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Data & Insights 4 min read

Six tips to help ecommerce businesses sell online

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Andy Muir

Mar 5, 2021

While we may be drawing closer to business as usual, the “‘normal’ routines we return to will be significantly different from those we left in 2020. According to Shopify’s Future of Commerce Report for 2021, the pandemic has catapulted ecommerce five years ahead in the course of just one difficult year. With that in mind, businesses should continue to build upon their ecommerce capabilities and work to provide the best possible experiences to customers, both in-store and online. 

If you tuned in to Gary’s top trends session last month during Xero Education Month, you’ll know we feel strongly about empowering small businesses to succeed. Our latest report shows 66% of us have committed to supporting local businesses, with many expecting to spend more money with them in the future. If you couple this commitment with the breadth of technology available to help businesses sell online, we believe small businesses are well on the way to having the best tools and services to compete.

We recently invited Shopify, the experts in helping independent ecommerce businesses sell online, to share their expert tips on delivering successful user experiences for online stores, including the all important checkout.

Watch the recording below or read our snippets of what you need to consider according to Shopify’s expert storefront optimisation team.

1. Focus on the buyer’s journey

‘The buyer’s journey’ is the path a customer follows when they try to purchase something from your site. Every decision you make regarding your ecommerce business should have the buyer’s journey front and centre, and this means giving them clear signage as they make their way through your online store. 

The homepage should make a positive first impression: it should be clear about what products you offer and why your business stands out. Many sites group their products into collections, like ‘homeware’ and ‘best sellers’, or seasonal offerings, like ‘Valentine’s Day Deals’. Some online retailers have also found success in adding an inspiration path: lifestyle shots of people wearing or interacting with a range of products in an aspirational real-world scenario. 

Throughout the site, ensure that navigation is clear and mobile-friendly. Offer the customers a reasonable amount of content per page. Overly austere pages make it harder to find what you’re looking for, but overwhelming pages are equally likely to deter potential buyers. The website should also set expectations. For example, a ‘start now’ button implies that there are a few steps to take, whereas a ‘buy now’ button suggests immediacy. 

2. Avoiding friction

For better or worse, online shoppers are fickle. If they become frustrated with your site, they will suddenly abandon it in favour of one of the dozens of alternatives. That’s why it’s essential to minimise frustrations and create as smooth and straightforward a shopping process as possible. Broken links, poorly timed popups, and other frustrations have no place on an ecommerce site in 2021. 

However, a certain amount of friction is sometimes necessary. For instance, a site can reasonably confirm that a customer means to remove items from their cart – “are you sure you want to remove this item?” – but wherever possible, customers shouldn’t be asked to jump through hoops. The name of the game is cognitive load – the brainpower a customer needs to navigate your site and reach their goal – and your job is to keep it to a minimum. 

3. Navigation

The way customers get around your site is among the most important user experience concerns. If customers can’t find what they’re looking for, they won’t buy it, and if they get lost in an endless maze of pages, they’ll go elsewhere. Every page should include a main menu that makes the customer’s current location and options clear, although it shouldn’t distract from the page’s content. On mobile, an always-visible menu may not be an option, but customers still need an exact way to open and close it. 

Many sites also offer a navigation bar that lists the categories that the product fits within, from general to specific. This makes it easy for people to find other items in these categories – but it depends on the logical categorisation and clear naming of categories. The other primary way people find what they’re looking for is via search – more than half of people go directly to search when they arrive on a new site. 

4. Decision making

Ultimately, customers are on your site looking to buy something, and the easier you make that process, the more sales you’ll make. When the buying process is straightforward, customers are thinking intuitively, and they’re more likely to make a purchase. When things become more complicated, they experience more doubt and are less likely to click ‘buy’. 

There are plenty of opportunities to differentiate your site, but the buying process shouldn’t be one of them. People expect to see certain things on a site, like a shopping cart, thus making life easier for the consumer. It’s also important to be up-front and be transparent about shipping costs, delivery times, and other concerns, as this establishes trust. 

5. Changing consumer preferences

The future looks bright for smaller online businesses. Shopify’s report found that half of all consumers are now more eager to support independent businesses over well-established online giants. Xero’s research reflects this too, finding that 66 percent of consumers have committed to supporting local businesses, and 41 percent expect to spend more money with them in the future. Sites that are straightforward and establish trust with customers can expect to draw business from their larger competitors, putting them on the path to success online. 

6. Surround yourself with the right apps

During our session, we also heard from a few Xero customers about their experiences using apps to help streamline their retail and ecommerce processes. Make sure you watch our session above to learn more. Also. take a look at Xero’s app marketplace to see other apps which support retail and ecommerce businesses with payments, inventory, shipping and many other jobs to be done.

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