Enabling E-Commerce is a must for any brand that has yet to fully embrace the offline to online transition
Even before the Covid-19 global pandemic, the resurrection of e-commerce has been happening all around us. At an advanced level , Digitally native brands are experimenting with voice commerce, partnering with luxury hotels on exclusive pop-ups, or experimenting with augmented reality-enabled online-to-offline (O2O) experiences. With headless commerce and progressive web applications (PWA), the digital world is becoming a storefront as brands enable commerce via smart mirrors, video games, and live streams.
Image Source: Statista.com
Image Source: Seekingalpha.com
E-commerce sales in the US are expected to increase by almost 20% in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic according to a forecast from eMarketer. Although it is not expected to be enough to offset the overall drop in retails sales caused by the pandemic, it confirms the trend towards enabling e-commerce is accelerating because of lockdowns and social distancing rules.
In recent years much of the activity in enabling e-commerce has been attributable to Amazon, which has been growing at above-market rate. However, this has changed rapidly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many brochureware sites have now become transactional by enabling e-commerce with the likes of platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce.
Shopify has seen an astonishing year-on-year growth of 60% and is now the leading e-commerce platform in the World with over one million businesses across 175 countries. It is recognised as one of the best platforms for small to medium businesses enabling e-commerce and transitioning from pure off-line to online retailing.
However, which ever e-commerce platform your business has implemented it’s important to get the best out of it by applying some basic principles of conversion optimisation. These are the best practices applied across the sector to ensure customers enjoy a great user experience and you maximise sales revenues.
1. Be customer centric.
When you migrate from a bricks and mortar shop to an e-commerce retailer it’s important not to lose sight of who your customers are and why they buy from you. What’s unique about your proposition and how do you translate that online? As optimisation experts Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg suggest, be like Amazon, and follow four guiding principles. These are:
- Customer Centricity
- Continuous Optimisation
- Culture of Innovation
- Corporate Agility
Customer centricity is not about “customer love”, it’s about understanding what customers want and making sure you deliver it to them. Ensure you continue to allow customers to give you feedback even though they are now online. This may mean using tools like Hotjar which enables you to set up on-site polls and email surveys, together with browser recordings.
2. Measure user behaviour.
What you don’t measure, you can’t improve is especially true with enabling e-commerce. Ensure you use a web analytics solution, such as Google Analytics, so that you can measure user behaviour on your site. It will help you understand how visitors find your website, what are most popular pages, and allow you to compare your conversion rate for different customer segments or products.
Ideally, implement your analytics tools using a tag management platform, such as Google Tag Manager. This allows you to measure clicks and other customer interactions on your site. It also enables you to target content to specific customer segments with little, if any, need for a developer to be involved.
3. Adopt ‘Mobile-First’ design.
According to analysis by Shopify of e-commerce sales over Black Friday/Cyber Monday in 2018, two thirds (66%) were accounted for by mobile devices. That’s why many e-commerce sites have now adopted mobile-first design. This is different from mobile responsive design because that reformats existing content, which was probably designed for a desktop, to fit a smaller screen.
Mobile responsive sites can result in slow loading and very long pages which are not suitable for mobile browsing. Mobile-first design involves designing your content and pages for small, mobile screens, first. This means stripping back your content to avoid unnecessary script, large blocks of copy, heavy media files and ensuring you optimise all images.
Here is an example from the Biko mobile-first designed Shopify website. This uses a clear visual hierarchy, plenty of white space and stripped back content to avoid any conflict with mobile browsing.
Ensure you activate Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) when enabling e-commerce to improve your site performance for mobile users. Shopify for example, has many AMP apps in their App Store which you can install to improve your mobile page loading speed.
4. Enable Google Search Console.
Search Console is Google’s free search engine optimisation tool which allows you to identify the key words and phrases that prospects use to find your website. It gives your ranking in Google, the number of impressions, clicks, click though rate and much more. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to pay for basic search engine data when it is free from Google.
You should also register your site with Bing as this is usually the next largest search engine used by visitors to find your website. By registering with both you are automatically informing the two largest search engines that your website exists. In addition, you should submit your sitemap to both search engines to speed up the process of ranking your whole site.
5. Improve your Google My Business Profile.
If your e-commerce site relies heavily on visitors located relatively close to your bricks and mortar store it is essential that you maintain and improve your Google My Business Profile. This is Google’s free business profile which appears in searches on Google Maps. Take ownership of your profile and configure to promote your business in your local area. Ensure there are links to your website and make it clear that your opening hours online are 24/7.
6. Offer Free Shipping.
Free shipping has long been known to be one of the most effective promotional strategies for e-commerce retailers. In a study in 2015, ComScore and UPS found that 52% of American shoppers had added items to their online shopping baskets to qualify for free shipping.
Even if it is only temporary, offering free shipping is a great way of encouraging your existing customers to begin shopping online. It also an effective way of increasing the average basket value to improve revenues from e-commerce by setting a threshold before visitors qualify for free shipping. Here is a great article which includes advice on how to do free shipping.
7. Limited Time Coupons.
Online customers live coupons and discount codes because they know they can use them to get a bargain by browsing different websites. They are also an effective promotional strategy for enabling e-commerce because they can help drive traffic and increase sales on a site.
Coupons can also be used to reward loyalty, help capture customer data (e.g. email address), show case products, celebrate seasonal events and holidays and incentivise behaviour (e.g. increase average basket value). If used carefully, coupons are a powerful promotional tool. Below we can see Shein using multiple coupons to encourage customers to sign in and a further coupon code for a discount.
8. Always On. Live Chat for Help.
For users struggling to complete a purchase or not being able to login, real-time help can be a godsend. That’s why live chat services can be an effective means of resolving problems before the customer gives up and goes to a competitor’s website. Live chat improves engagement and reduces bounce rates by offering real-time assistance to resolve pain points and increase sales.
9. Optimise the Checkout experience.
If visitors are unable to make a payment and complete the purchase process you will lose a sale. To avoid missing out on sales it’s important to spend time testing and improving your checkout pages. Make sure your checkout pages are clutter free, have clear messaging and if possible real-time help (e.g. live chat) to resolve pain points.
If you are using Shopify, you can add your logo to reassure visitors with your brand and add a timer to create urgency. They also allow you to add the logos of popular credit cards and other payment methods to help build trust. Another option is to make the progress indicator more prominent to reassure visitors how close they are to completing a purchase.
If possible, allow checkout for guests. If users are in a rush or have an aversion to opening an account the first time they use a site, the guest checkout is the ideal solution. Don’t force visitors to open an account the first time they want to buy from you as some customers will go elsewhere.
10. Looks count! Use high quality product images.
It’s obvious , but imagery is super important when enabling e-commerce, because visitors to your store can’t touch or test a product before they purchase. Professional looking photography is critical for your product images because it helps establish your credibility, they encourage visitors to spend more time on your site and it improves conversions. Poor quality images will only harm your site’s credibility and sales.
High definition photographs you will help display your products in the best light. However, you won’t reduce the quality of such images significantly by optimising them to minimise their weight. There is no point having unoptimised high definition photographs if they slow your load speed and increase your bounce rate.
11. Make contact easy. Display a phone number prominently.
One of the main fears people have when buying online is that if they get into difficulty, they are unable to speak to a human being. What happens if they can’t add a product to the basket or their account is blocked? These scenarios may never happen, but by displaying your phone number prominently you will minimise customer anxiety about not being able to speak to someone if they have an emergency.
Enabling e-commerce and becoming an online business offers many opportunities, but just like an offline business it also requires a lot of time and money to delivery what your customers want. You have done a lot of the hard work by beginning this journey, but it’s important to retain the same values if you are going to succeed. Be like Amazon and by focussing on the customer this will help you achieve your goals.
In your bricks and mortar shop you can observe customers arrive, browse, purchase and leave your premises. In your e-commerce shop make sure you can do the same by investing in web analytics and customer experience software.
Focus on mobile-first design as increasingly shoppers rely solely on their smartphones. Ensure you register with Google and Bing to make the big search engines aware of your existence. As a local business make sure you maintain your Google My Business Profile as you may find other search engine optimisation activities are not necessary.
People hate to miss out on free offers. Promote free shipping if you can. Coupons can also be a powerful promotional strategy if used appropriately. Consider live chat for real-time customer support and spend time getting your checkout pages performing as best you can.
Finally, remember customers want to know that you are still accessible as if you were solely a bricks and mortar store. As they can’t feel or test your products make sure you present them in a way that still inspires them to trust you with their money.
Team VISU.AL have been busy working with brands over the past few months to accelerate either their transition to an online business or improving e-commerce conversion during the Covid-19 pandemic . We’re here to help brands navigate around the obstacles they face and remove any friction along the customer journey to improve their experience as, when all and done, its all about the customer. So please feel free to arrange a call with any of our specialists for advice and recommendations for any upcoming projects and to ensure you are ready as soon as possible . Happy shopping!
- About the author: Neal Cole is a web analytics and conversion rate optimisation specialist. He’s worked in many sectors including financial services, online gaming and e-commerce retail. He has helped brands including Hastings Direct, Manchester Airport Group Online (MAGO), and Assurant Solutions to improve their digital marketing measurement and performance.