Gone are the days where you had to be the first person in line at your local sport store to get your hands on the latest pair of Air Jordan's that they were stocking before everyone else in town had them. Little did you know, that on the other side of the world, a sports store in downtown New York released new designs that afternoon, and there was no chance that your hometown store was ever going to stock them.
The rate at which consumers are shopping online continues to increase, and with this there comes an increased need for businesses to have an online shopping presence to maintain their profit margin and client base. Having an online shopping presence also offers many other benefits to business owners including being able to reach out to potential customers hundreds of kilometers away and even abroad as well as the ability to sell 24/7.
In a similar way that the overall appeal of your shop front and interior determine whether a customer will venture inside to find out what you have on offer, your online store's overall appearance and functionality is just as important in making sure that people click through to see your products and services.
Whether you've already got an established online store or are looking at setting one up, you may not know the best way to utilse this opportunity.
We've put together 5 simple steps to help you get the most out of your online store:
1. Remember that your customer is key
When it really boils down to it, the customer is the key to the overall success of your online store, as they are the ones that are going to press that big 'Buy Now' button and send those wonderful $$$ into your bank account.
So your most important task is to keep them happy and keep them engaged.
If you put yourself in their shoes and navigate through your online store, think about the following:
- Is it easy to navigate?
Can I find products easily? If I'm looking for something in particular is there a way that I can search for that item? Are the steps to complete my payment clear?
There is nothing worse than going to an online store and knowing that you need a pair of black skinny jeans and having to scroll through every single pair of pants they have for sale - chances are you will get annoyed, give up and go elsewhere.
- Are the prices clear?
Am I going to be sprung with hidden costs once I get to the final step of payment?
Does the price automatically update if I choose some custom options?
When do I find out how much shipping will cost?
The benefit of shopping in a store is that the clothes all have a price tag and you can look at that well before you march up to the register - and subtly put it back on the rack if it is way out of your price range!
Online shopping is similar in this sense as you can see what the prices are privately and decide what is going to fit within your budget. However, one of the most annoying things is when you finally decide on something you really want to buy, you have entered your credit card details in and you're about to press the big 'Buy Now' button and then realise it's going to cost you $100 in shipping to get 2 pairs of jeans! In all of your disappointment you most likely click the Cancel button and make a note that you'll never go back to that online store again.
Being up front with your costs is important for online stores as it can sway a customer into purchasing or cancelling. In a sense, shoppers are like baby deer - don't suddenly surprise them or they will run as fast as they can!
- Who are you dealing with?
Who is your target market? Does the design appeal to this demographic?
Does the ease of navigation suit this demographic?
If you were running an online clothing store for the more mature lady then you would want the store to be very easy to navigate, have a simple design with easy and clear to read text and to make sure that vital information, such as price, is easy to identify. You also wouldn't want bright flashing areas or images of young slender models who would never wear the garments you are advertising.
It's all about logic and perfecting the customer experience.
- How long does it take?
The idea with online shopping is that it is meant to be a fast process, meaning that you can sit down on the couch at home and have ordered 3 new pairs of jeans in 10 minutes. The longer it takes for customers to complete the process, the more likely they are to give up - the world has unfortunately become very impatient!
2. Be Device Compatible
Being mobile responsive or device compatible is basically a must when it comes to websites and online stores these days!
A lot of online shopping is done via mobiles and tablets due to their compact size being easier to transport. And how easy is it to just do some shopping on your phone whilst you sit on the bus on the way to work - it is a great way to pass the time!
So if your online store isn't responsive you are bound to lose a lot of customers as it is too difficult and incredibly frustrating to navigate through a non-responsive site on a mobile phone.
3. Watch Your Stock
Make sure to keep your stock levels up to date - there is nothing more annoying that ordering a product and processing your payment, only to receive an email 20 minutes later to say 'Sorry, that product is out of stock, we will have to issue you a refund'.
Likewise, make sure that your product prices and shipping rates are kept up to date both for the benefit of your customer and also your own profit margin.
Another way to make sure that your online store generates interest and a steady flow of customers is to make sure that you are changing your prices or updating offers. You may only need to have a new product or a promotion every month or 2... but it is enough to get people to come back to your store - and also gives you a topic for your next advertising campaign!
4. Stay up to Date
Whilst your online store may have been the bee's knees when you set it up and you made sure to carefully plan out the entire layout so that it was all logical and easy to use - the reality of the world is that everything changes and updates with time.
When it comes to the web, things are constantly being updated... you may have just purchased the latest software, but in a weeks’ time, the release date has been set for the next version. It just seems like you cannot win! However, it means that the world is constantly learning and evolving which is a good thing.
It is important to keep in touch with the latest online store technology updates to make sure that there isn't something you're missing out on. If you receive any notifications about certain updates or security changes for your online store, it is important to pass them onto your web developer as soon as possible and get a quote for performing any updates.
5. Get out and get social!
So you may think that having an online store excludes you from needing to focus on your direct customer service skills. No more needing to plaster on that fake smile when the 3-year-old is happily pulling all of your products off of the shelf and throwing them in every different direction. Meanwhile, their parent is happily browsing through the store, completely oblivious to how much work their little terror of a child is creating for you.
Whilst it does sound amazing to be able to forget about dealing with instances like that, there is a catch, and that is the lack of personal engagement and face to face contact can reduce the level of trust and guarantee between customer and retailer. That is where you need to step up in terms of your online marketing.
eNewsletter mail outs and social media are ideal platforms that you can use to market your online store. They are also great ways to set up direct links to your store so people can navigate there without needing to think.
Whilst you can focus on promoting your latest products and sale items to encourage the sales to come rolling in, you can also use these platforms as ways to connect with your customers and give them the 'human experience' that helps to develop that important bond.
It's all about balance.
You should partner the sales feed with other information that may engage customers, such as news relating to your business, your knowledge, quotes or anecdotes, customer reviews and feedback to help establish that all important trust factor. Keep it all relevant to the business, but don't get too personal - they don't need to know your life story.
So with that being said, the road to a successful online store can be a smooth one with the correct management - and really the bulk of the work is in the initial setup and making sure you have it right from the get go.
Remember: First Impressions Are Lasting Impressions!