Shop Lifts

Why e-commerce isn't the cheaper option

25th November 2015

With digital products so important in todays marketplace, some agencies tend to forget about poor old print...but not us!

It never ceases to amaze me, how little people are willing to invest in a great e-commerce solution. There is a general misconception that opening an online store is somehow cheaper than opening a bricks and mortar shop. But why should this be? A high street shopping experience goes like this: The customer sees a shop they like the look of. They go in and look around. If they step through the door and like what they see then they will stay a while and browse. Hopefully they will buy something – good store layout and attentive service can mean they leave with their bags full. If their experience is positive then they come back.

So what are the key points we can take from this?

Position – If you are in a random back street you will be much harder to find than in a town centre. Yes it will cost you more to be there; but the reward comes in the form of increased sales.

Appearance – Is the store attractive to passers by? Is it clear what they sell? People are much more likely to walk through the door if the store front is appealing. If they do walk through the door and realise that it wasn't quite what they were expecting then it is likely they will leave. Corporate identity and presentation are key.

Layout – No one likes going in circles to find the product they are looking for - they expect a logical order and good signage. Layout is king because you can position promotions or high profit items on the way to everyday essentials, therefore generating additional sales.

Service – Customers like to feel that they are valued. If they have a query, if they have a suggestion or a complaint then they want to know that someone is dealing with it. They also don't want to wait forever while you fetch their goods from the warehouse out back. If when it arrives it is wrong they don't want it to be a hassle to return to the shelf.

Interestingly, when I wrote the 4 points above I was describing an e-commerce solution, not a physical store. See what I mean?

So an online store doesn’t have to be in your high street, but it does need to be easily found. Instead of (in the UK at least) council rates and rent, you are paying for fast hosting, CDN, PPC, SEO, social media marketing and more. The store should clearly tell the user what it sells before they enter the door – PPC campaigns add up, and you pay for that click even if the user bounces back out of the door.

When the user enters, the store should be welcoming and on brand. You want them to associate the experience with your business and not another. Anyone can open a box with shelves on the wall. It should make them want to tell their friends about how nice it was. People can have a good or bad shopping experience, even online.

Businesses need to put considerable effort into building sites that are easy and intuitive to navigate. The interface should make recommendations and generally put products in front of the user (because you cant just walk up to a member of staff). Instead of arranging your products on isles you have to make sure they are easy to find and well presented. This should be the case whatever the device being used for browsing. A mobile experience is completely different to a bigger tablet or laptop. A physical shop only has to present things in one way, an e-commerce store has to respond and look good on every device. This takes a lot of planning and development to get right.

Your information architecture needs to be better than it is in a physical store. Seriously. Imagine going into a shop wearing blinkers and only being able to see what is directly in front of you. What a frustrating and claustrophobic experience that would be! You would want to find what you need as quickly as you could and get out of there. Even worse online - the shopper can see other stores at the same time as yours with just a few clicks; even compare them side by side. Finally, it should be easy for users to make payment and arrange delivery of their goods. The checkout process is a critical part of any e-commerce solution (just as it is in a store) and can be the difference between making or loosing a sale. The right design, a clear path, a choice of payment methods. And delivery, always delivery. Yes, by buying on the high street you don't have to wait for your goods. But you also don't have to carry them home. Setting up order tracking and multiple payment gateways is great for the user but more time consuming and costly. This said, people like to know when their goods will arrive and knowing their package is a few streets away rather than 'delivered between 8am and 1pm' can encourage them to choose you over your competitors.

There are a large number of 'off the shelf' solutions for e-commerce Some are better than others. But will they set you apart? Do they have room to grow as you do or will a new solution be needed every year? The answer is probably no. Is building a great e-commerce solution cheap? Definitely not. And it will it need professional maintenance so it always looks great. But who will be able to shop in your little store?

The whole world.