Shane Nolan, Google’s director of SMEs in the UK, offers tips for making more money from e-commerce – without incurring significant upfront costs
A few years ago, the European Commission described SMEs as “the lifeblood of Europe’s economy”, and with over five million in the UK their role here is ever growing. Generally the rise of the internet has made commerce both at home and abroad quicker and cheaper than ever before, but there remains a sizeable digital skills gap in the UK in this sector.
Whatever your industry, your company’s future success depends on your ability to make the most of the digital opportunity. As British businesses, you already have a relative head start in this connected world, but within the next decade the rest of the world is likely to be up to speed and if we stop innovating now, others will innovate around us.
To help small businesses keep pace, Google has recently launched a free digital learning platform called The Digital Garage which can help SMEs keep up to date with the knowledge they need to make the web work for them. Tips include the best ways to use some cost-effective tools to maximise your sales potential; below are a few ways to meet and compete with this explosion of digital demand.
1 Set up shop
Any successful e-commerce operation is based on navigability for your customer – just like a bricks-and-mortar shop. Consider the last time you walked into a furniture shop: you probably didn’t walk in and just see a map of where to find the armchairs, but rather saw a nice sofa by the door you could sink into. You can do the same thing online, starting by promoting certain products right on your homepage or on search. Consider product merchandising: displaying very specific, featured products up front can help shift old inventory or feature best-selling items you want more customers to see.
2 Get to know your customer
You may be a business leader, but remember you’re a consumer too. The last time you shopped online you were probably shown recommended products after viewing certain items. As potential customers browse your site, you’re receiving data about their interests, and there are ways to increase sales potential by using this data to make predictions. Consider the furniture shop again – if you know your customer is looking for an oak desk, you can cross-sell by promoting related products, such as matching bookcases, which they may not have even considered. Many shopping cart providers, such as Magento or Shopify, offer these product recommendation engines.
3 Optimise the experience
In e-commerce, as with all business, a process of continuous improvement is critical. You may learn through Google Analytics data that customers visit your site on mobile but rarely purchase. Is this a clue that they cannot move smoothly through the payment process on mobile? One option is implementing ‘responsive design’ into your site, which adapts content to different screen sizes, or if you want to guarantee a more consistent shopping experience, create a dedicated mobile website. Google’s recent white paper, Principles of Mobile Site Design, should help you
4 Utilise customer accounts
Investigate creating customer accounts to streamline their path to purchase. Once an online purchase is completed, by allowing customers to securely store shipping addresses, billing information and payment preferences in an account, you’re removing barriers for them and increasing your sales potential. You can get more advanced too: use your customers’ past purchases, recent searches and recently viewed products to recommend specific items that might interest them. To use the furniture example again, if they just bought a dining room table, you might recommend a set of chairs to match the design and wood finish.
5 Retarget your ads
Data around customer behaviour can be very useful to your business by allowing you to create very specific advertisements aimed at people who have shown interest in certain products. It is called retargeting. Let’s say, for example, that a customer looks at a kitchen table on your site but halfway through checkout they abandon the purchase. Using retargeted ads you could automatically target that customer with an ad to remind them of the incomplete purchase for that table – or even with a 10 per cent discount to incentivise it. As with any campaign, it’s crucial to measure and optimise the performance of your product retargeting campaigns over time. This means tracking conversion rates, testing new types of ads, tweaking your parameters, and using analytics to manage these campaigns.
Who Shane Nolan
Roles Director of UK SME sales, Google; non-executive director of Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Ireland; non-executive director of Plan International Ireland
Previous positions Country manager for Ireland, Google; general manager, Eircom; general manager, BT; non-executive director of Buy4Now
Learn more about e-commerce at digitalgarage.withgoogle.com
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