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Retail Principles: Traditional Bricks and Mortar Vs Online Stores

by Tim Rimington | April 23, 2010

Bricks and Mortar Retailing Principles Still Apply to Online Stores

For someone with a retail background, I find it a turn off if I walk into a store that has grubby carpet, dusty shelves, messy stock and tired displays. Retailing is more than just a friendly smile and offering sound service. Yes, these things go a long way but often they're not enough. As a retailer you need to have a sharp eye for detail and know when something's amiss - and be able to rectify it quickly, not leave it for days, weeks or months.

Online retailing is similar. What is it that your customers are greeted by when they enter your store (usually your website's home page)? Are they presented with something fresh and inviting or are they staring at the "same old, same old" they saw during their last visit? We're visual creatures and we judge by appearance.

Imagine you're walking through your favourite shopping strip and you come across two similar stores. One store presents a clean shiny entrance, the other's paint is fading and has litter strewn by its front door. It's perhaps fair to suggest that one store will present well inside whereas the other is probably the shop with dusty shelves and stained carpet. So which store are you going to enter? And only a miracle by the tardy shop is going to convert a customer into long-term revenue.

Again, online retailing is the same. You're one of many online stores vying for people's business and if your home page and online store are presented in a way that's professional and shows your commitment, you're more likely to convert visitors into paying customers. On the other hand, if your website and online store are showing signs of fatigue, you need to ask yourself what level of impact that's having on your business. If your online store does fall into the latter category, there are positive steps you can take that will help reastablish your business online and win back the respect of your online customers. Remember this: many online shoppers have come to expect a high level of userability in online stores, with shiny new 'shop fronts' and bright, colourful product images. Shoppers do compare and shoppers do talk!

Steps towards a brighter online store

Marketing new products
Present new products or product categories on your home page from the month that they arrive. If you don't have enough spare 'real estate' on your home page for this, create links to those new products. Shoppers love new things so tell them about your new products, services or specials, email newsletters are a great way to market your new products.

Create awesome product images & replace old images
Take the time to replace poor-looking photos in your online store with new ones. Online customers don't usually have the luxury of handling a product before purchase, so your store images need to provide the next best thing to a 'touch and feel' experience. Bright, in-focus product images taken from different angles are essential. If you don't have the resources to create amazing product images, then out-source the work to someone who can (I will focus on this more in my next blog).

Write detailed product descriptions
One sentence isn't going to cut it. No matter what you sell, you can conjour up a decent sized paragraph as a minimum. Selling flowers? Talk about the flower, its origins, its typical size when budding, how to care for it, expected life frame, etc. You're more likely to evoke a reaction in your customers with some well-worded copy than you are with a laboured 10-word sentence. And if your customers aren't enough incentive, remember that Google will most likely give your product's page more credence in organic search results because the more keywords and phrases you present, the better your chances of success. Get writing!

Make your customers feel special
Take care when writing your automated-email response, generated by your store's back-end system when a customer places an order (you do have that tuned on, don't you?). Include as "personal" a message as possible and include contact information where your customers can get in touch if there's a problem. As in bricks and mortar retailing, make your customers feel good about their purchase.

In my next blog I'm going to concentrate on photos and images and how you can create fantastic product images with consistency across the board. If your product images are all over the place and different sizes and so on, you should read my next installment.

Happy retailing!

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