September 4, 2014
I wanted to title this article ‘Please Take My Money’ but was concerned about the influx of email from Nigerian princes who just need my bank account information so they can wire me their fortunes. But it’s true, sometimes small businesses make it incredibly hard for online shoppers to actually give us their money. As I’ve been getting more and more questions lately from food entrepreneurs who are struggling with ways to increase their online sales, I thought I’d find out the biggest issues the shoppers themselves were having.
To do this highly scientific study, I emailed 12 of my friends who I know love to shop ‘small’ but also do a lot of shopping online. “What drives you batty,” I asked, “about online stores/online purchasing procedures from small independent retailers. Are there things that may make you pull the plug on the purchase altogether or just go buy something similar from a competitor?” Here’s what they had to say:
1. Requiring me to sign up for an account and not giving me any way to checkout as a guest. This was the top complaint amongst those I emailed but one respondent had this to say about it and I thought it summed it up about perfectly: “This one makes me crazy. Especially if I go back to the site a few months later and I can’t remember login/password but the one I usually use is already taken (because of my previous purchase). I have “walked away” from sites that require this.”
2. The second biggest issue everyone almost unanimously agreed upon was sky-high shipping costs. Once again, this is the perfect quote from one friend: “I’m willing to pay for the convenience of online shopping but don’t want to pay ridiculous shipping charges. And it’s not always clearly stated what the shipping rates are – sometimes you have to go through most steps of the ordering process to get to the page where they add the shipping charges/options.”
I realize that most of us simply pass the shipping cost along to the customer but keep in mind that online shoppers are used to things like free shipping or reduced cost of shipping and that, right or wrong, has become the norm. One thing to consider might be to bake in part of the shipping cost to your actual product cost so that your shipping cost appears to be lower. Just the other day, in fact, I purchased something from a small entrepreneur (not food – a craftsman) and the shipping cost for a non-fragile, non-rushed delivery, was higher than the product cost. It took some serious consideration before I finally hit the ‘Send’ button.
3. Speaking of shipping, there were lots of complaints about not providing options when it comes to shipping, for example – USPS, FedEx, UPS. Having those choices can be critically important to someone like my sister who lives in a small town where you can get home delivery of packages with UPS and FedEx but all USPS orders go to a PO Box and you have to stand in line at the post office to get your packages. Around the holidays this line can literally wind outside the building and with one small child, a business of her own to run, and being back in school part-time, she’d rather pay for the convienance of a home delivered package even if it costs a little bit more. I should also add that my sister mentioned that having options to have items ‘rush shipped’ even if it meant paying more was a lifeline for someone like her who’s juggling a lot on her plate right now and tends to order things last minute.
4. Where’s my stuff? Seems like shipping is a big concern because several people mentioned that not receiving confirmation of their order and not receiving tracking information is a big turn-off and may make them think twice about ordering from you again.
5. Frequently Asked Questions. You don’t actually need to have an FAQ on your site per say, but do make sure you provide enough information about the product, about shipping, about your return/exchange policies that customers can find all the information they need and can make an informed decision. Almost everyone said that they preferred to shop from sites that set down the expectations clearly in advance rather than guessing at how the store operated.
6. If I contact you with a question, get back to me. Ok, this one is a bit personal because I’m in the midst of this right now. If I, as a customer, do have a question, don’t make me jump through hoops to find the answer. If it’s not available on the website then have a clear way for me to contact you. And when I do contact you, get back to me in a reasonable amount of time. There was one website last week I wanted to purchase something from and had a question so I sent an email via the Contact Us form. No response. So I sent an email from my email account to their email account. No response. So I went onto Facebook and first made sure that they were still in business (they’re still posting stuff so I assume they are) and then sent them a private Facebook message. No response. So I sent them a public Facebook message. No response. So I went onto Twitter….as of this writing I still haven’t heard a peep from them. If it wasn’t something so specific that I wanted and couldn’t find elsewhere (and trust me, I’ve looked high and low for a competitor who is more willing to take my money) then I probably wouldn’t have even made it to the second Facebook message. Seriously, I want to give you money – don’t make it hard for me!
7. Navigation and speed is key. You need to put thought into how customers navigate your website and make it easy for them to make their purchases. If someone clicks the back button, for example, take them back to where they were initially, not back to the home page. Have a ‘Continue Shipping’ button in their cart so that if they want to add something to their cart they can. Good user interface (sometimes referred to as UI) doesn’t just happen – you need to think through the pieces and imagine yourself as a customer making a purchase.
8. Don’t make Paypal your only option. “I want to pay with good ‘ol fashioned plastic…not paypal.” (I’ll add to this quote – or Bitcoins). In and of itself, having a Paypal option is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to offer multiple forms of payment for your customers.
9. Is your webstore mobile optimized? More and more people are buying things directly from their phones – with Amazon 30% of their sales is currently from mobile – and if you want to capture those sales then your online store needs to be optimized to work with smartphones.
10. Good photos of your product. It sounds so simple but it’s something that so many food businesses skimp on. A good picture will do more to entice customers than a great description or a good price point. Here’s what one friend had to say: “I would rather see a beautiful photo of the dish, knowing mine will not be that beautiful, than to see an unappetizing “real” picture.”
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