eCommerce 101: Why Should I Buy From You?

With a 5 month old baby I’ve found I’ve been gravitating to baby and children’s clothing websites – although my hubby doesn’t need to know that. ;-) In my browsing  I have discovered that there are hundreds of gorgeously designed sites with heaps of beautiful clothes and accessories. Far too many to buy from even if I wanted to. And the baby market is not alone in the competition stakes, most online niches face the same dilemma. So I got to thinking – how do you stand out? What can you do to differentiate yourself from your competitors? How do you make sure you get the online shopper’s dollars and not some other online store? The following article will provide you with tips and advice to help your online store stands out from the crowd.

The Basics

The first step is to make sure your site is built in a way that is easy and engaging for prospects to use so we’ll start with the basics.

Design & Usability

I feel this is almost too obvious but with the amount of poorly built sites out there I guess it’s not. A well designed website that is easy for your prospects to use is a must. A website that looks professional instills confidence in potential customers and reassures them that they can buy from you safe in the knowledge that their goods will be what they wanted and arrive on time. It tells them that they are dealing with a professional company. A company whose products are of high quality, who answers correspondence promptly and who ships goods quickly.

The usability, or ease-of-use of your website is equally important. If the site is hard to use, information difficult to find, or confusing to navigate your prospective customers will go to the next website on their list. One of the best ways to test the usability of your website is to watch friends and family as they use your site. Set them a task of finding and purchasing a specific item and watch as they perform the task. Things to look out for include:

  • Can they find what they are looking for quickly?
  • Do they have to keep backtracking through the site?
  • Does the site search return relevant results? Any results?
  • Can they easily view enlarged images of the products?
  • Are the images of high quality? Do they represent the products well?
  • Are they able to easily add items to their shopping cart?
  • Is the checkout easy to use?

As well as the above ask for their feedback and then make changes based on your findings.

Design and usability is the place to start. If you get this right you’ll have a better chance at converting the people who browse your website into buyers.

Shipping & Returns Information

Provide clear shipping and returns information and make sure it is prominently displayed on your site. Customers want to easily see whether you ship to their location, what it will cost them to do so and how you handle returns if there is a problem. Don’t hide this down the bottom in a link, make sure it is clear and easy to see on every page of the site.

Testimonials

Finally, make sure to display testimonials from happy customers throughout your website. There is no better way to show prospective customers that they can confidently buy from you than with positive feedback from people who already have. Include a wide variety of testimonials including ones that focus on the site’s ease of use, quality of product, speed of shipping and fast resolution of issues when they arise. In a nutshell include testimonials that cover all aspects of the buying process.

Added Extras

Once you’ve got the basics right it’s time to go that extra mile to entice those prospects to buy from you. Remember you’re not the only eCommerce site that is well designed and easy to use. Here are just some of the ways you can entice shoppers to buy from you.

Shipping & Delivery Specials

In my experience many a shopping cart has been abandoned near the end of the checkout process due to the shipping rates. Expensive shipping, and I mean expensive in the eyes of the shopper, is a real turn off. So reward your customers. Offer free shipping if they spend over a certain dollar amount.

Fast Shipping

And when I say fast I mean super fast. Overnight if possible. We’re an impatient lot and if you read the same mags I do we want instant gratification. So there’s nothing worse than ordering something online and waiting forever for it to arrive. And believe me forever can be 4 days. So try and offer next day shipping. And don’t punish your customers by charging the earth for it.  Trust me next day, reasonably priced shipping will increase your sales dramatically.

Quantity Discounts

If you sell a products that people can buy in quantity consider offering a discount the more they buy. It’s a great way to encourage larger orders as let’s face it we all love to think we’ve saved money. Even if we had to spend twice as much in the first place to get that discount.

Loyalty Schemes

Another great way to attract customers and make sure they become repeat customers is to offer a loyalty scheme. Offer a percentage discount which increases on every order – capped at a certain amount – for life. You’ll find people will want to make more purchases with you to get to the magic capped amount. And then they will continue to shop with you, not your competitors, as that’s where they get their discount. Now that’s loyalty.

Trial Packs

Do you offer a product that people may want to try before buying? If so consider selling trial packs at a cheaper rate to encourage people to try your products. Slip in a discount coupon for their next order and you’re sure to get their business.

Reward Purchases

Following on from the above, reward people who order from you by giving them a discount on their next order. Most eCommerce systems will allow you to offer a percentage or flat discount amount.

Encourage Word of Mouth

Finally, we all know that one of the best ways to promote your business is to have happy customers tell their friends about you. So reward them by offering a scheme such as “Tell A Friend” whereby the referrer receives a gift certificate to use against their next order for every friend they refer to you.

In many ways the online world is no different to the offline world. Businesses who offer good products and excellent customer service and are able to market themselves smartly will be the ones who succeed and do well online. So don’t just put up an eCommerce site and hope for the best. Work hard and be smart and reap the rewards.

That’s it for me. I’m off to do a bit of online shopping as my DS (darling son in net speak) needs some more cute stuff. ;-) Continue reading eCommerce 101: Why Should I Buy From You?

Form Usability Is Important

So I’ve been trying to fill out an important online form for my bank all morning. And I am completely and utterly frustrated. It’s completely unusable. I’ve now had to call three times and I’m about to give up which means lost business for the bank.

When using online forms on your website, especially ones geared towards prospects and customers, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that they work. You’d think that was obvious but apparently not as I come across these sorts of errors often.

So test your forms. Test them again. Test them regularly. Have your staff test them. If certain characters are not accepted in them say so. If you require things such as phone numbers in certain formats say so. And have your phone number in a prominent position so that if people still have trouble they can call you for help.

Let’s face it in this economy you probably want all the business you can get so don’t lose it by making silly mistakes.

To Captcha Or Not To Captcha

Like many businesses we have online forms on our website to make it easy for prospects to get in touch with us. Unfortunately like many businesses this means we also get a lot of spam. Did I say a lot? I mean a ton. It’s frustrating and takes time to be cleared out of the in-box each day. So much so that my husband and I have discussed adding a captcha option to our forms.

If you’ve not heard of captcha before I’m sure you’ll remember a time you’ve filled out a form online and had to enter some funny looking characters before you could submit it. I also suspect you had to fill it out a few times because they never seem to be accepted first go. Now I don’t know about you but this frustrates the heck out of me – I just want to submit a form – why are you making it so difficult?

So I suspect you know what we decided. Not to captcha. Its a fantastic idea, and definitely has some uses, but why should we make our prospective clients lives that much harder to make our lives easier? It just doesn’t make (business) sense.

The Importance of Website Usability

When most people hear the words “website usability” their eyes glaze over and their attention wanders. But as a concept it’s really not that hard to grasp and if you do you’ll be rewarded with online success you’ve only dreamed about.

What is Website Usability?

The definition of “website usability” is: “The ease with which a User Interface can be used by its intended audience to achieve defined goals. Usability incorporates many factors: design, functionality, structure,

information architecture, and more.”. (Source: sitepoint.com) Put in more reader friendly terms I like to define website usability as having a website that prospects can use – it’s easy for them to figure out what the site is about, find what they’re looking for and carry out tasks – easily. Emphasis on easily.

7 Common Usability Blunders

Usability incorporates more areas that I can cover in this article however by ensuring the following elements in your website are usable will go a long way in ensuring your online success:

1. Confusing Navigation

There’s nothing worse than when a user has to guess what a navigation label means, or worse, click and realises what they thought they were clicking on has no relation to what they have landed on. Confusing navigation causes frustration and increases the likelihood of the user giving up and going to your competitor’s website instead.

Users want a website’s navigation to guide them, easily, through your website to the information they are looking for. Review your website’s navigation for the following:

1. Do the words used in the navigation meet users expectations? If a user clicks on “Contact Us” for example they would expect to find information on the various ways they could contact you. It’s also important to avoid “clever” words which force the user to guess what they will find if they click on the link.

2. Does your website utilise common navigational elements? Over time some navigation elements have become almost standard. For example most websites would contain some, if not all, of the following:

  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Site Map

Where possible use standard terms to describe navigation and sections as it will make your users life a lot easier.

3. Is your navigation grouped into logical sections? For example Admin type links, such as Privacy Policy, Copyright and Site Map, can be grouped together.

4. Is your navigation consistent? It’s important to ensure your main navigation is consistent in location, ordering and design. Having it change throughout the website will cause confusion and frustration. Think of it like a supermarket – you may visit a store in a different location to what you are used to but no doubt the layout will generally remain consistent.

2. Inconsistent Design

Whatever page of your website a user is on you want to ensure that they know they are on your site. Using

consistent design elements such as logos, colours, layout and fonts will help you to achieve a consistent look and feel. Similarly ensure that your website has the same written “voice” throughout.

3. Illegible Fonts

The use of hard to read fonts, or font colours of similar contrast to the background colour, can make it hard for your users to read your website. Make sure the fonts and background colours you choose are easy to read and offer a good contrast.

Similarly think about the size of the fonts you will be using. Your target audience should help guide you to the right decision. A website targeting the teen market could get away with a smaller font than one targeting an elderly audience who’s eyesight is failing.

4. Unusable Forms

It is vital to design your forms with your target audience in mind. This will help you ensure that your prospect finds the form easy to understand and complete, avoiding form frustration which can often lead to them giving up.

When designing your forms think about your target audience – is it Australian, local, International or a combination? Your audience will help you to determine what standards do you need to apply in terms of address information such as zip code or postcode, country codes, phone number formats and so on.

It’s also a good idea to think about what information you want to make mandatory and what can be optional. Sometimes asking for too much information can scare off the user. Likewise if the form stretches over a few pages clearly note how long the form is and what point the user is in the filling out process – eg Page 2 of 4. This gives the user an idea of what is required, how long the process is and what step they are up to.

5. Badly Implemented Search

How often do you try searching for something using a website’s search function and end up tearing your hair out? Sadly it’s a common problem. I would almost prefer a website to have no search engine than a badly implemented one.

Think of it this way, if someone is searching for something you are selling you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find it. For this reason it’s vital your website has a good search engine that can handle typos, hyphens, plurals and search term variations. In addition if the search engine returns no results look at ways of helping your user find what they are looking for or have clear contact information displayed so they can get in touch with you.

6. Using PDFs for Online Reading

PDF or Portable Document Format is great for saving and printing documents, especially longer documents such as manuals and eBooks. It was not designed as an alternative to users reading HTML pages online. As well as interrupting the users’ reading flow and causing them to have to open more software it is a hindrance to the search engine optimisation process. Search engines love HTML content so convert your PDF’s into HTML and benefit both your users and the search engines.

7. Unclear Links

The only thing worse than an unclear link is having underlined words that are not links, although both are pretty bad in my book. Links are the mainstay of the internet. They allow you to get from point A to point B. As such you want to ensure that your users can find those links easily. They’re also used as a navigation aid to help you work out your current location and where you’ve been.

Make links obvious by choosing bold colours and have them underlined either at all times or when the mouse hovers over the link. If it’s not a link don’t underline it! It’s also a good idea to have a link change colour after it has been visited so a user knows they’ve already been to that page.

Testing the Usability of Your Website

I often hear people say one of the main obstacles to testing a website for usability is the cost. This doesn’t have to be the case. While a web design/usability consultant is the ideal way to test your website you can do some simple testing yourselves.

When testing your website for it’s usability you need a group of people in your target audience who you can observe as they perform tasks. This can be done with family and friends – just make sure they fit your target audience.

Once you have your group set them tasks to perform on your website and record their progress. This will help you determine where uses get stuck or frustrated, what causes confusion and how easily they can perform the tasks you set them. This information can then be used to make improvements to your site.

Some Final Words

Usability testing can appear daunting when you first look into it but the rewards you can reap make it a vital part of your online strategy. if you want to improve sales, increase enquiries, boost your subscriber list or make more money online website usability testing is for you.
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What’s Wrong With My Website?

I talk to a lot of people who are puzzled by the lack of success of their website. After spending some time looking at the site in question I can usually spot a number of reasons for that lack of success.

If you have website that is not performing as it should it’s time to step back and take an objective look at it. It’s time to look at it through your prospects eyes, not your own. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can I quickly work out what this website is about. Is it clear?
  • Are the colors and text easy on the eye? Is it easy to read?
  • Does the site look professional? Could I trust doing business with this company?
  • Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find what I am looking for?
  • Does the design match the message?
  • How can I contact this business?

You might also want to spend some time filling out your own forms. Is it easy? Are you comfortable with the amount of information they ask for? Once you’ve submitted the form is there a confirmation page?

Often looking at a website with a clear objective mind helps you spot those little things that can be overlooked. By spotting them now and rectifying them you should see an increase in conversions and sales.

Finally, remember my golden rule: design with your prospects in mind not yourself. You need to appeal to them if you want any chance of success.