More Online Sales: What’s Working

For more than 400 years the central proposition of the Inquisition was “convert or die.”

After the death of, that proposition is not far from the reality faced today by online retailers of all stripes.

Every pure-play and bricks-and-mortar retailer, undergoing inquisitions from investors, wants to know what to do to sell more faster and to generate repeat business, especially when 60 percent to 70 percent of customers who select merchandise on transactional sites abandon their shopping carts. As the economy sputters, and the appetite for spending fades, the race is on to leverage existing technology investments and to optimize conversions.

Everyone I speak to is ready to dispense with strategic paradigms, overarching frameworks and all manner of consultant-speak. Instead, they want to know how to get better mileage out of existing Web sites by making quick fixes and grabbing the low-hanging fruit. The focus is squarely on whatever works and works quickly.

Understanding what works is a function of understanding why people shop online: convenience as well as the ability to save time and sidestep crowds. There is a definite psychology to shopping. You cannot fight it. You must deploy technology to capitalize on it. Every tweak should be in service to delivering against customer expectations.

Converting more sales requires improvements in usability, promotion, merchandising, advertising and customer relationship management to give customers what they want quickly, conveniently and reliably. To sell more, faster, use the following tactics that are working for many online retailers.


• Be sure your site is always up. Spend whatever you need to be there when your customers bestow a visit upon you.

• Make sure shoppers know where they are. Integrate branding elements, logos and icons across all channels.

• Limit graphics pages to 5K. Every page should load in five seconds or less.

• Lose any graphic elements that weigh down pages or slow load times.

• Get to the merchandise in two clicks or less. Customers come to buy. Show them the goods.

• Decide what you want site visitors to do. Register? Buy? Buy again? Then make that action the most important visual element on the page.

• If in doubt, use Amazon-like tabular center navigation.

• Link the merchandise displayed to your actual inventory. If it is not in stock, do not show it.

• Display shipping/alteration or other costs along with the merchandise.

• Allow shoppers to quickly buy the goods they see in your catalogs, print advertisements, circulars or direct mail with Quick Shop functionality.

• Display or categorize merchandise based on the way customers shop.

• Help customers find merchandise easily with a robust search engine.

• Clearly mark promotions, sales or seasonal merchandise.

• Use “bread crumbs” to orient shoppers and keep them on your site.

• Offer help in real time. Coordinate frequently asked questions, e-mail, phone representatives, live chat or personal shoppers. Display the help link or the toll-free number on every page. Make sure a real-life somebody is there to answer questions in real time.

• Do not ask for personal data until checkout. Shoppers like being anonymous until they buy.

• Make sure checkout takes four clicks or less.

• Set expectations for delivery and offer links to United Parcel Service or FedEx package tracking tools.


• Put your URL and your toll-free number on all communications.

• Offer a gift with purchase.

• Offer an immediate discount for a first purchase.

• Offer progressive discounts based on purchase value.

• Subsidize or offer free shipping.

• Offer certain merchandise exclusively online.

• Run a sweepstakes. Be sure the prize is relevant to your target customers and has a high perceived value to them.


• Set up a one-click shop function.

• Limit your merchandise selection to best sellers, evergreens, fast moving or replenishment items. Do not sell the whole store online.

• Bundle merchandise to achieve value pricing and to increase average sale volumes.

• Allow customers to save purchase histories.

• Facilitate automatic replenishment or easy reorders.

• Synchronize credit, returns and rain check policies across all channels and venues.

• Promote “e-mail a friend” functionality to capitalize on the way people really shop.

• Figure out which items go together and cross-sell them.


• Speak with a single voice in all media.

• Sequence postcards with e-mail delivery.

• Drop e-mail, coupons or postcards in tandem with newspaper ads or freestanding inserts.

• Synchronize e-mail drops with catalog drops.

• Use HTML e-mails.

• Message your most frequent buyers heavily. Frequency is a better predictor of high-value online customers than recency.

Customer Relationship Management

• Offer best customers early or exclusive access to merchandise.

• Figure out who your best customers are and provide them with special offers.

Solicit permission to e-mail them.

• Use persistent cookies to expedite engaging them and collect only as much information as you intend to use.

• Model your best customers and use direct mail to find more of them.

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