eCommerce 101: Why Should I Buy From You?

With a 5 month old baby I’ve found I’ve been gravitating to baby and children’s clothing websites – although my hubby doesn’t need to know that. ;-) In my browsing  I have discovered that there are hundreds of gorgeously designed sites with heaps of beautiful clothes and accessories. Far too many to buy from even if I wanted to. And the baby market is not alone in the competition stakes, most online niches face the same dilemma. So I got to thinking – how do you stand out? What can you do to differentiate yourself from your competitors? How do you make sure you get the online shopper’s dollars and not some other online store? The following article will provide you with tips and advice to help your online store stands out from the crowd.

The Basics

The first step is to make sure your site is built in a way that is easy and engaging for prospects to use so we’ll start with the basics.

Design & Usability

I feel this is almost too obvious but with the amount of poorly built sites out there I guess it’s not. A well designed website that is easy for your prospects to use is a must. A website that looks professional instills confidence in potential customers and reassures them that they can buy from you safe in the knowledge that their goods will be what they wanted and arrive on time. It tells them that they are dealing with a professional company. A company whose products are of high quality, who answers correspondence promptly and who ships goods quickly.

The usability, or ease-of-use of your website is equally important. If the site is hard to use, information difficult to find, or confusing to navigate your prospective customers will go to the next website on their list. One of the best ways to test the usability of your website is to watch friends and family as they use your site. Set them a task of finding and purchasing a specific item and watch as they perform the task. Things to look out for include:

  • Can they find what they are looking for quickly?
  • Do they have to keep backtracking through the site?
  • Does the site search return relevant results? Any results?
  • Can they easily view enlarged images of the products?
  • Are the images of high quality? Do they represent the products well?
  • Are they able to easily add items to their shopping cart?
  • Is the checkout easy to use?

As well as the above ask for their feedback and then make changes based on your findings.

Design and usability is the place to start. If you get this right you’ll have a better chance at converting the people who browse your website into buyers.

Shipping & Returns Information

Provide clear shipping and returns information and make sure it is prominently displayed on your site. Customers want to easily see whether you ship to their location, what it will cost them to do so and how you handle returns if there is a problem. Don’t hide this down the bottom in a link, make sure it is clear and easy to see on every page of the site.

Testimonials

Finally, make sure to display testimonials from happy customers throughout your website. There is no better way to show prospective customers that they can confidently buy from you than with positive feedback from people who already have. Include a wide variety of testimonials including ones that focus on the site’s ease of use, quality of product, speed of shipping and fast resolution of issues when they arise. In a nutshell include testimonials that cover all aspects of the buying process.

Added Extras

Once you’ve got the basics right it’s time to go that extra mile to entice those prospects to buy from you. Remember you’re not the only eCommerce site that is well designed and easy to use. Here are just some of the ways you can entice shoppers to buy from you.

Shipping & Delivery Specials

In my experience many a shopping cart has been abandoned near the end of the checkout process due to the shipping rates. Expensive shipping, and I mean expensive in the eyes of the shopper, is a real turn off. So reward your customers. Offer free shipping if they spend over a certain dollar amount.

Fast Shipping

And when I say fast I mean super fast. Overnight if possible. We’re an impatient lot and if you read the same mags I do we want instant gratification. So there’s nothing worse than ordering something online and waiting forever for it to arrive. And believe me forever can be 4 days. So try and offer next day shipping. And don’t punish your customers by charging the earth for it.  Trust me next day, reasonably priced shipping will increase your sales dramatically.

Quantity Discounts

If you sell a products that people can buy in quantity consider offering a discount the more they buy. It’s a great way to encourage larger orders as let’s face it we all love to think we’ve saved money. Even if we had to spend twice as much in the first place to get that discount.

Loyalty Schemes

Another great way to attract customers and make sure they become repeat customers is to offer a loyalty scheme. Offer a percentage discount which increases on every order – capped at a certain amount – for life. You’ll find people will want to make more purchases with you to get to the magic capped amount. And then they will continue to shop with you, not your competitors, as that’s where they get their discount. Now that’s loyalty.

Trial Packs

Do you offer a product that people may want to try before buying? If so consider selling trial packs at a cheaper rate to encourage people to try your products. Slip in a discount coupon for their next order and you’re sure to get their business.

Reward Purchases

Following on from the above, reward people who order from you by giving them a discount on their next order. Most eCommerce systems will allow you to offer a percentage or flat discount amount.

Encourage Word of Mouth

Finally, we all know that one of the best ways to promote your business is to have happy customers tell their friends about you. So reward them by offering a scheme such as “Tell A Friend” whereby the referrer receives a gift certificate to use against their next order for every friend they refer to you.

In many ways the online world is no different to the offline world. Businesses who offer good products and excellent customer service and are able to market themselves smartly will be the ones who succeed and do well online. So don’t just put up an eCommerce site and hope for the best. Work hard and be smart and reap the rewards.

That’s it for me. I’m off to do a bit of online shopping as my DS (darling son in net speak) needs some more cute stuff. ;-)

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To Captcha Or Not To Captcha

Like many businesses we have online forms on our website to make it easy for prospects to get in touch with us. Unfortunately like many businesses this means we also get a lot of spam. Did I say a lot? I mean a ton. It’s frustrating and takes time to be cleared out of the in-box each day. So much so that my husband and I have discussed adding a captcha option to our forms.

If you’ve not heard of captcha before I’m sure you’ll remember a time you’ve filled out a form online and had to enter some funny looking characters before you could submit it. I also suspect you had to fill it out a few times because they never seem to be accepted first go. Now I don’t know about you but this frustrates the heck out of me – I just want to submit a form – why are you making it so difficult?

So I suspect you know what we decided. Not to captcha. Its a fantastic idea, and definitely has some uses, but why should we make our prospective clients lives that much harder to make our lives easier? It just doesn’t make (business) sense.

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What’s Wrong With My Website?

I talk to a lot of people who are puzzled by the lack of success of their website. After spending some time looking at the site in question I can usually spot a number of reasons for that lack of success.

If you have website that is not performing as it should it’s time to step back and take an objective look at it. It’s time to look at it through your prospects eyes, not your own. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can I quickly work out what this website is about. Is it clear?
  • Are the colors and text easy on the eye? Is it easy to read?
  • Does the site look professional? Could I trust doing business with this company?
  • Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find what I am looking for?
  • Does the design match the message?
  • How can I contact this business?

You might also want to spend some time filling out your own forms. Is it easy? Are you comfortable with the amount of information they ask for? Once you’ve submitted the form is there a confirmation page?

Often looking at a website with a clear objective mind helps you spot those little things that can be overlooked. By spotting them now and rectifying them you should see an increase in conversions and sales.

Finally, remember my golden rule: design with your prospects in mind not yourself. You need to appeal to them if you want any chance of success.

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Anyone Can Perform Basic Usability Testing

I am researching the competitive market for a new client and have been surprised at how poor the usability is on many of their websites. And these aren’t the sort of errors that could be overlooked – they are basic mistakes that anyone using their website will come across.

If any of these sites had performed some basic usability testing these mistakes would have been found and corrected. And it’s so easy. Grabs some members of your family and friends and watch them while they visit your website. Ask them to perform some tasks (eg purchase a widget, make an enquiry, find the contact details) and watch how easy or hard it is for them. This will give you a good indication of what areas of your website need improving. Then improve them.

Making your website an enjoyable, easy experience will help turn your visitors from frustrated browsers into customers. And who doesn’t want that?

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Have You Checked Your Online Forms Lately?

This is just a quick post while I try to get back into the swing of things but it’s one I thought worth a mention.

When was the last time you filled out your own online forms? If you’re thinking you haven’t lately how do you know they are working?

I always recommend that my clients test their forms regularly. It’s a good way to ensure that they are working properly. It’s also a great way to find any usability issues. If you find them hard or annoying to complete I suspect your site visitors are too.

So if you haven’t – go test your forms. Now!

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