If customers visit your website in droves but few buy from you online there are steps you can take to change all that. Experts tell us how to convert clicks into cash. Traffic – on the information highway, at least – is always a good thing. The more people clicking their way through to your e-commerce site, the better. But what if all your visitors go away empty handed? Worse, what if they’re doing the online equivalent of leaving your retail space, walking into a competitor’s and making their purchases there instead?
Getting casual perusers to fill their baskets and exit via the check-out has never been more imperative, because online sales – both in a consumer and business-to-business context – are soaring. According to Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), which uses sales data from the top 120 retailers in the UK, 21 per cent of total sales are now made via the internet. Last December, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the 19.2 per cent growth in internet purchases over the previous 12 months was the fastest increase in four years.
And yet, it would seem, many of us are still getting to grips with a process we’ve long since mastered in the tangible realm. “In the real world, we tailor-make sales pitches to the people in front of us, and use body language to support it,” explains internet psychologist Graham Jones, author of online selling guide Click.ology. “Online, none of these things happen – no body language, no feedback, we can’t even see the other person we’re dealing with, so the only way we can grab that customer in those few seconds is by providing them with exactly what they want.” That being? “The fashion retail site Asos.com has amassed tremendous online success because it has researched its customers well,” he says. “It takes an editorial approach to fashion, offers lots of information, demonstrates a clear knowledge and is customised to customers’ individual needs.”
Martin Newman, chief executive of Practicology – the e-commerce experts whose clients include House of Fraser and Hotel Chocolat – agrees, emphasising that the main factor in ensuring that clicks turn into sales is “value experience”: the ease with which the process occurs; the options presented; how easy it is to return goods; whether doing so is free; whether you can pick up purchases; visibility of the shopping cart; ease of navigation and so on.
One major bugbear for internet shoppers is finding out a product is unavailable only at the final stage of purchase. Also key, says Newman, is personalisation: “Customers want to be automatically shown items for their demographic based on their previous customer experience.” And online interaction is also crucial, he adds: “If all you’re doing is selling online and you don’t have a physical shop, it’s essential to create this level of engagement. In fact, it’s the next big battleground in retail.”
Another overlooked priority is making sure your site has a reliable web hosting plan, so that content loads and graces the screen quickly. After all, the average visitor will spend between 10 to 20 seconds before leaving a site, according to research by Nielsen Norman Group.
Failing to optimise your site for tablets and smartphones is another pitfall. Handheld shopping in the UK rose by 18 per cent in the year to last December, according to research by IMRG and advisory firm Capgemini, and now accounts for nearly six per cent of all retail sales: no wonder 73 per cent of businesses have their sites fit for mobile commerce.
“It’s no longer acceptable to have your website run by a sub department in marketing,” says Jones. “What’s needed is for the web to be the central trunk of your business and for everything else to hang off it, rather than being a small branch with the CEO and board several removes away. It needs to be a board-level responsibility.”