Your product could be just what the customer wants, your offer irresistible, your guarantee ironclad—but if you make the online sales transaction hard or confusing, potential buyers could depart your website in lightning speed, possibly never to return. There's no secret to engaging customers from homepage to order page, but it does require a strategic plan that leads them step-by-step to the order button. The best sites share similar attributes, such as ease of use, clarity, and transparency. Here is what experts recommend for making your customers' e-commerce buying experience more profitable.
Make it easy
Small businesses can choose between two kinds of solutions for optimizing their e-commerce transactions. The first are ready-to-use programs—such as Bigcommerce and Shopify—that are equipped with best practices built in and let you set up a simple but effective online shopping experience.
"If you don't have to do anything that is totally unique to the way you sell your products or services, that's usually the most cost-effective way to start selling quickly," says Cindy Penchina, executive director of Hudson Fusion, a New York-based web design and marketing firm. These platforms can also be a big help when you're going for your secure certificates—part of an encryption protocol for your website that permits secure transactions, such as credit card processing—by making sure your code is in compliance, Penchina says.
The second option is to have a custom designed website. While it can be tailored to the specific needs of your business, Penchina stresses that ease of use should be a priority. Products on your website should be easy to find and organized in a way that makes sense to the way your buyers shop—especially when it comes to placing the order.
"You don't want to make people go from page to page to page and enter all kinds of information over and over again," Penchina says. "Anything that reduces the amount of time it takes the shopper to complete an order, such as having certain fields auto-fill for returning customers, is a good thing."
The terms of your guarantee should be clearly spelled out and honored, and the customer should have multiple ways to contact you. Penchina also recommends coming up with a sensible, strategic cross-selling plan. For example, one of her clients who sells big pieces of machinery online will cross-sell complementary items, like batteries, on the same page as the original product. "It's not about being pushy," Penchina says. "Sometimes it's really a convenience [to show] what other part or piece the customer might need instead of making them look for it."
Taking a look at every part of your website, even seemingly "small" items, can sometimes reveal new ways to speed up and simplify the e-commerce process. For example, instructional commands such as Continue and Back.
"Continue doesn't make you think your order is submitted. Continue is like the next step," says Vladimir Khaykin, CEO of New York City-based Webmaster Studio. "Considering our busy lifestyle, we don't want to wait for an additional step in order to process something. I want to click one time and process the order, so the main button should say 'Process' or 'Submit.' I would replace the 'Back' button with 'Edit.'"
Khaykin also finds that a one-page checkout results in higher conversions than a multiple-page checkout form. Repeat customers should not have to reenter their information every time they shop. Instead, Khaykin says that customer information should already be in your database, so that customers can begin the buying process just by entering their email address and password.
Bold images on your website can reassure customers that their credit card information is secure on your checkout page. "You can display it with different seals," Khaykin says. "The seal comes from the security company that issues the security certificates. They give you the option to click on the seal and get a pop-up message box from the company showing that the website is validated under a 256-bit encryption [technique]. I would definitely design elements to show the user that the website is protected."
Automate your sales
Small business owners should choose an e-commerce platform that can grow with their business, help them run their operation more efficiently, and provide reliable technical support.
"I was looking for something that had an integrated solution, that wasn't just a payment processor or a merchant account," says Erin Blaskie, the co-founder of Ontario, Canada-based Next Dev Media, a full service digital agency. "I wanted something that could help me automate the entire sales process."
Blaskie chose 1ShoppingCart and has found it to be a "one-stop" solution for her business objectives. For example, she can set up a series of email marketing messages, or auto-responders, in advance that go out to her customer and prospect lists automatically.
1ShoppingCart lets Blaskie set up an affiliate program that introduces her business services to the customer lists of non-competing businesses in exchange for a percentage of sales. She can also create custom products and up-sell them during the checkout process.
"I've sold tickets to live events. I've created e-books and audio programs and virtual online courses," Blaskie says. "I've really sold everything through 1ShoppingCart. Based on my experience with my clients, there really isn't anything I can't do."
Any solution that you choose should be backed by a knowledgeable and on-call technical team. "Choose a system early on based on what you need because it is an investment and you will recoup it using a system that really does work," Blaskie says.