Building eCommerce Websites That Work - Part 1
You want to succeed at eCommerce? Welcome to a very big family. Right off, let's be clear - there are lots of ways to do business on the internet. And lots of ways to both make and lose money. Successful eCommerce websites come in all shapes, kinds and colors and while I can't cover every type of site in this series, I will present the basics you need to consider and apply for an eCommerce web site to be successful.
Let's begin by assuming you have some of the fundamentals, that you understand the language and that you are serious. I'm not going to tell you how to set up a web site or get a decent hosting account. We're beyond those basics. The basics here are the factors which will influence the success (or failure) and the degree of success your eCommerce web site experiences.
First and foremost, you need to provide value for your customers. Absurd as it seems to have to repeat that, a lot of so-called eCommerce sites provide no or very little value for their visitors. Pretending to offer value is not the same thing as providing value. Promoting miserably written, hackneyed, cloned ebooks filled with questionably useful and/or outdated content doesn't make a high value web site. Sure you might make some money. Once. And you'll end up with a high refund rate - and an unhappy credit card processor. That path means you're taking advantage of inexperienced customers and abusing their willingness to trust you. This isn't the way to a long-term business with steady repeat customers.
Value on the net is not very different from any kind of off-line retail sales -- a quality product line that will attract potential customers and a competitive price that will lead to purchases. An honest, quality product that will meet the expectations you've created in your buyers. Hyped junk just doesn't cut it.
Next, you've got to have a smooth, user-friendly, easy to follow process all the way to your thank you page. The simpler, cleaner and clearer you can make the process, the better. Where it makes sense you can augment this user-responsive site profile by adding live-response chat.
If you do decide to use call-in or live chat, it's imperative that your operators be well-trained, understand your products and your system and be customer friendly. This can be a problem if you outsource. The less expensive out-source call centers can turn out to be very expensive in terms of lost sales and customers who never come back.
You'll need to check very carefully and be 100 per cent certain the operators actually speak and understand the primary language(s) of your targeted customer group. You'll need to provide extensive background information and highly flexible, well-written scripts.
You should collect your own customer evaluations - separately. Don't rely exclusively on any monitoring or customer satisfaction surveys provided by the call center. Track your ROI to be sure it's money well-spent. Don't stop monitoring just because the results looked good for the first two or three months. Things change. Make sure you're tracking desired actions linked to the call center separately from those NOT related to call-in or live chat. Mixing outcomes leaves you in the dark about what's really happening.
You probably should have an attractive website. An ugly site can work, but to do that you need to absolutely know exactly what you're doing and why it should work. And you'll have to test like crazy to optimize (of course, you should be doing that anyway). The ugly site tactic is not for the inexperienced. Very few individuals really have the grasp of marketing, market and customer psychology that makes for a successful "ugly" site.
To provide a pleasant experience, you need to be careful in what you use - colors, text-size, graphics, animation and white space can add value to your site or turn it into a user nightmare. Test your site with people who will tell you the truth. Just because you love it doesn't mean anyone else will. In general, aiming for a professional appearing site is your best option. Look for the highest ranked, busiest sites in your business area and study the layouts they use. Extract the common features that you see on those sites. While other factors heavily influence traffic and ranking, appearance has a strong effect on visitors and sites that do testing evolve toward optimizing visitor behavior.
Keep in mind that a site's desired actions affect the design and layout. You'll want to study sites where those actions are most similar to the desired actions you target on your web site. If your goal is direct product sales, there's not much point in emulating a site that's optimized for newsletter sign-ups or AdSense.
If your main goal is direct sales (and if it is, then you need backend products too), provide incentives for customers to buy AND to return. The return factor is critical to a long-term strategy for success. Anyone who buys is your best possible future customer. Keep them, track them, make them special offers. Use coupons, discounts, special deals, customer-only offers and back end sales. Your customer base is your gold mine. Since they've shown enough faith in you to buy, do your utmost to never damage that faith. Treat them like the priceless resource they are. Think long-term: successful eCommerce websites are all about value and customer service.
Copyright 2005 Richard Keir
Richard teaches, trains and consults, on and off-line, on business and professional presentations, eCommerce, site building and programming. And writes a lot. Visit http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites.com for articles, information, resources and links and check our blog at http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites/blog for opinion and ideas.
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