The stellar growth of the worldwide web as a medium for commerce has meant that traditional store owners who have well-established sales and marketing patterns and techniques for their ‘brick and mortar’ shopfronts and showrooms have had to rapidly acquire new skills and patterns to succeed in the virtual world.
For many commercial and industry sectors, the virtual shopfront has fast exceeded the traditional place of business as their main platform of trade.
Consumers have steadily become attuned to using the internet as a place for purveying and purchasing goods and services – ease of access and progressively faster internet speeds has permitted a ‘fast tracking’ of all the steps a potential buyer would take in the real world to source, compare and finally purchase products.
For industrial equipment retailers and suppliers who typically provide a broad range of product line items, e-commerce means efficiently replicating that busy shopfront in such a way that potential buyers will remain engaged on the website, navigate through a huge range of items, and find what they are needing without becoming discouraged or confused.
Here we will investigate some of those considerations in a practical, down-to-earth manner.
Basic site layout
This discussion presumes that the website manager has taken into consideration factors such as advertising and marketing – in other words, the things that assist in drawing a potential customer’s attention and directing traffic to the target website.
The successful website will be set out in such a way as to gain a visitor’s confidence and hold them on the website to the point of a transaction being made.
It is worthwhile to check a site such as hotairtools as a case example of a typical commercial retail site and examine some of the key factors for effective site design.
In proceeding from ‘known to unknown’ – that is, by comparing the known attributes of a well-run shopfront to the online website – it can be seen that several important parallels exist. The first of these is keeping a clean, uncluttered ‘shop layout’ that is easy for customers to navigate.
Ensure everything is clearly marked
Imagine the example of a basic hardware store – rows of shelves carry a large array of product. Typically, this product is broken down into categories such as tooling items, nuts and bolts, screws and washers, adhesives, builder’s supplies, roofing equipment, etc.
In exactly the same way, a well-laid-out website will group stock items into logical groups to help the visitor to navigate themselves to the desired product range. The navigation bar or site menu should be clear, visible, and concise. Remember also that the online visitor doesn’t have the benefit of asking a staff member for assistance, so a product search function replaces this real-world consideration.
This is the first big step to keeping the visitor in your online shop and finding their way down the aisles!
Product photos and descriptions
Ensure that each stock item is supported with a good graphic or photograph together with a concise description that lists key information such as product dimensions and applications. Purchase of commercial products are often a very tactile experience – customers are used to picking up and examining a product in the real world, so a good product photo is vital.
Spend some time developing product descriptions that give sufficient technical information yet are not too long-winded or verbose. If in doubt, engaging a professional website designer or content writer is worth the effort and expense in the long run.
Use of multimedia & short articles
Consider using a set of well-prepared product knowledge or “How To” videos on the site. A picture is worth a thousand words, and an engaged visitor will very likely use multimedia presentations to learn how to use a product or to ensure they have purchased all the items necessary to carry out a particular job.
Additional resources which can be downloaded can also increase buyer confidence – consider providing a range of relevant downloadable instruction sets or “How To” guides. Providing an inventory list of required products, consumables, and tooling items also carries the potential for up-selling or reminding a buyer of the need for additional items which they might have perhaps not thought of.
Virtual assistants and chatbots
To take the replication of the real-world storefront experience to the next level, the use of an AI virtual assistant to engage with customers and answer inquiries can further build buyer confidence and greatly reduce buyer hesitancy.
A good site developer can customize a chatbot or virtual assistant function to field a range of commonly asked questions. This can be seen as a ‘next level’ inquiry function, which is one step short of the customer interacting with a human staff member to resolve an inquiry.
If set-up cost is a limiting factor, a good FAQ (frequently asked questions) page may suffice. Think of the site as dynamic and ensure resource pages are updated frequently, particularly as new questions and problems are encountered.
A lively, constantly updated site also works favorably in keeping repeat customers engaged and also in ensuring good SEO – search engine optimization – to keep the target site ranking well with search engines like Google.
The shopping cart
The final part of the transaction process – the site shopping cart and checkout facility – will also play a key role in ensuring customer confidence and further inspire repeat business.
The shopping cart bridges the final gap between shopping and buying and should generate a seamless transaction together with a comprehensive trade invoice. The latter item will be particularly important for commercial buyers and tradesmen who may need invoicing to assist in the preparation of customer billing and for their own tax purposes.
Entry into the online world and e-commerce can be a daunting proposition for new start-ups, but with a bit of foreknowledge, it can also prove to be an exciting time.
Understanding some of the key factors of what makes for a successful ‘brick and mortar’ store and recognizing their counterparts in the online world will ensure effective website development and bode well for longer-term business success.