|It has never been easier to do business online, even for small businesses with small budgets. Web-based store builders like ShopifySM, BigCommerceSM and Vendder offer low-cost options for creating your own storefront and opening your virtual doors to customers everywhere. Once you’ve hung out the open-for-business sign, use your small-company feel to entice customers to visit, explore, make purchases and come back. Much like the corner book store with comfy armchairs, an e-store that offers a pleasant atmosphere and friendly service will encourage repeat visits.|
- Tell them about yourself. Shopping online can be a lonely, disconnecting process. Click, click, click, enter your credit card info here. Compelling personal stories or company history gains the goodwill of your customers and builds trust. Every Web store needs an “about us” page. Include the origins of your business and your company’s philosophy and values; add pictures of the owner or employees. People are drawn to images of faces, and a warm, smiling image of your company will be noticed and remembered.
- Reduce the clutter. Just like a messy office or cramped living room, a disordered, cluttered environment makes a space less inviting. In a survey of customer preferences, 48 percent said that easy navigation would encourage them to buy from the site again. Overly busy or graphically intense pages that load slowly overwhelm customers and encourage them to click away.
- Make it work like a brick-and-mortar store. When you walk into a physical store, you may just want to look around, but sometimes you have a goal in mind. There will probably be several tools to help you. Signs over the aisles put products in sensible categories. And if you ask a friendly salesperson, they will gladly direct you, or even walk you over to the item you’re after. Offer your online customers the same service by including a well-designed search function, clear navigation and possibly a live chat feature.
- Say thank you. Nothing makes you feel as good as being appreciated. Tuck a little gift into every order—especially orders from new customers. A useful freebie, like Post-it Note®, a chocolate bar or a key light, tells customers you are grateful for their business while directing them back to your site.
- Become friends. Social networking platforms, including FacebookSM, TwitterSM and blogging applications give you a way to keep in touch with your customers just like their friends do. Invite everyone who visits your site to connect with you, and update your pages frequently with newsy tidbits or blog posts that make them feel like family. New subscribers to your social media channels could receive logo’d pens that ask them to keep “writing.” And, for those that you want to keep returning, consider special deals and offers to make customers feel valued.
- Stay connected long after their purchase. Consider e-mail reminders of products they might like, products friends have recently purchased or upcoming new products of note. Continue to meld your on and offline efforts through direct mail promotions, such as sunglasses and a message that says, “We haven’t seen you in awhile,” and your store’s URL to drive traffic.
In the intense competition for online shopping dollars, small businesses have an advantage that larger companies don’t: They can be nimble and respond more quickly to their customers. By following best practice for e-commerce and adding in an extra dash of great service, you are sure to keep them coming back time and time again.
Rush, Laura. “Personalize This.” ECommerce-Guide.com. 14 Oct. 2003. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.