10 Characteristics of Highly Profitable eCommerce Websites

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The thought of a well-oiled online store that prints money while you sleep sounds great doesn’t it? It’s not all fun and games and it requires some upfront analysis and work, but it can be done. Here are 10 characteristics that can help your online business grow.

1. Accurate Shipping Estimates

Charge too little, and you end up losing money on the sale. Charge too much, you’ll scare away cost conscious customers. Present day consumers are savvy when it comes to how much something should cost to ship, based on their growing experience shopping at other online stores. Your shipping estimates should be accurate in terms of timing as well. Get those shipments out on time or better yet, ahead of schedule, and you’ll see your customer reviews glow. But back to the monetary aspect of estimates. There can be many challenges to figuring out how much a shipment actually costs. If you sell uniform objects and you don’t have a large variety of product types (eg, you run a t-shirt shop and only sell one type of product), figuring out shipping costs is a cinch. On the other hand, let’s say you have many different products ranging from collectible coins and scarves, to washing machines and trampolines. What happens if someone orders an Indian Head penny and a front-load Maytag washing machine? Do they ship from the same warehouse? Do you put the penny inside the washer and ship them together? Do you ship them separately? Are you able to ship the washer by next-day air because your customer insists on an express shipment on the account that they’ve had it with back breaking trips to the laundromat, while shipping the coin via ground because well, it’s a buck fifty cheaper to send it that way?

Regardless of what you sell, you need to spend time identifying all of the scenarios related to shipping and handling costs. You’ll need to revisit this step periodically, especially if you are adding new products to your store on a recurring basis.

  • Identify your most common shipping scenarios and run through the numbers as if you were going to ship them. Compare what your website is charging for those scenarios.
  • Look at the following variables:
    • packaging type/weight
    • how many products can fit in the various packaging types you use
    • what is the weight of your products
    • do you carry products that have odd dimensions
    • do you have products that are voluminous but very light weight
    • figure out what shipping methods you want to offer
    • figure out what shipping carriers you want to use

Do this analysis up front, and your investment will pay for itself. Remember, how much you charge for shipping will impact every single transaction on your online store.

2. A Stable, Well Performing, Fast Website

Website performance is paramount and directly correlated to profitability in eCommerce sites. If a site is buggy, slow or has frequent downtime, your visitors may unilaterally equate the quality of your website to the quality of your product or service offering, i.e., a slow site means poor service or poor quality products. We also happen to live in a world of instant gratification and when a site is slow, visitors will be quick to abandon you and go somewhere else (read: Amazon). In this manner, running an eCommerce website is the same as having a physical shop; people waiting in long lines to checkout, or customers waiting for questions to be answered generally tend to be annoyed.

To ensure you are providing the best website performance, do the following:

  • Test how stable your website is before making it live. This means measuring the page load time, inspecting the pages for poorly optimized code, and making sure images are compressed appropriately.
  • Monitor your site on an ongoing basis to ensure it stays fast and stable.
  • Partner with a web development company to conduct such an analysis and implement the changes.

 

3. Great Brand/Products

Let’s face it. If your product isn’t interesting, doesn’t deliver value or solve problems, or isn’t cost effective, it doesn’t matter how great your website is, you just won’t succeed. Make sure that what you sell exceeds the expectations of the customer or is somehow different than products sold by the competition. Quality is critical to satisfying your customers and to retain their loyalty to your brand. If not, they may look for alternatives.

  • Is your product or service relevant? Come back to this question periodically. Market conditions change quickly depending on your product or service.
  • Defective or misrepresented products cost you more because you may pay for returns and replacements, and the labor that goes along with it.
  • Seek out 3rd party endorsements or “credibility boosters”, such as SSL site seals (eg, Network Solutions, Verisign, GoDaddy, GeoTrust, etc.), BBB membership or other organizations that vouch for your credibility.

 

4. An Easy to Use Site

How your website’s interface is designed can affect how your customers interact with your online shop. Again, a potential customer’s first experience with your brand is often the website and a poor experience could translate into a poor perception of your product or service. Nobody sets out to create a difficult to use site, but along the way, and naturally, change sets in. This could be a change in your business, the products or the volume or variety of products you offer, a change in your customer’s expectations, a change in industry trends or a change in technology. You may have outgrown your original website and perhaps a simple facelift is no longer enough.

One way to define ease of use is to measure the number of clicks it takes to get your customer to the end goal (which could be registering, saving a product in a wish list, or most importantly, placing an order). Other ways to measure, include a more subjective approach – simply watch how users interact on your site. This can be done in person via a focus-group, or crowdsourcing this activity to a group of remote workers (see http://www.usertesting.com/). Feedback from these sessions can then be analyzed and transformed into a set of action items.

Some key takeaways:

  • Know your audience.
  • Test the site thoroughly and really put yourself in the customer’s shoes, or better yet, get feedback regularly from real customers.
  • Constantly refine the site.
  • Use A/B testing and Conversion Rate Optimization services if you run a high traffic site. The investment will pay for itself in increased conversion rates.
  • Make sure your usability improvements aren’t just limited to laptop/desktop users, but for mobile and tablet users as well.

 

5. Streamlined Inventory Management

Inventory management’s aim is to maintain optimum levels of inventory for your online store. Excess inventory subtracts from your bottom line by costing more to store the products and the fact that your cash is tied up in an asset. Not enough inventory will cost you sales.
If you are just starting out or bootstrapping your store, you can manage inventory manually (ie, update your ecommerce store inventory by updating the figures whenever you get new stock in). As you grow, you may consider integrating fulfillment center operations with the website, so that whenever there is new inventory, physical inventory checks, or returns/exchanges, your website stock will accurately reflect what is at the warehouse (whether that’s a warehouse at Amazon or the custom shelving unit you installed in your garage).

  • Make sure your inventory is correct to prevent lost sales or excess cost of storage.
  • Integrate your inventory management when your sales volume increases significantly.

 

6. A Solid Promotion Strategy

Promotion allows businesses to reach out to their target customers using various forms of techniques, media, and strategy. It delivers a brand marketing message to the many screens of the many devices of your customers.

Successful promotion of your eCommerce site depends on timing, messaging (the creativity and relevance of your promotional messaging), content (what you are actually offering in your promotion), and the marketing channels you choose.

Timing

  • Is there a holiday coming up (eg, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, etc.)?
  • Did something happen in the news that is relevant to your product or service?
  • Did your competitor just come out with an offering that you can piggyback off of (price drop, new product announcement, new technology, merger or acquisition, etc.)?
  • Has some other external factor transpired that might be a good hook to interest your customers (eg, a sudden heat wave or cold spell? A fall in the value of the dollar relative to other currencies? A fall in the price of oil?)?
  • Has something in your industry recently changed (eg, adoption of Apple Pay, Chanel just merged with Prada, etc.)?

 

Messaging

  • How you word your promotion is very important. Pay attention to the medium you are promoting in and tailor the message to that medium and the audience. Remember, people are bombarded constantly with marketing messages, so do your best not to look or feel like an advertisement and be succinct with your message. People have short attention spans these days for a variety of reasons we wont’ go into.
  • Test your headlines/emails with your audience. If you have a large enough audience, you can send a few different variations (A/B test) to see which ones perform the best.

 

Content

  • What is the actual promotion? (eg, “buy one popsicle, and get another one for free”, “free shipping on orders $50 and over”, “free leather upgrade on seats when you order your new Fiat by noon today”, etc.)
  • Click here for an article we wrote on this topic.

 

Channels

  • Through what channels are you pushing your promotional messaging? Email, social, direct mail/tv/radio, blogging, newsletters, white papers, trade shows, seminars/webinars, affiliates, strategic alliances/sales reps/distributors, pay-per-click advertising, and Groupon/Living Social/Yelp are some of the more obvious channels.
  • You should understand how marketing your promotion differs for each of these channels.

A great promotional campaign will have both push and pull marketing components to it. Push, meaning you are pushing content to them through whatever communications method you are using, and Pull, meaning you are creating content and allowing customers to find that information organically (eg, through the press, news, word of mouth, etc.).

 

7. An Aggressive Traffic Generation Strategy

In order to grow revenues for your online store, you’re going to need to maximize your traffic. Traffic will come from a combination of sweat and paying money. An entire book can be (and many have been) devoted to this topic, but below are some of the methods used to generate online traffic.

  • SMM (Social Media Marketing) – focus on the big 3 initially. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Create accounts and start talking to your audience about things they care about.
  • Email marketing via newsletters, promotions, and product updates. Use segmented lists to send personalized emails to different customer segments for maximum click through rates.
  • Build a reputable social profile by creating accounts on Quora, LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter and answering common questions that show your company’s expertise.
  • SEO – invest in Search Engine Optimization. Understand how your customers search for your products and focus on writing quality content. You aren’t fooling anybody with keyword stuffed, poorly written, spammy content, so don’t skimp on this. Then go out and build inbound links to your website.
  • Content marketing – write an eBook, a blog, or create infographics that address common questions or concerns in your industry. Offer the content in exchange for an email address. Publish it through all of your social channels and social hubs (like digg, reddit, etc.).
  • Paid Search Marketing – invest in Google Adwords or Facebook advertising, but only after you have built some momentum with the organic methods. Optimize and refine your PPC campaigns frequently.

 

8. High Conversion Rates

High traffic generation means nothing if your conversion rates are low. Increasing conversion rates for your eCommerce site is vital. There are many factors that will affect your conversion rates. Here are some of them.

  • Use of clear language. Don’t overuse jargon or complicated words. Keep your instructions and other content short and to the point. Be descriptive, but not verbose.
  • Use font styles and sizes consistently. This is often overlooked and many of us assume only designers care, but font usage can have a significant impact on the user experience.
  • Don’t show promo code fields if you are not offering any promos. Many people, when they see a promo code field, will temporarily leave your site to go hunt online for coupons. Many never return. If you don’t have any active promos, disable this box.
  • Keep checkout completely free of distraction. Many sites (eg, Amazon) disable or remove the main navigation on the checkout page to keep you focused on consummating the purchase.
  • Allow customers to save their cart contents easily. Many people put items in their cart, but don’t actually check out until a few days later, after they’ve had a chance to think about their impending purchase. Nothing is more frustrating than having your cart contents erased after you’ve spent time searching through your entire store.
  • Don’t have any surprises waiting at the last step of checkout. Disclose your return/refund policies, shipping/tax estimates and any other information or fees that will influence the customer’s decision up front.
  • Include trust seals, such as Verisign, Hackersafe or BBB to help increase your perceived credibility and display them prominently during checkout.
  • Accept all of the major types of payments (Amex, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, PayPal).
  • If you can, include Google, Amazon and/or PayPal Checkout.
  • Consider adding Facebook, Twitter and Google logins as a way for customers to register. The effort required to register is a major turn off for many users. Some may argue that social logins still require users to input their billing/credit card information, and there isn’t a big savings in time for the customer, it does succeed in getting them to take the first step in the registration process, and it will be easier for them to login in the future.

 

9. Understanding Your Analytics and Making Meaningful Improvements

In order to continue to improve your site, you need to understand how to analyze and act on the data presented by your analytics software.

  • First, select an analytics package and get it installed. Google Analytics is a popular selection, given it’s robustness for the price tag (free).
  • Train yourself on what to look for in the analytics and review the data periodically (at least once per week). If you can’t do it, hire somebody who can.
  • Check your analytics after you have implemented key changes.
  • Use analytics to check the performance of your marketing campaigns.
  • Use Google Analytics or other Conversion Rate Optimization platforms such as Optimizely, to conduct A/B testing on your most common user paths.

 

10. On-Site Search That Works Fast and Accurately

Advanced users and those who know what they want typically go straight to the search box on your site. There’s little doubt that Amazon’s success is tied to the fact that their on-site search is ranked #1 in the world. The key to successful search is in understanding how people search and the phrases they use to search for your products. The better you are in mimicking this, the more use people will get out of your search feature.

  • Many sites do not support searching a product by product name or model number. This is a very common way for people to search for products, and should be included.
  • The search box itself should be very easy to find on the site and clearly labeled.
  • Your search feature should account for typos, symbols (& in addition to “and”) and synonyms (eg, “hair dryer” vs. “blow dryer”) whenever possible. This will require some effort to add these to each product, but it will be a good investment of time.
  • Auto-complete is included in many sites, but it typically does more harm than good. The success of an auto-complete feature depends on the recommendations it gives (and closely tied to synonym and typo recognition), as well as the speed at which the auto-complete recommendations are displayed. Many sites have slow servers that respond lethargically to the search query and hence are unusable.
  • Faceted search is invaluable for an ecommerce site. The importance of having faceted search is directly proportional to the number of unique products you sell. Faceted search allows you to instantly search and refine your search based on a number of product characteristics or “facets”. It helps narrow down choices for the discerning shopper.

 

In Conclusion

Many of the characteristics above are achievable with a modest effort. Depending on the size of your organization, you may or may not have the resources to get these recommendations implemented. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with these, feel free to contact us for a quote.