This is the equivalent of opening a bricks and mortar shop in the middle of a field in the middle of no-where and expecting it to become successful. To make this little shop a success you need to beat a path to the front door from a nearby road and go all out to persuade people why they should veer off from where they were going and come visit your store instead.
Here are my top 10 tips for e-commerce success.
The Shop Front
Clearly a well designed online store is going to convert better than a confusing back to front one. The key thing here is usability and focusing your budget and attention on the user experience. There are services out there that can get you immediate third party feedback and help you improve. I recommend www.whatusersdo.com and search for 'UX' over at clarity.fm.
Ensure you have basic must-haves such as physical address and telephone number on the contact page; HTTPS enabled throughout all of the store; consistent branding from the website to emails through to promotional order inserts; accepted currency if you only take one; social links; incentivised newsletter sign up box; breadcrumb trail; option filter on category pages; and customer reviews.
If you sell 1,000 different products - individual SKUs - and make £10,000 per month, why not scale that up to 10,000 products and make £100,000 per month? Ok, so the revenue ratio doesn't exactly work like that, but you get the idea. Scalability is your friend when you're aiming for a multi-million pound turnover. If you don't have the cash flow to buy in bulk, how about using 'drop shipping', you take a hit on the margin, but it allows you to scale up and eventually buy in the best sellers.
If you currently list products from your suppliers and copy the product title and descriptions from their catalogue word-for-word you are making a mistake because you will get penalised from the search engines for duplicate content and therefore your product pages will not display in the results and people will not find you. The key here is to write your own titles and descriptions and make them unique.
Research has shown product images are what sell the products. From my 10 years of e-commerce experience, the majority of shoppers just 'scan' text and shop with their eyes flicking between the images. My recommendation is to ensure you have the best product images out of all of your competitors. Adding product videos will increase conversion too.
And due to the nature of people scanning text rather than reading it properly, you're going to experience the dreaded R word....'returns'. In your financial forecasts, build in at least a 10% returns rate, including unwanted opened products and faulty stock. In the UK consumers have a right to return unwanted products as per the distance selling regulations.
Ensuring constant stock availability will increase customer loyalty, as nothing quite kills customer satisfaction than out of stocks.
Boost sales by signing up to an affiliate network, where you pay commission to other websites for sending customers through to you; check out networks such as AffiliateWindow.com and PerformanceHorizon.com.
Voucher code websites and apps can pass a lot of website traffic if incentivised with the right offers; search for 'VouchShare' and 'VoucherCloud'.
This is an absolute must if you want to grow and scale your e-commerce business. eBay and Amazon receive millions of visitors every day and by synchronising your products with them, you will win additional sales and boost your revenue. A lot of people complain they are expensive by charging 10% or 15% commission, but look at it another way, you are selling inside of a website with millions of people, 10%/15% is like a marketing budget, but you're only paying it on guaranteed sales.
Also consider Google Shopping. It is a paid for service, but you are paying for high quality clicks, as the users are in shopping mode and quite far down the buying funnel. If I search Google for 'boys 20 inch bike' I am almost ready to buy as I know what I want, and your product will appear in the search results.
You have multiple opportunities to capture sales both externally and internally. Re-engaging with existing customers is cheaper than acquiring new customers and can be done by inserting promotional leaflets for related products to what they have bought and include it in with their order. Also by sending out regular newsletters customising each individual one with 'related' products to what your customer has previously bought increases the conversion rate. If I've previously bought hamster food, chances are I will be interested in hamster bedding and treats, just don't keep ramming hamster food down my neck as I've just bought some to last me 6 months, ok? Specialist companies can do this magic email / product integration, check out services such as websand.co.uk.
Social media platforms such as Facebook are a great way to diversify your marketing mix, especially with their highly targeted advertising systems. Great if you only want to reach males aged between 18 and 35 from the UK with a low cost-per-click. See my other posts for more online marketing ideas.
Offering the world's best customer service is easier said than done with a start-up business but it is an essential part of selling online. Whether it's a customers first contact on the phone or their experience when returning products, service is everything and will make or break an ecommerce business. Although it's impossible to please everyone, having the right policy from day one will be crucial to future word-of-mouth recommendations.
Consider either outsourcing or bringing in an intern or apprentice to help out during busy periods. You should be maximising your contact points by displaying your phone number in the website header, enabling live chat and putting contact details inside of every order as well as in all outgoing emails.
See my other Linkedin post on what I learnt from the best customer service company on earth; link at the bottom of this article.
Reviews & Testimonials
Customer recommendations are one of the most powerful forms of marketing. There are a few ways to collect feedback, either at the end of the checkout process, present a survey and ask for comments good or bad, or sign up to a third party review service such as TrustPilot.co.uk or ReviewCentre.com. They email the customer 14 days after purchase and ask for an independent review. They can be quite expensive, but add value with helping to increase orders through improving new customer trust.
Dispatch & Delivery
Chances are, if you want something, you want it now right? With the majority of on-line stores you have to wait 24 hours and that has become the accepted norm. But you are risking customer loyalty, word-of-mouth and negative online reviews if you allow this time scale to slip unnecessarily. Put a lot of your efforts into ensuring orders are dispatched promptly and use a delivery company with good reviews. This is a big mine field and my experiences have been painful over the years with various courier companies, especially if you export overseas. Best advice is to pay a little more for a better service, your customers will thank you for it.
Implementing a system from day one is essential to save you pain further down the line, and I don't mean use a spreadsheet. Aim for a system where you can keep track of stock as it comes in and as it goes out. As you start off small, you can cope with a few lines using a basic system, but as you grow, a poor system will buckle under the pressure and come back to bite you on the bum once you really scale up. There are some very expensive warehouse management systems such as SAP or Sage, but also affordable ones, such as plugins for off-the-shelf ecommerce platforms or online services such as linnworks.com.
Analytics & Stats
The main thing I have learnt over the years is knowing your stats and data. You'll want to know all sorts of valuable things and take positive action as a result:
- How many new orders per day and how many orders shipped per day?
- Average time it takes for a customer to receive an order from dispatch?
- How many visitors per day and how many orders per day? (dividing these numbers will give you the conversion rate)
- Slow moving stock; what products aren't selling? Why? Too expensive?
- Top 100 customers. Can you reward them with points or discounts off future orders?
- Product pages with highest bounce rates. Too expensive? Poor product image?
- Abandoned baskets. Is your shipping too expensive? Voucher code box, but no vouchers?
- How many telephone calls and telephone orders per day? Staff not knowledgeable enough?
- Do you track all marketing activity? Can you tell which channel is the best, are you wasting your money with some?
Creating a successful e-commerce website is no easy task, but with the right help and clear organised plan you will stand a better chance against the rest of the world. Good luck and leave a comment below if you have any other tips and advice. I would love to hear from you.
Author: Darren Williams
Darren has created over five companies in the past 14 years and successfully sold them all despite only being 32 years old. His fifth multi-award winning business ‘Harland Corp’ was one of the fastest growing online hair and beauty companies in the UK winning 16 awards out of 16 including one prestigious national accolade. It attracted over 1 million unique visitors per year between its six ecommerce stores, employed 18 staff, operated from a 7000 Sq Ft warehouse and turned over £1 million per year with a 731% growth rate during one of the worst recessions in living memory. Harland dispatched over 10,000 products each month, with 10% of those being exported to over 37 countries worldwide including Barbados and Afghanistan. He was named as one of the most influential people in the North East in 2011 alongside business legends such as Sir Peter Vardy, Tom Maxfield and Duncan Bannatyne, winning national press coverage along the way. In 2014 Darren was listed in the '35 under 35' list by The Journal newspaper.
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