There’s no getting around it, the Internet has had a gigantic impact on the way people shop for goods. The convenience of buying things and having them delivered straight to your front door is too enticing to pass up, especially for smaller towns that don’t have access to larger, regularly stocked specialist retail items. It might be easier than ever for someone in a rural mid-west town to go to a big box store to buy a TV, but for artisanal goods that come from a charming specialist in New England, online shopping is the only way to go.
Because of this, more and more businesses are relying on their own websites not just as a point of information for people to find out about their business, but as a storefront itself, opening up products to the world. But if you’re one of these entrepreneurs now serving everyone from all over the country and the planet, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind; the shopping experience for online customers is just as important—if not more—than in a store, but a very different set of rules is at play for success.
Here are a few of the things you need to do in order to improve your online customer experience.
Make Your Site Device Friendly
In the “old days” of the Internet, people browsed the web primarily on desktop or laptop computers. In either case, the design of the website was identical, the only difference being the laptop used a smaller screen.
Today, of course, a website can be viewed on a multitude of devices, including phones, tablets, and even televisions right in the living room. Some devices like computers will have a mouse and keyboard, others like phones, will have a touch screen, while browsers on TVs will likely have none of these things, and will simply use a remote—or even a videogame controller—to act as an interface.
In each of these cases, especially for mobile devices, you need to ensure that your website loads up in a sensible, easy to read way, and is similarly easy to use. A mobile version of a website can’t just be a clone of the desktop/laptop version, it needs to account for the narrow orientation of the screen on a phone or tablet, and the lack of a mouse and keyboard for clicking on items and filling out text.
If people can’t easily use your website and browse or buy things when they are looking at it on their phone, it’s possible you’ve lost an impulse sale.
Use Customer Reviews
The rise of marketing has made online shoppers increasingly more sophisticated and cynical about content produced either by a company or by an advertising agency. No one expects a promotional piece written by a company to do anything other than praise a product, and everyone expects that an advertising agency, when appealing to shoppers, will be stretching the truth a lot.
People, however, trust other real people.
That’s why customer reviews have become more important in recent years. There’s a feeling that customer reviews are unbiased, and intended to inform other fellow shoppers with no ulterior motive other than to recommend or warn others of an experience with a particular product. While no one is going to take it seriously when a manufacturer says “We have a great product,” it’s a whole other story entirely when many shoppers with no connection to each other are universally saying “We have tried this product and we like it a lot.”
Product reviews are not just a way to make customers feel more engaged when they come to your website, they are also a valuable marketing tool that can reach the paranoid and cynical where traditional marketing fails. They do a lot of heavy lifting by letting your customers feel like they are part of a community, but can also be effective marketing that has far more customer trust than traditional advertising techniques.
Enable Live Chat Options
One of the great things about online shopping is that people don’t have to worry about customer service representatives coming up to them and engaging in conversation when they’re in the middle of browsing. A lot of people enjoy that privacy and control. Of course, they also don’t enjoy it very much when that isolation backfires and they actually do have a question—or worse yet, a problem—that needs to be addressed.
This is where having a live chat option becomes extremely useful. By always making an online customer service representative available at the request of the shopper, this offers the best of both worlds. Customers can enjoy shopping on their own when they prefer it, but can get that specific live, intelligent human interaction when they actually want it.
Offer Free Shipping
Free is always something of a magic word the world of retail, and “free shipping” can often make the difference between a sale and shopping cart abandonment. Obviously you are in this to make a profit, so paying for shipping must be precisely controlled in order not to impact you severely.
But, if you can set reasonable amounts for when shoppers hit a certain total and that is comfortable enough for you to “eat” the shipping cost with no unreasonable loss, take the chance. Free shipping makes a huge difference to the online customer experience.
Use Behavior Based Email Marketing
Personalize the shopping experience by using software that tracks user behavior and then sends behavior based email marketing that caters to that shopper’s specific, individual interests. This can have a subtle but long term effect on customer retention and loyalty. By continuing to appeal to their distinct interests, behavior based email marketing does a good job of engaging customers even when they aren’t at your website. The use of behavior based email marketing is now a much easier, automated, less labor intensive process than it has been in the past, so it’s a good idea to look into these software packages and see what they can do for you.