2009 US Ecommerce Issues and Opportunities

2008 has been a pretty fair year for ecommerce stores in the US… Despite the growing concern over our economy. The question now becomes, what does an ecommerce business need to do in 2009 to grow their sales and be successful. I have given this a great deal of thought and have some suggestions for ecommerce small business owners in 2009.

I think right out of the box ecommerce owners will have to compete with better and more user friendly options. Additional shipping options, checkout options including checking out without and account and navigation strategy will be very key elements.

Many Americans have been burned on sneaky eBay style shipping tricks. Online shoppers are very cautious and un-trusting regarding shipping issues. This will be a major player in the success of any online store in 2009. I have some suggestions to improve your current shipping processes…

  • Clearly post your shipping… At the very least shoppers MUST be able to get a shipping quote from the cart page. If you can manage flat rate or free shipping, you will find great success. NEVER, have any shipping disclaimers where you intend to recalculate shipping after the sale… This will send most of your shoppers running for the hills.
  • Offer a small selection of relevant shipping options. Shoppers want options, but too many shipping options will send them packing packing as well.
  • Your shipping rules must be clear and easily located. I strongly suggest you include a shipping summary in your checkout, as shoppers will rarely navigate to the shipping page to find the information.
  • Your shipping should contain and estimated delivery time… Without it, shoppers can be easily convinced to pay more elsewhere for a promised shipping date.
  • Post your phone number. If you are not making your businesses phone number clearly available on your site… You are just screwing yourself in too many ways to count.

US and other shoppers worldwide are sick and tired of spam… They have been tricked, spammed and basically misled by so many websites. Convincing a shopper to trust your site is a very substantial challenge. Checkout options and other related store functions will help to build trust and convert sales very effectively.

  • Your shoppers need the opportunity to checkout without creating a store account. They are sick of all the store accounts and lost usernames and passwords. If your software cannot be made to allow checking out without an account then look in to PayPal Express or Google Checkout for these leery shoppers.
  • Remove ALL login and account creation type language from your checkout. Many software platforms can be made to appear like there is no account being created just by changing the language to reflect a transaction rather than and account creation. Dump that login box and grow your sales in 2009.
  • Get an SSL to encrypt your transactions and tell folks you have it to protect their online transactions with your store. Again, make your phone number readily available to build trust and let shoppers know you are a “real” business.
  • Shorten up your checkout and remove distractions preventing your shoppers from purchasing. This one is just a simple and logical step to increase the revenue you are getting from your existing level of visits and prevent checkout abandonment. Shorten up your checkout as much as you can… Lets face it, if your shoppers had a bunch of time to waste they would shop at Wal Mart. Remove unnecessary menus and click able things to get your shopper off track and not checking out. Once they decide to give you money… LET THEM!
  • Clearly post on your site and checkout the payment options your shoppers have. I cannot tell you how many times I have went all the way through someones checkout to find a credit card field and I have NO CLUE which cards they accept and have to then search for their policy regarding payment… Which of course causes me to LEAVE CHECKOUT.
  • Make certain your shoppers can track their orders… Even if they checkout without an account.

Navigation and flow control are so crucial to your website… Likely the most important factor of all. Many shop owners haven’t even a clue as to how their site is navigated… OR NOT. I have some simple tips to help you to improve your site’s navigation and thus improve the average time on your site, making a sale far more likely.

  • You know your products, sure, but do your shoppers?  Nothing irritates me more than a menu I cannot navigate. When planning your categories and menu use real language… Stuff even I can understand.
  • Categorize your products logically and in a few different ways. Shopper A knows he is looking for a “Gadget B”, but has no clue that it is a child category under “Gadgets”… But he know this gadget is what he needs to complete the work on his RC car, and that its a “part”. So he will likely navigate more effectively to this gadget using a menu group called “RC Car Parts”. While Shopper B knows full well that that part will be located under “Gadgets” as he is no novice RC builder.
  • Do usability studies… I tell shop owners this ALL THE TIME, and usually they fail miserably. Pay, beg, ask or bait regular people to shop in your store and report what they find back to you. Use a logical collection of test shoppers and include a kid, like 13 to 17 years old… As they will really tell you how it is. Now, when your reports come in, DO NOT GET DEFENSIVE, this is about improvement… A defensive reaction will accomplish nothing but no improvement. So if you HAVE TO always be right… Just skip this, because you are of course right… Right?
  • Have a good long look at your use of page real estate… How much information is above the fold (the point where a visitor must scroll). Are you using this space wisely? Did you know that you have about 15 seconds to engage a new visitor… and that they are 80% more likely to read text in this 15 seconds?
  • Colors have many psychological properties and can be used to assist a shopper in finding your products and then in making the proper buying and checkout decisions without having to flounder around. Green is a perfect color for action links and buttons. Red really is a stop color, use it to draw attention to a product or attribute very effectively. However, if your checkout button is red… You screwed up.
  • Have a good long look at your product page layout. Is it effective, fast and easy to navigate. What if I purchased this product before…. Going to make me hunt down your add to cart button?
  • Cross selling related products within your product and category pages is not only effective marketing, but effective navigation as well. For 25 plus years I was a restaurant manager and one thing I learned is that when you suggestive sell a product properly it is helpful to the patron… Not a bother or inconvenience. Shoppers and patrons alike have this in common… They pay little or no attention to the details of much of anything collectively and genuinely require your assistance.

So I have to say if you are looking to grow your online store in 2009 then these items above will have the best and fastest return on your time or money investment. Another restaurant managers lesson is to get the most dollars and purchases out of your existing customers first. Build your check average and grow your sales.