Making Ecommerce Pay is a discussion about some of the things businesses should be doing to make more money from online retail.

So, what makes a successful Ecommerce website, what can you do to increase turnover and what can you do to minimise costs, because increased turnover and reduced costs equals more profit.

Everyone who owns an Ecommerce website that doesn’t make enough money, you are not alone. Anyone getting into Ecommerce thinking it would be easy, you now know how competitive it is out there.

Regardless of your product or sector, all markets online are hugely competitive. Most new business start-ups are either purely online or they start with an online presence.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is starting to sell what you sell. Every big business in your market invests never ending sums of money competing in your space. Competition is rife, whatever sector you are in.

But it’s not just the competition that can cause us difficulties, customers now have so much choice and are increasingly demanding, often looking for discounts, expecting super quick deliveries and with more ways to talk about service, they can easily tell the world if they have been let down.

And the more traditional online marketing methods are becoming less effective. Email Marketing, Traditional Link Building, and other things that used to yield better results now have less impact. 

So, what are the ingredients that make up a successful Retail Website?

Visibility

In very simple terms, if your website cannot be found then nobody will be able to buy. But often website owners will only focus on a single channel or a few channels to market. The beauty of the internet is that sheer spread of opportunities open to you to get to your next customer.

Ease of Use

When someone gets to your website try not to make them think too much. There’s a great book by Steve Krug called ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ which is a must read not only for website designers, but also website owners. The principle is that we are now so used to using websites and expect information to be in certain places, that getting too clever will often lead to higher bounce rates as customers struggle to instantly find what they are looking for.

Loading Speeds: A websites loading speed is vital not customer satisfaction, if your site doesn’t load quickly then your bounce rate will be high. The increasingly demanding customer needs instant gratification. But loading speeds are now also measured by Google and will affect your search engine ranking as Google gets ever more sophisticated. We recommend www.webpagetest.org to test your site’s loading speed.

Video: Are you using video yet? We are trying to get more and more customers to embrace video, it adds to website stickiness but in like for like situations sites that feature video will outperform those that don’t on the search engines.

Your website is a 24/7 sales representative – it will always communicate exactly how you want it to, so don’t let yourself down with bad content, poor photography and the biggest of all sins, cheap video! It is much better to not put something online than to put something online that doesn’t tell the world that you are a great and professional business.

Administration

Having slick back office and administration processes is the best way to increase your margin.

How long does it take you to pack a parcel? How accurate is your stock management? Can you run lean stock processes effectively?

Focussing on what you do in the back office will ultimately lead to greater profitability. Running an E-commerce business is like running any business, yet because of often heavy competition focussing on cost management will enable you to compete on price where you have to, whilst still making money.

Analytics: how good are your analytics? The beauty of the internet is the ability you have to track everything, from your social broadcasts (use bit.ly to track your link access) to your SEO and beyond. Really getting to grips with your analytics will help you to minimise the risks associated with marketing costs.

Loyalty

This is the key to ‘Making E-commerce Pay’. The costs associated with acquiring new customers are far greater than those associated with developing an existing client base and increasing their yield.

Loyalty is something that is often overlooked, poor customer service, slow deliveries, problems with products, all of these things will stop your customers coming back. There will always be someone out there that does what you do, and they are very easy to find.

There are also enough businesses out there in your sectors that already have a bad name. They never have stock yet they take payments, their deliveries are late, their customers can never get hold of them when there is a problem. There are plenty of businesses out there that will help you to shine, just by your attention to offering a good service to your customers.

With social networking your customers will help you to find your next customer by raving about you. This maybe happens for you at a ratio of about 1 in 10, but if you do a bad job word will travel fast, and at a ratio of 1 in 1 - that is if you get it wrong it is pretty much a certainty that unhappy customers will spread the word.

 What can you do to increase turnover?

Creating loyalty is the most cost effective form of growing sales.

Some of the things that website owners should be doing are:

Customer profiling: Ensuring you have some form of account log-in system on a website will enable you to accurately measure your clients’ patterns. Try and get to know customers as well as you can.

Maintaining regular contact: By understanding your customers’ preferred way of communicating with you enables you to use this medium to communicate back, speaking their language. Use email marketing, but ensure you ask their permission and don’t over-do it.

Customer Feedback: Ensure you have a customer feedback mechanism on your website. There are some great 3rd party solutions out there that allow you to contact customers in retrospect; they also give you the ability to rectify any problems before bad feedback is left. These feedback systems are now used by Google, they are likely to help your SEO, but most importantly they will help you to stand out against the other businesses in the index.

By really getting to understand why people buy from you, you can begin to do more of the things that work and less of the things that don’t. By understanding how people found you in the first place you can increase your visibility in those areas.

Some of the things you can be doing are:

Ethical SEO

By getting involved in ethical SEO practices such as running a blog, keeping it up to date you can get significant SEO benefit as well as better communicating with your buyers. Other excellent forms of SEO include creating Web 2.0 accounts, using video networking websites and submitting articles to journal websites.

Long-tail

Long-tail is where you actively market key phrases and longer terms that don’t yield the massive volumes of traffic that the more generic terms do, but because of this they are less competitive. Even though you don’t get the traffic, your terms are so specific that your page resonates with the viewer and you are more likely to convert the sale.

Competitive analysis

The web makes tracking your competitors easy. Make sure that you are following their activity online; this will include signing up to their mailing lists, following them in the social sphere

What are your competitors doing? It is now very easy to analyse a lot of what your competition is up to? Get on their mailing lists? Check out their SEO strategy! Follow them on the socials. Business success for me is about doing things better than the competition and not necessarily always trying to do something different.

Website Analytics

Every retail website owner should be using Google Analytics as a bare minimum. Google Analytics gives you a great macro view of the activity on the site, but we also recommend another free tool – Statcounter. Statcounter gives you a very micro view enabling you to track an individual’s activity through your site.

Social Media

Are you embracing social media? Like it or not social media will not go away. Your current customers may well find you your next customer if you handle the administrative side of your business properly. As a bare minimum you should have social sharing on your website to allow viewers to share your pages on their social profiles.

Retail businesses should be leveraging social media as much as possible, do a good job and people will spread your word.

We recommend using Bit.ly to reconstruct any links that you publish – this enables you to not only shorten the links but also track the activity, giving you great feedback as to who has clicked on the link and from where.

Some of the popular social media sites that you can use to communicate with your customers are:

Flickr: The photo networking website, great for presenting new products.

Twitter: Helping you to provide special offers, communicate quickly with your followers and set yourself up as an expert in your field. By utilising an on-site blog and tweeting it you are able to kill several birds with one stone.

Facebook: Has your business got a Facebook page yet? With so many people using Facebook on a daily basis your customers expect you to have a Facebook page and this is a way for you to publish new content without bombarding your followers.

youTUBE: Has now surpassed Google in terms of search volumes because consumers are now preferring to watch video than read through pages of content. Video helps to create stickiness on your site and also helps sites and pages to perform on the search engines.

LinkedIn: Is a B2B platform but stats show the average age of the Linked In user is over 45. LinkedIn have just created company pages and even though it is less likely to provide a sales angle, creating a profile will likely help you in terms of your supply chain and possibly staffing requirements, depending on what business you are in.

Whatever you think of social media your customers more likely to buy from you following a recommendation on a social platform than through your website alone.

We would all trust a friend’s recommendation above advertisement content. Focussing on a social strategy is something that is low cost and highly effective and will build loyalty.

By building loyalty you will naturally increase visibility and by having an easy to use website and focussing on your customer services the loyalty will build and you will benefit from the snowball effect that will grow your sales.

So what can you do to minimise costs?

Run a lean stock management process.

If you operate a physical retail store as well as a website, use an EPOS till system. They are very good value and can synchronise perfectly with your website so you always know what stock you have across multiple locations.

By running lean stock you are able to hold a greater range whilst not over-stocking. Having a great reporting system on your website will help you to effectively manage your purchases.

Separate your items into regular (always have stock), occasionally (minimal stock) and rarely (buy one of when buying or discontinue), this will help you to better control your purchasing and minimising the fire-fighting that can go on when sales surprise you.

Operate an efficient despatch service.

Include your stock locations on the packing labels to minimise picking time. Use integrated labels to minimise packing time. You should be able to ship hundreds of packages in a day with a single picker thanks to operating a very efficient despatch room.

Always include promotional literature in your parcels and marketing messages on your dispatch notes, but ensure the information you pass is relevant to either the client profile or complimentary to the goods that they have ordered.

Use a customer contact tracking system.

Not only can these help with improved efficiency but they will also enable you to better manage responses to clients, standardising your companies tone and reducing the chance of negative feedback through missing emails, rogue staff responses and other issues associated with unsolicited communication.

 Summary:

What can you do to increase turnover?

Customer loyalty is the most important factor in growing your Ecommerce business, everything else has to be in place first, your website has to be found, it has to be easy to use and you have to be able to manage the administration side of the business effectively, but you could spend thousands on new marketing initiatives that can bring a limited return on investment. Investing in keeping existing customers happy and getting them to spread the word is by far the most effective way of leveraging your marketing spend, generating a great return on investment and because your goal is happy customers your business will operate slicker. You can then use your happy customer feedback to continually reverse engineer your operation, making continuous improvements.

What can you do to minimise costs?

Operate an increasingly efficient back office set-up that you continually revise as your business grows is one way to minimise costs. Other things such as intelligent buying and your operational commitments should be cost-effective, but your website should have a back-office system that is efficient and flexible to support your growth.

 The seminar video will be online soon.

Andrew J Firth

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