A year ago I had a great professor, Bob Cline, for the Strategic Management class. His main objective for the whole class was to teach us one lesson–no matter what you do, make sure you Add Value. He repeated this concept every single class, because it’s so applicable and important.
Adding Value to Customers thru E-Commerce Store
Every business has to continuously add value to its customers, otherwise it will be a failure. To build a successful business, in addition to adding value, you also need to have one or two competitive advantages. In offline world competitive advantage can be formed, generally speaking, by excelling in two of the following areas (and being decent in the rest): Efficiency, Quality, Innovation, Customer Responsiveness.
Since your online store competes at least nationally, how can it be differentiated from the rest? How can it be easily found online and will it convert visitors into the loyal customers?
1) Establish Credibility
Web Design & Usability – Make sure it appeals to the target market. Have something different from the competition, but keep it easy and intuitive. Use best practices whenever you can. Provide clear calls to action and guide customer throughout your site. Make check-out process fast, accept PayPal payments, and send great transactional emails.
Merchandising - Make it easy to find a product visitors are looking for. When naming a category or even a product, you can use Google’s Keyword Research Tool, to make sure that’s how most of the customers refer to a product/category. Write unique product descriptions, throw some keywords in them, but focus on the user. Make your internal search lightning-fast.
Content Management System (CMS) – make sure that is it easy to add new e-commerce plug-ins, that it is search-engine friendly, and keeps product information organized. It has to produce feeds–whether it is a sitemap or a product feed.
Secure Shopping – Provide safe & SSL-secured shopping cart and checkout process. Respect customer privacy and never share/sell their data.
Don’t be Tricky - Mention all charges ahead of time — and have a way to calculate them. Discovering a high S&H charge in the shopping cart will make many visitors angry and you’ll lose customers’ trust.
Web Analytics – Install free Google Analytics, integrate with your e-commerce solution. Know your website’s stats and trends.
2) Do a Competitive Research
This is an obvious way to monitor what your competitors are up to, what products they are introducing, and what offers and pricing they have. Keep a record of all changes they do throughout the year & plan next year promotions ahead.
What’s There to Research?
- Visit their websites weekly and take screenshots (I use Screengrab add-on for Firefox)
- Become a customer and take screenshots of critical pages (homepage, category page, product details page, shopping cart, checkout, thank you page)
- Become a prospect
- Signup for the email updates & learn if they treat prospects and customers differently
- Research their policies
- Research product selection, New Products category, and take note of pricing
- Read customer product reviews (often customers will point out to issues they had with a company and not the product)
- Subscribe to their RSS feeds (blogs, updates, PR releases, white papers & articles)
- Follow them on twitter, facebook, flickr on any other social networking site they may use
Use any opportunity to compare your business to theirs. Is there room to improve? Think (and do) SWOT analysis.
3) Evaluate Your Customers’ Expectations
Looking at competing websites, what are your customers likely to expect? Is it free shipping, low price, great customer service or differentiated products? Evaluate which is worth more to the customers. Establish a clear plan for your business, evaluate its sustainability and ability to keep customers.
Keep in mind that customers love free shipping, as Wharton marketing professor David Bell found out that “a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10.”
4) Position Yourself & Build Long-Term Relationships
Clearly communicate your positioning — then reinforce it. Zappos mentions its free shipping in the header and also in the product details and every email. Tell your visitors why you’re better than others, why it makes sense to buy from you and why being loyal to your store will benefit them. Treat every new customer with care & never treat prospects better than customers.
This post is a first one of series in creating value for your customers. I will write about email marketing and social media/blogging next. Please stay tuned!