Author: Yogi Schulz

Which of these headaches is E-commerce creating in your life?

  • Customer complaints about not finding products on your web site
  • Too many abandoned shopping carts
  • A scary product return rate
  • Long customer calls are not producing sales
  • No sales growth with indications that your competitors’ sales are growing

If any of these common problems ring painfully true, fear not – you can significantly reduce them and add value to your e-commerce strategy by following some simple steps.

Three clicks and you’re out

Start by making it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you. Many E-commerce sites drag customers through multiple screens with too many questions and complex options before finally allowing them to complete a transaction. Instead, allow customers to establish profiles of the data they’re willing to share with you. Use cookies to identify returning customers and shape their experience at your site.

It is possible to complete a transaction in three clicks. For example, one click to search, one click to select a product and one click to buy. More than three clicks, however, and prospects start to lose patience.


Promote to build traffic

“Build it and they will come” only works in movies. Owners of successful e-commerce sites have defined and are executing a proactive promotion strategy.

It’s cheap and easy to place your domain name on all company communication such as letters, invoices, business cards, e-mails and advertisements. For example, every box of Purdy’s chocolates contains a business card with the company’s name and web site address.

Some companies find it cost-effective to appear as Sponsored Links on web search results through Microsoft adCenter.

Also, build and maintain an e-mail list of as many of your customers and prospects as possible. Don’t spam them, but do send them a short, regular e-mail newsletter with links back to your e-commerce site.


Engage your audience

It’s also helpful to improve overall communication and encourage dialogue between your audience and your organization. Make sure, however, that every completed contact form receives a thoughtful reply – no matter how silly the comments appear. Remember, if you’re receiving stupid questions by e-mail or at your 800 number, for example, your Web site message may be unclear and confusing. Resist the temptation to delete complaints and responding quickly to all complaints. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect responsiveness.


Measure what’s happening

You can’t manage what you’re not measuring. So consider these questions:

How long are visitors staying at your site? What’s your most popular page? Which page is being displayed the longest? Which page is being ignored? Who’s coming back for another look? Where are visitors coming from? What are your sales per visit? Which is the best selling and which is the worst selling product?

Use the answers to these and similar questions to constantly hone your content and your message.


Surf the competition

Everyone has competitors. Surf their E-commerce sites. What features do you like? What will you avoid? How’s the ease-of-use? Is the pricing problematic for you? Do you see products you should be offering as well? How does your product offering stack up at price comparison web sites?

That said, don’t clone the competition – aim instead to create unique features that will attract and retain your audience.


Deliver snappy performance

Poor e-commerce site performance forces your audience to stare at the hourglass for too long. We’re all impatient. Hourglasses are boring. Don’t inflict this problem on the very audience you are trying to impress.

Keep pages small. Less than 150 kb is best. Overly large pictures that are saved at a higher resolution than the typical monitor can display will cause unnecessary performance problems. Re-save pictures in a smaller size and at a lower resolution. As well, video with excessive resolution, frame rate and frame size will cause poor performance.


Offer current, compelling content

E-commerce sites are not one-time projects. The care and feeding of your site is a maintenance activity much like maintaining company machinery.

This could involve implementing a content management system, such as SharePoint Server and assigning responsibility for content development. You’ll be surprised by the number of interesting events your company can brag about once you start thinking in these terms regularly. Good examples of appealing content include product announcements, pages that duplicate advertisements from other media, investor information and customer resources to enhance the value of the purchase they’ve made.

Developing a continuing stream of compelling content, that will attract and keep your audience interested, requires some investment and some management attention but it doesn’t have to be onerous.


Yogi Schulz is a Calgary, Alberta-based contributing writer to the Microsoft Midsize Business Center. His work has appeared in Computing Canada, EDGE, The Calgary Herald and Microsoft Ideas. He typically consults with CIO’s in the energy, government and real estate industries.

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