by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
The 2003 sales figures are in and online sales boomed last year. Total online sales in 2003 increased from $4 billion to $6.4 billion. Online commerce increased by 59% during the holiday shopping season.
Did your online business process its share of online sales? If not, try these seven techniques that encourage visitors to buy.
1. Encourage impulse buys. Fast food restaurants understand this concept. Think: "do you want fries with that?" Well, you can do that online as well:
- Suggest related products. Amazon.com is a leader in this technique. An online shopper searches for a particular book and clicks to view the details and reviews. The detail page offers the book at a special price if the customer buys it together with a book on a related topic or by the same author.
- Associate linked products. If a customer buys a video game, ask if he'd also like to buy some batteries, games, or other peripherals. Those are items the customer may forget to purchase or might not realize are available.
- Limited time offer! A visitor is more likely to take advantage of a special offer if she knows there's a time limit. "Only 2 days left!" But don't get carried away. An advertised limited time offer really needs to expire. Otherwise, you lose the trust of your customers.
2. Offer online-only specials. Many Web users prefer to gather information about products online. They visit a few sites to get an idea of what's available and at what cost. But they don't complete the sale online. Instead, many log off and head directly for nearest brick and mortar store to make their actual purchase.
Combat this tendency by providing an incentive to buy online. Advertise an offer that's only available at your Web site and you give your visitors added incentive to become a customer. Remember though: most users are quite well educated about what's available. They'll know if your offer is really a special deal.
3. Ship larger orders for free. It doesn't take much more time and effort to pack and ship 5 items than to pack and ship 1 item. It's more efficient for you to pack more items in each order, so give customers an incentive to purchase more at one time.
How? Many online shoppers really hate paying shipping charges. It's not uncommon for the shipping charges for a small, low-priced item to add an extra 50-70% to the purchase price and customers feel that retailers take advantage of them.
But for a small retailer, small orders are a pain to deal with. Raise your profit margin and encourage larger orders by offering free shipping for multiple-item orders or orders that reach a certain dollar level. Large online retailers have found to this to be very effective at boosting sales.
4. Be honest about pricing. People want to know the total price before they start filling out a shopping cart order form. Most users will leave a site without completing their purchase if the site doesn't show total cost - including shipping - before asking for personal information.
5. Provide great customer service. You don't want one-time customers! It takes far more effort to attract new customers than it does to keep existing ones. That simple concept seems to be forgotten in these days of anonymous email and the torture of automated phone systems:
"Press 1 for the Order Department, Press 2 for Sales, Press "Wish Again" to speak to a live operator!"
Nobody expects you to stay up all night to field phone calls, but promptly respond to queries within 24 hours if possible. Forrester data shows that 42% of US Web buying consumers made their most recent online purchase because of a previous good experience with the retailer.
6. Create compelling Web site copy. Web site design is an important component of Web site credibility, but design only takes you so far. Visitors quickly note the design, but then look for content. Format your content to reflect how people read online and consult The Copywriter's Handbook for instructions on how to write persuasive, convincing online copy.
7. Have complete product information and photos. People want to see what they're buying and they want to know a lot about it. But consider overall page size and download time when you're adding this information.
- Informational pages. You accomplish two goals when you create informational pages. Pages loaded with useful information attract human visitors and search engine spiders. Good information turns your site into an authority site on the Web so customers feel more comfortable buying from you.
- Create thumbnail images and link them to full-size photos of the product. Even if you can post life-size images of your product from several viewpoints, don't place them on the main informational page. Instead, create thumbnail images the link to the larger photos. Visitors with slow dial-up connections will thank you!
- Use GIFBot to optimize images. In fact, you should carefully optimize the size of all the images on your Web pages. Use HTML Toolbox's Load Time Check feature to identify slow-loading pages and optimize all your images using GIFBot, NetMechanic's free image optimization tool.
Visitors have a limited amount of time and patience, so make sure they're spending time reading your content instead of waiting for the page to load.
Closing The Sale
The basic idea of methods 1-4 is to close the sale while visitors are at your Web site.
They help encourage visitors to buy before they leave your site. None of these methods are underhanded or unethical. They're based on common knowledge of human nature. Successful marketing and salespeople use them and so should you!
Even so, methods 5-7 are the most important because they depend on your site having good content and service. The hard sell may work in person (sometimes!), but it almost never works online. Spend the bulk of your time writing good content that clearly describes your value proposition, explains how your product works, and tells how much it costs.
Good content will increase your search engine visibility, attract more visitors, and encourage them to become customers.