This is a guest post from Tony Messer, CEO at PickaWeb, one of the UK’s top web hosting companies.
I hate leaving things to chance, don’t you? Especially when it comes to online business. Low cost of entry, fierce competition, eroding margins – eCommerce is not for the faint hearted. But successful eCommerce sites don’t leave things to chance.
They’ve focused in on 3 key points:
- Prospect – Attract new visitors
- Convert – Convert them into paying customers (or failing that subscribers)
- Grow – Create a long term, profitable relationship
While it can be easy to get distracted by all the latest gizmos and fads, these are three simple and timeless rules for business that can quite easily transfer to your eCommerce strategy.
Let me share with you 8 techniques that will help you grow your online business (and I’ve been doing it for 15 years now!).
1. Go Responsive
Mobilegeddon has been quite a wake-up call for eCommerce site owners and anyone else who is serious about their online strategy. But if you still haven’t made the switch to mobile, then you may want to consider switching to a Responsive Design as it will serve you well into the future.
If you’re not familiar with Responsive Web Design (RWD), it’s a technique for ensuring that a website adapts to the device being used to browse the website – whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile. It’s Google’s preferred option for mobile browsing, so who am I to argue?
If you haven’t made the switch, don’t panic. We recently surveyed over 800 B2B firms for mobile readiness and around 70% of them were not ready. That shouldn’t make you complacent, but a responsive website is definitely the way to go.
Ease of Implementation: OK, don’t try this one at home, folks. You’re gonna need some help on this one. But let’s face it, it needs to happen and once you’ve made the switch, you won’t look back.
2. Upgrade the Back End
As with mobile friendliness, speed is also a stated Google ranking factor. Aside from that, as eCommerce owners, we are all aware that a faster website = happier customers.
OK, granted there are a whole host of tweaks to your code that could speed things up on the front end, but your back end hosting is where the rubber hits the road. If you’re not on Solid State (SSD) hosting or a VPS as a minimum, then here’s where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.
A VPS or dedicated box will be a bit more expensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Just make sure that you don’t skimp on the RAM as this is the first port of call for resource-hungry apps.
Ease of Implementation: Migrating hosting is pretty straightforward, especially if you’re on a standard hosting platform like cPanel, which has a migration feature that your host should be able to help with. Most reputable hosting companies will assist you and work through any major issues (especially if you’re upgrading), but it’s worth having a developer on hand to deal with any gremlins.
3. Increase Your Trust Factor
When it comes to security, belt and braces is the order of the day. It isn’t just that you need to have a secure website, you need to demonstrate this clearly to your visitors.
Sure, you’ve got SSL (Secure Sockets Layer – the padlocked secure https section of your site) set up for payments and login, but why not switch the whole site to SSL?
Because trust factors are a known Google ranking factor.
But don’t just stop there. There is overwhelming evidence that eCommerce sites that show a secure anti-hacking shield have higher levels of consumer confidence than those that don’t. This translates into more sales.
There are a number of ways you can do this, whether it’s by using a Web Application Firewall provided by a Content Delivery Network such as CloudFlare or by using an anti-malware service which includes a “website secured” seal and shows the last malware scan.
Many of these services even include a malware removal option, so rather than employing an expensive security consultant, you can protect yourself for a reasonable fee.
Ease of Implementation: Medium – you may need help from your hosting company or a developer, but it’s worth it.
4. Use a Helpdesk
Remember that inquiry you got a few weeks ago? Who got back to the client? Was it you, or Fred or Mary? The fact is that when left to their own devices, those potential sales have a nasty habit of falling between the cracks.
So think of the benefits a helpdesk would bring:
- Centralized and accessible to all staff – nothing gets lost in people’s inboxes
- Fast, consistent responses = happy clients
- It creates a better impression by assigning a ticket ID to enquiries
- Greater efficiency through use of template replies for common questions
- Prioritize selling and new leads over lower priority issues
- Searchable database to identify communication with particular client
- More secure – one database to back up, not multiple PCs
- Scalable – easy to onboard new staff
- Quickly identify trends and opportunities or problems that you can address
You can set up departments, pipe emails through to them and link-up to social media profiles. There are even some freemium services available so they’re within reach of even the newest of start-ups.
Ease of Implementation: Fairly easy, but may need some help from your hosting company to pipe the emails through.
5. Use a Live Chat Service
Want a massive boost in conversions? Simple, use Live Chat. I just couldn’t imagine running our business without it. Pre-sales, customer service, upsells, customer satisfaction, onboarding new staff, consistent canned responses, lead capture, analytics, huge increases in efficiency… please tell me when to stop.
One of the things that we have definitely noticed as a hosting company is that customers are far less intimidated on chat than they would be on the phone. What I mean is that they feel free to ask the “dumb” questions that they might feel embarrassed about asking on a phone call.
I haven’t got any scientific evidence to back this up, but my gut instinct is that they love the anonymity of it. Another massive advantage you will notice is that one customer service rep can handle 3 or even 4 chats simultaneously – I’d like to see that done with a phone!
So if you’ve got traffic and you’re not using live chat, hang on to your hat because you’ll be amazed at what it can do for your business. It’s one of the only tools where ROI is measured in minutes. There are loads of freemium offers too these days, so there’s no excuse now.
Ease of Implementation: Straightforward, but may need help from your designer/developer if you’re not comfortable under the hood. Setting up canned responses, etc. is a breeze though.
6. Become a 24-Hour Operation
Thought 24 hour operations were only for the big boys and girls? Well guess again. Setting yourself up as a 24 hour operation will put you into a different league from less switched-on competitors.
They’ll still be collecting messages on their answering machine (remember those), but the trouble is nobody leaves messages these days unless they are really upset. The fact is that people are much, much more likely to leave a message if they get through to someone. And here’s how you do it.
Just sign up for a 24-hour answering service and divert out-of-hours calls there. They’ll be answered in your company name and they will take the caller’s details. Sure, it involves a degree of smoke and mirrors but it’s tough out there and you need every little extra advantage you can get these days.
Ease of Implementation: Super, super easy.
7. Identify your Star Clients and Roll Out the Red Carpet
Have you run a Pareto (80:20) analysis on your clients lately? The results may surprise you. You may not get the exact 80:20 profile (i.e., 80% of sales from 20% of your customers) but usually there is a significant minority of your clients who are creating the lion’s share of sales and profits.
You need to know who these people are and you need to reel them in ASAP. Like yesterday.
You just need to ensure that dealing with you is such a positive experience that they will never consider leaving you.
Why? Because these people are less likely to be influenced by price alone – and quite simply because birds of a feather flock together. The chances are that they network with similar-minded people and these are the ones you want to encourage to use your services. If you roll out the red carpet, they’ll do the selling for you.
Anniversary gifts, free shipping, free upgrades, freebies, Christmas cards, chocolates, Champagne – use your imagination and your discretion, but pamper them and keep them ring-fenced and they’ll be your finest ambassadors.
The important point is to try to surprise them. Put a smile on their faces, make their day. They’ll love you for it! Run another analysis in 6 months though and I’ll bet it’s closer to 80:20 – and that’s where you want it.
Ease of Implementation: Easy as pie. Anyone with a spreadsheet can do this, then it’s just left to your imagination.
8. Create an Amazing First Impression
Don’t you just love a surprise? Well, we’re no different from anyone else. And that includes your customers. And as they say: you only get one chance to make a first impression – so make it count by sending a well thought out Welcome Pack.
We call it the “Thud Factor.”
The great thing about a Welcome Pack is that they apply to both product and service eCommerce sites. We’re a hosting company and our welcome pack includes a book that we wrote to help our customers grow their business, a referral card, a testimonial card, a thank you card and some candy (we call them sweets in the UK). Customers always comment on “what a nice touch that was” – it’s totally unexpected from a service-based business.
Try to stimulate as many senses as possible – we included the candy and the hope is that our new customer will enjoy the taste whilst they spend a few moments reading through our book.
But you can be as creative as you like. Maybe a “his and hers” gift would work to cover both sexes. You don’t need to spend a fortune, just try to make it fun and make you stand out from the crowd. You are creating a great impression right from the get-go and that’s when you’ll get maximum impact.
One really important point is timing. If you ship products, don’t include it in with the main shipment. Wait a day or two to send it. It’s the unexpected drama of receiving a package in the post – think of the “thud” on the doormat and the great impression you’ll create when they open it.
Go on – you can see their smiling faces, can’t you?
Ease of Implementation: Super easy.
So there you have it, eight techniques that will help you grow your eCommerce business. They say that small hinges swing big doors and some of the points here are so easy to implement yet so effective that they can easily get overlooked in favour of more complex approaches.
Tony Messer is the CEO of UK’s major web hosting company, PickaWeb.co.uk.
With over 15 years of entrepreneurial experience, Messer provides insight
on topics ranging from hosting to social media to small business growing
er – @AntonyMesser