Keeping up with technologies and trends for online retail is just about as hard as trying to follow the latest fashions in apparel: There’s always something new, and someone else always seems to look better than you do.
Here are some success tips I’ve found useful, based on experience working with online retailers of just about every stripe. The first four may seem counter-intuitive, even surprising, but they’ve proven to make a difference. I’ll end with a bonus tip that seems obvious, but isn’t as common as it should be.
First, the surprises:
1) Tell people how many times each item has been returned. Retailers can boost sales by letting customers know how often a product has been returned in relation to the number of times it has been purchased. Online retailer Shoeline.com claims to have lowered returns and raised its conversion rates since adding a “Return-o-meter™” to its Website.
2) Don’t overlook seniors as a target market. Most of today's online merchants focus on the 18- to 45-year-old age group, leaving fast-growing baby boomer and senior markets inadequately served. In a research study Guidance commissioned last November with market intelligence firm Synovate, 69 percent of respondents ages 65+ claimed to have made purchases online. Today’s seniors are less stressed about the economy than other age groups; and they tend to be loyal consumers, switching brands less often than their younger counterparts.
3) Give your shoppers some control over your site’s content. According to a study conducted by PowerReviews and the e-tailing group, 82 percent of online shoppers prefer peer customer reviews to researching a product in-store with a sales associate, and 68 percent of shoppers read at least four reviews before making a purchase. If you don’t offer reviews, you risk losing those consumers to other Websites that do. Give them every reason to stay on your site and complete the transaction.
Product ratings, message boards, blogs, live chat, and other online features also can get your buyers talking about your brand or products with other shoppers. Allowing your visitors to generate content on your site and interact with each other can boost sales.
4) Don’t remove negative reviews. According to research studies by Forrester Research Inc. and Bazaarvoice, less than 20 percent of user reviews are negative. But even that small 20 percent can make your online store more credible, and at times it may even help you sell ancillary products to overcome a product limitation. (Example: A negative review about an appliance’s short electric cord may prompt buyers to buy an extension cord along with the appliance.)
Now for the tip that’s seemingly obvious, but not as common as it should be:
5) Analyze customer behavior on your Website and regularly mine your data. Keep track of items your customers are viewing, keywords they’re typing to find those items, and links they’re clicking to get there. This process helps you create relevant cross-selling and up-selling activities, such as similar product recommendations (known as YMALs for “Y'all Might Also Like”).
Online shoppers respond well to suggestive selling techniques, and, according to Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, product recommendations and similar systems make up 10 to 30 percent of an online retailer's revenues.
The stakes are high for online retailers, but the key to success is often found in one of the basic tenets of good marketing: Know your audience and give them what they want.
— Jason Meugniot is owner and CEO of Guidance, which designs, builds, and maintains e-commerce Websites