Turn your website into an e-commerce machine

Last article in a two-part series


By Brad Smith


In August 2013 Outdoor Power Equipment, I reviewed the four most common mistakes outdoor power equipment dealers make that can turn their e-commerce website into a shopping nightmare for customers and prospects. The article focused on the technical side of the shopping experience, so let’s pick it up from there and dig in to how you can use the graphic elements of your website to sway website visitors to “close the deal.”


The best advice I can give you when designing a website is to educate yourself on the topic and be vigilant in conducting periodic reviews of your website to implement improvements. All too often, we fall back on what “feels” best because it’s just part of our nature as human beings. This can be a huge detriment to success. The problem with this approach is that one person’s opinion has nothing to do with creating a successful, functional, sales-driven website.


Based on my conversations with dealers, the website design process goes something like this: a group of folks sit in an office and duke it out, with each person vying for his or her preferred color scheme, website navigation, shopping cart features and other design elements. Then, after all is said and done, the owner marches in, takes one look at the design, and changes everything! Am I right?


If you decide to “go it alone” and design your own website – rather than working with a website provider – here are three key website elements, which executed correctly, will help you get it right the first time around and turn your website into a 24/7 virtual dealership.


Branding


From the moment a visitor lands on your website, you need to begin the “close-the-sale” process. As a dealer, you need to think of your business as a brand and build buyer confidence. Marketing matters. Consumer confidence is built through a great-looking site that includes all the elements of a legitimate, trustworthy business.


Your brand is without a doubt a one-of-a-kind entity with a unique value proposition to offer your customers and prospects. The branding basics include a custom logo, possibly a tagline to reinforce your brand proposition, and a specific color scheme that you commit to and use consistently across the board on all of your marketing materials, including your website. Evaluate your current branding with a simple exercise in brand positioning that allows you to tap into your customer’s emotions. Think about the tagline for Toro: “Count on it.” This statement translates into a brand you can trust and depend on – both positive emotions that Toro wants to evoke when the customer interacts with the brand. As a dealer, you can and should do the same thing. Think of brand positioning as the very first thing you want your customers to think about when they hear your name.


Navigation


Website navigation and “usability” are so incredibly important that there are master’s degree programs dedicated to the science of them. The study of usability has allowed website providers to define elements that are the most attractive and intuitive to the greatest number of people. The goal of usability is to make your website navigation so intuitive that users don’t have to spend any brain power while surfing your site. Your goal is to make it easy for them to “click and buy.”


Lead your prospects. Your website should anticipate visitors’ needs and quickly drive them to the relevant portions of your site. For example, from the home page of your website, visitors should be able to access a brochure for any model of equipment, for all the brands you carry, with only one click. Clear navigation means that every page should be obvious and self explanatory, featuring a clear structure, moderate visual cues and easily recognizable links. 


Last, but not least, make sure visitors can find product and dealership contact information, and make a purchase quickly and easily. If it’s not, your site will fail to convert browsers into buyers. Put simply: The less work for prospects, the faster they’ll find what they want, add to the shopping cart, and press Submit.


Shopping cart


In order for you to convert more shoppers into buyers, it’s critical that your website provides a shopping experience that builds confidence in your dealership and products. Your website needs to keep potential buyers informed and engaged from the time they land on your site, to the time they begin adding items to their cart, to the time they submit the order.


Once customers have found what they are looking for, your goal is to close the deal – with zero effort by the customers. The first step is to make it easy to add items to your shopping cart. Here are a few suggestions on how to accomplish that:

All buttons should be large and obvious, so your customer has no doubt what they should do next. For example, use ‘Add to Cart’ or ‘Continue Shopping’ or ‘Checkout.’
Provide thumbnail product images to allow buyers to visually confirm their selection.
Link to product details, enabling customers to quickly review product information prior to proceeding to checkout.
Make it easy to enter a discount code during the checkout process and immediately see the savings clearly applied.
Shipping fees and options must be perfectly clear. If you offer free shipping, call this out throughout the shopping process.
Don’t forget to use the shopping cart as a way to recommend additional items (e.g. filters, oil, spark plugs) to encourage incremental sales to increase the average order.

Now that the buyer has added items to your shopping cart, it is imperative that you streamline the checkout process to reduce shopping cart abandonment:

Don’t make it necessary to sign up for an account before your visitor can buy from you. Offer more log-in options, including Returning Customer, New Customer or Guest.
Make the checkout process fast. Buyers should be able to navigate through the shopping cart checkout in no more than three steps.
Consolidate billing and shipping information by using pre-populated forms.
Show if the product is out of stock on the product page. For those items out of stock, provide customers with an option to register for notification when the items are back in stock, so you don’t lose the sale.
Provide an approximate delivery date.
If a user makes an error when entering personal information, provide examples of the correct format in your error messages, particularly for address, phone number, and credit card information.
Include all relevant order details on the final checkout page, so your customer doesn’t have to press the back button to check something. Always provide a print option. 
Send the customer an order confirmation via email immediately after the order has been completed.

Usability and utility play important roles in the success or failure of your e-commerce website. As I recommended in the August 2013 OPE article, shop your own website as if you were the customer and evaluate it from their perspective. Then, make a plan for revising any areas that need improvement. The result of your efforts will undoubtedly be more sales. And, remember, not all visitors to your website are online buyers; the content on your website may lead them to your dealership door as well.


 Brad Smith is ARI’s Director of Product. ARI creates award-winning software solutions that help equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers “Sell More Stuff!” online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 22,000 equipment dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website (www.arinet.com) and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!” Smith holds an MBA from the University of Wisconsin and is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.

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