The retail sector is being propped up by e-commerce growth, with online sales making up for the stagnation in the high street. This means that most businesses will be looking for ways in which to increase their impact in the digital sector next year, with some likely to be more successful in this respect than others.
As a business owner, you should be seeking incremental practical improvements that make a real difference and unlock customer satisfaction, and ultimately e-commerce sales.
To get the upper hand, the expert team of eCommerce consultants at Transaction Partnership share their top six tips for e-commerce success in 2016.
The following advice should see your business ideally positioned for online expansion in the new year.
Helping customers build trust in your brand
If consumers trust a brand then they are more likely to remain loyal to it. And in the fickle world of e-commerce it is all too easy for shoppers to head elsewhere if they are not convinced that a site is entirely trustworthy.
To overcome this there are schemes such as trustpilot.co.uk which let people leave feedback about their experience with a retailer that other visitors will be able to view as soon as they arrive, allaying any fears they might have about a brand from which they have not previously purchased.
Building a good reputation online can take time, but the long term benefits are immense. And there are major examples as to how brands that consumers trust end up on top. John Lewis, with its strong warranties covering electronic products and its no-nonsense approach to providing help and advice to shoppers, is viewed as honest and respectable as a result.
Optimise your e-commerce checkout
Cart abandonment rates can climb dramatically if customers encounter a poorly designed checkout when they try to make a purchase. Optimising checkout functionality, ensuring appropriate service messages appear and following up abandoned baskets is often the route to leveraging real return on your customer investment.
And so when it comes to optimising your site’s design in this area, it is a good idea to look at how others achieve good conversion rates with their own checkout systems.
Apple takes a minimalist approach, with plenty of white space on its site ensuring that it emphasises the important interface elements, including the buttons which cater to returning customers as well as guests.
Apple's guest checkout option is especially powerful in terms of boosting sales because it means that one-time visitors can make a purchase without having to create a permanent account with the retailer, streamlining the user experience.
Layout is not the only optimisation that users will value, as a checkout must also feature useful customisation options that will appeal to a larger group of buyers. For example, Toys” R Us lets buyers specify items which are intended to be delivered as gifts, ensuring that the contents of a package are not revealed ahead of time so that the magic of the first opening can be preserved.
Understanding your customers mobile journey
More people now browse and search from smartphones and tablets, so successful e-commerce sites must be mobile-friendly or face the prospect of being overlooked by search engines and customers alike.
In terms of design, a site must be easily navigable on touch screen devices, in addition to having interface elements, images and typography which can be viewed on small handsets without any zooming being required.
Calls to action should also be optimised for mobile platforms, since if users cannot see or interact with the elements of a site that will let them make a purchase then sales will be adversely affected. Similarly, if a site takes longer than three seconds to load then they need some serious speed optimisation as sluggishness will see bounce rates skyrocket.
Showing your product at its best
Do you think about what images actually sell your products? Are there enough alternate views to show off its key features? Do you just take supplier images and place them un-optimised on your site? All of these mean that products are not seen in their best light and cause a returns rate that can often kill profitability.
This is not just about raw resolution, but also about the need to display a product from every conceivable angle so that buyers will not get any nasty surprises when they take delivery. Footwear brand Vans has a particularly good image gallery associated with each of the items listed on its site, allowing visitors to cycle through and build a clear mental image of the shoes.
Testing, listening, testing, listening... ad infinitum.
The only way to determine the strengths and weaknesses of an e-commerce site definitively is to regularly test the usability of everything from landing pages to the checkout. And testing can be as in-depth or as cursory as your resources allow.
We have never had such a plethora of means to measure what customers are doing, but maybe the options are causing retailers to listen less. Are you marrying qualitative and quantitative data to hypothesise what your customers want? Do you have a rigorous test and measurement discipline? Do you conduct A/B testing of key site functionality? Test and measure is a fundamental process that should have a defined management process around it with a commitment to continually improve what you do.
Giving service that really delivers
When people choose to buy a product online there are a lot of questions that may circulate. How much will delivery cost, when can I expect to receive my order and what do I do if I want to return an item?
Making sure that you provide the answer to all of these questions and more during the checkout process is essential. And this is even true in putting an emphasis on the speed and convenience of your returns process. Sites such as BMX.co.uk ensure that policies governing this area are easy to find, since this engenders further confidence and trust in a brand if customers feel that there is nothing being hidden from them.
Happy New Year and make 2016 yet another year of the customer
By Richard Blanchard, Transaction Partnership