Blog: January 2014

Converting Sales Online, Part II: Clearing the Air


Paths to Conversions

In the previous post, I explained how difficult it can be to complete a promotional products or wearable order online. In fact, many such orders don’t finish online even if that’s where they start. Customized, decorated products can be complicated things, and many customers want the reassuring voice (or email, or live chat) of a human response before they finalize a purchase.

This creates all sorts of challenges for companies that choose to sell online. In nearly 15 years of providing e-commerce solutions to distributors and suppliers, our biggest problem continues to be the expectation that we can just a flip a switch and the orders will start flowing in.

With a captive audience (like company store purchasers) this is often true; after all, the users are already customers, and they don’t have anywhere else to go. But in almost every other situation, the full process of customer acquisition is much more complex, taking many different forms.

Identifying the pathways

Before we dig into solutions, we have to do a little bit of legwork to determine how you’re going to get business from your website. You could call these channels, although they’re a little more fungible than the traditional concept of a marketing or advertising channel. In essence, these are the paths a user might take to place an order with you.

Why is it important to identify these paths? Not every business works the same; you may have a sizable sales and service organization that can handle a lot of calls, or you may be a one or two-person shop. Understanding how users will interact with you and then prioritizing the paths that are the best fit for you will help determine your strategy.

Here are some examples:

  • Complete order via online shopping cart: You’re probably emitting an audibly sarcastic “duh!” right now, but you might be surprised that some very successful online distributors don’t even offer the capability of completing an order online. Finishing an order online and taking (or authorizing) full payment isn’t for everyone – you need good product data, decoration information and payment processing to get it done right.
  • Requesting a quote and completing by phone or email: The promotional products and wearables business is deeply rooted in the quotation/estimation process, so almost everyone can handle processing these. But do you want to make it a point of emphasis for your customers? Is it the primary method of ordering with you, the way you want to start the process most often? Or is it a second thought, a fallback measure for the visitors that don’t want to go through a full shopping cart process? If you’re selling a lot of inexpensive, lower-margin products that don’t require much customization, you might even want to discourage or remove this path.
  • Calling you and completing by phone: On some sites, the majority of the orders finish with a phone call – a call to clarify, confirm or take payment. There might be many of these calls before everything is done. Other sites push a more Amazon-like model: they’ll take your call, but only after they make you work for it. While most site owners don’t want to turn away business of any kind, the emphasis you put on phone communication will depend on your operation and how “available” you want to be.
  • Contacting you via live chat and completing by email or phone: More and more e-commerce companies in the promotional/wearable industry are adding live chat capabilities to augment phone and email communication. It’s appealing to customers and enables site owners to get some additional information about a customer that they might not otherwise get from regular statistics. However, live chat requires a human being to monitor it during business hours, preferably with a wide range of hours to service all the time zones in the country. If you don’t have the staff or time to support that, a live chat that’s only available part-time can make your business look unprofessional.

You may have others – you might interact with your customers through different means, or expect them to complete their orders through any number of processes. Whatever they are, think them through, write them down, and then prioritize them.

Decision Time

It’s crucial to prioritize these pathways because online customers have very little time and attention these days. As I mentioned in the last post, abandonment is the default behavior for most e-commerce sites. If you want to be successful, you need to present visitors with clear choices. This is where the call to action (also known as a “CTA”) comes in. It’s a term borrowed from marketing and advertising, and in the context of an effective website it often translates into “Big, appealing button”.

That’s where your priorities matter. I often ask customers to prioritize their needs when we start a project; the flip response is “they’re all high-priority.” That’s fine to tell your vendor, but if you emphasize everything to your visitors, they’ll likely walk away confused. Too much choice often results in people making no choice at all.

So what’s the most important path a user can take to complete and order with you? Is it going all the way through your shopping cart? Consider a big, inviting “Add to Cart” button and a friendly, bold “Check out” button once they’ve added something to their cart. You might even determine that most of your customers order only one product at a time – if so, consider options like taking them straight into checkout or eliminating a cart entirely.

The point is to drive a customer through the paths you define with clear, obvious choices. In order to do this, you must decide what’s most important to you and emphasize it. If you run a phone-driven business with a stable full of hot-shot salespeople that can close nearly every sale once they’ve got a customer on the line, then you should do your darnedest to get a web visitor on the phone! You’ll want your phone number front and center, and you might even add “Call me now” telephony features to your site. Or you might have an “Order Now” button that requires a minimal amount of info – just a first name and a phone number – and have that feed into a CRM system that notifies someone immediately.

Finally, don’t assume that what works for someone else will work for you. Remember, your goal is to make money; if you make it simple for your customers to understand how to do business with you, you increase the likelihood that they’ll finish the process, whichever process that may be. Give your customers options, but focus on the ones that you’ll best be able to take all the way to completion. And don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong with giving the user some choice – if they decide they’re not ready to finish their order online, having a fallback option (like a quote request) is always a good option if you want to cover all your bases. Just keep your priorities in mind, and then make sure you step back after a little while and see how things are actually working. We’ll talk about that more next time.

– Brent Buford

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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