A little flavour of what's in store...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Article - after the Christmas rush - a guideline for online traders

Article – after the Christmas rush – a guideline for online traders

You’ve got to have a hint of sympathy for online traders in the run up to Christmas (OK Maybe not!) but many smaller companies will have been working around the clock to ensure that customers get their orders in time for Christmas, whilst also wanting to stay ‘open’ as near to Christmas as possible to allow for last minute shoppers. It can be quite a juggling act.

For some, particularly where the product is a personalised printed item (like a photo jigsaw), this cut off point can come quite early in December as print drying and postage times rule when last orders can be accepted.

So what do you do once your deadline’s gone and your last pre-Christmas delivery order has left the building? – Celebrate or start planning for next year?

My advice is to take a couple of days to recoup – do the xmas shopping – enjoy long coffee breaks and early nights and then start planning!

Use what for many is their busiest trading period to learn the mistakes or shortfalls in your current operating methods and think about how you can improve working practises for when the New Year’s orders start coming in.

Part of this is looking at the functionality of your website. Use customer comments to build your plan of attack – what did they like or dislike about your website – what additional information did they ask for that wasn’t available on your website at the time they placed their order? Look at visitor stats – at what point did potential customers leave without buying and try to evaluate why they left. Does your website contain conflicting messages? Order here or click here to learn more etc. Your website must lead customers in a no nonsense direction straight to the point where they can purchase and check out.

Are you using a PayPal checkout? Believe it or not, this can put some potential customers off. One customer I talked too on the phone said he’d rather pay over the phone than use PayPal after a ‘nasty experience on Ebay’. Others have commented on the fact that if you have a PayPal account, then you must pay by PayPal and cannot choose to use your credit card. This gets tricky when as one customer informed us his PayPal account had been suspended over non-confirmation issues.

Not to pour water on your PayPal parade – PayPal does offer a wealth of tools and usability for online traders and is easily integrated into your shopping cart and provides a lot of reassurance for both customers and traders alike – particularly for new e-commerce businesses starting out or for those with smaller volumes of online orders. You’ll have to weigh up the comments of a few customers personal experiences against the thousands that use PayPal and Ebay etc every day.

So be prepared to trade the ease of use, set up and running costs of PayPal against the loss of a few customers. If you can’t, the use this quiet time to investigate other methods of accepting online payments – your business bank or a pdq machine – even other online payment systems.

Look at your product descriptions and images – if you’ve had the same images for a long time, give visitors something new to look at. If much of your business is going to be repeat (you did keep a record of customers email addresses for a email campaign later didn’t you?) then re-assure your customers that they’re not visiting an old site that perhaps no longer trades.

Check back on your queries – could you have saved yourself time in answering all those questions by adding a few extra lines of product description or perhaps more precise information on delivery times and methods. Don’t forget to check things like delivery times and costs haven’t changed since you last wrote them. Your usual carrier may now require a signature for deliveries or have changed what level of automatic insurance you get etc.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking of adding a new product – perhaps as the result of a query from a customer “Do you do that...” or a mail shot from a manufacturer, even a product you saw on the high street or someone using. Now’s the time to research that product and if it’s viable and there’s a market for it, then get it added to your website.

It will need careful planning – how are visitors going to navigate to it, what pictures and information are you going to show people and what are the delivery times and special requirements involved? Sketch out a few draft ideas on paper before you contact your web designer. If you do your own web design, then try a few dummy pages and get opinion from friends and neighbours about what they like or dislike.

Look at the functionality of your website. What could you improve on? What would make it easier for customers to find what they want and buy it? If there are too many steps (clicks) between your landing page (the page visitors first arrive at) and the point where they click ‘Checkout’, then you may be loosing sales – can you streamline the process using better design?

Look at search engine optimisation of your website (SEO), are you doing everything you can to get as good a placement as possible? Use this ‘quiet time’ to read up on the latest SEO techniques and try to aim for higher natural listings against your search terms. If you run a pay per click (PPC) campaign, then can this be optimised further by the reviewing the keywords you sponsor, considering other phrases, or changing the amount you bid / daily budgets? Were you using your daily budget up before the day had ended, perhaps missing out on the key evening times when adults surf the net after putting kids to bed etc? Are you paying too much for phrases that bare little relevance to your product? Could you re-word your adverts to provide a better idea of what people will find if they click on your link? Could your landing page from PPC be better crafted to turn a visitor into a customer? You’ve already invested in your potential customer the cost of the click. Now all you have to do is make it easy for them to order from you.

Finally, don’t forget to wish your customers (and suppliers) a Merry Christmas – a little festive cheer goes a long way – and who knows, maybe this time next year – you’ll be millionaires!

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to you all.

Jonathan Crouch

About the author: Jonathan is an I.T Professional working in Derby. In his spare time, he administers his partner’s websites – www.fabulousphotogifts.co.uk which sells a premium range of personalised photo jigsaws online, as well as her photo art website – www.purple13.co.uk – where visitors can choose from over 500 artworks and purchase them online. He has wide experience of SEO techniques, web design and marketing on the Internet. Read more articles on SEO and Internet marketing by Jonathan at www.purple13.blogspot.com
Please feel free to re-produce this article – all we ask is a credit to the author and a link to www.fabulousphotogifts.co.uk or www.purple13.blogspot.com

No comments: