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M-commerce in the UK is here to stay

July 28, 2015 by John McGarvey

M-commerce{{}}High street stalwart Argos now claims to be the first UK retailer to have generated £1bn of m-commerce revenue in a year

That's quite a milestone, even though UK m-commerce (mobile commerce) has been growing fast for some time. Some research suggests that UK shoppers will spend nearly £15bn via mobile devices in 2015. That will be a 77% increase on 2014's figure.

Indeed, the UK is the largest m-commerce market in Europe. And growth appears to be vastly outpacing traditional desktop channels, which are set to increase by just 2% over the same period.

If you've been keeping track of the explosion in tablet and smart phone use, this trend won't come as a complete surprise. Earlier this year, Google even changed its ranking algorithm to acknowledge the importance of mobile devices.

The Argos results demonstrate there's big money to be made from m-commerce. So, as consumers become more accustomed to spending money from their mobile devices, can smaller businesses take advantage, too?

Get your mobile basics right first

In 2015, you shouldn't do anything to your website without considering how it will look and function on mobile devices. That's because over 35m UK adults have a smart phone - and even last year, 57% of people were using their mobile handset to access the internet.

We've covered this topic at length before. Although you might want to consider creating a separate mobile app or mobile website, an increasingly popular option is to build a responsive website.

When a website is responsive, it adapts itself to the screen it's being displayed on. This means visitors can view and use your website properly, regardless of whether they're on a desktop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone.

As the number of different screen sizes available continues to grow (anyone fancy a phablet?), more businesses are realising that responsive design is the only reliable way to build a website that will work on any screen.

Optimising for m-commerce

Once you have a website that works properly on mobile devices, you can start to think about optimising it for m-commerce.

There are probably things you can do to make it easier for people to start or finish their purchases on mobile devices. For instance:

  • Even if your site looks good on a smart phone, you might find that it's harder for visitors to find the information they need. Do they have to scroll a long way to see product information? Are your photos clear enough on small screens, or should you add a zoom function?
  • Is it easy for visitors to check out and pay on a mobile device? Often, shopping basket functionality lags behind, particularly if you rely on a third-party payments system. Test it for yourself, and see if you can identify any failings.
  • Does your site let users move between desktop and mobile? The £1bn Argos figure covers any sales 'involving' a mobile device. This implies that perhaps visitors are saving items on their mobile devices to view in detail later from their main computers.

Make sure you test every aspect of your shopping and checkout process from your smart phone. Or, ideally, from a selection of mobile devices.

Should m-commerce be your top priority?

Although m-commerce in the UK is growing quickly, it doesn't necessarily follow that you should focus all your efforts upon it. Every website appeals to a different audience, and it may be that people using your site haven't yet bought in to the mobile way of doing things.

You should always make sure your website functions reasonably on smart phones and tablets. But before you do more, check your website statistics to see how many visitors actually use mobile devices.

If a significant proportion of visitors fall into this group - say over 20% - then it may be worth investing time and effort into optimising their experience. But if only a few visitors are using mobile devices, you might want to prioritise other improvements first.

Having said that, Argos has certainly demonstrated the potential of m-commerce in the UK. If you sell online, keep a close eye on how your mobile users behave. If you don't, you might just be missing an opportunity.

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Five things to look for in an IT support company

July 20, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Get the IT support you need{{}}Let's face it: if you're a small business owner, the likelihood of being able to afford a full time IT professional is slim.

Most of us don't have the work to keep a full-time IT employee busy either, so employing a support company to help as and when you need it is the best option.

But with thousands of companies out there, all offering similar services, how do you decide which to go for?

Here, are five key things to look for when choosing IT support.

1. Have they done this before?

Anyone can set up a website and sell IT support, but claims online won't ever give you the full picture.

Ask prospective suppliers about their experience. Get client testimonials. Then see if they can explain what they've done for other clients, and what they'll do for you.

It can be an idea to research the company's employees via LinkedIn. Do they really have the skills they claim?

2. Do they speak your language?

You need to find an IT support company you can understand. It's important you know what they're doing for you.

A classic trick is for IT companies to use unnecessary jargon. This can make their work seem more complicated than it is – and it often means the company in question is trying to blind you with science.

The best IT support providers will be happy to spend time ensuring you understand the complexities and capabilities of the IT systems you're using.

3. Are they there when you need them?

Reliability is essential when it comes to IT support. If something happens to your software (or to your hardware), it can damage your business – especially if you have projects to finish or deadlines to meet.

In situations like this, it's vital you can get hold of your support company quickly. You must know who to contact — and they should give you a realistic timescale of when things will be fixed.

4. Do they suggest relevant improvements?

If an IT support company is charging you to look after your IT, they should be suggesting ways in which you can use it better.

They should be thinking about new software that might be more appropriate, cloud services that could make you more efficient — and anything else that could give you a competitive advantage.

5. Do they have your businesses best interests at heart?

We can't all be IT experts, so we rely heavily on information from IT professionals.

Your IT support company should be able to work within your budget. But at the same time, they should be looking for ways to help you improve the efficiency of your IT hardware and software.

Be wary of companies suggesting you install the newest technology all the time. Most savvy IT professionals know that prices tend to drop once a new product has been around for a little while.

Slightly older pieces of hardware and software have also often had significant bugs ironed out. A support company with your business in mind will find the most cost-effective solution for your needs.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Lowe, Managing Director of San-iT, a North-West based company offering IT support services to SMEs across Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

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Get ready for the end of EU data roaming charges

July 13, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

No more data roaming charges{{}}Here's some good news for pretty much anyone who travels within the EU – either for business or pleasure. At the end of last month, the EU confirmed that data roaming charges are set to be abolished by June 2017.

As the ban approaches, a 14-month interim period will apply. During this time, companies will still be allowed to add surcharges, but at a reduced rate. The European Commission reckons this alone will make roaming within the EU 75% cheaper than at present.

Dave Millett works for independent telecoms brokerage Equinox. He says that although this seems like good news on the face of it, it does leave a number of questions unanswered:

1. What will happen to roaming charges elsewhere?

The EU has forced mobile companies to cut roaming costs before. When they did so, many customers saw an increase in roaming costs for other parts of the world.

2. Why is it taking so long?

The EU has taken a clear stand on this issue. Roaming costs are to be abolished. So, why do we have to wait two years for it to happen? Sure, costs will drop in the interim. But 24 months is still quite a wait.

3. What happens to people mid-way through a contract?

Many mobile contracts include data roaming bundles, usually sold to customers on the basis that they're cheaper than standard roaming costs. Will the operators reduce the price for customers with these packages?

4. What about making calls?

While the elimination of data roaming costs is certainly to be welcomed, what about the cost of making and receiving calls? If the principle applies to these too, shouldn't roaming costs for voice calls be abolished? 

Finally, with the UK's planned EU referendum as a backdrop for these changes, what will happen if the UK decides to leave the EU? Could we end up with new roaming charges, just as the rules abolishing them come into force?

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Is your business ready for the unexpected?

July 06, 2015 by John McGarvey

Don’t slip up{{}}Earlier this year, an underground fire in Holborn caused days of disruption for businesses based in that part of central London. As this event hit the news, it raised an important question for businesses: what plans do you have in place for the unexpected

The incident received widespread coverage and some estimates put the cost of disruption at £50m.

Some businesses were unable to enter their premises for days and employees had to leave their laptops and smart phones behind. Many staff were sent home and power outages hit telephone systems and servers.

When something like this happens, some disruption is inevitable. But if you prepare, you can minimise the problems you face.

Telecoms is key

It’s not just dramatic, newsworthy events that cause disruption. Inclement weather (snow, floods or heat), transport issues and more can all cause problems for your company.

It’s worth your company having a continuity plan in place so you have some idea of what to do if a crisis hits. There are several aspects to think about, but your telecoms form a key element.

If a problem was to affect your organisation, how would your customers get in touch and how would you continue to operate? Some surveys have shown that losing communications can cost a company thousands of pounds a day.

How to prepare for problems

Equinox provides telecoms services to UK businesses. Dave Millet, director there, recommends asking a few key questions:

  • If your business uses a traditional phone system, have you investigated whether a call divert feature is available? This allows you to reroute calls during a crisis.
  • If you use a voice over IP telephone system, you may be able to sign in to an online control panel to divert calls when your staff are working elsewhere. But do you know how?
  • Similarly, some of these systems offer an ‘automatic failover’ feature, which re-routes calls for you in the event of a problem. Have you set this feature up?
  • How is your company data backed up and where are the backup copies held? If you were unable to get into your premises, would you know how to access your data?
  • Do you have a list of everyone you should call in a crisis? And are copies easily available? You might need to get hold of employees, telecoms providers, IT suppliers and more – all in a hurry.

It can be hard to know how much time and money to spend creating and testing business continuity procedures.

But a good way to start is to estimate the cost of a day’s lost business. If this figure is large, you can justify a greater investment in building resilience into your systems and procedures.

Being prepared means taking action now - not waiting until something happens. Hopefully you will never need to put your plans into practice. However, if you do, it could be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

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Is your website too slow for Google?

June 29, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Slow loading website{{}}

Google is constantly refining how it decides website rankings. The search giant continually tests new products, systems and ways of operating.

You might have seen recently that it introduced a 'mobile friendly' label to identify websites that display properly on mobile devices. It's also started prioritising these sites in mobile search results.

Now a new test suggests that slow websites could be penalised.

Google's red slow label

Earlier this year, a researcher stumbled upon what looked to be Google testing a new, red 'Slow' label next to certain websites on its results pages. And, more recently, a 'Slow to load' warning was spotted next to video content.

Although there's been no official word on this from Google, it's likely this is an early test for a new feature that could shake up search rankings.

And it would make sense. Google has long talked about the value it places on websites that load quickly, and it's well known that users get impatient when sites are slow to load.

The company has offered advice on how to improve your website's speed for quite a while, and load speed has affected rankings (in a minor way) since 2010.

This new red warning badge could be the push businesses need to review their website speed and take any necessary steps to improve.

How to test your website speed

Before you can work to speed up your website, it's a good idea to establish just how fast it is compared to other sites.

There are a number of tools to analyse your current site speed, set a benchmark, and look at ways in which you can improve:

If you already have Google Analytics on your site, you may have stumbled across the site speed reports, under the Behaviour heading. They provide good real-world results, but can take a while to update after you've made changes. Also, they may not provide enough data for small websites.

Google's PageSpeed Insights tests the desktop and the mobile versions of your website, scoring them out of 100. If you get 85 or above then that's very good. This is a good way to get an overview and recommendations to fix certain issues.

GTmetrix combines Google's PageSpeed with Yahoo's YSlow insight tool. This gives you a good benchmark and helps to identify bottlenecks in performance. This tool also provides more information about server speed, page load times, page size and more.

Between them, these three tools will give you a good understanding of how fast your website is. They should also be able to indicate where you should concentrate your efforts to see the best improvements.

If you're not technically minded, you might need to work with your website developer or hosting company to make many of the suggested improvements. But with these tools, you'll know where you stand — and you'll be able to avoid any red 'slow' labels in future.

(Don't forget, you can enter your competitors' website addresses into some of these tools, too, giving you a benchmark against their sites.)

© Nick Pinson, director at iWeb Solutions

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Are you ready for Ofcom's UK Calling?

June 22, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Business telephone{{}}The cost of phone calls is changing from July. In fact, this will be one of the biggest changes to the cost of UK telephone calls in a decade.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, is calling the change 'UK Calling'. Is your business ready for it?

The confusing cost of calls

Last year, most businesses that serve consumers were banned from providing after-sales support via certain types of telephone number, including numbers starting 0845 and 0870.

However, many consumers are still forced to call these numbers. And there's considerable confusion about what they actually cost. People often end up facing unexpected bills, especially from mobile phones.

There's a plethora of numbers that start 08. What's more, people often don't realise that some numbers starting 07 are not mobile numbers, but are premium rate lines.

The latest changes plan to address this confusion.

The confusing cost of calls

From 1 July 2015, the cost of calling numbers that start 084, 087, 09 and 118 will be made up of two parts:

  1. An access charge: this goes to the phone company. It will be clear on bills and should be easy to understand when consumers take out a contract.
  2. A service charge: this is the rest of the call charge. The organisation being called decides how much this is. It must make the cost clear to consumers.

This change means consumers will be able to see how much money the organisation they're calling is making from the call. And that lets them decide whether they want to call – or, indeed, do business with them at all.

These rules will apply to all consumer calls to 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers across the UK. It does not apply to old 0500 numbers.

The changes do not affect calls to ordinary landline numbers (01, 02, 03), mobile numbers (07), international calls, calls from payphones, or calls to the UK when roaming overseas.

In addition, all freephone numbers (starting 0800 or 0808) will be free to call from mobiles and landlines.

What you need to do

If your business uses one of the affected numbers, speak to the company that supplies it. They should be able to confirm the service charges you will face. You could end up with a higher bill than at present, particularly if you use an 0800 number.

The changes mean that now is a good time to think about whether you want to keep using these numbers, or if you'd prefer to switch to geographic numbers starting 01, 02 or 03.

You should also review all marketing literature, including websites, TV and radio adverts, point of sale materials and packaging.

If any of these materials show a number beginning 084, 087, 09 or 118, you must ensure that your service charge is clearly displayed.

As always, the rules say that ignorance is no excuse for not complying. You can get more information at Ofcom's UK Calling website.

© 2015 Dave Millet, from Equinox.

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