Burlington, VT–Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based Website consultancy The E-tailing Group, has a simple definition for a successful Website: It’s one that is easy to use and does not force the customer to search tediously for needed information. During her Thursday morning session at the New England Mail Order Association’s fall conference, she shared advice on how marketers can ensure success for their own sites.
“My goal is to have you leave here and fix two things from your site before Christmas,” said Freedman. To figure out what needs to be fixed, Freedman suggested that online catalogers ask themselves questions about their sites such as “How do I make this an interesting experience for customers?”
While personalization of the site to each customer’s interests is an ultimate goal, Freedman said catalogers should start with the essentials, such as making product, price, and shipping information easy to find. Each feature, no matter how small, should be examined carefully. “The retail is in the detail,” she said. “All features add up to an experience.”
No matter how enhanced the site becomes, though, it should stay “intuitive” to use, with commonly asked questions such as hours of call center operation and shipping clauses able to be accessed easily. “People are not going to read long, scrolling paragraphs,” she said.
Freedman also recommended that catalogers not overlook the marketing opportunity they have available in the post-shipping e-mails sent to customers. She said that since customers are likely to read these messages, which contain information on when their product is scheduled to arrive, marketers should take advantage of the situation by including promotional messages with a link to the site. Sites should also give confirmation of the order so that the customer has “a sense that it has gone through.”
One feature that Freedman said induces her to return to a site is the capacity to store customer information. “I’ll go back to a site where all my information is stored because it’s more efficient,” she said.
In addition, companies should avoid hiding their phone number. Many companies, Freedman explained, traditionally avoided posting phone numbers because of the cost of fielding all those calls. But customers appreciate the flexibility of being able to contact the company in as many ways as possible. “The feeling is to let people contact you the way they want to contact you,” she said. “That’s a more holistic way of doing business. Don’t bury the 1-800 number.”
Customers also like to see evidence that a Website is as up-to-date as possible, said Freedman. One easy way to do this is through highlighting selling seasons such as back-to-school, she pointed out. During selling seasons such as the holidays, Freedman said it is important to let consumers know the last possible day they can order with the guarantee that their package will arrive on time. “Without it I wonder if I can buy from them, and whether they can deliver,” she said.
With all these suggestions, Freedman said it always comes back to how easy the site is to use. She warned against getting caught up in the excitement of adding bells and whistles to the site. “Don’t make changes or add features because you can,” she advised. “Do it because it enhances the shopping experience.”
To determine if the site is adequately user-friendly, Freedman suggested a simple test: “Have your mother test the site. If your mother can figure it out, chances are you can too.”