It may not be sexy, but often it pays to go back to basics with your e-commerce store and make sure that the simple things are in place and work properly. Chris Barling looks at 9 ways of improving your online sales.
In this ‘how to’ article we will look at a number of straightforward actions that nevertheless can have a big impact on online sales.
They won’t all apply, but it’s worth checking where you stand on these before even considering more advanced ideas.
1. Inspire trust
People must trust you before they’ll purchase anything from your site, especially if you’re unknown to them. There are a number of ways of gaining that trust, and you may be able to come up with your own ideas.
- Have you supplied your contact details on every page, including a telephone number and your postal address? It’s a legal requirement anyway, but it makes sense.
- If a visitor emails you promote confidence by responding quickly and professionally, in the same way you’d answer the telephone.
- Display logos showing your membership of trade bodies such as the IMRG or FSB, and join at least one of the merchant accreditation schemes like ISIS or SafeBuy.
- If you have a shop or employ people, publish a photograph of your staff or premises to prove you exist.
2. Accept PayPal
Some online shoppers have a balance in their PayPal account, especially if they have sold off some items on eBay, and it may be burning a hole in their pockets. That’s why it’s quite common for online stores that start accepting PayPal payments to see their sales increase by around 10%. This may vary depending on the typical demographic of your buyer, but if you don’t already accept PayPal it’s well worth the minimal effort to do so.
3. Be transparent
Unexpected P&P is a major cause of cart abandonment; highlight delivery costs on your home and product pages so that buyers don’t get a shock when they try to check out. It also gives customers the opportunity to look for additional items to justify the cost, and that’s more revenue for the site too.
It’s also important to be clear about your returns policy, and this is part of the inspiring trust aspect too if a shopper is new to your site.
4. Spill the beans
It seems incredible to me how some online retailers miss sales by simply not providing enough information about products. Learn from the best online retailers who have spent huge amounts of time on their descriptions and pictures of their products. Don’t just have one small image of a product, but have multiple angles as well as allowing visitors to zoom in — M&S and Lands End are good examples for this. Also include details like dimensions and what it’s made of, if appropriate. The more information that you provide, the easier it is for people to buy, and indeed, it’s a way to encourage them to return.
5. Optimise for search
Providing a lot of information on your products also has major search engine benefits. Search engines love it and if the content is constantly evolving, they will rank you even better.
People do see optimising their site for search engines as a bit of a black art, and they are partly right as there is a lot involved, but here are some basics:
- When people search, they type a “keyword” or “key phrase” into the search box. Identifying the most popular keywords and phrases for your product range is the most important step. You can find this out by subscribing to Wordtracker for a trial (www.wordtracker.com).
- You can also identify phrases that are well used, but have fewer than average relevant pages on the web. These are your best opportunities – they represent niches where there are plenty of potential customers, but not too much competition.
- Tools such as Google Adwords can help identify unique search terms. Even if you’re not planning to use a pay-per-click (PPC) scheme it’s worth signing up as it will save a lot of time. Once you know your key phrases, you should make sure these appear regularly in your site. This should include in text, product names, page names and titles, and even image names.
6. Maximise site performance
Both Adobe, the people behind PDF files, and Google have said that improving speed can reduce abandonment rates and increase sales by between 30% and 40% when selling online. Google has also categorically stated that a speedy site will rank better. And obviously buyers like fast sites too. In my experience, moving our customers to faster hosting packages has seen traffic to the sites grow up to 50%.
It’s simple. Hosting is an area where it’s foolish to cut costs if you want a successful web business.
7. Simplify address input
Do you use address look-up software? This is where you ask customers to type in just their postcode when they check out and then the software fills in the full address automatically. This not only streamlines the process, but also reduces the risk of cart abandonment. Plus the addresses will be more accurate so you will definitely reduce costs by having fewer failed deliveries. Check out postcode look-up services from Postcode Anywhere (www.postcodeanywhere.co.uk) who work on a pay-as-you-go basis.
8. Hold back on customer registration
We all know how annoying it is to have to remember lots of passwords and I resent being made to create another account on a site I’ll use once. In fact, I click away from a store that takes this tack, and I am sure I’m not alone. People don’t know if they’ll return to buy again before they complete their first order so why force them to register? Give them the option to register later and I bet your cart abandonment rate goes down.
9. Measure results
Testing different alternatives to your site and measuring the results may be dull, but the two examples below illustrate that massive and unexpected gains can result from small changes.
In one documented case sales doubled simply by removing the discount code field from the checkout. The verdict was that buyers without discount codes felt ripped off if they didn’t have a code. In another case sign-ups increased by 200% after “Free trial” was changed to “See plans and pricing.”
Go for it!
These suggestions aren’t particularly exciting, and may even sound dull. But they will increase your orders and a big bonus is that they are easy to implement, particularly if you use a packaged e-commerce product with these features built in. What’s holding you back?
Chris Barling is CEO of Actinic (www.actinic.co.uk)