When the e-commerce model exploded onto the market, the ability for small businesses to open their doors to the world 24/7 revolutionized the retail industry. While that remains true to this day, the proliferation of e-commerce demands that online retailers go above and beyond to stand out from the crowd. Beyond rock-bottom pricing, there are several easy ways online retailers—both startups and established stores—can jumpstart their e-commerce sales.
Put your best face forward
As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this is particularly true among the often fickle online shopper crowd. Hire reputable category design advisors to help you define a clear purpose and create a strategy for your online business. Whether you’re just beginning or looking to revamp an existing site, do not skimp on quality design. Create a storefront with a look and feel that will appeal to your customers, with superb navigation and exceptional usability. Use only high-quality photographs of your products to maintain a professional image.
Make it easy to buy
Ease of navigation is critical—the more complicated it is for your customers to find the products they want (and even those they didn’t yet know they wanted), the more likely they are to pass through without a purchase. Make it as easy as CVV dumps. Consider how your customers would shop for your products—by style, application, size, feature or some other attribute—and organize your products in a way that most naturally aligns with their shopping style.
Don’t miss the opportunity to up-sell, offer add-on accessories, package promotions or “often bought together” products. Especially for stores offering non-essential or leisure items, this opportunity to capture an impulse buy can be a significant source of revenue. By offering discounts on bundles, you can make the customer feel like they’re getting a great deal and demonstrate that you appreciate their business.
And keep the checkout process as simple as possible. Avoid overwhelming shoppers with too much data input to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts.
Be responsive to customers
While it should go without saying, maintaining exceptional customer service is vitally important in jumpstarting e-commerce sales. Besides processing orders quickly, make it easy for customers to contact you for help or to get their questions answered. When contacted, respond promptly and thoroughly to customer e-mails and phone calls with a personalized response. While a canned e-mail to confirm receipt of the inquiry is okay, be sure to follow-up immediately with an actual, detailed reply.
One shop, Callie’s Biscuits, has found a unique way to engage with even those customers who didn’t make a purchase: by following up on abandoned carts. Each week the store compiles the e-mail addresses of customers who abandoned orders and sends a personal message thanking them for their visit and asking whether they had any technical trouble in completing their order. As a result, many customers who’d forgotten about loading their cart often proceed to placing the order. It also provides an opportunity to gather customer feedback—if there was a specific reason they didn’t place the order, Callie’s can talk with the customer to resolve the issue and possibly turn the problem into a sale.
This kind of “unexpected” responsiveness can be quite refreshing to online shoppers who are more accustomed to being “out of sight, out of mind,” especially with larger retailers.
Add a personal touch
Certainly one of the key benefits of e-commerce is the automation factor. The ability to receive and process orders online can be a tremendous time and money saver. However, it’s important to maintain a personal touch with your customers. Simple things, like a personalized hand-written note in the shipment box, can go a long way toward maintaining a personal connection with your customers without a significant time and cash investment.
Leverage social media
Aside from being extremely cost effective (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace are all free services), social media allows you to engage in and maintain a dialogue with your customers—and potentially reach an even greater audience through the social media connections of your existing customers.
Post to your networks about new products, services or other store news. Social network-exclusive discounts can also make your social media fans feel special and encourage them to share the “secret” of your business with their network.
Beyond direct sales, though, social media outreach can serve to position you and your company as an industry expert, a trusted resource for information about your niche market. By building this kind of relationship with customers in a indirect and comfortable way, you can build a loyal and lucrative following and grow your customer base exponentially with ease and relatively little investment.