On the flip side, a solid returns policy can be enough to convert a browsing web user into a paying customer. Take ASOS - I knew its returns policy would allow me to return shoes for free if they didn't fit, which meant I was happy to buy them online then try them on afterwards rather than going to a shop to make sure they fitted.
What I didn't know was quite how efficient the ASOS returns system would be. I got a very simple form in the shoe box that just asked me to tick whether I wanted a refund or to exchange the shoes, complete with a sticker for the box printed with their address. All I then had to do was take it to the Post Office. All free, and exceptionally simple.
Making it that easy to return and refund items may seem counterintuitive to profit-making, but actually it means I'll be shopping with them a lot more in future. Also, I was so pleasantly surprised by the process I told my housemates how good it was (much to their rapturous attention), and, as you can see, I'm now blogging on it. Which means a good dose positive word of mouth for ASOS: probably the most valuable form of marketing there is, and definitely the most difficult to achieve.
Then there was Rubbersole.co.uk. I'd never heard of the site before, but a search on Google for 'Birkenstocks fast delivery' (I needed them by the end of the week ready for holiday!) nudged them to the number one spot on Google results. Fast delivery indeed - Rubbersole.co.uk promises next working day delivery for all orders placed before 4pm. That's much quicker than bigger retailers such as ASOS and John Lewis, which it was competing against for this particular product.
Rubbersole had obviously invested in the right keywords for what it does ('fast delivery' and the brand name) and had cannily identified a very strong USP that its better-known rivals just couldn't match.
Another massive turn-off for online shoppers visiting a website they haven't heard of before is if that site contains even a whiff of suspiciousness. If you're putting your credit card details into a website you're unfamiliar with, you need every reassurance possible that the people behind it aren't crooks. Which is why site design on smaller websites is so crucial; it has to feel as professional as big retailers' web presences, if not more. Rubbersole ticked that box, but I still wasn't fully sold. 'Verified by Visa' and 'Mastercard Securecode' logos helped, but they can be easily faked. So I searched Google for reviews on Rubbersole - and this is where the really crucial part of online retail kicks in for less well-known online retailers.
I found nothing but glowing reports of Rubbersole's service. That was the push that converted me into a buyer - reassured by others, I put my card details into a website I had never heard of 15 minutes before and made a purchase.
The key here is that when you're selling online, you have to work even harder to convert your customers into fans, so they spread the word about how great you are, which will then reassure other future potential customers. Reviews written on Rubbersole all beamed about the amazing customer service and the speedy delivery. And if customers felt strongly enough to spend time writing reviews on the business, that really is exceptional customer service.
So if you're selling online, make sure you give the best customer service your buyers have ever experienced (or at least close to it). Because that is what will get them talking about you elsewhere online and offline positively, which is what will then reassure future browsers that you're trustworthy, which is what will convert them into buyers - and make you money.