Building an e-commerce site is like building a house of cards. Get it right, and the result is impressive. Put just one card out of place, and you risk knocking the whole thing down.

The growing online market provides plenty of opportunities for those still new to the e-commerce game. E-commerce sales made up 8.7 percent of all retail sales in 2016, according to eMarketer, and by 2020, that number is expected to rise to 14.6 percent.

Although the online retail market is growing, the same projections show the rate of that growth slowing over time. Sales are projected to rise by a smaller percentage each year, suggesting that the market could be approaching a point of saturation within the next 10 years. If that happens, the businesses that establish a successful base today may hold a significant long-term advantage over the ones that move too slowly. To position your e-commerce site for long term success, follow these strategies:

1. Prioritize Customer Service

The best way to create brand loyalists and repeat customers is to provide a positive customer service experience. E-commerce sites often hide behind layers of help pages, making it difficult for customers to connect with real people. While this approach saves money upfront, skimping on customer service is not a good long-term strategy.

Make your contact page obvious, and add live chat capabilities to answer simpler questions. When you receive emails, respond within 24 hours. According to Amazon, a one-day response time cuts negative feedback on orders by 50 percent. When customers contact you through social media, respond as soon as possible to avoid anyone else with similar complaints creating bad PR momentum.

2. Focus on Conversions

Having a beautiful website is nice. Having a website designed to maximize conversions is much better. Make it easy for your customers to find your products, compare similar items, and check out. The more clicks you put between the customer and the purchase, the lower your conversion rate will be.

E-Commerce branding agency Robofirm encourages companies interested in boosting conversions to focus on simple design, bold 'yells to action,' and mobile optimization. The agency recommends simple language, and cautions that even a one-second delay in loading time is detrimental when it comes to keeping customers engaged.

3. Follow an Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

The bigger your presence, the more likely customers are to take notice -- as long as your presence remains consistent across platforms. Omnichannel marketing allows you to hit customers at multiple touchpoints to strengthen your brand's impressions and boost sales.

Disney is a strong example of what an effective omnichannel marketing strategy looks like. First, its site is consistent and functional across both desktop and mobile. Once users book a trip on the site, they can then use the My Disney Experience app to plan every detail of their trip, navigate the park, and see wait times. Finally, the MagicBand tool acts as a digital wallet, room key, and photo storage device to create a fully integrated Disney experience.

When everything is integrated and consistent, it creates a better experience for the customer -- which improves the chances that he or she will complete a purchase.

4. Optimize Your Shopping Cart

Customers abandon about $4 trillion in online carts every year, and part of that occurs because they're looking at the product on your site and then buying it elsewhere.

"You have to look at the transactions themselves and make some assumptions," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst-retail for the NPD Group. He also notes that about 22 percent of shoppers compare products on different sites before purchasing, so many times if they put an item in their cart on your site and don't purchase right away, it's because they're comparing prices.

Fortunately though, according to Segmentify, 63 percent of that abandoned cart revenue can be recovered by improving the cart experience. Offer bundles prior to checkout to boost cart value, but once the customer is in, don't keep pushing more products. Also, don't force your customers to make accounts. People don't have all day to spend on your site. The potential additions to your mailing list aren't worth the lost sales from people who just want to buy.

5. Improve Your Mobile Experience

Mobile users browse, and desktop users buy -- especially for high-value items. However, a mobile user one minute is a desktop buyer the next. Rather than make mobile an afterthought, streamline the mobile experience to encourage longer browsing sessions and more cart additions.

To see a solid example of an optimized mobile experience, look at Shutterfly. The personalized photo services company uses easy-to-navigate menus, highly visible offers and discount codes at the top of the page, as well as bright, beautiful images to capture visitors' attention. It's also easy to scan different products, tag your favorites, and quickly and easily add them to your cart.

The longer you wait to improve your e-commerce site, the stiffer the competition will become. Don't get lost in the pack. Follow these strategies to improve your conversions and build a site that will withstand the test of time.

Published on: Aug 3, 2017
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