7 strategies to boost your online sales
There's really no deep secret about increasing sales through the Internet. You
drive traffic by creating more sales leads. When these newbie shoppers show
up, you engage them and convert their interest into a transaction. Presto:
But all that's much easier said than done. Here are specific ways to build
sales momentum and to make your online store crackle and then pop.
||Seek out strategic partners. Question: What's the
online retail equivalent of "location, location, location?" Answer: Links to
your site in all the right places. You want to create awareness of your
wares among customers. So the first step is to truly define your target
Thoroughly research your customer's profile and preferences. Next,
develop come-hither offerings, teasers, interactive ads and must-read
content for as many appropriate sites as you can manage and afford.
"Small businesses can develop relevant content for other sites that drives
traffic on a very low-cost basis," says Andrew Restivo, founder of
GourmetFoodMall.com, a New Orleans-based online shopping mall for more than
150 specialty food companies.
In considering sites as partners or affiliates, don't forget professional
organizations and associations, especially when you market services or
business products. Try trading or paying for links with other small or
midsize e-commerce marketers. But before making any deals, verify that your
links add value on those sites. For instance, links to your boutique hotel
might bring in business from local restaurant sites or a car rental agency
or even a local chamber of commerce. But it would make no sense at all on a
site selling computers.
||Keep customers clicking toward the checkout page.
Customers won't wade through faulty, bulky or clunky architecture. Broken
links or haphazard navigation will only squander your hard-earned sales
opportunities. Streamline all site paths and continually check that every
click works. Rely on plain, instant gratification (HTML) text links to all
products, services and registration forms.
"Graphics and Flash make your
site look cool, but without text to encourage search results, customers may
never even make it to your home page," says Michelle Jackson, spokesperson
for Range Online Media, a Fort Worth, Texas, search marketing company.
Also, consider easy ways to get to the shopping cart and reliable
site-wide product search functionality. When a shopper arrives with product
specifics already in mind, you do not want to make that buyer work or wait.
||Cross-promote like crazy. Don't make your online
store a stand-alone orphan; make it work with other sales channels.
Successful sellers have figured out that the Web is just one sales channel,
like mail-order catalogs, phone orders or face-to-face contact. Everything
must work together. That means customers being able to research one of your
products online, buying it by phone, and picking it up at the offline store.
If you only sell online, you must make sure your branded URL is seen far and
wide. That includes using it in every e-mail signature of every employee you
have. Print the store URL on all brochures, catalogs, packing material,
shipping boxes, shopping bags, delivery trucks, posters and postcard
notices. If you attend trade shows or conferences, make sure your booth
signage and promotional material also have a big, bold printed URL stamped
on them. Don't miss an opportunity.
Also, register variants and misspellings of your domain name so customers
who get it wrong will find you anyway. For instance, a company named
"Baskets R Us" should also register "Baskets Are Us." Think about it: For a
few hundred dollars in registration fees, you might net one return customer
who buys thousands of dollars worth of wares over time.
||Keep it personal. Customers will feel more valued and
comfortable about buying online if you establish a bond. The more you're in
touch and display a personal tone, the more your customer will relax. Some
methods that work:
Create an "About Us" or "Who We Are"
page so that customers can learn about your background, the staff, and
the history of the company.
Create a blog (Web log) or feedback page
so that customers can exchange comments. Or set up an email option-just
absolutely make sure you have the capability of responding quickly. The
worst thing to do is set up a channel for contact that gets ignored.
Create a way for customers to log on to track their order as it's
packed and shipped.
Create a series of auto-responder e-mail messages, saying thanks for
visiting, offering to answer questions or send a reward for buying and
then confirmation of shipping.
Create e-mail discount or news blasts to announce products or price
deals. Or create an ongoing newsletter, which can be done more easily by
using templates or services such as List Builder, Microsoft's e-mail
||Be specific (and honest) about your product offerings.
"The more detail you include, the better. People like to know the histories
of what you're selling and who you are," advises Lynne Dralle, an eBay Power
Seller who has sold more than 20,000 items at online auctions over the past
six years (www.thequeenofauctions.com). "Always describe exactly what the
buyer is getting. Be honest," she says. When selling her collectibles,
Dralle mentions any chips or flaws, but she also tells stories, like how her
Aunt Mary brought an item over from England.
High-quality photographs of
products also are a must. If you don't have a digital camera, you might
consider investing in one — they've come down in price and are worthwhile to
have. But also know that, for a very low cost, Staples or Kinko's or the
corner drugstore can scan images onto a disk that can be uploaded to your
||Set delivery policies that work for your business model.
The great debate about whether free shipping boosts online sales is
finally fading into individual solutions. While you still find advocates pro
and con, it's now boiling down to a matter of your product pricing.
"Free shipping costs can kill you if you can't include them in the price of
the product," says GourmetFoodMall.com's Restivo, whose company regularly
surveys online consumers on such issues.
But if you jack up
your price to accommodate free shipping on commodity items that only sell at
the lowest price possible, you lose. In those cases, customers expect to pay
a reasonable amount for shipping, Restivo says. On the other hand, high
shipping prices are a big detriment to sales of perishable or premium
products, presumably because it's easy to forgo those items when they don't
feel like a "bargain." Restivo's tip: Rely on second-day-air shipping. "You
can build $3 to $5 into the price. Costs are much cheaper than overnight and
customers are satisfied."
||Spruce up your site and service. The goal is to get
customers to return and to spread the word among friends and family that
your online shop is worth a visit. So do everything you can to make the
experience fast, fun and fabulously better than your competitors.
all your policies, upfront. Promise 100% money-back guarantees with no
strings attached. Offer free samples. Quickly respond to every query or
comment. Invest in a live chat function so that customers can get answers to
product questions immediately. Create reasons to return to your site with a
loyalty club or contests or email games and discounts. Make connections with
customers and don't let go.
One last point: Don't forget that having well-written content and product
descriptions are important — because you want the search engines to find you.
Learn how to optimize your site for search engines.
Next thing you know, the sales will start rolling in.
Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She
is the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse
Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.