A few seconds make all the difference when it comes to online shopping. Today’s shoppers are an impatient crowd. Did you realise that a half-second increase in loading time can cause 10% of customers to leave your website?
But unfortunately, it’s not just loading times that can win or lose you a sale, or retain a loyal customer. You have to balance functionality, social media integration and interactivity to create a website that appeals to everyone — and that isn’t easy.
What do your customers expect from your website now?
Websites and customer expectations have evolved over the past few years. What your customers want and need from your website is no longer the same as it would have been five years ago.
Once upon a time, websites were far simpler. Retail websites would typically be a simple grid of standard-resolution product photos to choose from. If customers were lucky, a product would have a side view as well as a front view. They could order your products on the website using a rudimentary basket system, or even order via phone or post.
Websites have changed drastically since then, so an older style of website will date your business. Shoppers want a better idea of what it is they’re buying. Higher-resolution or zoomable photos, 360-degree views and videos will all help you to make sales.
Customers spend less money online than in-store, so it’s crucial that you make your site as attractive as possible.
Why is social media so important to business?
Unless you occupy an extremely narrow niche, it is likely that most of your customers will use social media and they will expect you to do the same. As well as using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to display their interests and brand loyalty, customers also use social media to make complaints. Failing to interact with them in a timely manner can be a PR disaster. These complaints are in the public sphere, where other customers can see them (and so can reporters, who are often keen to write a story on the subject).
It is also key that the responses you make are appropriate to the complaint or comment. While some funny responses on Twitter have generated positive media, you should ensure that your response won’t offend and doesn’t have an undertone that could generate negative media.
Many retailers choose to integrate social media with their site, making commenting and sharing easy. But there’s one thing that you need to bear in mind with social media integration. Websites are loading slower and slower because of the functionalities that shoppers require. You might think that shoppers will wait a little longer for a site with higher functionality to load — but you’d be wrong.
Your website is crucial to maintaining your online presence
One thing that businesses are realising is that if they don’t have an online presence, it is hard for customers to find them — even if their sales are mostly local.
Social media integration provides encouragement for your customers, giving them easy ways to get in touch with you. Many customers expect helplines to be slow and involve waiting on hold for excessive periods. Social media and live chat functions, on the other hand, mean they can ask their question and know that someone will be answering it imminently, without spending money on a phone call or listening to hold music.
Obviously your website is key to making sales, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a way of gaining and maintaining a reputation online, of reaching new people and doing business with long-term customers.
But what happens when something threatens to jeopardise that reputation?
Your website needs to be safe and secure to reassure your customers — and retain them
There are many generational differences between shopping methods, but shoppers of every age are now shopping online. Although online shopping is unlikely to replace in-store shopping in the long run, it will continue to decrease the amount of trade that brick and mortar stores see.
One of the main reasons we love to shop online is that for many, working hours are getting longer. Shopping online is more convenient; ordering products without leaving the house is attractive to Generation X’s hectic members.
While people of all ages shop online, many older shoppers mistrust many of the functions of online shopping. There is a high level of wariness amongst all shoppers, regardless of age. Shoppers are aware of how easily their identities can be stolen, with many opting out of online facilities such as banking for fear of being hacked.
Customer trust is quite low and therefore needs to be earned and retained through strong security precautions. If you lose your customers’ trust — for example through a website hack — you will lose customers quickly and permanently.
Safe, secure, fast, functional and fun — How are you supposed to fit it all in?
Consumers used to be far more forgiving of slow websites, mainly because they were short on options. These days, with a wide range of website options for almost any product they could want, shoppers are far more likely to go elsewhere if they are unimpressed with your site — whether because it is slow, uninteresting or old-fashioned. It is worth remembering that nearly half of online shoppers will leave a site if it isn’t fully loaded after three seconds. Browsers will leave a boring website quickly in search of one that is more interesting.
If you are confident that you are the only one in your field, bear in mind that businesses are constantly looking for a niche. There are always competitors waiting around the corner, and if they have a better-looking, more functional website, you may lose business to them.
What is the best way to showcase your products?
The best way to display your products can be hard to find. The perfect solution depends on product type and function. For example, jewellery, which is purely decorative, requires high-resolution photos to demonstrate the quality and, crucially, the scale of the product. A chainsaw, on the other hand, may be better served with a video, showing it effortlessly cutting down trees and sawing up logs.
Videos of practical items in use can be great, but they can have a major effect on the loading time of your website. What you need is to find a good balance, or even find alternatives. If you want to show videos of your products but don’t want to affect your load speed, would you be better off having a ‘YouTube runway’ with videos shared to your social media, for example?
Finding the right balance for your website can take time, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different levels of functionality and integration. The key is that you have a website that is a strong representation of your business.
Phillip Adcock is the founder and managing director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd.