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Despite an overall fall in adjusted retail sales figures this month, statistics to show that online sales continue to buck the trend by showing continual growth.

Retail specialists KamCity reported (April 2011) the strongest online sales growth for 3 years: “As the high street reports the worst drop in sales for 15 years, the latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index reveal that online sales are bucking the trend by recording continued growth. In March, shoppers in the UK spent a total of £5.1bn online, 14% more than March 2010 and equivalent to £82 per person. Significantly, the Index has seen 18% growth during Q1 compared with the same period last year, which confirms it as the strongest first quarter performance in three years.”

Online retail using free and open-source ecommerce

So for retailers the message is clear – creating, developing and investing in an online presence can boost your sales figures. This is especially true of specialist, niche retailers looking to expand their customer base. Free and open-source ecommerce platforms such as Magento enable these retailers to create an online shop easily and the increasing importance of social media in search engine performance offers the best chance yet to achieve online recognition and build sales. For retailer’s about to take the plunge here are 7 tips to successful online sales:

1.     Know what your customers are looking for

Key to any business is understanding your customers. Online retailers need to know what search terms their potential customers are using in order for the website to be found. Sometimes the search terms that retailers think are important terms are not searched at all. A powerful free tool like Google’s keyword tool will instantly report on number of monthly searches – and suggest other, related keywords and phrases.

2.     Be seen by your customers

Now you have some keywords, use them! When putting together the content of the web pages, product descriptions on your ecommerce pages or writing your blogs and articles, the use of these keywords is critical. There is plenty of free advice on how to – and especially how not to use – these keywords on your website. Following Google’s advice is always a good place to start.

3.     Be competitive

While the internet is great for delivering new customers, it also gives them the freedom to compare your goods and services – and especially prices. Every business needs to know its competitor’s prices, and that is an ongoing requirement. Set time aside every week to find out what your competition is doing in terms of products, services, special offers and prices.  If you offer a superior product/service at a higher price, you need to clearly justify this on your website.

4.     Create a winning website

When a customer goes into a shop, the owner has several opportunities to establish a relationship – through the look and feel of the place, by the quality of the goods for sale and by talking to the customer; finding out what the customer wants whilst establishing a reputation for honesty, excellent service, great product knowledge etc. With ecommerce, the website has to do all of these things too. It needs to communicate not just what is for sale but the reasons why the customer should buy from the retailer. Of course if you are 20% cheaper, that may be reason enough but even then a customer will want to know that you are reliable, honest and trustworthy. Such basics as prices, customer service, returns policy and dispatch costs need to clearly indicated.

5.     Keep it simple

Although you have lots to say, keep everything simple. The beauty of a website is that you can always add extra pages to cover new products, information or special offers. However, your Home Page needs to make basic information very clearly to customers – how to order, how to pay, how to get in touch if things go wrong. Navigation needs to be easy otherwise customers get lost and give up. The website pages need to load quickly and payment portals need to be clear and trustworthy. If you have added lots to your website, get some honest friends and family to go online and report back on how the experience was – and make sure you act on what they say.

6. Trust me, I’m a retailer

Your customers need to trust you – and this happens across lots of levels. From a security point of view, they will want online payments to be done on a secure site with appropriate certification. But more generally they will want to know that they will receive EXACTLY what they order and receive it when they expect to receive it. They will want to know they can return it if it is not working or wrongly described. The website needs to clearly reassure them on all this. One great way to improve trust is to feature customer feedback – either directly on to the website or indirectly through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Customers are increasingly looking at these sites to gain insight into retailers – large or small, new or old.

7.     Make an effort

To be successful in retail takes imagination, hard work and good judgement. Plenty of online retailers think the quality or price of the goods effectively sell themselves but plenty of High Street retailers also believed that – to their cost. Online retailers need keep their website updated so customers can see the business is vibrant and fresh. They need to think about how to keep talking to their customers – using email newsletters, social media etc. and how to encourage customers to sign up for this. Pricing, special offers and loyalty incentives are other areas that needs regular thought. Nothing can take away the need for effort and imagination but ecommerce software can increasingly help with the ‘how to’, from keyword tools, smart analytics showing how customers behave on the website, to newsletter and sign up tools. Such platforms as Magento offer sophisticated yet easy to use tools to build and develop a successful online business, although you will most likely need some ecommerce design and ongoing marketing expertise. If needed, a Magento designer can help – from setting up the software to longer-term management.

Image credit – Maria Elena


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