It’s no secret that the future of retail is trending toward online shopping. If you haven’t done so already, you’re probably considering taking your business to the Web by launching an e-commerce website and online storefront.
If so, here are some facets to the process that you need to consider if you hope to maximize your investment.
The state of online shopping
According to available research and data, Americans spent $222.5 billion online in 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), and are expected to spend around $347.3 billion this year. By 2018, that number is projected to reach nearly a half trillion dollars.
E-commerce sales in the U.S. have seen year-over-year growth over the past decade and a half. It’s becoming increasingly clear that any retail business’s long-term success will be dependent on how well it’s able to incorporate an e-commerce capability into the business plan.
Other research has indicated that about 71 percent of shoppers believe they get better deals when they shop online, 80 percent of consumers have used the internet to make a purchase, and 50 percent of online consumers are return shoppers.
As a business owner, are you taking advantage of these shifts in the retail industry? Unless you already have an e-commerce site or are preparing to launch one, you’re probably not doing everything you can to position your business for future success.
Below are eight tips designed to help you maximize the performance of your e-commerce site:
- Focus on personalization and user experience. Because online shoppers can’t physically touch or see your products in advance of purchase, you need to offer something else that convinces them to make a purchase decision. Your goal should be to create a user-oriented experience that doesn’t merely try to replicate the standard shopping trip but tries to replace it with something new and different. While physical stores can do things that are not possible online (mainly, face-to-face interactions), you can do things they can’t. For example, you have the ability to let customers compare and contrast various products with almost no effort prior to purchasing. That’s a personalized service that shows you care about the consumer’s experience.
- Find ways to integrate social media. The most successful online businesses are the ones that have identified ways to integrate social media into their e-commerce initiatives. Research shows the average online shopper is more likely to make a purchase when he or she has encountered social proof to back up the quality of the product or service. Incorporating social reviews and testimonials into your website and individual product pages is a great way to push people through the conversion funnel.
- Invest heavily in advertising. While you may have a pretty recognizable name in your local geographical area, the internet covers a vast expanse, from your home state to the entire planet, and you’ll need to invest heavily in upfront advertising when you launch a new e-commerce site. When you’re building your website, find out if your hosting provider offers any advertising credits. For example, FatCow gives new users about $200 in advertising credits. That’s enough to give you a solid foundation and will enable you to attract an initial burst of traffic.
- Use visual content strategically. Visual content is incredibly important for an e-commerce site. You should invest heavily in high-quality photography for each individual product listing, as well as your overall website design. The new trend is for homepages to offer large yet simple images. The goal is to do more with less and avoid cluttering your pages.
- Utilize A/B testing. Split testing will become your best friend when you’re an e-commerce business owner. A/B testing software will allow you to analyze the value of individual components by setting a control factor and gathering results. You can–and should–test everything, including images, ad copy, layout, color scheme, and calls to action.
- Seek out customer feedback. Every successful e-commerce business understands the value of customer feedback. It empowers you to shift your focus, fix errors, and capitalize on already-successful elements. After each sale you make, you should send an automated follow-up email that solicits brief feedback on the shopping and purchasing experience.
- Pay attention to navigation. While websites like eBay do fine with lots of drop-down menus and panels, you’re better off aiming for simple navigation and layout. Unless the shopper is already familiar with your navigation, it’s always better to go as simple as possible.
- Don’t forget about mobile users. Finally, it’s critical that you avoid alienating the mobile segment of the market (which is becoming an increasingly large percentage of the whole). Make sure your website is responsive and that no features of your site–including the checkout process–are compromised when they are accessed from a smartphone or tablet.
Position your business for future success
Every business with a physical retail location should at least consider launching an e-commerce website in the coming year. While there’s a possibility your business may be better served by focusing on your existing format, most companies will likely enjoy moderate to substantial success by adding an entirely new market.
Use these eight tips to guide you through the process and continue to focus on meeting the ever-changing expectations of your customers.