Online retail sales are increasing steadily each year (in 2005 they are expected to account for 7.7% of total retail sales), so it is becoming increasingly important not only to have a presence there, but that it be a good one.
An online store can't be launched overnight according to e-commerce development firm e-Business Express, which claims that on average it takes 90 days to plan, develop, and launch a new online store. And retailers should plan on taking 60 days to complete a major overhaul and to re-launch an existing store.
According to Greg McNeil, president for e-Business Express, "You have to start by shopping the competition. The great thing about the Internet is that detailed information on the competition is only a click away. Review the top selling sites in your industry by observing their overall look and feel, ease of navigation and anything used to help close the sale. Information on sales volume, monthly visitors, average tickets and conversion rates is also available through the Internet Retailer Magazine. By learning from online sales leaders in your industry, you will be able to quickly select the best capabilities for your own online business."
McNeil says that there are four elements that make up a strong e-commerce Web site:
- Search capabilities
Develop good search capabilities that are both specific and flexible. "If people can't find what they're looking for, it's useless", says McNeil. According to a recent study by the Neilson Norman Group, only 33% of searches done using a specific site's search tool succeeded. A "quick search" tool allows a visitor to quickly and easily find what they are looking for. And, as the Neilson Norman Group study shows, just having the tool isn't enough. The search tool must allow for many variables, including slang, abbreviations and other possible terminology besides the specific name of a product. Other ways of addressing the critical issue of losing customers because they can't find what they are looking for include simple navigation, categorised sections of the site for easy search - and even live salespeople available to chat online.
- Content level
The right level of content is critical. A company's web site must offer enough information for a buyer to feel good about his or her purchase. This means different things for different products. Purchasing a home theatre system online requires a much greater level of information than buying a basketball. "You have to know your customers and know your product," says McNeil. "The right amount of information is relative to the purchase."
- Buying process
The buying process must be simple and fast. According to McNeil, "One of the biggest frustrations we see with online shopping revolves around the buying process. Studies show that about 75% of all shopping carts are abandoned before the sale is closed." Often, this high rate of abandonment is caused by a lengthy checkout process, the need to provide too much personal information, or high shipping costs.
- Customer service
Customer service must be excellent. It is as important, if not more important, for online channels as it is for brick-and-mortar stores. Customer service features employed by industry leaders include live reps online, e-mail confirmation of orders, follow up when orders have shipped, and surveys to ask how customers felt about the process. When effectively implemented, these features ensure a positive experience and increased likelihood of return visits and purchases.