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10 must-have features for your small business website

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From navigation to returns, here's a no-frills guide on how to make your online store a go-to site for buyers.

This year is likely to be another record-breaker in online sales, with Forrester Research predicting that online spending per person will jump from $1,207 per year to $1,738 in 2016.

People make up their mind about whether they like a website within a matter of seconds.

That's great news – if your small business website is optimized correctly. If it's not, the parade could pass you by. To ensure customers are drawn to your site and stay there, here are 10 must-have features:

1. Easy navigation. You want purchasers to find what they are looking for quickly, with minimum clicks. Supporting these so-called "spearfishers" (customers who come to your website with a product in mind and want the cheapest place to buy it) with an easy-to-use interface is critical, according to a recent Forrester study, in addition to features that encourage discovery or serendipity.

Links to "what's new" or "on sale" pages are a good way to coax surfers to buy. 

2. A landing page "hook." People make up their mind quickly about whether they like a website, so you have only a few seconds to grab their attention. While some are attracted to deep discounts and others to free shipping, your best bet is to offer a promotion right up front, according to the design experts at HongKiat. 

3. Plenty of product detail. Successful online retailers say you can never have too much detail on a product page, according to the Forrester study. Product ratings, reviews, sizing information (essential for clothing) and a list of related products make shoppers more comfortable with a purchase. Related products also encourage visitors to buy more than one item.

4. Product zoom and video. A picture is worth a thousand words – and even more when visitors can zoom in to see details. Interactive content allows those shoppers who prefer to "feel the goods" a way to get close, reports Search Engine Journal. How-to videos are another option that adds comfort value.

5. Easy checkout. To close the deal with shoppers and minimize cart abandonment, make it as easy as possible to complete a transaction, says Forrester. For example, best-in-class online sellers reduce friction during checkout by offering alternative secure payment methods such as PayPal and display shipping information on the first cart page or including a shipping calculator.

6. Clear information about returns. A clear and easy-to-understand returns policy is essential, according to Forrester research and UPS studies of online shoppers' behavior. According to the UPS 2016 Pulse of the Online Shopper study, 67 percent of online shoppers demand a clear and easy return policy, with most checking upon arrival at a site.

7. Log-in and registration. Giving shoppers the ability to access the website with a password has several advantages, says HongKiat. For one thing, there's no need to re-enter all their shipping and payment information, making checkout easier (see No. 5 above). In addition, you capture their contact information, especially their e-mail address, for use in marketing efforts.

8. Shipping and delivery flexibility. Forrester found that top-performing online sellers provide diversity in their shipping and delivery options, a finding supported by UPS research as well. In particular, options that allow buyers to select faster delivery, or to wait longer in exchange for lower-cost shipping, result in higher conversion rates and fewer abandoned carts.

9. Include "trustmarks." These are small images or icons that demonstrate your site is a secure place to shop. Examples include McAfee, VeriSign, BBB and GeoTrust. The goal is to assure shoppers that they can share private information with confidence. HongKiat recommends putting these logos on your landing page, especially when you are a small business and not a big name brand.

10. Tap into social media. Let everyone know you're available on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google+. For example, you can set up a business page on Facebook and post special offers for those who "like" your site. Social media is an excellent way to promote your offerings, build your brand and identify your most active and influential customers, says Search Engine Journal

Although building an optimized e-commerce site is an essential first step for small businesses, it's only a piece of the puzzle. Read more about the plethora of other ways UPS can help your small business grow. 

Looking for a simpler way of managing your day-to-day tasks as an entrepreneur? Check out these top apps for small businesses.

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