In retail, the accessibility and appeal of your online presence is just as important as the allure of your brick-and-mortar locations. Data firm Forrester Research predicts online spending will increase 62 percent by 2016—with 192 million U.S. consumers regularly shopping in cyberspace. Many independent and chain jewelry retailers will be primed to capture a chunk of that traffic. But the retailers with simple, easy-to-use e-commerce sites—linked to popular social media sites—can expect to have a distinct edge over retailers whose sites and social media platforms lack polished or user-friendly interfaces. Here are 10 easy-to-implement ways to up your online game.
1. Nail Down (Then Maintain) Your Identity
“Trying to be too many things to too many people” tops the list of mistakes retailers make online, says Nashville, Tenn.–based digital marketing strategist Michael Barber. Because cyberspace is seemingly infinite, it may be tempting to offer numerous product categories (get your diamonds and dog food!). But tech and retail experts agree that narrowing your inventory mix and targeting your brand messaging to a defined demographic will actually lead to stronger sales. Why? You’re establishing yourself as an expert in a category. Adds Barber: “You have to make it easy for people to understand what products and categories you sell.”
2. Simplify Everything
Baseline to e-commerce success is a website that’s easy to use. “If you make it cumbersome, with too many steps, it gets confusing and your visitors will abandon your site,” notes Barber. Users shouldn’t have to think about how to navigate through your site—everything they need should be at their fingertips, starting from the home page. Product categories should be clearly labeled and linked to detailed product pages that then flow seamlessly into transaction pages. And never let swishy website design obscure your customer’s path to purchase.
3. Unify Branding
Omni-channel retailing, which seeks to make the transition between shopping a brand’s online and physical stores as seamless as possible, begins with cohesively branded products, both online and in the flesh. Ensure that your logo is eye-catching and unwavering, and appears on all of your digital properties. Trent Sanders, managing partner at 36Creative, recommends creating a system of branding that “consistently uses the same elements—such as color, shapes, typography, messaging, and quality. The more your brand appears cohesively to the consumer, the stronger brand recognition will be.”
4. Make Your Payment Process Easy
If the point-of-sale plug-in on your website is unnecessarily labor intensive for users, it’s time to rethink your P.O.S. process. The goal is to reduce what site developers call “friction” in your transactions (essentially, barriers in the path to purchase). “I would recommend that retailers do as much as possible to reduce friction and ease anxiety for consumers to complete the purchase,” says Kristin Faucher, group engagement director for Brooklyn, N.Y.–based digital agency Huge. Keep required-info fields to a minimum and allow users the option to buy “as a guest,” bypassing lengthy sign-ups. If they like you and your merch, they’ll be back, and will share all their information. Don’t buy costly shopping carts, says Barber, adding, “If you don’t have a need to go custom, and want something solid, go with Shopify.”
5. Go Mobile
Sean Rad, co-owner of the wildly popular dating social network Tinder, recently declared in an interview with GQ magazine that “computers are going extinct—computers are just work devices.” The statement may have been on the dramatic side, but digital experts resoundingly agree that the future of cyber-shopping will take place on mobile devices such as tablets, phablets (phone-tablets), smartphones, and wearable computers such as Google Glass. For now, it’s important that your e-commerce site be optimized for mobile devices. “Consumers expect to experience optimization of the site across different devices,” says Faucher. “It may seem like a baseline point of entry to have a mobile-optimized site, but shockingly, many luxury retailers do not have this.”
6. Link Up
Big e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Sephora have helped make a number of website conventions ubiquitous, including the placement of company information (more on that later) and the practice of linking nearly every item on a page to other pages or pop-ups. We live in click-happy times, and consumers are accustomed to traveling places when they click on photos, images, logos, type, and other enticing visuals. Make their journey easier by linking all store logos back to the home page—something many small retailers forget to do—and ensuring that your site has zero broken (i.e., dead-end) links to your suite of social media platforms, blog, or anywhere else.
7. Super-Size Your Photos
Major online retailers have also trained the shopping public to “expect beautiful product shots at various angles, dimensions, and scale,” says Faucher. Make sure the product images you’re posting on your site and all your social media portals are high-resolution. You should also be offering a zoom capability, so customers can see, up close and personal, exactly what they are ordering.
8. Don’t Get Lost
It’s an all-too-common entity in e-commerce: The beautiful website that neglects to provide the location of the brick-and-mortar shop(s), and how to reach anyone working there. Even more common are sites that practically hide the contact information in layers of linkage. Experts have mixed opinions on where to put info including address, email, and phone numbers for an establishment, but we recommend home-page placement—or a single click from home. “I recommend having the full address in the footer and on every page,” says Barber. “If you have 20 locations, don’t put every location. Have a tab or page where you can easily list all of them and a map.” And a contact form should not be the only way customers can reach you. Consumers rarely bother to fill the forms out—they just move on. Be sure to make your store’s email address easy to find (and don’t forget to check the account for messages!).
9. Be You
When crafting newsletters or email blasts for clients, “no one likes a hard sell,” says Ian Jacobs, customer experience evangelist at digital agency Genesys in the San Francisco Bay area. “Be real. Make sure you are thinking of [these opportunities] as a conversation, not a sales pitch. Be patient. Just give the consumer information that they will find relevant and helpful in daily life.” And remember to carry over the logo and the look and feel you’ve established on your websites and social platforms to any and all customer communiqués.
10. Work Your Digitals
Your site and social platforms can be the most beautiful on the Web, but in e-commerce, action and involvement are rewarded most robustly. That’s where marketing and regular updating come in. Refresh your platforms daily and “whatever money you spend on building the website, plan to spend, in the first year, at least two to four times that marketing it,” says Barber. “People aren’t going to find you just because you put a website up.”