While many people wished 2016 would die a slow horrible death because of all the trouble the world, there was at least one good thing about the last 365 days: it was an exceptional year for online businesses.

Think back to winter of 2015 for a second. During this time, numerous reports warned business owners to make their site mobile friendly, since Google's algorithm change would be using mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. This, of course, kicked many marketers into high-gear, redesigning their sites to cater to mobile users. This might very well account for the fact that we had a record-breaking Black Friday in 2016, generating $3 billion in sales, one billion of which was mobile sales.

But online sales success doesn't stop at simply going mobile. Studies found that retailers who invested in mobile, email, and social media together saw an average of over 30 percent more sales than companies that focused on one or two of those channels. And in order to see conversion, those successful companies also had to deliver a superlative customer experience.

With do-it-yourself SEO technology, accessibility to big data, and the rise of artificial intelligence, it's never been easier to drive traffic to a website (if you know what you're doing). What will become increasingly more difficult in the coming years is offering the best customer experience.

Leading companies are investing in the customer experience, which currently allows them to grow 14 percent faster than the laggards, according to Forrester. With this huge push to perfect the online buying experience will come a constant one-upmanship. Meaning, businesses are going to have to constantly innovate new ways to make their user experience as good or better than their competition if they want to stay in the game.

With this in mind, I gleaned some insights from Michael Lazar, Executive Director of Marketing at ReadyCloud, a software solution that helps online retailers create better relationships with their customers. Here are his top 5 ways to improve your online customer journey:

Target Mobile Consumers

If your ecommerce store does not already entertain mobile customers, it is time to start doing so. Make your store mobile friendly and easily accessible on all devices from tablets to mobile phones to laptops. While concentrating on mobile is important, it does not mean you neglect desktop computers altogether, so keep a balance.

"One big step you can take is to create an app for your business," Lazar advises.

Apps make marketing much easier. Businesses can promote well with the help of push notifications and buyers can purchase easily with just a single tap.

Advertise Efficiently and Effectively

You need to change your marketing strategy with the changing scenario. For example, Twitter is slowly losing steam with decreasing active users, making it a poor choice to advertise on. On the other hand, Pinterest is gaining users and has over 150 million active monthly users now.

Businesses need to use every ad dollar efficiently. This will help you reduce customer acquisition cost, and increase your revenue.

"Draw demographic profiles and create sales pipeline to bring users to your store," suggests Lazar. "Once you are successful in doing so, you have won half the battle."

Reduce Cart Abandonment Rates

A sale is made when a user completes the sale process. The average cart abandonment rate is around 68 percent, and varies from industry to industry. In any situation, not everyone who lands on your website will end up purchasing. After all, people are at times just gathering information and do not intend on making a purchase. However, you should try your best to turn your potential customers into customers.

Gather information on why your visitors abandon carts. Some of the main reasons include hidden costs, lack of payment options, and a complicated checkout process. In order to maximize your customer conversion, you need to make the online buying experience as easy (and enjoyable) as possible. Here's how:

  • Be clear about costs, including taxes and shipping costs. If possible, offer free shipping as 83 percent of customers prefer to buy from a store that offers free shipping.
  • Offer all kind of payment options from cards to PayPal and make sure the process is secure. Use trusted payment gateways.
  • Make the checkout process smooth and allow guest login. Also, avoid asking for details that are not necessary.
  • Check all pages for error and get rid of bugs.
  • Have a friendly return policy, and make sure to explain it in clear words. Offers like free returns or exchanges help attract buyers.
  • Have a FAQ with all details including charges, policies etc. If possible, have live chat feature on your site.

Target and Re-target Visitors

Customer retention is much more cheaper than customer acquisition. Retain your customers by providing them what they want and staying in touch with tem with the help of email promotions and newsletters. Also, remember that there is no better promotion than word of mouth.

Use your current customers to bring new customers by offering reward programs.

Also, use re-targeting to get in touch with your potential customers. Re-targeting targets users based on their previous actions increasing the chances of a successful conversion.

Focusing on these ideas will help ensure that you find more success. It is all about providing your buyers what they want.

Build Relationships With Your Visitors

You need to develop relationship with your visitors and make them feel comfortable when they visit your site. This instills confidence in them and make them more loyal to your brand. "This is why many companies use words like 'family' when writing as it makes visitors feel like home," says Lazar.

You can do so by highlighting how important your customers are to you. Speak to them directly, use first person tone and speak in a friendly manner. A good option is to send monthly newsletters or emails that are personalized. This will not only help you build relationships but also give you a way to get in touch with your customers and promote your business.

Focusing on these ideas will help ensure that you find more success in 2017. It is all about providing your buyers what they want.