E-Commerce Start-Up Business Plan

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NoHassleReturn.com

Execution

Marketing & Sales

Marketing Plan

Because the company’s service is a business-to-business program, it will be initially promoted to online merchants by direct sales force. Personal selling will be necessary to reach decision makers within online organizations. At first, contacts will be made with Internet service providers, such as America Online, that host online stores and shops. America Online claims to have 20% of the total Internet service provider market in the U.S. Therefore, arranging a strategic partnership where NoHassleReturn.com becomes the preferred or exclusive choice for all returned merchandise bought at AOL.com shops will be invaluable for establishing a well-recognized brand and building up entry barriers for any possible competition. Ideally, a company’s banner with a notation "For an Easy, Trouble-Free Product Return Click Here" will be visibly displayed throughout the shopping section of AOL.com. Portals such as Yahoo! will be approached as well. Reportedly, Yahoo! hosts nearly 6,000 merchants where it charges each merchant at least $100 to $300 per month. Arranging a strategic partnership with Yahoo! will provide a strong leverage in negotiating return contracts with individual merchants. Similar to that of America Online, the company’s banner will be displayed throughout the entire shopping section of Yahoo!

Large online merchants such as Amazon.com and Buy.com will be targeted by the direct sales force during the first stage as well. Those companies have already achieved significant volumes of sales–and therefore product returns–and will find the uniform return process of much benefit to them. Strong "category killers" such as eToys and CDnow are also first sales targets. Auction houses such as eBay.com and uBid.com will be approached with a service offer for products sold to consumers by merchants and direct manufacturers.

Wherever possible, smaller online retailers will be personally approached by the sales force. To stimulate awareness and service penetration among smaller players, industrial marketing techniques will be utilized. Those will include advertising in specialized publications such as Internet World and Red Herring, as well as referral fees for retailers who already use the service. Email campaigns will be used to reach decision makers at smaller companies. The email messages will have an invitation to the NoHassleReturn.com website where a specially designed presentation will explain the benefits of the new service. An invitation to be contacted by a service consultant to discuss details will be included.

The company plans to offer its services right before Thanksgiving 2000. In order to stimulate a quicker adoption of the services, the remainder of the year 2000 will be offered free of charge.

It is estimated that the initial expenses to hire a sales force and a customer service unit of up to five people during the first year will be close to $400,000. Another $200,000 will be needed for sales program development, marketing activities, and training (excludes advertising). The initial compensation package for sales force will include a nominal base salary and a progressive commission structure. This should ensure that during the early stage of the company’s growth not only that sales targets are met, but also that customer (customer here means merchant) satisfaction and retention are fully addressed. The sales force will initially be located at the corporate headquarters. A territorial approach will later be implemented, with sales people located in regions. After one year, sales force members will split into two distinct groups. The first group will include pure sales people, the "go-getters" who will be placed in regions and will work on pure commissions. The commission structure will become more progressive and rewarding for such individuals, including a bonus structure. The estimate for an average commission paid on sales is approximately 5-10%. The second group will include client care professionals who will concentrate on customer satisfaction and retention to ensure the continuity of the program. These individuals will remain at the headquarters and will have a base salary with a bonus structure. The base salary for client care professionals is in the mid-five figures. Industrial advertising and promotional expenses in 2000 are estimated at $250,000.

It is also a possibility to sell the services to merchants via the Internet hosting service providers, portals, and software developers. Those companies will then serve as distributors and agents, compensated on commissions. This approach will eliminate the need for a large sales force. The final layout will depend on how quickly agreements with companies such as America Online and Amazon.com are negotiated, how aggressively they will be able to promote the services, and on what conditions.

The following diagram describes the customer approach (customer here means merchant).

Service consultants are the direct sales force that approaches prospective customers with service offers. Once a customer has been signed, a service consultant will only approach the client with new service offers and product upgrades. A client care professional is then assigned to each customer to deal with all customer service issues. Each customer will be advised to direct all service inquiries to the professional. A professional will also proactively call on customers to ensure high quality of service and customer satisfaction. The consultants and professionals will have direct communication lines between themselves to ensure open information exchange and a quick and efficient problem-resolution culture. This structure will guarantee an aggressive sales approach, client-oriented service, and efficient post-sales support.

It is important to gain critical mass in the number of signed retailers before a nation-wide advertising campaign targeted at consumers can start. Once major retailers have been signed and awareness achieved among the overall online merchant community about NoHassleReturn.com, the company plans to roll out a nationwide TV advertising campaign. The campaign may start as early as the first quarter of 2001; however, the timing will depend on how quickly NoHassleReturn.com gains market share. The campaign should prompt consumers to make sure that online retailers they buy from have the NoHassleReturn.com service. Participating merchants will have the company’s banner with a notation "For an Easy, Trouble-Free Return Click Here" visibly displayed on their websites. The banner later will become the symbol of customer orientation. Successfully executed, the TV ad campaign will prompt consumers to ask their merchants for the Easy and Trouble-Free Return process. This, in turn, will prompt online merchants to call on the company. The demand from the merchants will then be "pulled." The estimated budget for the TV campaign in 2001 is up to $5 million, all internally generated. However, the amount can be reduced if the preceding industrial marketing campaign achieves the key goals. Once the objectives of service awareness and acceptance have been achieved, subsequent marketing budgets will be used to build up and protect the brand. This will include print, radio, and TV.

Sales Plan

NoHassleReturn.com will strive to eliminate the shipping costs to consumers by means of strategic agreements with online merchants, shipping companies, and credit card companies. As stated in the last quote, 58% of all product returns were due to merchants’ faults, hence merchants will have to reimburse shipping costs to consumers in those cases. NoHassleReturn.com therefore proposes that 65% of a given shipping cost should be allocated to corresponding merchants. Due to demand aggregation, the company will be able to negotiate a shipping rate discount with companies such as UPS or FedEx. Hence 20% of shipping costs should be allocated to shipping companies in a form of a discount. Credit card issuers such as Chase and BancOne currently offer a 5% rebate to consumers on purchases with selected online merchants. It is therefore feasible to arrange an agreement with credit card companies and/or issuers to include a 5% shipping cost rebate on all returned merchandise. Since product returns are only 9% of all purchases, it will not represent a large cost to credit card companies to add this differentiating feature to their products. These allocations in total will cover 90% of the shipping cost. The remaining 10% will be absorbed by NoHassleReturn.com via a special "instant rebate."

NoHassleReturn.com will charge merchants a program fee that will average only 0.5% of a given merchant’s total sales. Also, the company will charge a low per-claim fee of 12% of each item’s listed price (each item that has been claimed through the company’s website). However, of the 12% charged per item, up to 4% will be instantly given back to merchants to cover the remaining portion of the shipping cost. The previous table indicates that the 4% rebate is sufficient to cover the remainder of the shipping cost in the first product category. It is actually far more than sufficient in other product categories (refer to ASC Coverage Ratio). NoHassleReturn.com can then decide whether to offer merchants a reimbursement of the remaining portion of shipping costs only or a flat 4% "instant rebate" regardless of shipping costs. For the purpose of this business plan and financial projections, a flat 4% "instant rebate" was used thus reducing the per-claim fee from 12% to 8% across the board.

As it was stated in a prior chapter, retailers should see an average sales increase of at least 15% due to the service offered by the company. On the other hand, based on the proposed pricing structure the service should not cost merchants more than 1.5% of their total revenues. The cost-benefit ratio of 10 will be a strong promotional point for NoHassleReturn.com.

While it is a possibility to charge merchants commissions on all sales made through the company’s website (when consumers claim their returns), it would not capture all sales stimulated by the company. The program will increase consumer satisfaction and loyalty. However, when consumers start buying more due to the program’s effect but dealing directly with the merchant, the company will not receive any commissions and will in effect be giving its services away for free. Hence both fees charged should fully reflect the benefits of the easy-return procedure, early information on all returning items, restored customer satisfaction, selling opportunities created during the claim process, and all repeat sales thereafter.

The company also plans to draw revenues from advertising on its website, but for the purpose of this business plan advertising revenues will be considered negligible. A fee/rebate agreement may be arranged with such companies as UPS and Mail Boxes Etc. for bringing customers to them for shipping needs. Other revenue generating activities such as affiliate programs with VISA, American Express, or Citibank can be arranged to promote certain credit cards as a preferred method of payment online. Those revenues will also be omitted in the financial projections. Once the company has generated a sufficient customer database, it may also market information to retailers and other organizations for a fee. Any fees and payments NoHassleReturn.com could generate from consulting activities in the field of product returns will not be included in the financial projections either.

Operations

Technology

The service positioning in the eyes of online merchants is imperative to the success of the enterprise. The service proposed by the company is a business-to-business solution offered to online merchants of physical, non-perishable products. However, because online consumers will deal directly with the company via its website, the proposed solution also incorporates some features of a business-to-consumer service. It is therefore of utmost importance to clearly define what this company offers is a customer service & customer satisfaction program for online merchants. The most unique feature is that the proposed company takes the systemic problem of product returns and turns it into new selling opportunities for online merchants.

It is also important to note that NoHassleReturn.com does not try to position itself as a competitor to any incumbents with a similar service, online merchants, or shipping companies. The proposed company strives to position itself as a strategic partner to all parties participating in handling product returns. If nothing else, NoHassleReturn.com should be viewed as an outsourcing company to online merchants with the core competency and focus in handling returned merchandise.

The service offered by NoHassleReturn.com is designed to enhance customer retention and loyalty by offering an easy and trouble-free merchandise return process to online shoppers. According to Jupiter Communications, the goal of the 1999 holiday season was not about generating impressive sales, but rather securing long-term relationships. Retailers now need to focus on retention and loyalty. NoHassleReturn.com will help to achieve just that through establishing lasting, productive relationships with online merchants. Providing an easy, uniform, and trouble-free return process to all online shoppers will enhance the overall image of online merchants. While the number of retailers continues to grow, consumers will not have to look up every single one to find out about return policies and later keep abreast for possible changes. A centralized Internet location–the company’s website–will retrieve, summarize, and present the appropriate policies. Based on product information, it will make sure the correct procedures are used. The company’s banner with a notation "For an Easy, Trouble-Free Product Return Click Here" will be placed visibly on retailers’ websites and will serve as a symbol of customer orientation and care.

Moreover, the shipping process will be streamlined. Customers will be able to generate a shipping label on the company’s website thus reducing the hassle at the shipper’s counter. Although some online retailers already supply pre-printed shipping labels for sold items, customers sometimes lose, or throw away, those labels when they first see and like the products they ordered. Shortly after they may change their mind and would like to return a particular item, but the label is gone. With the proposed program, the label is always available online so that consumers can have peace of mind and also reduce the amount of documents they need to keep just in case. The service therefore offers a dual benefit to consumers. The retailers may then choose to stop including a pre-printed return label with every outgoing shipment thus reducing costs of selling. From a shipping company’s perspective, the shipping process is streamlined because the online-generated label will have all the necessary information, possibly including a tracking number if it is going to be shipped by UPS. That way consumers do not have to spend time at UPS counters filling out forms–both a customer service and operations improvement for UPS. NoHassleReturn.com will be a strategic merger between online merchants, carriers, and their partners targeted at overall improvement of customer satisfaction and ultimately the bottom line of merchants.

Another important feature of NoHassleReturn.com is that shipping of returned merchandise should be free of charge to consumers. (Means of achieving it are discussed in more detail in the Pricing and Revenue Generation section.) This differentiating feature will tremendously increase the consumer acceptance factor of the proposed service. The fact that products purchased online can be returned in an easy and trouble-free way, and that shipping is also free, will help expand the entire online shopping industry. The added convenience and peace of mind consumers will gain with NoHassleReturn.com will translate into more shopping with those online merchants that participate in the NoHassleReturn.com program.

When customers go through the sequence of online entries on the company’s website, the retailer whose product is being claimed for return will be offered at least one selling opportunity. At the end of the sequence the retailer will be able to target the consumer with any new sales offers as its website will appear onscreen. Should an exchange or replacement be preferred by the customer during the online return process, the retailer will receive an additional selling opportunity as its website will appear with offers during that step. These opportunities will translate into more sales for retailers. This will also stimulate customer retention, which means repeat sales. All in all, the program will increase customer satisfaction and generate more sales.

The program has a number of unique features. First, it alerts the retailer that a particular customer is claiming a particular product for return as it happens. That way the retailer knows about it as it occurs and not when the merchandise arrives at its warehouse. This allows to plan ahead. Since 9% of all products are returned, this feature offers useful information to better handle logistics and inventory.

Secondly, and more importantly, by asking consumers during the online sequence why they want to return a particular item merchants gain an invaluable piece of information. If the reason for return is defective product (30% of all reported returns), the retailer can save the sale and turn an unhappy customer into a delighted one by sending a new item right away. If the reason for return is wrong color, wrong size, or wrong product altogether (28% of all reported returns), the retailer may choose to send the correct product right then, thus instantly restoring customer satisfaction and saving a bad sale. It will be up to the retailer to decide on payment and credit terms of the exchange. These benefits ultimately translate into increased customer retention, reduced costs, more sales, and improved bottom line.

It is estimated that the program will generate an average sales increase for merchants of at least 15%. Online shopping is still at the early stage of consumer adoption. As stated earlier, about half the people who have not shopped online cited the cost and hassle of returns as a significant factor for not shopping online. Another recent survey found that 89% of online buyers said that return policies influenced their decision to shop with an online retailer. Consumers demand not only convenience but peace of mind. The proposed program offers both and it should increase the number of online shoppers, thus causing a market expansion for online merchants. The first retailers who implement the proposed program will also be able to differentiate themselves and capture a larger market share in their respective segments. Once embraced by the majority of online merchants, the program will become an industry standard.

It is important to note that during the entire process the company will not ask for, or try to gain access to, consumers’ credit card numbers. This will significantly limit possible liabilities and security/confidentiality concerns.

Milestones & Metrics

Milestones Table

Milestone Due Date Who’s Responsible
$4.1 M investment commitment
Nov 15, 2020 Founders
4.1 Million investment cleared
Jan 27, 2021 Founders
Location selected
June 15, 2021 Founders
Initial team hired
June 21, 2021 Founders
First run-through
Sept 13, 2021 Founders
First revenue
Jan 17, 2022 Founders

Key Metrics

Our Key Metrics: 

  • Active clients
  • Active client leads
  • Monitor Facebook and Twitter and reach out to customers who tweet at us or about us
  • Easy to understand website and have a online chat and telephone number for questions 
  • # of referrals from strategic alliances 
  • # of customer who use us month after month 
  • # of returns handled and from which company 
  • cost of processing returns, make it as streamlined and well thought out as possible 

 

 

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