Online Retailers Prepare for Online
(TWINSBURG, Ohio) – It may only be July, but Christmas sales are on the minds of many retailers as they prepare for the most important time of the year. In many instances, the holiday season accounts for more than half of the year’s sales. This is especially true for those companies doing business online.
Overall, online retailers saw a 24 percent increase in sales in 2004, while growth through 2005 is projected to achieve another 22 percent jump. Last year, online sales accounted for 6.5 percent of total retail sales, up from 5.4 percent in 2003. In 2005, online sales are expected to account for 7.7 percent of total retail sales.
On average, it takes 90 days to plan, develop and launch a new online store. Retailers should plan on taking 60 days to complete a major overhaul and to re-launch an existing store. That’s why many have already begun preparing for the online holiday shopping rush. Whether your plans include building a new online store or overhauling an existing one, there is still enough time to prepare for the upcoming holiday season.
So, how do you start the process of building or redesigning your online store for the holidays? “Start by shopping the competition,” said Greg McNeil, President of e-Business Express, a Twinsburg-based e-commerce development company. “The great thing about the Internet is that detailed information on the competition is only a click away. Review the top selling sites in your industry by observing their overall look and feel, ease of navigation and anything used to help close the sale.
“Information on sales volume, monthly visitors, average tickets and conversion rates is also available through the Internet Retailer Magazine. By learning from online sales leaders in your industry, you will be able to quickly select the best capabilities for your own online business.”
McNeil says there are four elements that make up a strong e-commerce Web site, and it all starts with the basics.
“If people can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s useless,” McNeil said. According to a recent study by the Neilson Norman Group, only 33 percent of searches done using a specific site’s search tool succeeded. To eliminate this issue, McNeil recommends developing search capabilities that are specific as well as flexible.
“The ‘quick search’ tool allows a visitor to quickly and easily find what they are looking for,” McNeil said. And, as the Neilson Norman Group study shows, just having the tool isn’t enough. “The search tool must allow for many variables, including slang, abbreviations and other possible terminology besides the specific name of a product.”
Other options to address the critical issue of losing customers because they can’t find what they are looking for include simple navigation, categorized sections of the site for easy search and even live salespeople available to chat online.
The second element of a strong e-commerce Web site involves content. A company’s Web site must offer enough information for a buyer to feel good about his or her purchase. This means different things for different products. Purchasing a home theater system online requires a much greater level of information than buying a basketball.
“You have to know your customers and know your product,” McNeil said. “The ‘right’ amount of information is relative to the purchase.”
The third component to consider is the actual buying process itself. The steps involved with filling in credit card data and shipping information should be simple and fast.
“One of the biggest frustrations we see with online shopping revolves around the buying process,” McNeil said. “Studies show that about 75 percent of all shopping carts are abandoned before the sale is closed.”
Often times this high rate of abandonment is due to a lengthy checkout process, the need to provide too much personal information or high shipping costs. Companies must consider this process when developing their online sales efforts.
Finally, “you have to make the customer happy,” McNeil said. “Customer service is as important, if not more important, for online channels than for brick-and-mortar stores.”
Customer service features employed by industry leaders include live reps online, e-mail confirmation of orders, follow up when orders have shipped and surveys to ask how customers felt about the process. When effectively implemented, these features ensure a positive experience and increased likelihood of return visits and purchases.
As the mid-point of the year has passed and the holiday shopping season approaches, retailers must begin taking advantage of their online sales opportunities. Developing a strong e-commerce Web site is the most essential step toward capitalizing on this $172 billion pie.
About e-Business Express
Founded in 1999, e-Business Express, Inc. is a premier Miva Merchant partner and specialist in e-commerce web design, development and hosting services. E-Business Express, Inc. is a privately held, independent and profitable company. We are a one stop shop for building online businesses and are the service provider of choice for thousands of Web sites. We also provide instructional classes and workshops on Miva Merchant and ecommerce at our home office. In the end, our success isn’t defined by the number of sites we host or the number of servers we own but by the satisfaction we bring to our clients.
To learn more about e-Business Express, Inc., visit our Web site at www.e-businessexpress.com or call 1-877-907-3277.
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