E-commerce: Four Tips for a Better Customer Experience on the Web
Methods to improve Web sites were the order of the day at Internet Retailer 2006, held last week in Chicago. Several industry experts were on hand in one session to offer their strategies on how to create opportunities for sales and conversions. Below are tips they offered:
* Give your customers what they want. “While 92 percent of customers say that customer reviews are helpful to their shopping experiences, not many merchants actually are employing customer reviews,” said Lauren Freedman, president of e-commerce consultancy the e-tailing group. She cited a recent joint survey conducted by her company and retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group. Other site features that customers rated extremely or very helpful included, onsite keyword search, 71 percent; store locator, 68 percent; onsite product comparison, 64 percent; and product zoom and rotate, 64 percent.
* Employ strong user-centric navigation. E-commerce sites exist to serve customers’ needs, and one of those needs is the ability find things quickly and easily, said David Fry, president of Web development company Fry Inc. He recommends site navigation that has a clean visual design with consistent structure employed throughout the site.
Fry noted that online merchants can learn a lot about the effectiveness of site navigation by paying attention to visitation patterns. For instance, if particular product categories on your site are highly trafficked but don’t result in equivalently high conversion rates, the problem may be that those product categories are too broad. Further sub-categories could make it easier for customers to find and purchase products, Fry said. Likewise, if a particular sub-category doesn’t get much traffic, it may be that customers are having a hard time finding it. That sub-category probably can be folded into a larger category.
* Assign more resources to the Web. “It’s amazing how few people are running e-commerce efforts,” Freedman said. “While the Web is primarily a technological construct, it still takes people to run these technology-based innovations.” She cited a recent e-tailing group survey that showed that the number of employees working on e-commerce applications at multichannel operations has remained static over the past three years. If merchants are going to reach the next level of e-commerce success, they will need to figure out how to add more resources to Web-based efforts, Freedman noted.
* Provide plenty of info early and often throughout the buying process. Fry specified that placing the right amount of information in your customers’ hands as soon as they want it will make your Web site a better shopping destination. In addition to product specs, he suggested that marketers provide customers with after-care instructions, warranty details and other relevant information in PDF files to download at their leisure. In particular, “Buying guides for complex products produce a dramatic revenue lift for those users who traffic them,“ Fry said.
He also suggested placing shipping information as early in the shopping funnel as possible. “One of the biggest reasons for shopping cart abandonment is shipping info surprising people late in the buying process,” Fry pointed out. Ultimately, he said, “Confidence creates conversion. Do everything you can to make your customers have confidence in your Web site.”