The Secret Science Of Online Shopping

by : John Taylor

In theory you could create a retail web site with a limitless selection; an online store where every kind of merchandise known to man could be sold. Would people be interested in buying from such a huge enterprise?

Why do people buy online?

Location: You can shop online from almost anywhere as long as you have access to a power supply and a telephone connection. You can shop in the comfort of your own home or you can shop in your office. You can even shop while on the move, if you have a laptop connected to a mobile telephone.

Convenience: You can visit a web site almost whenever you want, you can browse through it at your own pace and you can make a purchase at any time of day or night. The internet makes it possible to shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Information: The internet makes limitless amounts of product information available to the online shopper. You can access product specifications, brochures, product comparisons and all manner of other information with just a few clicks. You no longer have to wait for a brochure or a catalogue to come to you.

How do people shop online?

What are the factors that determine the buying decision?

Just like in the real world where shops are built of bricks and mortar, the online store needs to welcome the shopper and make them feel comfortable and safe.

Once a shopper arrives at your web site they need a little time and space to familiarise themselves before being bombarded with information or choices. If you put too much information on your home page then the average shopper will miss a large proportion of your content. Likewise, if you present too many choices you will overwhelm the shopper and it is very likely that they will leave straight away.

The purpose of your home page should be to simply tell the shopper where they are and to ensure that the general layout of your online store is easy to understand. Your customers need to know if they are in a vast warehouse or a small boutique! They need to know where the entrances to each department or section are located; their question is often quite simple how do I find what I’m looking for?

Your web site should be attractively designed, with enough white space to make your content readable. You should choose a web friendly font in a size that is large enough to be read on an average monitor.

Navigation is critical. Your web site’s navigation should be obvious; it should be laid out in a simple and logical way. Your customer should be able to navigate within your web site by using the navigation buttons and links that you provide without having to use the browser back button. Shoppers should be able to navigate inside your web site without leaving.

Consider how you could make the online shopping experience fun and interesting. The technology is now available to provide live customer support; you can now guide and advice shoppers as they browse your online store. You can add sound to welcome people to your store or to add an audio description to your products. You can demonstrate your products in action using video technology.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many web sites simply don’t work. Broken links, missing images, badly installed scripts. Payment processing that is incorrectly configured; too many clicks to get from the product to the checkout; forms that require too much mandatory information. The list of problems is endless.

Here is a simple checklist for a successful web site:

  1. Make it easy for your customer to find what they are looking for with a minimum number of clicks.

  2. Provide accurate and full product descriptions. Ensure that your images are of good quality and that they show your product in the best possible light.

  3. Make sure that your products are competitively priced and that you clearly state the total cost of purchase including taxes and shipping costs where appropriate.

  4. Make it easy for your customer to complete their order and to process their payment. Provide payment options where possible. Ensure that your payment process is secure.

  5. Be responsive with your support. Shoppers are looking for a speedy answer. If you don’t provide it, then your competitors will. Provide online help or an Autoresponder. Keep your promises.

  6. Deliver your product on time and meet, or exceed, your customer’s expectations. If you demonstrate a reliable and quality product delivery you will get repeat business.

  7. Follow up. If there is going to be a delay, let your customer know. Don’t just make the sale and then ignore your customer, keep in touch with a polite follow up message or special offer.

There are a number of very important factors missing from the online shopping experience. People can’t smell the freshness or the perfume of your product. People can’t touch your product and they can’t feel the quality or the texture. You must compensate for these gaps by making the online shopping experience for your customers the best it can be.

It is vital that you test and track your visitors’ behaviour and try to improve the experience through careful analysis of your testing and tracking results. You have visitors arriving. Now is the time to take action!

Copyright 2004 John Taylor