With an ever increasing proportion of retail sales being made online there is little prospect of a rosy future for any retailer who doesn’t embrace ecommerce. An ecommerce website is now essential but it will not lead to the golden pot at the end of the rainbow unless it is a good one and most sites are falling short of the mark.
Trying to drive traffic to your site gives you a mountain to climb but reaching the summit is not going to help you if you cannot convert those visitors into sales and here information is a vital element of a successful strategy.
Examine Your Own Behaviour
All it takes to understand the role of information in achieving a sale is to examine your own behaviour and perhaps to listen to the sorry tales of those around you. Everyone will have an anecdote or six about a shop that upset them or where they would rather die than cross the threshold. I could roll out a few sad tales of my own but at this juncture I will confine myself to one.
PC World is a place that I hope never to have to visit again following a recent attempt to purchase a new television.
Knowledge is Key
The trouble was that I didn’t know anything about the latest technological advancements in home viewing and sadly nor did the salesman. He couldn’t answer any of my questions, had only meagre knowledge of the differences between the available products and when I asked for an explanation of active 3D the flow of information dropped off a cliff.
I left the store still not knowing which set was right for me, whether I should invest in active or passive 3D and which products were in stock.
I beat a hasty retreat and fetched up at a local specialist who answered all of my questions, put my mind at rest that I was indeed looking at the right television and then sold it to me for £100 more than I could have paid elsewhere. I bought it because I was at ease with my decision, I understood exactly what I was going to get, I now believed that I would be capable of setting it up and I had faith that the store would do the right thing if I encountered any issues with the product.
Your Site is Your Salesman
The problem with ecommerce from the consumer’s point of view is that there isn’t a salesman to direct questions at and there isn’t an expert to put their mind at rest. Whatever it is they want to buy there will be a mind warping array of products to choose from and almost as many places to buy them.
How do they know which is the right product for them or that they would really benefit from the gadget they didn’t even know existed? How do they know that they can trust the retailer when they can’t even see them?
But they can see them! The ecommerce site is the salesman or at least it should be but most retailers spectacularly fail on this point. It is not sufficient to put up a list of products and prices and expect the consumer to know which one they should buy or to feel secure in buying it. So here is where the information comes in and with ecommerce sites you can’t have too much of it.
The Way forward
Obviously a site must look good, have great navigation and a recognisable and clear logo. Much time and money must be invested in product selection and marketing too but all of this effort will come to nought if the resulting site lacks the product information, technical explanations, calls to action, inducements, guides and reassurance that will leave any consumer unable to resist the proposition. So what information really should be a feature of every ecommerce site?
This is one area where the right information is almost invariably lacking or has headed for the hills completely. Few people are going to buy anything without knowing what it is, what it does or why it is so damn good! Product descriptions are a golden opportunity to pack in as many details as are available because consumers are not psychic and nor are retailers.
Consumers cannot tell why they want or need something without the relevant details and retailers don’t know what is important to each individual customer and so must cover all of the bases whilst they have the chance.
Product descriptions should include a summary of the product and its benefits, precisely what it does, any relevant technical information, dimensions, care instructions, how it would enhance your lifestyle, how it integrates with other products, what is included in the package, stylistic attributes and anything else that you can think of.
Any positive attributes should be played up, techno speak that could confuse should be explained, potential issues should be tackled. Descriptions should not be confined to just bullet points and should read well into the bargain.
It is astonishing how many products online are listed without an image. Needless to say a high resolution image is a must, several images taken from different angles are even better, the ability to zoom is even better than that and absolute nirvana is attained by including images of product variants likes colour ways.
I should also add that every description should feature delivery details, a returns policy and assurances as to the security of the payment system.
Great product descriptions pull down barriers, remove doubt, reduce stress and call to action. They answer any and all questions. They are also great for search engine optimisation (SEO). Google loves top notch content and there will never be a better opportunity to get in those valuable keywords.
Product descriptions are vital but so is relevant page content. Every category on the website will benefit from some killer copy. Interesting and engaging text is the perfect way to keep visitors on the site and to introduce them to products, concepts, trends and the USP of the retailer.
Such copy is the perfect place to explain the stories behind the brands, the aspirational lifestyle choices available, the environmentally friendly nature of the merchandise or the money saving opportunities on offer. You have enticed the consumers to the site you have got them as far as exploring your range now hit them with the final salvo! Naturally good copy is also crucial for SEO and changing content is even better which brings me to the nub of the issue.
The Easy Life
Retailers appear to get lazy or to bury themselves under such a mountain of other tasks that they don’t make the time to write the required descriptions and copy or to constantly update their offering.
Products and trends are constantly evolving and this must be reflected on the site. If there is a great new innovation coming to market, One Direction have started wearing your T shirts or Kate Middleton has been photographed with one of your handbags then these exciting events should be on your site quicker than Usain Bolt can run the 100 metres. One way of bringing your news to the masses is via a blog.
A blog is a must have feature of any site but regular posts are essential and that is time consuming work. It is a valuable vehicle for imparting newsworthy information and highlighting new arrivals. It is the best way to illustrate how your products can be valuable assets.
Cookware companies can use their blog to publish recipes that require specialist equipment, denim retailers can write about the styles that flatter certain boy shapes, purveyors of electrical goods can explain active 3D televisions! A great blog will engage the audience and keep them coming back for more. It is like forming a club for those who want to be in the know.
Blogs are also another vital component of an SEO programme. Links to both the products and authority sites will help no end but only if somebody can be bothered to write the material and include those links!
Guides for buyers could be the vital features that lead to a sale. Installation guides, care guides, set up guides, guides that explain technology in layman’s terms, indeed any guides that are relevant are worthy of inclusion and all the better if they are accompanied by good images or, even better, videos. Just consider how popular some of those YouTube channels are which give make-up tutorials, sewing instructions or revelatory cleaning tips.
A video guide is easy to make and puts a human face on the screen and that really could make all the difference.
All of the most successful online retailers make it their mission to extract the most sales possible out of a visiting consumer. You know how it goes. You choose a product and are then bombarded with suggestions of complimentary items which you might also be interested in. That is if the site hasn’t hit you with their vision of an entire lifestyle from the outset.
You may be looking for some new towels but the site’s objective is to show you how much better they would look with a shiny new towel rail and whilst you are about it you might as well get a new bathroom suite as well.
After all you wouldn’t want those towels to be let down by the rest of the bathroom. Somewhere in the recesses of your mind you know you are being manipulated but you don’t mind because that towel rail is lovely. The tactic works and those who do not employ it will be left behind.
Ecommerce is not a hassle free existence and an easy way to trade. You don’t get the opportunity to meet your clients and so your site must do the selling for you but creating the perfect online environment takes a lot of work and that is probably why it generally doesn’t get done.
Retailers must invest their time in building the content on their sites or at least should engage someone like me to do it for them because otherwise they will find themselves lost in cyberspace forever, drifting into oblivion.
Sally Stacey is a keen writer who creates SEO friendly content and product descriptions for a variety of ecommerce sites.