7 Tips for E-Commerce Sanity
Managing a fully functional e-commerce site as part of your retail operation is a bit like owning a house — you're constantly concerned with what might break next and how to go about fixing it. Much like proper maintenance on your home goes a long way to keeping the handyman at bay, there are several common sense steps you can take to make sure that your omnichannel strategy stays fresh and your online presence relevant. For most retailers, the web is an extremely important — often the most important — channel for profitability.
1. Integrate site and store. Seamless integration between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar isn't just a nice feature to save time here and there; it's absolutely vital to keep both channels operating smoothly and without causing massive headaches for you. Full integration allows simple sharing of inventory between physical and virtual sales as well as real-time transactions on any integrated channel. Once merchandise is entered into a point-of-sale or e-commerce system on an integrated platform, it can be transferred across channels with a few simple clicks and listed right away, allowing multichannel sales in seconds.
2. Keep search engine optimization best practices in mind during development. Nobody loves constantly considering the SEO implications of every decision, but the fact of the matter is that creating SEO-friendly URLs and custom product URLs increase organic keyword rankings and reduce the amount that must be spent on paid search campaigns. Also, be sure that your site is PCI and SOX compliant so that you're protected from theft and security breaches. These steps may seem cumbersome, but it's much easier to keep everything compliant as you go than to go back and engage in a massive overhaul later.
3. Take advantage of social media. You already know that you have to be where your customers are. It can be said, almost without exception, that they're on social media, so that's where you have to be too. Marketing to consumers in the social space can be a dicey situation, but it's always safe to launch content that's controlled by users themselves. For example, allow users to post registries and featured items from your site onto Facebook. You may choose to use Twitter to promote specials and coupons, or LinkedIn to promote new job listings. Consumers will remain more engaged with your brand when they can interact with it on the social media sites where they spend the most time.
4. Create an easy shopping experience. One of the worst things that can happen to any e-commerce site is to lose a shopper during a visit due to frustration with navigation, product search or unanswered questions. The online experience must be simple, obvious and user friendly. Features like prominent product search, a dynamic navigation bar, substitute item listings and "you may also like" item suggesting keep shoppers from having to hunt for merchandise. Repeat purchases can also be encouraged through wish lists, gift registries, shopping cart restore and order history views. Live chat is a great way to address any concerns and keep shoppers from clicking away if they have a question or feel unsure.
5. Make purchasing fast. Have you noticed that nobody pays with checks anymore? Why bother filling all that paperwork out when you can just slide a card through a reader? The same rule applies online. Any time you force customers to take extra time paying, you run the risk of losing them. Integrating your site's shopping cart with all credit card processors (e.g., Authorize.net, VeriSign, PayPal) keep transactions fast and simple. Many customers also hate entering credit card and personal information, so help keep things moving along by keeping that information in their accounts after they've entered it once. Also, consider accepting options like Google Checkout and PayPal. Finally, make gift card and coupon redemption easy and allow international checkout.
6. Expedite your shipping. The biggest hurdle to online sales has long been the lack of instant gratification. We're probably pretty far away from successful drone delivery, but that doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to speed up the process. The first step is to provide real-time shipping rates based on dimensional weight and ZIP code. Make sure the shipping rates are as inexpensive as possible as high shipping costs are the No. 1 cause of shopping cart abandonment. Integration with UPS, FedEx and USPS will help expedite fulfillment as will confirming shipping information only once and printing shipping labels in a single step. It's always good to offer various shipping options to best serve the needs of individual shoppers.
7. Explore every channel. The online space is vast and growing all the time, so continue to evaluate the possibilities and consider what makes sense. Mobile is the fastest-growing channel, so responsive design may be your next big initiative, especially if you don't have a unique m-commerce site. Interface with comparison sites like Shopzilla, Nextag and Bizrate. There's a lot of virtual real estate out there, and much of it can be quite effective at helping to expand your customer base and traffic.
While it's true that effective digital strategy can seem elusive to many retailers, following the above simple steps can go a long way in increasing conversion rates and keeping your online presence profitable. There's no indication that digital channels are going to decrease in importance, so leverage them wisely or perish.