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Reeling in the Sales

Getting a potential buyer to do more than nibble at your e-commerce site requires using the right bait.

We moved  to a home on a lake this winter. As the lake gradually froze over, we talked about the fish we'd catch in the spring. Whitefish, bass, walleye, and trout -- we looked forward to catching the big ones. Spring came, the lake thawed, and we went shopping for fishing gear. We visited the local Wal-Mart and were overwhelmed with choices. We didn't have a clue as to what to buy, but came home loaded with rods, reels, and tackle kits. We were ready to reel them in! Or so we thought. Nibbles were all we got on our first, second, and third trips out. No solid bites, and it was our own fault. We were totally unprepared to catch fish in our lake. We didn't know where to find them, how to attract them, how to set the hook when we got a nibble, or how to reel them in.

Unfortunately, many companies have the same problem when it comes to selling on the Web. They're dreaming about hitting it big, but they don't have a clue about reeling in the sales.

Right from the fish's mouth

Not a lot of research has been published yet about buying and selling on the Internet. But Usability expert Jakob Nielsen's article offsite link.Why People Shop on the Web reports some interesting findings from a survey sponsored by the Danish E-Commerce Association. He cites answers from the 1,780 respondents (out of 2,929) who had actually bought something on the Internet. Those buyers gave the following reasons for visiting a sales Web site:

  • Looking for product information -- 26%
  • Looking for other information -- 32%
  • Buying goods or services -- 5%
  • Entertainment value -- 18%
  • Other reasons -- 18%

An unbelievable 95 percent visited an e-commerce site for reasons other than buying! In other words, quite often you'll be offering worms to fish who aren't hungry at the moment. Don't expect them to bite every time. Make sure your Web site includes all the information your potential buyers want -- product, warranty, shipping, delivery, service, support, and contact info.

What else are your customers looking for? Ask them! Make the question a prominent feature on your home page, your search results page, your support pages, and your customer account pages. Include the question in every issue of your opt-in newsletter. Then act on what you learn. If your Web site meets your customers' non-buying needs, you'll be in the right spot to reel in the sales when they're hungry to buy.

What about the five percent of visits when the buyer is there to buy? In the e-commerce survey cited by Nielsen, these buyers were looking for the Web to provide:

  • Detailed information about the product itself -- 82%
  • Price comparisons -- 62%
  • Detailed information about the vendor -- 21%

About the buying experience itself, surveyed buyers gave the following reasons for buying on the Web:

  • Easy to place an order -- 83%
  • Large selection of products -- 63%
  • Cheaper prices -- 63%
  • Faster service and delivery -- 52%
  • Detailed and clear information about what is being offered -- 40%
  • No sales pressure -- 39%
  • Easy payment procedures -- 36%

The art of effective casting

The other day I received an e-mail offer to "Save $20 off your first order of any MotherNature brand product." I'm a bargain hunter, so that was a good enough offer to get this fish to nibble. The e-mail link brought me to a page promoting MotherNature's $20 off deal.

Let's see how well the MotherNature Web site would meet the needs of the buyers in the e-commerce survey.

The promotional page I landed on revealed a lot about the nature of the site. It promised cheaper prices (30 to 50 percent below retail pricing, $3.95 shipping, and free shipping on orders over $50). And it promised an "easy-to-use Web site" that's "fun, informative, and always private." Colored tabs kept me oriented within the main sections of the site. Every page prominently offered a search option and access to my shopping cart, account, and shopping list. The Help tab revealed a wealth of information, written in a style clearly intended to instill trust in the products and company.

I sensed that I was dealing with a reputable vendor, so I clicked their Products tab. I found that I could shop by department or by brand, product, what ails me, or other criteria. Rather than guess, I chose to use the search option at the top of the page. I entered in the word "Calcium," and in a few seconds was rewarded with a wonderfully useful search results page.

The results page was rich with information, yet organized so as not to be overwhelming. It included a snippet about the importance of calcium and a link to the "Consumer Guide to Calcium" for more information. It listed three calcium products, labeled "MotherNature's Picks," comparison-priced and accompanied by "Buy" buttons for easy ordering. Links on each product led to product details. Another link brought me to a complete list of calcium products. There were also organized sets of links for "Formulas and Solutions Containing the phrase 'CALCIUM'," "Articles about 'CALCIUM'," and "Products related to 'CALCIUM'."

Like any good search results page, this one also offered me the ability to refine my search. The page explained how I could expand my exploration and gave me the option of limiting the results to articles, brands, or products.

Spelunking for product details was quite rewarding. I found complete label information, ingredients, serving information, availability, and price. The Encyclopedia tab offered a wealth of information on health concerns, drug interactions, and the like. I found the Community tab to be less useful. The message board was not active enough to be informative, and the rest of the links were primarily sales links -- not what I expected on a Community page.

Taking the bait

Once I had obtained the necessary information about my products, Buy buttons let me easily buy one, or, at 10% off, a dozen. The buying process was easy, and I was not prompted for personal information until I was ready to check out. The $20 discount was automatically deducted from my order total. MotherNature pleasantly surprised me with another useful option at check out: saving my order as a shopping list for easy reordering and then naming it in order to keep track of multiple shopping lists. 

Service and delivery were fast. The order I placed Friday night arrived in the mail on Tuesday, well packed and as ordered. I was happy to see that MotherNature uses bio-degradable packing peanuts and printed the packing list and customer satisfaction postcard on 100% recycled paper. The company spelled out its 100% satisfaction guarantee and provided easy-to-follow return information. The enclosed extras (a product sample and set of sticky notes) were a nice touch.

It's clear MotherNature knows how to fish for buyers. The company offered everything the survey buyers wanted, including detailed product information, comparison prices, easy ordering and reordering procedures, cheap prices, and fast delivery. I swallowed the bait -- hook, line, and sinker -- and I'm glad I did.

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