E-commerce: 5 golden rules for small businesses

This is a prime time to be a small retailer. The web and the rise of mobile technology are opening up new commercial opportunities and savvy retailers are creating an online presence to find new markets, sell more products and ultimately grow their business.

Whether you’re just getting started on your e-commerce journey or looking to optimise your existing website, we’ve got 5 golden rules to make sure your e-commerce business is a success in 2016:

1. Stand out from the noise

As a business, you need a Unique Selling Point (USP) – something that differentiates you from the competition. The best way to do this is to research your competitors and check out what they’re doing online. This will help you understand how you can carve out your own niche.

Take guidance from those who are performing well, and learn from the mistakes of others. Look at their websites, subscribe to their newsletters and follow their social channels. This is an excellent way to learn more about your market and gather fresh ideas, but avoid simply mimicking the actions of others. Instead, adapt best practices and tailor them to reflect the ethos of your own business.

2. Remember first impressions count

First impressions are important, especially online. As the front window of your business, your website must instil faith in the customer from the word go. Web design is key. Like a physical store, your e-commerce site should be clean, clear, and simple to navigate, with links to product categories as well as high-quality images of your products.

Remember trust goes beyond great design – it’s about openness and honesty. Consumers prefer buying from real people. This is an advantage smaller stores have over the retail giants so let your personality shine through. Include as much detail about you and your business as possible such as contact information, customer case studies and reviews, blogs and an “about us” section.

3. Ensure the customer experience is easy

Large retailers have made online shopping so straightforward that customers have developed a low tolerance of delays and complexity in their purchase journey.

Small retailers should replicate this. Eliminate any obstacles in shoppers’ way, such as requiring them to create an account before they can check out. The same applies for site navigation. By ensuring products are quick and easy to find, you’ll have fewer drop-outs and happier customers.

4. Reliability is vital

A beautiful website is futile unless it performs well in the technical sense. Shoppers have high expectations, so ensuring that the site is always “up”, and pages don’t take long to load is key.

Website performance depends on who you choose to provide your technology, such as your hosting company. Do your research and ask for references. This will help you find which tech firms are trusted by their own customers, and which will be a good fit for your business. Once you’ve chosen a provider, set up a robust SLA to guarantee your uptime and ensure the best technical performance possible.

5. Listen to your customers

Small businesses excel at personal customer interaction. An online presence extends this opportunity. Treat your website as a forum for customer engagement. Integrate content such as blogs, reviews, and social channels like Facebook or Twitter into your site.

Use your website to stay in touch with customers during and after the purchase cycle to keep them fully informed of their order status. The first step is to listen, and then work on building a great customer relationship.

Get more practical advice from our free guide to growing your customer base packed with helpful tips.