Top online retailers share the tricks of the trade

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Successful online retailers share tricks of the trade

Being successful in the online marketplace isn’t that different from being a busker in a busy business district; if you aren’t pulling out the right tricks, it’s hard to maintain crowd attention. Here’s how some online retailers are standing out from the pack.

The best online retailers are the ones trying to put a human face into e-commerce. The online marketplace is crowded and web businesses need to offer more than just convenience to stand out from the hustle and bustle.

Build your database - slowly and strategically
When you are selling online, email is still the best way of turning visitors into customers. “Email still rules the world as far as conversion goes”, says Sue Cook, director and digital strategist with creative agency Taos Creative, “but if you’ve got nothing exciting to say it’s better not to say anything.”

Building your email database is the first step. Don’t try to get too much information in the first grab or you risk customers getting annoyed or bored. Keep it to the bare minimum - a name and an email address - and build the detail over time.

Reward customers with something worthwhile for giving you their information, whether it’s an introductory offer, or a voucher they can use against future sales.

Live chat - real-time online interaction
For real-time customer interaction, think about installing a live chat box on your website. “It’s like a virtual sales assistant,’’ says Cook. “You can build trust and turn a browser into a buyer by answering customers’ questions quickly and pointing them in the right direction on your site.”

But make sure you are clear about when live chat will be turned on, and stick to that. “Decide on how much time you can allocate and work back,” suggests Cook.

“Also track what people are doing on your site with Google Analytics,” says Cook. 

Joe Button co-founders Mel Lee and Modi Song launched their customised shirt sales website in August 2011, and tracked the site analytics from the start.

Early results showed visitors were not spending a lot of time on the site. Since online customisation is still fairly new in Australia they were worried customers were getting confused. After they installed a live chat box on the site customer questions confirmed their suspicions. But being able to answer them in real time meant visitors stayed longer and ultimately sales went up.

“We do have all the questions they ask us on the site but they like the immediacy of the live chat box,” says Song.

Know your limits
With a staff of around 100, white goods e-tailer Appliances Online has enough people to keep all their communication channels busy. By running competitions, showing videos and chatting about things relevant to everyday life, they have built a following of more than 187,000 followers on their Facebook page. They also still offer 16-hour a day, 365 days a year telephone support to customers. According to Winning it’s their best form of communication with customers. “Unless your customers can relate to you as a human being you will miss out on building relationships,” he says.

But if you don’t have enough people then you need to be selective. Don’t set up a Twitter or a Facebook account unless you can respond quickly and update regularly – and that means more than once a week. Instead, think about what is relevant for the potential customers of your business.

What else does your site offer?
Online prescription eyewear retailer Sneaking Duck recognised that customers want to be able to try on glasses before they buy them. The site lets customers upload a photo and ‘try-on’ potential purchases. They can then share the photo on Facebook and get feedback from their friends.

“What we are starting to do is take all the great things offline and recreate them online,” says CEO and co-founder Mark Capps. “Helping customers narrow their selections reduces returns, saves money and increases customer satisfaction.”

Customer satisfaction also comes from a clear, easy to navigate website. Don’t spend too long perfecting your site, get it out there, see how customers react, and respond quickly to feedback.

“It’s OK to fail on the web”, says Cook, “[but] it’s better to fail quickly.”


UPDATE: Since this story was written, just before Christmas, Appliances Online's Facebook group has grown from 187,000 to more than 198,000. Congrats! We will have to speak to them about growing a Facebook community :)
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