Tips from the pros: How to optimise online sales

Shopping, in this sticky, sicky summer heat, somehow lacks that little hint of je ne sais quoi magic that you want from a purchasing experience. You fight your way through a sea of armpits and plastic bags on sweaty high streets, lines of glum faces looking mournfully out from escalators, queue for days on end to get something you really can’t afford right now anyway – only to discover a week later that your best mate got it for half the price online.

Which may explain the ever-mushrooming popularity of shopping online – which now accounts for a staggering 17p in every pound spent in the UK. We’re Europe’s largest online market – your average Brit spends around 33 hours a month online, an interesting feature in the Telegraph Business  explains today.

But don’t just expect to set up a website and see the millions start rolling in. As with any sector, you need to keep abreast of trends. And the way things are going online right now, the article explains, is towards price cuts, price cuts, and price cuts.

The Telegraph cites new research for Google, which ‘shows that UK consumers have significantly altered the way they shop as their disposable incomes have fallen’. Searches for the terms “luxury gifts” are down 29% on last year, “designer clothes” by 10%. “Voucher coudes”, on the other hand, are a whopping 115% higher than they were last August.

And, interestingly, research company TNS has found that 42% of clothes bought via the web are at a reduced price.

When belt buckles tighten, it’s really no surprise that the people want bargains. And bargains they should have. The reduced costs of selling through a site – no premises costs, far fewer staff costs, the ability to open your outlet for 24 hours a day without the need for any supervision – allow retailers to pass on savings to their consumers.

But take note: the feature argues that discounts alone aren’t necessarily enough to get your site to the top of consumers' shopping lists. It points to the importance of innovations online, highlighting Ocado’s development of an iPhone app that allows users to place orders for food ‘on the go’, or Shop Direct’s huge surge in reviews, which customers seem increasingly keen on producing and reading (its CEO Mark Newton-Jones said reviews are ‘at the heart’ of his sites).

Head of Google’s UK retail industry division Peter Fitzgerald explained the layout of a site is key to converting browsers to buyers. "There is often a lot of unimportant information on the top of a web page. If you move this information out of the way it can make a huge difference.” Playing around with the layout of a site and tracking the results using analytical tools allows you to optimise the look of your site and identify which messages and buttons most encourage users to purchase.

So there you have it – offer discounts compared to the offline world, keep things fresh and consumer-friendly with innovative new ways of streamlining the user experience, and use analytics to play around with the most effective layout of your site. And you might just see a little more of that 17p in every pound spent in the UK coming your way.

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