ABCs of Ecommerce Success – Part 2

In part one of The ABCs of Ecommerce Success I outlined some important thinking which I consider makes up some very basic foundational elements of a successful ecommerce business. I talked about how many stores adopt a ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ (TPW) mentality and how falling into this trap can often end up hurting your business before it ever has a chance.

For those that may not have read that article, my ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ mentality proposes that stores believe all they need is traffic and if they drive enough traffic to their site, their product will sell itself. They believe the website is simply the channel by which that transaction can be made possible—nothing more.

I proposed this thinking wrong and said that presentation was far more important than any other factor—at least initially. Everyone has heard that ‘image is everything’, and that saying couldn’t hold more true than on the internet where the primary means a potential customers users to gather information in an effort to make a buying decision begins with their eyes.

Yes, with the advent of video we can stretch this. But the primary way people determine if they are interested or not in a product / company is with their eyes. Pictures, copy, layout, pricing, it all has to first pass by the eye before it ever reaches another part of the potential consumer.

So if the way to a consumer is through their eyes, then why do I find so many stores trying to sell their products with unusable, outdated, and often poorly designed sites? It makes no sense that these companies feel all they need is more traffic and their sales will increase—a false assumption that should now make perfect sense why.

My proposition is that the way to approach it if you want to find success should be thinking in terms of ‘website’, ‘product’, ‘traffic’ (WPT)—with traffic coming in last on the list. First you refine the look of the website, you refine the presentation of the product, and then you drive the traffic. With this approach, providing you let marketing and customers drive design, you should end up with a foundation that is built upon the proper principles and which is ready to convert the traffic you are driving to it.

This is all well and good, but many are going to ask, great, what happens once they get to your website? “I realize the thinking and it makes sense, but how do we apply that to the site itself? Where do we start with our efforts to get the biggest bang for out buck?”

This is a great question, and is the primary question I’ll answer using the same conceptual approach as the ‘WPT’ illustration.

When a user arrives at a website they follow what should be a pre-defined path based on their demographic profile. While traveling the path they go through a series of pages until they reach the end of their journey and either make a decision to buy, or leave. The path they travel should be well planted with information that enables them to complete what are called micro actions all leading up to the actual sale or macro action.

Understanding that a site is compromised of both micro and macro actions on multiple levels and at varying points, as well as understanding the role of each will help you identify the answer to your question “where do I start?”

In working with store owners / operators, I teach them to think in terms of each page on a website having one primary job (yet multiple sub jobs—these are the micro actions of the page itself.) Much like building a house in that each element has a job to perform which is often dependant on another for the completed project to work as it was intended (the macro action is completed.)

In other words, you don’t start building a house by working on the roof first. You need supporting structure to hold that roof if it is to perform its job as expected. Likewise you don’t begin building the walls without some type of support to put them on first (i.e. the cement foundation.) Each portion of the house has its individual role (job) and they all perform together to accomplish the primary objective. But without these items all performed in the proper order, the entire structure is in jeopardy of failing.

A site should be looked at no differently. When attempting to make incremental design changes in an effort to boost productivity of the site, you need to first determine and understand what areas of the supporting structure are weakest if you are to strengthen the complete package. There is really only one place you should get this data from, and that is within your analytics reporting. Objective data doesn’t tell lies, that is, assuming you have your analytics installed correctly of course.

Take this fairly typical path as one example. Mind you that the path could start at a product or category page if traffic enters there however, the path I presented here is a fairly common path that many visitors follow and thus we’ll use it for illustrative purposes.

The path we’ll examine for increasing productivity is that for the visitor(s) who enter at the home page, proceed to the category page, proceed to the product page, and then proceed to the checkout process. This is a very high level depiction and again, is for simple illustrative purposes in helping you understand where and why you should begin your efforts at one spot versus another.

Taking this path into account let’s apply some analytic figures to it. For this example let’s say that the overall website bounce rate is 85%, the exit rate at the category page is 30%, the exit rate at the product page is 25%, and the shopping cart abandonment during the checkout process is 50%.

Many stores I find would dive right into the shopping cart abandonment as the problem and thus focus efforts there first—not a bad idea for picking up quick sales, however; in our scenario this would not be a good starting point for increasing overall site productivity. In fact, more often than not, stores in this situation who I find focus their efforts on the shopping cart abandonment as the sole problem end up discouraged to find that although they have streamlined the checkout, the sales have not increased to the levels they expected.

The lack of increase makes sense if you consider ‘building the house the proper way.’

In other words, our problem of an 85% bounce rate is far more of an issue than the checkout abandonment at the moment. If visitors who arrive at our site leave at the same point they arrive without going any further (in our example the home page) then focusing efforts deeper in the process (i.e. the checkout) is not going to increase sales. Putting it bluntly, if the majority of visitors are not making it beyond the home page, then they aren’t even getting to the checkout process and thus focusing efforts there first isn’t going to strengthen the ultimate outcome.

Likewise, making alterations to the product level page without consideration given to the category page will do you no good. You must first concentrate your efforts to those areas of the funnel which are preventing your visitors from completing the micro actions required to ultimately achieve the macro action. Let your analytics be your guide in determining where to focus efforts at any given moment.

Success does not come from making random changes and taking estimated shots in the dark. Success comes from making incremental changes based on measurable and objective results then having the ability to weight the impact those changes have in reaching your goal.

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.’

The Impact of Color on Consumer Buying

The psychological effect of color on the mind is powerful. It drives your mood, perception, your likes and dislikes. As a human, colors effect is programmed into you, and you really have little to say about it.

We know colors can provide visual appeal and influence buyer behavior. Use them properly and you can reap rewards, use them wrong and you could be sending a message to your visitors to stay clear.

For many years, mountains of market research have been performed to identify various colors and color combinations along with the likely effect they have upon shopping habits. Big retailers spend millions on to testing colors effect on consumers because they know it has a huge affect on how their products are perceived. A look at some of the top retailers online might show some strikingly similar uses of color.

Keep in mind that although it would be a good bet the top competitors have a firm line on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to color, it should be noted that simply duplicating those with the thought it has to work is not the best idea. The effects of color differ among different cultures. As a result, the attitudes and preferences of your specific target audience should be taken into careful consideration while planning the design of any promotional materials.

Now let me ask you a few simple questions. When you designed your website, what colors did you use? Did you choose your colors because you liked them, because your designer said to use them, or for some other reason? Did you consider your target market and product before you considered a color combination?

The colors you chose influence visitors arriving to your site this very moment –whether it influences them positively or negatively depends on the color selection you ended up with (and even that should be continually tested.)
For example, studies show that impulse shoppers tend to respond best to red-orange, black and royal blue colors while shippers who plan and stick to a specific budget respond best to pink, teal, light blue and navy. Traditionalists respond to pastels such as pink rose and sky blue.

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that red is most often used in conjunction with sales and promotions. Why? First and foremost, red draws attention. Secondarily, a good promotion typically creates a feeling of urgency (adding a time limit to the promotion really drives this point home) and need or desire (red is often associated with passion or excitement.) Thus the red helps drive home the need for ‘immediate action’ (impulse) in the mind of the consumer—in turn, increasing response.

Red is a good color choice to use for just about any site when it comes to promotions. However, designing a site that is compromised primarily of red colors when you are trying to sell products relating to children is probably not the best idea. Have you ever noticed that toys, books and children’s web sites (not ecommerce) usually contain large blocks of bright, primary colors? Young children prefer these colors and respond more positively than they do to pastels or muted blends. But in ecommerce, developing a site based primarily on these colors because kids like them would miss the target. The children are not the ones shopping the site. Their parents and grandparents are.

So with that in mind, you might be selling books for children but you are marketing to grandparents and parents. The books you sell might be designed in bright, primary colors (reds, blues, yellows) to appeal to the children who use them. However, your marketing materials (including the website) should be designed with grandparents/parents in mind and thus you might decide to go with blues (trust, reliability), pinks (nurture, sweet, security) and yellows (happy, playful) as your pallet of choice.

On the other hand, if you run an adult website you may want to consider reds and blacks as they are thought to convey sexual connotations (a full list of colors and their effects on mood is presented below.) But never overdue it on one color as doing so can completely reverse the impact subtle use could have.

Take for example the colors black, gray and silver. Black on a site in the right locations can convey a sense of luxury. Silver conveys prestige, and gray—sophistication and affluence. Ever notice that luxury cars in commercials are often gray? The reason is because we know from studies that gray is associated with affluence. So when you see a Lexus in some commercial they don’t even have to use the word affluence in the script, simply showing the car in that color gets the message across.

Having said that, let me ask you how many ecommerce sites you arrive at that use black backgrounds in conjunction with heavy black elsewhere? I suspect not many. This is because overuse of one color can sometimes have the opposite effect. Using the luxury car example and taking into consideration the attitudes, preferences, and status of the target market in question, an overuse of black would make the site appear unprofessional, hard to read, and dark—not the message you intended, and certainly not the message your target audience is looking for. In this case, overuse of color may cause what could have been an otherwise qualified prospect to be turned off and leave.

Below I’ve listed a number of colors that are associated with certain qualities or emotions in North American mainstream culture. Use this as a guide to your own marketing.

Red: Excitement, Strength, Sex, Passion/Love, Anger, Vigor, Danger

If you want to draw attention, use red. It is often where the eye looks first. Red is not a good color to over use but using a spot of red in just the right locations(s) is smart in most cases.

Yellow: Knowledge, Joy, Intellect, Youth, Happiness, Energy, Warmth, Sunshine

Green: Fertility, Wealth, Healing, Success, Growth, Nature, Fresh, Relaxation, Abundance

White: Purity, Healing, Perfection, Clean, Virtue, Mild

Look at the colors of various soap products. You see a lot of white. You wouldn’t likely be drawn to buying soap that was black in color—even if it did clean your clothes.

Blue: Knowledge, Trust, Wisdom, Dependability, Reliability, Tranquility, Calm, Peace, Cool

Blue is often listed as the most popular color. Other conveyed meanings are steadfastness, and loyalty.

Black: Fear, Secrecy, Formal, Luxury, Sophistication, Elegant, Seductive

Black is a serious color that evokes strong emotions; it is easy to overwhelm people with too much black so be careful when using it.

Purple: Royalty, Wisdom, Spirituality, Dignity, Imagination

Orange: Creativity, Invigoration, Unique, Stimulation, Playfulness, Warmth, Vibrant

Orange is often used to make products that are high priced look more inviting—stimulate—because psychologically it makes them seem more affordable.

Gray: Balance, Sophistication, Affluence, Neutrality, Uncommitted

Too much gray will lead to feelings of mostly nothing; but a touch of gray can add a rock solid feel to your product.

Pink: Soft, Sweet, Nurture, Security

Gold: Prestige, Expensive

Silver: Prestige, Cold, Scientific

So how can you put this information to use? I’ve provided a short guide below to get you started.

Quick Guide to Marketing thru Color

1. Know Your Market
What culture are they? What race are they? Are they young? Old? High income? Low income? Male or female? You’ll need to speak their color language to build a relationship.

2. Research the Market
Market research and testing is of vital importance. If you are serious about maximizing your profits, research your target market’s color responses. Design several versions of the site, and test those designs on the target market.

Also, solicit feedback and make changes if needed. Your aim is to use colors to build a website with which your target market relates.

3. Watch the Top Retailers
Top online retailers spend millions on color research so you don’t have to. Watch the top selling etailers to see any emerging trends.

4. Use Safe Colors
Unless you’re dealing with an already strong brand, stick with safe colors. Trying to develop a new brand around colors that don’t traditionally work in selling isn’t the best idea.

So you see color has a much broader impact than one might believe on the ability to sell your product. Keep with the marketers mind and remember to continually test everything. I’ve seen a simple change of color on an “add to cart” button (keeping all other elements constant) have a positive impact on the conversion rate (in this case adding the item to the cart) and result in higher sales (providing the checkout process is setup to close the sale.)

When you look at your website and marketing materials what message is it sending to your target? Do the colors portray the image and message you intended or is there something else being said?

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