Online Sales Platforms

Firstly, huge congratulations go out to all the athletes, organizers, volunteers, sponsors, spectators and everyone else who helped make these Winter Olympics so special across the province, country and the world. I think every Canadian now sees them self in a new and brighter light than ever before. Let’s all seize the opportunity!
Baseball legend Yogi Berra told us that “the future ain’t what it used to be” and Bob Dylan is quoted as saying “the future for me is already a thing of the past”. These are good reminders that in business, as in life, the proverb “he who hesitates is lost” is no more true than ever as relationships, communications and technology increases and improves at increasingly exponential rates. All one needs to do is look at all the 2010 Winter Olympics coverage available on your high definition tv, smart phone and online compared to even just 12 short years ago in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics when it wasn’t until October of that year that the first public launch (within the American scientific community) of what resembles current HD was broadcast; internet access was still dial-up; and cel phones were still only used as, well, phones.
Hopefully, your business has evolved with the expectations of your customers. At the very least you have a search-browser enabled website providing viewers a description of your business, its locations and contact information. However, most of your customers expect and often demand that you have the capacity to process electronic transactions. Despite the fact that, in many respects, operating web-based sales is an entirely different business proposition from operating in “bricks and mortar” shops customers are increasingly expecting seamless synergies between the virtual and real world of sales. So, how should an ideal web-based sales platform perform?
Simple and Secure – the process of navigating through the website from viewing available products, searching for desired products, adding to the virtual shopping cart, finding shipping and return policy information, and then processing the payment should be clear, simple, logical and secure.
Informative – a successful web sales platform needs to provide all the information necessary for a customer to make a purchase decision including photos, product descriptions, sizing charts, usage guides, shipping and returns costs and information, customer service contacts, payment options and anything else that you would provide a customer to help them make a purchase decision if you had the opportunity to speak to them personally.
Consistent Methods of Accepted Payments – except for the obvious exception of cash your website should enable customers to make payments using the same methods you accept in your physical store; including gift cards, plus additional methods such as Paypal. Through an active system of gift card/certificate code tracking even the smallest of online sellers can accept these forms of payment. I was recently baffled by a national big box sports retailer that enables customers to track their remaining gift card balance online and purchase gift certificates online but does not accept the gift card code for online purchases. Apparently, its gift cards can only be used in-store while gift certificates (that you must buy online but cannot check balances online) can only be used online. Seemingly, they have decided to go to the other extreme by creating additional administrative costs and customer dissatisfaction. Be wary of these types of situations or other inconsistencies in your online sales platforms.
Encourage Repeat Business – This is the only way a business can survive and thrive in the long term. We all know the numbers that it costs 10 times more money to lure a new customer than retain an existing one. The savings and revenue returns can be even greater for online sales since the impersonal nature makes building customer relationships tougher. However, once people find and trust your site, they typically spend more money and spend more frequently. So, be sure to keep in touch with your online customers by sending (ideally personalized) messages based on their spending preferences and loyalty rewards such as price discounts and purchase incentives (buy 1 get one free, etc).