It is easier than ever to sell online. Today, webmasters can launch an ecommerce website using intuitive, free and open-source software, and even setting up payment gateways is not that much of a challenge. However, while the barrier to entry into the world of ecommerce is low, that does not mean that it is easy to run a successful ecommerce site. Attracting buyers is something that takes sustained effort, and getting visitors to trust you enough to make a purchase requires careful design and marketing.
Your website is more than just a list of products and services. It is a virtual shop window, and it should be decorated and organized like one. The most successful ecommerce websites do the following things.
Have a Clear Strategy for Their Online Marketing
What are the features and benefits that you offer that your rivals don’t? Do you have more choice, faster delivery or better after-sales support? Is your loyalty programme one of the most generous on the market? It can be tempting to try to compete on price alone, but that’s the most difficult area to compete in because margins are so thin in many niches, and because people have been trained to believe that they get what they pay for and the cheapest isn’t always the best.
Focus on Presentation and Security
Your site must work well at all times, from the moment the prospective buyer arrives on a landing page to the moment that they complete the checkout process. It should be clear that you take security seriously, and you should have readily available information about deliveries, customer service, data protection and consumer rights. These policies may seem like boring things that no one cares about, but they are there to put the minds of cautious consumers at rest.
Make Payment Processing Low-Friction
The easier it is for people to pay you in a secure fashion, the more likely they will be to complete the process. Don’t ever expect people to pick up the phone or mail out a cheque to make a payment. If you don’t have a business bank account that you can accept payments from, consider setting one up. Alternatively, use PayPal – it is easy to integrate PayPal into most online shopping carts, and that brand is one that most shoppers trust.
Have a Clear Fulfilment Process
The beauty of the web is that consumers have no idea whether you are an independent organization or a big business just by looking at your website. However, they will be able to tell if you are a smaller, disorganized outfit by the way that you handle the orders that shoppers place. Put together a fulfilment process that is fast and efficient, and stick to it. Make sure that you communicate with shoppers throughout the order process so that they know when their payments have been received and when their orders have been dispatched. Provide customers with tracking details if you can do so and contact details so that they can ask any questions about the status of their orders.
Use the Best Possible Delivery Options
Whether you are offering digital delivery or physical delivery, make it as easy and fast as possible for people to get the goods they have paid for. If you offer digital delivery, give people a choice of an auto-downloader, HTTP and torrents, and make sure that they know how to retrieve their serial keys or their product via your website if they ever accidentally delete it. If you are providing physical products, offer low-cost delivery options as well as express delivery and use services that offer good tracking.
Understand Ecommerce Law
Depending on where you are based in the world, ecommerce websites will need to comply with various regulations, such as the Data Protection Act, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations and Electronic Commerce Regulations. You must take the protection of your customers’ data seriously, and you must make sure that your products and services are fit for purpose. In addition to the laws regarding online shopping, you should also consider security for your website. While no website can claim to be perfectly secure, it is important that you use good passwords, keep your website software up to date and keep secure backups. If any data gets stolen from your website, this would be very bad PR for you.
Be Smart with Your Marketing
Consistent, regular online marketing is important for building up a steady flow of customers. Before you start marketing, make sure that your website is up to the task of handling the traffic that you are likely to attract. If your website goes down while you have a major promotion running, this would seriously damage your brand. Research PPC advertising and do some SEO work. Create a newsletter and send out regular value-added messages to your visitors. Build links and network with bloggers in your niche. Do a little marketing each week for best results.
Most online ventures fail in the first year – not because they are not viable, but because people give up when they are on the verge of success, not realising how close they are to reaching critical mass in terms of traffic, SEO and the all-important brand recognition. It takes time to grow your website, but with consistent promotion you can create a sustainable online business.