In today’s market creating a way for customers to purchase your products and services online can greatly affect your businesses bottom line. Today’s shoppers are very comfortable shopping online and the Internet has quickly become a one-stop shop for making quick, convenient, and smart purchasing decisions.
There is little doubt that an online store presence can help drive customers to your business and can greatly expand the rate at which you convert potential customers, to paying customers. But, planning and building a successful bridge into the world of ecommerce can be quite overwhelming. And, in order to create a successful online storefront, you must ensure that you plan and implement your online presence properly.
The wonderful thing about today’s online market technology is that with just a little time and planning you can create a very simple, yet complex storefront. The bad thing about today’s online market technology is that every single one of your competitors can do exactly the same. So, just because you create a great company website with a great online storefront, doesn’t necessarily mean that people will buy your products.
This shouldn’t discourage you from taking on the task: A well-planned, nicely developed online storefront can bring great success to your business. But, it should motivate you to devise a proper plan and create an online shopping experience that is likely to be well received by your customers.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Boy, this sounds like a lot of work.” But, accomplishing the task of setting up an online store isn’t as difficult as it sounds. And, below, you’ll find a few quick suggestions to help you get started.
Step 1: Make it easy
There are a couple of things we know absolutely about online shoppers:
They are incredibly impatient. If you’re storefront is too complex or clunky, they’ll close it up in a hot second and move on to your competitors.
They’re masters at finding a bargain. It doesn’t matter how great your storefront is, if you don’t provide them with valuable, reputable, and cost effective products or services, they’ll quickly shut you down.
To help combat these two realities, you must consider a few key points when planning your online store. First, and perhaps most importantly, you must make the use of your store intuitive. Customers don’t want to work to spend their money. And, if you don’t have a well-designed online storefront, you may as well not have one at all. Your store should be visually pleasing, easy to navigate, and (most importantly) provide a simple and flexible checkout system.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to ensure that your site provides a well-designed search function that is easily sortable and presents the customer with good filtering options. A user-friendly search results page is imperative to the success of your online store. This is especially important if you are offering multiple products or services that are not easily viewable on one page.
Additionally, you must provide an easily understood shopping cart to allow your customers the option to purchase more than one product while visiting your store. Providing a shopping cart feature will help ensure customers continue to browse through your entire product line, rather than stopping cold on the one item they actually came to your site to find. Business 101: Never miss an opportunity to cross sale. A well-designed shopping cart will help you achieve this goal.
And last but certainly not least, you must know the market. What products or services are you going to offer for purchase? Who is going to buy those products or services and from whom else can they get them? And, how much can you expect customers to pay for those products or services? You’ll have to know the answer to all of these questions to close the deal once customers arrive at your site
Step 2: Always, always provide easily accessible contact information
Perhaps the most simple to achieve, yet most often overlooked feature of an online store is the ease with which customers can contact your physical business. No matter how hard you try, you can never present your customers with every detail about your products, services, or company. It’s an absolute necessity to provide them with a quick and easy way to get answers to their questions. And, while some may settle for a list of FAQs or fill out an email form and wait for a response, the majority of customers will look for a way to call and get an immediate answer to their question. You should always be prepared to take those calls. And, ideally, you should be able to process their purchase right then and there while you have them on the line.
If you fail to provide this simple information, you’re online store is likely to take a hit. Never forget that in order to have a successful online presence you’re offline presence has to be solid as well. And, while it is okay to try and drive your customers to purchase your products online, it is never okay to discourage them from picking up the phone and giving you a call.
Step 3: Make sure people can find you
If you already have an online presence, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of search engine optimization. We won’t get much into web optimization in this article. But, you must know that to create a successful online storefront, you must consider how your customers will find you. And, for most businesses the answer is quite simple: Google.
Google and other popular search engines such as Bing now offer tools to help you optimize your website with keyword content and help you ensure you’re business is easily found. This process used to take weeks, even months. But, with the correct tools and a little trial and error you can now improve your businesses search engine footprint.
This can be accomplished by creating a simple site map for your site, ensuring that key search engine words are placed in your site headings and in your product descriptions, and using tools such as Google’s Webmaster Support Tools to help you along the way.
In addition, don’t underestimate the power of social media to help drive business to your site. For more information on using social media to drive customers to and keeping customers tuned into your business, see our article Twitter for Business: 5 Do’s and Don’ts of Twitter Business Etiquette.
Step 4: Make it safe!
While it is true that customers generally feel safe shopping online in today’s market, you must never forget to protect your reputation and their safety by providing a secure way for them to purchase your products.
While having a good reputation and professional looking online presentation is important to making customers feel safe, that feeling is no substitution for actual, very real safety. Believe it or not savvy online shoppers are keen to the fact that the ‘s’ in ‘https’ means they are interacting with a site they can trust. But, it is your job to make sure that sense of security isn’t false. When you venture into the ecommerce market it is your duty to protect your customers.
Most web hosts offer SSL services to help you secure your site, so contacting your web-hosting service provider is always a good place to start. But, if you’re hosting your own website companies such as VeriSign and Symantec offer very good solutions for protecting your customers. And, don’t be shy about using their badges on your site. Your customers will always appreciate knowing they’re protected.
Step 5: Let someone else do the heavy lifting:
While there is always a certain level of pride and satisfaction that comes along with building your own solutions, there is a lot to be said for letting someone else help you create your online store. If you haven’t figured it out already, building and hosting your own online store can be a lot of work. But, you can negate a large percentage of that work by leaving the heavy lifting to the experts. There are companies that can help you with every aspect of building and hosting an online storefront, including all the ones mentioned above. They can have you up and running in a matter of days. And, there are lots of them to choose from.
If you’re absolutely convinced that you want to develop and host your own online storefront from scratch, shopping carts like OpenCart are a good place to start. While this option typically allows for a greater deal of creativity and flexibility, however, be aware that the amount of time and money it takes to develop and host a good, secure, online store can be heavy upfront.
If you already have a good company website and are only looking to provide a few products or services for purchase online, services like PayPal and Google Checkout may be exactly what your business needs to get started.
On the other hand, companies like BigCommerce, and Shopify offer quick, easy, and affordable services to get your storefront up and running. Even better, many of these services provide you with the tools necessary to help you address all of the concerns mentioned above; from pre-designed search tools and shopping cart functionality to professional looking and secure services that will immediately put your customers at ease while using your online store. Even better still, these services are completely hosted and start at around $25 per month, which is quite a savings considering how much you can spend creating and hosting your own solution.
Regardless of your need, there is likely a solution out there that will help you create your online storefront. And, more often than not, they are more timely, secure, and cost effective than creating your own solution from scratch.
No matter how you decide to create your online store, following the steps above will help you ensure that it’s a successful venture. Of course this list isn’t exhaustive, so remember to do your homework and create a solid plan before you jump into the ecommerce waters. If you would like professional advice regarding your shopping cart give us a call. While it may seem overwhelming at first, with a little thought and planning an online storefront can help drive a great deal of revenue to your business. And, you can’t afford to ignore an opportunity like that.