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For the latest in Direct-to-Consumer sales.  Featuring posts on compliance, direct sales tips and trends in the wine industry.

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Sheri Hebbeln
July 1, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

Affiliate Marketing to Sell Wine Online

Wineries that want to expand the reach of their online wine sales and general brand visibility should consider affiliate marketing. There are many ways to accomplish this, but one of the most appealing and simple is to recruit bloggers to become affiliate marketers. Typically, these bloggers are paid for each customer enticed by their posts to make a purchase on the winery's ecommerce website. According to Technorati Media's "2013 Digital Influence Report," blogs are the third-most trusted source of information consumers use when thinking of purchasing a new product online. The first two are retailer websites and brand sites, which wineries have control over. Recruiting bloggers to act as affiliates can give a winery the top three most influential channels for online purchase decisions.

How to Choose Affiliates
Wineries should put careful thought into the type of bloggers they would like to form affiliate marketing relationships with. People who run websites or communities devoted to wine are a natural choice, of course, but there are other options as well. Wineries could seek out cooking bloggers, for example, who may be interested in talking about wine and food pairings, or lifestyle bloggers who can integrate a winery's brand into their discussions of domestic life and style. Wineries should seek bloggers with a significant readership composed of the demographics the wine-sellers are looking to target in other marketing endeavors as well. In addition, bloggers wineries choose to court for affiliate marketing should be seen as authoritative in some way and should have a relatively long and reliable posting history. It is also crucial to find bloggers who are open to affiliate relationships, as not all are.

Proposing an Affiliate Relationship
According to Practical Ecommerce, building a relationship with an affiliate is not like executing a media buy. Though compensation is standard and expected, bloggers do not function like traditional publishers. Instead, wineries should work to establish a relationship with their affiliates. As such, having a boilerplate email may not be the best idea. Instead, wineries should look for ways to get a conversation started as well as pitch an affiliate relationship.

Affiliates and wineries should also discuss terms frankly. Will there be a fee for placement or will the blogger accept commission on sales he or she drives to the winery's website? Does the affiliate expect to give his or her readers access to discounts or special sales? All of these questions should be answered at the beginning of an affiliate marketing relationship to reduce stress for both parties as it progresses.

Product Samples and Branding Direction
It's a natural step in affiliate marketing to help bloggers give informed perspectives on what they are writing about. Therefore, wineries should ensure their affiliates receive wine shipments. These should be accompanied by a marketing kit, according to Practical Ecommerce. This can be a list of key product features and information about how the winery brands itself in other marketing endeavors. Wineries should not be shy about collaborating with bloggers on the best way to position their products, but they should also leave plenty of room for affiliates to do what they do best and create compelling content for their own particular set of readers. Sometimes an honest opinion on a wine and a set of pictures taken at home is just what an audience will resonate with, while more complex branding schemes may work better for other blogs and their readers.

The information provided here is based upon an interpretation of current California law pertaining to third party marketing programs.  It should not be considered legal authority in California or elsewhere and is not intended as legal advice.  The laws in other states may vary.  Readers should contact the regulatory agencies responsible for the interpretation and enforcement of alcoholic beverage laws in their state for authority on this issue.

Jim Agger
June 30, 2014 | Jim Agger

4 Tips for Reducing Wine Returns

No matter how good your online wine store is, you will occasionally need to process returns. Whether consumers changed their minds upon receiving their parcels, want to send a gift back or accidentally ordered the wrong item, the logistics of returns can be a major hassle for retailers. However, returns can be used as an opportunity to build customer satisfaction when they are handled properly. Here are some tips for managing returns better and reducing the overall number:

1. Have a clear return policy listed in a visible spot on your website
One of the easiest ways to decrease returns and reduce confusion is to be explicit about your policy. Customers aren't likely to buy from you again when there's ambiguity about a return, according to Entrepreneur. If shoppers can only send wine back for a limited time, make sure you include the deadline in the policy. It may be helpful to list this information on product pages as well as during checkout. Place a packing slip in the packaging with information - or better yet, a return label - in case customers need to send something back. This prevents them from having to dig around your website to find what they need.

2. Speedy ecommerce fulfillment
Customers may return a package because it took too long to arrive, and they were able to find the same product somewhere else - without having to pay for shipping, Parcel Industry pointed out. In fact, outsourcing wine shipping to a third-party provider can help you send parcels out the same day you receive the order. While speed is important for meeting customers' needs, orders have to be accurate as well. Errors are a major reason for returns, so an integrated point of sale, inventory and fulfillment system can help you increase accuracy without sacrificing speed.

3. Don't pretend returns won't happen
Even though returns aren't ideal, customers will be frustrated if they can't send merchandise back, Entrepreneur suggested. You need to have staff members in place to manage this task, as well as allow enough time. If there's only a short window, shoppers may not be able to return unwanted items, especially during busy times of year like the holiday season. For example, if the window is only 30 days and the item was a gift, people may not be able to send it back in time. 

4. Communicate delays
Going back to speed, if there are going to be any unforeseen delays, let customers know right away. It can keep them from buying the item somewhere else, Parcel Industry stated. It's also a good idea to inform purchasers when their items have shipped so they know when to expect them. Communication is a simple step, but it can make customers more satisfied overall. They will appreciate the update if their parcels will be arriving outside the scheduled timeframe. This won't prevent people from buying from you again if it's communicated in the right way. 

Contact a fulfillment specialist to learn more about how WineDirect's fulfillment solutions can accommodate the complex needs of your winery.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 27, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

Does your wine club need to improve?

Loyalty programs were popular long before ecommerce took off, but they have considerable applications for online wine sales. These programs started with airlines, gas stations, credit card companies and grocery stores and were largely used to reward shoppers for things they were buying already. Since then, loyalty programs have expanded into many other industries, and have been very popular online.

However, some critics argue that these brand offerings are a means of buying customer loyalty, according to Forbes. Additionally, some companies leverage their programs to make up for negative experiences with rewards.

If your wine club includes specific rewards, you may want to consider the following:

  • Are the rewards good enough?: Most people join rewards programs to save money or get special deals, Daily Finance stated. If the rewards aren't appealing enough, your wine club members won't have a strong enough reason to continue subscribing.
  • Is the first reward threshold too high?: If customers have to work hard to earn rewards, they aren't going to want to participate. People are more likely to stick with the program if the first reward is easily accessible.
  • Is it too complicated?: If customers have to share contact information, subscribe to a newsletter or take an extensive survey to earn rewards, your program may not be working. In the past, people just had to make a purchase to get the benefits of the program.

Additionally, Daily Finance points out that an in-depth loyalty program is no substitute for good customer service. At the end of the day, customers aren't likely to stay loyal to a business that doesn't treat them well.

Could attracting millennial members refresh your wine club?
Although much has been made about how members of Generation Y are not the prime target audience for wine marketing efforts, your winery may be able to attract them through a well-run loyalty program. A recent study from Bond Brand Loyalty revealed that 1 billion U.S. consumers belong to some sort of loyalty program, and discounts were cited as the most important factor by 79 percent of respondents.

Millennials in particular were the focus of some the survey questions. Sixty-eight percent of members of Gen Y said they would change where they shop just to access discounts. Additionally, some respondents reported that they had spent more than they intended to get membership rewards or points. This age group was also more likely to prefer non-financial benefits of membership. They were attracted by personalized attention from brands. If you can offer a meaningful purchasing experience in your online wine store, you may be able to court this demographic more effectively.

Customer service needs to be a top priority when it comes to a successful wine club. Many people maintain their memberships because they want to have a special status with your business, and it's important to recognize this. 

Contact us to learn more about how WineDirect's marketing solutions can help you boost sales.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 26, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

4 Ways to Modernize Your Email Marketing

Although online selling and marketing have evolved rapidly, email is still a crucial tool for promoting an online wine store. There are newer digital marketing tools, but it's important not to overlook email in your wine marketing efforts. In the third quarter of 2013, email contributed to 2.53 percent of ecommerce sales, according to HubSpot. While this may not seem like a lot, all social networks put together were only 0.22 percent.

Email also has a higher order value than other marketing channels. The average value of an email order is $100.48 compared to $93.43 for social media in 2013.

However, many marketers are struggling with email because this channel's results were not as strong as they were in 2012, and sales are expected to continue to decrease slightly. Consumer behavior trends are responsible for some of the decline. Shoppers are receiving more emails than ever, but they are more pressed for time, and many of these marketing messages are irrelevant to their interests, HubSpot stated. Additionally, services like Gmail's tabbed inbox, which has a dedicated Promotions section, allow busy people to skip these emails altogether.

How to cope with new trends in email marketing
Your winery does not have to treat this as a death sentence. Smart retailers are changing up how they use email marketing to attract and engage with customers. Here are some new strategies that can revitalize your wine marketing campaigns:

  • Place your product front and center in emails, not the offer: While it can be tempting to include a percentage discount in each email subject line, it may lead to fatigue for your customers and decrease the effectiveness of your deals, according to Practical Ecommerce. You can include a special discount in the body, but it may be a good idea to take cues from content marketing and offer customers suggestions for how to use your product or send a recipe that pairs well with one of your wines. This provides extra value for your email subscribers.
  • Use animation, but be mindful of smartphones: Animation can be intriguing for recipients because these messages are more interesting to look at than a standard email with a list of available products. However, if you're going to take this approach, it's important to test the message to make sure it performs well on a mobile device, since much of your audience may be using smartphones to access their inboxes.
  • Curate product recommendations: Much has been made about personalization in emails. Customers are more picky, and even online shoppers want individual attention. Moving away from the traditional email newsletter format and including personalized product suggestions could be a way to increase online wine sales, HubSpot said. In fact, newsletters with product recommendations were found to raise revenue by 46 percent, and these messages took less time for employees to craft, which is an added benefit for your staff.
  • Create subject lines that stand out: Email subject lines are notoriously tricky to ​get right, but they can make or break a recipient's decision to open the message, according to Practical Ecommerce. Subject lines that are a break from the norm can lead to higher open rates, especially as people feel more overwhelmed by the state of their inboxes. Consumers may be expecting email headlines with a discount in them, so doing something different can lead to better results. It may be beneficial to do A/B testing for various types of headlines to determine which ones work best. 

Contact us to learn more about how WineDirect's marketing solutions can help you boost sales.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 25, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment to Increase Online Wine Sales

Your online wine store could see much better results if you reduce shopping cart abandonment. Retailers may be leaving as much as $4 trillion on the table this year alone, and up to 63 percent of it is recoverable with smart tactics, according to BI Intelligence.

Research from Forrester revealed that ecommerce is projected to grow to $414 billion by 2018, which would account for 11 percent of total retail sales, Multichannel Merchant stated. As online shopping surges in popularity, shopping cart abandonment is gradually becoming more common. BI Intelligence found that 74 percent of potential sales were abandoned in 2013, which is an increase from 69 percent in 2011. As more consumers start to shop online, these rates will continue to grow.

How can wineries reduce shopping cart abandonment
Online purchase abandonment occurs for a number of reasons, but many of them are preventable. Undisclosed shipping fees are a major turn-off for shoppers. A simple step like being upfront about ecommerce fulfillment costs can stop some people from walking away from your site. Another thing customers hate is being required to register for an account on a website. First-time customers may not entirely trust your brand, and they want to see how the entire purchasing process plays out before committing to buying from you again. Because of this, asking clients to sign up for an account before they can complete the transaction may seem a little presumptuous.

Another reason required registration can be frustrating for customers is because it is one extra step in the checkout process. A lack of a streamlined flow during checkout can be distracting. Enabling a guest checkout option can encourage shoppers to complete their purchases without adding more time to the process. Social logins are another way to effectively avoid account creation.

Here are some other tips for lowering shopping cart abandonment rates while increasing online wine sales:

  • Send reminder emails: Everyone has different preferences and some consumers may use online shopping carts as a list of items they want to purchase at a later time. Additionally, people may browse online from their smartphones on the go, but return to your website from a desktop computer to complete the purchases. Sending emails a few hours after shopping cart activity stops can increase conversion rates. These messages have a high chance of being opened and read, according to BI Intelligence. You can send additional messages after this time because it can take some customers two weeks to complete their purchase, Multichannel Merchant stated.
  • Simplify checkout: The fewer steps in the process, the less likely customers are to abandon their baskets, Social Annex said. You can still collect valuable contact information for future wine marketing efforts. It may even be helpful to show a progress bar at the top of each page so consumers know exactly how many steps they have left.
  • Include customer reviews of items directly on product pages: Consumers increasingly trust their peers more than content brands publish about themselves. Including product reviews can help customers make more informed decision, and it builds trust in your winery.
  • Provide a wine shipping estimate: Having an idea of what shipping fees will be before heading to checkout can prevent customers from feeling blindsided by unexpected costs. Especially if customers need packages by a certain time, this estimate can provide a higher degree of transparency. You can include estimated delivery times and costs for multiple options so shoppers can compare. 

Contact a fulfillment specialist to learn more about how WineDirect's fulfillment solutions can accommodate the complex needs of your winery.

Time Posted: Jun 25, 2014 at 10:20 AM
Jim Agger
June 20, 2014 | Jim Agger

How effective is your wine shipping?

Ecommerce fulfillment is an essential backbone for your online wine store. Without it, the sustainability of your online sales could be at risk. If packages show up late or are damaged or inaccurate, customers aren't likely to buy from you again. Your winery needs to provide cost-effective, fast options to ensure clients are satisfied and repeat the business. Here is a look at some effective shipping techniques that can help you wow your customers:

1. Provide transparency throughout the fulfillment process
Shoppers want to know exactly when purchases will arrive on their doorsteps, according to Parcel Industry. In the past, retailers would provide a tracking number from a parcel carrier, but this is no longer enough. Wineries need to be more engaged after shipments leave their facilities. Not only should you provide a reasonable delivery time frame and a tracking number, but it's also important to be there to assist clients if anything goes wrong along the way. Package delays won't necessarily ruin customer experience as long as this information is properly communicated.

2. Offer fair wine shipping fees
Even though some ecommerce experts believe customers are pushing for same-day shipping, online shoppers do not want to pay more to ship products. Free shipping is becoming more popular than ever before, and some people are even willing to wait a few extra days to receive items to pay less. The reality of shipping is that retailers are under more pressure to offer free or low-cost shipping in three days or less, Parcel Industry stated. If customers want expedited shipping, they prefer to pay only a small amount for it. As consumers continue to express a preference for cost-effective shipping, wineries will need to consider their rate structures.

3. Provide multiple options
While affordable shipping is usually the top choice, there are other factors that play into this decision. For example, during the holiday season, customers may be in a rush to receive a gift for a friend or family member on time. In these cases, people will often be willing to pay a little more to ship wine sooner. However, at other less busy times of year, cost-effectiveness will trump speed. Offering multiple shipping choices can increase customer satisfaction.

4. Consider a shipping subscription
Amazon's Prime service has been wildly successful. For an annual subscription fee, customers can get any delivery for free within two days, and the company has recently been working to expand its offerings. While you may not need to implement a program on such a large scale, shipping subscriptions could be beneficial for your winery. Quartz, reporting on statistics from RBC Capital Markets, said that Prime subscribers spend an average $538 per year, which is 68 percent more than non-subscribers. Because shoppers have already paid their shipping fees for the year, they may be more likely to buy more frequently.

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how WineDirect's fulfillment solutions can accommodate the complex needs of your winery.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 19, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

How to Market Your Wine Club

Membership-based ecommerce is booming, particularly in niche sectors, according to Practical Ecommerce. Your winery can take advantage of this trend by offering a wine club with regular deliveries, or refining the wine club program you already offer. In order to market this opportunity as well as possible, it's necessary to take certain steps. Here are a few:

Concentrate on curation
Curation, a term most commonly used in the art world, refers to collecting, organizing and caring for a set of items. A curated collection ensures every item has value and is in harmony with the rest. Applying this approach to your wine club can be a great marketing move. Consumers are interested in curated collections of products of all kinds, from clothing and beauty products to pet toys and treats. 

As a winery, you're likely to have plenty of experts who could create impressive collections for wine aficionados on a regular basis. Taking advantage of this means not only will your customers enjoy the perfect wine collections, but also that you have a new marketing angle. Your wine marketing should focus on the fact that your regular subscription deliveries are carefully selected by true experts in the field. Ideal marketing materials for this purpose include essays by curators on why they made particular choices for the current collection or past ones, as well as blog posts that demonstrate your curators' expertise. Customers often feel curated product collections give them the benefit of discovering the best options available for a price that is usually much more reasonable than what it would cost to assemble the knowledge and products necessary themselves.

Give great value
Another attraction of subscription wine clubs is the savings they usually make available to consumers. Indeed, customers tend to expect a price incentive when they are looking at enrolling in a wine club or other type of subscription service. Your winery can provide this with careful planning. It may be that your marketing expenses are lower for the wine club than for other product areas because you can rely on methods like an email list and word of mouth on social networks.

As Practical Ecommerce notes, subscription services are built to create repeat sales, which may give you the opportunity to work on smaller margins with the knowledge your customers will be returning. Indeed, repeat buyers are likely to spend as much as five times more than a new customer on each visit, according to the source. You may also be able to offer cost savings through recurring membership fees that defray the price of the complex shipping and fulfillment procedures good wine delivery requires.

Make it easy on yourself
Of course, any great marketing strategy will require effort. Ensuring that effort is worth it takes planning and time. WineDirect can help with all aspects of ecommerce, from marketing to wine shipping in a way that will create value and protect the product.

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how WineDirect's marketing solutions can help you boost sales.

Time Posted: Jun 19, 2014 at 5:35 AM
Jim Agger
June 18, 2014 | Jim Agger

DTC Sales Are One of the Biggest Opportunites for Wineries

Opening direct-to-consumer channels - especially an online wine store - can help you exceed revenue projections. According to a joint study from Digital River and Forrester Research, online DTC sales will be the largest source of revenue for many businesses within the next two years.

In the study, "Be Direct: Why a Direct-to-Consumer Online Channel is Right for Your Business," the companies assessed why branded manufacturers should quickly move to create this offering if they haven't already. The most significant reason businesses should consider this is because it allows them to increase revenue.

"One of the most striking findings in the study was that an overwhelming majority of companies that have implemented DTC ecommerce channels - 76 percent - reported that their programs either met or exceeded revenue targets," said Scott Heimes, senior vice president and CMO of Digital River, in a press release. "The research also addressed a key barrier to DTC channel adoption - the fear that it would conflict with other channels. Instead, the study found that if handled appropriately, DTC channels can actually enhance the performance of other channels."

Increase revenue and build better customer relationships
Offering more channels to customers gives them more ways to reach your business. For wineries, it can provide access to shoppers on the other side of the country. Despite the fact that retail is increasingly moving online, competitive businesses are increasingly prioritizing customer relationships, according to Practical Ecommerce. As ecommerce continues to grow in popularity, many companies have faced pressure from consumers to add an online channel.

Depending on your winery's location, DTC sales can give you a way to increase the size of your customer base. Some wineries only sell through distributors, but this isn't the best way to build a brand reputation or relationships with customers, industry source Harpers stated. This is particularly detrimental to smaller wineries. In addition to increased wine tourism, online wine sales can give them a way to strengthen their brands and engage with a larger group of consumers.

Focusing on personalized relationships and creating more opportunities to impress customers can increase the chances that they will return to your business.

How can small wineries rise to the challenge of DTC?
The study found that some manufacturers avoid DTC sales because of the perceived challenges of operating an ecommerce environment. However, this is often because businesses try to operate disconnected systems, which can lead to problems with inventory management and customer service. Integrated channels provide a more consistent experience for shoppers and increase accuracy. 

One reason ecommerce may be challenging for small wineries is because of the influx of customers and the complex regulations surrounding wine shipping. It can be difficult to attend to fulfillment while managing day-to-day operations. The right third-party fulfillment partner can help you meet the changing needs of your business while increasing DTC revenue. 

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how WineDirect's fulfillment solutions can accommodate the complex needs of your winery.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 17, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

Is your winery ready for the future of ecommerce?

Ecommerce is a constantly transforming field and your winery needs to be equipped to keep pace with the trends in the field to stay successful. Here are a few changes that are coming in the future for the ecommerce industry as a whole and how they may impact your online wine sales:

Big data is the future of online retail
Industry insiders have been talking about the potential of big data for quite a long time, and it truly is changing the face of selling online. Consumer data gives businesses the information they need to sell more efficiently and at a higher volume. Leveraging that information is quickly becoming vital. Analytical information can develop business strategies on a large scale through influencing the smallest decisions, according to Forbes. Data can help companies determine which customers to target with which specials, which consumers are likely to sign up for a loyalty program and even who is most likely to choose a more expensive wine shipping option at checkout. Through giving consumers the options they want by using smart analytics will transform the way ecommerce works in the future.

The customer will become even more important
Customers now expect more of businesses online, Forbes reports. Consumers now have many options online that will satisfy their every wish as conveniently as possible. Retailers who cannot live up to the standard set by ecommerce players who offer superior customer services and specific options will not be able to keep up, the publication reports. Being able to provide customers with nearly everything they want - and services they didn't know they needed - will continue to be the mark of a successful ecommerce business in the future.

What can your winery do?
Ecommerce fulfillment is as important to the customer experience as any other element of your business. As ecommerce changes and your sales strategy involves in line with big data and delighting customers, the need for speedy fulfillment and smart shipping will remain constant. As major retailers are able to offer faster shipping every day, wineries need to be able to compete with the ability to ship anywhere at a reasonable speed.

Working with the ecommerce experts at WineDirect to provide customers with a superior experience from marketing to shipping can help your winery stay competitive as ecommerce changes. Partnering with WineDirect means you can focus on why you went into the winery business in the first place - to make superior products - and still achieve a level of ecommerce sales that will sustain and grow your business over the years to come. Meeting the needs of your customers, particularly as those needs evolve in line with a changing industry, requires a suite of services for every aspect of your online sales efforts.

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how WineDirect's fulfillment solutions can accommodate the complex needs of your winery.

Sheri Hebbeln
June 17, 2014 | Sheri Hebbeln

4 Tips for Your Online Wine Store

Direct-to-consumer sales provide you with an avenue to sell more wine, and many of these transactions are taking place online. While it may seem easy to sell wine online, a lot goes into running a successful store and effectively extending your brand to your website. Whether you're opening an online wine store for the first time or looking to make improvements to your site, there are some things you can do to ensure you increase sales:

1. Make special offers to loyal customers
Whether it's your wine club or returning customers who have registered for an account on your website, exclusive offers can increase online wine sales, according to Practical Ecommerce. Special benefits can make customers feel more satisfied and thus loyal to your business. However, you need to have an in-depth understanding of your customer segments to identify relevant offers.

2. Write compelling product descriptions
This is especially relevant if you're just getting started with an online wine store, but you can also reassess existing product pages to drive effectiveness. Descriptions should be easy to digest. Bullet points often work well. Shopify recommends that you hone in on what's important to your target audience and avoid generic phrases like "excellent product quality." This type of wording can make your descriptions less persuasive. In fact, the article notes that Zappos describes the technical details and benefits of the shoes it sells rather than discussing quality. Similarly, if you're going to use superlatives, make sure you follow it up with a reason.

3. Set goals and keep KPIs in mind
It's hard to make improvements to your online store if you don't know how it's working now. Key performance indicators can provide insight into the success of your wine store and help you define goals, according to a separate article from Shopify. Rather than getting distracting by measuring too many variables at once, it's a better idea to focus on a few important metrics. Conversion rates and shopping cart abandonment rates are good places to start improving sales.

4. Create opportunities for repeat sales
Ideally, once you convert customers, they will return to your store again and again. However, there are many moving parts in any ecommerce operation, and it can make success more difficult. Even if your website offers a high-quality customer experience, slow fulfillment or problems with wine shipping can cause people not to buy wine online from you again. Giving customers multiple options in your online wine store can ensure that they complete the purchase and want to buy again. For example, many shoppers don't like being forced to register to complete the purchase. Adding a guest checkout option can accommodate customers who don't want an account. Multiple choices for shipping can improve customer satisfaction as well. Additionally, it should be easy to get in touch with someone from your winery if problems do arise. Even though the transaction is occurring online, solid customer service is still critical for a good experience. 

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how WineDirect's ecommerce solutions can help you boost sales.

Time Posted: Jun 17, 2014 at 5:37 AM