Put Simplicity Before Bells and Whistles

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There's nothing more exciting than doing business online. It's fast, powerful and full of possibilities. Given the fast pace and competitive nature of selling online, it's critical to be aware of advances in technology that will help bring customers to your Web site and keep them coming back.


Companies often find that when evaluating new tools, it's easy to get caught up in the moment -- you want your site to be the best, the newest, to create a buzz. That's important, but so is your customer. Out of necessity, one must develop a filter for the evaluation of new products. Many don't make it, but the ones that do are likely to be successful.


To save substantial expense and time, it is important to have readily available catalog photography and copy. But now, it is time to raise the bar, move the business forward and maximize the opportunity to present product in a way that best works with the channel. How do you sift through the masses of new products, ideas and technologies? You ask the following questions:


* Does the tool speak to the brand? In many cases, there are years of lifestyle brand and heritage at stake. While a new selling tool might be interesting, my company determines if it portrays the product in a way that is in keeping with its lifestyle brand.


* What is the value to the customer? While a new tool might seem flashy on the surface, does it really accomplish the goal of helping the customer make a better or easier purchasing decision? In many cases, the goal might be accomplished just as easily without bells and whistles. For example, giving the customer the option to see a larger view or an alternate view of the product might be more helpful than a zoom view that doesn't work.


* How hard does the customer have to work to use the tool? Products that require downloading, reconfiguring of browsers and reloading instructions are more likely to confuse and frustrate than convert to a sale.


* How long does it take the customer to build an outfit or see the product, etc.? Customers are online to get things done as quickly as possible. They do not want to spend time playing with a new gadget unless it is truly helpful and compelling. Tools that require customers to do a lot of laborious measuring, have their photos taken, etc., are not likely to have many takers.


* What is the cost/longevity ratio? The costs of most selling tools are not limited to the products themselves. Usually, there are resource needs, sample and photography needs and development needs to make the tool work, not to mention ongoing maintenance and upgrades. Is this a tool that will enhance sites for several years or only a short time? How do the costs stack up in relation to the longevity?


* Does it apply to one or many categories carried by the company? There is no universal answer to selling products online. What a customer needs to see in a daypack differs greatly from what a customer needs to see in a T-shirt or a couch. When evaluating new products, try not to dismiss one because it's not relevant to the company's brand. It might work well for another category and make all the difference in the product presentation.


By considering the customer and the brand, my company has come up with some incredibly exciting ways to improve its site. The due diligence, while laborious, should pay off many times over in a brand-focused, customer-centric site.


Finally, it's important to note that a tool does not make a site nor does a tool make the brand. While reading articles about consumers' hesitancy to purchase "touch-and-feel" products, such as apparel, online, I am reminded once again that having a trusted brand which stands for great quality, great fit and great service will wipe out hesitancy better than any online selling tool. Brand reputation is more likely to get customers to the site. The right tools should keep them there and improve what should be an already great online experience.
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