Beneficial Business Practices in 2008 Provide a Game Plan for 2009

We all know 2008 was not a great year financially for many big corporations, but it was also a year in which many smaller businesses found great success. While it is easy to spot the short comings that caused some of the nation’s largest companies to take a dive this year, it can be harder to identify what helped smaller businesses to win big in 2008. Let us take a look at the online business practices at both ends of the spectrum this year:

The Bad

  1. Confusing Order Pages
    The last thing customers want when they are trying to buy something online is confusion about what they are getting or how much they are paying. If your order page is too long it may scare customers away. This is the reason many online business owners decide to get a merchant account to accept credit cards- so that customers do not have to leave the online store’s website to make their purchase.
    One Page Checkout
  2. High Prices
    In the current economy many consumers are trying to save money. This does not necessarily mean that they are shopping online less, but rather that they are spending less money when they do. Comparison shopping is at an all time high and if your prices are significantly higher than your competitors you are probably not going to get the sale.
  3. Limited Shipping Options
    Reducing the amount of choice customers have when it comes to shipping can cause customers to go elsewhere. If they need the product in say five days they are not going to want to pay for two day delivery on your site when they can find the product on another site for a similar cost and only have to pay for 3-5 day delivery.
  4. Lack of Choice
    What is important to remember is that even within a very specific target market not every individual in that target market is going to have exactly the same needs. Say you are selling a certain model of cell phone. If that cell phone comes in black, silver, blue and red do not just offer the silver model. Give customers a choice. Similarly, if you are selling bundled products it is best to also offer those products individually (ex. a gaming system bundled with two video games). By doing so you are giving the customer more choice and showing them the value of buying the products as a package deal.
  5. Minimum Order Requirements
    Minimum order requirements for products can get a bit tricky and really have to be handled correctly. Many times it is best to get rid of the minimum order requirement altogether and either create a separate wholesale site (where you sell these items in bulk only) or tiered pricing scheme. With the tiered pricing scheme there are two beneficial byproducts- customers are able to buy just a few patio chairs if they desire, and customers who are looking to get a number of patio chairs are encouraged to buy even more because the value of each chair increases as they buy more.

The Good:

  1. Wide Selection
    While some websites thrive on being very specialized, others need to widen their offerings. Going back to the cell phone example, if you are selling cell phones you either want to just sell one brand (and try to have the best value and selection for that brand) or be a “one stop shop” for cell phones and carry many models of each brand. Either way you want to have a wide selection of models (not just one or two models of a few brands). Selection means choices and consumers these days have enough options available to them online that they will not shop where they will have to settle for product that is not really what they want.
  2. Low Prices/Free Products
    Everyone is looking for a deal these days. Whether it is reducing your prices or offering something free when a customer shops on your site, you will need to find a way to get an edge over your competitors. If lowering your prices is not an option consider what you can add to the purchase to create more value in the customer’s mind. The most popular tactics recently are free gift cards for later purchases, free samples of similar products or free items that compliment what is purchased.
  3. Fast Shipping/Shipping Options
    Along with more shipping options and less expensive shipping, consumers these days are looking for faster shipping for the money. If you are not going to change your shipping prices consider trying to speed up when the customer will get the product. A lot of times this can be done by just processing the order faster and not having to pay for more expensive expedited shipping with your carriers to get the product to the customer faster.
    Volusion’s Shipping Features
  4. Provide Information As Well As Products
    Consumers are more apt to trust you and then buy from your site when you give the impression that you have experience in your field and genuinely care about the products that you are selling. For these reasons it is best to also offer advice and helpful tips on your website where appropriate. Tell customers how to use your products and explain differences between different products. Consider the fact that many consumers probably know a lot less about what you are selling than you do.
  5. Portray Personality
    While you do not want to flood your site with personal information and detract from the items you are selling, many online sites find it highly beneficial to attach a personality to their website. Try including an “about us” that actually says something about the company. Perhaps have a picture of or a quote from the owner. You could include a video of your product being used. When you are setting up your website consider how a customer would feel if your site was a retail store and they had just walked in the front door. Would anyone be there to greet them with a smile?

In short, learn from the mistakes and achievements of fellow eCommerce stores in 2008 and leap into 2009 with a plan for success!

-Kate Pierce eCommerce Specialst

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