Imagine opening a store that sells every product you offer but requires no shelves, racks, displays, or cash registers. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. People on the other side of the world can walk in just as easily as people from the other side of town. And whenever your product line changes, you can update your inventory, sales information, pricing, and promotions without stepping away from your desk.
You can do just that.
In 2023, 20.8% of all retail purchases are expected to occur online, climbing to 24% within the next three years. That may not sound impressive – one out of every five dollars spent in the retail market is spent in an online transaction. But when you figure that into the overall size of the global retail sector, you end up with a pretty staggering figure:
Retail sales will total more than $6,000,000,000,000 in 2023. That’s six trillion dollars.
Why not take your slice of this massive chunk of the economy? If you’re a retailer and aren’t selling your products online, it might be time to consider starting.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into how a well-designed and well-managed eCommerce site can take your business from the corner store to the global marketplace.
In This Guide:
What Is an eCommerce Site?
Short answer? It’s a website allowing customers to buy a product and then have it shipped to their home or office (or delivered digitally, like eBooks or digital music downloads).
In practice, though, an eCommerce site is a robust online presence that offers shoppers a wide variety of convenient shopping options that help them along every step of the buyer’s journey. It provides business owners with just as wide an array of features to simplify the sales process.
We’ll get into some of the buyer- and seller-specific features that eCommerce sites can offer a little later, but in general:
An eCommerce site allows users to browse, filter, and select products from a retailer’s lineup, learn about those products, and purchase them online using digital payment. The site then provides the retailer with the order and the customer’s details and expedites sending the product to the customer.
Do I Need an eCommerce Site?
Yes. Yes, you do.
Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that. But there are so many reasons to open an eCommerce presence that it may be easier to list the reasons an eCommerce site might not work for you.
Rethink an eCommerce site:
- If you sell products that aren’t easily shipped or for which shipping would be prohibitively expensive.
- If you sell products that are usually financed or otherwise not traditional “cash & carry” purchases (although, as more and more lenders offer fully-online credit options, even for purchases as expensive as a new car, this distinction is rapidly fading).
- If you sell unique or one-of-a-kind items that must be seen in person to be appreciated.
- If you sell products that are literally illegal to sell online.
If none of those things are true, it’s worth considering launching an eCommerce site. If the above figure of six trillion dollars didn’t turn your head, then try these other reasons on for size:
An eCommerce Website Expands the Geographical Reach of Your Company
Physical stores are perfect for your nearby customers, but how will you reach potential customers who live too far from your storefront? An eCommerce site expands your customer base and increases your revenue. Google ads and SEO ensure customers find you through search engines. While your physical store can’t always be open, an eCommerce store never closes so that you can sell products at any hour of the day.
An eCommerce Website Is Versatile
Your eCommerce site can include order management, sales reporting, wish lists, coupon codes, streamlined checkout processes, and other features. Online sales create data you can use when deciding how to expand your inventory or create advertisements.
An eCommerce Website Is Easy
Although eCommerce websites seem complicated, they’re easy to use with the proper training. At M&R Marketing Group, we provide thorough training on all the eCommerce sites we build, so you’ll know exactly how to add new products to the site, navigate checkout, and deal with shipping.
And if you need one more reason:
An eCommerce Site Is Expected
An ever-growing number of shoppers prefer to do their shopping online. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to shift their shopping habits, and once they discovered how much easier it is to scroll and click than it is to make their way to a store and fight the crowd, they’ve chosen to stick with it, even after stores reopened and restocked.
Today, more and more customers expect their favorite retailers to offer an online shopping option. While they may still enjoy visiting your physical location to browse or will come to see you when there’s something they have to have right now, many will do most of their shopping on your website.
The central selling point for eCommerce shopping is convenience. When you don’t offer shoppers the convenience of around-the-clock, no-traffic, shop-in-your-PJs eCommerce, they’ll find another retailer who does.
Don’t Get Lost in a Sea of eCommerce – Let Our Team Help You With Every Step of Your Journey! Call Us Today at 478-621-4491!
Best Practices for eCommerce Site Design
To be considered an eCommerce site, all a website technically has to offer is the ability to buy products online. But if basic purchasing functions are all you offer, you won’t make many sales. Today, users expect companies to provide highly functional eCommerce sites with features that make up for the experiences that get lost in the translation between brick-and-mortar and online sales, such as holding the product or speaking to a salesperson.
You’ll notice that many of our best practices and recommendations throughout this guide can be reduced to one thought: customers don’t like surprises. Nothing about your product or service should ever be a surprise after the customer has made the purchase.
By keeping your eCommerce content up to date, accurate, and fully reflective of products, services, and store policies, you can ensure the customer is confident that they know exactly what to expect when they place an order.
Essential: Provide Easy Customer Support
More than anything you can do to make customers feel at ease when shopping on your site is to provide highly visible, high-quality, easily accessible customer support. Again, without having the physical product in front of them, customers will always have questions about your products. Even if they know what they plan to buy, they may still have questions about returns, shipping, or other policies.
Make it easy for customers to ask those questions and be responsive when they do. Don’t bury customer support information deep within your site’s structure; put large, visible links to customer support options throughout the site so they can be easily seen and accessed from every page.
Ideally, you want customers to be able to reach you through several different channels. Options you can choose from include:
- Email support
- Interactive voice support
- Phone support
- Self-serve customer service
- Social media support
Not only does offering visible, easy-to-access customer support a good business practice and a surefire way to help grow conversions, but it also provides a reputational benefit: a company that shows it’s eager to help customers and answer questions is a company that has nothing to hide.
More Than Essential: Optimize for Mobile
This one is so important that we feel comfortable saying that if your site is not optimized for mobile users, you might be better off without it. More than half of the world’s internet browsing takes place on smartphones and other mobile devices.
Mobile compatibility is so important that it is literally the first thing Google looks for when ranking pages for search results. If you don’t have a mobile site, you will see your pages rank lower than your competitors.
If your eCommerce site is not optimized for the mobile user, that should be something you start correcting immediately. The talented developers and designers at M&R can help ensure your site is ready for mobile users.
Provide Comprehensive Pricing
The Baymard Institute conducted a study to determine why people abandon their online shopping carts. They found that extra costs were the number one reason users left their carts without finishing the purchase.
When you are transparent with your shipping costs, taxes, and other extra fees, you will see a decrease in shopping cart abandonment and an uptick in returning customers. Price transparency subconsciously strengthens your customer’s trust in your brand and eliminates any financial surprises at checkout.
To take it one step further, eliminate extra fees and shipping charges by factoring these into the product price. Free shipping entices customers, increasing the likelihood of them completing the order.
Include Product Reviews
People can be surprisingly adept at judging a product’s quality when they pick it up off a shelf. It’s more challenging to do that when you only have a picture on a website. Replace that lost interactivity with product reviews. In a shopper’s mind, a customer who has purchased and used your product is a far more valuable source of information than the company that admittedly stands to make money from their purchase.
Shoppers care about the quantity and quality of the product reviews on your website. And just as they’re quite sophisticated at telling product quality in a store, they’re equally skilled at picking out inauthentic reviews online.
Make sure your product pages feature quality, authentic reviews. If you haven’t been getting product reviews, initiate a reviews campaign by reaching out to existing customers. If you offer them a small benefit in return for their review – a gift card, a coupon, or even a small giveaway item – you’ll be surprised how many will oblige you.
And don’t neglect your negative reviews. In one way, they’re just as important as good reviews in building customer trust. Customers expect that not everyone will have a perfect experience, and they want to know how you’ll address the issue if they have problems with the product or service. By providing polite, helpful answers to legitimate concerns, you’ll build your reputation as a retailer or service provider who wants to do right by customers.
(You can read more here about how to deal with negative reviews.)
Showcase Popular Products
Even if some of your most popular products are a little light on customer reviews, you can still leverage customer experiences: showcase your most popular products.
The things you sell the most will almost invariably be the products customers have the most affinity for, and by highlighting these products on your site, you’re letting shoppers know, “These are the things that most other customers most appreciate.”
The other benefit to a popular products showcase ideally on your homepage or your eCommerce secondary homepage is that these are the products customers are more likely to buy again. Think of your homepage(s) as that one refrigerated case at the front of the grocery store containing just a few essentials: milk, orange juice, and maybe packaged cheese or lunch meat. That one case has the few things that most people who are only stopping in to grab a few things need the most.
Your popular product showcase is just that: a convenient place for your regular customers to quickly find what they need, make their purchase, and get on with their day.
Guide Customers with Calls to Action
You’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money to drive customers to your website. Don’t abandon your efforts to convert viewers into customers just as they get to the site. Use calls to action throughout your website to help guide customers toward the ultimate goal: completing a purchase.
Calls to action should prompt the shopper to act on the information on the page they’re viewing. If a user is on your “popular items” page, a call-to-action offering a discount or free shipping on their order can turn a browser into a buyer. Even a CTA as simple as “Buy Now!” can encourage shoppers to move towards a purchase.
Give Thorough Descriptions and Provide Authentic Photos
This is one of the rare circumstances on our blog where we’ll recommend using more words instead of fewer. Since eCommerce customers don’t have the physical product, they rely on your descriptions, images, and customer reviews to make their buying decisions.
Your product descriptions should be detailed and as comprehensive as possible. Try to anticipate customer questions and answer them in your description. This isn’t a one-time task, either – you can continue updating your product descriptions as you learn more about what your customers want to know.
Make sure your product photography is high quality and accurate. When the customer receives the product, they expect precisely what they saw in the pictures, so if your product changes, update your photography to match. Make sure to offer photos from all angles and make them zoomable so shoppers can see the details.
Pay attention to the typically unseen angles, too. For instance, customers buying a new stereo may want to see what the back-panel connections look like; customers shopping for shoes may want to know what the sole looks like.
Provide Useful Product Filters – and Make Sure They Work
One guaranteed way to send customers navigating away from your eCommerce site is to make it difficult to find the products they need or want. Especially if you offer a wide range of products, make sure that customers can filter that list according to meaningful criteria:
- Average customer review
- Style, size, and/or color
- Price range
- Availability (in our current reality of supply chain issues and product shortages, open and transparent product availability information is almost a necessity to avoid customer frustration)
Even more important than offering these filters is making sure they work correctly. Since your filters will use details from your product database to sort and present products, make sure those details are always kept accurate and up-to-date. Nothing sends a customer to the competition faster than selecting an option in a store’s filters only to see dozens of products that don’t match the filter’s intended results.
Enable TLS Certification on Your Site
Note that due to the long-time dominance of SSL as the primary internet encryption protocol, the term “SSL” is commonly used to describe both the original SSL protocol and the current TLS protocol. SSL is now fully deprecated across the internet, so any references to SSL that you see in reading about modern-day web security refer to TLS.
Once optional, then recommended, TLS certification is now essential for successful online retailers. Today’s shoppers are far more sophisticated than they were even a few years ago when sharing their personal or financial information. Encrypted connections are a must for anyone expecting customers to use their names, addresses, phone numbers, and payment information online.
TLS (Transport Layer Security), and its predecessor SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), are protocols used to secure the connection between two computers – in this case, the server hosting the eCommerce site and the user’s phone, desktop, or laptop – by encrypting the data that is transferred between them.
If your security certificates and protocols are up to date, shoppers will see a “secure” icon (usually a padlock) when they browse your site. If your site doesn’t reassure users that their information will be secure while shopping with you, they’ll find a different retailer.
Make Checkout Easy
More so than on just about any other site, an eCommerce site’s user experience (UX) must be top-notch, and no process in eCommerce can ruin a shopper’s experience like a problematic or glitchy checkout.
Checkout is the last interaction most customers will have with your site until their product arrives, so it will inform a considerable amount of their perception of your eCommerce presence. If your buyers have completed most of their buyer’s journey with you, why let them down at the last second?
Minimize the likelihood of cart abandonment by implementing the following practices:
- Offer guest and returning guest login: Some users want to avoid setting up an account for a retailer if it’s their first time shopping with them. Ensure you provide options for users without an account and that they can access their orders, find tracking information, and process returns.
- Allow users to “save” their personal information: Nobody likes to have to type in their address over and over again. Let users save their preferred billing and shipping addresses, email, phone numbers, and other pertinent information to save time on future orders.
- Keep it short as possible: When deciding what information to collect in your checkout process, ask yourself one simple question about each piece of information – “Do I need this to complete the transaction?” If the answer is “no,” don’t require that information.
- Show progress indicators: If your checkout is a multi-step process, let customers know where they are in the process and how many more steps they’ll need to complete before they finish.
- Use “Required field” indicators: One surefire way to get customers to abandon a cart is to reject a transaction because the customer failed to complete a field that they didn’t know they needed to complete in the first place. If you have required fields, use an asterisk, bold type, or another indicator to show what’s required.
- Offer rush processing and shipping: One downside to online shopping is the loss of immediacy. Unless you’re selling digital downloads, orders take a while to arrive. Show customers you know their time is valuable by offering rush processing and expedited shipping.
- Extend customer support during checkout: Customers aren’t done with their questions just because they click “Checkout.” Ensure your customer service options are still highly visible throughout the checkout process, even on your post-transaction confirmation screens.
- Provide an opportunity to review and modify: Once the order is complete, allow your customers to view and change it if needed. Keep this option available for as long as possible, ideally until the order ships.
We Have the Experience You Need to Take Your eCommerce Site to the Next Level! Call Us Today at 478-621-4491!
Spread the Word: eCommerce Site Promotion
The situation calls to mind the famous Zen koan about a tree falling in the forest: If your eCommerce site is incredible, but nobody ever sees it, is it producing revenue for your company?
Of course not. Even if you follow all of the best practices above, if nobody visits your eCommerce site, they’ll never see your incredible, zoomable images, read your great descriptions, or experience your fast and easy checkout.
Having a great eCommerce site is only part of the equation. Getting your customers there is the other.
Attract Customers Who Are Searching For You
One significant component of attracting customers to your eCommerce site is making sure your site is fully compliant with SEO best practices. Search Engine Optimization is the process by which your website and business listings signal to search engines like Google and Bing that the products and services you offer are helpful, useful solutions to the problems online searchers are trying to solve.
- Make sure each individual product has its own page with a unique URL.
- Include keywords related to your product, but don’t overload your content with keywords.
- Use natural, human-sounding language in your descriptions and other content.
- Explain the features of your product in terms of how it helps the customer with a particular pain point.
- Include detailed microcode/markup in your copy so that search engines can identify product details such as price, color, manufacturer, etc.
- Ensure your business listings (on Google Business and other platforms) are current, consistent, and reflective of your site’s eCommerce functionality.
- Add alt-text captions to photos to help search engines know what each image contains.
If your site and each individual product page are optimized correctly for search engines, you’re more likely to see your bestselling floor lamp show up in the results any time someone searches “floor lamp” on Google.
Use Digital Marketing Services to Drive Traffic
Part of any eCommerce promotional campaign should be a coordinated, multiplatform digital marketing effort. There are thousands of ways to find new customers online, and with an intentional, strategic digital marketing campaign, you can find that audience and bring them to your (virtual) doors.
Platforms you can explore for your marketing include:
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Through focused search and display ads presented to users on search engines and millions of other websites, an SEM campaign is a cost-effective way to build brand recognition, drive traffic to your site, and even convert browsers to buyers.
You can read more about Search Engine Marketing in our Definitive Guide.
Social Media Marketing (SMM)
Want to meet your customers where they are? They’re on social media! Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and dozens of others have a built-in audience base and offer affordable, highly targeted advertising options for commercial accounts.
You can read more about Social Media Marketing in our Definitive Guide.
Does your audience tend to visit the same places? Consider a geofencing campaign to target digital ads according to a user’s physical location. Promote your golf club repair shop to folks at the nearby links, or ensure everyone visiting a local park knows about your great deals on folding camp chairs.
Bonus tip: If you have a physical location, geofence it and ensure that the people who visit you in person know they can expect the same quality shopping experience online!
You can read more about Geofencing in our Definitive Guide.
Email can be a potent tool for providing customers with product details, new product information, promotional offers, and more. Even just a simple “Welcome” email to new customers can considerably build your reputation and grow your return business.
You can read more about email marketing in next month’s Definitive Guide.
Whatever platforms you leverage to promote your business online, remember that your ads should be targeted, action-oriented, and timely. Above all, though, they need to be strategic and align well with your business’s goals.
Digital advertising is a great place to get creative, too. Don’t rely on the same old offers over and over again. Your digital ads don’t even have to focus on your products or services; ads designed to build brand identity by focusing on your team or something interesting about your business can effectively drive traffic to your site.
Want to Learn More About How M&R Marketing Can Leverage Digital Platforms for Your eCommerce Site? Call Us Today at 478-621-4491!
Use Your Physical Location as a Marketing Location
Just because someone’s in your physical store right now doesn’t mean they won’t be a great customer of your eCommerce site. The people who have taken the time to visit your physical location obviously have some affinity for your brand, products, or services.
Your physical store can be a significant driver of online traffic as people realize they can now get the same terrific service, products, and support with the added convenience of around-the-clock shopping from home.
Consider some of the following marketing options to ensure your in-person customers are fully aware of your eCommerce offerings:
- In-store signage and displays
- Bag stuffers like rack cards or flyers – include a QR code to let people “scan in” to your eCommerce site
- Swag, such as shopping bags, notepads, pens, or other useful gifts carrying your brand name and the URL for your online presence
- Coupons or other discount offers for online purchases
Don’t Neglect Traditional Media
If your budget permits, traditional advertising remains a great way to promote your online shopping platform.
- Billboards are an affordable way to get the message out to a broad audience.
- Radio ads are still an incredibly effective way to get the word out to an active audience in their cars, on a run, or working around the house.
- While more expensive than other options, television ads can effectively showcase products or services available through your eCommerce site.
Assess Your Success
Regardless of how you promote your eCommerce site, one of the most important (and most often neglected) parts of the process is to assess your advertising’s effectiveness.
With digital ads, measuring effectiveness is relatively simple, as all digital platforms have analytics, metrics, and other assessment tools built in. You can track where your traffic originates, break down user demographics and psychographics, perform A/B testing, and more to get a genuinely in-depth picture of how well your ads work for you.
For traditional and in-store advertising, you can design your campaigns in such a way to allow you to discover which ad brought a particular user to your site. Campaign-specific URLs show how many users were pushed to your site from a bag-stuffer rack card vs. a billboard. Website analytics built into your eCommerce site can give you user information and a wealth of information about user behaviors on your site:
- Which products are people spending a lot of time looking at but not buying?
- How much time do mobile users spend on your site vs. desktop users?
- Do people tend to find your site because they’re searching for one particular product, or have your brand awareness efforts paid off to the extent that buyers are searching for your company’s name?
- Which is more effective for your audience – 10% off of an entire order or 20% off of a single item?
And there are thousands of other assessment options.
If something works exceptionally well, you can double down on that strategy. If a campaign underperforms, you can adjust and move towards something more effective. Either way, your honest and data-based assessment of your promotional efforts is vital to ensuring that your resources and energies are used for maximum benefit.
eCommerce Wrap Up
Your eCommerce site can be a significant – or even the primary – driver for sales, lead generation, customer satisfaction assessment, and more. When coupled with effective digital and traditional promotional strategies, an eCommerce site does more than offer customers an around-the-clock shopping experience. It also makes business easier for you and your team.