I’ve been in this business for almost 12 years now and I’ve learned a lot, both about things to do and things not to do. In this economy, I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned, especially for those of you who are new to ecommerce.
Note: these are in no particular order of importance.
1. Test your cart! It seems obvious, but until you have placed an order or four in your cart, you have no idea what your customers are experiencing.
2. If you show products on the home page, change them at least monthly and preferably weekly. That way, if someone visits more than once, they don’t see the same old page and think, “Oh, I’ve seen all this and there’s nothing I want.”
If you sell only one product, then change something else on the home page frequently. For instance, if you offer specials, have an area of the page where visitors can see the current special. Or add a quote in a little box – something uplifting or about quality – and change it every few weeks.
3. Spend the time or money to have good pictures. The Internet is all about visuals. And if your cart shows a small picture and a large picture, create separate sizes of each picture rather than using an automatic sizer for the small picture (many carts are set up to limit the size of the category page images). When you visit a site and the small pictures look kind of strange, it’s often because it’s really a large picture that someone (maybe the cart itself) is forcing a 300 pixel wide picture to be 100 pixels wide, for example.
4. Describe your products extensively, giving all dimensions, options, shipping information, color options, etc. Don’t make your potential customer have to call or email you to find out something. Most people won’t. They will just find a website that tells them what they need to know. Most of us are lazy when it comes to buying online. Make it fast and easy to buy.
5. Give your phone number on your website! Even if it’s a cell phone that you don’t use except to listen to messages (and then respond via your regular phone), it adds to your credibility if a potential customer knows they can call you.
6. Give your city on the website. If you’re a home-based business, you may not want to give your street address and that’s fine. But at least give me enough information so I feel like you’re a real company with some sort of physical location.
7. Create a FAQs or Order Info page where you answer every conceivable question you would ask if you were buying from an unknown entity.
What’s your return policy?
Can I cancel my order?
What if it doesn’t fit or is the wrong color or arrives damaged?
How will it be shipped?
When will it be shippped?
Can I get an order expedited?
Does it cost extra to ship to Canada?
Can you include a gift card?
What if I want to order 2 things and have them shipped different places?
(You get the idea)
8. Invest in getting your site found. This is best done during the design phase of your website, but almost any site can be optimized for searches even if it’s been around for years. You can educate yourself about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or you can hire someone like me. The cost to optimize a site varies, depending on how big a site is, how many search terms you want to rank well for, and whether you want a one-time optimization or something ongoing.
9. Accept credit cards or Paypal. Long gone are the days when customers were willing to send you a check, especially for lower-end items. However, if you’re selling $9,000 hand-built tables, a check in the mail would be okay, as long as you don’t build the table and then try to cash the check!
10. Design your site so that it takes no more than 3 clicks from your home page to put an item in the cart. Don’t make me wade through categories and sub-categories or anything else that slows down my ability to click that important “add to cart” button.
Oh my gosh, I could go on, but I need to get some work done.
One last thing, though. Do not expect a new site to start generating income immediately. Unless you kick off your ecommerce site with heavy print and online advertising, it will be about 6 months before you get an idea of what your sales are going to be. I’ve had clients make a sale 3 days after their site went up, but that was only when they were in my Texas companies mall or had spent money on SEO so that their site would be found more quickly.
Remember: Nothing of value is free and that includes e-commerce websites. Invest in your business. Otherwise, you will get back exactly what you put into it.