…to avoid in online shops, and what we can learn from the major players

A guest column by Thomas Lang.

E-commerce growth is showing no signs of slowing down. And if there’s one place where retail trade in Switzerland continues to thrive, it’s online. Last year, online turnover for tangible products – meaning no travel, hotels, tickets, downloads, etc. – increased again by 14%. But growth is no longer just localized in Switzerland – one franc in every six spent online goes abroad, with Amazon and other retailers importing goods into Switzerland worth around 1 billion francs.

This doesn’t mean that e-commerce is restricted exclusively to major retailers. Smaller companies and niche players also have excellent opportunities to aim their range of products at a wider audience. When doing so, however, businesses tend to make the same mistakes time and again. Here’s how to avoid them.

1. Think in terms of functions
Just because your software has a lot of functions doesn’t mean you should activate them all. Think about what your customers need and who they actually are. Consider their requirements and concerns. ‘Less is more’ is a good rule of thumb. It’s better to offer two or three functions that match your target audience’s requirements and your products, rather than 20 general ones just because the software can. Having too many functions distracts the customer from your business, and distraction is the last thing you want in e-commerce.

2. Display items the right way
Invest in good product images – they are just as important for sales as the customer’s confidence in your business. Make sure that all images are arranged in the same way. You don’t want to be presenting a patchwork. Also ensure that at least one image per product features an everyday object, so that the customer can estimate the size of the item. Putting a handbag against a white background makes it harder to determine its size. Even if you just put a banana next to the bag, it’s enough to give the customer a sense of how large it is.

Why are images/videos of products so important? Because they are the key to selling your products. And there’s another important reason too: they help prevent the customer from buying the wrong item. If the customer only sees what the product really looks like when it arrives, this increases the chance of it being returned.

The five most common mistakes to avoid in online shops

3. The right payment methods
Offer your customers the right payment methods. This depends on the type of products you’re selling, the price and the target group. Where possible, provide the option of purchasing on account. This is the most popular payment method in Switzerland, though it doesn’t mean that everybody will purchase products on account. It is also an important sign of trust if you are happy to deliver the product before the customer has paid for it. Nowadays, the risk of unpaid invoices is rather low thanks to credit assessments. Such credit checks are easy to integrate into many shop systems and ensure that this payment option is only offered to “good customers”.

4. Have a budget for online marketing
It may come as a surprise to you, but nobody was eagerly awaiting the arrival of your online shop. Make sure that you have enough funds in reserve for online marketing. It is imperative that the shop is optimized for search engines. You should also invest in search engine advertising. Alternatively, invest in a good newsletter tool. If done properly, a newsletter can singlehandedly increase your site traffic and turnover.

5. Don’t forget mobile retail
Mobile usage has exploded in the past few years, and Switzerland is taking a leading role in its development. Around 50% of all site traffic now comes from mobile devices. Even though it’s still relatively easy to navigate a normal online shop using a tablet, smartphones are a different story altogether. This is becoming increasingly important to a business’s success, because accessing an online store on a whim via a smartphone is now just as common as doing spontaneous research on Google or clicking on a newsletter. If the customer cannot see your products, you can say goodbye to making any money in this way.

There are many examples of how even small online shops can generate major interest, such as www.stadtlandkind.ch (winner of the 2014 Newcomer Award at the Swiss E-Commerce Awards), www.bitboard.ch, www.panoramaknife.ch and www.appenzeller-gurt.com – all small, attractive shops that have tailored their websites according to the requirements of their target audience.

Good luck with your online shop!

Online shops – The five most common mistakes…

Thomas Lang

Thomas Lang (CEO Carpathia Consulting GmbH) is an e-commerce expert, tutor, journalist and frequent speaker at international conferences focusing on digital commerce and change. He is a specialist in strategies, concepts and business models for online sales, multi/cross-channel commerce, mobile commerce, electronic business processes and digital transformation.