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Ecommerce Know-How: Six Ways To Improve Your Online Store

An online merchant’s most important marketing and sales tool is a content-rich, visually interesting, and factually accurate website.

In this edition of “eCommerce Know-How,” I am going to propose six ways to improve your site, and I am offering these methods exactly five months before the holiday shopping season (November) begins in earnest, so that if you’re a business-to-consumer seller, you’ll have time to implement at least a few of these upgrades.

Video: Six Ways to Improve Your Online Store

No. 1: Upgrade Your Product Descriptions, Using Three Sentences Or Less

You’ve likely heard a lot of advice about writing good product descriptions —in fact, look for my take on writing good product descriptions in a forthcoming “Ecommerce Know-How.” And while I find most of that advice helpful, I think that the key to effective product copy is in telling a real, emotion-arousing story about the product.

As an example, James Chartrand, a professor at Solo Practice University in Quebec, Canada and a professional blogger, encouraged his readers to pick up a bottle of Jergens Sensations hand soap and peruse the label.

“Energize your senses with the exotic infusion of crushed Green Tea and fresh, delicate Lemon Verbena… This rich, luxurious formula envelops your hands in a refreshing bouquet while gently cleansing your skin. Your hands are left feeling clean, soft and freshly scented,” wrote Chartrand, quoting the hand soap package.

How much better was that description than “This soap contains green tea and lemon verbena?” Jergens’ packaging tells a story (flowery as it is) about what the hand soap will do for you. Try telling stories with your site’s product descriptions.

No. 2: Use Video for Product Demonstrations, Merchandising

Online video has become extremely popular. Earlier this year comScore, an Internet-trend monitoring company, reported a 13 percent one month surge in online video viewing, as Americans consumed approximately 14.3 billion videos in December 2008 alone. That’s a strong indicator that consumers are video savvy.

And according to an excerpt of MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Ecommerce Benchmark Report, approximately 70 percent respondents endorsed “the implementation of product videos, which can tell a story more powerfully than any product page or list of features can.”

No. 3: Use Adobe Flash, Flex, and jQuery Plug-ins to Merchandise and Cross-Promote Specials

I know that some of the bandwidth-frugal readers are going to disagree with me, but I believe that the future of ecommerce lies in rich-user experiences, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) interfaces, and user-defined shopping.

Merchants that provide these advanced shopping experiences now can gain a competitive advantage, earning customer loyalty and additional revenues.

Start simple; implement basic Flash/JavaScript widgets that provide motion, interaction, and additional content in a small space. Think of it as a chance to merchandise and cross-promote your products. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

  • Border’s Magic Self is a cool, visually interesting product promotion tool that I use and, frankly, play with.
  • Creative Advertising USA’s Flex-based Creative Canvas lets customers design t-shirts and upload their own content. This sort of application will become common in the near future.
  • Walmart’s simple banner rotation widget is something you can implement this afternoon, so don’t wait.

As a final word to those that believe Flash, Flex, and JavaScript slow-down websites too much, I would point out that according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Generations Online in 2009 report, more than 55 percent of Americans aged 12 to 59 had broadband access in 2008. Furthermore, more than 65 percent of American aged 12 to 49 had high-speed Internet access.

No. 4: Implement Product Reviews and Ratings

Some 74 percent of respondents [to MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Ecommerce Benchmark Report] who have implemented consumer reviews (and/or ratings) report that they are an effective way of increasing sales and engagement.

Reviews and/or ratings let users interact and provide product information on your site. And they work. Several studies have shown a 30 percent or greater increase in product sales as a result of advanced customer reviews.

No. 5: Add a Cross-Selling, Suggestions Tool

In brick-and-mortar stores, few customers only look at one item. Rather, even if they purchase just one product, they are exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of merchandising messages that are likely to have an effect on future purchases.

Try to emulate that sort of merchandising experience online, creating cross-selling opportunities that both bring value to your customers and help improve your bottom line. As an example, cross-selling tools can include lists of related products and items, recently viewed items, popular items, or “customers that bought X also purchased Y and Z.”

No. 6: Get a Single-Page Checkout

Don’t make your customer click and click and click to get through your store’s checkout process, rather upgrade to a single-page checkout. Capture all of the information that you need to process an order in a concise form that requires just one screen.

Unfortunately, this might be my most difficult suggestion, since the checkout process is often intrinsic to your shopping cart. But if your customers have to click more than three times to place an order, it could be time to change your shopping cart.

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Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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