In days gone by, you opened a street-level storefront. You would set it up nicely so it flowed well for customers. And you would lay your merchandise out so it was shown in the best light. Customers would linger to examine what you had to offer and then make their purchases.
It’s changed. Now the storefront is virtual. You still want to show off your merchandise, but people don’t linger and examine it. They’re in and gone in seconds. So online stores need features that the old brick-and-mortar locations didn’t need to be successful.
Technical Elements a Must for Sales
Although not the most glamorous part of an e-commerce website, some technical elements must be in place. You can have pretty products, but it's all for naught if your website isn’t set up correctly and safely.
Website Security Big Concern
This is first on the list of needed features. If you are collecting personal information and credit cards, you must have your site secure. People notice. Have you landed on a site that says "unsecured" in front of the site’s URL? Do you really want to give this site your credit card information? No, you want a site that displays a padlock in front of the URL.
The padlock lets you know that the site utilizes a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), a needed element to safeguard sensitive information. When a website has an SSL certificate, it prevents criminals from reading sensitive information that has been transferred to your website via another system. They cannot modify the data as well. That padlock before the URL tells your customer that their information is safe with you.
It’s not difficult to get an SSL. You can buy one from your hosting company. They will install it for you. If you have more than one website, you will need a separate SSL for each one.
Mobile Compatibility Is Vital
In the United States, there are over 290 million smartphone users. That equates to over 85 percent of the U.S. population texting and checking email on their smartphone. But what does this mean to your e-commerce site? It means you need to be mobile compatible.
Besides texting and emailing, these smartphone users are also shopping. In 2021, more users came to the internet through their smartphones than through a desktop computer. Sixty-one percent of internet searches came from mobile as opposed to 36 percent coming from desktop.
In today's marketplace, mobile compatibility is not an option. Without it, you’re leaving money on the table. A web developer can help with making your website mobile compatible.
Site Speed Can Make or Break You
You’ve been there; you go on a website to make a purchase, the site is so slow to load, you leave. If your site is slow loading, it’s a sure indication that navigating the site will also be slow. If a buyer has to wait for your check-out to load, you’ll probably be left with an abandoned cart.
Google takes site speed seriously and having a slow-loading site can hurt your search engine optimization (SEO). Fortunately, Google has a tool to test your website’s speed. It’s Page Speed Insights and it will score your site’s speed. If you see a problem, check with your web developer.
Policies, Terms and Conditions Needed
Think of terms and conditions as an agreement or contract between you and your customer. It spells out exactly what you will be providing and how each party will proceed under the terms of the agreement. It limits your liability and protects your rights.
You want to spell out what you will be providing and what you’re not responsible for. This is not a place to try to sell the customer on how great you are. It’s just to protect you and your business’s interests.
Many people will find a similar website and base their terms and conditions on it. But remember, this is to protect you. You should seek legal advice.
A policy page explains how the data that your web page users provide will be protected. This includes payment as well as information. For instance, if you are collecting demographic information, then the user needs to know that.
WCAG 2.0 Guidelines Affect You
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the buzz phrase in internet marketing. Making your website easy to interact with for all individuals is the hallmark of this mandate. Despite a user’s situation, your e-commerce site must be easy to navigate. This means making your site accessible to people with these limitations. They include:
Although on the surface, this may seem cumbersome, it increases your site's usability for potential customers. In addition, it represents over $900 billion in disposable income. Ask your web developer about WCAG 2.0.
Sales and Marketing
One thing to always keep in mind is that your e-commerce site is not a brochure. It's a sales vehicle. You want to stay focused on the sales and marketing aspects. You want to attract new customers and returning customers. There are different techniques to do this.
Keep Your E-Commerce Site Simple
There's form, and then there's function. Don’t be so caught up with having a pretty website that you forget about having a functional site. It all comes down to a positive user experience. Some basic areas you need to concentrate on are:
- Product features list
Think minimal. How many steps does it take for the user to accomplish a goal? Do you require the customer to open an account? This is a turn-off to a lot of people and requires extra steps. Take a page from the book of Amazon. May sure your check-out process follows the three-step rule. To purchase a product, the customer only needs to:
- Click on the product to send it to the shopping cart
- Enter payment information and shipping address
- Click purchase
All the shipping costs and product costs must be explained upfront, with no surprises. If you create an easy and smooth user experience, the sales will come.
Read More: How to Make Money on the Internet
Encourage Return Customers
The more you touch a customer, the more likely they are to stay a customer. It starts with making the initial experience easy for the user. But it doesn’t stop there.
Developing customer lists is vital to continue your email marketing efforts. You must have an opportunity for customers to give you their email addresses. Give them an offer or reason to sign up. This could be an:
- Offer or discount
- First to hear about new products or offers
A mechanism on your site for gathering emails lets you implement an email marketing campaign. This allows you to continue staying in touch with your customers. You’ll be top of mind. It’s easier and less expensive to earn a returning customer’s business than recruit a new one.
Read More: Constant Contact vs. Mailchimp
Pop-Ups and Marketing
A pop-up is a window that overlays your site. It stops a visitor and gives them either an option to sign up for an email list or presents them with an offer. It can also be used to cross-sell. Although this may seem like old school, it’s still an effective e-commerce technique.
Pop-ups don’t need to be spammy. They increase conversions, as long as you let the site visitor browse before interrupting them. Now they roll up the screen and give the user a chance to opt-out if they aren’t interested. They can be used to target both returning customers and new customers with different messages.
They also must be relevant and personalized to the user. For example, offering a new visitor a discount on their first purchase goes a long way.
Flexible and Secure Payments
This goes back to site security. You can’t accept payments if your site isn’t secure. Consider using e-commerce platforms such as:
These platforms are all pricey but consider them an investment in your website. Make it a point not to keep your customer’s payment information as well.
When a customer checks out, it’s important to offer flexible payments. Credit cards are one option, but 21 percent of adult Americans don’t have a credit card. Make sure you offer online gateways for those users who don’t have credit cards. Some online gateways include:
- Apple Pay
- Amazon Payments
Flexible payments will ultimately increase sales and decrease shopping cart abandonment.
Search Engine Optimization
Creating a search engine optimization (SEO) plan is vital so your e-commerce website is found. You don’t make money if the customer doesn’t know where you are. One way to help your SEO is content marketing. Provide your customer with more than just a product.
Content Marketing allows you to share online material such as:
- Social media posts
These types of materials don’t directly promote a product or brand, but they do stimulate interest. Content can be as simple as a product tutorial video or a blog with a call to action. Sharing with social media is another way to use content marketing.
When used correctly and if it's relevant, content marketing can help your SEO efforts.
Reports and Analytics
Besides your sales figures, understanding what’s going on with your e-commerce site is crucial for increasing conversions. Google Analytics is simple to set up, and you’ll receive information that lets you analyze your eCommerce site.
By using analytics, you can determine what products or services your potential customers are interested in. You will discover what they’re searching for. This gives you the advantage of supplying that product or service to meet their search. They can also provide insight as to why you see an increase in sales with those searched products.
By setting up Google Analytics, you’ll have an analytics dashboard. From this, you’ll be able to view:
- User behavior
- Site traffic trends
- Conversion rate
By knowing this information, you can more easily optimize your site. You can incorporate this information into your business and marketing plans.
Shopify for New E-Commerce Sites
If you’re new to e-commerce, there’s an alternative for setting up your e-commerce business. Shopify helps create your online store. Some of the benefits of Shopify are:
- SEO features
- Numerous template choices
One of the best advantages is that technical know-how isn’t required to start. Other advantages to using Shopify are that it has flexibility in allowing discounts to customers, multiple payment options, analytics and much more. One big benefit is Shopify’s abandoned cart recovery. Abandoned carts are the scourge of e-commerce. Shopify retargets customers who have abandoned their carts through emails.
But there are some downsides to Shopify. Some of these include:
- Doesn’t value content marketing
- Charges additional fees to base prices
- Hard to transition to another platform
It’s up to you to decide if the added convenience of using Shopify to set up your virtual storefront is more valuable than the downsides.
Optimizing Your Store
Everything that goes into an e-commerce website comes down to user experience. If your site doesn’t have flow and is difficult to navigate, the user may leave. There are too many other e-commerce sites waiting for them. Keep it simple.
- eCommerce Website Requirements
- Ultimate Checklist for Every New eCommerce Site
- Top 10 eCommerce Website Features
- Mobile vs. Desktop Usage in 2020
- Number of Smartphone Users in the U.S.from 2018 to 2025 (in millions)
- What Percentage of Internet Traffic is Mobile
- www.freshbooks.com/blog : Does My Website Need a Terms and Conditions Page
- www.kaspersky.com/resource-center: What is a SSL Certificate -Definition and Explanation
- www.marketingplatform.google.com: Get Better Insights to Drive Your Business
- www.developers.google.com/speed: Page Speed Insights
- www.ecommercebooth.com: 6 Top Payment Gateways for eCommerce Compared 2021
- www.blog.acromedia.com: Website Accessibility: Are You Following the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines
- www.bigcommerce.com/blog: Why Popups Still Work (And How to Use Them to Win New Customers)
- research why not popups
- www.ecommerceguide.com: Shopify Review
- www.shopify.com: Sell Online with Shopify
- www.forbes.com/advisor/credit-cards: Is it Okay to Never Have a Credit Card
- www.mailchimp.com/marketing-glossary: Content Marketing
- www.prestashop.com: Create and Develop Your Business With Presta Shop
- www.woocommerce.com: Build Exactly the eCommerce Website You Want
Anne attended University of Akron and went on to have a career in television sales. Working as a commercial property and casualty insurance agent for nine years allowed her to learn about different businesses' needs. She has also owned an advertising agency where she created marketing capaigns for various clients. Anne has written for several publications. She currently resides in Charleston, SC.