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Successful Retail eCommerce

Selling on a Retail or Retail-Style Web Site is different from a B2B trade web site; your customers may not know you other than from your site, it is much easier for customers to switch to competitors and, with possibly less customer loyalty, it is more important to keep yourself in your customer's mind as the first stop for your products.

If you are making the switch from B2B to B2C then the following areas are worthy of additional consideration:

1. Customer Service

B2C is typically more intensive from a Customer Service point of view - you get more instances of customers ordering the wrong goods or not knowing what to order. Can your infrastructure handle this?

2. Logistics

B2C is normally characterised by a larger number of smaller deliveries. Do you have the logistics in place to handle the increased load on order picking and despatch?

3. Identify your "Sales Pitch"

Selling in a retail web environment is highly competitive; you need to be clear from the outset what your offering is and gear your brand and your marketing around that - are you, for example, selling on price, expertise, availability, breadth of range or on your "green credentials"? In short, you need to be able to answer for yourself the question "why would a customer buy from me rather than a competitor?"

4. Don't underestimate Usability

Usability is the art of making sure that your customers can find their way around the web site easily, find the products that they want easily and be helped on their way through the buying process.

Remember - on the Internet, your customer is only two clicks from a competitor; anything that frustrates or annoys a shopper will simply encourage them to close your site and open a competitors.

Sites that have paid attention to usability will generally have a better visitor-to-order conversion ratio.

For more information, see the whitepaper An Introduction to Web Site Usability.

5. Look at Cost Effective Web Marketing

Search Engine Optimisation is a slow and expensive business to do properly. For better short term results (instead of, or in parallel to) you should look at paid-for advertising, typically PPC (Pay Per Click).

For more information, see the whitepaper An Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation.

6. Keep Marketing to Existing Customers

Your best customers are those that already know about your site. Make sure you stay in their minds as the best supplier of the products that you offer. Look at regular email campaigns, at a frequency that is often enough that it achieves that goal but not too frequently that your customers become annoyed and unsubscribe.

For goods that are an occasional purchase, e.g. luxury electronic goods such as large screen TVs, email frequencies of about once a month seem to be about right.

For goods that are a regular purchase, e.g. consumable items such as inkjet cartridges or blank DVDs, a frequency of at most once a week may be more appropriate.

7. Use Appropriate Special Offers

In order to use email marketing effectively, you must be sending out enticing offers - the purpose of the regular emails is to persuade existing customers to come back to your site and only very keen offers will achieve that. For example, selling off Christmas decorations at bargain basement prices in January will not drive lots of traffic to your site whereas a special offer on Christmas decorations in October or November will do it.

To use the supermarket analogy, your special offers should be loss-leaders, like the 5p tin of baked beans - the supermarkets are selling the beans at a loss, just to increase the visitors to their store.

8. Take every opportunity to "up sell"

Your web site is also your sales assistant so it needs to be able to tempt the shopper with additional items. This can be via linked selling ("you may also be interested in...") or by increasing the quantity of items purchased. This can be achieved by creative use of delivery charges ("free delivery over £100" for example, can encourage people whose purchase is perhaps £80 or £90 to add a little extra to their basket) or by quantity pricing (for example £4.99 for one or £4.49 each for quantities over 5).

9. Take Security Seriously and Highlight to Your Customers

As mentioned above, anything that makes customers feel uneasy will send them off to a competitors web site very quickly. At the Checkout stage, this is particularly true where Security is concerned. When asking customers to provide their credit card details, do everything you can to reassure them that their details are safe. In short, don't just take adequate security measures, be seen to be taking adequate security measure.

10. Monitor and React to Your Site Metrics

"Site metrics" are that statistics showing how people move around your site, what they look at and what they look for.

For example, one of the most elementary uses of Site Metrics is to identify the searches that people do that do not find any matches. This is either because they are searching for products that you don't have or they are failing to find the products that you do have because they are searching using keywords you have never thought have.

In the case of the former, this might mean you are paying more than you need for pay-per-click advertising because people do not realise early enough what your site is about or it might mean you want to look at extending the range of products that you sell.

In the case of the latter, you might want to take the opportunity to look at the descriptions or keywords associated with your key products to ensure that when they are found.

11. Keep the Site Fresh

Make sure your chosen eCommerce solution has a simple way to keep advertising banners on your site updated to match your latest email marketing campaign and, if relevant, a content management system to keep News Stories or Forthcoming Events up-to-date.

There is nothing worse than visiting a site and seeing that the most recent News Story is two years old, or that it is advertising a Spring Special Offer when it is October! Not only does this not look professional, it will put some people off shopping from your site if it looks as if there may not be a real, active company behind the site - again, anything that can worry customers, or give them doubts about how safe their credit card details will be will send them off to a competitors site very quickly.

12. Use Voucher Code Promotions to Monitor Marketing Activity

Voucher Codes are a method of publicising a code that shoppers enter at the checkout that will give them a discount.

By careful use of Voucher Codes, you are able to research and monitor the effectiveness of various promotional activities. For example, you could advertise a specific Voucher Code in a specific newspaper ad; by looking at the volume and value of orders received using that Voucher Code you can monitor just how effective that specific newspaper ad was.

13. Take the Opportunity to Sell What You Want, Not What The Customer Wants

Imagine, for example, that you sell pens and that you stock twenty different varieties of red pen.

When a customer calls you on the phone and asks for a Red Pen, you have the option of deciding which red pen to offer them. When a customer visits your site, you do not have that opportunity.

Make sure that when a visitor searches on your web site for "red pen", that the red pen that you want to sell is the one that comes up first in the list; this might be the pen that you make the most margin on, the one that you keep in stock or the one that you know you are most competitive on (and therefore have the greatest probability of selling). Make sure that the eCommerce solution you choose can offer this flexibility.

14. Keep your Pricing Policy Simple & Easy To Understand

One of the greatest annoyances for retail shoppers is finding that the price they are asked to pay at the checkout is more than they were expecting; this is a major cause of people abandoning their shopping basket at the last moment. Typically, they will feel cheated and will go to another site.

There are two main causes of this frustration - an unclear delivery charge mechanism and showing prices exclusive of VAT without making that clear.

It is often wise to accept that you will lose on some delivery charges on the basis that you can keep your structure simple to understand - for example "up to £100, delivery is £5.95, over £100 free".

You might ensure that you cover all of the possibilities of different sizes, weights, etc. by having thirty different delivery charges and having the web site automatically calculate the correct one to use but your customers need to be very clear on what you will charge before they add items to their basket.

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