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4 Cornerstones for E-Commerce Success

No small business can afford to do things half as well as the competition or to be right 50 percent of the time or to get halfway to its financial goals. But we see a lot of business owners whose website and e-commerce business are set up for selling but not set up for success. The difference is huge. We offer four must-do’s for your business in today’s world: You can implement them one at a time, if you prefer to work toward a goal rather than leap on it, but in our opinion you need to address all four of these areas to be successful at e-commerce.

1–Have a mobile strategy. In a recent survey, Web.com contacted 500 small business owners and asked them about their mobile marketing strategies and plans. While only 14 percent of the surveyed companies have a stand-alone website for customers using a mobile device like a smartphone or a tablet, 84 percent of those that do said their mobile sites had brought them an increase in new business activity.

A press release about the Web.com survey results says that small businesses are “lagging behind in mobile search strategy” and “are missing out on consumers trying to find them via a smartphone device.” Is that you? Time to address this.

2–Redesign for a small screen. Now that smartphones (with search capabilities) outnumber mobile phones without search, the imperative is here for businesses to make sure smartphone users can access their sites without frustration. That means no slow-loading, media-heavy landing pages. Try to view your site on a small screen and see if you’re happy with the results. Validator.w3.org is a free site that allows you to test your site’s mobile capabilities.

Step two is to see how other businesses have tweaked their websites for a mobile audience. Inc. magazine suggests various examples to follow in their recent How to Create a Mobile Strategy for Your Business article.

Another consideration is keywords. Are mobile users employing the same terms that desktop users type in? Instead of “shoe stores Manhattan,” perhaps they are inputting “shoes lower east side” or “sandals NYC.” Google Adwords helps you find the terms specific to mobile that your customers may be using, reports an article on Search Engine Watch.

Finally, give your mobile site a unique URL so it gets found by the search engine bots, separately from your main site—giving you twice the searchability.

3–Make it easy for shoppers to buy. This is a no-brainer, but sometimes it takes a while to learn how to do this well. Where is the call to action on your website? Is it on every page? Jim Currie, the director of marketing services for Pamlab, emailed to say an essential e-commerce practice is to “allow your online customers to choose to purchase at any point in their search/discovery process. The common mistake is to treat the process as linear and only allow them to make the purchase at the end.”

Another way to make it easy for web shoppers to buy is to send offers to prior customers and get them to drop back into your e-commerce store. Amy Wright, a business consultant, emailed to say: “My biggest lesson was follow up, follow up, follow up! There’s so much more money in contacting customers who have already purchased from you than most business owners imagine. And it’s cheaper than marketing to brand new customers because they already know you and feel comfortable with you and your product or service.”

4–Focus on good customer service. Internet selling can seem cold and faceless. For your part, you’re not meeting anyone face-to-face in the aisles of your store or at the cash register at checkout, and from your customer’s standpoint, the same holds true. That’s why successful e-commerce entrepreneurs demonstrate there’s a person behind the site.

Wade Benz, owner of USimprints, which sells promotional items, started making a bigger effort to provide “world-class friendly service” to customers about nine months ago. All sales reps and customer service agents went through training in advanced customer service techniques at that time, Benz said in an interview, and since then USimprints’ reorder business has grown by about 35 percent. Referrals also climbed.

In an e-commerce business, he believes, “it is still crucial to build relationships with your customers.” He said the number-one technique his staff employs is to treat customers “the way we want to be treated.” That might mean sending flowers for a death in the family or an email with birthday wishes. (USimprints sells mainly to the B2B market, with a typical order worth about $600, Benz said.) Every customer is contacted “within a week after we get an order,” he said, to learn if everything was right with the order. “We do it for quality assurance purposes, but the agents also ask at that time if the customer wants to set up a reorder.”

Every six weeks, the customer gets a personalized e-mail or phone call. “It’s not automatic, it’s truly customized to every customer,” said Benz. The idea is “just to check in with them and ask if there are any projects they are working on.”

E-commerce is not just about sales, it’s not just about having technology that works, it’s primarily about serving customers and making their ordering easy and reordering easier still.

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