It is a known fact that the current financial climate is heavily bearing down on the high street businesses. The cost of operating a business increases through time and with online businesses maximising their operation cost savings, ecommerce businesses have grown rapidly and high street stores are taking their trading online to capitalise on the revenue that can be gained from targeting a much larger audience.
Unfortunately the web isn’t as lucrative as you may imagine with more and more businesses going online the competition can be fierce and whilst web shopping sites such as Amazon report a sales jump of 51% in 2011, many smaller ecommerce sites are feeling the brunt of consumers tightening their spending and face tough decisions about their future.
To help diagnose why your website isn’t making the sales that you desire, here are 6 areas to check that can affect a consumer’s decision to buy or shop elsewhere.
1) The Shop Front – Website Design
In a logical order, the very first thing a customer will see is the website design. Remember that your website is your shop front. A poor website will have the same effect as a badly maintained shop and this will also reflect on your business by telling your customers that you don’t prioritise their buying experience or that you cut corners to save money. It only takes a single click of the back button to leave your website and customers will make this decision in less than 6 seconds.
If the customer does not feel safe when browsing your site and they get the impression that the website is thrown together they will not feel confident enough to spend their money with you.
Giving out payment details is one of the most cautious things people do online, you absolutely cannot afford to give the customer an impression that they can’t trust you, rely on you and expect to be looked after during all stages of their purchase.
You must ensure that your website is designed to instil confidence. To improve consumer trust you are required by law to provide your full contact details and address. You should also provide a phone number on every page for any visitors that have any questions. Remember what may be obvious to you can sometimes completely confuse your customers.
Often e-commerce website owners get frustrated that people call them with obvious or ridiculous queries that the website clearly answers. Never belittle the customer or enter an argument. Promise them that you will look at the issue and make the solution more visible in the future as one customer calling can be the voice of 50 previous customers leaving your website because they had the same issue.
2) Store Layout – Website Browsing Experience
There is a secondary issue with the design of your ecommerce website over and above the aesthetics. The flow from entering your website to purchasing on your website. If your website is difficult to browse and find items, or if your categories are vague or illogical in their hierarchy the frustration will be the trigger for them to leave your website.
If your website has many categories, you should take the time to consider the best order to have the most effective number of categories with the maximum relevancy. The customer should know exactly where to go to find their item they are looking for. If you have an expansive shop, consider using a search bar or drop down menu.
You should always have a breadcrumb menu on every page so that visitors who arrive at a product page and not through the home page know exactly where they are in relation to the stores categories. By giving the user plenty of clues as to where they are in your shop, you make them feel that they are in control and not lost. Many of your customers will have low level computer skills and may not know a lot about buying online or even internet browsing. Assuming that everyone is familiar with how a website works can be a great way to encourage low level users to leave in favour of stores such as Amazon who make the entire process simple.
3) Price Wars – Smart Pricing
This is probably one of the most vital aspects of ecommerce! So crucial is pricing that often you can get away with lack lustre design and a poorly laid out website if you have the best price on the internet. Given that when you are the cheapest people regard you with some suspicion for fear of trickery but you can almost be guaranteed that you will make sales.
In the high street there is travel time and distance affecting consumer buying decisions. A well placed but higher priced shop can do better than a far away cheaper shop. The internet is a different beast from the high street, every store is available to you at once. You can also be visiting several websites at the same time and there are sites available that will find you the best price for your given item so your competitors are effectively on your search engine doorstep.
The common opinion among consumers is that the internet is a place where things are cheaper, they expect cheaper prices than the high street. Often sales reps will advise you “If you check online you’ll find them cheaper.” This is a very unfortunate fact that confronts small business owners who do not have the bulk purchasing power and leverage that large scale online stores can use to drive prices down to the cheapest levels.
It is important that you find ways to help reduce costs by contacting your suppliers or looking into ways which buying in bulk can help you. This may not be possible in many cases. If you can’t reduce costs, think of ways that you can add value to the purchase through free products, memberships, extended after sales support, warranties, or similar methods.
Sadly this is the main reason why smaller ecommerce stores have to cease trading as larger stores monopolise the market with their pricing power in the exact same way supermarkets destroy local high street businesses and unfortunately supermarkets are also online.
4) Delivery Costs – The Ecommerce Demon
The fastest way to send large numbers of customers away is to have hidden or disproportional delivery costs. I myself am guilty of leaving countless websites where I have found what I feel to be the best deal only to find that the £5 saving by using the business is negated by the £8.50 delivery fee.
In the eyes of the consumer, delivery costs are a hated and unwanted increase in price that decreases any savings they may make by using your website.
This is another example of an area that you may not be able to improve on but you should bear in mind that people know many websites offer free delivery. Depending on your business current sales, you should contact your delivery business (if it’s not in-house) and there may be ways that they can help you reduce the costs or increase the efficiency of the delivery process such as flat rate delivery prices on all orders.
Your delivery costs and pricing are the biggest consumer turn offs and any reductions you can make in these areas can improve your sales. If your competitors have lower delivery costs and lower prices, you may have difficulty keeping up.
Try to offer more flexibility with delivery times, often consumers will welcome a 3-5 days delivery period if they can make substantial delivery cost savings by choosing this method. If you have a store, you can offer a free collect in store option too.
5) Checkout Queue Times – Payment Flow
One rule here: Keep it simple! If the customer is at your checkout with a full basket ready to pay try to remove as many barriers as you possibly can. Just like in real shops, if you imagine customers to be lacking in time or patience and translate this into your checkout flow you’ll do well at increasing sales and reducing the numbers of shopping cart abandonment.
Forcing customers to create an account can be great for data collection but at the expense of reducing the number of customers by 45%. As with all ecommerce decisions, if there isn’t a positive benefit to the customer when you add something to your site then do not add it. Forcing people to log in often requires them to log into their email accounts and confirm the link. Plenty of time for them to get sidetracked, to wonder what you’ll do with their details or to choose another site that just lets them buy. Offer a guest checkout option for people to buy without account creation if possible.
Some websites spread their checkout process over several pages and in most cases this is a required process but think about your own site. Could it be done on a single page? Enter address and delivery details, payment details and pay.
A lot of small businesses could benefit from a one page checkout, the simpler it is to pay the more payments you should receive. Long checkout processes with several pages that throw up time out errors or require you to enter all your details again if you hit the back button too many times can be another reason for people to leave. Just like a long queue at a shop checkout.
6) Shop Location – Search Engine Optimisation
Commonly believed to be the source of all ecommerce and website performance issues, the term search engine optimisation appears at last. It’s important to remember that no matter how well you perform in search engines or how much traffic you have to your website the previous 5 issues I have listed are enough to create poor sales.
Number 1 rankings do not guarantee increased sales.
High rankings can and will increase traffic but the site looks poor, the prices are too high and delivery is extortionate then sales will be unlikely to flourish. Despite this, if no one can find you then there is a problem. You should always monitor your websites statistics and look to increase relevant traffic and work on improving the reasons why people do not buy.
Ecommerce is highly competitive and a growing number of businesses are raising the game with their online marketing, effective copywriting and SEO work. You should discuss with your web designer or SEO expert ways in which you can expand, nurture and improve your website to focus on the keywords that will attract the type of customer that you provide for.
If you have had some previous SEO work, are you targeting the wrong people? In your market research, have you geared your website to the wrong demographic or are you aiming far too broad with your keywords and forgetting your unique selling point. If you provide to your local area, are you effectively optimising your website for that specific area?
These are things that you should work on constantly. Find out what your competitors are doing and use this to your advantage. Consider using Google Adwords to get some quick relevant traffic and to find out which keywords work best to increase sales.
By following these 6 tips, you can address the most common issues for poor sales. Remember to be critical and test your website on other people of all ages and computer literacy. Often you can be blind to the issues at hand that others flag up instantly!