Selling online? 3 ways to stay competitive in the ecommerce boom

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2014 marked a momentous occasion— in August, the 20th anniversary of the first recorded online transaction, a $12.48 compact disc of Sting’s “Ten Summoners’ Tales” was sold online. Fast-forwarding to 2015, worldwide B2C ecommerce revenues will reach a predicted $2 trillion. In perspective, that’s roughly $3.8 million spent every minute on online B2C ecommerce transactions.

While the Internet has transformed the way consumers research, compare and purchase everything from crackers to flat-screen TVs, the most challenging question facing online retailers — both large and small — is how to ensure they stand out and stay competitive in 2015 and beyond?

To address this burning question, the following are three strategies that will help increase your site performance, grow your audience and ultimately drive results to your bottom line.

1. Prioritize Platform Speed

Despite continued innovation, online retail sites have become heavier and slower since 2012. According to a study from Radware Ltd., the median ecommerce page takes 10 seconds to load, compared with 6.8 seconds in 2012 — a 47% slowdown.

This increasingly sluggish performance comes at a time in which consumer patience is waning. In recent surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within three seconds. In addition, 79% of shoppers who have trouble with a site’s performance say they won’t return again.

Even when users choose to wait, delays still translate into losses in conversion, page views and satisfaction. The Aberdeen Group reports that, on average, a 1-second delay in page load time causes a 7% loss in conversion, 11% fewer page views and a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction. Viewed in financial terms, a site earning $100,000 a day could lose $2.5M in sales per year!

Although this all seems like doom and gloom, there are a number of ways you can quickly turn your site performance around, without the need to fork out huge amounts of capital.

Hosting has the single greatest impact on speed, and a high-performing platform should have less than a 500 millisecond response time. For many merchants, that requires using a SaaS-based ecommerce solution that handles performance, security and availability for them.

In addition to this, simple website changes — like image optimization— can make a huge difference to the overall load-time and ultimately the engagement and conversation rates of a site. Make sure your images are exactly the right size from the moment you start creating your site, they are in the most appropriate format, and even consider creating single images out of multiples to reduce requests from browsers.

2. Embrace the Growing Mobile Audience

In 2012, ComScore forecasted that mobile website traffic would exceed desktop in 2014, which has now come to pass. New data from IBM puts Black Friday mobile traffic at nearly 50% of all online traffic, a 25% increase over 2013.

The surge in mobile traffic may not surprise many retailers, but the vast majority of mobile-friendly site that are currently offered by online retailers are not up to scratch and are not optimized to specifically suit the ways that shoppers are suing them.

For example, Shop.org’s 2014 Pre-Holiday Retailer and Consumer Study, found that shoppers use multiple devices in the buying journey, specifically using smartphones and tablets to:

1. Research products (42% smartphone, 53% tablet)

2. Look up store information (33% of those surveyed)

To get started optimizing your mobile experience — if you haven’t already — the following two points are vital:

1. Implement a Responsive Design: Responsive site designs ensure that content displays correctly regardless of the size of the customer’s screen. It’s ideal for SEO because all of the link authority for a page of content flows to a single URL rather than splitting authority between a mobile and desktop version.

2. Optimize Your Redirects: Responsive design also protects merchant sites from faulty redirects. For example, a user clicking through to read details about a promotion from the mobile homepage but is redirected to terms and conditions formatted for a desktop site. Google has also taken a strong stand here, announcing demotions for sites not configured for the mobile user.

3. Commit to Improving Conversion

Having a stable, high-performance site and growing traffic mean very little if merchants are unable to turn digital window shoppers into buyers — all of that hard work for nothing.

Regardless of its clear importance, conversion optimization remains a neglected opportunity for many retailers. Average US conversion rates have improved a meager 0.21% in the last two years, despite dramatic advances in technology.

To optimize conversion you should focus on the following areas:

1. Leverage Great Copy: Prioritize product descriptions and give buyers enough information to convince themselves this is the right product for them.

2. Create Urgency: Introduce limited-time offers like “Free Shipping for the Next 3 Days” on product pages or use automated abandoned cart tools to send compelling offers to bring shoppers back.

3. Deliver Relevant Results: The impact of an optimized internal site search shouldn’t be underestimated. According to eConsultancy,up to 30% of visitors to ecommerce sites will use internal site search, with some converting at up to 5-6x revenue and making up as much as 13.8% of a retailer’s total revenue. Don’t forget that every part of your site is seriously important!

4. Offer a Way to Refine Search: Econsultancy also reports 20% of shoppers who used search went on to refine their searches, but 21% exited the website from the search results. Keep users engaged with things like faceted search tools, which adjust results based on attributes selected.

In all, speed and convenience are the two key metrics by which customer loyalty will be won. High conversion rates for brands will depend entirely on how well you can optimize your site for omnichannel use. Increase your site speed and ensure that your mobile and desktop experiences are both engaging and, ultimately, easy. Doing so will produce the return on investment your business deserves.

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Director of Client Experience at Bigcommerce

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