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Tips for an Effective eCommerce Website

Does your website help or hurt your business?

Creating positive online customer experiences can be the difference between surviving and thriving

Small business owners know how important it is to create enjoyable customer experiences in-store. However, translating and continuing that experience online can be challenging.

According to a recent study, nearly half of consumers have made a purchase on a small business website in the last month.1 With a poor eCommerce website experience, or lack thereof, businesses can be leaving money on the table and inadvertently turning customers away. Taking the time and effort to figure out how to make online purchases as easy and convenient as possible should be priority one for any small business in the eCommerce space.

"The most fundamental difference is that when shopping online, customers can’t physically experience your products," says Monica Kozak, senior vice president of digital strategy and execution at Bank of America Merchant Services. "You have to work extra hard to replace the tactile experience customers are used to when shopping in stores.”

To provide an online shopping experience that meets your customers’ expectations, follow these three principles as you develop your website:
  1. Make it easy for customers to find what they want
  2. Simplify checkout
  3. Ensure safety and reliability

Let's zoom in on each of these items.

Make it easy for customers to find what they want

Successful online businesses have perfected the art of removing friction from customer interactions, including the search experience, the information-gathering process and, finally, the purchasing experience.

Start by giving your online customers a search function to explore your products and find what they’re looking for. You can get an in-site search box for free from an open source provider, or you can purchase more advanced software. Either way, your focus should be on making sure the search function is as helpful and intuitive as possible, and that starts with categorizing and tagging your products on your site.

Too many search functions present unwanted results for customers. For example, a search for "red shoes" may turn up red shirts or shoes in colors other than red, leading shoppers to abandon their search and move on to a competitor.

Categorizing is all about putting products on a page that make sense logically. For example, a clothing retailer could categorize by type of product, brand, gender or price. Customers can then go to the shoes page to browse all the available shoes.

Tagging gets into more detail, letting you label items based on color, size and more specific product features. This helps customers search using any combination of categories or tags, like “red dancing shoes,” and find exactly what they want without all that extra scrolling.

Also keep product recommendations in mind. They can lift the customer experience to the next level. At their simplest, recommendations can show customers a handful of best-selling products. To highlight trends, you can narrow the focus to the top sellers of the past few weeks or months. You can even show similar products or products that are frequently bought together.

Simplify checkout

Once a customer has found what they need, they should be able to check out quickly and easily. Keep the shopping cart icon prominently displayed on each page—ideally in a top corner—so that customers can view it at any point in their purchasing journey.

Once a customer adds an item to their cart or clicks on the shopping cart icon, they should immediately see pictures of the items they've added, as well as all prices, taxes and fees. If you're offering any deals or coupons, include a box for customers to enter this information as well. In addition, customers should be able to add or delete items from the cart with the click of a button.

Customers like to know how long the checkout process will take. Indicate their progress by showing them how many steps they've completed and how many more are left before their purchase is complete. And give them an opportunity to create an account and save payment information, so they can streamline purchases in the future. This is an easy step to help turn a one-time buyer into a repeat customer.

Reliability and safety

Creating a user-friendly shopping experience is important, but having reliable inventory and a secure checkout experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied.

When you're selling both in-store and online, keeping track of inventory can be a challenge. Consider investing in an inventory and order management tool that keeps track of your products and lets you know when it's time to replenish your stock. Keeping strict tabs on your inventory will allow you to deliver products more efficiently and minimize the risk of not being able to fulfill an order right away.

Customers also expect a secure checkout experience. To help protect them from the impact of data breaches, invest in security technology that encrypts and/or tokenizes customer payment data. Encryption scrambles sensitive payment data so that it can't be used by hackers, while tokenization replaces sensitive payment data with non-sensitive "token" data. Make sure you choose a payment gateway that protects data in one or both of these ways.

It takes time and patience to build a best-in-class customer experience, but the effort is worth it, says Kozak. Even if you think you have a good system in place, you should always be thinking about how to make it better. That means you should test.

You can test everything from the layout and colors of your homepage to the search function you use, like mentioned above. Start by researching A/B testing and how to isolate a single variable to see what gets you the best performance.

"It's so important to test different experiences against each other and see which performs better," she says. "That's a hallmark of creating truly meaningful experiences that you know are working for customers."

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