It's interesting running an ecommerce business. I think it is very impressive to see a small business that can do an excellent job in brick and mortar retail spaces and then dominate in the ecommerce world as well. There are a lot of principles to follow in retail sales but when you enter into the world of ecommerce there are a whole new set of principles. I guess that is part of the fun and challenge for small business owners; to figure out what the principles are for their business and then abide by them well.
Over the years we have learned a lot managing The Plan Collection. There is so much work that goes into running a publishing website like this that most people just don't understand. Seems easy right? Just put up a website, add plans for people to buy and your on your way. Wrong. It's a little more complicated than that. You'll soon find out that maybe what you learned about sales and marketing in a retail setting don't really apply to ecommerce. Sure some of them do, but ecommerce is a different kind of beast.
For Example, one of the advantages of being in a retail space is that you can [to a certain level] see the reactions of your customers to certain things that you do. You might see it in their faces or hear them comment about it as they come into your store. In the ecommerce world, someone has to be either really impressed, or really disappointed to let you know about it. One of the great things about the internet is it lends us all a cetain amount of anonymity. It's too much trouble to write an email to the company to give them feedback, unless you are very impressed, or very displeased.
So as thousands of people visit The Plan Collection on a daily basis, it's hard to know the experience that all of those users are having. We can ask customers, but few want to be bothered with surveys and rightly so - another benefit of internet shopping is it's relatively hassle free. So how does an ecommerce business determine the user experience? One way is statistics. It's tricky, but by analyzing your website statistics you can see which pages people leave from the most, which pages are viewed the most, how long they stay on your website and more. This morning I was comparing a few different websites that I am involved in to see why people were adding items to their cart, but not making the purchase. We know nothing of the customer, but we can track which pages they had viewed, what items they added to their shopping cart and the page that they left from. So now we can test certain things like simplifying our checkout process, or adjusting shipping rates to see what might be causing customers to bail out after going so far in the checkout process. If we simplify our checkout process and our abandoned shopping cart numbers go down, we can assume that our changes improved the customer experience. It is a difficult and time consuming project, but if done regularly can really help your business. Here at The Plan Collection we review our statistics more regularly and are trying to use the results to improve our website so that we can convert the high traffic that we receive into good user experiences and as a result reach our goal [and the goal of any business] to increase sales. Having said this, we still rely quite a bit on the feedback that we receive from our customers to help us make decisions as we optimize our website. In fact, we often ask people not involved with the marketing of house plans to use our website and give us their critisism so that we can improve the experience for everyone. We have been doing this for the last 7 or 8 years and I imagine we always will. I think it is important to take the results of human feedback and the statistics we collect to make an informaed decision about the changes or improvements we make to the website.
There are many more principles to be learned when jumping into the ecommerce world. Unfortunaly, running a successful website is not as easy as a lot of people think. After starting a website of your own you might actually find that some of the romanticism you felt about an online business is gone. It takes a lot of time and dedication, but like any business it is rewarding when it becomes a success.