Top 10 tips for running your online store

Top 10 tips for running a successful online store

So you've invested loads of time and money building up your online store and you're ready to what? How can you get people to go to your site? How can you keep customers coming back for more?

I have been building online stores for customers for over 5 years now and it's always easy to spot the ones that will do well and the ones that will fail. Below is a Top 10 guide for making sure you do everything you can to make your online store the best it can be. These tips are not in any order but they are things that every store owner should be doing to make their online stores a success.

Give proper product descriptions - If there is one major falling point for online stores it's the lack of being able to physically touch the item you want to buy. To help your customers know if the item they are looking at is what they want make sure to put in the time to fill out the product description. If you're selling a jacket don't just put in 'navy jacket with pockets' as the description. Flesh it out. Describe the material used, any logo or brand names, the quality of the build, what the inside of the jacket is like, inner pockets, etc. Show customers more than one image, allow them to zoom in on the images for a closer look, etc. This particular point will make or break your store. Trust me, if you take away one point out of my list make sure it's this one!

Keep your store up to date - This might sounds like a no brainer but there is nothing worse than a store (or website) that isn't kept up to date. If there are items with no stock then either hide them from your store or put up a notice informing customers when the items will be back in stock. If your store has a news page on it then be sure to keep that up to date. Simple news posts to let potential customers know when you have new items for sale is a perfect way to use that section of your site. You don't need to write pages and pages of text but it gives people confidence that someone is looking after this store and keeping it up to date.

Offer free postage - There's nothing worse than an online store you know is only up the road but is charging you €10 to ship your items to you! Doing something as simple as offering freepost to customers is a brilliant way to make them feel like they're not being ripped off. If it's not economical to ship out smaller items for free, make it an incentive to customers to spend more on your store buy offering freepost for orders over a certain amount. This particular method of 'freepost' works great as the customer is rewarded with freepost for spending more money on your store. Win/Win!

Keep customers informed of their orders at all times - I have mentioned this in some of my previous posts on how to run online stores so it should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I am sticking this point in my top 10 list. If I order items from your site then I expect at the very least to get an order confirmation from your site telling me that you received my order. It's very good practice to then follow up that email within 24hrs to let me know if my order has shipped or if you're waiting on stock. Communication is key for any online store to succeed. The better communication you give your customers the more they will buy from you and the more chances there are of them telling their friends how great your store is.

Don't hide your contact details from your customers - I've seen a few online stores lately that don't provide any means of contact besides an online form. This isn't good enough if it's all you have on your online store. Give your customers a phone number or an actual email address they can use as well as your online form. Clearly display your company registration number. The more contact details you can give to customers the more they will be willing to hand over their money on your site. Just like I mentioned on the second point, it's all about giving your customers the confidence to spend money on your site.

Give customers a few payment options - A lot of the main web stores out there do this and I think it's a great idea. Let people pay you the way they want to. There is nothing worse than a web store that uses a crappy 'no name' payment portal. If you are taking money on your site then clearly display the payment provider being used. Let customers pay by credit card through your payment provider if they wish or offer PayPal/Google Checkout as an alternative. I would normally use my credit card for online transactions but sometimes if I'm on a website that I have never used before I like using PayPal instead as it keeps my credit card details hidden. If you offer multiple payment options then you're making it easier for customers to pay you. This is an important topic when you consider the high volumes of users who get as far as the checkout pages only to abandon their goods because they couldn't remember their credit card number or its expiry date. If you offered PayPal or Google Checkout then you might have made that sale.

Make sure your site is easy to navigate - This isn't a big deal if you've only got about 5 products but let's face it, you want to sell as much as you can. A lot of online stores let customers navigate items by departments. This is done for obvious reasons. It's easier for the customer to work his/her way through your store by department rather than to go trawling through hundreds of items on a page. Don't mess things up by putting products into departments they don't belong in. Spend the time to organise your store based on customer viewing habits. If you have a good web site stat package for your store you can easily see what product pages are doing best. You can then set up a new department called 'Popular Items' that lists all of those products to help make it quicker for potential customers to get at your best selling items.

Embrace social media sites - YouTube, Facebook, just can't get away from them. Everyone is on them. Make sure that your store makes it easy for product details to be sent to friends on those sites. Set up a profile on Twitter or Facebook and put links to those profile pages on your store home page. This brings me nicely onto my next tip.

Run special offers - A great way to get people to follow you on Facebook or Twitter is to offer your followers a promotion code. Make it fun for them by limiting the offers to the first 100 customers. Once words gets around that your Twitter or Facebook account is giving away 'Deals of the week' people will be mad signing up to you and you should notice sales going up. Email is still one of the most effective ways to run your special offers. Spend the time to make your email look stunning and the rewards will come. Reduce pricing of 5 or so random items on your store once a week. It will keep customers checking out your site regularly and is a great way to get people to sign up to your newsletter to see what deals you are currently running on the store.

Offer a loyalty programme - We all like getting something for free. Who doesn't? A great way to encourage customers to come back to your site is to give them a bit of a discount off their next purchase. There are a number of easy ways to do this. You could offer your customer 5% off their next order and send them a promotion code when you send them their order confirmation. It's a great way to say thanks for purchasing from your store and it's a brilliant way to have them come back to your site in the future. You could also send them a discount code after a certain period of time. Maybe 30 days after a sale you could just send a quick email to say thanks for ordering from your store and to show your appreciation you're giving them a discount off their next order. If customers know you're offering deals like this they would be sure to tell their friends about your excellent services!

BONUS TIP: Keep your store front end design up to date -A lot of online store owners forget about this one. Web trends change faster than the Japanese bullet trains and it you don't look after your sites front design you run the risk of it looking dated. As more and more people use online stores they are getting exposed to more and more stores that will have the latest design trends. The trend for people to ignore a store based on its dated appearance is rising fast, especially amongst younger people (18yr - 35). If you already have an online store and you just need a new lick of paint for it then it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg. In fact it will probably cost you less than you think and could transform the look and feel of your site bringing it bang up to date.

Some of those tips might be no brainers for the more experienced store owners out there but for new store owners it's always good practice to keep these points in mind to help maximise the potential of your new online store. Let me know if you have any other great tips.

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