Online retailing: how to make the most of your website
This article appeared in Draper’s Record Jan 2005
Some retailers treat their websites as bolt-ons to their existing businesses and see them as little more than an electronic order form. What they are missing is the opportunity for a website to be a fully-fledged, cost-effective, integrated sales and marketing channel.
A website should be capable of handling at least the same level of sales as a couple of stores. Retailers have a choice: websites can be advertising billboards, promoting a brand and steering the consumer towards a store, or they can attract customers, make sales and drive new opportunities.
According to the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), online sales of clothing, footwear and accessories have soared by almost 500% during the past three years. In November and December, IMRG estimates that British consumers spent £3 billion online, compared with £2.5bn spent in the two months leading up to Christmas 2003.
So how do you make the most of your website? Treat it as you would your shop; use it as a vehicle for attracting new customers, persuading them to spend more and making sure they come back, happy with the experience and service.
Driving footfall to your online shop and attracting new customers is the first challenge. The starting point is a search engine. They account for more than 80% of all internet traffic, and search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN account for more than 85% of that. There are two methods for making sure your brand and product make it to the front page when potential customers are researching their purchases: either performing well in the natural search results (for example, the left hand side of Google) or paving for sponsored/advertising links (on the right hand side).
Where does your brand name come if typed into Google? What about your products? What about a generic description of your products?
Getting these results is easier said than done. In the short-term, the quick way to be one of the right hand options is to bid on lots of keywords on a pay-per-click basis from companies such as Google and Overture (part of Yahoo!). The retailer only pays if a visitor actually clicks to its site. Click through rates are, on average, about 5% and you can work to a budget. Retailers can plot their sales and profitability from these keyword campaigns in real time and can expect sales of, say, 10 times their spend.
Getting to the top of Google
It is much harder to make it onto the left hand side. Getting to the top of the pile for your brand “My Brand’s men’s shirts” should not pose prob¬lems, but getting every product range “business shirts”, every single product “gingham check”, requires technical ability, creativity and internet savvy. Potential new customers are not going to key in your company name unless they know you.
All your pages-and the more the merrier-need to be readable by the little robots that search engines send out; “Googlebot” is your site’s VIP Everything needs to reinforce your central messages which must be included in page titles, copy, image names, keywords, and so on.
Successful examples of this are High & Mighty, which enjoys a page one listing for “business shirts”, and White Stuff for “donkey jackets”.
Finally, your site needs to have other sites linking to it, voluntarily if possible. This kind of online marketing can attract footfall in the thousands for the cost of an advertisement in the weekend broadsheets.
Getting customers to spend
Once the customer is through the door, how do you get them to spend? Design and branding are critical. In the cluttered virtual high street that is the internet, standing out from the crowd-as well as engendering trust-is a vital first step towards developing a purchase. Hotter Comfort Concept’s home page communicates clear, differentiated brand values, without taking an aeon to download, provides a quick overview of the product range together with any promotions and draws visitors into the shopping process-all in a compact area. Offering searches based on size, colour or product code, with additional categories or themes such as silk, outdoor or summer, gives customers more relevant ways of navigating a maze of products.
How you present your product range-which could run into hundreds or thousands-is critical. Your online shop floor may not bear much resemblance to what a first-time internet visitor might recognise. Careful product, photography and promotion placement can make all the difference. Many failed online retailers have poor product images, making it impossible for potential customers to get excited. If your designs are exquisite, then show them off.
Isabella Oliver uses interactive black and white photography with sketches of the designs-with a zoom. If customers are attracted by the strength of your brand, make sure lifestyle photography enhances their appreciation.
Maximising order values
Now that your customer is browsing the digital aisles, how do you maximise spend? The successful bricks-and-mortar retailer actively merchandises to increase average transactions, it is no different on the internet. Promotions work; everything from free p&p to buy-one-get-one-free. Your website is often a more compelling place to announce and conduct that Sale and to try out new things. Loyal customers will respond particularly well to online bargains.
The Savile Row Shirt Company’s online offering (www.savilerowco.com) bundles its offers: “Like the shirt? Buy the cufflinks and tie that match.” “Buy two shirts, get the silk tie free.” The discount is calculated and applied automatically at the checkout. Tie in such campaigns with off-the-page advertising and sales conversion ratios double.
N Peal (www.npealworks.com) cross-sells cashmere clothing by linking groups of related products or by reference to previous purchase history (“people who bought this, also bought” or bestseller lists). Often, it is cheaper to do this online than for sales assistants in the store (they would be lucky even to get the opportunity to work with the customer in this way).
White Stuff (www.whitestuff.com) offers a discreet and congratulatory up-sell at the check¬out based on what’s already in your basket. White Stuff is cannily suggesting additional purchases when the customer is buying rather than browsing, increasing the likelihood of upping the transaction.
Reduce the number of clicks
Mechanically, the goal for retailers should be to reduce the number of clicks to find a product and make a purchase, as close as possible to Amazon’s “one click” system. Many fall by the wayside through complicated checkout processes, obscure instructions, poor usability and slow site speed. Poor infrastructure is reckoned to cost online retailers £18 million a year in abandoned sales, according to consultancy SciVisum.
To encourage repeat purchases, it is important to make sure your website stores customer data and recognises shoppers when they return. Delivery, payment and other account information can be held securely, cutting out clicks from future purchases. Try to elicit profiling data as well: age, sex, interests, favourite car, and so on. This customer information can be used in marketing campaigns around the website.
Capture data at the point of sale
To avoid data capture impeding an initial slick transaction, the ideal time to ask a customer to provide detailed information about themselves is just after they have made a purchase; excitement levels are at their highest and any service issues have yet to hit.
Alternatively, if you want to ask a customer to register and or provide personal details before purchasing, it is advisable to offer some sort of upside such as a discount or voucher incentive.
Once the information has been collated, specific customer segments can be targeted by emails including links to specific product pages on your website. Some firms are enjoying response rates on such emails of more than 70% (compared with 1% to 3% for direct marketing), yet sending such emails costs a fraction of a penny.
Lingerie retailer Figleaves.com sends out seven different emails targeting different customer groups such as larger cup sizes. In this way, targeted, personalised shopping is now a reality.
At the very least, your site should recognise returning customers and ideally draw upon their profile, preferences and history to present products and offers. Returning customers can be singled out for unique treatment, such as: “Spent £100 on men’s clothing? Receive a £10 discount on a women’s gift.”
Implement all the above advice and your website should be aiming to repay the investment in it ten or twenty fold within six months.
Top online turn-offs
• Slow speed and faulty mechanics through poor infrastructure, badly optimised, or missing, images and links, faulty data or lack of testing
• Home pages cluttered with marketing hype, mixed fonts, irritating music, too many intrusive effects and lots of scrolling
• Poor basket and checkout options, for example – being sent to the basket page every time an item is added, too many questions
• Missing or inconsistent navigation (e.g., changes on every page or no search box) coupled with obscure categorisation – for example – “outfits to die for”
• Out-of-date or misspelled information. Worst case: products out of stock after purchase made
• No pages for about us, contact us, how to shop, terms & conditions, privacy and disability statement.