By Jared Ronski

In the fast-paced world of ecommerce, there are no guarantees that the strategies that worked for your online store in 2017 will have the same positive impact in 2018. In fact, the presumption that it will be business as usual without the need for some adjustments is, well, so last year.

Below are a few surprisingly light tasks that, if performed thoughtfully, are all but guaranteed to lift your ecommerce sales this year.

1. Give your website a fresh look

It’s no secret that consumers’ first impressions of an ecommerce business are made based on the design of the website (see infographic). The accepted industry rule is that those impressions are made in a staggering 0.05 seconds, underscoring the importance of web design to a profitable online enterprise. It is therefore imperative to conduct frequent testing to determine users’ average duration on the site and to pinpoint any areas that may be driving potential customers off your site.

Even if your website scored well in such testing in 2017, customers will appreciate subtle updates to the colors and fonts being used, the size and amount of text, the spacing, structure and symmetry. Above all else, online shoppers want to be inspired by a website’s design (inspired to purchase your product or service), they want it to promote usability (so that they can more easily complete their purchases), and they want it to suggest credibility (so that they can trust their purchases).

2. Punch up your product imagery and descriptions

Improving the content of your ecommerce website goes hand-in-hand with updating its look, and there will always be room for improvement in both areas. Even the best website designs cannot overcome poorly photographed or low-quality product images and carelessly composed or incomplete product descriptions.

Again, shoppers want inspiration, usability and credibility from the retail sites they explore, and one bad photo or sloppy product description is enough to drive them off your site forever. In fact, for an area of your business that is so simple and affordable to improve upon, the returns through higher new business volume, more repeat purchases, stronger brand loyalty and increased customer satisfaction can be dramatic.

3. Make the customer experience more personal

Improving the visual aspects of your ecommerce website and the quality of its content are the fastest ways to evoke inspiration, usability and credibility, but enhancing the shopping experience is the best method for building a loyal customer base and driving consumers back to your business repeatedly over time. There are countless ways to do this and the rest of this article is devoted to improving the customer experience — but these suggestions barely scratch the surface of how you can make online shopping more fulfilling for your customers.

One simple method that can be employed in literally dozens of different ways is to personalize the customer experience. This can start with the design project mentioned above by being sure to include inviting, customer-friendly verbiage on every page of the site, and not just the product pages or at checkout. A few simple words can add to the warmth of your ecommerce website as much as the design’s color scheme or choices in fonts. It is also important to include your company’s contact information on each page, and to give customers choices as to how to contact you: email, phone, etc.

Implementing technologies such as live chat is a proven method of enhancing the customer experience, as is utilizing social media to build customer relationships and make them more personal. Finally, try adding some personalized touches to your transactional emails — it will not require much effort on your part but such adjustments can go a long way toward building and increasing brand loyalty.

4. Heighten security on your payments gateway

Nothing builds trust between retailers and customers more than the assurance that their payments are secure, and nothing destroys it faster than a single misstep in this area. As you work through your 2018 resolutions, be absolutely certain that your payments gateway is completely secure, and THEN look for ways of improving it even further.

These can include a simple update or two that perhaps you were not even aware could be made, or it can involve a serious reevaluation of your payments processing system and technology partners. Nothing will hurt your business more than security flaws or oversights in your payments gateway, and the chances are high that a thorough audit to start the new year will reveal some areas upon which can be improved.

5. Revisit your shipping and returns policies

No retailer likes to have their merchandise returned, but smart merchants have figured out that today’s online shoppers demand a certain level of flexibility on their part. The smartest merchants have even figured out that the more flexible they can be, the better their business will be in the long run. Inflexible or, worse, hidden returns policies are a sure way to destroy any sense of inspiration, usability and credibility that is so vital to keeping your ecommerce customers coming back.

The same goes for shipping policies, and the statistics (see infographic) are very clear on both — consumer-friendly shipping and returns policies translate to more sales and increased customer loyalty. Both of these policies should appear clearly worded in a friendly tone to provide easy access to your customers.

Jared Ronski is co-founder of MerchACT and works with merchants globally to ensure they are paired with the right merchant account for their specific business needs. He has worked closely with higher risk business models and has provided companies of all sizes with payment processing solutions.

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