The following is a guest post by Christina Coons. Christina is a professional digital marketer at Northcutt, an inbound marketing agency. She specializes in e-commerce, social media, and public relations, and spends her days helping brands succeed online.
Whether you’ve just launched your first e-commerce business or your 50th, one thing is certain: it takes grit and determination to be a success online. As e-commerce continues to boom (e-commerce is projected to hit $4 trillion by 2020), the online space becomes more competitive and it takes extra effort and know-how to stand out from competitors.
One of the best ways to separate yourself from the competition is to become more efficient. As the marketplace grows more crowded and online retailers find themselves at times gasping for digital air, the strongest will emerge due to efficiencies that the others just couldn’t achieve. So what are the top tips for becoming more effective and efficient?
Tip #1 – Optimize for Traffic
This is a two-part tip and online merchants need to work toward both. First, you want to be sure your site stays on top of SEO. The competition for keywords is fierce out there. Your best bet is to invest in a long-term SEO strategy that helps you rank on search engines. Depending on your product, industry or niche, you may opt for a long-tail keyword strategy via content marketing.
Once you’re optimized to get as much organic traffic as possible, you need to be sure your e-commerce site can handle it. If you’re a self-hosted site that uses a hosting provider like LiquidWeb or HostGator, double check on your bandwidth and make sure you’re not at risk for downtime due to unplanned traffic spikes. While it’s a great potential problem to have, it’s an unpleasant actual problem to experience. Once potential customers find you online, their experience should be as streamlined and seamless as possible. Arriving at a site that won’t load or that takes over 3 seconds to load can do serious damage to your bottom line.
If you use a hosted platform like a Shopify storefront or Magento, you have a little less to worry about. Most pre-built e-commerce platforms offer 99.9% uptime guarantees, automatic backups and unlimited traffic allotments.
Tip #2 – Go Mobile First
Internet Retailer reports that mobile sales account for almost a third of e-commerce sales in the U.S. That number goes even higher when you look at countries outside of North America, where mobile purchases account for more than half of online shopping. It’s imperative to have a mobile-first strategy. The rationale is simple: go where your customers are. Make sure your website is responsive and displays in an optimal fashion across all devices. Surprisingly, retailers have been slow to adopt this trend. According to Econsultancy, 46% of the top 50 retailers do not have a responsive mobile site.
The ability to view products and seamlessly make purchases on a mobile phone is table stakes at this stage in e-commerce. Customers want simple, easy to navigate websites with clean, appealing photos and easy-to-click CTA and Order buttons. Your site should be designed with the thumb in mind. Too-small buttons or clickable items that are “out of reach” for a user’s thumb should be adjusted right away.
Tip #3 – Test Everything
Most e-commerce sites have a number of bells and whistles, from advanced search to product filters and more. All of these elements can and should be tested to optimize for conversions. Let’s look at a few quick a/b tests you can implement today:
– Drop down menu vs. product category page
– Image carousel vs. static banner on home page
– Order button color
– Shopping cart progress bar (to show users which step of the checkout process they are on and how many they have left to complete)
– Adding customer reviews to product pages
– Adding trust badges to the home page
– Changing copy on landing pages
– Changing CTA copy
– Adding security badges and payment card brands to checkout pages
The list is literally endless. Your e-commerce site is literally a playground for a/b testing and you should try to create a roadmap to guide your testing efforts. Amazon has been known to be a leader in testing and it has served the site well, to say the least.
Tip #4 – Simplify Checkout
The checkout process of an e-commerce site can make or break it. There are four essential qualities that a great checkout process has:
Speed – Customers want to be able to get from start to finish relatively quickly. Having an 18-step checkout process that requires users to register (big no-no), or that adds in other unnecessary steps is to be avoided. Additionally, be sure your payment gateway is up to the challenge. Long delays between hitting the order button and receiving an order confirmation can damage customer trust – and your credibility.
Security – While e-commerce is not new, people still get skittish about supplying sensitive credit card information online, and with good reason. Mega retail data breaches have hurt consumer trust in the process and they need to be reassured that their private information will be handled with care. Retailers should use trustmarks to reassure customers that the site is secure.
Ease-of-Use – It’s a mistake to ask customers for too much, and this is especially true of form fills. Make forms intelligent and progressive, where possible, so new users can quickly purchase and return users can easily re-order without going through the entire process again.
Communication – Let people know where they stand. Progress bars/indicators communicate to the customer where they are in the purchase process and what they have left to complete the purchase. It can put restless shoppers at ease.
No matter your e-commerce experience level, these tried-and-true tips can help you get ahead in the online retail game. The tips are time-tested and shopper-approved, and can improve conversions and take your online business to the next level.
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