Busineecart.gifsses have by now spent money developing a website to feature their products. But actually getting a return on that investment through attracting leads and making sales doesn’t necessarily follow. Many are so poorly designed and constructed that they drive customers away instead of encouraging them to buy.

Tuning up your website by implementing just two basic principles will improve your chances of keeping visitors interested in looking around and progressing to a purchase.

1. Make The Navigation Customer-Centric

While part of the pleasure of shopping in a bricks ‘n mortar store may be the ability to leisurely browse your way over to the item you came in for, that’s generally not the approach of the website store visitor. These shoppers are very intolerant of delay in getting to the product they want by being forced to click through numerous pages, or worse, being so frustrated by poor navigation that they can’t even find what they are looking for at all. Customer-centric navigation tools guide shoppers directly to the products they want to buy before they lose interest.

If you sell a lot of different product lines try to classify them in some way that brings all the items in a particular line together. For instance, if you were selling pool supplies you might use categories like ‘pool cleaners’, ‘pool pumps’ ‘pool heating’, ‘pool filters’, and ‘pool toys’. If there aren’t a great number of these categories then display an individual navigation tab for each, otherwise a drop down menu from a ‘Products List’ tab is a better approach. Use the terms that the target audience is likely to use and recognise – common descriptions if you sell retail to the general public or technical terms if you deal with people in the trade.

A category listing should be only one of the ways of providing access to your products. Search functionality is necessary to complement the ability to browse around in categories. Searches can be set up in any number of ways. A particularly useful method is to provide an A-Z listing of all products so that a person looking for ‘Floating Pool Lights’ can locate them by looking under F and clicking straight through to a list of the types you hold. Even more helpful would be to also have them listed under P (‘Pool Lights – Floating’) and L (‘Lights – Floating Pool Type’) to cover the different ways people approach searching for items.

Some visitors will already have a particular brand in mind while others will be after a replacement part from a particular manufacturer so an A-Z listing of products by manufacturer is also helpful. The shopper in need of a replacement ‘Poolrite’ cartridge filter can go straight to the information on them. Even a parts number search is useful in some situations.

If you deal with price conscious shoppers then the ability to sort results by price can make it easier for them to make a choice. Finally, allow for the user who just isn’t sure and provide a general keyword search option.

2. Make It Easy To Buy

Having made it easy for your visitor to find what they want, now make it simple for them to buy it.

First thing is to provide multiple payment options. These days most website shoppers expect to be able to make their payment online – more than 90% of all online business is done using credit cards. True, not everyone is comfortable providing their card details over the Internet and not everyone likes to shop with a credit card, so to cater to these customers also provide more traditional pay routes like ordering by telephone, by fax and by mail.

Central to making a sale is the design of your checkout process. Studies reveal a distressingly high rate of cart abandonment by online shoppers. There are many contributing factors but in most instances it is simply that the customer can’t follow the process because of unclear navigation. Common features for a smooth checkout include giving the customer the option to continue shopping or proceed to checkout as each item is added to their cart, showing the details of each item they put in their cart including an image of the product and a link back to the page they found it on, and making it easy for visitors to change their mind by altering quantities or removing an item.

Your Internet store is not only open 24×7, it is visible worldwide – so consider what would make purchasing from it easy for a shopper located in another country. Provide your full street address to reassure the customer that they are dealing with a legitimate business. Add a handy currency converter and provide solid information on postage and handling costs.

Instead of just costing you money, a well designed customer-centric website will start doing what it’s supposed to do – making you money.

3. Are you getting the hits? Having a website is one thing, having it ranked highly with Google is something entirely different. It is usually well worth investing money in optimising the ranking of your website. Do not make the mistake of assuming your webdeveloper is doing this for you. It takes time and effort, and unless you reach an agreement and pay for it, you can safely assume it not being done.

Davies McLennon are happy to give independent advice on how you can address these issues.