How small online businesses can improve conversions with increased customer choice

online customer choiceToday’s consumers have high expectations of the type of customer experience they believe they are entitled to receive online. Customers are increasingly online savvy, confident and like choice and control. Enabling your customers to have the convenience of choice and flexibility enhances their overall online experience with your business , in turn increasing the likelihood of  conversion and repeat visits.

Increase choice to reduce the barriers to purchase

However, I’m not suggesting that you overwhelm your customers with a smorgasbord of choices – too many options can actually deter customers. Rather, focus on offering customers increased choice in a few strategic places along the purchasing journey to help reduce some of the barriers to purchase.

Shopping cart abandonment is part and parcel of any online businesses. The current rate averages at 67.4% so any changes you can make to help reduce your shopping cart abandonment rate can only be a good thing. We take a look at how offering customers choice in some key online areas can help you increase those all important conversions.

Simple ways to implement more customer choice

Online card paymentsPayment Choice

Offering your customers a choice of payment options at checkout can have a significant impact on conversions and help reduce shopping card abandonment. Figures show:

  • 59% of respondents would abandon a transaction if their preferred payment method was not in place.
  • 40%  of respondents would have more confidence in an online shop that had more than one payment method.

It is important to be able to offer customers both online and offline payment options as it means you are more likely to be able to provide the customer with their preferred payment choice. Being able to take payments by credit or debit card is becoming increasingly important. According to the UK Card Association the majority of online purchase are now made using cards.  In the UK during 2013;

When initially setting up in business, many small businesses begin selling online using the basic shopping carts provided by their existing website platform. It is a quick and simple way to get up and running. However it can mean that as your business grows you are limited to a single payment system such as PayPal. A simple, cost-effective way to improve your shopping cart capabilities without changing your existing website platform is to use a hosted third-party shopping cart solution that is quick to integrate and can offer your business a wide range of pre-integrated payment processors and offline payment options.

online shipping and deliveryIncreased delivery options

Underestimating the importance customers place on shipping and delivery options is a potential disaster for your conversion rates. Customers take online delivery very seriously, with 42.5% of customers looking at delivery pages first.  Research also show that 50% of customers have abandoned an online purchase due to unsatisfactory delivery options.

It is important that customers fare able to plan for delivery. I’m sure we have all experienced the frustration of not being at home when a package requiring a signature turns up. Offering more delivery choices makes the customer feel in control and goes along way towards providing an all-round positive customer experience. Research shows that in terms of e-commerce delivery,

  • 31% of customers would like the option of a fixed delivery date
  • 24% of customers would like the option of collecting from their local stores
  • 24% of customers would like the option of next day delivery
  • 13% would like the option of a two-hour delivery slot.

So think about introducing some flexible delivery choices such as:

  • Next day delivery
  • Nominated day delivery
  • Pick up from a local store (such as Click and Collect)
  • ‘If out please leave…” options such as : leave with neighbour, behind bins, in garage and so on.

smartphone online shoppingBe multi-device friendly

Your customers should have the choice of being able to view your website equally well on their preferred device – be it desk top, smart phone or tablet. By limiting your customers access to a standard desk-top version of your website, you may lose out on potential sales. M-commerce such as tablets and smart-phones play an increasingly important part in your customers purchasing journey.

“With over half of all e-retail traffic coming via smartphones and tablet devices the latest results reveal a huge landmark in the growth of mobile commerce” Guardian.com

Significantly, online shopping on mobile devices has overtaken desktop traffic for the first time in the UK with 52% of online visits made via a mobile and an impressive 36% of UK online sales completed on a smartphone or tablet device. So let your customer choose how he or she wishes to view your site in the most convenient way to them, at any particular point in time, by making sure your site is multi-device friendly.

social media small businessChoice of communication channels

“The attention of modern individuals is fragmented and in this hectic communication reality they want to decide for themselves how and when and with whom they speak, both in private and with business communication” Social Marketing Forum

There is no doubt that the last ten years have seen a huge change in how we choose to communicate.  The whole social landscape has changed and as a business this needs to be reflected in the way you communicate to your customers. By offering a choice of ways for your customers to interact with your business you are more likely to be able to provide the preferred channel communication to a wider range of customers. This communication choice can be applied across the board from customer services to marketing. Simple ways to do this is to think about using an integrated both offline and online. For example:

Customer services: let customers choose how they wish to interact with you – whether it is by email, phone, or via social media.

Marketing: Market your product or services in a variety of ways, communicating traditionally through direct mail and advertising and digitally through email, social networks, PPC and SEO. In integrated approach reinforces the message and gives customers a choice in how they chose to respond.

Purchasing: Make sure customers have an options to make the final sale in the way that suits them – this could be over the phone, through your website’s online checkout or even via your social media.  For example if you have a large majority of customers who interact with your business on Facebook, then think about how you can better use that to your advantage. Try offering them the choice of purchasing your products directly through a Facebook Store.

So to reiterate, it isn’t about overwhelming customers with an overabundance of options but rather implementing customer choice strategically to give customers more control and an improved customer experience. This can help remove some of the barriers to purchase and help you increase your conversions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so do please leave a comment.

 Online shopping concept image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos

 

 

 

 

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12 days until Christmas – essential tips to help small businesses survive Christmas

12 days of christmasWith just 12 days until Christmas Eve, we thought we’d start the countdown to Christmas by sharing our 12 favourite tips to help you make the most of the 2013 festive season.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation , the average person plans to do 40% of their Christmas shopping online. Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas which is an increase of  almost 20% on 2012.    So, clearly Christmas 2013  is shaping up to be a fantastic season for retailers with unprecedented online sales.

So join us in our Christmas countdown and take a look at what we think are the best tips to help you survive the run up to Christmas.

Chritmas shopping trolleyTip 1. It’s not too late to increase your online Christmas sales

The clock is ticking as we speed towards the midway point in December. However, as a good proportion of us are still shopping right up until Christmas Eve, it’s not too late to make the most of the opportunities the Christmas season offers to increase your sales.

Indeed, according to the National Federation of Retailers, 20% of consumers don’t even plan to start their Christmas shopping until December. So don’t worry there is still time  to entice customers in. For example, creating a Christmas feel to your website can get shoppers in the  purchasing mood.  Inspire them with great gift ideas and offer special Christmas promotions such as buy one, get one half price or free delivery.

For more tips on increasing your online sales this Christmas have a look at our recent blog post ‘7 tips to boost your online sales this Christmas’  

british postboxTip 2. Christmas shipping & delivery

Be very clear on your Christmas shipping and delivery dates. Flexible delivery is great but don’t promise delivery in time for Christmas if it’s simply not possible.

Check delivery dates with all your distributors and ensure your last guaranteed Christmas  delivery dates are clearly visible on your website.  This will save a lot of angry calls and bad feeling from the frustrated customers who haven’t received the deliveries they’re expecting. In fact you could  use your last delivery dates as sales tool by reminding customers to make that purchase before it’s too late.

And for your interest, if you’re posting within the UK, Royal Mail’s last Christmas posting dates for 2nd class mail is Wednesday 18th December and 1st class is Friday 20th December. Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed is Monday 23rd December.

NewspaperTip 3.  Spread the word – tell everyone about what your business is offering this Christmas

You may have a lots of great Christmas promotions in place but if you don’t tell your customers about them then there’s no point to all your hard work. You should be going all out promoting all your great products this Christmas. Make the most of your website, email newsletters, social media platforms to tell your customers about all your special Christmas promotions and all the inspiring gift ideas you have.

christmas card season greetingsTip 4. Send out a little Christmas spirit

The last posting dates for Christmas are fast approaching (Tip 2) so make sure you are going to be ready to send out seasonal greetings to clients and suppliers. Sending out Christmas greetings by a card (or if you are past the posting date an e-card) adds a personal touch to your business and shows both clients and suppliers that they are important to you.

small chrismas treeTip 5.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly

If you haven’t already done it then now is the time to get the tinsel out and jolly up your office. Creating a festive work environment is more likely to get you and your staff into the swing of Christmas. And, if Christmas means longer hours due to the heavier workload then it is far more motivating and uplifting to be in a festive environment than in an office devoid of any seasonal touches. And, for those of you one-man-bands out there, this applies to you too. A few festive nods around your workspace can make all the difference to your frame of mind!

social media like imageTip 6.  Make the most out of your social media

Most people are in the Christmas spirit a couple of weeks before Christmas so now is a great time to use your social media platforms to engage with customers. Social media is an excellent, low-cost way to communicate with customers on a more emotional level. It is a great way of  building brand awareness and brand personality. And, since people are likely to be feeling festive at this point in December why not add some fun touches like some Christmas themed quizzes, competition or games?

December calendarTip 7. Plan for a stress free break

Used to wearing multiple hats, it is often hard for small business owners to switch off  over the Christmas period.   However, spending time with friends and family and having the chance to properly relax and unwind is important both mentally and physically –  especially considering that small business owners often have to work 24/7.

To take the stress and worry out of taking a well deserved break, make a plan of what you need to do to enable you to fully enjoy your time off. For example, prioritize tasks in order of importance. What needs to be done before you go and what can wait until you get back? What can be delegated or outsourced? Sometimes just putting your worries and concerns down on paper is a useful exercise in itself as it can help you see the wood from the trees.

If you are unable to take a complete break, then plan a specific time slot each day to check emails and return pressing phone calls – but keep it as short as you can and only deal with issues that really can’t wait.

Man carrying pile of Christmas presentsTip 8.  Santa’s little helpers – be prepared for last-minute rush

Be prepared for a last-minute Christmas rush – there is always a significant proportion of shopping done online right up until the 23rd December. And, with flexible delivery options such as Click and Collect and Special Delivery, don’t rule out last-minute Christmas sales.

“With local services like Click & Collect, people can shop online with confidence right up until 23 December and pick up in store on Christmas Eve which could have a big impact on online shopping times”. Internet Retailing 

It is important to make sure you have enough help to fulfil any last-minute orders that may come in. Have family or friends on standby if necessary.

gold starTip 9. Offer excellent customer service at Christmas – it’s your chance to shine

In previous posts we’ve discussed just how important good customer care is especially for small businesses. December is likely to see increased customer queries and more than likely bring with it a few stressed customers. Keeping your cool by  remaining calm and courteous is essential.  If you have people other than yourself answering phones or replying to emails, make sure they are all fully briefed on the importance of offering excellent customer service. If you can continue dealing with queries efficiently and professionally over the Christmas period then it will only reflect positively on your business in the future.

If you need to free up some time then it is a good idea to put a ‘frequently asked questions’ section on your website and telephone answering service. This should contain information that is regularly asked for such as your last posting date, returns policy and Christmas hours. This will give you more time to answer more time-consuming queries.

Little girl with thumbs downTip 10.  Returns and exchanges – dealing with unwanted gifts

Just as Christmas brings with it a surge in online sales, January is likely to bring with it a surge in request for returns and exchanges. To avoid any confusion, make sure customers are aware of your returns policy when they make a purchase.  Clearly state it both on your website and on any customer correspondence such as on the invoice or  despatch note.

However, as a small business keeping existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new customers so bear this in mind when it comes to returns and try to be as flexible as you possibly can. Sometimes it is better (and more cost-effective) in the long-term to just to accept an exchange (obviously within reason) than quibble with a customer over something minor. If you can do this, the customer is more likely to do business with you again in the future.

we are closed door signTip 11. Out of office

Sounds obvious but make sure you have communicated your businesses’ Christmas plans to your customers. If you aren’t going to be answering emails or calls at all over the Christmas period then make sure you’ve got an out of office message on your website, email and voicemail in place.  Let customers the office is closed and when you are going to be able to respond. If there is someone covering for you whilst you are away, then make sure their contact details are available.

If need be, mobile devices offer the opportunity to touch base with customers and answer any pressing issues whilst you are away from the office but as we mentioned earlier in tip 7 try to set aside specific times rather than letting it rule over your Christmas break.

Tip 12. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – enjoy your well deserved breakmerry christmas stocking

Finally we would like to wish you a Happy Christmas – you deserve it. Running a small businesses can be hugely rewarding but with long hours it can be all-consuming. So it’s OK to switch off once in a while – in fact it’s essential.  And, since you’ve taken note of Tip 7 and planned you break you’ll be able to rest assured that you can enjoy a stress free break without the worry about your business.