Online retail has exploded with Australians leading the charge spending $14.3 billion in the year to September 2013.
Despite these staggering stats, a recent article states Aussie retailers are still falling behind online.
But how does a retailer work out whether online retailing is appropriate for their business? And once they do, how can they harness this spending power and direct the clicks to their e-commerce site?
eBay Manager, Seller Education & Engagement, Tim Davies says online retail is more than simply having a website. Customers need to feel safe and respected, as well as understand the product they’re being offered.
“It’s not just about getting clicks. Retail is about selling,” he said. “It’s no longer good enough to simply have a website. A retail website needs to convey credibility and reassurance as well as concise product information.
“The discovery and researching phase of the shopping process needs to be simple, easy to navigate and appealing. Customers need to feel safe and respected, and be able to understand what they’re being offered.”
Once a retailer’s website looks and functions the part, Tim adds that ‘only then does generating traffic become a worthwhile pursuit because it has a greater chance of resulting in sales.’
“The future of online retail in Australia is overwhelmingly mobile,” he said. “Australians spend more as a percentage via mobile than any other eBay market (including really advanced retail markets like the US and the UK) and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
“It is crucial that Australian retailers recognise that more than 50% of their online traffic will come via mobile, not the desktop, so partnering with platforms and designers who think mobile first to ensure your product is in the pockets of as many consumers as possible.”
And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down either.
“The internet has made every waking moment instantly shoppable,” he said. “Customers today access brands and retailers continuously across multiple channels and screens, and expect to be able to reach their preferred brands and products anytime, anywhere.”
Tim will be a highlight speaker at the Fashion Exposed Business Seminar series next month. We spoke with the eBay Manager recently to chat further on e-Comm including tips, costs and buyer insights for online retail success.
Should retailers treat their online store & customers in the same way as their bricks-and-mortar? Why/why not? What’s so different about them?
In a physical store, the customer has an immersive experience where many senses are involved; touch, sight, hearing, smell and in the right setting, taste. Online, the customer essentially has one sense; sight (although sound can be used online, it often detracts from the customer experience).
As humans, we tend to compensate for gaps in our sensory experience by generating expectations based on past experiences, cultural norms, and the opinions of others whom we trust. Online retailers need to work doubly hard to seed deliverable expectations in the minds of prospective customers. Creating brand resonance in a compelling way using nothing more than pixels on a computer screen is a challenge for any retailer, big or small. Investing in credible expert advice can make a difference in the effectiveness of a retailer’s website.
How do retailers work out whether online retailing is appropriate for their business? When is it not right for a retail business?
A quick check of Google’s Keyword Planner will reveal whether a brand/product is already being searched for online. If it is, and you’re not already online, then who else is making the sales? In this day of connected commerce, there’s very few scenarios in which retailing online doesn’t make sense.
If it can be sold, it can be sold online. However, retailing online involves planning and resources which may challenge some retailers. Whereas bricks-n-mortar retailing relies on a tactile browsing experience, online retailing relies on search, advertising and cross-promotion, each of which are disciplines in their own right.
The prime objective of any business is to generate profit. So whether a retailer should foray into online retailing or not will depend on whether the operation can be run profitably. The same test for serviceability and sustainability should be applied to both online and offline strategies. If an online channel cannot be run profitably, then there needs to be a good commercial case for running it at a loss.
How much should it cost to set up an online store?
How long is a piece of string? I set up my own website and eBay store single-handedly for nothing more than the cost of a few stock images because I had the time, and I know HTML. Outsourced online store development and design can cost between $100 – $100,000 depending on who does it, how complex the site needs to be, and what the back-end system needs to do. The more time and expertise you have to contribute personally or in-house, the more dollars you might be able to save. There will be a sweet spot for each individual retail business.
Setting up an online store can be done in numerous ways ranging from a simple WordPress site through to a custom built e-commerce platform fully integrated with multiple data sources and connected systems (ERP, Accounting, CRM, Warehousing, Shipping etc). It’s best to get advice from several e-commerce specialists before deciding which pathway is appropriate for your own business.
As with any substantial investment, it pays to get feedback directly from users of any platforms or solutions you are considering, because long after the up-front costs have been forgotten, a solution’s functionality and usability must be efficient and scalable to keep the channel profitable.
What are your top tips to succeeding online?
Although retailers are competitive by nature, there are plenty of case studies around from generous online retailers happy to share their experiences, warts and all. I personally have found the eCommerce Playbooks from Power Retail valuable for insights into a variety of online retail ventures, how they started and how they succeed.
Two critical things needed to make an online business work are traffic and conversion. It’s important though to get them in the right order. If your online shop is not going to convert well into sales, time, effort and money spent on generating traffic will be ineffective. For this reason, it’s vital that you take time to consider the customer journey and ensure that the entire experience is engaging, delightful, informative, reassuring and memorable for all the right reasons.
Remember too that the online aspect of a customer’s journey is only a small part of the entire customer experience, and that the expectations created by what they see online will be tested against what they receive. Consistency of brand voice, imagery, messaging and accessibility across the entire customer experience really makes a difference, so it should be thought out carefully and implemented well.
From your experience at eBay, can you share some of the buyer insights we can learn from?
Everybody is a buyer, but not everybody is a retailer. The things you appreciate when you are shopping online will be the same things that your customers will appreciate too. Regularly take a full walk-through of your entire buyer experience, from how they first find you, right through to how they have problems dealt with.
Customers nowadays are connected through multiple devices and channels, and therefore your brand and customer experience needs to be consistent any place customers can see you. Technology has given us all an excuse to become a little lazy and impatient, so make your online shop simple and intuitive. In the world of online shopping, just a second or two can make the difference between a visitor staying or leaving, and if they leave, they might not find you again.
Since e-commerce is still a relatively new phenomenon, understand that many online shoppers will have perfectly natural insecurities about providing sensitive or personal information, or paying online. Make sure you provide the reassurance customers need to feel confident dealing with you.
Remember also that online customers are real people, with real friends and family. Whether they have a good or bad experience dealing with you online, they are likely to tell others about it, so do your best to give them a good story to tell.
Like anything, it takes some careful planning in order to succeed. What are some of the things we should plan for when moving online?
There’s quite a bit more to launching an online shop than setting up a pretty website with an e-commerce solution back-end. Take cues from the customer shopping cycle and plan the entire customer experience from findability, right through to after-sales interactions.
Don’t assume visitors to your web or mobile shop will know all about your products. Give them enough basic information to take in quickly, and have additional information readily accessible for those who want to know more.
Avoid clutter. Keep the design simple and clean. Follow web design current best practices in line with your brand. Use intuitive navigation, cross promotion and checkout upsell strategies.
Make sure your online store is optimised for mobile devices. Mobile is accounting for an ever increasing share of online traffic and sales.
Develop a strong fulfilment strategy. Think about how you package your orders – this can leave a lasting impression on the customer. How quickly can you dispatch orders? Who will deliver them?
Set a clear strategy for generating traffic. If you’re relying on your own website only, advertising might cost a lot to begin with. Consider setting up an eBay store also; it’s a great way to test and learn with low overheads, a complementary mobile experience, access to 7.3 million unique visitors every month and you might just find that there are potential customers already searching for products just like yours on the site.
How important is data when selling online? Why?
All online businesses rely on data to serve up relevant search results, and online retailers can improve their buyer engagement in a similar way. Being able to identify a returning customer allows you to offer them a better experience and suggest more relevant products. Monitoring website interactions can help you improve and refine content and navigation pathways.
Customer data can also be used to personalise communications and even generate dynamic content based on their known interests or shopping habits. Personalisation is a recent trend for online retail, especially on mobile devices. Any online retailer not recording and using data to amplify their marketing and customer experience is wasting a valuable resource.
Drawing on eBay’s buyer insights and structured marketplace, discover how to unlock your online retailing potential with some careful planning. In this session you will learn:
- How to work out whether online retailing is appropriate for your business
- Options for getting started as an online retailer
- Keys to succeeding online
About Tim Davies, eBay Australia & New Zealand
As Manager of Seller Education & Engagement , Tim has assisted hundreds of businesses rise to the challenges of online retail in the eBay marketplace through strategic marketing and best practice. With experience in small business start-ups, financial and strategic management, web communications, marketing and corporate governance, Tim believes the heart of any successful business is a top notch customer experience.
Tim holds a Graduate Certificate in Business Administration, is an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, Certificated Member of the Governance Institute of Australia and a member of the Law Council of Australia.
Follow Tim on Twitter to receive regular tips and news for eBay sellers: www.twitter.com/eBay_Academy