With online sales predicted to top £11bn this Christmas, it's incredible how many retailers still offer websites that are mere online catalogues and don’t allow you to shop.
In fact, even some high street chains are only now taking their first steps in e-commerce.
But retailers can damage their reputation by not providing online shopping facilities.
Even if customers don’t intend to buy online and are just browsing, firms risk damaging the perception of the brand by failing to provide an online shopping experience. It’s just what the big boys do.
So, whatever size your business, if you’re serious about marketing on the web, you need a web-based shop.
Here are my golden rules for getting it right.
Make it safe
The most important thing for your online shop is not how it looks or what it contains, it’s the security of the pages.
Your reputation will be hopelessly damaged if you fail to protect your customers’ details and they fall into the hands of a cyber criminal. If you don’t have these skills, bring an expert onboard.
There’s no point committing budget elsewhere if this isn’t taken care of.
Know your customers’ rights
You want to provide a reliable and trustworthy online shop so that your customers return, but you also have some legal obligations to them.
The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 mean you must provide customers with your full company name and address before they make a purchase.
Once they’ve ordered, you’re obliged to send them a confirmation message and allow them a cooling off period in case they want to cancel their purchase.
Keep it simple
Make your online shop easy to use. Every click or navigation a customer makes is a further barrier between them and their purchase.
Offer a good returns policy
When customers buy products online, they trust that they can return their orders if they don’t like them in the flesh.
Unless you’re selling personalised or second-hand goods, there’s absolutely no reason not to have a robust returns policy in place that makes it easy for customers to change their minds.
This builds trust and makes them more willing to shop with you in the future.
Integrate your online and offline marketplaces
Your physical shops and your online store need to work hand in hand if you want to look professional.
Make sure your prices correspond, even if you’re offering a discount for online shopping.
Ideally, your website will even keep track of which stores have which products, so that customers can order or view in store if the website runs out.
Monitor your website constantly to make sure it’s up to date.
Ask yourself if it looks professional
People make decisions about websites almost instantly and an unprofessional homepage or layout will put customers off.
It’s not just a matter of reputation; many people will be concerned that you’re not a legitimate organisation if your site doesn’t look professionally designed.
Make sure the visual design is sufficiently slick and that your business information, like company name, address and contact information, is clearly available.
Give out a phone number
In shops, you sometimes need to ask for help and exactly the same is true online. If you can afford to have a customer services phone line then it’s worth doing.
Then you have someone ready to offer advice on complex or costly products – and even to upsell if it’s appropriate.
Promote your website properly
Even major brands have to market their websites online, particularly through search engine optimisation and paid ads.
This is a whole new area of expertise and you’ll need to dedicate real time to doing it well. More simply, hire an agency to deliver effective online marketing for set budget.
Let customers track their order’s progress
Don’t leave your customers hanging once they’ve paid their money – let them keep track of where the order is. This might be by sending emails when the order is received and then again when it is despatched.
Alternatively, sophisticated websites allow customers to check the exact progress of their order through your organisation online.