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The Retail Detail

E-commerce Strategy & Design

A high-performing e-commerce website will clearly communicate your core proposition, inspire buyers with memorable design, and achieve high conversion rates through first-class usability. Whatever your budget there are some basic good practices you should be sure to implement:

1. Tell me what it is, and what’s in it for me – when browsers land on your site they need to be able to quickly see exactly what you are about and why they should hang around! This is called communicating your ‘core proposition’; why you exist and how you are better than / different to the rest.

2. Show, not tell – don’t write paragraphs of text about how friendly / quirky / professional you are, show me in the way you design your site, the language you use, and in your all-important customer service policies. Actions are louder than words.

3. Use your own images – pictures are worth a thousand words, be sure to make them authentic to your business. Don’t be tempted to just use stock photos as you will look just like everyone else, and it says to that you haven’t been prepared to invest time on your website.

4. Fresh Content – your homepage is your shop window. e-commerce websites need to be updated with fresh content at least every other day. I recommend 5 days per week. Keep your potential buyers interested with news of latest products, reviews, industry news, offers and featured items. When you update your site frequently with appropriate fresh content, buyers will come back more and more often, blogs may link to your articles, and search engines will rank you better – all proven to increase conversion.

5. Make your items easy to find – name categories with the terms that potential buyers will use – don’t be tempted to over-elaborate for the sake of being ‘quirky’. Put items in more than one category. Give customers more options for how they find items – e.g. shop by brand / price / colour etc.

6. Make it easy to be trusted – prominently display your contact details including phone number, email and registered address. Post clear and fair return policies, ensure you have a plain-English privacy policy, publish a Frequently Asked Questions page.

7. Make it easy to get paid – you’ve done the hard work: designed a great site, secured first page search engine rankings for your keywords, made it easy for customers to find your items, built trust – now seal the deal! Use a payment gateway that accepts all major credit and debit cards. Offer alternative payment methods – e.g. postal order, cash on delivery – if they are appropriate to you and your customers. Ensure your checkout is simple and intuitive to use. Don’t make customers register with you just to buy one of your items – make accounts optional, never compulsory. Don’t ask for marketing information at the checkout stage – it might be tempting to do so but it drives customers mad, possibly mad enough to go buy elsewhere. Lastly, if you have access to details of abandoned orders, a polite and professional email offering assistance can often ‘recover’ the sale and earn you a new and loyal customer.

8. Check your links – customers hate broken links, and search engines will penalise you for them, too. Free software is widely available to check your whole site in minutes.

9. Get the SEO basics right – relevant site title and description, fresh content, keyword rich text, use of headings, alt and meta tags, appropriate inward links. Search Engine Optimisation is not a dark art, despite what some agencies might want you to believe.

10. Keep it professional – it’s great to add personality to your site (it’s one of the things that gives you a key advantage against your big volume competitors), but always keep it business-like. Basil Fawlty had lots of personality – enough said?!

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If you’re considering starting a blog for your small business (and there are a lot of good reasons why you might want to) here are some simple preparations you can start on now, and some basic good practices we suggest you follow:

1. Know what you want to get from your blog – some reasons to get blogging for your business include; increasing traffic to your website, creating more interaction with your customers, creating content that you just don’t have appropriate space for on your website. Decide exactly what you want to achieve – and how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded.

2. Choose a (domain) name that is short, memorable and easy to spell. You want people to remember you, right? Make it easy for readers to pass on your details and for others to find you. Consider registering your own domain name rather than using the free URL provided by WordPress / Typepad etc.

3. Include an ‘About Us / Me’ page – a small business has the opportunity to have a much more personal and friendly relationship with it’s customers. Talk about your background, your interests and passions, and include photos of yourself and your team.

4. Don’t copy, give credit – do report what other blogs are saying (it’s a great way to generate relevant content for your own blog), but never pass other people’s content off as your own. It’s a good idea to add your own comments – both on your own blog because your readers will be interested in your opinion, and on the original blog as you can add a ‘backlink’ to your own blog / website.

5. Be yourself – reflect your personality, with a blog you can have more license to express your opinions, and on a wider range of subjects than you might be appropriate on your website. You can strike a less formal, more conversational tone that will engage your readers, and build interaction by publishing and replying to comments.

6. Check your facts – enough said.

7. Appropriate content – know your audience. Remember, it stays forever!

If you’re just getting started with email marketing there are some basic good practices that can be easily adopted…and some surprisingly common mistakes that you can usefully avoid.

1. Use an opt-in system so that customers consciously choose to subscribe to your newsletter. Explain the benefits of subscribing to your newsletter (e.g, exclusive special offers, advance notice of new products, product guides) and how frequently they should expect to receive it. While it’s tempting to automatically ‘subscribe’ everyone who makes a purchase from your site, it’s of no benefit to you to risk alienating any of your customers. It’s not the size of your email subscriber list that will give you results – it’s the quality.

2. Make sure the ‘from line’ says it’s from you. As a rule, use your company / website name. Avoid phrases like ‘From your friends‘ – these sorts of generic terms are widely used by spammers. Don’t leave the from line blank.

3. Make the title relevant and clear so that subscribers can quickly recognise it’s something they chose to receive. Many people receive tens of emails every day so avoid spammy titles like: ‘Amazing offers you must see – open now!’ Dry and factual often works best. For example, Savvy Row use this title format: ‘Savvy Row – Vintage Clothing Newsletter – Summer 2011’. Their email ‘open rate’ is 5 times higher than the industry average!

4. Check all links, then check them again. If your newsletter contains links to other content, e.g your own website, double check that all the links are correctly titled and pointed to the correct URLs.

5. Include an unsubscribe link. We’ve seen some ‘unsubscribe’ links and processes that are so complex we would never want to use that company again. Make the link obvious and the process easy and quick. Send a confirmation email. Using an email client such as Mailchimp will take care of this for you.

6. Follow basic design rules. Even if you’re not yet ready to invest in your own bespoke email template design, there are still some basic good practices you can follow – don’t use too many fonts, AVOID EXTENSIVE USE OF BLOCK CAPITALS AS THEY ARE HARDER TO READ AND IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING, use paragraphs to break up large blocks of text, use numbers or bullet points to make lists easy to read, be consistent with use of headers, use ‘white space’ to clearly define different sections.

7. Proof read, not just spell check. A spell check won’t tell you if you’ve used the wrong word or if your content reads well and makes sense to your audience. Proof read yourself, and get a couple of colleagues / friends to do the same.

8. Send a test email first. Then check everything – links, spelling, readability, grammar, message title and from lines – all over again.

Hope that’s helpful. Do you have more essential tips to share? Send us your suggestions – if we agree, we’ll add them to the list.