The futures bright, the futures online…
As an agency we are getting busier and busier with creating e-commerce platforms, it is a huge growth area still for many businesses and is set to have doubled by 2012.
Recently we have been working on a project that was commissioned on behalf of a BBC Worldwide division company and the atmosphere here in the office has been buzzing around its launch set for the Christmas sales run up.
No longer is an e-commerce store a bolt onto to a high street store, that is given a 10p budget and developed over a weekend….Well at least it shouldn’t be. E-commerce sites are a serious component in the overall marketing and sales strategy of most big brands these days and if they aren’t, then companies should be asking themselves why not?
The art of e-commerce design is becoming more and more about creating a seamless transition from the physical to virtual store, giving the customer a real feel for the brand and what it is about.
Ways in which this might be done are to:
Incorporate video into the site, interviews with staff about new products. Really beginning to cross over from physical to virtual. In a store you can ask a store assistant about a product, you cant do this on a website until customers have left reviews. Think about how this could be achieved through video on a site with a call to action click “Click here for one of our assistants to tell you more”.
If a physical store exists, incorporate strong photography, possibly if the budget stretches panoramic photography of the store into the site and give it more depth and 3 dimensional character. So to often do you go on a stores website after visiting the store to find the website not only doesn’t live up to the shear scale and magnitude of this multi-million pound store, but the brand identity, values and follow through just isn’t there either.
One example of this is Collette in Paris, having never visited the store, yet having always heard so much about its cult status I was eager to visit this summer when visiting Paris. But this was certainly not because of their website, granted if I wanted to see pictures of the store as I have done today, I could have just Googled it. The point though is that I didn’t and this is an important lesson to learn when thinking about customers and their behavior when visiting a website. If the information they want is not clearly marked out, easy to find and more importantly when they do get that what they want, then inevitably you will loose their interest.
Another example of the lack of seamless transition from physical to virtual is that of retail heavy weight ‘Harvey Nichols’. Their stores are no less than magnificent and the product and brand selection no less than the supreme, so why is it that their website hasn’t been redesigned for at least 5 years? A store group of this size, that must have spent in the £10s of millions on their physical stores must have a budget for a rethink and redesign of their web presence. The design is in the detail and with simple things like no ‘favicon’ (the little logo you see in your browser) added to the site, a page width fit for a screen half the width of today’s standards and thumbnail images of the stores that look like they where taken on a Nokia phone, this site just isn’t there.
It’s well known that Harvey Nichols expansion strategy wasn’t as successful as they had hoped and that coupled with a global recession probably hasn’t helped the development of their virtual presence either, but for a luxury goods retailer of this level none of those should really be an excuse. It’s time to move into the future of online retailing and quite frankly the fact that stores this big still have e-commerce presence like this, well……. it excites us! The opportunity for companies like ours to approach businesses and sit down and talk about how we can revolutionize their online presence is still huge and its exactly what we intend to keep doing.
If you like what you just read, here are some more important tips on what to do and what not to do with an e-commerce store:
1. Your website needs to be updated DAILY
Weekly or monthly updates are not enough if you want your website to reach its full potential. Even if you don’t have new products to add on a daily basis, you need to find a way to keep things happening so that people have a reason to come back time and time again. What about a daily special offer? A blog? Editors picks? Clearance stock? Coming soon products? Pre-orders? Be creative – the more you update your website the more your customers will keep coming back. It’s also worth noting that a by-product of these daily updates will be increased search engine rank. Update daily, and the ecommerce gods will smile on you.
2. Send out regular newsletters
You want to be sending out a customer newsletter at least once a week. What if you don’t have anything new to advertise? Do a mail out on a special offer, coming soon products, or editor’s picks. Sending out a regular newsletter serves two purposes:
- It gives you the chance to push special offers and new products, increasing your sales
- It raises brand awareness so that customers don’t forget about your website
Also, invest in a good email marketing service and get a high quality, well branded email template designed.
3. Make life easy for your customers
I could talk for hours about user experience, usability and clarity – but the bottom line is this: make life easy for your customers! Understand why they are visiting your ecommerce website – to find and buy products – and make sure they don’t have to think too much in order to do this. The top ecommerce websites all have simple, consistent navigation and excellent customer account facilities (to make repeat ordering simple). You might think that flash animation with music is cool, but trust me; it will only annoy your visitors. Also, have a telephone number in clear view at all times so that if someone does get stuck, they can pick up the phone and speak to a real person.
4. Stay ahead of the competition
Your website should always be evolving, adopting new technologies and moving with the times. This could involve reworking your site slightly over time, or every now and again giving the whole thing a complete redesign. Factor in these costs as part of your overall business strategy – they should not be seen as an unnecessary, unwelcome cost, but as necessity to running your online business. And be proactive as opposed to being reactive. What I mean by that is don’t wait until you’re left behind to start thinking about keeping ahead. Always be on the lookout for fresh ideas and always strive to be the best in your marketplace.
5. Get someone in to manage your site full time
If you run your website as a “sideline” to your main business then the revenue it generates will always be a “sideline” to your main stream of revenue. Successful ecommerce sites have dedicated staff to run them, on a full time basis. A lot of smaller businesses expect their websites to be run by an existing member of staff, on top of their usual duties. Investing in a new member of staff to manage your web strategy on a full time basis may seem like a substantial cost but if they get it right, it won’t take long for you to see the return on investment.
6. Image is everything
It’s cliché, I know. But if you’re serious about reaping the rewards of the global ecommerce market (which is set to double in sales by 2012) then you need to look the part. A homemade site with a cheap logo probably isn’t going to cut it. If you’re currently running a homemade or low-cost ecommerce solution, now might be the time to invest in a professional solution. Remember, a professional web designer understands how your visitors interact with your website and can be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to growing your online business. Choose a web design company carefully, make sure they have the skills to deliver, have a proven track record, and give good honest, genuine advice.
7. PR, PR, and more PR…
Remember that full time member of staff you hired to manage your website? Well, part of their job needs to be PR. In a world that seems to be consumed by SEO, the real value of some good PR seems to be overlooked. Get your site featured on blogs, news sites, take out select ad space with news sites (often taking out advertising space will be more likely to get you featured editorially), and don’t forget about off-line promotion too. Try to build a good rapport with blogs or news sites in your marketplace as these people can be very powerful allies. Finally, get your staff member trained up on pay-per-click advertising – it can be a very effective tool when used correctly.
8. Web analytics are your friend
If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your site, head over there and get it installed now. You should constantly be monitoring your stats, where your visitors are coming from, and tracking conversions on sales. If you examine these things in depth on a regular basis you will quickly get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. If most people are exiting your site on a particular page (say the cart page) then ask yourself why? If your average page views are down or your bounce rate is up, have a think about what could be behind this. Also be sure to note when you send out newsletters or update your site, as you will be able to tie this information into your analytics trends.
9. SEO is not the answer to everything
It’s amazing how many small businesses think that “tricking” a search engine into ranking them on page 1 is the only way to generate a lot of business. The truth is that if you are relying on SEO to bring in the bulk of your business you are in a very bad position indeed. What happens if Google decides to drop you for some reason? It is not as uncommon as you might think. Putting the fate of your business in the hands of the Google overlords isn’t a viable business strategy. Good quality SEO can be very effective, but don’t rely on it entirely. Also, the good news is that if you’re doing all of the other things discussed in this article, you’re probably well on your way to achieving a good search engine position naturally.
10. Make sure your customer service is second to none
All of the above points deal with having a good website and marketing strategy, but your customer service needs to back these things up. Make sure you get your orders posted out promptly, and that you deal with any complaints or issues quickly and cheerfully. We may live in a world of pay-per-click and SEO but word of mouth is still the most effective kind of advertising there is. As the saying goes, “a happy customer will tell their friends; an unhappy customer will tell anyone who will listen.” Wise words…