Fifteen years ago, e-commerce was the kind of thing you’d only see in sci-fi. Today, the business so creatively imagined by Hollywood is a $250-billion-dollar industry, big enough to dwarf Hollywood itself. It’s no exaggeration to say that a business that hasn’t tapped into this market (read: no website) is a bit behind the times.
It doesn’t stop at having a website, of course. Competition on the Web is ten times stiffer than the brick-and-mortar world, and a site needs a savvy blend of design, content, and credibility in order to stand out. Four elements make up the foundation of a good online business: the buying path, product placement, pricing, and company information.
The Buying Path
A study of kids’ Internet behavior suggests an unusual model for children’s sites: Amazon.com. Most kids, it shows, can easily find their way around Amazon than the average child-oriented website. This is because the retail giant has the “buying path” approach down pat. Amazon creates a clear line from the home page to the payment section, so users are instinctively led to browse and buy. Make it so that all they have to do is follow the arrows. Yes, Web users are spoiled like that—that’s just the way it is.
The rule is simple: people won’t buy what they can’t see. Place your products where people will naturally look for them. Don’t crowd the page with product specs; instead, place appropriate buttons for product options like sizes, colors, and accessories. Designers recommend putting them in the top left quadrant, the first place most visitors will check out.
Web shoppers may be spoiled, but they aren’t stupid—not when it comes to spending, anyway. The worst thing you can do to a shopper, online or otherwise, is to burden them with last-minute fees on checkout. Be as transparent as possible when it comes to pricing your products. Include taxes, shipping, and other related costs up front. And in keeping with the buying path, throw in a prominent “Buy” button so they’ll know where to go.
This is where your credibility comes in. The Web may be convenient and all that, but people still like to think they’re dealing with real companies. They want a phone number they can call to track orders, an address they can visit for after-sales service, and (whether you like it or not) a person they can sue if something goes wrong. Contact information gives them that sense of security and makes them more comfortable about doing business with you.