Online Shopping has become an every day task. Billions are spent every year on almost everything you can think of. It’s not only physical goods that are sold through the internet, everyday services are also part of ecommerce. It’s now normal to buy more specialist services such as car insurance and plane tickets from a website instead of traditional brokers. It’s not just consumers this way of selling has affected, it’s been revolutionary for businesses too. They can now sell to anyone, anywhere. Online retail is definitely here to stay but how can you get the most out of your ecommerce site?
Benefits of Ecommerce
Let’s start by taking a look at the general benefits that ecommerce brings for both consumers and businesses.
The immediacy of online shopping goes a great way to attracting people. Customers can shop any time of the day, any day of the year. You can do your shopping from the comfort of your own home or anywhere that has internet access. This also benefits the seller as products can be displayed any time of day making standard business hours irrelevant.
Greater Choice and Variety
Ecommerce gives consumers a large range of retailers to choose from. It’s this choice that puts the power firmly in the hands of the consumer with other online shops only a mouse click away. Businesses can benefit from this market too, no longer are they restricted by geography or their location. An effective online business has the potential to reach customers all around the world.
The high level of choice and competition benefits users in the form of cheaper prices. Customers can compare prices ensuring they get the best deal, if they’re unhappy with the price from one website they can look else where. Businesses are able to save money as well by not having real shops and their associated running costs.
Not all ecommerce sites are the same, there’s more than one way to go about it. Also some models are better suited to one type of business more than others. You have to take into account the size of the business, how long it’s being operating and how well known it is. This might sound quite serious but for an online shopping site to be successful, the design needs to consider how the business works so it can be communicated.
Online Catalogues Websites
Online catalogues are similar to their paper equivalents but are able to provide more information by not being limited to physical space. The best known and most successful example of this model is Amazon. This model is what most people associate with ecommerce, where you can buy products anytime direct from the retailer.
Traditional catalogue retailers can move into online shopping easier than location based retailers. The business model is quite similar in that they should already have storage and delivery facilities. Compared with traditional paper catalogues, online catalogues offers some advantages though. The savings made from not printing catalogues is probably the most obvious. The content and product range of an online catalogue can be updated easily though a database. It also provides a more direct purchase mechanism as a shopping cart is usually integrated into the site’s product interface.
You don’t have to be a catalogue retailer to move into this market though. You’ll find that most well known shops use this model alongside their existing stores. This creates an extra platform for them to sell their goods from. Not all sales have to take place there and then; it can also be used to complement the shopping experience. The website gives consumers a chance to look over a product before they buy in store.
Online Auctions Websites
Internet auctions allow customers to buy from other customers, it cuts out the middlemen. This can empower the consumers as they’re doing business on their own terms with other like minded people. The most well known auction site by far is Ebay.
The main benefit of this type of business is you don’t need stock to sell or locations to store it. All products are being supplied, advertised, priced and delivered by the users and not the business. Auction sites make their money by taking a percentage of each transaction on their site.
The main drawback associated with auction sites is they can easily be misused. Most auction sites try to prevent fraud but there will always be a risk to the consumer. Criminals can use them to sell stolen goods for example, highly sought after items like concert tickets can appear almost instantly after going on sale at inflated prices. Counterfeited objects can be sold as the genuine article. Auction sites in particular need to build a high level of trust between themselves and the customers involved in the auctions.
Brochure sites are well suited to smaller businesses often dealing with fewer products or services. They provide all the relevant information about products and services but don’t allow customers to buy through the internet. Many operate by providing information about a product and encourage the consumer to get in touch to buy. They might have to order over the phone or actually go into an actual shop.
This can work against the business that may lose trade to rivals providing a full online service. On the other hand local business can benefit by having a more direct connection with consumers in their area. This also gives a more human connection for customers who deal directly with the retailer, creating a better level of trust.
Brochure sites work well in addition to a real shop. Often smaller in size the website can be used as a promotional tool to build interest and get customers into the shop. This is one of the most common sites web designers are likely to build due to the large amount of small businesses. The shop owner benefits in that a brochure is relatively low maintenance compared with other solutions.
Reserve and Collect
This model is used alongside the catalogue model. It allows customers to buy or reserve online but are able to pick up their order at a physical store. This model is suited to established businesses. Their brand name not only makes it easier to build an online presence but should also have an established chain of shops for items to be collected from.
This has benefits for both the consumers and businesses. Customers are able to pick up their goods at a time that suits them meaning they don’t have to worry about delivery times etc. Businesses benefits by not having to deliver the goods to the customer saving money on transport. It’s also a great way of speeding up transactions in stores as both the customer and retailer know beforehand that the transaction will take place.
The Customer is King
Like any other business the most important consideration for an online retailer should be its customers. It’s important to allow consumers to feel comfortable ordering from your website. You want people to buy from you not only once, but for them to come back again.
- The website should look professional.
If people think your site looks dodgy they’re unlikely to buy from it. Keep in mind that some people are still skeptical about buying online and worry about the risk of fraud. In particular the checkout area should be friendly and simple. Some users may be anxious about parting with their personal details so make it a pleasant experience.
- The interface should be easy to navigate.
This should be for all websites but is especially important for ecommerce sites. For larger catalogue websites, the search bar is a necessity so make it visible. Use categories to help organise products, users should be able browse effortlessly like they would in a real shop. People are there to buy, so make product prices clear to avoid user frustration. It also helps if you list any savings or offers alongside the price as an incentive for buying.
- Data collected during transactions and purchases can be used to provide extra services for customers.
By building a profile of a customer you can target them with specific products and offers that might be of interest to them. These Demographics don’t have to be made up of the traditional factors such as age, sex and earning capacity. Recommendations can be based on the customer’s previous purchases on the site. It’s not unusual for this approach to be used in follow up emails and newsletters.
- Remember that online shops can have a vast product range so it’s always worth highlighting the good stuff.
Returning visitors should be able to see items they were viewing on a previous visit tempting them into having another look.
- A strong customer service should also be provided.
If users are unsatisfied or want to return products, listen to their concerns and resolve problems to the best of your ability. In the long term a bad experience can be forgotten if you handle it correctly.
The Role of the Customer
Online shopping not only gives more choice to the user but also puts more emphasis on their involvement. Amazon and Ebay both make customer feedback a big part of their sites to make users a priority.
First by using a rating/review system, this allows potential customers to gain feedback from others about the product. Reviews and ratings by other customers can be seen as impartial and is a neutral way of encouraging users to buy. This creates additional product information to be displayed alongside products.
The second is that a community can be built around the web site. This makes the whole shopping experience far more engaging. It also helps users trust not only the products they’re buying but who they’re buying from. Ebay’s seller rating system for example provides a customer with some third party reassurance about who they’re buying from. This also gives users an incentive to come back and contribute their own review.
Building Consumer Loyalty
Building a loyal customer base is important for online businesses to succeed. Competitors are again only a click away and it’s loyalty to a business that may make them stick with you. Now that’s easier said than done, loyalty and trust have to be established over time. Just because someone has bought something from you one time, doesn't mean they will buy from you next time.
There are some obvious ways to encourage loyalty. The obvious one is to have lower prices and delivery costs than your rivals. Money will always be the primary motivation in a business transaction, a fact you just need to accept and use to your advantage. Providing a reliable service will also go some way to building loyalty. Customers who have had a good service or experience from your business before, will continue to come back because they trust you. This might again include regular low price deals but other factors may include the overall quality of your products and how long it takes for them to be delivered.
Sending out regular newsletters to alert consumers of new products and special offers will remind them of your service. This is also the time to thank them for their continued business and state any news that might interest them. Branding should also be used to strengthen the reputation and image of the website. This can create emotional connections with consumers making them believe you provide value and reliability.
Strong loyalty from customers will increase both your reputation and customer base. Word of mouth will always be the most effective form of advertising. If someone likes your website others will hear about it. The same goes for customer service as well, people will warm to a retailer if they handle their problems quickly and effectively.
Although different forms of ecommerce exist, it’s the similarities between them that are most important. At the heart of it all should be the customer. Make it easy for them; remember this is meant to be an easier alternative than going to the shops. Give them some power to contribute in the form of a review. Look after the customers you have and make them feel valued. Failure to think about them will drive them straight to your competitors only a mouse click away.
Have you designed or run an ecommerce site? What techniques do you use to build customer loyalty? How do you give more power to customers? Have you bought something from a website in an interesting way? Let us know below.