E-commerce – beware of the pit-falls

As online shoppers we are all familiar with websites that frustrate us when it comes to actually trying to find and buy what we’re looking for. Analyse what makes these sites so user-unfriendly, and you won’t fall into the same traps.

Understandably, many novice, online-shop owners misjudge how much work will be involved in creating a successful online business: there are photographs to be sourced, product specifications written, postage charges set, products must be divided into categories and subcategories, your sales strategy (are you offering incentive discounts?) and promotional vouchers. And then there are all the ‘legals’ like how you handle your returns, your privacy policy, trading terms and conditions and possibly VAT on overseas sales.

E-commerce websites require a sharp eye for detail and have a surprising amount of content, all of which has to be created and then – and don’t underestimate this – it must be kept fresh and up to date.

Your site navigation and the way you display your products should provide an intuitive and enjoyable shopping experience. Your shop design should reflect your brand which, in turn, should convey your positioning. Your may wish to position yourself as high-end luxury, expert in a technical niche or bargain basement barrow boy. Whatever your brand values your site must be right for your market and attractive to your potential customers – whatever they are looking for.

To aid this your product descriptions should be detailed, honest and informative. Rather than just telling them to view what they are looking at go beyond the basic features and convey the benefits, what the product can do for the consumer: for example how will it solve a problem, improve their status, save them time and money and ultimately make them happier.

So often it is the product photography which discourages – rather than encourages – people to buy. Buying is an emotional decision so your images should not only be clear and meaningful but should also tempt and beguile your visitors. Professional looking photographs will also create more confidence in the buyer’s mind and convey to them that you are running a trustworthy and reliable business.

If you use you phone or the point-and-click camera you take on holiday you may well be wasting your time. It is well worth the effort of sourcing good photographs from your suppliers or bearing the expense of a professional photographer. Product photographers not only have the equipment which includes expensive cameras, lighting kits, reflectors, filters and backdrops; they also know specialist tricks that make otherwise dull objects sparkle. Oil smeared on plastic makes it glossy and reflective, a puff of dulling spray kills the ugly reflections on glass and mashed potato substitutes wonderfully for ice cream that melts under the studio lights. Seeing the time, effort and expertise a professional photography employs is an object lesson in not trying to cut corners.

E-commerce also demands that you know how to drive the back-end of the system in which your webshop was built so that you can populate and maintain the whole site including all your products. Before you make a decision on which system is best, it is well worth checking out the level of training and support offered. It’s comforting to know that help is at hand if you hit a problem, particularly after you go live.

So, the site is up but does anyone know it’s there? Just because your website is live on the web doesn’t mean anyone will visit it. There are lots of different marketing opportunities to consider – pay-per-click, social network channels, email marketing, print and advertising, or would you be better selling through Amazon and eBay? All will require funding of some kind, so it’s essential to set aside a realistic marketing budget right at the outset.

These are just a few of the points to consider but by taking a carefully planned, well organised approach you can ensure that your site attracts the right kind of visitor, and that these visitors turn into loyal customers. It is best to talk to experts and seek professional advice before you commit to e-commerce. Perhaps the first question that needs answering is whether you have something that people really want and that you can sell it to them at a competitive price. If your answer to those questions is ‘yes’ then we would be delighted to talk to you!