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38 ecommerce tips and tricks from online selling pros

Small tweaks can make a big difference when it comes to running a successful ecommerce business. Increasing sales online is tricky, and continual optimisation of sales and marketing strategy is the only way to find out exactly what your customers are after.

We spoke to a number of online selling pros – from ecommerce experts to successful small online retailers – to get some of their best ecommerce tips and tricks. The good news is you don’t have to be a marketing expert or sales strategist to implement them! We’ll be getting the best advice on:

–       Turning your website into a tip-top selling machine

–       Selling smart

–       Giving your customers the service they expect

–       Getting PR and reputation management right

–       Optimising your website for search engines

–       Getting savvy with social media

–       Keeping your ecommerce site secure

Tricks for a smashing website

Your website is the most important part of this whole process – so make sure it looks the business, runs well and, above all, makes buying easy!

1)    Make sure your website looks like a masterpiece.

“Just as customers are likely to be put off by a messy shop floor on the physical high-street, they are similarly unimpressed with unprofessional-looking websites. Pixelated images, spelling or grammatical errors and inconsistent branding are not just unattractive – they also suggest a website may not be legitimate. Make sure your online shop looks professional and trustworthy to avoid being mistaken for a scam.” –  Raj Samani, EMEA McAfee

2)    Choose the right infrastructure.

For an emergent online business, it is imperative that the backend infrastructure works well. You don’t need to be a tech genius either. Choose the right infrastructure, such as 123-reg.co.uk, and you’ll get the support you need to make it great.” – Tom Carson and Chris Rea of YoungOnes

3)    Make your site mobile-friendly.

“Today’s shoppers want to be able to make purchases on the go, and are using mobile devices to access the web. However, as of this summer (according to Econsultancy), just 55 per cent of online companies had mobile optimised sites, meaning many companies have some work to do over the next 12 months. Where possible, make sure you factor mobile shopping into your ecommerce strategy to avoid alienating this growing customer base.” – James Hardy, Head of Europe, Alibaba.com

4)    Make it easy for customers to navigate around your online shop.

“If customers can quickly and easily search your website they will complete a purchase more quickly and more often.” – Phillip Smith, UK Manager of Trusted Shops

5)    Carry customer and peer-recommendations clearly on your web page.

“Third party support from an independent body, plus customer ratings (e.g. reviews) combine to re-assure customers that they’re making the right purchase.” – Phillip Smith, UK Manager of Trusted Shops

6)    Create clean URLs.

“Many off-the-shelf ecommerce solutions create awful URLs. Make sure your URL is as simple as possible – it doesn’t have to be 500 characters long.” – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning

7)    Use Google Analytics wisely.

Track how many people make an enquiry, go to checkout, complete checkout, watch a video, download a brochure, etc. Then you will be able to gauge what is working, what needs help and what needs trashing. Maybe it’s your internal signposting, the copy, the internal linking, technical issues, or maybe a product-line is weak”. – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning 

8)    Don’t forget about your less popular pages.

It’s easy to concentrate on the products and pages that are getting the most attention. Look at your site’s page by page traffic to see which ones are being viewed the least and find out why. Is it poor natural search? Or is the product so deep in the site that noone (even the bots) can find it?” – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning

Selling smart and standing out from your competitors

Let’s face it: when you’re selling online (whether selling your own wares or reselling others’) the chances are you’ll be up against some fierce competition. Here are some tips on how to get those customers through the checkout.

9)    Avoid flashy deals.

When it comes to online deals, consumers often follow the old adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have a generous deal on offer, try not to make it too ostentatious. Avoid words such as ‘genuine’ as this can suggest to customers that it is anything but, and be open about your terms and conditions. Smart customers would rather know the catch than be left thinking you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes.” – Raj Samani, EMEA McAfee

10) Communicate the benefits for the user.

“Besides a unique selling point, online retailers have to offer additional benefits and display these prominently. Using visual aids like check marks or icons alongside the benefits attracts shoppers to features such as free shipping or shorter delivery times.” – Phillip Smith, UK Manager of Trusted Shops

11) Implement online shopping cart recovery.

“70 per cent of people admit to abandoning their online shopping cart. The reasons for abandonment are many, but it’s not a bad thing, as that shopper has engaged with your site and a filled a basket of goods. Half the battle is won! By following up with timely emails you can convert them into a sale, even if they did not complete first time, and its known that as many as 25 per cent of abandoned baskets can be recovered in this way.” – James Critchley, CEO of cart recovery specialists cloud.IQ 

12) Start small and sell out.

“Hype is your friend. Scarcity of your product is not always a problem – it can show that you have a great item that everybody wants!” – Tom Carson and Chris Rea of YoungOnes

13) Build up the number of own brand products or exclusives.

“This way you’re not competing to sell a product at the lowest price with others selling the same thing.” – Tim Barlow, AttaCat

Get yourself a sparkling reputation

No online business wants to earn themselves a bad reputation. Caroline Skipsey of Igniyte gave us her top tips for creating a buzz around your business for all the right reasons.

14) Monitor search results for your own name or business.

“Set up Google news alerts so you know immediately when anything appears about you online.”

15) Make sure you own any social accounts featuring a handle related to you and your business.

“Even if you don’t plan to use them at this stage, you might need to in the future, and the last thing you want is someone spouting off on a username associated with your product, as customers might think it’s you!”

16) Ensure a steady supply of new, positive content.

“You can do this by setting up a blog providing content about yourself, your industry and your business and posting articles about your interests and areas of professional expertise.”

17) If negative content about your business is defamatory, don’t be afraid to contact the site directly.

“If content is not in line with the terms and conditions of the website, there’s a chance it will be removed permanently. And if this doesn’t work, use the Google Removal Tool – this can, in certain situations, remove the offending content from search results of your brand or company name.”

18) Make sure any social media and web assets you use are secure.

“Keep control of external posts and comments. Ensure privacy settings are set up so you control who posts to your page, blog or profile.”

19) If your company is receiving negative reviews, don’t be tempted to fake positive reviews.

“This could certainly come back to haunt you. Concentrate instead on getting genuinely positive reviews by addressing the problems customers are pointing out. Negative reviews sting, but they can be very constructive. Encourage your customers to leave positive ones too.”

20) Don’t keep replying to a negative thread.

This will just keep it alive longer, and you certainly do not want that.” Instead, try to take the conversation to a private method of communication, like email or a phone call. 

Keeping customers happy

While getting new customers is brilliant, you can’t forget about your existing ones. If your customer receives a great service, they are highly likely to return time and time again, and to rave about you to other people. View someone spending money with you for the first time as a lead, not a customer. Too many e-commerce purchases are one-offs, so be prepared to work to get the all-important repeat orders.

21) Offer a personalised service.

It’s becoming increasingly important to treat customers as individuals, and as a small business you’re perfectly placed to do this. From taking special orders, adding a little freebie into their parcel or sending out personalised emails based on their birthday or anniversaries, little things go a long way.” – James Hardy, Head of Europe, Alibaba.com

22) Stay in their mind.

“Retailers should offer customers tailored recommendations and send them targeted messages about deals which may interest them, or gently remind them about abandoned shopping carts to show they are noticed and valued” –  James Hardy, Head of Europe, Alibaba.com

 23) Make your buying system flexible.

“Many retailers now leave a small window after the order is placed and before the rest of the process starts, so that if the customer goes back to purchase another item, these can be incorporated into one package. This is not only convenient for the customer, but it also reduces shipping costs for you.” – Paul Galpin, Managing Director, P2P Mailing 

24) Have a great returns policy.

“A good returns system is something that many companies can forget to implement. If customers find it difficult to return goods, it’s likely that they may look to a competitor next time. Just look at ASOS, whose free returns service has absolutely transformed the online fashion retail sector.” – Paul Galpin, Managing Director, P2P Mailing

25) Provide choice.

Whether that’s a choice of card payment methods, a choice of shipping methods, or a variety of ways to contact you, customers love choice  and increasingly demand it. Make sure you give it to them.”

26) Improve delivery speeds.

“A number of larger retailers, including the likes of Amazon, Wal-Mart and eBay, are aiming to increase their delivery speed, with the ultimate goal of being able to offer same-day delivery on all items. The 2013 Online Retail Delivery Report from Micros showed that 68 per cent of online retailers currently offer next day delivery – however, just 6 per cent offer same-day delivery in London. If retailers can get products to customers within 24 hours, they will push themselves significantly ahead of the competition.” –  James Hardy, Head of Europe, Alibaba.com

SEO and ecommerce marketing

Did you know that 94 per cent of Google searches end in an organic click? Getting your website on the first page of Google is vital in procuring that all-important first click to your website. Here are some quick and simple SEO tricks.

27) Create original, vibrant copy to sell the product.

“If you have multiple products on sale don’t just duplicate the copy on every page with the odd lazy tweak.  And remember, if you are reselling the product, then there is a good chance that other resellers are using the exact same copy provided by the supplier. Change it! Give it life. Get some keywords in there – use searchable words explaining what the product does. Don’t rely on manufacturer’s descriptions either – it’s a fast route to Google invisibility.” – Tim Barlow of AttaCat

28) Concentrate on the long-tail searches.

“It’s hard to rank for a single keyword if you’re a new site, but the average Google query now consists of 2-3 words per search, and is rising. This means that the long-tail is becoming more and more important to attracting clicks to your site. Make sure you have interesting content containing relevant search phrases, not just individual keywords.” – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning

29) Get a Google+ account and write good stuff.

“Google loves to push their own assets and though they have never stated this directly, having a Google+ account for your business, with quality content posts, will aid value to the site.” – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning

Steps to brilliant social media

In physical shops you can chat to your customers, give them a helping hand, and listen to their feedback. Now with social media you can do this online on a scale like never before. While social media can seem daunting at times (and disastrous if you do it wrong), it’s one of the best cheap marketing tools at your disposal.

30) Find relevant bloggers and ask if you can write a piece about your area of expertise.

“Even if the piece doesn’t delve into the details of your business, it will get your name out there and a link to your website.” – Lara Soetekouw, founder of online only children’s fashion retailer Big Blue Cuddle

31) Twitter is harder than everyone says.

“Don’t mindlessly sit in front of Twitter linking to your site. Create a personality! Check out competitors to see what they’re writing about and how they make it interesting.” – Sam Silverwood-Cope, co-founder of Intelligent Positioning  

32) Run competitions on social media.

“Competitions are a cheap way of engaging with your audience, spreading the word about your business!” – Lara Soetekouw, founder of online-only children’s fashion retailer Big Blue Cuddle

33) If your business has an important visual element, use Pinterest.

“Create mood boards about your product that are relevant to your audience, combining links to your site with other interesting finds.” – Lara Soetekouw, founder of online-only children’s fashion retailer Big Blue Cuddle

34) Share the love.

“Link and Tweet your partners, suppliers, neighbours, friends – if you share the love then they will link back to you and create lines of communication and increase the chance of new customers coming to your site.” – Lara Soetekouw, founder of online-only children’s fashion retailer Big Blue Cuddle

35) Don’t buy followers.

This might seem tempting, but it won’t add any value to your Twitter account – you’ll just pay top dollar for a spambot army.

Fine-tune your security

Demonstrating your trustworthiness is a vital part of selling online. Here’s how to put potential customers’ minds at rest.

36) Make your security visible.

“Without the presence of a physical shop, e-tailers rely heavily on consumer trust as they enter their payment details online. Make it clear to customers that you are taking good care of their sensitive card data. An independently-qualified secure logo positioned on your homepage will mark your business as a safe place to shop, and is a simple yet effective step in gaining customer trust. Also, make sure the URL starts with ‘https ://’ instead of ‘http://’ –  this will show customers that it is a secure site, and boost customer confidence.” – Raj Samani, EMEA McAfee

37) Carry third party validation, such as a trust mark.

Third party validation will let customers know from the outset that they’re in a safe and secure environment. Also, you should ensure it’s clear that every customer gets guarantees for their purchase. Guarantees let customers know they’re protected.” – Phillip Smith, UK Manager of Trusted Shops.

And one last bonus tip that sums up the whole process…

“Build an amazing team and a great, truly differentiated product that consumers love, and have very solid legal advice!” – Johannes Reck, CEO and founder of the destination guide site GetYourGuide.co.uk