A number of independent research sources have shown that buyers are now spending 60 to 80 per cent of their entire buying experience researching products and services on their own, before even speaking with a salesperson.
It used to be that a customer who had questions about a product or service would contact your business and speak with a salesperson about the options, prices and recommendations.
But with the explosion of the internet, mobile and tablet use and the saturation of web-connected technologies in our everyday lives, it’s become a whole lot easier for customers to access this information themselves.
So how can you make it easy for your customers to buy from your online store? Here are some tips to grow your online sales:
1. Make it easy to buy from you online
E-commerce is no longer limited to a simple desktop website; online stores need to work effectively and responsively across multiple platforms such as computers, tablets and mobiles to cater to consumers and business/procurement managers who constantly switch between devices.
You’ll hear the term 'UX' thrown around when referring to user experience, and there are people out there who specialise in exactly that.
However, you can start by taking some simple steps such as having someone outside of your business use your website and give you honest feedback on how easy it was to use, whether the site was easy to navigate, and whether the sign-up and ordering process was quick or time-consuming, with unnecessary steps in the checkout process.
The easier you can make it for the buyers, regardless of where they are, to complete their order, the easier it will be to have happy, returning customers.
Your online store is also more than just a place to sell your products. It’s a persona and an extension of your brand.
Your e-commerce strategy should deliver a consistent brand experience; one that your customers have come to expect from you, whether it’s in-store, in person or over the phone.
Make sure you carry this same experience over to your online store and continue building that feeling of familiarity with your brand.
This includes everything from your website design to colour schemes and even purchasing processes, delivery services and shipping/packaging options.
Your customer should feel as though they’ve just popped into your physical store when engaging with you in an online environment.
For your loyal/VIP customers this may mean delivering items from your warehouse using the quickest delivery service and not the cheapest shipping option used for ad hoc customers.
2. Find patterns in the big data chaos
'Big data' means large sets of data which, when organised in the right way, can reveal underlying patterns.
The data collected from your digital touch points is hugely important in understanding your customers' buying habits and, in turn, your sales strategy.
Each time a customer or potential customer transacts with you, it’s an opportunity to get to know who they are, what kinds of products they buy, how frequently and how much they’re likely to spend, ultimately allowing you to grow their lifetime customer value with you.
Make sure you’re not just capturing the data, but are also able to analyse and report on it in a way that makes sense and is easy for everyone in your business to digest.
If buyer trends aren’t easy to identify, they’ll likely get lost in your big sets of data. Have a look at how you’re currently running your reporting to identify trends and see whether it stacks up.
If you’re really looking to make things easy for yourself and reduce the time you spend running reports and collating data, make sure you’re using a system that allows regular reports to be scheduled and sent to you.
All you need is to do some initial set-up, specify what kinds of data you want to see and how it should be sorted, summed or simplified, and leave it up to your back-end business software system to send out reports to you regularly.
Ideally, you should also be able to pull together your marketing, online sales and inventory data to see whether there are relationships between the different trends you’re seeing.
For example, did you move a lot of one product line after a successful marketing campaign? Are there some products performing better online than in your physical store?
You’ll pretty quickly start seeing patterns, which you can use to adjust and improve your sales and marketing strategies.
One great example of how to get your data working for you is having your software system identify potential upselling and cross-selling opportunities. These are based on what other customers have purchased when ordering the item or items selected.
3. Giving something back
Once you have your front-end store integrated with your back-end system, it’s time to focus on the value you’re going to provide back to your customers.
This may include helpful information, user guides or reviews on your products and services and special offers or incentives for choosing to buy from your business.
So what can you do to have the edge against competitors and make sure customers come to you when they’re ready to talk? The best way is to anticipate and provide what they need, before they need it.
Give your customers details on your products that may be hard to find elsewhere, full specifications and comparisons with similar products, product guidelines and images galore.
You can also exceed their expectations with short demonstration videos of your products and reviews that compare products and provide honest opinions on the pros and cons.
The objective is to make yourself not only a supplier of products, but a valuable and trusted resource that customers can turn to when making their purchasing decisions.
The easier you can make it for your customer, the easier it will be to keep them coming back for more.
Stephen Canning is the CEO of cloud-based business management software developer JCurve.