ABCs of Ecommerce Success

October 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Conversion, E-Commerce Optimization

One of my primary jobs as an ecommerce consultant is helping businesses turn the corner—increasing conversion and website sales. In doing so, I find that many stores I work with have the same things in common. Many feel they are doing the right thing with their website, they believe in their product and customers, and they believe that all they need is more traffic to increase sales.

It goes without saying that none of them are satisfied with their current results and expect more. They want to do better, they know they can, but they can’t seem to uncover what barrier is really holding them back. The one thing they all understand is that they need to change if they are to reach their goals—but many don’t know where to start. Do they focus on driving more traffic or redesigning the website, should they spend more to market to current customers or actively seek new customers? Do they rework pricing, keep pricing as is, or develop more powerful sales?

These are just some of the issues facing each and every business owner who wants to be better.

Turning a business around often begins with first knowing where to focus your efforts—and quite often that is not where one might think. Knowing where to start can be the difference in experiencing frustration or a feeling of accomplishment in moving toward your goal.

In my experience, most stores focus so heavily on traffic generation as a whole that they overlook the fact that the traffic must not only be from a qualified channel (one interested in what they sell), but that the website must be setup to speak to that channel in a way in which it has the bests chance of getting them to act.

These types think in terms of what I call the ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ mentality. Or in other words, they think so long as they attract enough traffic to their site, their product will sell itself, and the website is simply the channel by which that transaction can be made possible—and nothing more. This notion is a primary reason they often fail and feel frustrated by their efforts and is precisely what ends up resulting in higher than needed (wasted) expenses and lower sales—a recipe for disaster.

It’s great to feel so strongly about your product, but let me propose that the presentation of that is far more important than the product itself (assuming now that there is indeed a market demand for your product in the first place) and even so, it doesn’t matter how nice the appearance is, if I’m not interested in what you sell, you’re still not going to sell it to me.

Let’s take it from a different perspective to further illustrate. I’ll give you two more angles on it. You wouldn’t feel comfortable eating food from a diner—no matter how good the food was supposed to be—that had roaches actively and clearly crawling around on the floor would you? Furthermore, you likely wouldn’t be interested in entering a super clean diner that only served puréed baby food right?

Here is how I translate these to an online ecommerce store. Example one is the store owner who is so focused on traffic (getting people in the diner to eat) and so passionate about their product that they neglect the attention to detail needed (keeping the store clean) to sustain any quality of business.

Example two represents the store owner that keeps their store in shape yet markets their product(s) to anyone that is willing to click. This store owner may get a lot of traffic but it’s primarily consistent of window shoppers. The may take quick peak out of curiosity sake, but they never intended to buy from you because they weren’t qualified in the first place (many adults idea of a good meal isn’t feasting on puréed baby food.) And if running any PPC campaigns, every click you generate costs you more money.

Both businesses will fail because neither has approached it from the proper angle.

I propose the following general approach as a starting point to turn an ecommerce store around: ‘website’, ‘product’, ‘traffic’. Notice that in my approach I target traffic last. Here’s why.

The website is one of the main factors that will ultimately help the customer determine if they are going to buy your product or not, it’s not the product itself (this is especially true in competitive markets.) Without the needed elements that aid in usability and provide the customer with confidence, it doesn’t matter what you sell, you’re going to have a hard time selling it.

In the simplest terms (and this is very basic … there are far more factors involved to closing a sale), would you buy a product from a website that wasn’t secure? No matter how bad you needed it or wanted it I doubt you would—even if the product was a one of a kind.

So, the website acts as more than a ‘transaction processing center’. Its true role is to aid in supporting the entire customer experience which ultimately closes the sale and keeps them coming back for more.

After attention to the website is complete, the product focus comes next and this is because without a product you have nothing to market and no target to market to. You must understand how your customers use your product, how they interact with it, where they frequent, and what competitors also sell the same or similar product before you can accurately target them for marketing. A complete understanding of your product from all angles will help you speak to potential customers in your advertising, resulting in more qualified traffic, higher sales, and less expense.

Finally, in my approach I have the traffic. I never focus on traffic until all other elements are in place first—providing me the best opportunity at gaining the highest return on my advertising dollar (the investment needed to drive traffic to the site.)

At this point, with all other elements present, driving traffic makes sense. With the website in ‘conversion ready’ form, I now provide myself with the best opportunity at winning sales from my advertising efforts. Prior to this it wouldn’t have mattered if I drove ‘qualified’ traffic to the site, the likely hood of it resulting in a sale was slim (remember the diner with the roaches crawling on the ground?) You lose your appetite real quick in a place like that.

Yes, it takes more than just a few tweaks to really turn a business around, but starting with the right approach is often what is needed to jumpstart the process. Understanding change is needed is one thing, accepting that change is another.

In the next article I’ll address this same fundamental principle approach yet we’ll focus solely on the website itself and cover how you know where to focus your efforts to gain the biggest bang for your buck when engaging in a redesign.

The Perfect Cart Experience

Ask any number of shoppers what elements would need to be present to create the perfect cart experience and you’ll likely get a variety of different answers—what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

Although your site will see its share of different shopper demographics, there are a number of consistencies they all prefer and that should be in place if you are to have any chance of them buying from you. In this article I’ll outline a few consistencies all shoppers look for in the ‘perfect cart experience.’

The Perfect Cart Experience Checklist

  1. Make sure customers have a clear view of how to access their shopping cart from every page on your website. This means making a ‘shopping cart’ link or even showing them a summary of their cart contents at all times—not just if something is in their basket.

  2. Always display shipping costs and any tax applicable as soon as possible. Don’t make them wait to find that information out after they have already gone through a few steps in the checkout process. Doing this will yield frustrated customers and higher abandon rates.

  3. Give customers a choice of shipping options. Even if an order qualifies for free shipping (ground for example) based on some criteria you set, give the customer the opportunity to upgrade the shipping to a faster method (for an added charge) if desired.
    Free shipping is an excellent incentive and a powerful motivator, but don’t force a customer who qualifies for it to take it—they may want the item faster. Likewise, if they choose another shipping option, update the cart total to reflect that.

  4. Let the customer update and edit their cart directly from the shopping cart page. This has become pretty standard on all carts now, but I have run across a few that still make a customer click a link of a particular product, go to the product page, make your edits, and then updated.

    A ‘friendly’ shopping cart lets customers edit item quantities, remove items, alter attributes (product options), and more … all without leaving the actual shopping cart page.

  5. Prominently display any guarantees, privacy and security policies, throughout the site and frequently during the checkout process to build trust. Don’t just display them however; make sure you put them within plain view, especially in areas of POA (points of action.) Putting a secure shopping seal directly to the right of the space you ask your customer to enter their credit card information is far more effective than placing it at the bottom of the page.

  6. Implement a follow up system for abandoned carts. Abandoned carts are something that simply can’t be avoided all together. All ecommerce sites will experience them to varying degrees—no matter what they try. However, do not become satisfied that abandoned carts are ‘a part of doing business’ as some like to put it. Rather, institute a system to contact customers who abandon their cart and attempt to save the sale.

    A system like this offers several benefits. a) It offers you the ability to cash in on previously lost sales. b) If you approach it correctly and don’t recover the sale, you still may receive valuable feedback from the potential customer as to why they chose not to complete the sale—and it is this information you can use to better the cart experience for those that follow.

  7. Have at the very least, the following additional information (outside of the normal product price, photos, description, etc… that are expected) readily available on the product page. Stock / availability, shipping information (rates and times if possible), customer reviews, returns policies, any guarantees offered, payment methods accepted, live (or phone) help, security seals, ability to zoom in or see clear close-ups of product images.

  8. A customer service phone number (not just email) that is answered by a real human to provide assistance if needed.

  9. Provide the customer with the ability to save their cart and return later if desired (sometimes called a ‘wish list’.) Customers who may be shopping but not quite ready to buy for one reason or another will want to come back and easily find the item(s) the placed in the cart on their previous visit.

    Although at this point you may not have their information available yet to follow up with, it would be a good idea if you do have that information to implement a ‘wish list’ follow up type system to help nudge them toward the checkout if they do not purchase for a period of time.

  10. Offer some type of loyalty or rewards program.

  11. Has a simple yet intuitive categorical structure and associated navigation. Narrow your top level categories so that they provide a solid framework for listing sub-categories below them. For example, rather than use the following top level navigation on a site that sells electronics:

    • TVs
    • Digital TV Converters
    • Portable TVs
    • Phones
    • Stereo Receivers
    • Stereo Antennas

    It would be better to narrow the top level categories to read as follows with the sublevels under them:

    • TVs
      • Digital TV Converters
      • Portable TVs
    • Phones
    • Audio
      • Stereo Receivers
      • Stereo Antennas
  12. Provide the customer with multiple methods of accessing (searching for) the same product data from various angles on the site and allow them to access it in as few clicks as possible. Here’s an example.

    If you sold coffee on the internet and one of the coffees you sold was a dark bold roast flavor by brand “XXX” then it would be smart to allow customers to access this particular coffee using the following groupings: Shop Bold Coffees, Shop Dark Roasts, Shop by Brand.

    People search for items different ways and catering to those habits helps them shop with you.

  13. Prominently display any sales, offers, or discounts that may be of interest to your shoppers.

  14. Offer multiple payment methods for the customer to choose from when ordering, including PayPal.

  15. Send out instant notifications upon the customer successfully completing an order (order receipt) as well as a notification when the item has shipped (including tracking information.)

  16. Offer the ability to checkout as a guest for those that may want to do so.

At the end of the day it’s all about making it easy for shoppers to do business with you and keeping your customers happy. Lowering cart abandonment rates and increasing sales starts with realizing what consistencies are desired—no matter the age, gender, or preference—among all shoppers. It’s human nature to want these items of ‘comfort’ and making them accessible to your visitors is what creates the ‘perfect cart experience.’

5 Strategies to Turn Shoppers Into Buyers

September 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Conversion

Many online store owners have the impression that all they have to do is attract more traffic and the sales rise. Stores with this mentality often increase marketing spend in an effort to drive more traffic yet they soon find out that the effort did indeed generate more traffic, but resulted in no more sales and thus wasted dollars.

They can’t help but ask the question “what’s missing?”

Well as I’ve mentioned before, turning visitors (shoppers) into sales (buyers) isn’t always about the traffic. It is a combination of the right traffic mixed with the proper on-site alterations which actually generates the sales.

Here are 5 strategies to help you turn those visitors into buyers.

1. The Foundation is the Key.
The remaining points will mean nothing if you don’t have a solid foundation. This is the most overlooked aspect of the sites I run across yet involves some of the most basic and necessary elements.

Foundation is built upon knowing your customer and designing your site accordingly. Easy-to-follow navigation, easy-to-use checkout process, readily available customer service links, quality content, etc… These all build a foundation that enables your customer to do their job and buy your product. A weak foundation won’t hold the weight of a successful site and before long the cracks in that foundation will expand and the site will crumble.

Before you do anything else, step back and ensure your foundation is built to address your ideal customer needs. Doing so will ensure future efforts get rewarded.

2. Let Website Analytics Guide You.
I’m big on analytics. You cannot build a lasting business without knowing exactly how it is performing. Analytics gives you the data needed to make informed decisions, without it you’re a canoe floating upstream without a paddle.

Just having analytics in place though is not enough. You must gather data you can then take action upon and implement into the site to improve its performance. I see too many store owners with a desire to make changes to their site based on what I call blind faith. They have no real reason for suggesting the changes, just a hunch that making them will hopefully alter the current course of their business – preferably for the better.

You can’t keep analytics a secret from your customers. What do I mean by this? In short, if you learn something from your analytics about what can be improved on your site, what good is it if you don’t make the improvement? Taking what you learned and then implementing that on the site is revealing your analytics to your visitors.

Here is an example of an analytic metric that you can learn from and that should not stay hidden from your customers.

a) Best Selling Items. Many store owners just let this run over time. The best selling item often becomes the item that has been on the site the longest (newer items that might be really hot sellers get out weighed by older items which have more sales based upon duration of time on site.) Consider adding a limit to your best sellers based on a date range. For example, best sellers over the past 3 or 6 months. This will provide more relevant results to your customers and help boost sales.

b) Top On-Site and Off-Site Search Terms. If you have an onsite search option within your site it’s easy to track the data gathered from that single portion of your site. Turn on Google Analytics Site Search and viola. Instant reporting on everything that is being searched upon on your site. For off site search you have the ability built into analytics to find out what keywords visitors used to arrive at your site.

With each of these you have the ability to drill down even further to determine the sales generated from each.

What can you do to bring these results forward to your site? You can alter your categories and navigation to include some of these search terms in an effort to help your visitors find what they are looking for faster. An example would be to find the most searched upon terms and develop navigational elements that revolve around them. If you sell shoes and “tennis shoes” is a very popular search term on your site, consider adding a very prominent link to your “tennis shoes” category (using that term) rather than making your visitors drill down to that category from a top level category of “shoes”.

3. Provide Optimized Landing Pages.
I’m not talking about search engine optimized pages here. I’m talking about optimizing them in such a way that the traffic which arrives at them is more able to take action. That action can be adding an item to their cart, starting the checkout process, reading the information they need about the product to determine if it will suit their needs, and more.

One example of this is to watch your page titles. I see this most often neglected on advanced search results pages. A customer performs a search for ‘tennis shoes’ and they arrive at a page which is titled ‘search results’. Yes, the results listed are (hopefully) shoes that can be used for playing tennis; however, we can further optimize this page in an effort to increase conversion. One way to begin optimizing this page would be to change the title dynamically to ‘Tennis Shoes’ (rather than the bland ‘search results’.) Doing this increases relevancy in the visitors eyes, and relevancy is a key to them taking action.

Landing page optimization is critical, but plays even a bigger part when running any pay per click campaigns. You’ll increase conversion and quality scores with more relevant landing pages. Higher conversion at a lower cost. It can be accomplished but only with optimized landing pages.

Imagine paying for search traffic that is on the keyword “tennis shoes” and then sending that traffic to the home page, or some other page on your site (like an advanced search results page) without an optimized title. The instant relevancy connection needed for the visitor to stay engaged is lost when optimization is not present and the conversion results are typically ugly as well.

4. Engage Visitors With Decision Making Content.
Any cart can deliver a product page and any store owner can provide a product description. But how many can provide a product page that contains the necessary content to persuade the visitor to make a purchase? There is a big difference.

An engaging product page (for the example here) offers information to the visitor that helps them make an informed decision. A mere product description listing the specs of a product won’t cut it. You need more and visitors want more. Here are some ideas to help your product pages deliver decision making content.

a) Ensure all product descriptions offer customer benefits (bullet point fashion often works well for this.) A benefit is different from a specification. A benefit tells the customer how using the product can help them fill the void they seek in looking for this product in the first place. A specification simply lists physical characteristics of the product itself.

For our tennis shoe example a specification would be “Size 9”. A benefit would be “Air cushioned form fitting sole providing long lasting comfort during strenuous matches, on all surfaces.”

b) Get current customers involved. Include current customer reviews of the product and even consider letting customers add video of them using the product. Customers who provide ways they are using the product and how it has benefited them will go a long way toward the decision making process for new visitors. A lot of stores neglect this important aspect.

One way of generating more reviews is to solicit them via email. Plan a follow-up system for contacting current customers and asking them to review the product. A great approach to this is to ask them how they are enjoying the product and if there are any questions you can answer for them. Then come out and ask them to review it (provide a link back to your site) so that other potential shoppers can learn from it.

5. Refine search through drill down based on customer search habits.
I mentioned the importance of on-site search and landing page relevancy early on. Another aspect of search that shouldn’t be overlooked would be giving your visitors the ability to further refine (or start) their search based on the way they buy your product.

Back to the tennis shoe example. Letting visitors search by ‘type of shoe’ is one obvious form. You offer athletic shoes for all types of activity. Basketball, softball, soccer, etc… so it’s natural for your visitors to need the ability to search or refine based on type.

However, type is not always enough. The ability to further understand your customer habits could help you evolve your search to include options like ‘search by size’, ‘search by color’, ‘search by material’ (leather vs. canvas), ‘search by brand’, and more. Understanding how your customers use the product can further enhance this. Knowing how the product is used might lead to a ‘search by court surface’ (in the case of tennis shoes.)

The thing to remember here is that understanding your customers and segmenting accordingly will further help when you look for ways to boost your conversion.

These 5 strategies are just a small sampling of the large number of options you need to consider for turning shoppers into buyers. Because all markets and businesses are different, ideally you should develop a priority list of which aspects need the most attention and fit within your overall objective.

Results will vary based on any number of outside factors and what works with one store may not work in another. Gather your benchmarks for comparison purposes and don’t be afraid to test anything that comes to mind. Just be ready to take action based on the results you find – no matter what that action may be.

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