ISSUE 550: The high tech office- May 9
Follow this slimming, 10-step program
to maximize Web site sales success
we looked at some of the difficulties standing in the way of building a
profitable online retail site. In particular, some statistics suggest
that an average sale of $160 ends
up costing an e-tailer $250 or so, for a net loss of $90.
In his speech to this year's Internet
World 2000 conference in Toronto, Microforum chief
technology officer Marco Argenti presented that gloomy
statistic. He also went on to propose a 10-step program for becoming
successful e-tailers, based on the assumption that the only way to
actually get ahead of the game is to build a customer base that chooses
to return to your site.
* Less is more.
Build a simple site that focuses on the products for sale, not on how
cool your site can look. While your Web designer may want to sell you
on design, your job is to sell your product to your customers. Use
neutral coloured backgrounds that are less distracting and help make
your products the focus.
* Pay attention
to speed. We've said this before in this column, but it's worth
repeating. Any Web page will look fast when demoed off a computer's
hard drive, and most business people get to the Internet over a fast
network connection. But most potential customers are shopping from home
and 95 per cent of home Internet connections use slow phoneline modems.
A 100-Kb page will take 30 seconds or so to load, about the longest
anyone will wait. Avoid large graphics, animations and plug-ins. If you
really must use this sort of eye candy, include a faster-loading
* Deal with trust
issues. If you are taking credit card orders online, ensure your site
is secure and digitally certified and that your potential customers
know this. Show proof of certification and state up-front that any
pages where customers are asked to enter information is secure. If you
aren't gathering customer information for sale to third parties, say
so. And if you are, give customers a chance to opt out. (Check with TRUSTe
at www.truste.com for information on building trust on your
* Offer clear
directions. Big sites can be confusing. Try to make getting around your
site simple, keeping the number of layers to a minimum. Always include
links back to your home page and keep the design and placement of
navigation links consistent from page to page. This helps keep your Web
site fast, as each time your customers have to go to a new page, they
have to sit and wait -- or lose patience and leave. Since your goal is
sales, make it easy for potential customers to find your products and
place an order.
* Make your
customers feel at home. Offer customers an option to register, but
respect their choice not to. Welcome registered customers back and
offer personalized promotions and suggestions based on their purchase
history. If you want to collect customer information, make it clear
that there are some rewards for sharing personal data.
communities. Offer information on what other shoppers with similar
tastes have purchased. Give custo-
mers a chance to post re-
views of products or to post questions.
service, service. The Web's anonymity makes customer service a big
concern. Many potential customers are afraid that their order is just
going into some electronic black hole. Send out e-mail confirmation of
all orders and include a toll-free number allowing customers to verify
or track the progress of their purchase. Let customers know when their
order will be shipped and when they can expect it.
* It's a wide
world... Display prices in multiple currencies. Allow customers to pay
in their local currency at a reasonable rate of exchange.
* Pay attention
to shipping. Some online sites promise low prices, but are inflating
shipping costs. Customers quickly figure this out. Make shipping easy
and affordable. Offering free shipping will result in repeat customers.
* Tell the world.
There's no "build it and they will come" on the Internet. You have to
advertise. Submit your site to search engines. Buy banner ads,
targeting them to your potential customers. Use traditional advertising
media as well -- print, radio, T-shirts and what-have-you -- to target
your potential customer base. *