Business > Merchant Voice

Put Retail back on the Agenda

The English have been called a nation of shopkeepers, and I guess that this is in part true. We still have a significant number of independent retailers surviving, even thriving, in spite of fierce competition from supermarkets and large national chains. We stay ahead of them because we know retail, and are better than them. So why do so many throw away their retail common sense when it comes to ecommerce? Why do we listen and act to the Internet marketing gurus who seek to tell us what to do? I am guessing that it is the technology that is the unknown, and not being comfortable with it we listen to people who understand the technology, instead of relying on our retail expertise.

I believe that there are 3 basic statements that need careful analysis.

  • “Internet shoppers are only interested in price.”

  • “It’s all about search engine optimisation and placing on Google.”

  • “You need a link campaign to create lots of backlinks.”

If a self appointed expert came into your shop and said you can only survive if you were cheaper than Walmart, that you have to advertise heavily in the town’s only newspaper, and that you had to fly poster everywhere, you would tell him to go away — or worse. We would do this because as retailers we know that this is nonsense.

So take the technology out of ecommerce and get back to basics.

Any shopkeeper will tell you that it is not so much how many people walked past the shop, or came in, whilst both important metrics, the MOST important factor is how much money did you take. It’s the same online. The three metrics which you should get, and keep, are how many people visited your site, how many placed an order (the conversion rate) and how much profit on average you made on these orders. For a quiet site you want these numbers weekly or monthly, for a busier site daily. Any change you make, any advertising you do, should be measured against these figures. There is simply no point in getting more visitors if they do not place orders and earn you money.

When new customers come into your shop, and especially when they purchase something, a good retailer will engage them in conversation. You ask open questions like “can I help you” “is there anything in particular you are looking for” to ascertain what kind of merchandise they want. You also try to find out where they heard of you and why they came in today, etc. All to know more about your customers and to find out what kind of stock to get in in future.

Online is no different. You get this information from a good statistics package like Google Analytics. It will show you the split of visitors between new visitors, returning visitors, people who followed links to your site and those who used a search engine. If you split your visitor statistics up by this you should find that repeat customers have the highest conversion rate, followed by those who came in by link, with new customers coming via search (specifically excluding those who searched on your company name) having the worst conversion rate. This is not surprising, as repeat visitors know what to expect and will already by in a buying frame of mind.

So whilst Google is important, you earn more money by getting customers to keep coming back and recommending your site to friends.

Why would visitors return? Well, because you offer something they want and like and value. You do this by demonstrating good product knowledge, good customer service and reliability. When you create a product, do not stick with the stock supplier photo, add some of your own. Do not cut and paste the standard supplier waffle, create your own description. Add detail you know the customer will like. Add personality. If nothing else a good description will mean that you are not a clone of the thousands of other sites that have simply copied the supplier description. If you simply copy what everyone else does, then why would Google put your site on top?

I have found that if you give a customer confidence that you know you stock, that you will take care of his order, that it will be properly packaged, despatched quickly, and give a 100% guarantee. You do not have to be cheapest. A customer wants the security of knowing that they will get what they ordered promptly and if anything should go wrong it will be fixed.

Recommendations to friends of customers are also a good target market. When a customer shows a purchase to a friend, and the friend asks where they got it, will they reply “from the Internet”, or “from xyz website”? Make sure you brand your site, your packing slip, your emails, the flyers and coupons you put in each box, even your packaging, so the customer is more likely to NAME you.

As for links, these are meant to be there for potential customers to click on and visit your shop and buy your merchandise. Like flyers, correctly targeted they will generate customers. Poorly fly posted everywhere and you will loose reputation and perhaps customers. Recently in the Google Panda update a lot of sites lost position due to having too many poor links. Now that Google is monitoring more and more of everyone’s Internet navigation, how long do you think it will be before Google starts scoring the value of each link? They will know which ones are actually followed, and if you are using Google Analytics they will also know which one resulted in a conversion. Google is gathering SO MUCH data it will be harder and harder to fool it with artificial links and other SEO fiddles.

So to be successful in ecommerce, start using good retail common sense. Build an excellent shop which has content that stands above the clones. Customers will find you. Google will follow.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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