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Six steps to online retail success

Monday, 12 October 2015 

A great online experience means customers will be confident in your business and come back for more, but it takes strategy to get it right

A cutting-edge website, fantastic customer experience and spot-on delivery are vital for small businesses keen to thrive in online retail.

Paul Matthews knows this first hand. As founder of home interiors, gifts and party supplies store Lark, he says the Ballarat-based business would not be so successful without these factors.

“We couldn’t have grown the business without having all of Australia as our customer,” he says.

Matthews launched the store in 2007, when online retail was in its infancy. Here, he shares six expert tips for a great online store that customers will love.

1. Pick your platform carefully

There are many platforms to build a website on, but Matthews advises choosing one which doesn’t lock you into a long contract or set template.

“I would suggest going for one of the major more generic versions of software – Magento is what we used for example,” says Matthews.

“The advantage is there are two versions – a commercial version and community version. We use a developer to modify it to suit our needs.”

2. Easy to navigate, easy to use

Customers need a site that is easy to navigate and interact with. Achieving this comes down to your relationship with your web developer, says Matthews.

“Your developer is absolutely essential to your business,” he says. “When we started we were using plain html and hand coding every page. We switched to working with a developer and he was able to put our ideas into practice.

“I know a lot of people who have started a website and gone for something straight out of the box. They don’t have relationships with developers in place, and are unable to modify their sites to suit their vision.”

3. Customer experience is king

To build customer confidence in your site, it is vital to have a great website from the word go, Mathews says.

“I’ve seen some of our competitors do two or three different versions of their sites, and they have made a lot of their customers unhappy,” he says. “We prefer to make sure what we’re doing is right before we proceed.”

The shopping process must also be straightforward.

“You’ve got to make it as simple as possible to go from seeing a product, to getting it in the shopping cart and then checking out,” he says.

4. Relationships from start to finish

Online retail requires partnerships with credit transaction services and the hosting platform in order to operate. Matthews says establishing these relationships helps you identify and fix problems when they arise.

“With the web, things don’t necessarily go to plan,” Matthews says. “There might have been a technical error which you need to track and fix without the customer being aware.

“You need partners that know how to fix the back end problems.”

5. The key to customer confidence

A clear brand identity can go a long way in establishing customer confidence, says Matthews.

“We work very hard on social media to make sure people know who we are and what we do – but that’s only half the battle,” he says. “We have a back story and a social media presence and that gives people a lot of confidence.”

6. Delivering your product with finesse

A trustworthy delivery service keeps customers coming back, Matthews says.

“We’ve worked with couriers but we’ve found that working with Australia Post eParcel is the simplest and easiest option,” he says. “I can’t think of any time it hasn’t arrived when it should.”

If the customer misses the delivery they can pick it up from the local post office, Matthews says.

“We make it clear on checkout how long you can expect your parcel to take to arrive,” he says.

The first step to selling online is to set up a great shop. To get online without the guesswork, check out Australia Post’s online selling solutions.

Written by: Jacob Robinson