By Simon Hedley

Online selling is the new shopping trip. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can access a vast retail resource, and it is increasingly rare to find someone who has never made an online purchase. There are still those who have concerns about sharing financial details online, and others who find the sheer choice bewildering, but on the whole, we are a nation of online shoppers.

To build a successful e-tail business, your first priority must be to be found easily. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a big industry in itself, and must be incorporated into your business model to ensure that you get the traffic that your business needs in the first instance. This is merely a stage in the process though. Traffic means nothing if it does not convert into sales and while SEO is all about building the site around chosen keywords, conversion is all about building the simplest and most appealing funnel that will drive viewers from home-page to credit-card confirmation page. In order to do this, there are both blindingly obvious and more subtle steps which have proven to be efficient:

• Pay attention to detail throughout. A lot of thought has been put into the aesthetics of your home page, the pictures on your site are sharp, bright, crisp and attractive and yet, most shopping carts and payment forms are drab and look like an afterthought. Yet shouldn’t this most emotional of moments in the shopping process – parting with money – merit a little consideration?

• You should have an easy-to-use, powerful search engine, and pay particular attention to the keywords and tags you will attach to each product: if selling a cooking robot, you may think of “cooking” and “robot” but your client might search for ‘dough making.’ Will your product appear then?

• Sell something people want to buy. It sounds amazingly basic and obvious, and in many respects it has little to do with the website and more with the business plan, but you must have a product or service which the public will want to buy, the marketing plan to highlight the USP of your product and the right price-point.

• If your clients reach the shopping cart, they have already decided they want to buy from you, yet may still leave without completing the purchase if the process is awkward, invasive or non-inclusive. Avoid multiple re-directs, unclear payment processes and cluttered pages. The “Proceed” button is the most important button on your website, so let it have centre stage.

• Don’t bug them for personal details. Their objective is to buy and move-on at this stage, and the more information you ask them to fill in, the more you distract them from closing the sale. Billing details, shipping details, and an email address for your mailing-list in most circumstances are all you need.

• Give them plenty of payment options. Bricks and mortar shops typically accept cash, cheque and credit-card. Online, there are multiple ways to accept payment: Credit-card, Paypal, Google-checkout, reward cards such as Nectar Points. Even payments by mobile phone are on the horizon. If you only accept one payment method, you lose all the customers who prefer another.

• Great after-sales. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time and surprisingly, clients do not resent a seller for getting it wrong, as long as they do the right thing in fixing the issue. In a time when most large online stores hide their contact details, those who put after-sales and support contact details prominently on their site demonstrate the value they attach to customer relationships.

• Follow-up: a quick feedback email asking about your clients shopping experience is an excellent place to get them to fill-in the demographics and buyer-profile details you wisely decided NOT to put on the order form earlier. Build a loyal interested list of raving fans, with a clear opt-in web form, and give them a reason to find out more and add value with your every interaction. Reach beyond the single transaction focus of many “sales” people, and focus on attracting life long customers and partners.

Ask any retailer who the most important person in a transaction is, and the answer will, and should be, the customer. On the world wide web, they have more choice than ever before, so to attract and keep customers, it is essential to provide them with a seamless, simple method of buying goods. Making sure your e-commerce site is easy to find, that the shelves are stacked with goods they really want, and that you make their passage through the transaction an absolute pleasure is the key to getting and keeping customers.

About Simon:

Simon Hedley is a prolific web marketing entrepreneur, and founder of the Psi Pi Group, which has been generating ideas since 1980. More information about his current project can be found here http://www.freshforms.com/top-secret