Is there a more relaxing way to spend a Friday night than curled up on the couch in your pyjamas, glass of wine in hand, browsing some shopping sites? Online shopping has transformed the way we look for items and created a world of possibilities for retailers to reach a global audience. The market for online shopping is still growing and predicted to grow further over the next 4 years, largely as result of the extra time people are spending online with tablets and smart phone flexibility.

People approach shopping online differently to shopping in real life but the most important elements remain very similar. Your website is a virtual store and needs to reflect the feeling and brand of your company as closely as a bricks and mortar site would. Shoppers enjoy the convenience and round the clock nature of shopping online, as well as the ability to easily compare products and prices using comparison engines and review sites.

The challenge, as always, is how to convert the casual browser into a paying customer.

It’s important to build trust

People need to trust your brand quality, as in the online environment people cannot touch, try on or experiment with your product before buying it. Great websites have comprehensive and convincing descriptions, an excellent customer review process and videos showing your product in use. ASOS was one of the first fashion sites to upload video footage of their items worn by a catwalk model and made substantial inroads into selling fashion online, because customers could actually see how the product looks, flows and feels on a real person.

If you are selling small items such as jewellery, technology parts or fine art, it can be useful to use an inexpensive light box, which creates a soft diffused light, highlights fine details and emits flattering tones. Flax and Twine has a great tutorial on how to make your very own DIY light box.

Ensuring your photos and videos are accurate also leads to better word of mouth and subsequent customer reviews, as well as repeat business from your current clients.

Top Selling Tip: motivate your customers to leave reviews of their purchased products by offering them a discount on future purchases or other rewards.

Sephora is a great example of a website that clearly summarises the reviews for each product, as well as offering information on each buyer’s history (number of reviews, time on site) to help users evaluate the authority of reviews.

Let’s keep it between us (data privacy concerns)

People need to trust in your data security, given the ongoing publicity surrounding security and leaks, and so it’s hugely important to let the customer know that their data is safe with your company. That means you need to operate on a reliable cloud hosting network provided by web hosting companies. If your business is within New Zealand, you can visit web hosting and domain name registration company Umbrellar for your data issues and security. Using best practices on data safety helps customers feel assured that their data will remain safe and, crucially, secure from prying eyes. Offering payment methods such as PayPal or Google Checkout can also help reassure nervous shoppers who are more comfortable with the guarantees offered by these programs.

Top Selling Tip: ensure your privacy policy is clearly stated on your website and up to date with any legislative changes.

Target, for example, has a clearly displayed and easy to read website, helping users feel more confident with regard to how their data is treated and stored.

Take my money already (an efficient cart process)

Customers need to be able to complete their transactions easily and quickly. A shopping cart and checkout process that operates effectively, will keep your customer progressing straight through to payment without being drawn to other server window tabs or being distracted by real life demands. Try to use a single page checkout where possible, as the more clicks required to complete payment, the lower your overall sales conversion is likely to be. Items in a shopping cart that can’t be checked out are the equivalent of a customer standing in your store, unable to find assistance to pay for their goods. The only difference in this case is that alternative sellers are only a click away, and their process is likely to be much simpler.

Window dressing (drawing people into your site)

People need to feel convinced that your product is the right choice for them. Truly convincing copy can take an ordinary object and turn it into a conversation piece and a true ‘must have’. Etsy is a great example of a marketplace where convincing copy generates customers who are willing to spend more on bespoke and boutique pieces. Consider how a customer will use your product, and why your product is superior to alternative items on the market – then simply convey this message to them.

While on the topic of drawing visitors in, you need to remember that people will be accessing your site on a range of different devices (mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop) as well as different brands of devices. It’s important to test your website on every device that you can, to ensure the website functions correctly; especially the search and checkout processes.

Top Selling Tip: If you are not a comfortable copy writer, consider paying a professional through a site such as fiverr.com, where you can hire appropriate writing assistance for an appropriate fee.

Ensure that new and premium products are in your prime real estate – your front page. The front page is the shop window of your store, drawing potential customers inside to examine what else you have on offer. Frequent visitors will be looking for new stock and casual visitors are likely to be looking for your most popular pieces. Customers are also eager to see which products are trending, to help them discover popular and fashionable items.

Allow your customers to modify their purchases as much as possible. Not only does this create a unique item for them, but it also tells them that their friends are unlikely to have the same item. This little piece of additional input can help the consumer feel more involved, and buy-in to your brand as a whole. The same technique has been used by high end brands such as Prada, as well as lower end t-shirt design sites like Threadless; it’s particularly popular with younger visitors, who love unique or customised pieces.

I’m looking for this, um, thing I saw (an effective search function)

Ensure your site’s search function is effective and intuitive. Keep in mind criteria such as price, size, color, model, brands, any technical specifications and style. An important aspect, that some newer online businesses overlook, is to make sure any free text search fields have fuzzy logic enabled, so that similar terms or misspelled words can be corrected and appropriate items suggested to the customer. If your consumer doesn’t know you stock the product they are looking for, they can’t buy it.  ASOS has a great search function, which is constantly being updated in line with customer comments and requests.

Prime location (SEO and STM)

After building a spectacular online store, you need to consider how people will find you. Search engines are the equivalent of walk-in traffic and similar to a bricks and mortar store, you need to keep in mind how you will catch the eyes of passers-by. Search engines are a logical starting point, but it can be tricky to get a high enough ranking to be visible, if you are a new or small website. If you are not already familiar with search engine optimisation (“SEO”) it’s worth reading some of the professional SEO guides to understand and implicate some methods of making your site more visible to potential customers.

Top Selling Tip: search engine algorithms change depending on whether users are accessing from mobile or desktop devices, so it’s worth reviewing your rankings in both.

Social media is another way that customers can find your brand. Research the biggest or most popular reviewers, YouTubers and bloggers in your sector and send them information about your website and any products or services that they may be able to review. Popular reviewers often have loyal followers who will take their advice, and reviews, seriously. Curated collections from sites, such as Pinterest and Polyvore, can also draw users to your site, without the original poster even purchasing from you in the first place. These sites make it especially important to use clear, inspiring and interesting images on your own website.

After it’s done (aftersales services)

The transaction may be finished at your end, but having a clear mail tracking service, well communicated returns process and dispute resolution service is just as important as the original sale. These services can end up saving your customer service team substantial amounts of time and effort. For the customer, the process ends when the goods arrive in their hands, in the condition you have described.  Responding quickly to any issues on social media is also vital in ensuring your brand is not damaged by complaints or bad press.

 Online shopping will continue to be an important method of connecting with customers over a larger region and increasing sales, with lower overheads than a physical shop front. Which is why it’s important that you iron out your online sales process as soon as possible.