One of my primary jobs as an ecommerce consultant is helping businesses turn the corner—increasing conversion and website sales. In doing so, I find that many stores I work with have the same things in common. Many feel they are doing the right thing with their website, they believe in their product and customers, and they believe that all they need is more traffic to increase sales.
It goes without saying that none of them are satisfied with their current results and expect more. They want to do better, they know they can, but they can’t seem to uncover what barrier is really holding them back. The one thing they all understand is that they need to change if they are to reach their goals—but many don’t know where to start. Do they focus on driving more traffic or redesigning the website, should they spend more to market to current customers or actively seek new customers? Do they rework pricing, keep pricing as is, or develop more powerful sales?
These are just some of the issues facing each and every business owner who wants to be better.
Turning a business around often begins with first knowing where to focus your efforts—and quite often that is not where one might think. Knowing where to start can be the difference in experiencing frustration or a feeling of accomplishment in moving toward your goal.
In my experience, most stores focus so heavily on traffic generation as a whole that they overlook the fact that the traffic must not only be from a qualified channel (one interested in what they sell), but that the website must be setup to speak to that channel in a way in which it has the bests chance of getting them to act.
These types think in terms of what I call the ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ mentality. Or in other words, they think so long as they attract enough traffic to their site, their product will sell itself, and the website is simply the channel by which that transaction can be made possible—and nothing more. This notion is a primary reason they often fail and feel frustrated by their efforts and is precisely what ends up resulting in higher than needed (wasted) expenses and lower sales—a recipe for disaster.
It’s great to feel so strongly about your product, but let me propose that the presentation of that is far more important than the product itself (assuming now that there is indeed a market demand for your product in the first place) and even so, it doesn’t matter how nice the appearance is, if I’m not interested in what you sell, you’re still not going to sell it to me.
Let’s take it from a different perspective to further illustrate. I’ll give you two more angles on it. You wouldn’t feel comfortable eating food from a diner—no matter how good the food was supposed to be—that had roaches actively and clearly crawling around on the floor would you? Furthermore, you likely wouldn’t be interested in entering a super clean diner that only served puréed baby food right?
Here is how I translate these to an online ecommerce store. Example one is the store owner who is so focused on traffic (getting people in the diner to eat) and so passionate about their product that they neglect the attention to detail needed (keeping the store clean) to sustain any quality of business.
Example two represents the store owner that keeps their store in shape yet markets their product(s) to anyone that is willing to click. This store owner may get a lot of traffic but it’s primarily consistent of window shoppers. The may take quick peak out of curiosity sake, but they never intended to buy from you because they weren’t qualified in the first place (many adults idea of a good meal isn’t feasting on puréed baby food.) And if running any PPC campaigns, every click you generate costs you more money.
Both businesses will fail because neither has approached it from the proper angle.
I propose the following general approach as a starting point to turn an ecommerce store around: ‘website’, ‘product’, ‘traffic’. Notice that in my approach I target traffic last. Here’s why.
The website is one of the main factors that will ultimately help the customer determine if they are going to buy your product or not, it’s not the product itself (this is especially true in competitive markets.) Without the needed elements that aid in usability and provide the customer with confidence, it doesn’t matter what you sell, you’re going to have a hard time selling it.
In the simplest terms (and this is very basic … there are far more factors involved to closing a sale), would you buy a product from a website that wasn’t secure? No matter how bad you needed it or wanted it I doubt you would—even if the product was a one of a kind.
So, the website acts as more than a ‘transaction processing center’. Its true role is to aid in supporting the entire customer experience which ultimately closes the sale and keeps them coming back for more.
After attention to the website is complete, the product focus comes next and this is because without a product you have nothing to market and no target to market to. You must understand how your customers use your product, how they interact with it, where they frequent, and what competitors also sell the same or similar product before you can accurately target them for marketing. A complete understanding of your product from all angles will help you speak to potential customers in your advertising, resulting in more qualified traffic, higher sales, and less expense.
Finally, in my approach I have the traffic. I never focus on traffic until all other elements are in place first—providing me the best opportunity at gaining the highest return on my advertising dollar (the investment needed to drive traffic to the site.)
At this point, with all other elements present, driving traffic makes sense. With the website in ‘conversion ready’ form, I now provide myself with the best opportunity at winning sales from my advertising efforts. Prior to this it wouldn’t have mattered if I drove ‘qualified’ traffic to the site, the likely hood of it resulting in a sale was slim (remember the diner with the roaches crawling on the ground?) You lose your appetite real quick in a place like that.
Yes, it takes more than just a few tweaks to really turn a business around, but starting with the right approach is often what is needed to jumpstart the process. Understanding change is needed is one thing, accepting that change is another.
In the next article I’ll address this same fundamental principle approach yet we’ll focus solely on the website itself and cover how you know where to focus your efforts to gain the biggest bang for your buck when engaging in a redesign.