DandyLoop accomplishes two difficult tasks for the small price of a little ad space. The first task is acquiring the aforementioned referral traffic, which is nothing to scoff at. The second difficult task DandyLoop accomplishes is the ever-elusive Backlink Generation. If you’ve been wrestling with your SEO, you know how critical this is. For the uninitiated, backlinks are one of the major factors search engines like Google and Bing use to rank your website higher in search results. Having a lot of high-quality backlinks can be a huge boost to your online visibility, which goes hand-in-glove with your conversation rate.
The caveat: DandyLoop is in its infancy. Currently there are only around 1000 online stores in the DandyLoop network, which isn’t a lot, when you consider that most of those shops aren’t same-niche/non-competing. Your actual network will start small. But just as your business is growing, so is DandyLoop. More stores will join the network.
In full disclosure, I do wonder how DandyLoop determines which customers are non-purchasing, and which affiliates are both relevant but non-competing. It begets the question of whether customers can be distracted away from your store before they purchase by seeing an ad for another product.
Nevertheless, I think DandyLoop is a rising star. It’s too early to tell whether they will be a game-changer, but the obvious benefits widely eclipse the potential drawbacks. My advice: don’t miss DandyLoop. Early adoption can give the new business a distinct edge that only well-established businesses can typically achieve.
- Free – Up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. Basic feature set.
- “Free plus $10/month” – Same usage stats as the free plan, plus a few select premium features.
- $20 to $35 per month, based on number of subscribers – Unlimited emails. Premium features and priority customer support.
If “MailChimp Expert” isn’t a common job title yet, it is certainly shaping up to be. That’s how powerful MailChimp (see our review) is — with any iteration of this software, from the Free version all the way up to the $200 Pro add-on (which is admittedly replete with all the trendiest eCommerce buzzwords), most Marketing professionals could spend the majority of their day optimizing, tweaking, testing, and otherwise kicking butt in your email marketing campaigns. You never knew email could do so much, right?
In short, and in their own words, MailChimp will “get the right message in front of the right customer at the right time.”
For example, using MailChimp your marketers will be able to determine the exact parameters for email campaigns that will have maximum effect with your customers. MailChimp has best-in-class customer segmentation, which means you can automatically formulate emails that are incredibly fine-tuned for each individual customer. And that’s just scratching the surface of MailChimp’s capabilities; read our full review of MailChimp to see what else it can bring to the table.
- 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction*
Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. There are a few niches where PayPal hasn’t quite stepped up. A few business models (service industries and work-for-hire freelancers, for example) struggle with getting PayPal terms that suit their needs. PayPal is renowned for freezing funds that appear fraudulent or are otherwise out of the norm; this is tough for a narrow cross section of business types, but it is actually excellent news for most businesses (because you know that PayPal is ON IT to keep your transactions secure.)
So where, exactly, does PayPal excel? Just about everywhere else.
PayPal is the industry standard for online payment solutions, both for personal use and for business.
PayPal offers merchant services, invoicing, physical point of sale systems, mobile card readers, and online checkout buttons. But one of the greatest benefits of PayPal is its ubiquity. You can redesign your website, and PayPal will integrate. You can switch eCommerce shopping carts, and PayPal will transition seamlessly. You can go from local to global sales, and PayPal will scale with you. There is comfort in knowing that whatever changes occur in your retail landscape, PayPal is already there.
I won’t go into a lot of depth here, since we’ve already thoroughly covered PayPal in this awesome review. For now, it’s enough to say that your business will be greatly benefited by including PayPal as a payment option.
*The rate listed here is for standard swiped credit card transactions. There are different rates for less-common types of transactions
- $9/ month,
- $30/ month,
- $70/ month,
Despite the slightly hyperbolic nature of the tagline, it is not an empty idea. Xero follows through in a big way. Xero is an elegant solution to a convoluted problem, connecting the dots between accounting, payroll, taxes, inventory, live bank feeds, and all the disparate users who might need access to this data. Any number of employees and accountants can be given login credentials to view and manage your books, with any degree of read/write permissions.
On their website, Xero is currently headlined as “an alternative to Quickbooks.” But here’s the inside scoop: that’s just a method of attracting web traffic. It won’t be long before Xero can stand on its own reputation as top-notch accounting software, without the need to mention household names like Quickbooks. It’s a little too late to be an early adopter of Xero, but you can still be a quasi-hipster in eCommerce accounting, since Xero isn’t mainstream just yet.
This is another tool that Merchant Maverick has thoroughly researched and tested. It earned a perfect 5/5 star rating, landing it firmly in our #1 spot for accounting software. See that review here.
To sum up:
- Asana lays out your big plans into small steps.
- Slack gets your team linked up.
- DandyLoop brings fringe customers to your door.
- MailChimp keeps your customers engaged with your brand.
- PayPal manages your sales transactions.
- Xero keeps your ledger squeaky clean.
Whether you start fresh out of the gate with these apps, or acquire them along the way, you’re doing yourself an enormous favor. If you had a nickel for every headache you’ll avoid by using these tools in your workflow, well, you’d invest it straight back into these digital painkillers.
These aren’t the only tools you’ll need, and none of them are completely irreplaceable. But they are some of the best tools out there, and they’re darn good at what they do.