By Giles Colborne, Managing Director, cxpartners.
To combat the recession, many companies are looking to use special offers to drive traffic and revenue on their websites. But while the successes of online special offers are easy to see in website traffic and in the order books, the downside can be severe and is hidden from view.
According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2008, 55 per cent of all adults had purchased goods or services over the internet at least once. Of these, 81 per cent had purchased something in the previous three months.
That’s over half of the population shopping online, regularly. We’ve found that e-commerce sites have a lot more control than they realise. What’s important is building trust and delivering on promises.
There is a huge difference to purchasing in a store and purchasing online. In a shop you can apply customer service, and build relationships to help drive sales. Customers are looking for advice; they are looking for a shop assistant to validate why they are making a purchase.
Unfortunately online, you don’t have these luxuries. Customers are only really interested in brand and price. Getting customers from ‘browse’ to ‘buy’ online is about building trust and desire.
Here are five top tips on improving trust in your special offers.
1. Bigger photos
If there is one thing we’d say to any e-commerce site owner it would be: find a way to increase the number of large photographs on your site.
There's no excuse for tiny product photos ('click here if you really, definitely must see a large photo'). It's not 1998 anymore. Customers have broadband and expect big photos.
Big photos build trust - the customer can inspect the product from all angles and tell that it is as advertised. Smaller photos lead to anxious customers wondering if they’re really getting what they hope for.
2. Consistent, clear information
The fastest way to undermine trust is to be vague or inconsistent. That’s why customers put more trust in bullet points than in flowery text. It’s also why customers bail if the product data sheet doesn’t match the product description.
Invest in a good proof reader and check the readability of all the information on your site.
3. Being upfront
The longer you wait in the order process before telling customers their postage and packaging charges, the more anxious they become. The more anxious they become, the more likely they are to leave your site without making a purchase.
So, even though it’s often hard to give accurate postage and packaging information at the start, it’s better to say something (‘£5 delivery charge - free for orders over £15’) than nothing. Customers know the score - and the value of the word 'Free' is enormous in driving sales.
4. Use wording that emphasises quality
The problem with many special offers is that they devalue the product. 'Men's shirts: £10' says 'these shirts are only worth £10'. But you can't simply claim that your product is superior quality.
'Luxury men's shirts: £10' sounds like hyperbole - what's luxurious about a £10 shirt? So give reasons to explain the offer: 'Luxury men's shirts: £10 (end of line)' explains that this is a genuine product that's on offer for a reason, not a cheap product masquerading as quality.
5. Show your trust
One thing we’ve noticed is how little things, like a telephone number in the header, reassure users on e-commerce sites. Sure it costs more if customers pick up the phone, but most don’t call.
And many who would have left your web site are encouraged to persevere because the phone number reassures them that you are a real company. Plus, if things do go wrong, they'll call and let you know. So you can fix things. Showing customers they can trust you pays dividends.
Putting it all together
At a time when sales are volatile, it’s easy to imagine that an offer’s poor performance is another symptom of the downturn. And it's easy to assume that the people who didn't take up your offer had a neutral opinion.
What’s clear from our research is that getting it wrong has a definite, negative effect. Getting it right requires a detailed understanding of customer needs and behaviour, building on trust and honesty.
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