Just because you've built your e-commerce website doesn't mean the customers will begin to come. You need to bring in the visitors, showcase your products, convince them to buy, and bring them back yet again to make any significant gains.
The customers need to be wooed by the unique customer experience that will bring them back, and have them sing your praise to their friends, spreading your name. This may seem like a tall order, but isn't. Listed here are the top ten tips to build, manage and profit from your e-commerce website. Follow them and see the benefits for yourself.
1. Organize your Catalog around Product Categories
Many sites either provide a long list of products or lump them behind a search button, making it difficult to find them. Arrange your products into logical categories and subcategories, but do not overdo it. Research says it that most people get overwhelmed with more than 7 categories. The customer must be able to easily search any product without help.
Your product should have a clear and high-quality picture, short and detailed specifications. If necessary add video or pictures of different view points (top angle, side view) along with the product specification.
2. Provide Multiple Payment Options
Keep all kinds of payment options available to your customers. Not everyone feels comfortable buying through a credit card, or has one. Allow for debit cards, fax, telephone, snail mail, paper and electronic cheques. And sign-up for fraud checking facility, without which you could easily end up losing entire day's sales within minutes. Provide a currency converter if you offer products or payment in other currencies.
Including a telephone number for customer support on the order is a must. It gives the buyers some extra feelings of security that they can always talk to a live person if anything goes wrong in the buying process.
3. List out Clearly Outlined Policies
Further, allow them to unsubscribe or opt-out of such email if they think so. Never sell the customer's personal particulars unless they have agreed, as this is a sure way to lose credibility doubly fast.
If you plan to collect sensitive information from your customers, you should use security systems like SSL (Secure Socket Layer). This guarantees that the data provided by your customer will not fall into the hand of a malicious hacker while transferring from his computer to the web server.
This also will reassure your customers that you are truly concerned about the security of their personal information.
Terms and Conditions:
Write clearly and prominently all the sales and after sales support terms so as to avoid confusion. The internet is worldwide, and your customer can come from any country. List your shipping and handling costs upfront, and be ready to ship anywhere on the Earth. Publish your returns policy, support hours, and even the approximate time taken to deliver the goods.
Send a confirmation note thanking the customer, and listing all the products, prices and key terms of the purchase in an email. Keep the customer updated of the order status at all times by email or by providing a link in your shopping page where they can check the status of their order anytime.
4. Build a Newsletter Around Your Products
To snag new customers and keep the old ones remembering you vividly, seriously plan to launch a newsletter, and send it to all prospects and customers on a regular basis. Apart from the credibility of being a serious player in the market, you dazzle them with your commitment by releasing the newsletter on fixed days - like 15th of every month, or every Monday.
You can also show your expertise in your field by writing regular, in-depth articles, covering the latest trends in the industry, and reviews of new products. Your customers, distributors, and partners will start to eagerly await your newsletter. Sprinkle your promotions and products in between the contents of the newsletter, and be ready to receive an increase in web traffic and order bookings every time you send out the newsletter.
5. Let Customers Gift Your Products
Allow people to gift your products to their friends and loved ones. Provide free gift wrapping, a personalized message or a free gift for the purchaser. Allow them to create Wish Lists that they may use to buy later.
These small things do matter and act as freebies that your competitor may not have. Although these are fast becoming standard feature, make sure you don't end up with the dumb ones who haven't figured this simple technique out yet.
6. Promote your Site Every Day
Strong marketing is the most important aspect of having a successful website. The best of sites won't make money if people don't come in hordes. Launch promotions, and get the word to everyone possible within your target audience.
You can do promotions using direct mail to your existing customer, in your newsletter, and fliers. All the methods of traditional marketing apply here. Don't leave any technique untried. Remember the old adage - Market, market, market.
7. Measure Results and Reorganize
Measure the results you are getting from each promotion religiously, and note what works and what doesn't. Experiment. Study. Fine tune. This is the only way to know how effective your campaigns and promotions are.
You can also bring in some external people to visit your site and give you sincere feedback about each page on your site. The more critical they are, the more changes you will make, and eventually it will benefit you and your customers.
Keep making changes and test what works and what doesn't on a continuous basis. What works today may not work tomorrow.
8. Keep a Simple yet Effective Web Design
There is intense competition on the web. Make a compelling website that showcases your USP (unique selling proposition) and brings the customer back to your site. Differentiate from the rest by using your imagination to make your site standout from the rest. A cool, cathy, easy to remember name could definitely help.
Make a simple site, with plain HTML, and a consistent look and feel on all pages. Use an easy to read font, at least a 10 size font, preferably 11. Do not load with graphics and huge pictures on every page, which may slow down your page.
Although this advice is becoming old fashioned as most people are moving to broadband, it is still a good practice, as you don't want to lose the customers who use a low speed modem.
Flexibility and ease of use are far more important than flashy graphics or cool Java applets. The objective is to keep the customer looking at the products, and not keep them waiting or lose them by slow loading graphics or effects.
9. Make the Login Process a Breeze
The less clicks needed to order, the better. Amazon patented their One-Click method that minimized the clicks, making the checkout process simpler and easier. Try to make the registration or login process minimal, and only keep the most relevant fields mandatory.
I was disgusted by the lengthy logon process which forced me to enter my middle name, date of birth, and mother's maiden name for just registering for an online taxi booking service. I left it mid way, and went to another taxi operator's site, which registered me within a minute. A simple thing can result in a costly mistake that loses the customer forever.
10. Reduce Popup Messages
Too many popups distract and disgust the customer. Especially after the visitor closes your website window, if you start to popup other windows with more promotions, it leaves a feeling of being chased. It is also the signature of most of the adult sites, so steer away from such insensitive practices.
Show your professionalism and respect the customer's privacy and time. It will help to build your image as a serious and professional site and enhance your credibility.
11. Use a Reliable Hosting Service
Use a service that is good, reliable, and can provide you with customer support at all hours. Web hosting is getting very cheap but it is better to pay a little more and get a fast and reliable web hosting. Nothing loses a customer faster than a slow site or a site that is down frequently. Compare a few hosting services, and ask around before signing up for one. You won't regret it.
Copyright 2004 Vinai Prakash. All Rights Reserved.
About The Author
Vinai is a successful e-commerce consultant who has been providing sage advice to small and medium businesses in building, managing and profiting from e-commerce websites for the past 6 years. He is a sought after author & speaker on Internet Marketing and E-Business. Vinai can be contacted at email@example.com for speaking engagements, as well as for consultancy engagements & advice on profiting from e-commerce.