How Offline Businesses Can Improve Their Web Sites
A while back, I ranted about the difficulties of shopping in ways other than those involving browsers and mice. I may have implied that online shopping was a utopian shopping dream, full of kittens and ice cream and crispy potatoes. Although not all together like in a pie or something. The joy of browsing through pictures while sitting on your couch drinking a cosmo and then having those pictures show up real size at your door mere days later cannot be underestimated. Particularly if someone else makes you the cosmo.
However. There is more to a site than the clicking and the buying and the showing up at your door in a large box that you then have to find a way to get rid of and maybe that way involves “borrowing” a truck and tying super crappy knots and being a bad ass tool having type person with a plastic knife.
I moved recently, so I’ve been looking stuff up online and shopping and doing the kinds of things one could never ever dream of doing from one’s couch in the 80s. I love technology and the future. But I digress. I’ve noticed just a few things, particularly from sites that also run brick and mortar businesses, that bring sprinkles of rain into my utopian dream of sunshine and rainbows. Like when you order cornbread and there are kernels of corn in it. And you have to eat around them. You still enjoy the cornbread, but it could have been so much better.
Little tips that brick and mortar businesses could use to improve their web sites
I started building web sites in 1995. Back then, the web was very non-commercial and most businesses had to be convinced that they even needed a web site. Oh how things have changed. But in some cases, it seems the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Some businesses that are very strong offline use their sites primarily for ecommerce. Ecommerce is obviously a fantastic invention and I cannot tell you the despair I feel when I go to a site only to find that you can’t actually BUY anything on it. You can only look at things you could buy if only you weren’t wearing pajamas and slippers and weren’t so lazy that you could get into your car and fight traffic and stand in line and I’m tired just thinking about all of it. So, I am a strong proponent of ecommerce.
But if your business is not web only and has an offline presence as well, you’ve got to consider all those visitors who aren’t going to the site to buy things, but for other reasons. And you should think of your visitors as customers of your business and not just the online division.
1. Don’t make me guess where you’re located.
Don’t hide that “store locator” link in tiny type in the footer of the page. Why are you trying to keep me out of your store? I know that in some companies, the online division is measured on how much revenue it brings in and perhaps you are trying to trick people into thinking your stores are somehow no longer available and the only shopping option is on the site, but that is not the way. We still know the stores exist. Really. If the issue really is that you are trying to get customers to buy online rather than in-store to meet numbers projections, change the metrics used in success measurement. Make a convincing case for tracking how you drive people to the physical stores.
If the issue is that the store locator option doesn’t go well with the online shopping menu options, there are lots of ways make it both easy to find and non-obtrusive. But I think mostly it’s not these things, it’s just that the designer is focused on thinking of visitors who are coming to buy and forget that sometimes, people are coming for other things.
2. Give me lots of data about you.
I needed to go to a particular store the other day and was wondering when they closed. So, I went on the site and found the store locator link pretty easily. But instead of store hours, I got this message that each location may have different hours, so to call them up and see. Really? Do your stores change their hours that often that you can’t put a process in place to keep the site updated? I’d also like to know your return policy and things like that. And since I’m wishing, why not give me inventory numbers so I know if you even have what I need in stock before I get there. It’s the age of technology! Let’s mash up your inventory system and your web site and call it web 2.0 reloaded!
3. Give me the same deal if I buy online, call, or go into you store.
I am dealing with a company, not with the the online storefront or the physical storefront or the floating-on-the-clouds-you-can-only-get-to-us-if-you-own-an-air-balloon storefront. I’m buying something from your company. Why could I find the discounted price for that monitor on the web site, but when I called, the rep on the phone had no clue what I was talking about?
Airlines are particularly bad with this. They not only have different fares online than on the phone, but they charge you extra to book elsewhere than online. In that case, I get that they are trying to save money on telephone agents, and I suppose if you are trying to transition to an online-only business model, more power to you, but it can make it difficult for me, the consumer, to do business with you, the company. For instance, in the case of airlines, I can’t use the value of an unused ticket online, but if I call to use the credit, I can’t get the online price. That makes entirely no sense.
And why have some of your merchandise be web only? You don’t have enough room in your stores for it or it’s not quite good enough to make the physical floor space cut? I’m suspicious.
4. Make returns easy.
Take some of the risk out of shopping online. Going back to the I’m doing business with your company, not your online division mantra, let me return my online purchases at the store.
5. Let me contact you.
If I’m in the physical store, I can talk to an actual physical person. I’m spending just as much money online as I would be at the store. And yet when I click the contact us link, I get an email address. So, I’m supposed to formulate my question in an email, wait for a response, ask a follow up, and so on, until maybe in a week or two, I’m ready to buy. In most cases, there is a phone number somewhere, but it’s like a treasure hunt to find it. As fun as treasure hunts are, I’m more in the mood to give you money for stuff that you’re selling. Let me do that. In fact, put your phone number at the bottom (or top) of every page just to make it easy. Believe me, I’m much less likely to abandon the purchasing process if I can just glance over at your number when I need it.
6. Please God, don’t put all your products in Flash.
Right. This one really doesn’t have anything to do with a brick and mortar business, but how can I send the link to that perfect shoe around to all my friends and see if they too think it’s perfect or if I am simply caught up in a shoe-buying frenzy that comes from the easy click of a button if I have to say, go to this one page and then click this and then that and then scroll in the tiny little box in the middle and then eventually you’ll see this shoe, it’s got these checkers and … That’s just not good for anyone.
7. Make sure the web site works.
This is really for all ecommerce sites too, but since I’m ranting, I may as well throw it in. It doesn’t matter how well optimized the site is for search engines or how many backlinks it has or have pretty and usable the site is. If the customer gets to the end of the purchase process and the billing doesn’t work or the shopping cart errors out and the customer can’t actually buy anything, well… it’s possible that if that customer has spent all this time comparing items and researching and placing them into her cart and then when she clicks buy, her cart empties or the site won’t actually ever take her credit card, she might just fire up her blog and post a rant about it. Just sayin’.