Five golden rules for e-tailers

Conrad Bennett, director at WebTrends, is the Dalai Lama of ecommerce. Here are his top tips for ramping up your online sales.

I want it now Allow users to find what they want – and quickly. Competition online is intense. Unless you get it right, or have the monopoly on what you sell, I’ll be off to Google to find someone else. Offer a search function on your web site: good indexing is crucial. And don’t make it necessary to have a log-in to use the search. There’s nothing worse than sending online customers on a complicated paper chase. And there’s no quicker way to lose them.

Where am I? Always let users know where they are in the buying process. With an online shop in particular, it’s vital for customers to be able to see the step they’re at, and, just as importantly, how many steps remain. The buying process should be kept brief and to the point, and there should be complete clarity about the final cost from the outset. Customers hate nasty surprises at the end of the purchasing process and will often simply break off the procedure, never to return.

Drop-outsUnderstand why visitors interrupt the process and abandon your web site. Why do customers drop off at a particular point? How can you optimise the process and remedy this point of abandonment? In terms of basket worth, the visitors that abandon their purchases halfway are often more valuable than those that have actually bought something.

Beware the back buttonBuying online is not, for most people, a recreational pastime. The technology should be basic and adapted to suit visitor behaviour and support normal browser navigation functionality. Make sure that using the ‘back button’ doesn’t ruin the process. It’s the most oft-used button on any website so why disallow its use?

Don’t get FlashStatic web sites are a thing of the past but beware of excessively data-rich applications. Customers will not wait an age for pages to load. The key is to find a balanced mixture and, above all, to find a page design that matches the product. While online videos, animations, blogs, etc. are right for some online retailers, they’re completely wrong for others. In fact, when in doubt don’t even think about Flash. It slows the process and unless it really does add value, you will be losing users every second it takes to load.

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