Online trading: the fastest growing retail market in Europe
According to the Centre for Retail Research, ecommerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe, with overall online sales expected to grow by over 18% during 2015. These figures don’t come as a great surprise. The way that we all shop has changed dramatically over the last decade and this is now impacting on all areas of our lives, at home and within our work places.
There are pros and cons of using e-commerce software, but it's no longer an area that you can ignore. For many years, pricing was its main obstacle and it still remains a tricky area to master. Savvy customers can easily shop around and compare costs – but, as the market matures, there’s far more scope for retailers in all sectors to flourish.
Good customer service equals repeat business
Most firms look to an online presence to enable them to sell more and to open a new channel for business – but an ecommerce solution is no longer just about selling online, it’s also about customer service and convenience.
Ecommerce software needs to be slick but it also needs to cater for your specific industry's needs. For example, a residential customer is unlikely to place a first order for your product based on a short website description. This is where an efficient sampling service, in-depth product descriptions and aspirational photography/online room planners come into their own. A regular trade customer, on the other hand, will be more interested in information about your promotions and incentives.
Good websites need to cater for all market segments, and all areas of a transaction – from the precise dimensions of a product, to accurate delivery information.
Keep it clear and easy
When breaking down the various web areas, a good product search is key. Your customers need to be able to find what they’re looking for, without being overwhelmed with information. A ‘faceted’ search, where you select features like format, colour and finish, can help with this.
Product descriptions are also very important; standard product codes and descriptions aren’t designed to help those on the web. Your descriptions need to be fuller and partly written to “sell” the product “off the page”. Good images are also very important, including close-up swatch photos and locations/roomsets.
Pricing on the web can be a difficult area to master. There’s a general market assumption that online pricing is lower than in store prices, but this needn’t be the case. To ensure margins are reserved, you need to think about headline grabbers, where a specific product range is offered at a very attractive price, or a special offer is given for a pallet-purchase. These can draw people to your website and get the basket started.
However, there probably isn’t a need for you to be as competitively priced for the add-on items, for example, installation and maintenance products. If your customers find them while browsing your site, then they’re much less likely to compare prices at this stage of the transaction.
Create a great experience for your customers
To ensure repeat visits, you also need to focus on customer service. For example, can your customer access their account through the web? Can they see what they’ve ordered and can they access delivery updates? Drilling down further, is your customer able to view invoices and pay off part or all of their outstanding balances? Essentially, you want to try to create a great experience for your existing customers online.
Creating online delivery sales is important but it’s also worth considering a click and collect service. However, this may mean altering the way that you do business. For example, a customer may want to pre-order stock and collect it at opening time, on their way to a job. The order will, therefore, need to be ready in advance and this may impact on your picking times, either the day before or ahead of opening.
All aspects of online ordering need to be clear and easy, with a simple and efficient registration process. Also, you’ll need to consider how you manage larger customers, with multiple users on the same account. Will you need to start allocating different permissions/access rights to specific individuals and if so, how are you going to help your customer manage this? All of this can, infact, be easily managed with a built-in administrator function.
Remind customers of your web address at any opportunity
So, you’ve built a great website that caters for all of your customer’s needs. But, how can you ensure that you’re found online? On the web, it’s essential to be found – and found regularly.
Getting your existing customers online is relatively easy. To promote your site and get them registered, you could discount their first online order or offer a special promotion online only. You could also sell the benefits of online trading or promote a new Click and Collect service but, most importantly, you need to give out and remind customers of your web address on all paperwork – from business cards and brochures, to order acknowledgements and invoices.
Advertising, the internet approach - SEO, SEA and Social Media
To target new customers, there are two approaches - Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Advertising (SEA) or Digital Advertising. SEO gets your website higher up the Google rankings. If you’re a local supplier, make sure you tie in your website with a geographic location tag. Also, ensure that you have plenty of information for the search engines, not just text on page but “meta-tags” which tell the Googles and Bings of the world what you do. There are lots of web agencies that can help – an example would be the one started by last year’s winner of BBC’s The Apprentice!
With SEA, and digital advertising in general, you pay for adverts (links) to your website. You can do this on Google but also consider other media, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
All offer the opportunity for you to advertise your products and services (and your company) to your target customers – but think carefully about who this really is, as you don’t want to be paying for people to see or click on your advert, who are simply not going to be interested in buying from you. Also, think about other places where it might be good for you to advertise, for example, on a trade magazine or trade association website.
Using social media to engage people with your company and brand
This leads us onto the huge topic area of social media. It’s a great way to “engage” people with your company and your brand – but it’s also one of the hardest. When putting information on social media, you need to think about the audience and also what you want them to do. Just pushing products (or companies) rarely works. Consider, instead, interesting facts, figures or news that your customers and target customers might be interested in. Also, try to make it human; social works best with “social” content. For some companies, this will be second nature – but the challenge is to constantly review and improve your strategy.
Having invested in your online presence, there are now many tools to measure and track your performance. Try them and look at improving one or two key metrics - like time on a page or number of visitors, not just end sales. For those starting out, don’t be afraid! Websites and social channels should be created with the goal of changing them. They should be dynamic and constantly updated. Try things - if they work, do more; if not, change and try something else.