Creating an online shop that works
It doesn’t matter if you’re small fry or big business; an online shop can be invaluable to you but only if it is designed with all the features required kept in mind. These features are, however, quite different from that of a brick and mortar shop. If you have decided to take the step to launching an online shop, take into account these following issues that might make or break the success of your endeavour:
First of all, know what the company creating your online shop will provide in their package. Most companies will indeed provide you with a shopping cart feature, a secure payment gateway system and security but ask outright beforehand so that you can make provision elsewhere if what you need is not included. Other smaller features you may not think to ask about include a custom domain name, the maximum number of products that are allowed, discount codes, coupons and social media integration.
Now that you have chosen the company making your online shop, there are some general issues that you need to figure out which you must try to convey to them. With your products being the hero of the shop, make the effort to create beautiful images for them. Seeing as your customers cannot experience your products first-hand, it is necessary to make them look appealing through only using the sense of sight. It is likely that you will need to provide the images so try to get hold of a camera of decent quality (16 megapixel and upwards preferably) and place items on a light background to create contrast.
When it comes to the layout of the shop, it needs to be noted that simplicity is the key. Online shops need a different atmosphere to traditional shops in order to be inviting. The more clutter there is, the less likely a person will have the motivation to search through it to get to what they want. Think easy-to-use search boxes, simple backgrounds and minimal intrusive advertising, especially on the homepage (you wouldn’t want an ad in your face while shopping at a mall, would you?)
Look at similar online shops that are already successful and look at their navigation styles. Many of the large online shops make a big effort with their homepage design. These designs usually include full-screen images of one item or colour-coordinated grids of products. Let your customer know immediately what it is that your shop is selling. Also, have important items such as privacy and return policy as well as security front-and-centre on your homepage. Less is more when it comes to text as the visuals are what count most.
To make matters even easier for customers, one can even have a “how to get started” or “everything you need to know about shopping with us” section. A popup asking whether the customer needs guidance through the process can be helpful but keep it non-intrusive. Sort your columns to have a natural flow to them. Some online shops prefer going from left to right while others prefer a top to bottom approach. Simplify your categories so that people easily find what they need. Research what you and other regular online shoppers find easiest to navigate.
How you will handle customer service once the store is up and running is very important as this will ultimately determine your long-term success. Seeing as you have no face-to-face contact with your customer, you need to make them aware of your presence and ensure that they know there is a human touch in between the clicks and flashing images.
Think about how you will handle product returns. Do you prefer a no-return policy? Then state that clearly but make sure customers receive good service and quality instead of that feature. No matter what policy you do eventually decide upon, rather mention this upfront on the homepage along with issues such as shipping and any discounts. Telling people how your online store handles orders prevents future pain points.
When you do deliver the items to the customer, add a personal touch to the merchandise. Put handwritten or printed notes in the product packaging or have personalised wrapping. One can even add a gift-wrapping service. On the site itself, try to add a chat box feature so that when people log on you can communicate with them should they need any assistance with finding a product..
There is also the choice of adding a place where customers can give reviews and ratings of your products but there is always the danger of getting negative comments and spam which will create a bad impression with other potential customers. If you do choose this option, do not ignore the negative feedback as this will alert you to any problems that need resolving and non-responsiveness can be just as detrimental.
When customers need to contact you, ensure that you have visible communication channels. Having a single email address to handle all types of queries can present problems in the future. Rather have separate emails for each type of issue. For example, one email address for return issues and one for product enquiries. That way the flow of the incoming communication is easier to handle.
Determining your shipping rates is another issue that some people struggle with when starting up an online shop. Look at companies such as FedEx and UPS (both now have services available in South Africa) as well as DHL, the South African Post Office and Speed Services to see what they usually charge. Also look at online shops that sell similar goods to what you are selling to see what the average price is for a particular product. You do not want to have great products and good overall pricing but chase customers away with outlandish or unreasonable shipping prices.
If you have a limited number of products that are being sold in your online shop, you might want to consider offering free shipping. Take this option where your shipping will be no more than 20% of the product price. Consider the flat rate shipping option if your products all have similar shipping costs. It will help the customer know exactly what to expect no matter what they buy. The variable rate costs option will have your shipping costs determined by the price and type of product you are selling. This strategy is the most used by online shops. One can also have combinations of the aforementioned such as a free shipping for orders over a certain amount and variable rates for anything below that amount.
Marketing and advertising is very important when it comes to having an online shop. With an online shop you do not have the advantage of a person accidentally passing by your store on the way to somewhere else so you need to grab their attention in other ways. Social media networking is great for this, especially sites like Pinterest where you can showcase products and link users back to your site without spending any money or wasting lots of time.
Going through the process of setting up your own online shop can be easy but the main thing to remember is that you cannot simply start without planning beforehand, even if someone else is doing it for you. You still need to run the shop once it is online. Research is your best friend in this situation. Do not get caught up in only making your website look good. Pay attention to more important areas such as customer service, product quality and delivery as well.