Getting people to visit your website is one thing; persuading them to part with their cash once they are there is a different challenge entirely. Kate Horstead finds out how to turn web visits into sales
Most businesses with an online presence understand the value of search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising as ways of getting potential customers onto their site. Both may be part of your online sales 'pitch', but neither actually earns a sale by itself.
"You must make sure your site has 'stickiness' that makes people want to stay there," insists David J Smith, director of operations for e-retailer body the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).
"You need visual, compelling content, and it has to be easily navigable so the consumer can find their way around," he adds.
When a potential customer clicks through to your website from a search engine, they should arrive on a page that gives them what they are looking for.
"It's no good advertising a promotion if the consumer clicks on that and lands on the homepage," Smith points out. "Send people to the relevant page. Or, if they find you via your homepage, take them to the proposition and the product in as few clicks as possible."
Once there, offer suggestions as if you were face to face. "Try to sell on your site as you would in a store," Smith advises, "If you were a customer in a shop looking at a dress an assistant might say 'These shoes would go well with that'. You can have that communication with your consumer online, by offering alternatives or complementary products."
"If you're only operating online and you're a new business, it's important to give the consumer confidence about who you are by signing up to a trust mark scheme, such as IMRG's 'Internet Shopping is Safe' (ISIS)," says Smith. "It has a recognisable symbol and reassures potential customers that you're trading in an ethical manner."
Publishing comments by customers can also build trust that you can translate into sales. "The big buzz phrase at the moment is social commerce," Smith explains. "Many businesses are allowing people to review products and services. If you show the bad reviews with the good it says that you are honest and open about how you conduct your business."
Delivery costs and timescales should be clearly stated before customers reach the online checkout. "A lot of people drop out after choosing what they want and how they're going to pay for it because they find the delivery charge is high or the delivery time is a week, rather than the 24 hours they were expecting," warns Smith.
It is also essential to stick to dispatch dates promised on your website. "You've got to make sure you get it delivered on time, and that you send an email out to make sure the customer is satisfied with their goods," Smith stresses. "Good customer service is important to get people to come back."