For years, the online retail market has been dominated by giants like Amazon. But recently, the rise of small-scale online retail through easy-to-use e-commerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, or Volusion has allowed businesses which could never afford to run a brick-and-mortar store to direct their own retail destinies.
But developing an effective e-commerce site is about more than slapping down a “Buy“ link or an “Add to Cart” button; you need to optimize your site to make it both easy to use and easy to find.
How you optimize your e-commerce site depends to a very large degree on what you’re selling. Because different product categories have different optimizations, your strategy will change depending on your field; for example, you’re going to want a greater focus on product imagery for furniture than for electronics, because how the product looks has a different value for these two product categories. While you always want to make sure you’re using large, high-quality images, their relative importance changes. A bookshelf may not rely upon having well-written specifications, but only 18% of time spent viewing electronics is spent viewing the picture, while a whopping 82% is dedicated to examining its technical details.
But some tips to improve your customers’ e-commerce buying experience are relevant for whatever product category you’re marketing. You need to think like a customer and ask yourself, “When I purchase products online, what makes the buying experience seamless, efficient, and enjoyable? Am I asking customers to take too many steps before they purchase? Have I made it easy to locate or navigate to new products?” Answering these questions the right way makes buying from you, rather than a big online retailer, really worthwhile.
With that in mind, the Hudson Fusion team got together and came up with this list of ways to improve your e-commerce site so you can maximize your sales and grow your brand.
- Fewer Clicks Mean More Purchases
The bane of many online shoppers is the fact many sites simply make it too difficult to purchase. The flip side of the ease of shopping from your couch is that it’s so much easier to walk away from a purchase; your customer didn’t fight through traffic to get there, and turning away means no sunk cost. You have to make the process frictionless, providing as few opportunities as possible for a customer to change their mind. That’s why Amazon came up with 1-Click Purchase; one click, and the sale is made. If a customer wants to change their mind, they have to go through a whole rigmarole to cancel it.
To that end, you want to make it simple both to find the product and to buy the product. Institute powerful site search to make it easy for them to shop, simplify your categories (especially if you don’t have an enormous product catalog), and use analytics tools to figure out where customers are dropping out before they land on and purchase a product.
Similarly, you want to reduce the number of steps they have to take to buy the product. Removing the requirement to register before purchase by allowing guest checkout is a great way to start. You can also integrate Facebook or Google logins, letting them register with a single, easy click. Accepting Google Wallet or PayPal removes the friction point of inputting a credit card number and makes the purchase faster and easier.
- Amazing Product Listings
Sure, your product page needs great images. Of course it does; the Internet is picture-driven because you have to catch the eye before you can get anybody to read anything. But, like we said above, a great picture can really only get you so far. People want to know what it is they’re buying, which means you need to figure out what questions they’re asking and answer them before they can actually ask them. So take time and think: what would you need to know if you were considering making this purchase? Include everything from technical specs for a television, to materials and construction details for furniture, to making absolutely sure you’ve got accurate size charts for clothing. These are the sorts of questions people ask themselves when considering a purchase, and they all come down to one point: will I have to return this because it wasn’t what I was expecting? Easing that concern is critical.
- Reviews and Other User Generated Content
Dovetailing from Point Number Two, you may want to include user-generated content, precisely because it reassures customers that, no, they aren’t in fact going to regret this purchase. Showing off a dedicated, loyal, and satisfied customer base demonstrates that you’re trustworthy. You need to find ways to highlight your customer engagement: featured reviews, showcasing positive Twitter mentions or popular Facebook posts, and creative applications such as user video testimonies can help bring about the trust that makes a customer confident in purchasing from you. Without trust, there’s no sale.
- Great Customer Support – and Lots of It!
Customer support isn’t just for dealing with angry people who want to yell at you; it’s about being present for your customers during the entire process. In much the same way that people value having access to knowledgeable, confident floor workers at a retail store who can help you find a product or answer your questions about a potential purchase, people value having immediate access to the same sort of help when buying online. While this can be done over the phone, the best and most seamless way to handle it is via on-site chat service. That allows customers to make their inquiries without having to switch to another platform. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to engage customers on a larger scale, but nothing beats the immediacy of on-site chat to help you close the deal. The important thing is to simply always be available to your customers; you never know when they’ll need your help to make the purchase.
- Get a Blog – and Make Friends
There are two reasons you want a blog.
The first is that you want to be visible to organic search. Blogs utilizing quality, original content rank higher in Google and generate sharing, which further increases your Google ranking. Quality, relevant, altruistic content both positions you as a go-to authority in your field and encourages natural, user-generated linking, and since Google cares an awful lot about prioritizing content people actually like rather than random pages jammed with keywords, you want to generate the highest page rank you can by being fun, useful, and interesting.
The second, more important reason is simply that you aren’t a faceless corporate behemoth. You’re a person with a company you’re passionate about and a product you believe can help people, and you want to have a relationship with your customers that extends beyond simply offering that product for sale. People buy from businesses they trust, with which they feel a connection, and even giant companies like Apple and Amazon have succeeded in creating brands with personality and a human touch. Serving rather than selling is the name of the game; it’s not “how can I sell to you?” but “how can I be of help?” Once a customer sees that you’re interested in helping them in some tangible way and not just in making the sale, they begin to view your company as more than just another service provider. Suddenly, they’re not just a customer anymore. They’re a friend.
This isn’t a comprehensive catalog of every little thing your e-commerce site needs as much as it is a list of principles and best practices. Such lists exist, but we at Hudson Fusion believe that every site is different, and only by looking at your product, your market, and your customers can we really come to understand how your e-commerce can be improved. Take some time, look at your customers and where you’re losing them, and think about what you can take from the steps above to improve their buying experience and build the trust that lets a business thrive.