Ecommerce Stores Should Be More Like Brick and Mortar Shops

Retail Apple Store

Retail Apple Store

With the barrier to entry so low for an online ecommerce store, many merchants just throw together a website with little thought and planning. Would they do this if they were looking to open a brick and mortar store in the mall? Of course not! It costs a lot more, and requires some detailed plans and research to launch (and keep running) a physical location.

Opening an online store should be no different. And here’s why…

Location, Location, Location

The location of a physical store is key to its success. Looking at which mall to use, where in the mall is the best location, which street to lease a space, and evaluating landlords to avoid problems down the road are a few items retailers consider. This also applies to an online store:

  • Location = Domain Name and Type of Software
    For an online store, choosing the right domain name is like choosing the right physical location. It represents your offerings, and can be crucial to how people find your store and their thoughts when they see the name. The type of ecommerce software you utilize is similar to the layout of a retail store. Make sure it offers the features your customers desire, and is easy to use for both you and your potential buyers.
  • Landlord = Which Host to Use
    On the internet, web hosting providers are like landlords in the “real” world. Web hosts offer space to rent/lease that online merchants can use to build their stores. Choose the wrong host, and you risk downtime, poor support, and an inability to fix problems when they arise.

Appearance is Everything

Would you go to a store that looks like this?

Let's shop!

Let’s shop!

So why is it ok to have an ecommerce website that looks like my four year old daughter built it in art class?

Successful brick and mortar stores have a clean, bright, and well laid out floor plan. This is directly tied to an online store:

  • Clean and bright
    For a website, this translates into a clean and eye appealing design. Developing or purchasing a well designed template for an ecommerce store will keep people on the site and browsing.
  • Well laid out floor plan
    Your website should be easy to navigate, with well defined categories and back and forth links to easily get around the site. An easy to find search feature that returns relevant results makes it a snap for consumers to find the items they want to purchase.

Safety is Assumed in a Physical Store

Most shoppers assume that a physical store is a safe place to shop. Some store owners makes this more apparent with posted guards, mall police that patrol the parking lot, well lit parking areas, etc… Online however, the exact opposite is true: People often assume it’s risky shopping online, so the onus is on the ecommerce merchant to proactively prove their store is a safe place to shop:

  • SSL certificate prominently displayed
    Merchants must ensure their SSL certificate is valid, that all secure pages have no security warnings (covered in a previous post), and that their SSL badge showing how secure the site is is easy to spot.
  • Security seals front and center
    Using a security service such as McAfee Secure or TRUSTe and proudly displaying these security seals can help convince first time shoppers that your site is a safe place to shop (as buyers often see these marks on brand name online stores).
  • Clear policies for shipping, returns, and privacy
    Shoppers want to know a store’s policies as they relate to shipping, returning an item, and how their personal information is handled. Don’t make people have to search to find this data. footer sums it up footer sums it up

Helpful Employees to Answer Questions

How do you re-create this atmosphere online?

  • Live chat, emails that are answered quickly
    Offering a live chat service (that is actually manned during posted hours all the time) can be helpful for impulse buyers who have a last second question. Or post that emails are typically replied to within XX minutes during posted hours so people know they can get quick answers. Chat bots are growing increasingly popular.
  • Click to call
    This can be a neat feature if you offer phone support. Visitors can click an image/link, enter their phone number, and you’ll give them a call to discuss their needs. It can be a powerful sales tool to “close the deal”.
  • FAQ, clickable pop-up links for more information / definitions
    Make it easy for shoppers to get answers right on your website. Use a FAQ, or embed the answers in the copy itself.

Lure Window Shoppers Inside

Successful traditional retailers setup their front windows and entrances to lure buyers inside. They display current sales, hot selling items, and use other marketing tools to get foot traffic in the store. This is the same online. Think of your homepage as the front window:

  • Highlight top sellers
  • Highlight top rated products
    (You do offer product reviews and actively solicit customer reviews, right?)
  • Display shipping deals (free shipping, buy $xx to get free shipping, etc…) homepage - hits all the points homepage – hits all the points

Easy to Checkout

Physical stores make it easy to buy their products. The registers are at the front, and are usually manned to keep things moving smoothly. Take this approach for your online store:

  • Do not impede the checkout
    Things like requiring customer registration, distracting text/images not related to completing the sale, and no easy to find “view cart” link on every page can lead to higher cart abandonment rates.
  • Limit the steps to completion
    Keep the checkout process as streamlined as possible. If you can limit the steps to one or two at most, people will be more likely to complete a purchase. If your store has a quick checkout, make sure this is prominently displayed on your site. A head graphic showing “Step 1 of 2” or even better “Step 1 of 1” will let buyers know they can complete a purchase quickly.

Treat your online store like you’re running a retail operation in a busy mall and you’ll see success in the form of more sales and satisfied customers.

Please share your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

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