In this report, we offer some helpful hints for merchants to keep in mind when setting up their online stores and offer five tips for turning casual "window shoppers" into actual customers.

Ok, so you know which products you want to sell online. Like any other smart retailer, you've done research on your products and you've established wholesale vendor relationships that enable you to offer shoppers quality merchandise at a low price.

You've spent the time and/or money to build a snazzy web site, and it looks great. You've installed the latest shopping cart software on your site, so you can display your merchandise, take orders, and accept payments from Internet shoppers.

You've even registered with a few search engines and invested in some non-internet media advertising to help promote your Web site. You've got a great Web marketing strategy, and based on the number of hits to your site, it certainly appears to be working.

There's only one problem? For the most part, the people visiting your site are only "window shopping." Lots of people are looking, but they're just not placing their orders with YOU.

What could possibly be wrong? You sell name-brand products that people already recognize and use. It's not like you're trying to get consumers to try an unfamiliar product, or one from a new, or untried manufacturer. Your prices are in line with your competition's. As a matter of fact, in many cases your prices are even lower than your competition's. Still, you're not getting the number of online purchases you should be, and you just don't know why.

Well, the issue is... Lack of consumer confidence!

The main difference between walking into a store to make a purchase and buying on the Web, is the element of human involvement. If you're reading this article, you're already aware of the multiple convenience aspects, and the advantages that online purchasing holds for the consumer. Nonetheless, many people simply must know that if they have a problem with their purchase after the sale, there will be a "live person" available to tend to their customer service needs. Very few, if any, consumers are going to risk making a purchase if they think a problem with, or question about their order will only be handled by e-mail communication.

So how does the Web merchant solve this problem? Here are some tips to help Web merchants boost consumer confidence in their online stores:

  • In addition to listing your e-mail address on your Web site, tell people where you are located. Include your company's address, telephone and fax numbers on your Web site.
  • If your telephone is not answered by a "live person" 24 hours a day, let people know which days and hours they can speak with a customer service representative. If you have your phone answered by an answering machine or voice mail, leave a message announcement that tells the caller when they can expect their call to be returned.
  • Invest in a toll-free telephone number and list it on your site. This is a relatively inexpensive way to raise the level of consumer confidence. It sends out a strong message that your company cares about hearing from its customers. If someone has the need to discuss a discrepancy with their purchase, they'll likely be more patient, and inclined to listen to your point of view, if they are not paying for the call. This strategy also gives online merchants an excellent opportunity to turn a "negative" into a positive opportunity, by building a better relationship with their customers.
  • If you offer a money-back, or a satisfaction guarantee, display it clearly on your site. If you do not offer such guarantees, list your terms of sale and your return policy and procedures on your site. Buyers want to understand the terms of their purchase, before they push the "order now" button.
  • Let people know how long it takes to deliver their order. Post which method of shipping you use and how much you charge for shipping. Also, be sure to disclose any additional charges, including sales tax.

Despite all the planning that goes into a Web merchant's marketing and sales strategy, a clear customer service guarantee is easy to overlook.

Many an experienced salesperson will tell you that much of their success is based on their ability to "put themselves in the customer's shoes." Web merchants must strive to do the same. One way to do this is to post customer service policies on their Web sites.

Copyright 1999 Triad Commerce Group, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form without written permission.