Streamline your online experience and maximise profits

Offering a great online shopper experience can be just as important as the in-store experience, but getting it wrong can be costly. Gavin Lowther (pictured), head of digital at e-commerce digital marketing agency Visualsoft, offers his top tips to improve your website and increase sales                                                                                                                                                             

The e-commerce landscape is evolving at breakneck speed. Latest figures show that, in the UK alone, online retail sales are up 13.9 per cent year on year, with the electricals sector in particular singled out for its strong performance.

As growing numbers of consumers turn to the simplicity and convenience of online shopping, it’s crucial that retailers of all sizes capitalise on this opportunity to grow their sales.

However, in such a fast-paced, competitive market, where dozens of brands may be offering extremely similar products at a comparable price point, standing out from the crowd can be tough. This is particularly true for SMEs, whose modest marketing budgets may not stretch to cover the complex design and ongoing maintenance required for an exceptional online store offering.

Our latest research report highlighted a number of basic website principles that even the highest turnover e-retail companies are failing to take advantage of, which could be costing them dear as a result. These technologies are – on the whole – simple to implement and can mean the difference between a company thriving or its ultimate demise.

This is particularly relevant given the recent news of Maplin’s collapse, which serves a stark reminder that even the most seemingly robust retailers are not immune to the challenging conditions of the sector, with reports suggesting that the brand had been badly affected by competition from online rivals.

Getting the basics right in e-retail is absolutely critical. Below are just some of the ways in which brands can effectively use technology to streamline their business.

Page speed

A key weakness for many e-retailers is the speed of their service for those accessing sites from a mobile device. Research shows that 47 per cent of people will expect a site to load in less than two seconds and that, for every additional second it takes a mobile page to load, conversions can drop by up to 20 per cent.

Online payments
Online payments

Increasing page load speed is the cumulative effect of lots of small factors that work together. Using clever design techniques to reduce required assets, deferring as much CSS [cascading style sheets] until the page is rendered, using asynchronous JavaScript and pushing as much tracking as possible into Google Tag Manager, will help keep page load speed high. 

Social media

Despite the rapidly growing importance of social media, there is a wide disparity in those retailers maximising their presence through the variety of channels available.

Monitoring the conversation around their brand, industry and competitors allows retailers to identify opportunities to generate leads and build relationships with customers. It’s also very useful to employ ‘social listening’ tactics to delve deeper into target demographics for insights that build a social media strategy. This ensures that retailers are offering relevant messaging, the correct product range and leveraging all opportunities for conversion.

Multichannel

There are increasing growth opportunities for retailers taking advantage of all available channels and referral tools. Despite this, many of the UK’s leading e-retailers are missing out – only 39 per cent make use of multichannel options, such as Amazon and eBay.

Selling on marketplaces is a great way to increase visibility of a product range, using the correct strategy can help customer acquisition and brand awareness.

Onsite experience

Growth doesn’t just come from bringing more people to a site, but also increasing the percentage of customers that convert. The basic level of service that customers expect from online retailers develops rapidly. Today’s innovation quickly becomes tomorrow’s minimum standard. An online retailer’s ability to keep up with this best practice, especially in relation to online customer service, is vital in maximising rates of conversion and growth.

Successful retailing online can be simplified if viewed using tried and tested principles that off-line stores have followed for years – planning, promotion, product, presentation, placement and price. If retailers treat online shoppers as they would those who come in-store, it’s quite easy to understand the user journey and how to provide the optimum online shopping experience.

Payment options

Another feature that shouldn’t be underestimated is flexibility in delivery and payment options. Our research revealed that 19 per cent are failing to offer a payment choice other than a mainstream credit or debit card. At the very least, customers should be provided with PayPal – a universally-known and very secure payment option that gives consumers confidence when purchasing goods.

Delivery options

We found that a huge 17 per cent of top retailers did not offer premium delivery options, despite this being expected by the majority of shoppers.

There are ways around the issue. For example, if retailers do not have a chain of physical stores, they should look into click-and-collect through a network of collection points like Collect+. It’s also worth incentivising spend with free premium delivery for the highest order values, as this will both build reassurance that a parcel will arrive on time and increase basket spend, too.

Increasing average basket value

One final area to consider is how well e-retailers are up-selling and cross-selling to customers on their site. Gaining incremental sales from active customers is key to maximising growth potential.

Pop-ups can be an extremely effective way to engage with customers while they’re on-site and getting the timing right is key to driving both engagement and sales. Retailers must think about how both customers and prospects behave while browsing their site. By defining this user experience, it becomes simple to show different audiences key messages at just the right time for them. This will ultimately encourage conversion, a larger spend or useful data capture – without annoying visitors.