E-commerce Link: Convert Browsers into Buyers
The key to successful sales conversion is making a relevant presentation to the shopper. This is just as true on the Web as it is in any other sales environment.
Here are seven proven techniques you can use to make the shopping experience more relevant to your customers' needs, make the buying process easier, and remove roadblocks along the path to purchase. Whether your shoppers are newcomers or long-time customers, these techniques will help you convert more of their shopping sessions into actual sales. They will continue to deliver value during all subsequent contacts to build a strong and loyal customer relationship.
1. Apply segmentation practices to page messaging: This is probably the most important element in boosting conversion. Use what you know about your visitors to divide your customer database into groups with similar traits, and then modify your site to appeal to each group. This could be as simple as having separate hard-coded landing pages for each e-mail campaign you run. An intermediate step could be to simply alter your home page messaging for two distinct groups: new and returning customers. Advanced initiatives will use a personalization engine for dynamic site-wide customization; landing pages, home pages, gateway pages, and so forth are tailored on the fly to be more personally relevant to visitors. Even minor changes in messaging can lead to higher conversion rates by increasing the relevancy of every page your customers view.
If you know nothing at all about a visitor, provide messaging targeted at first-time buyers; brag about your great return policy, customer service or first-time buyer discounts if you have them. If your visitor clicked through from one of your marketing e-mails, make sure you highlight products featured in the e-mail. Whatever your customers' interests, your main images, product kickers, product sort order and other details should reflect those interests as often as possible.
2. Personalize your offers: Again, use what you know about your customers. Tailor your offer to be relevant to them. If a specific customer spends some time looking at your new products without buying anything, perhaps it's time to offer a discount or free shipping on a purchase of any new product. Different people respond to different incentives; some will jump at free shipping, and others might react favorably to a 10-percent discount. With a little analysis of your database, you're likely to figure out who is interested in what. Customize your marketing e-mails to announce your tailored offers to your different customer groups.
3. Use intelligent searching: My company has found that about 50 percent of all visitors use a site's internal search features to find products. The best intelligent search features can infer your customer's intentions in spite of misspelled words or missing information, search everything in your database, and rank the results according to relevance. If your current e-commerce application doesn't offer advanced search, you may be able to use technology from a third party.
4. Define your product categories logically: First, use logical category names that clearly communicate what is in each category. Don't use "miscellaneous" or "other" as category names. Second, always make your major categories clearly visible on your home page. Avoid using "shop now" buttons or pull-down category menus. These actually do more to hide your offerings than showcase them. Third, your site should have five to nine major product categories, and if any major category requires sub-categories, there should be no more than five to nine of those. No customer should have to drill through more than two category layers to find the product he or she wants. Every layer your customer must deal with decreases your chance to make a sale. If there's any confusion about where to look, or if it's hard to find something interesting, your customer is likely to give up and shop elsewhere.
5. Eliminate stumbling blocks: Shoppers will leave your site without buying if your Web site malfunctions, has an overly complicated checkout process, or becomes too difficult to use for any reason. Your checkout process should be no more than three or four pages long. If your site offers personal account registration, checkout can easily be as short as one page. Pre-populate as many of the input fields as possible with whatever information you already have. An abandoned cart rate of more than 50 percent can indicate serious usability problems or technical failures. Use your Web site's reporting features to determine where most of your abandoned carts occur and then use that information as a guide to fix the problem. Conversion rates should increase simply because you are removing impediments.
6. Layer your information: Customers want to know a good deal about products before they buy them. The best sites on the Web offer a good deal of content regarding products, their use and related information. Put a summary of the most pertinent product information right on the product page, and then provide links for fit and care, usage tips, warranty information, technical specifications, etc. Provide additional product images; enlarged or alternate views, different color options and material swatches are all commonly used.
7. Provide customer friendly return, security and privacy policies: Make these policies as favorable to the customer as possible. They also should be visible and easy to access from your home page, checkout pages and customer service section. Many sites include a smaller link to these policies on every product page. Customers who feel confident about your business and the purchases they make are more likely to buy.
Do all you can to make your site respond to all visitors with material that is relevant to their interests. Make every shopping session a positive and rewarding experience, and your customers will see there is more value to be gained from buying from you than from shopping around.
Ken Burke is president and CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce technology and development company based in Petaluma, CA. He can be reached at (707) 773-3434 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.