Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The 5 Keys to Online Business


It's hard for many people to imagine (or remember) a world without being able to shop online. The ease of being able to buy your groceries, Christmas presents and book in your mani-pedi (all while watching re-runs of Master Chef in your PJ's), makes going into an actual brick & mortar store seem like something out of a black & white movie.

We are living in the era of online shopping and while the global online shopping center is almost unfathomable, there are a few key elements that can make or break your online business.
Note: As much as we emphasise the importance of great creative - as long as the content is laid out in a manner that can be followed, the overall style of the elements is only a small factor of customer satisfaction compared to the key areas below. There are many non-pretty sites that are highly successful (Craigslist, Wikipedia & are just a few examples). Great design has little to do with how pretty it looks - it's all about how functional it is.
1. Ease of finding/browsing products

If a potential customer can't find what they're looking for, how are they going to be able to make a purchase? Try to think how your customers will be thinking when they come in, and not how you categorise your products. Select the best of what you have to offer (either the highest interest or the highest profit) and make sure the user sees those first.

Things to avoid
  • Don't categorise products primarily by brand. Unless you're a B2B operation, few customers will know which specific brand they like, so navigating through different styles becomes tedious. This does however work well as a secondary 'filter' option for people who want matching items after they have found one they like.
  • Don't try to overload the user with everything you have to offer at once. Create a hierarchy of information and highlight key areas for the user to see first. (Remember, bold text only stands out when it's surrounded by regular text).
2. Current & complete data

You've been looking for a specific product for weeks, you finally find it online and at the right price, you got to place the order only to find out that the product is no longer available or the price has changed. You've not only wasted the time of your customer (who isn't likely to ever come back), but you're now having to provide some customer service to smooth things over.

As monotonous as it is to keep a large inventory up to date on your site, it's essential that your catalogue is current, and as complete as possible. The more you add up front, the less likely you are to have products returned to you.

Things to avoid
  • Don't try to be deceptive in your descriptions. Yes it may close the sale for you, but as soon as the buyer gets a product that doesn't match what they expected, you know it's coming right back.
  • Blurry or small photos. Because a customer can't touch the product before they buy, you need to make the shopping experience as close to realistic as you can. The better you present your product (or service for that matter), the better it's going to 'feel' on screen.
3. Answers to common questions

There are a handful of questions that almost every user that comes to your site wants to ask. The goal of a good online business is to allow the user to not only search, find and buy what you're offering, but can also 'ask' any questions they would have asked if they were completing the purchase in person. Start with transaction-based questions like security, what will appear on a credit card statement, shipping rates & times, then go onto delivery, guarantees and warranty, then importantly a number to call (or a form to complete) for more questions.

Things to avoid
  • Again, don't try to mislead people. Be honest and clear about prices, delivery times, order processes and special offers.
  • There's no need to think of EVERY question. it's called frequently asked questions for a reason. Not 'every question that's been asked before'. Keeping the list somewhat limited makes it easier to skim through the list and makes it more readable. If people are presented with a long page to sort through, they're either going to skip it and call you directly or just go to another site.
4. Easy to understand terms & service information

Make sure any terms and conditions of your business are easy to find and easy to understand. This may be as simple as adding a link to your terms in the top navigation, or you may need purchasers to agree to your terms before completing a transaction.

You will also need to ensure that you have a legal privacy policy which outlines your company's policy on the collection and storage of personal information. A text link in the page footer for this is an adequate solution.

Things to Avoid

  • Industry Jargon. Speak in plain english (or your relevant language), and provide external links to explain technical things.
  • Don't take advantage of the fact that few people will actually read the terms by hiding in loopholes for yourself.

5. Customer service

We've all needed to return an item or call to report a problem with a service we're paying for. So we also know that the experience starts at a place of being unhappy to some extent. When we feel that the person we're talking with isn't taking us seriously, is being unreasonable or is minimising our problem it can quickly escalate.

Online support is no different, and in many cases is a little more sensitive. People are generally more wary of making purchases online since there is (often) no physical store to return to, or no way to make a personal connection with a sales representative.

Make sure your customer service personnel are adequately trained to keep your customers calm and help bring situations to a peaceful resolution. You can easily turn an aggravated consumer into a raving fan with the right tone. Since your customer is also likely to be savvy with online platforms, there is also a high likelihood that whatever the outcome, they will be sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.

At the end of the day, if a customer decides not to buy from you, you want it to be because the product itself or the price weren't in line with their expectations - not because they felt you were untrustworthy, didn't care about them, or they felt you were being deliberately deceptive.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid confrontational language like "If you had read our refund policy...", "Calm down", "You should have...", "Why didn't you.." or "Like I told you..."
  • Avoid suggesting that the reason the customer is unhappy is because of their own fault or incompetence.
  • Avoid using informal colloquialisms. Keeping your language formal is a great way to reassure the customer that you are taking them seriously. Phrases like "Just a sec", "Hold on", ""

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Let us know your top tips for a successful online business.