Building eCommerce Websites that Work - Part 2

Succeeding with an eCommerce website is a dream for many these days. It may seem nearly impossible at times, but it can be done. This series covers some of the basic success factors - things you must consider in creating, implementing, managing and developing a quality eCommerce web site. There are many ways to do business on the internet - and, not surprisingly, a lot of ways to both make and lose money. Mainly, I'm focusing on eCommerce sites intended to sell products of various kinds. Not every factor is going to apply to every site, but since a major failing of many internet entrepreneurs is the lack of multiple income streams, you'd do well to carefully consider all factors and apply them as needed in developing alternate revenue streams.

On examining your eCommerce web site, put some serious thought into how you can provide personal attention to each visitor. The idea here is a process of personalization through which each visitor, if they wish, can develop a unique experience of your site.

Provide options through which the user can alter layout, colors, etc. Give customers the capability to create their own personal pages on your site. Perhaps offer a simple and easy to provide service to registered customers, such as free email accounts.

As well as building loyalty and stickiness, such features also build your customer database. Scripts are also available which will allow on-the-spot personalization based on responses to a series of questions. You can also use this kind of script to focus your sales message more tightly to the user's expressed interests. This technique has been reported to substantially increase conversion rates.

Free services which can be provided on autopilot can be a virtually endless source of targeted customers. Everything from free email to blog hosting, opt-in list building to free advertising forums, all operate on the same principle as building a list through a newszine, white papers, free ebooks or whatever. In return for registration, e.g. name and confirmed email, you provide a service that your visitors desire. The exchange of value is critical. The more valuable the service that you offer, the more willing people are to provide their information. Careful structuring can allow you to collect significant marketing information on your registered users which would allow well-targeted marketing campaigns.

Never lose track of a customer. Maintaining a database of customers with any of their prior purchases, interests, and so on, allows you to provide personalized purchase suggestions and special offers. The life-long value of a happy customer may be difficult to estimate accurately, but it's far easier to sell to existing customers than to be continuously forced to acquire new ones.

Even if you only have a single product now, you will eventually have expand your product line(s). Don't throw a buyer away. Stay in touch, offer information, occasionally recommend a high quality product you use and value. Build trust through value and quality. It's nearly impossible to over-emphasize this point. Look to the long term and plan ahead. Every serious marketer needs to do this.

To further expand the human dimension, you can add forums and chat rooms. Provide a variety of means to acquire visitor input. On site surveys and questionnaires, email surveys and opinion polls can not only increase your customers' sense of being in contact with real people who value their opinions and ideas, but also provide exceptionally useful information for refining your marketing and sales tactics. Loyalty programs and affinity networks can also help.

This is a lot like beating a real dead horse, but... Reliability and security are crucial. If your eCommerce site is big enough and busy enough, multiple parallel servers, redundant hardware, use of fail-safe technology, fast technical support service, high quality encryption, valid certificates, high quality payment processors and excellent firewalls will all allow you to ensure your customers that their data is safe, their orders are handled properly and nobody's getting their credit information that shouldn't. Many people still are extremely hesitant to purchase on-line because of fears of identity and/or credit card theft. You can't ignore this issue and hope to succeed.

Right now you may not need (or want to pay for) parallel servers, redundant hardware and fail-over technology, but don't ignore the rest. You depend on your eCommerce hosting provider to keep your business running. So think carefully and do some serious research. Overloaded servers, lack of redundant network connections, slow technical support, poor backup procedures can create a nightmare situation for both you and your customers

As a final consideration for this part, smooth out your customer contact and support procedures. If multiple staff might come into contact with your customers (chat, phone or email) , providing all of them with the same (and useful) information about the customer, prior orders, any previous or current problems and so forth, can avoid a lot of potential frustration - and lost orders or, worse, a customer lost forever.

It can be incredibly irritating to have to tell the same story over and over, getting bounced from one person to another when no information ever seems to have been recorded. While it may cut down on repeat complaints, that's usually because the customer is gone forever. Construct your systems so that no information is lost and so that the data needed to be responsive and helpful is instantly available. In doing this consider that some information which customers may not feel comfortable about everyone knowing should be restricted to those who would actually need it.

Doing these things right can add significant credibility and usability to your online business, as well as build a loyal customer base which actually enjoys dealing with your eCommerce business. When you reach that stage, you're there - the true win-win situation that's makes an outstanding eCommerce web site.

Copyright 2005 Richard Keir

Richard teaches, trains and consults, on and off-line, on business and professional presentations, eCommerce, site building and programming. And writes a lot.

Visit http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites.com for articles, information, resources and links and check our blog at http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites/blog for opinion and ideas.

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