It’s possible to sell an endless variety of products and services over the Internet. No matter what you sell, however, an e-commerce site must provide the same basic services your customers would expect if they were doing business with you in person. If your site overcomes these three challenges, you will have a big advantage over your competition.
1. Help customers find what they need. Would you shop at a store where the items were organized at random, with no signs or guides? Of course not. Yet a surprising number of online stores make it nearly impossible for customers to find what they need.
Before you launch your store, think carefully about how to organize your products and give customers more than one way to find what they’re looking for. For example, you can provide intuitive links to different product categories, a search function where customers can enter a product name or “breadcrumb trails” that allow customers to retrace their steps on your Web site.
The same rule applies to providing your company’s return and exchange policies, contact information, shipping charges and other information customers want before they complete purchases.
2. Don’t keep customers waiting. When a customer hits the Buy button, they don’t expect to spend several minutes waiting for a response — or even worse, get an error message. In fact, nothing frustrates customers more than a Web site that keeps them guessing about their orders.
There’s a simple solution to this problem: Make sure your software and servers are capable of handling whatever your customers throw at them. If you’re using a third-party service, this means ensuring they use first-rate technology. If you’re building your own site from scratch, it means investing in the best possible software and hardware.
3. Make it easy for customers to pay. Online stores can accept a variety of payment types: credit cards, electronic cash, purchase orders, or cash and checks sent via mail. Different types of businesses will need to accept different payment types; make sure your e-commerce provider can handle the ones your customers are likely to use. For offline payments, such as cash and checks sent via mail or credit card numbers sent via fax, publish your mailing address and fax and phone numbers in an obvious place on your site.
Online payments present another special challenge: security. Although sending a credit card number over the Internet is extremely safe, customers still worry. Most online payment systems send credit card numbers and other sensitive information via encrypted connections. If your system does this, make sure customers know their information is absolutely secure.
Finally, you’ll need a merchant account to accept credit card transactions. If you already have an account for your existing business, you might be able to use the same account to accept credit cards online. In other cases, your Web developer or hosting service can help you establish a merchant account with an online transaction-processing service.