Each day seems to bring worse economic news, and vying for top billing in the hard knocks competition is the retail industry. Even online, times are getting tougher. Chris Barling, CEO of E-Commerce and EPOS supplier, Sellerdeck (www.sellerdeck.co.uk) has been seeking out tips from web retailers on how to get in fighting trim. The advice given ranges from getting the basics really right to improving marketing and using some Web 2.0 techniques to fully engage customers. As this is advice straight from the front line, hopefully there’s something useful for everyone.
It’s one thing to present a great offer to a new customer and win their first order, but then you have to deliver. Treat customers just the same as you would if they visit your shop and personalise their experience wherever possible. If you can demonstrate that you really look after your visitors and give them a great website customer experience, they are likely to come back and order repeatedly.
For example, Mike Jarman, who runs a long established family bakery in Yorkshire, Elizabeth Botham & Sons (www.botham.co.uk), says,
"Act immediately on orders, especially follow ups on delivery enquires. I often get positive comments on promptness of replying, which I believe helps with customer confidence."
Robert Johnston of The Gentleman’s Shop specialises in top-of-the-range men’s grooming accessories (www.gentlemans-shop.com) and is another believer that quick fire delivery grows the business. He suggests that you should change the homepage twice a week as he believes that this
"shows that your site is up-to-date and reassures customers that service will be fresh too."
Constantly looking out for ways to give your site an edge over your competitors is important. "Get feedback from your customers, and act on it," recommends James Auckland of bathroom suppliers, LunaSpas (www.lunaspas.com). "There's no better (and honest) critics to keep you on your toes and constantly improving."
Smart marketing and advertising
Traditionally in any downturn marketing and advertising budgets are the first to be cut. However as things get harder, marketing is probably the last area that should see the axe. One approach is to try different advertising channels, and balance cuts in one area with increased spending in another. Focus on return on investment (ROI) and direct resources accordingly.
Colin McPhail of winter sports supplier, Snowlines (www.snowlines.co.uk) believes that the use of some of the big shopping malls and auction sites will increase international sales. He also advises that "transfer of funds by Paypal will help to reduce the number of fraudulent transactions."
Christianne James runs www.4little1s.com for mothers wanting something a bit different for their babies. She tells us that she uses an off-the-shelf email marketing and contact management system and keeps customers updated monthly with new product lines, discounts and special offers. She says that the key point is "the ability to measure the results of the campaign, as an ongoing exercise of fine tuning, learning what produces results and what doesn’t."
It’s also important to have an aggressive retention strategy to ensure that you keep customers once they are on board. Jo Morecroft at surfing specialists www.surf-wax.co.uk suggests, "use your front page and right hand margin to promote special offers and discounts, but make sure you don't clutter your site - make your offers genuine and attractive."
If you are spending on Pay-Per-Click advertising it’s important to make sure you are getting value for money. Monitor your results like a hawk, if it’s not working turn it off!
However, the most important thing is to ensure your site has the basics of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) right. SEO is no black art as comic book and fanzine expert Dave Cresswell of www.comicdomain.co.uk confirms. He comments that "If you wanted a plumber you’d probably just type in ‘plumber’ [into a search engine]. SEO is about using the right keywords so that people can find you more easily. Using Google Analytics (which is free!), you can see exactly which words people are using to find your website. Comic Domain is listed first in Google UK if you simply search for ‘comics’." Web 2.0
When we first heard the term Web 2.0 it was easy to write it off as just another fad. However, it’s become clear that the widespread love for engaging content is no quick fling. It’s here to stay, and mastering how to bridge the gap between your customer’s world and your own is a sure fire way of turning casual browsers into returning customers.
A great first step is to empower your shoppers to feedback directly, not just to you, but also to other potential buyers. It may sound scary but it has some tremendous up-sides. Nigel Berman from Nigel’s Eco Store (www.nigelsecostore.com) suggests that you should add customer reviews to your site: "The power of unbiased reviews from other customers is undeniable. New reviews also add extra content to your site, which can help search rankings."
Both James Auckland (of Lunaspas) and Mike Taylor recommend the use of video. Mike says that, "we are incorporating high quality video into the structure of our E-Commerce site www.dream-racer.com." This site sells specially designed products that enable disabled youngsters to play and work computers. He started hosting on YouTube but found that once his visitors went there, they often got distracted and clicked onto other videos. Now he uses a specialist site to host the videos and that problem has gone away, but the benefit remains. You should also consider working with social networking sites. The principle is simple; connecting with customers, finding shared interests and publishing a bit about your social activity helps foster a closer relationship between you.
Emma-Jane Dyer of www.sportiesonline.com suggests experimenting with different status updates through Twitter or other networks: "Very often customers mention my status updates either on the phone or directly through whatever social network I use to talk to them. I often find offers only discussed via Facebook being discussed in completely different online communities, its reach is incredible and it’s free!"
This principle of customer engagement is something Mark Fraser, www.greenjersey.co.uk (who is a web designer using Sellerdeck) has seen work numerous times for his clients: "Add frequently changing news to your website to show customers that your business is active and dynamic." He adds, "Link to them from your E-Commerce site - build a community around your business.
Consider running simple competitions that will encourage customers to become involved, and which can help develop interest in your site."
Effort has its reward
There are many ideas around, but one clear lesson seems to emerge. This is that everyone is planning to redouble their efforts – and your competitors are sure to as well. So if you are to survive the current difficult times, it’s necessary to work even harder. Those that prosper will emerge stronger and into a world with less competition – that’s the big upside.