Online Store Best Practices

Online Store Usability
Your online store has about 5 seconds to impress a visitor enough to stay and shop.  In order to maximize the impact you can have in this short first impressions window is to have a fast loading site that is inherently easy to follow.  Take note of sites such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and Ebay.com who have all mastered selling online.  An easy to follow navigation structure, security logos to build trust, search box and pictures representing top products & categories are all keys to having a very easy to use online store.

Onsite Search Boost Online Sales
Every online shopper has been trained to instantly look for a way to search thanks to Google’s rise to fame.  A search box should be prominent at the top of every page allowing customers to search your online catalog at any time.  Customers come to online stores and usually perform a search; if no search functionality exists or no search results come back the visitor is likely gone to the next website.

Online Store Customer Support
People want to know that in the event something goes wrong with their online order help is just a phone call or click away.  One of the best things you can do is have a toll free number at the top of every page.  If you don’t offer phone support then at least have the customer support contact information at the top of the page whether it is live chat, email or a combination.  It is also recommended you post the hours of customer support so people know when their questions will be addressed.

Convenience is King
Many bargain shoppers get the best deals online all day everyday but there are many consumers where price is not the number one factor.  Even discount deal seekers consider more than just price when making a decision.  Convenient customer support, shipping options, customer reviews and easy to use online store all contribute to closing a sale just as much as price, sometimes even more.  Also many online consumers use shopping engine aggregators such as PriceGrabber.com and Google shopping so it is a great idea to have your products & site listed especially if you compete on price.

Great Online Stores Have Great Products
Technology has made it very simple for almost anyone to setup shop online to start an ecommerce business.  Part of standing out from the crowd is to have more than just ordinary products that can be picked up at large brick & mortar stores such as Wal-mart, Home Depot or Best Buy.  You need to ensure the products you sell are high quality and will not result in customer returns.  The better, more unique products you have to offer the better chance your online store has at success.  Also make sure you are always expanding your product offerings so returning customers do not get bored with your standard stock.

Ecommerce Cross Sell
Every successful large company has mastered the art of increasing order revenues by offering an upsell during checkout along with cross selling related products.  If you do not offer shoppers an upsell or cross sell on a similar or related product then you are leaving money on the table.  Clothing stores should offer upsells on product combos such as shirt & skirt deals or accessories that are popular with products in the shopping cart.  Electronics stores can offer cables to the new TV, movies for the new blu ray player, music for the new mp3 player or any other accessory to the new device being purchased.

Personalized Online Store
Offering a site experience customized to the customers previous behavior is a great way to increase sales and average order values of returning site visitors.  Amazon does a great job by remembering recently viewed items, offering product suggestions and with discounts on purchases of two products instead of one.  Personalization ranges from everything to offering a coupon for a product the customer was looking at earlier or on their last visit to promoting popular accessories for the product being viewed now.  Another great way to integrate personalization is to e-mail a coupon for a discount on accessories for a product just purchased.

Boost Online Store Sales with Customer Follow Up
One of the easiest and most profitable methods to increase online stores sales is to follow up with customers who ordered from you before.  You can either send an e-mail or an actual direct mail flyer since you have their address.  Some great ways to encourage customers to place a repeat order is to offer a special holiday coupon, event sale or discount on any accessory to a recently purchased product.  Another great way is to send the customer a free gift offer right around the time their order arrives.  This brings the customer back to your site right after receiving the recently purchased product and could result in a sale for an accessory they forgot or now view as a must have.

Top Online Store Seasonal Promotions
Holiday shopping season is just around the corner and almost every event is a great excuse to have a sale to bring in new & return customers.  Offer customers an appealing promotion really boosts sales when aligned with eager online customers.  Popular promotions include free shipping or even better free 2 day shipping, free gift with purchase, storewide discounts or large discounts on select items when another item is purchased.  If you go with the free gift option make sure the gift is something people will actually want and quantify the value of the free gift.  Also when utilizing a cross sell promotion make sure the items are related such as a free purse with any dress purchase or a 5 free songs from iTunes with an iPod purchase.

Multiple Merchant Accounts
Finding out all your revenue is on hold from a large increase of orders from a sale, promotion or holiday event can be a nightmare for any online store owner.  There are plenty of horror stories ranging from not being able to take any more orders to not being able to keep product in stock from missing cash flow due to a red flag on your merchant account.  Every online store should consider having at least 2 payment gateways to ensure a sound backup plan in the event you have problems with your merchant bank account.  On large sale or promotion events you may even want to setup your online store to split orders between two merchant gateways to lessen the chance of a hold on funds from your merchant account.  You should also let your merchant account representative know in advance about any promotional events you are having so they are aware there may be a spike.  This will make you a hero in the merchant banks eyes and reduce the chance of having to go through a stressful fraud review.