How much time do you spend on the internet each day? How long do you spend online searching for a particular product or service? And how many pages do you visit while doing so?
The truth of the matter is that when prospective customers go online to buy something they are looking to get what they want for the best value as soon as they can get it. Prospective customers will spend just a few seconds on a site before making the decision to click the “back” button or explore the site further. Unlike a brick and mortar store where upon entry there is some lingering before leaving (even if a prospective customer knows right away that he/she are not interested in the product) a prospective customer on the internet can click into and leave five sites in the amount of time it would take to open and close the door at a regular brick and mortar location. In the few seconds that a prospective customer spends on a site before deciding to leave or shop he/she will make snap judgments about the credibility of products, of the site, and most importantly the company itself.
Areas To Focus On
Cindy Cragg, visual merchandising and design specialist with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, wrote an article for Casual Living titled “4 Essentials of Retailing.” In this article she identified four main focuses that a brick and mortar stores need to succeed- “the ‘Wow’ factor” in the first 10-20 feet of the store, “educate and motivate” customers about products, “give clear directions” to make shopping easier and more enjoyable, and “explore the senses.” The first three are just as important in an online store as they are for a brick and mortar store. The Volusion Marketing and Design teams shared some input on these main points.
“The ‘Wow’ Factor”
The ecommerce equivalent of the first 10-20 feet of a brick and mortar store is the site’s homepage- it is what your customers are first greeted with when they access your site. The most important thing about a home page is that it be visually appealing.
Color- The template should include colors that make the customer feel welcome and not overwhelmed or intimidated. They should also be appropriate to your industry to add to your perceived credibility. Much like a brick and mortar store would not want to be bare and just pile products up for customers to search through; an online store needs to get a customer in the spirit of the store’s atmosphere and give the eye something to look at.
Volusion Custom Templates
Volusion Professional Design Services
Quality Product Photographs- When possible it is always best to use photographs of your actual products so that customers know what they are getting, instead of stock photographs that can be a bit misleading. The photographs should be large and have a high resolution to grab the attention of the customer. Customers are used to going into brick and mortar stores and seeing exactly what they are getting- why should that experience be any different online?
Relevant Information- If you are having a sale or running a promotion that is relevant to the customer’s purchase, it should be clearly stated on the homepage to hold their interest. In a brick and mortar store customers gravitate toward the “clearance rack” in much the same way that online customers will stay on a site longer if they think they are getting a deal. Do not get carried away though- flashing sale signs and huge text can actually drive customers away.
Products- You should always have a small sampling of products listed on your homepage. This is your space to have a featured products section to showcase your best sellers. Think of this as your “front window display.” If you add too many products though the site can feel cluttered and scare away customers who do not want to sift through many product images and descriptions.
Main Category Thumbnails- Having small images to represent the categories of items you are selling can be both visually appealing and also beneficial if the category name itself is not well known or vague.
“Educate and Motivate”
Your featured products section will be a customer’s first sense of who you are, what you are selling, and what makes you different, but remember that you have other pages that can extend this mission in ways that many online store owners tend to overlook.
“About Us” Section- Every site should have some sort of basic information about who you are as a company but this about us section is a great place to tell customers what makes you different. Tell the world about your history, employees, unique products, packaging, business practices, charity efforts- anything that will make you stick out in a customer’s mind.
Include Yourself- If you went to a brick and mortar store you would certainly interact with real people, so why not make your site feel more like connecting with a real person? Some popular ways to do this are by including a picture of yourself (or your baby, pet, etc. if relevant to the site content), include employee biographies, add live chat so customers can talk to real people in real time.
Customer Reviews and Testimonials- Customers talk. Why not make it easier for customers to find out what others think about your products, your site, and your business? Quality reviews can make a customer feel more confident about making a purchase if they can get a sense of what the product is like from someone who has no agenda in discussing the product. Let good reviews be the salespeople you would hire for your brick and mortar store.
Contact Information- When a customer goes into a brick and mortar store they have a very firm idea of where to go if there is a problem with their purchase, but online it can be more difficult. Every website should have clear contact information. The more information you can provide the better. Include the physical/mailing address, a phone number, an email address, and clear instructions for customers that may have a problem or question about their order. Many customers will skip right over a site if there is no contact information of if the company policies on returns and refunds are not posted in an easy to find location.
“Give Clear Directions”
If your site has an easy navigation it will most likely result in higher conversions much the same way that a retail store benefits by having an easy to understand layout. Make customers feel comfortable navigating your site and they are more likely to stay on your site longer and buy more products.
Various Search Options- An important way to help customers feel like they are getting what they want quickly is to help them search in ways that would accommodate many situations. For example, imagine the following situation: a woman is looking for a dress. One customer may only care that the dress is blue so that it will match shoes she already has. One customer may be looking for a dress as evening wear. One customer may be need a dress for a one-time occasion and wants to limit the amount of money they are spending. By making your products search have options like color, function, price, brand, length, material, etc. you are giving the customer the most direct way to get to what they want.
Have “Related Products”- Customers that do not have a particular product in mind, but rather a category or functionality will benefit by this greatly. This is the online version of the brick and mortar sales representative helping lead the customer to the section with the particular dresses that they are looking for.
Points to Take Away
Potential customers online are lazy. They will not search through page after unappealing disorganized page to find a product or service that they are looking for. In an instant they can navigate away to a new site that may appeal to them more. Therefore, your site needs to draw the customer in right away by catching their eye and making them feel comfortable. Once you have them explain why you are different and get them excited about buying; and lastly, help them buy easily.
-Kate Pierce, Ecommerce Specialist