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Top 10 tips to selling online

Thursday, 18 November 2010 | By Michelle Hammond

Buying and selling online was once reserved for the tech savvy, but it’s now expected by customers and therefore a necessity for businesses.

 

With Westfield and David Jones recently launching online stores, it is clear that the large retailers are waking up to the potential of eCommerce.

 

Colin McLeod, executive director at the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, predicts online shopping will explode in the near future.

 

“The number of retailers who plan to go online virtually doubled in the last 12 months. I can’t imagine that there’s a major retailer who’s not thinking about their online strategy,” McLeod says.

 

Whether you operate solely online or simply wish to add another dimension to your business, it is imperative you get it right. Here are the top 10 tips to help you on your way.

 

1. Is selling online right for your business?

    Before you rush to create an online shopping platform for your business, first determine whether it is viable and appropriate for your products or services.

     

    For example, if you’re selling heavy machinery, factor in the cost of delivery and postage.

     

    Stephen O’Farrell, MD of digital agency Sputnik, says it’s harder for service-based businesses to sell online because it limits the level of customer service they can provide.

     

    Selling online might not be the primary way to boost your business, so it’s important to analyse any benefits before spending money on a site that features online sales. If it doesn’t make sense for your business, deploy your website as a marketing tool rather than a transactional one.

     

    2. Focus on product descriptions

      Write your own product descriptions as this will help you to stand out from your competitors.

       

      Chris Thomas, MD of Reseo, an SEO and SEM company, says product pages aren’t done well by a lot of online retailers as they fail to highlight the benefits of their products.

       

      According to Thomas, this information should sit alongside the product description, along with frequently asked questions.

       

      In addition to high quality images, Thomas suggests having a look for relevant product reviews on YouTube. If you find a favourable one, embed it into your page. Consumers are always reassured by recommendations and therefore more inclined to purchase a product.

       

      3. Integrate social media

        Include links to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on your website. By making yourself available on social media, you’ll be able to get to know your customers and answer any questions they may have.

         

        This could include live chat, which allows users to communicate with someone face to face.

         

        As a start-up, you have the ability to get really get personal with your customers, so pay attention to your response times with mediums such as email.

         

        4. Don’t let your website get messy

          While many have applauded David Jones’ belated decision to enter the world of eCommerce, there have been unfavourable comments over the dark and rather cluttered appearance of the retailer’s site.

           

          Customers want clean, simple interfaces that clearly display the products on offer. Anything you do to complicate this will lessen your chances of a sale.

           

          Wai Hong Fong, managing director of online gadget retailer OzHut, says: “White space makes the website appear neater, like walking into a neat, tidy room. If you walk into a messy room, you just want to get out. The same applies to websites – arrange your information properly.”

           

          “If I hop onto a page, I need to be hand-guided to the next destination. If I hop onto a page and it’s too messy, I don’t know what to do next so I don’t do anything and end up leaving the page.”

           

          Fong says start-ups should opt for lots of white space and minimal text to avoid overwhelming prospective customers.

           

          5. Minimal clicks mean maximum sales

            Wherever possible, aim for as few clicks as possible before the actual payment process.

             

            “If it’s going to take them 10 clicks to get to the end of the buying process, that’s not a good thing,” Fong says.

             

            Thomas identifies quirky T-shirt website RedBubble.com as one of his favours because it uses a single-page checkout.

             

            If a single-page checkout isn’t an option, try to at least display your premium products on the front page as this will give prospective customers a visual overview of the nature of your business. Rotate products often and be sure to indicate anything that is new.

             

            6. Track your users’ habits

              According to Thomas, it’s absolutely vital to have ‘goal funnels’ – an analysis of how users behave on your site.

               

              This will enable you to track users’ pathways, showing you where they’re inclined to click into and where they typically drop out. You’ll then be able to modify the purchasing process depending on users’ habits

               

              7. Pick the right payment method

                Pick the right payment method for your business. This could be via credit card, electronic check, PayPal, Google Checkout or Bill Me Later.

                 

                O’Farrell favours PayPal and Google Checkout because they offer the most in terms of brand equity and consumer trust.

                 

                “The greater the brand equity, the more likely consumers are to go ahead and proceed with the purchase,” he says.

                 

                8. Invest in customer service

                  Maintain outstanding customer service. It’s not enough to just respond to every user’s query on your website – it must be replicated in the real world. Fong says US site Zappos.com is famous for its level of customer service.

                   

                  “They’ve got a one-year return policy, and they pay for every product to be shipped to you and back to them if necessary,” he says.

                   

                  “When you do call them up, the customer service staff are empowered to look after you as a customer – they don’t have to liaise with any supervisors or managers.”

                   

                  You should gain an innate understanding of what your customers want and how to connect to them.

                   

                  Thomas identifies OZHut.com.au as a prime example due to their incredible attention to detail.

                   

                  “They do a lot of research around the demand for a certain niche. Then they establish a supply chain to make sure that they’ve got good supplies,” Thomas says.

                   

                  “From there, they build out a site that is extremely well search engine-optimised, and it typically dominates the search engines for that particular niche that they’re operating in.”

                   

                  9. Categorise your products clearly

                    Ensure your search tool is clearly categorised and includes multiple categories. Allow users to search by brand, season, price, etc.

                     

                    This speeds up the purchasing process for users and also allows them to compare products. Handmade marketplace Etsy.com is a standout in this regard, as a product search can be broken down into colour, locality and date.

                     

                    10. Don’t forget SEO and SEM


                    Having an attractive website is useless unless you can drive people there. Make sure you improve your search engine ranking – you can read more about this here – and consider partnerships with other businesses and organisations. You could be the fulfillment part of another company’s website or merely exchange links. Both will help you be more visible to consumers.