When eshoppers find your online store, there’s a good chance they’re looking to buy what you offer. That’s wonderful news, because you opened your online store to sell what you offer. So if you make it difficult for these potential customers to buy what they came for, you have only yourself to blame when they leave-empty handed.
Regardless of how they found you, you’re one of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of options readily available to online shoppers. Unlike in the brick-and-mortar shopping world where merchants can watch customers walk through the door and shop, ecustomers feel no pressure to stick around and browse. While they may have enough patience with a physical store to seek out an employee to help them find what they’re looking for, they won’t contact you to ask you how to navigate your site—it's much easier to go somewhere else to look. Here are some tips for organizing your content to entice those finicky eshoppers to stick around, and for streamlining them to the checkout.
1. Put the right amount of information on each page: balance, balance, balance
It can be quite tricky to decide how much to trust your customers to seek out the information they want, and how much you should offer for guidance. But never forget that they did some seeking in order to find you. Whatever you decide, don’t make them dig too deeply with a mouse or sift through too much with their eyes, because shoppers can’t travel the road to a purchase if they can’t find it or can’t see it. Very few types of products and services benefit from an interactive, playful, minimalist, or enigmatic presentation. Most of the time, eshoppers just want to find the objects of their desires without having to solve any mysteries. If they don’t feel that every click takes them closer to what they want, they’ll get annoyed and click elsewhere. And if they want to know more about a product, they’ll be willing to make an extra click to find out. So don’t try to teach them what they’re not asking to know—many customers love online shopping because it offers freedom from pushy salespeople.
2. Put the right kind of information on each page: relevance, relevance, relevance
Customers, whether consciously or unconsciously, always ask a series of basic questions as they shop. Try to arrange your content in a manner that answers these questions in the order that they occur:
A) “Where am I?” Tell them who you are.
B) “Am I in the right place?” Tell them what kind of business you run.
C) “Do you have what I want?” Let them know what you offer.
D) “How much is it?” Display the total cost.
E) “How can I buy it?” Explain the necessary steps.
If you jump too far ahead or lag too far behind in this question-and-answer process, you run the risk of killing the sale. Always try to offer the right information at the right time. The more information you offer along the way that is irrelevant to what your customers want to know, the more likely they will be to become distracted or indecisive. And no matter how wonderful you think your merchandise is, don’t try to sell everything to every customer all the time. Placing a few key products on your storefront or in your framing template can sometimes generate collateral or impulse purchases, but too many of these products will minimize the effectiveness of the technique. If you overload your storefront or template with products, customers may feel you’re trying to convince them to buy what they don’t want instead of helping them find what they do want.
3. If you trust your categorization, trust your customers with it
Most customers capable of purchasing online are also capable of following a series of simple category headings. As long as your category headings are arranged in an intuitive manner, they won’t scare anyone away. If you’re a clothing retailer and a customer comes to you looking for an extra-large blue long-sleeved shirt, think about how he or she is likely to search for this item: “shirt” before “long-sleeved,” “long-sleeved” before “blue,” “blue” before “XL.” In other words: type, then style, then color, then size. Providing multiple avenues to any given product won’t hurt (and may help), but be certain that you offer the most instinctive route to every product, and that the instinctive route is the most accessible one.
4. Don’t punish your customers for their navigational mistakes
When customers feel lost in your site, you’ll lose your sale. If their navigational efforts don’t take them where they want to go, they may panic and either open a fresh browser, or head directly back to a place of comfort through a bookmark. Either way, the result is the same: you get left behind for good. If your inventory is large and diverse, make certain that customers can backtrack and return to the storefront easily from any internal page. It might also be wise to offer a “search” function on your template so your customers can jump directly from one spot in your inventory to any other. And always ensure that the “add to cart” and “proceed to checkout” links are easy to find, easy to read, and easy to use—this will benefit you as much as it benefits the customer.
Since few online businesses have the good fortune of instant name recognition all over the globe (think Amazon or Google), you should use your storefront primarily to let your customers know who you are and what you offer. Never forget that your shoppers probably came to you looking for something specific, so if you offer it, make sure they can find it. Abandoned shopping carts are inevitable in ecommerce, and customers change their minds often enough without you giving them extra incentive. Don’t forget that your website is for your customers and their shopping budget is for you, not the other way around.
-David Yakubik, Volusion